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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
In this chapter we have the narrative of the presentation of gifts by the princes of the tribes at the dedication of the altar. “This presentation took place at the time (יוֹם) when Moses, after having completed the erection of the tabernacle, anointed and sanctified the dwelling and the altar, together with their furniture (Leviticus 8:10-11). Chronologically considered, this ought to have been noticed after Leviticus 8:10. But in order to avoid interrupting the connection of the Sinaitic laws, it is introduced for the first time at this point, and placed at the head of the events which immediately preceded the departure of the people from Sinai, because these gifts consisted in part of materials that were indispensably necessary for the transport of the tabernacle during the march through the desert. Moreover, there was only an interval of at the most forty days between the anointing of the tabernacle, which commenced after the first day of the first month (cf. Exodus 40:16, and Leviticus 8:10), and lasted eight days, and the departure from Sinai, on the twentieth day of the second month (Numbers 10:2), and from this we have to deduct six days for the Passover, which took place before their departure (Numbers 9:1 sqq.); and it was within this period that the laws and ordinances from Leviticus 11:0 to Numbers 6:0 had to be published, and the dedicatory offerings to be presented. Now, as the presentation itself was distributed, according to Numbers 7:11 sqq., over twelve or thirteen days, we may very well assume that it did not entirely precede the publication of the laws referred to, but was carried on in part contemporaneously with it. The presentation of the dedicatory gifts of one tribe-prince might possibly occupy only a few hours of the day appointed for the purpose, and the rest of the day, therefore, might very conveniently be made use of by Moses for publishing the laws. In this case the short space of a month and a few days would be amply sufficient for everything that took place.”—Keil and Del.
Numbers 7:2. The princes of the tribes, and were over them, etc. Margin: Who stood over, etc. Keil and Del: “Those who stood over those that were numbered, i.e., who were their leaders or rulers” (see Numbers 1:4-16).
Numbers 7:3. Covered wagons. Gesenius and De Wette translate: “litter wagons;” but their rendering “can neither be defended etymologically, nor based upon צַבִּים in Isaiah 66:20.”—Keil and Del. The rendering of the LXX is ἁμάξας λαμπηνίκας, which, according to Euseb. Emis. signifies two-wheeled vehicles. Dr. A. Clarke renders: “tilted wagons.” And Dr. H. E. J. Howard: “tilted wains.” They use the word tilted in the sense of tented, or, as in the A. V., covered; and this seems to be the meaning of the original.
The service of the sanctuary. Heb. lit., “the holy,” i.e., the holy things (see Numbers 4:5-20).
Numbers 7:10, In the day. Keil and Del., “That is, at the time ‘that they anointed it.’ ‘Day,’ as in Genesis 2:4.”
Numbers 7:13. One silver charger. A dish, or deep bowl. (See Exodus 25:29.) One silver bowl. A basin to receive the blood of the sacrifice in.
Numbers 7:14. One spoon. A censer, on which they placed the incense, as in Exodus 25:29.
Numbers 7:84-86. Attersol (1618) reckons the whole of the dishes, basins, and censers to be worth about £420. Dr. A. Clarke (1836), in loco, gives his calculation in detail, and makes the total £627 is. 11¼d. The Speaker’s Comm. (1871): “If a silver shekel be taken roughly as weighing 2.5 of a shilling, and a golden shekel 1.15 of a sovereign, the intrinsic worth, by weight of each silver charger, will be 325s., of each bowl 175s., of each golden spoon 230s. Consequently the aggregate worth, by weight, of the whole of the offerings will be £438. But the real worth of such a sum, when measured by the prices of clothing and food at that time, must have been vastly greater. It must not be forgotten, too, that the tabernacle itself had been recently constructed at a vast cost.”
Numbers 7:89. The tabernacle of the congregation. Heb., “The tent of meeting.” To speak with Him, i.e., with God, as in the margin; for “the name Jehovah, though not expressly mentioned before, is contained implicite in ohel moëd, ‘the tent of meeting.’ ” He heard the voice of one speaking. Rather, “he heard the voice speaking,” or “conversing.”
Proceeding to our Homiletical treatment of the chapter, we have in the first paragraph—
AN ANCIENT OFFERING, AND ITS MODERN LESSONS
These verses suggest the following lessons—
1. That they who hold the most honourable positons should be most liberal in contributions to worthy objects.
The princes of the tribes of Israel are here prominent in bringing their offering for the service of the Tabernacle. They present an example well worthy the imitation of those who are exalted in rank, rich in possessions, or great in power. Such persons are under all the ordinary obligations to help forward every good work. They, in common with all men, are required to use their talents, means, and opportunities so as to accomplish the greatest amount of good. They are also under special obligations to advance every true and good cause amongst men, because of the conspicuousness of their position, and the extent of their influence. The extent of our obligations is determined by our opportunities. Privilege is the measure of responsibility. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him will they ask the more.”
1. Great honours should incite to great efforts to do good. Those upon whom God has bestowed great wealth, or whom He has raised to exalted stations, should manifest their thankfulness by generously promoting those objects which accord with the Divine will. “The more any are advanced, the more is expected from them, on account of the greater opportunity they have of serving God and their generation. What are wealth and authority good for, but as they enable a man to do so much the more good in the world?”
2. Great influence involves great obligation. The example of persons in high station is extensively observed; their exalted position gives conspicuousness to their life and conduct. Their example is also very effective, for persons are generally prone to copy it, when that of persons in lowly stations would be disregarded. So their influence is very great; and the possession of great influence is a sacred and solemn trust. So “superior rank demands superior worth.” They who are exalted in station should cultivate the exalted in character and conduct; and so their great influence will be a great blessing.
“Since by your greatness you
Are nearer Heaven in place, be nearer it
In goodness. Rich men should transcend the poor,
As clouds the earth; raised by the comfort of
The sun, to water dry and barren grounds.”
II. That they who are not entirely engaged in religious ministries should seek to help those who are so engaged.
These princes of the tribes were not set apart for religious duties; but by this offering of wagons and oxen for the service of the tabernacle, they evinced their desire to assist the Levites in discharging their sacred duties. “You know,” says Babington, “how the Levites were to carry upon their shoulders the things belonging to the tabernacle when they removed, but now they shall be eased by these chariots and oxen. So the laity careth for the clergy, to help them, to ease them, to comfort them in their duties belonging to God. And O! how could I dwell in the meditation of it a whole day, it is so sweet. Will you note it and think of it? I trust you will, and so I commit it to you.” There are still many ways in which Christian men and women may, and in which some of them do, assist their ministers. It is the privilege and duty of every disciple of Christ Jesus to engage in some work for the good of others; and when every one is so engaged, the labours of the ministers of the Gospel, which in some instances are very arduous and continuous, will be much lightened, and from many things, which by reason of the sloth or unreasonableness of the churches they now have to do, though they pertain not to their work, they will then be entirely free. The offering of the princes of the tribes manifests a thoughtfulness and appropriateness, which are well worthy of commendation and imitation. They gave with wise judgment such things as proved most useful in the service of the tabernacle. (b)
III. That God is graciously pleased to accept of man’s offerings.
“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Take it of them, that they may be to do the service of the tabernacle of the congregation; and thou shalt give them unto the Levites, to every man according to his service.” Thus God signifies his acceptance of their offering. Surely it is a great honour which God confers upon us in accepting our gifts in His service. If our heart be sincere the offering of even the smallest gift, or the feeblest effort in His cause, He accepts, approves, and, in His great grace, will reward. “Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.” Let this be to us an incentive to liberal and hearty giving, and faithful and diligent working in His cause.
IV. That gifts for religious purposes should be used in accordance with the will of God.
“Thou shalt give them unto the Levites, to every man according to his service. And Moses took the wagons and the oxen, and gave them unto the Levites. Two wagons and four oxen he gave unto the sons of Gershom, according to their service,” etc. The offering was faithfully applied by Moses in such a way as to gratify the wishes of the givers, serve the interests of the people, and comply with the directions of the Lord. Here is a lesson which is very wide in its applications, and which is urgently needed in some quarters today. The offerings which are contributed to the cause of God, should be used not for the mere increase and aggrandisement of a sect or party, not for the mere advocacy and spread of any pet notions, favourite theories, or sectarian creeds, but for the promotion of the cause and glory of God in the well-being of humanity. This is attained by doing the largest amount of good in the most Christlike spirit. The money or property, which in past ages, was left for purposes which were then useful and worthy, but which, in the altered circumstances of this age, have very much ceased to be so, should be applied to such purposes as shall be at once productive of the most good to the community, and most nearly in accord with the wishes of the giver, as far as they can be ascertained. To attempt to monopolise such gifts, or restrict the benefits which might be attained by them, on the ground of the wishes of the “pious donor,” or “founder,” is, to say the least, utterly unworthy of Christian men.
V. That in the Divine arrangements help is granted unto men according to their respective needs.
“Thou shalt give them unto the Levites, to every man according to his service. And Moses took the waggons and the oxen, and gave them unto the Levites,” etc., Numbers 7:5-9. The principle of distribution which Moses adopted, was laid down by God Himself; “Give to every man according to his service.” In harmony with this principle, the Merarites, to whom was assigned the most burdensome part of the service (Numbers 4:29-33), received four wagons and eight oxen; the Gershonites, whose service was less burdensome (Numbers 4:21-26), received two wagons and four oxen; while the Kohathites, who had to carry the most holy things upon their shoulders, and were provided with poles for that purpose (Numbers 4:4-20), received neither wagon nor oxen. There is a proportion between the burden imposed and the strength imparted. “God proportions the burden to the back,” says Trapp. But it is both more correct and more inspiring to say, God proportions the back to the burden. (Comp. 1 Corinthians 10:13, with 2 Corinthians 12:9.) God will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able, because as the power of temptation increases, He will increase our power of resistance. As our need increases He increases the communications of His grace; and the infinitude of His resources must ever immeasurably surpass our utmost need. And as His knowledge of us and kindness toward us are infinite, we may rest assured that He will not fail to proportion His assistance to our necessities. What an encouragement is this as we look on to the future, with its unknown experiences, its possibilities of sore trial, of insuperably difficult labour, etc. Infinite resources of patience and power, grace and courage, are pledged to us. Apart from Christ we can do nothing; but with the help of the Holy one of Israel even a “worm shall thresh the mountains, and beat them small, and make the hills as chaff.” (See Isaiah 41:13-16.) “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” “When I am weak, then am I strong;” for Christ’s strength is made perfect in His people’s weakness. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (c)
They that are great, and worthy to be so, Hide not their rays from meanest plants that grow.
Why is the sun set on a throne so high,
But to give light to each inferior eye?
His radiant eyes distribute lively grace
To all according to their worth and place;
And from the humble ground these vapours drain,
Which are sent down in fruitful drops of rain.—Beaumont.
(b) We want labourers; persons who can distribute tracts silently, and persons who can speak a word in season; we want rich men who can go in carriages, and poor men who can only walk; we want ladies who are muffled and furred with all the armour of a luxurious civilization, and poor women whose hearts are warm with a glowing love to the Saviour: we want persons who can teach ragged children, and persons who can address ragged men: Who will come? Don’t oppress those who are working too much already. There is a vast amount of non-productive energy in the Church. There are men and women voluntarily dumb, they must speak; there are Christians who have an enormous talent for sleeping, they must be awakened; there are disciples who imagine that their Christian duties are discharged when they have criticised other people, they must be persuaded or provoked into activity; as with the body, so with the soul—we cannot do our duty with mere empty words;—“if a brother or a sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, and be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful for the body; what doth it profit?” So with the soul. It is not enough to erect your buildings, you must go out, and with all the gentle violence of love “compel men to come in.”.… You can bring in the millennium when you please; God is waiting; the Redeemer is at hand; “Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord, if I will not open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, until there shall not be room enough to contain it.” That is the challenge; who will accept it? God says He waits to be gracious; then let us wait patiently upon God! The rain will come if we pray for it. The battle will be given to Israel if we hold up the hands of His servant.—Jos. Parker, D.D.
(c) Christianity boldly, undisguisedly declares to every human being under sin, that he has no complete power beforehand, as in reference to anything really good. And then it calls him to be good, on the express condition always that he is to have powers, stimulants, increments, accruing as he wants them; that on these, or the promise of them, he may rest his faith, and so go forward. It says to the struggling and misgiving penitent, “Let him take hold of My strength, that he may make peace with Me, and he shall make peace with Me.” It calls every man to earnest and hopeful endeavour, by the consideration of an all-supporting grace that cannot fail; “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God that worketh in you.” It shows the Christian testifying in sublimity of confidence, “When I am weak, then am I strong; I can do all things through Christ, which strengtheneth me.” It promises the faithful man all the support needed for his exigencies as they arise, “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.” It also establishes, in a manner to comprehend everything, a doctrine of Divine concourse by the Holy Spirit, which carries in it the pledge of all-accruing grace, and light, and might, and holy impulsion; “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened.” Indeed, the doctrine or fact of the Holy Spirit is only another way of generalizing the truth that God will co-work invigoratively, correctively, and directively in all the good struggles of believing souls; and so will bring in, at all times and junctures, those increments of power that are necessary to success.
All the simplest, most living, and most genuine Christians of our own time are such as rest their souls, day by day, on this confidence and promise of accruing power, and make themselves responsible, not for what they have in some inherent ability, but for what they can have in their times of stress and peril, and in the continual raising of their own personal quantity and power. They throw themselves on works wholly above their ability, and get accruing power in their works for others still higher and greater. Instead of gathering in their souls timorously beforehand upon the little sufficiency they find in possession, they look upon the great world God has made, and all the greater world of the Saviour’s kingdom in it, as being friendly and tributary, ready to pour in help, minister light, and strengthen them to victory, just according to their faith. And so they grow in courage, confidence, personal volume, efficiency of every kind, and instead of slinking into their graves out of impotent lives, they lie down in the honours of heroes.
Go to your duty, every man, and trust yourselves to Christ; for He will give you all supply just as fast as you need it. You will have just as much power as you believe you can have. Be a Christian, throw yourself upon God’s work, and get the ability you want in it.—H. Bushnell, D.D.
THE OFFERINGS FOR DEDICATING THE ALTAR, AND THEIR MORAL SUGGESTIONS
Two introductory points are suggested:
First: The obligation of man to honour God with his possessions. The princes of the tribes liberally contributed to the erection and furnishing of the tabernacle, that the Lord might be honoured amongst the people. And all men are under the most solemn obligations to employ their possessions in such a way as to honour God thereby. He is the sole proprietor of all things. “Every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.” “The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, saith the Lord of hosts.” “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” The wealthiest man has nothing that he can really call his own; his relation to his temporal possessions is not that of ownership but of stewardship. In giving to the cause of God, or to the needs of man, we only give God His own. Well did king David say, “All things come of Thee, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” To the “rich in this world” it is a charge from God, “that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate.” And according to his ability every man is required to communicate unto others, and so to distribute his worldly goods, that God shall be honoured thereby. Our business is not to selfishly hoard, but to generously dispense; not vainly to accumulate, but wisely to use the goods with which God has entrusted us. He will one day call us to give account of our stewardship. What account will the selfish and useless be able to render unto Him? (a)
Second: The obligation of man to continue in a right and good course. These princes of the tribes had already liberally contributed to the construction of the tabernacle (Exodus 35:27-28); they had also presented the wagons and the oxen for its removal from place to place; and now they are offering their gifts for the dedication of the altar. Having begun this good work, they continued therein until it was brought to perfection. As man accustoms himself to give for the promotion of worthy objects, both his disposition to give and his power to give are increased. His disposition to give is increased; for he learns the joy of giving; he increasingly proves that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” His power to give is also increased; for “there is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty. The liberal soul shall be made fat; and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.”
“There was a man,—some men did count him mad—
The more he gave away the more he had.”
Good beginnings must be carried onward to perfect endings. Continuance and progress in duty and service are required from us. Having given much, let us endeavour to give more. Having done well, let us try to do better. “Forgetting those things which are behind,” etc. (Philippians 3:13-14). “Let us go on unto perfection.”
Let us now proceed to consider—
I. The Significance of the Offerings for the Dedication of the Altar.
1. Their offerings express the sense of of equality of obligation. Every tribe, by its prince, presents the same kind of offering, and in the same quantity, as an expression of their equal indebtedness to God. By Him they all alike had been emancipated from slavery and cruelty in Egypt; by Him they were all alike protected, provisioned and led; and it was fitting that each should thus testify to their equality of obligation. There are certain mercies which all men have in common; certain Divine gifts which are bestowed upon all men; Christ “died for all” men; and there are certain obligations to God in which all men share. “He died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves,” etc.
2. Their offerings express symbolically the Divine calling of the nation to be holy unto the Lord. All the vessels presented were for sacrificial uses, all the animals were ceremonially clean and such as were proper for sacrifices; all the other gifts were of the best quality and were to be used in the worship of God. By these things it was indicated that the people were to be a separate people, entirely dedicated to God, and that God was to dwell in their midst. The lesson for us is, that God is to be worshipped with our highest and best. The best of our affections, of our thoughts, of our actions, of our possessions, we should cheerfully consecrate to Him. Beautifully was this illustrated by Mary of Bethany, when, with glowing gratitude and reverent and rapturous love she poured the precious ointment on the head and feet of her adored Lord. (b)
3. Their offerings express symbolically the great truths taught by the different sacrifices. They brought a “kid of the goats for a sin-offering.” The sin-offering expressed the consciousness of sin on the part of the offerer, the need of forgiveness and tatonement. with God, and the belief that these were to be obtained through the sacrifice of the appointed victim. They offered “one young bullock, one ram, one lamb of the first year, for a burnt-offering.” The burnt-offering was wholly consumed upon the altar to the honour of God; and its main idea is that it represents the entire devotion of the offerer to God, that he gives himself wholly and for ever to Him. Canon Barry well says that “the best comment upon it is the exhortation in Romans 12:1, to ‘present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.’ ” They also brought “for a sacrifice of peace-offerings, two oxen, five rams, five he-goats, and five lambs of the first year.” The peace-offerings were expressions of the gratitude of the worshipper to God; they “were simply offerings to God of His own best gifts, as a sign of thankful homage, and as a means of maintaining His service and His servants.” All these ideas and feelings, therefore, which these sacrifices represent, were expressed in the offerings which the princes, each one representing his respective tribe, presented to the Lord. And should not the ideas and feelings which these offerings were intended to express be ours? Do not we need forgiveness? Let us seek it in faith through the One great Sin-Offering. Are not we under the most sacred and binding obligations to consecrate ourselves entirely unto God? “Know ye not that ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice,” etc. Have not we many and moving reasons, for most fervent gratitude to God? “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” Let us present to Him the offering of sincere and ardent praise. “Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless His holy name.” (c)
II. The Significance of the Record of the Offerings for the Dedication of the Altar.
It is remarkable that the particulars are given of each offering, in the case of each one of the princes, though each of the offerings was exactly similar to the others. The repetition seems uninteresting, tedious, wearisome. But is there not some reason for this minuteness of statement? In a Book where subjects of deep interest are mentioned and dismissed sometimes in a few words, a Book moreover which is inspired by God—is there not significance in this wearisome repetition of uninteresting details? What does it mean? It seems to us to suggest—
1. The pleasure of God in the gifts of His people. “That everything is so particularly noted,” says Babington, “and the weight so precisely mentioned, may teach us to our comfort, what an observation there is in God of the gifts we bestow on Him in promoting His glory, advancing his service, maintaining His ministers in a liberal manner, relieving the poor, and doing such good things as with God and man are praiseworthy. Surely the number, the measure, with all circumstances, are observed; and the Lord is a plenteous Rewarder of all love to Him.” “Man may pass hastily or carelessly over gifts and offerings; but God never can, never does, and never will. He delights to record every little act of service, every little loving gift. He never forgets the smallest thing; and not only does He not forget it Himself, but He takes special pains that untold millions shall read the record. How little did those twelve princes imagine that their names and their offerings were to be handed down, from age to age, to be read by countless generations! Yet so it was, for God would have it so.” They who honour Him with their offerings, He will honour with His expressed approbation. Mary’s offering of her precious ointment is known in all the world where the Gospel is preached (Matthew 26:13). And the widow who cast into the treasury of the temple “all that she had,” though that “all” was only “two mites,” has been crowned by Christ with similar immortality and fame (Mark 12:41-44). “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love,” etc. (Hebrews 6:10).
2. The permanence of good works. When any one does a kind or noble deed, or bestows a generous gift from worthy motives, he does a permanent an imperishable thing. The breath of an immortal life is in such deeds. God remembers and will reward them. The grateful heart will for ever cherish the memory of the kind service or generous gift. “The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance.” The noble deed shall live, and bring forth fruit. And the doer himself by his deed has gained somewhat of nobility and strength as a permanent acquisition in his own being. (d)
Our subject is most fruitful of encouragement to—
1. Liberality of giving to promote worthy objects.
2. Diligence in working to promote worthy objects.
(a) There is nothing made for itself, nothing whose powers and influences are entirely circumscribed to self. Whatever a creature receives it gives out, with the modification and increase of its own force. The clouds borrow water of the ocean, but they pour it forth again in refreshing showers upon the thirsty hills, which, in their turn, send them amongst the valleys. Planets borrow light of their centres, and forthwith fling their rays abroad upon the dark regions of space through which they roll. The tree borrows from every part of the world in order to build up itself, but it gives out, in return, beauty, fragrance, and fruit. Thus all things give what they appropriate. The material is but the emblem of the spiritual, and thus all nature typifies man’s distributive function. Is not he who appropriates and does not give an anomaly in the universe?—David Thomas, D.D.
There is a popular but unfounded axiom respecting the use of wealth, namely, that “a man may do what he will with his own.” Christianity denies this assertion. Every man has indeed a legal right to the disposal of his own property; but religion interdicts his right to spend it in vanity or vice; or if he be exempt from these grosser temptations, she still abridges his right to monopolize it. Christianity expects that the deserving and the distressed shall come in for such a proportion of his wealth as an enlightened conscience shall dictate. The Divine Person who refused, in a legal sense, to be a divider or a judge over a contested property, did not fail to graft on the question He avoided answering, the imperative caution, Take head, and beware of covetousness.—Gleanings.
It has been found, by persons disposed to distribute of their substance, that they have supposed themselves more liberal than has really been the case. They have seemed to give frequently, and perhaps have done so; and have at times feared that they were exceeding proper bounds, when at last, resolving to set apart a certain portion of their income for the specific object, they have been surprised at the end of the year to find their funds not exhausted, even though their applications had seemed as numerous, as urgent, and as liberally attended to as before.
Let it be remembered that the sums which some give, however large, may be given without the self-privation of a single worldly comfort, or even of the luxurious enjoyment of the good things of this life, and thence be as sacrifices that cost nothing. The Christian had need to enquire in his closet concerning the faithful discharge of his stewardship.—Ibid.
(b) The act once taken as an homage to the Saviour, recommends itself to us by the sentiments which appear to have inspired it. That homage is agreeable to Jesus Christ, not only because it is addressed to Him, but because it is worthy of Him. That homage, whatever may be said as to its form, expresses all that a Christian soul must feel for Jesus Christ. What ought we, in truth, to say to that God-man, and what ought we to find in our hearts when we render Him homage? What? Admiration? Respect? An estimation of Him above all sages, all heroes, all men? No! but that as He has given Himself for us, we, in our turn, give ourselves to Him; that we exist for Him; that everything we have is held not for ourselves, but for Him; that no sacrifice on our part appears to bear any proportion to that which He has made for us? and that we are ready to abandon everything for His service and for His glory. Now what is the language of the act of Mary, but all this at once? See her search amongst her whole possessions for the most precious and the most valued thing, that she may consume it in honour of Jesus Christ—for it is truly a loss or waste which she intended to make,—and the objection of the disciples, To what purpose is this waste? expresses the true meaning of the act better than they imagined. It was not enough to employ this perfume if she did not expend it wholly. And since it is to lose or waste it to pour it all out at once over the head of Jesus Christ, she resolves to waste it. She is better pleased to waste it by consecrating it directly to the honour of Jesus Christ than to employ it more usefully, perhaps, in another way. Ah! this perfume was doubtless the most precious thing she could find in her stores! Doubtless if she had possessed a single thing more precious, she would have preferred to sacrifice it, since, not content with having in a moment bestowed so valuable an object, she broke (needless sacrifice) the alabaster vase in which the ointment was contained. It was then that Judas might cry out with displeasure, “To what purpose is this waste?” since the perfume spread around might minister gratification, but not the broken box. But in this the character of the first of these acts might be misapprehended. Mary had in view in pouring out like water this perfumed ointment, not to afford pleasure, but to subject herself to a loss. She wished at once to express and to prove her feeling that nothing was so dear to her as her Saviour, that she was prepared for all sacrifices for His sake, and that, not having it in her power to make all sacrifices at once, she made that the opportunity of which presented itself, that which was at once a sacrifice and an act of homage. She united in one act the reality and the symbol—she gave and she adored. It was with this view she poured out the ointment, it was with this view she broke the box. And has she no other sacrifice to make for the sake of Him who for her gave up everything, sacrificed everything? Cannot she devote herself? She did so, my brethren, she did this at the moment when the perfumed ointment flowed in streams over the blessed forehead of her Master. She broke another vase whence issued odours still more sweet. She broke her own penitent heart; and grief, love, and hope, perfumes more exquisite than spikenard, myrrh, and incense, spread themselves around and filled the house. You perceived nothing of this, O, intolerant disciples! in vain is this perfume spread around you; but your Master has breathed it; He has understood an action incomprehensible by your proud hearts; He has seen the sorrow of heart of that poor Mary; He has discerned the tears of her repentance, which perhaps could not get outward vent, roll drop by drop from her heart; He knows the secret of that mute grief;—the Saviour and the sinner understand each other, and there passes between them, silently, something sublime, something ineffable, which you will not be able to comprehend unless you, yourselves, come, transported with sorrow and love, to pour perfumes also on the head of Jesus, to shed tears at His feet, and to break your hearts before Him.—Alex. Vinet, D.D.
(c) Let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name. Had not David a most heavenly spirit, who was so much in this heavenly work? Doth it not sometimes raise our hearts, when we only read the Song of Moses, and the Psalms of David? How much more would it raise and refresh us to be skilful and frequent in the work ourselves! Oh, the loss to many of the saints who drench their spirits in continual sadness, and waste their days in complaints and groans, and so make themselves, both in body and mind, unfit for this sweet and heavenly work! Instead of being employed in the praises of God, they are questioning their worthiness, and studying their miseries, and so rob God of His glory, and themselves of their consolation.—Gleanings.
(d) There is nothing, no, nothing innocent or good, that dies, and is forgotten: let us hold to that faith, or none. An infant, a prattling child, dying in its cradle, will live again in the better thoughts of those who loved it; and play its part, through them, in the redeeming actions of the world, though its body be burnt to ashes, or drowned in the deepest sea. There is not an angel added to the host of heaven but does its blessed work on earth in those that loved it here. Forgotten! oh, if the good deeds of human creatures could be traced to their source, how beautiful would even death appear; for how much charity, mercy, and purfied affection would be seen to have their growth in dusty graves.—Charles Dickens.
Thousands of men breathe, move, and live, pass off the stage of life, and are heard of no more. Why? They do not partake of good in the world, and none were blessed by them; none could point to them as the means of their redemption; not a line they wrote, not a word they spake, could be recalled; and so they perished; their light went out in darkness, and they were not remembered more than insects of yesterday. Will you thus live and die, O man immortal? Live for something. Do good, and leave behind you a monument of virtue that the storm of time can never destroy. Write your name in kindness, love, and mercy, on the hearts of thousands you come in contact with year by year; you will never be forgotten. No, your name, your deeds will be as legible on the hearts you leave behind as the stars on the brow of evening. Good deeds will shine as the stars of heaven.—Chalmers.
THE SUPPORT OF RELIGIOUS INSTITUTIONS
“This was the dedication of the altar, after that it was anointed.”
In this chapter we see how the altar was dedicated; and we learn that God expects His people to provide for and to carry on His work. This dedication of the altar
I. Suggests to us some of the responsibilities of the wealthy.
Wealth is a talent. God will demand an account of it. He holds the wealthy responsible—
1. To give of their wealth to carry on His work. God claims a share of all we get; how much that shall be He leaves to our conscience. He looks not so much at the amount as at the motive. He measures our gifts by our hearts. To Christ the “two mites” was the greatest offering in the Treasury of the Temple for that reason. God expects us to take care of His house and work; not to do so is a sin. David was in distress because he lived in a better house than the Ark of God had; that is the right feeling. Surely we ought to take as good care of God’s house as of our own. Were it so, the treasury of God’s house would never be empty.
2. To take the lead in doing good—to be examples in giving. The wealthy are looked up to; if they fail to do their duty, not only do they fail to do good, but they also check and prevent others from doing so.
II. Is a striking illustration of the voluntary principle.
It teaches us the true method of giving for the support of religious institutions.
1. God has left His work to be carried on by His people.
2. The voluntary principle is the most effective for doing this.
(1) Because conscience is brought into action by it: giving becomes an act of worship.
(2) Because man is then on his honour.
(3) As a matter of fact it has never failed. See how much it produced here in the wilderness. The Church in the present age supplies ample proof of its success. (a)
3. God is greatly pleased with it. He approves of it. Read Numbers 7:89 with the text. He approves—
(1) Because voluntary giving evinces real interest in His work—shows that it is done from love. The free-will offering is a good guage of the people’s hearts and interest.
(2) He will accept nothing that is done from constraint.
(3) He testifies to His pleasure, in His Word and by blessing those who so help His work. “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart; not grudgingly, or of necessity; for God loveth a cheerful giver.” Those who give to God are ever blessed by Him. Our Master pays well; we never lose by serving Him faithfully. “He which soweth, bountifully shall reap also bountifully.”—David Lloyd.
(a) In Scotland, during the last seventeen years (1861), an experiment has been made on a large scale of the power of the voluntary principle, and made, too, by men who had but little faith in it at first. Of course, I now refer to the “Free Church of Scotland.” The alternative was placed before the Church of Scotland, to give up their rights of self-government or to give up State pay. And 478 ministers and professors said, We will give up the pay, we will be free, whatever may be the result. They left their homes, and the churches in which their fathers had worshipped, trusting in God to provide for them. And what the results have been I am now about to lay before you. Let us first look at what they have done, in sixteen years, in the way of providing accommodation for religious worship. They have built—
300 Churches at an average cost of
565 Manses, ditto
620 Schools, ditto
Edinburgh College, total cost
Glasgow College, total cost
Aberdeen College, total cost
Edinburgh and Glasgow Normal Schools
Assembly Hall and site. Edinburgh
Church Offices in Mound-place
Churches, Manses, School, erected at the expense of individuals, not appearing in the public accounts
Aggregate cost of buildings
From this large amount of money spent in buildings, there are two small deductions to be made. First, the existing debt upon them is estimated at £90,000; and second, towards the erection of the schools they have received £20,000 from the Government. Deducting these there is the noble sum of £1,312,364 15s. 9d. left, which in sixteen years the Free Church of Scotland has invested in lime, stone, and land! Let us now look at the ministry of the Free Church. There were 478 ministers who left their emoluments and status in the Established Church. In the first year of the Free Church each of these received a stipend from £105 and upwards. In the year 1859 the number of ministers had increased to 784, and the lowest stipend was then £138. Besides which, 565 of them had a pleasant manse, built by the free-will offerings of the people.
But perhaps it may be thought that all the energies of the Free Church have been confined to building churches and schools, and providing for their own wants at home; but this has not been the case. They have been doing much for others in various ways, and in many lands. Allow me to read you the income for the year 1859, for various religious objects:—
Building Fund. Genral and Lo al
General Trustees and Miscellaneous
Missions to the Highlan’s
Missions to the Colonies
Missions to the Continent
Missions to the Jews
Making a total income for 1859 of
You will see from these figures that the seal of the Free Church is expansive. If they begin at home they do not stay there. From the year 1843 to 1859, a period of sixteen years, the Free Church raised for all purposes £4 883,13212s. 6¾d. And after sixteen years’ experience the income of the Free Church still increases. “Leaving out of view the building funds which are temporary, the aggregate of all the other funds has been steadily, year by year, increasing; so that the yearly average of the last five years is twenty-five per cent, above the yearly average of the first five years.”—Marmaduke Miller.
THE CONDESCENSION OF GOD AND THE PRIVILEGES OF MAN
Already the Lord had promised Moses that He would meet with him, and commune with him from above the mercy-seat (Exodus 25:22); and now He fulfils that promise. The tribes had cheerfully contributed everything necessary for the tabernacle and its sacred services! and now the Most High acknowledges His acceptance of their offerings by manifesting His Presence in thus speaking to Moses in the holy of holies. Let us consider,—
1. The great condescension of God.
“When Moses was gone into the tabernacle of the congregation to speak with Him, then he heard the Voice of One speaking unto him,” etc. Moses heard the Voice conversing with him. Great is the condescension of the Lord in thus speaking with Moses, and through Moses to the people. Let us notice here—
1. The sacred place in which He speaks. It was in the holy of holies in “the tabernacle of meeting.” It was in this place that he had promised to meet with His servant. “There I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee,” etc. He is represented as dweling in this place, and as enthroned between the cherubim. It was the place of His special self-manifestation. God is everywhere present.
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and gather blackberries.”
The thoughtful and reverent mind beholds signs of the presence and activity of God on every hand. We see his glory in the countless orbs of heaven, and in the exquisite pencillings and perfumes of the flowers of earth, etc. But still He specially manifests Himself to man in His house. In the proclamation of the glorious Gospel, in the administration of the holy sacraments, and in the presentation of reverent worship to Him, man most often and fully realses the presence and hears the Voice of God (compare Exodus 20:24; 2 Chronicles 6:18; and Matthew 18:20).
2. The grand medium through which He speaks. “Speaking unto him from off the mercy-seat that was upon the ark of testimony, from between the two cherubims.” The mercy-seat was “the massive golden cover of the ark of the covenant, on which the glory of Jehovah appeared between the cherubim. It was that upon which especially the blood of the propitiatory sacrifice was sprinkled on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:15), and from this circumstance apparently, the propitiation taking place on it, it obtained its name of ἱλαστήριον. It was the footstool of God (1 Chronicles 28:2; Psalms 99:5). The spot where He, the God of the covenant, met with Israel, the people of the covenant.” It is also called “the oracle” (1 Kings 6:19-20; 1 Kings 6:23). Now the mercy-seat is an illustration, perhaps a type, of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the true Mercy-seat, the Divine ἱλαστήριον (Romans 3:25). By the shedding of His blood, the great atonement for the sins of the world was made. In Him God draws near to man, and communes with him. He is the true Divine Oracle; through Him the most precious revelations of God have been made; in Him we hear the voice of God most clearly and graciously (Hebrews 1:1-3).
3. The gracious purpose for which He speaks. In this instance, the voice from between the cherubim doubtless announced to Moses the gracious acceptance by Jehovah of the cheerful offerings of the princes of the tribes; and intimated that He had taken up His abode in their midst. All the utterances of God are for the benefit of man. Even the proclamation of His law is an expression of His benevolence to our race. “Law is love defined.” “The law is holy, and the commandment holy and just, and good.” But how gracious are His utterances to us by Christ Jesus! “All wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth.” “Never man spake like this Man.” “The words that I speak unto you are spirit, and are life.” “Thou hast the words of eternal life.” The grand purpose for which God speaks to us through Christ is that we might be saved from sin, and restored to the perfect likeness and the intimate fellowship of Himself. Jesus Christ is pre-eminently the Word of God; He is the fullest, grandest, most eloquent expression of the Divine love; and the great object of His incarnation was the redemption of man from evil, and the conference upon him of eternal and blessed life. How great is the condescension of God in all this. (a)
II. The great privileges of man.
Moses went into the tabernacle of meeting to speak with Jehovah, and he heard the voice conversing with him: and he spake unto Him. Here is a twofold privilege which through Jesus Christ every man may enjoy:—
1. We may speak unto God. He invites us to do so, and promises us a gracious audience. “Offer unto God thanksgiving, and pay thy vows unto the Most High; and call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.” “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.” (See Isaiah 65:24; Daniel 9:20-23; Malachi 3:16-17; Matthew 18:19-20; John 16:23-27.) In all ages godly souls have proved the reality and the preciousness of this privilege. In time of grief or gladness, of perplexity or penitence, of doubt or dread, of triumph or tribulation, we may speak unto God in praise or prayer, or in the silent language of the heart, which He perfectly comprehends, assured that He will hear us graciously, and bless us generously. Blessed privilege! (b)
2. We may receive communications from God. The soul which, through the mediation of Jesus Christ, is brought into sympathy with Him, receives communications from Him through many voices. In the melodies and minstrelsies of nature such a soul hears with reverent delight the Divine music of the Father’s voice. We receive messages from Him through the sacred Scriptures, through the operations of His providence, and through the mysterious and gracious ministry of His Spirit. And how precious and helpful are His communications! Pardon to the guilty, peace to the penitent, joy to the sorrowful, direction to the perplexed, hope to the despondent, etc. Unspeakably great and blessed are our privileges. (c)
III. The consequent duty of man.
The possession of privileges always involves corresponding obligations. Since man possesses these privileges, it becomes his duty—
1. To wait upon God in His house. No one can neglect public worship without sinning against his own soul and God.
2. To address God in His house. Since He invites us to do so, we cannot neglect the privilege of uniting in praise and prayer without sin.
3. To listen for the Voice of God in His house. The wise and godly soul resorts to the temple of God not to be charmed with the eloquence, or stimulated by the reasoning, or moved by the pathos of the preacher; not to be gratified by the spectacles of a gorgeous ritualism, or delighted by the musical performances of professional choirs; but with humble reverence to speak to God, and with devout attention to listen to His voice. (d)
(a) A king might have the whole of his reign crowded with the enterprises of his glory; and by the might of his arms, and the wisdom of his counsels, might win the first reputation among the potentates of the world, and be idolized throughout all his provinces for the wealth and the security that he had spread around them—and still it is conceivable, that by the act of a single day in behalf of a single family; by some soothing visitation of tenderness to a poor and solitary cottage; by some deed of compassion, which conferred enlargement and relief on one despairing sufferer; by some graceful movement of sensibility at a tale of wretchedness; by some noble effort of self-denial, in virtue of which he subdued his every purpose of revenge, and spread the mantle of a generous oblivion over the fault of the man who had insulted and aggrieved him; above all, by an exercise of pardon so skilfully administered, as that, instead of bringing him down to a state of defencelessness against the provocation of future injuries, it threw a deeper sacredness over him, and stamped a more inviolable dignity than ever on his person and character:—why, on the strength of one such performance, done in a single hour, and reaching no farther in its immediate effects than to one house or one individual, it is a most possible thing, that the highest monarch upon earth might draw such a lustre around him, as would eclipse the renown of all his public achievements—and that such a display of magnanimity, or of worth, beaming from the secrecy of his familiar movements, might awaken a more cordial veneration in every bosom, than all the splendour of his conspicous history—ay, and that it might pass down to posterity as a more enduring monument of greatness, and raise him farther, by its moral elevation, above the level of ordinary praise; and when he passes in review before the men of distant ages, may this deed of modest, gentle, unobtrusive virtue, be at all times appealed to as the most sublime and touching memorial of his name.
In like manner did the King eternal, immortal, and invisible, surrounded as He is with the splendours of a wide and everlasting monarchy, turn Him to our humble habitation; and the footsteps of God manifest in the flesh, have been on the narrow spot of ground we occupy; and small though our mansion be amid the orbs and the systems of immensity, hither hath the King of glory bent His mysterious way, and entered the tabernacle of men, and in the disguise of a servant did He sojourn for years under the roof which canopies our obscure and solitary world. Yea, it is but a twinkling atom in the peopled infinity of worlds that are around it—but look to the moral grandeur of the transaction, and not to the material extent of the field upon which it was executed—and from the retirement of our dwelling-place, there may issue forth such a display of the Godhead, as will circulate the glories of His name amongst all His worshippers. Here sin entered. Here was the kind and universal beneficence of a Father repaid by the ingratitude of a whole family. Here the law of God was dishonoured, and that too in the face of its proclaimed and unalterable sanctions. Here the mighty contest of the attributes was ended—and when justice put forth its demands, and truth called for the fulfilment of its warnings, and the immutability of God would not recede by a single iota from any one of its positions, and all the severities He had ever uttered against the children of iniquity, seemed to gather into one cloud of threatening vengeance on the tenement that held us—did the visit of the only begotten Son chase away all these obstacles to the triumph of mercy—and humble as the tenement may be, deeply shaded in the obscurity of insignificance as it is, among the statelier mansions which are on every side of it—yet will the recall of its exiled family never be forgotten, and the illustration that has been given here of the mingled grace and majesty of God will never lose its place among the themes and the acclamations of eternity.—Thomas Chalmers, D.D., LL.D.
(b) Prayer is not asking for something. I have nothing to ask for since I have known what God’s fatherhood meant. I have but one petition, and that is, “Thy will be done.” It is not for me to wake the sun. It is not for me to call the summer. It is not for me to ask for colours in the heavens. All these things are abundantly provided. The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof, and I am God’s beloved. He died for me by His Son Jesus Christ. He thinks of me. Do I ever forget my children? Shall a mother forget her baby, cradled in her arms, by day or by night? And shall God forget us in that great rolling sea of His thoughts, in that everlasting fecundity of His love, in the infinite bound of the Divine tenderness and mercy for man? Is there anything left to ask for? When I am tired I carry my weariness there, and lay it down. When I am in sorrow, I am glad when I think of the Sorrowing One. The God of all comfort is my God. When my burden is heavy, it is not so heavy as was His cross. Ten thousand thoughts of this kind that spring from every side of human experience and touch human life in every part—these are elements of prayer. So that when I pray, I rejoice; as the Apostle would say, “Giving thanks in prayer.” Prayer is cheerful to me. Prayer is sweet to me; it is not ascetic I know that I am wicked; I know that I grieve God; I know that there are times when I am glad to say, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” So there are times for the majesty of storms in summer. But thunderstorms do not march in procession all the way across the bosom of the summer. There is more brightness than darkness, more tranquil fruitfulness than agitation and thunder.—H. W. Beecher.
(c) What we want in this English land, and down in the midst of this busy nineteenth century—want as a gain that would be to us as life from the dead, is a firm persuasion of God’s presence with our human affairs, and of His influence, not only about us, but within us. If He be not thus present with us, where can be the object—the rationality of prayer? Religious men of all creeds have been praying men—must pray. In fact, the Light of the World is ever knocking at the door, now by frustrating our fond earthly schemes, now by bringing us face to face with the judgment-seat through disease or accident; now summoning us to look upon our loved ones dead—in a thousand ways like these does the Incarnate One appeal to our susceptibilities of religious life, and we hearken to His voice, and bid Him welcome, or we heed Him not, and bid Him go His way until some more convenient season. We have to do with a living God. We are in the midst of a living universe. Influences between heaven and earth, like the figures seen on the mystic ladder, are constantly descending and ascending, and spirits have been passing through all time, like an ever-widening stream of light, from this lower world to the higher, where the Highest Himself receives them as His own.—Robert Vaughan, D.D.
(d) Hear the Word with constant self-application. Hear not for others, but for yourselves. What should we think of a person who, after accepting an invitation to a feast, and taking his place at the table, instead of partaking of the repast, amused himself with speculating on the nature of the provisions, or the manner in which they were prepared, and their adaptation to the temperament of the several guests, without tasting a single article? Such, however, is the conduct of those who hear the Word without applying it to themselves, or considering the aspect it bears on their individual character. Go to the house of God with a serious expectation and desire of meeting with something suited to your particular state; something that shall lay the axe to the root of your corruptions; mortify your easily-besetting sin, and confirm the graces in which you are most deficient. A little attention will be sufficient to give you that insight into your character, which will teach what you need; what the peculiar temptations to which you are exposed, and on what account you feel most shame and humiliation before God. Every one may know, if he pleases, the plague of his own heart. Keep your eye upon it while you are hearing, and eagerly lay hold upon what is best adapted to heal and correct it. Remember that religion is a personal thing, an individual concern; for every one of us must give an account of himself to God, and every man bear his own burden.
Receive with meekness the engrafted Word, which is able to save your souls. It you choose to converse with, your fellow-Christians on what you have been hearing, a practice which, if rightly conducted, may be very edifying, let your conversation turn more upon the tendency, the spiritual beauty and glory, of these great things of God which have engaged your attention, than on the merit of the preacher. We may readily suppose that Cornelius and his friends, after hearing Peter, employed very few words in discussing the oratorical talents of that great Apostle; any more than the three thousand, who at the day of Pentecost were pricked to the heart; their minds were too much occupied by the momentous truths they had been listening to, to leave room for such reflections. Yet this is the only kind of religious conversation (if it deserves the application) in which too many professors engage. “Give me,” says the incomparable Fenelon, “the preacher who imbues my mind with such a love of the Word of God, as makes me desirous of hearing is from any mouth.”—Robert Hall, A.M.
MAN’S ACCESS TO GOD, AND GOD’S WORD TO MAN
The high priest alone had access to the holy of holies; he alone could approach the mercy-seat, and there enjoy the immediate and special presence of God. But Moses seems to have been an exceptional case; a privileged person; for he was permitted to approach God in a way, and to an extent, which was the peculiar privilege of the high priest alone. This may be explained by the fact that Moses was a subordinate mediator between God and Israel in the desert; he is called a mediator in one of the epistles of the New Testament. And that would show that he had an office, an elevation, and a relationship to God, which none else had in that economy, and which gave him, therefore, privileges which none else were permitted to enjoy. But now every Christian has all the right that Moses had. The humblest believer in the house of God is a priest in the truest and only existing sense of the word; and has access as a priest into the immediate presence of God (comp. Ephesians 2:18).
What was this way of access by which Moses drew near to God, and by which we draw near? There never was but one, there never will be but one way by which fallen man can draw near to God—Christ the way, the truth, and the life. The mode of revealing it has differed, but the way itself has always been the same. Moses did not see it as clearly as we do, but he trod the same path, nevertheless.
When Moses approached to God, what was the object that he had first in view? Moses drew near to Him to speak to Him. But to speak how? No doubt about it, to pray. And to speak in what manner? No doubt in the name of Jesus, with all freedom (see Hebrews 4:14-16). Moses went into the presence of God to tell Him what the wants, the sorrows, the sufferings, the fears, the difficulties of Israel were We, too, are welcome to go into the very chancel of the universe, into the very presence of Deity, and to tell God our least and our worst cares; for there is no trouble so trivial that God will refuse to listen to it, and there is no trouble so bitter and so burdensome that God will not either remove or give strength to bear.
Not only did Moses go to speak to God, but we read that God spoke to him. I know not which is most precious; that we may speak to God, or that God has spoken to us (Hebrews 1:1-2). Many persons think it strange that God should give a revelation of Himself to us. It would seem, on the contrary, that it would be strange if God did not give us a revelation of Himself. If it be true that we have lost Him, that we cannot by any searching find Him, is it not reasonable—is it not probable that the Father of us all should tell us where He is, what He is, who we are, and whither we are going? Does not the father instruct the children? Does not ripe age warn and teach unripe youth? The Great Father will teach His children, etc.
But how and by whom has God spoken to us? Moses says it was from the mercy-seat, and from between the cherubim. What was that the symbol of? The Apostle tells us, in his epistle to the Romans (Numbers 3:25), “Propitiation,” literally, “Mercy-seat.” When God, therefore, spoke from the mercy-seat, and from between the cherubim, where the Shecinah or the glory shone, it was speaking then, translated into New Testament language, by Christ, the Mediator between God and us. All that can be known of God, He has made known; all that can be seen of God, He is; all that can be heard of God, He speaks. Christ thus is the medium of this communication.
The Book that the Spirit inspired—the Bible—is the depository of what God said from between the cherubim; or, translated into our language, what God spoke by Jesus Christ. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Whatever is not in the Bible, however true, is not essential to salvation; whatever contradicts the Bible, however popular, is not true. But all that is in the Bible is profitable for instruction, for correction in righteousness; for all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. It is the Word perpetuated in ceaseless echoes along the centuries as God spake it in and by Christ Jesus.
We may presume that the Book thus inspired is at least an intelligible Book. There is not a more intelligible book than the Bible. It is not asserted that every word of the Book is plain; but if there be darkness, it is because of the infinitude of the subject, and our imperfection; not because of the inadequacy of the writer or the Inspirer of it. Finite minds cannot comprehend all-infinite truth. We must, therefore, expect that there will be some pages difficult, because the subjects are infinite; but we do find that the passages that relate to our personal well-being are so plain, that he who reads may run while he reads.
The preacher, or the minister, is simply the expositor of this Book. He is not to add to it, nor is he to subtract from it; but he is simply to set it forth, to explain allusions to customs that have passed away; to set its truths in clear light, applying them to modern circumstances, and to the varying phases of every social system.
We have reason to believe that this revelation is God’s last communication to man in this dispensation (Hebrews 1:1-2). We cannot add to it; it is not a discovery which man has made, and man can mend; but a revelation which God has given, and which man, therefore, cannot improve.
God spoke “from between the cherubim.” Angels desire to look into these things. They are hearers; we are actors. They can afford to look; but we cannot afford to be passive spectators. It is to us it is spoken; it is about us that God speaks; our responsibility is increased by hearing it.
And what God has put in this Book is of infinite importance. God has not bowed the heavens to make known an idle or a useless tale. It is of infinite value, unspeakably precious. If so, let us be thankful we have heard it, that we have the Word uncorrupted, a lamp to our feet, a light to our path. And if we are thankful for it, how diligently, how devoutly should we study it! And, appreciating this blessed Book ourselves, we ought to circulate and spread it among all mankind.—John Cumming, D.D.
THE CHERUBIM AND THE MERCY-SEAT
Surely there was some design in bringing together all these different objects into one great symbol or type;—the tables of the law, the covering of the mercy-seat, the representation of the cherubim, and the glory of God, the cloud of the Divine presence surmounting them. They teach us that betwixt law and grace; betwixt the administration of grace to man and the heavenly world; and betwixt the whole of this dispensation and arrangement, and the glorious manifested presence of Jehovah, there is a close and interesting connexion.
I. There is now a relation betwixt law and grace.
Why are the tables of the law, which were “a witness against” the people (Deuteronomy 31:26), placed in the sanctuary where everything spake of mercy? (1 Kings 8:9).
1. Because the law is eternal, and must therefore harmonise with every dispensation of religion to man. The whole Gospel is founded upon the eternity of the law; for if its authority did not continue, we could not sin against it, and should therefore need no mercy. The very nature of the law bears with it internal evidence that it must endure for ever; it is holy, and just, and good. Wherever, then, you look for the Gospel you will find the law.
2. Because it was the violation of the law by which the dispensation of mercy was rendered necessary. If man had never sinned, there would have been no need of sacrifice, no need of mediation. The very Gospel implies our guilt. The tables are put into the ark to teach us, that if they were not there, we could expect nothing but the law’s malediction, and the execution of its sentence.
3. To intimate to us that the grand end of the administration of grace to man is the re-establishment of the law’s dominion over him. The grand end of this dispensation is certainly, in the first instance, to deliver us from the guilt and penalty of sin; and then, in the next place, by the almighty grace of Christ, to implant within us principles which the influences of the Spirit shall carry on to maturity, that we may be tilled with all the fruits of righteousness for ever.
4. To indicate that the administration of grace is in every part consistent with law. The mercy-seat was God’s throne of grace founded upon law. It was sprinkled with the blood of atonement (comp. Romans 3:25-26; Hebrews 9:13-14; 1 Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:5).… Wherever these three principles unite—that the righteous character of the Governor is upheld; that men are deterred from offences; that the authority of the law is maintained, and its purity and excellence declared;—there is a righteous government; and such is the government of God, even while He is abundant in mercy, waiteth to be gracious, and is ever ready to forgive.
II. There is an harmonious relation betwixt the dispensation of grace to man and the heavenly world.
Over the mercy-seat the cherubim were placed. Cherubim are placed before us in Scripture under two views. First, they are presented to us as the ministers of Divine vegeance (Genesis 3:24). But in the tabernacle, from the very position in which they were placed, hiding the ark with their wings, “shadowing the mercy-seat,” bending, as if looking down upon it, they are represented as interested spectators of the administration of the grace of God to men, through the atonement and sacrifice of the Saviour.
1. Angelic powers have an intellectual interest in this great subject. (Comp. 1 Peter 1:12.)
2. The connexion of the angelic world with the Christian system is likewise one of large and important moral benefit. We may fairiy infer this from Ephesians 3:10. If to any being already pure, brighter views of God, more important degrees of moral knowledge be communicated, such communications of knowledge must always be the instrument of an increase both of holiness and felicity. And there must be great subjects with which the angels must become better acquainted than they ever could have been, but for the occurrences and history of our redemption. We may see this in relation to the evil of sin, the love of God, the power of God, the power of grace in man, etc.
3. Angelic beings are ministers to the Church and ministers to individuals (see Colossians 1:20; Hebrews 1:14.) God Himself is the Friend of those who are reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ; and all His agents, whether angels or men, are ministers to do them good (Romans 8:28.)
III. There was the presence of God crowning the whole.
In the sanctuary was the visible symbol of the Divine presence. Thus are we shown that all things are of Him, and by Him, and for Him (2 Chronicles 6:41). As creation is from the will of God, so is redemption. All is the result of His benevolence (2 Corinthians 5:18).
This indicates, too, the necessity of Divine agency. As He originated the whole scheme of redemption, so must He be present with it to give it power and efficacy. This was felt under the law (comp. Psalms 80:1-2; Psalms 132:8-9). As the most beautiful arrangements of the temple would have been insufficient without the cloud of the Divine presence, so, unless God be especially present, even with Christianity, it cannot profit.
The whole points out the everlasting presence of God with His Church (comp. Isaiah 12:6; Psalms 132:13-16).
The people of God dwell already in the outer courts; but they are waiting till they shall be permitted to pass “within the vail, whither the Forerunner is for them entered.” There God Himself shall be with them, and be their God for ever and ever.—Richard Watson.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 7". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25