THE PROSPERITY OF ZION DESIRED
Deuteronomy 1:11. The Lord God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as he hath promised you!
TO decline any measure of exertion in behalf of persons committed to our care, may appear to argue a want of love to them. But there are certain bounds beyond which a man cannot go: his physical strength will fail; and his attempts to persevere beyond his capacity of performance will defeat the very object he has in view, and prove an injury to the persons whose welfare he is labouring to consult. The care of all the people of Israel, two millions in number, had devolved on Moses: and he endeavoured, as their chief magistrate, to dispense justice to them all, by hearing and determining every subject of litigation that was brought before him. This occupied him from morning to night, and was obviously impairing his bodily health: the labour was too great for him; and he would soon have sunk under it. By the advice of Jethro, his father-in-law, he appointed persons, chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to hear all the causes which were of inferior moment, and reserved to himself the determination of those only which were of a more difficult nature, and which required a more especial reference to God himself. He was now arrived at the borders of Jordan, and at the last month of his life: and was directed of God to record, and leave behind him in writing, a brief memorial of the principal events which had taken place, and the principal laws which had been promulgated, during their sojourning in the wilderness: that so the generation which had arisen in the wilderness might, by a special recapitulation of those events, have them the more deeply impressed on their minds, and be stirred up by the remembrance of them to serve their God with more fidelity than their fathers had done. The appointment of these inferior judges was one of the first acts which took place in the wilderness: and, as it originated from Jethro, his father-in-law, and not from God, Moses was fearful that it might be open to an unfavourable construction, and that he might appear, if not to have neglected his duty towards the people, at least to have been defective in love towards them: and therefore, in relating the fact, he tells them how anxiously he had at the very time manifested his zeal in their service; since, whilst issuing his order for the appointment of these men, instead of grudging that they were so numerous as to render the minute attention which he had hitherto paid to their concerns impracticable, he had expressed the most ardent desire for their further increase, saying, “The Lord God of your fathers make you a thousand times so many more as ye are, and bless you, as he hath promised you!”
This benevolent wish of his will lead me to consider the prosperity of God’s Israel,
I. As a matter of promise—
To the promises of God relating to this subject Moses refers: “The Lord bless you, as he has promised you!”
Now God has promised innumerable blessings to those who are of Israel according to the flesh—
[He had assured Abraham that his seed should be numerous “as the stars of heaven, and countless as the sands upon the sea-shore [Note: Genesis 15:5.].” They had already multiplied greatly; (they were about thirty thousand times as many as they had been two hundred and fifty years before:) and they should yet multiply to a far greater extent, as they did in succeeding ages; and as they shall do in ages yet to come: for though at present they are brought low and are very few in number, God has expressly declared, by his prophet, that “he will multiply them above their fathers [Note: Jeremiah 33:22; Deuteronomy 30:5.].” His blessings, too, shall be richly poured out upon them, not only as they were in Canaan, in the days of David and Solomon, but in a measure that can scarcely be conceived. Even in a temporal view, I apprehend, the magnificent descriptions of the prophets will be realized [Note: Amos 9:11-15; Zechariah 8:3-8.]; but in a spiritual view I am perfectly sure of it: for they shall be restored to their God, and be as great monuments of God’s love and mercy in the world, as ever they have been of his wrath and indignation [Note: Zechariah 8:13; Zechariah 8:18-23.]: yes, the time is now fast approaching, when “he will multiply them, that they shall not be few; and glorify them, that they shall not be small [Note: Jeremiah 30:19.]:” and when “they shall sing with gladness for Jacob, and shout among the chief of the nations, saying one to another, Publish ye, praise ye, and say, Save thy people, the remnant of Israel [Note: Jeremiah 31:7.].”]
Innumerable blessings, too, has God promised to his spiritual Israel—
[That these are included in the wish of Moses, there can be no doubt: for, in the promise which be more immediately refers to, where it is said, “In blessing I will bless thee, and as the sand which is upon the sea-shore;” it is added, “And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed [Note: Genesis 22:17-18.].” Here, beyond all doubt, is reference to the whole Gentile world, who shall in due season be converted to the Lord, and together with Israel become “one fold under one Shepherd.” That these were included in the promise made to Abraham, St. Paul expressly declares: “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed. So, then, they which be of faith” (whether Jews or Gentiles, the same (are the children of Abraham, and) “are blessed with faithful Abraham [Note: Galatians 3:7-9.].” He further declares, that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith [Note: Galatians 3:13-14.].” Here, then, we have a fuller insight into the wish of Moses, as expressed in the text; a wish in which every pious person under heaven must concur.]
Let us then consider the prosperity of Israel,
II. As an object of desire—
“O that the Lord God of our fathers would multiply his people a thousand-fold, and bless them, as he has promised them!” If any of you need a stimulus to concur in this wish, reflect on,
1. The benefit that will accrue to every converted soul—
[Were we to contemplate a soul actually taken out of hell, and translated to a throne of glory in heaven, we should say, indeed, that such an one had reason to rejoice. Yet, what is it less than this that is done for every child of God? Are we not doomed to perdition? Is there any child of man that is not “by nature a child of wrath [Note: Ephesians 2:3.]?” Consequently, if delivered from condemnation, “is he not a brand plucked out of the fire [Note: Zechariah 3:2.]?” Is he not, at the very time that he is “turned from darkness to light, turned also from the power of Satan unto God [Note: Acts 26:18.]?” Does he not actually “pass from death unto life [Note: 1 John 3:14.]?” and is he not “delivered from the power of darkness, and translated into the kingdom of God’s dear Son [Note: Colossians 1:13.]?” Reflect then on this, as done for only one soul; and there is reason, abundant reason, for every benevolent person in the universe to pant for it. But consider it as extended to thousands, and millions, yea, millions of millions, even the whole human race, and who should not pant and pray for that? See what a commotion is produced in heaven even by the conversion of one soul: for “there is joy among the angels, in the very presence of God, over one sinner that repenteth:” and what must we be, who feel so indifferent about the conversion and salvation of the whole world? Verily, we have need to blush and be confounded before God, for the coldness with which we contemplate his promised blessings.]
2. The honour that will redound to God—
[Behold our fallen race! Who is there amongst them that bears any measure of resemblance to the image in which man was first created? Who regards God? Who does not practically “say to God, Depart from me; I desire not the knowledge of thy ways [Note: Job 21:14.]?” But let a soul be apprehended by divine grace, and converted to the faith of Christ, and what a different aspect does he then bear! Verily, the whole works of creation do not so brightly exhibit the glory of God, as does this new-created being. Brilliant as are the rays of the noonday sun, they do not display even the natural perfections, and still less the moral perfections, of the Deity, as he; who, from the image of “his father, the devil,” is “transformed into the image of God himself, in righteousness and true holiness.”
Now, too, he begins to live unto his God, and by every possible means to exalt his glory in the world, acknowledging him in all things, serving him in all things, glorifying him in all things. Is there a man that is in any respect sensible of his obligations to God, and not desirous that such converts should be multiplied? Did David “shed rivers of tears for those who kept not God’s law;” and shall not we weep and pray that such persons may be converted to God, and made monuments of his saving grace? But conceive of this whole world, that is in rebellion against God, converted thus, and God’s will done on earth as it is done in heaven: and shall this be to us no object of desire? Verily, we should take no rest to ourselves, nor give any rest to God, till he accomplish this blessed work [Note: Isaiah 62:6-7.], and till “all the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of his Christ [Note: Revelation 2:15.].”]
3. The happiness that will arise to the whole world—
[Every soul that is converted to God becomes “a light” to those around him; and as “salt,” to keep, as it were, from utter putrefaction the neighbourhood in which he dwells. In proportion, then, as these are multiplied, the very world itself assumes a different aspect; instead of the brier there grows up the fir-tree, and “instead of the thorn there grows up the myrtle-tree;” till, at last, “the whole wilderness shall blossom as the rose,” and this “desert become as the garden of the Lord.” I need not say more. The wish of Moses is, methinks, the wish of every one amongst you; and you are all saying with David, “Blessed be God’s glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory: Amen and Amen [Note: Psalms 72:19.].”]
You will ask, then, What shall we do to accelerate this glorious event?
[God works by means. He did so in the apostolic age: and he will do so still: and if we have any love either for God or man, we should use all the means within our power for the increase of the Church and the salvation of the world. Yet may we learn a very important lesson from the conduct of Moses, in the appointment of persons to labour with him. He had sustained the burthen, himself alone, and doubtless thought that he was rendering an acceptable service both to God and man. But his father-in-law said to him, and said with truth, “The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and the people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee: thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. Hearken now unto my voice: I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee.” And then he proceeds to advise, that he should provide, out of all the people, a number of pious and able men to co-operate with him in the work wherein he was engaged [Note: Exodus 18:17-23.]. And Moses did well in following the advice: for if he had not, his indiscreet zeal would have soon worn him out, and deprived the whole nation of the benefit of his labours for forty years. It were well if pious ministers would attend to this hint. There is scarcely a man who has any zeal for God or love for souls, who does not so multiply his labours, as to reduce his strength in a few months or years; when true wisdom would teach him so to regulate his exertions, that he may hope to continue them unimpaired to nearly the end of life. I mean not by this to damp the zeal of ministers, but only to direct it. It is impossible to be too zealous for the Lord: but it is possible enough, and too common also, to exercise zeal in so indiscreet a way, as greatly to injure the Church which we profess to serve. Let the zeal of our people be called forth: let them be invited to labour with us, to visit the sick, to instruct the rising generation, and to engage in every thing which may benefit our fellow-creatures and exalt the honour of our God. With all the aid that can be afforded us, there will be work enough for us to do: and we should endeavour to perform our duties with spirituality and effect, rather than to abound in mere bodily exercise, which, after all, will profit but little for the salvation of souls. Are there then, amongst you, any that know the value of your own souls? I call on you to help your minister in all those parts of his office which you can with propriety perform. And I trust, that if we will all exert ourselves according to our several abilities, the work of God will rapidly advance amongst us, and our “Jerusalem soon become a praise in the earth.” When all, both male and female, concurred in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, every one working before his own door, the whole was completed in the incredibly short space of two-and-fifty days [Note: Nehemiah 2:12; Nehemiah 2:20; Nehemiah 3:6; Nehemiah 6:15-16.]. And what effects should not we see, if all were unanimous and earnest in advancing, each according to his ability, the work of God amongst us? Methinks, our numbers would be greatly multiplied, and “showers of blessings” would be poured out amongst us.]
VICTORY ASSURED TO THE TRUE ISRAEL
Deuteronomy 1:21. Behold, the Lord thy God hath set the land before thee: go up, and possess it, as the Lord thy God hath said unto thee: fear not, neither be discouraged.
THE journeyings of the Israelites in the wilderness afford an inexhaustible fund of instruction to us. The history of their deliverance from Egypt, their trials and supports, and their final entrance into the land of Canaan, so exactly corresponds with the experience of believers in their journey heaven-ward, that we are never at a loss for an illustration of that which is invisible, from that which actually took place amongst God’s ancient people.
The Israelites, after one year spent in the wilderness, were now arrived on the very confines of Canaan: and the exhortation which I have now read to you, was part of the address of Moses to them, encouraging them to go up and take possession of the land. And, assuming (what I need not now stand to prove) the justness of the parallel between their state and ours, the words before us contain,
I. The command given us in reference to the promised land—
There is for us, as there was for Israel, “a rest” prepared [Note: Hebrews 4:8-9. This passage sufficiently proves the parallel that is here assumed.]. And we are here bidden to take possession of it,
1. By right, as the gift of God—
[Canaan was given to Abraham and his seed by God himself: and the grant was confirmed with an oath, that the possession of it should infallibly be secured to them [Note: ver. 8.]. God had a right to bestow it upon whomsoever he would: and they to whom he should assign it had a perfect right to occupy it. The former possessors were no more than tenants at will: and, if God saw fit to dispossess them, and to let it out to other husbandmen, no injury was done to them, either on the part of the Great Proprietor, or on the part of those whom he appointed to succeed to the inheritance. This I say, in order to satisfy the minds of those who, through ignorance of the tenure on which the land was held, feel a repugnance to the transfer, and to the mode in which the transfer of the land was effected.
In relation, however, to the land which we are called to possess, no such feeling can exist. Heaven is the free gift of God to Abraham’s spiritual seed, as Canaan was to his natural descendants. It is given to them in Christ Jesus: yea, it was given to them even before the worlds were made [Note: Titus 1:2 and 2 Timothy 1:9.]. And, as a person receiving a grant of land from an earthly monarch would go up without hesitation to take possession of it, so should every person who believes in Christ regard the heavenly land, and go up, not to make it his own, but to take possession of it as his own. No thought of purchasing it must for one moment enter into his mind. If he is united unto Christ by faith, that is a sufficient title; and from that moment he may claim it as his own.
This command then do we give, in the name of Almighty God, to every one of you who believes in Christ; “Go up and possess the land,” which the Sovereign of the universe, of his own love and mercy, has given to you.]
2. By conflict, as the fruit of victory—
[Though the land was given them, yet were they to gain it by the sword. And we also have enemies without number to encounter. The world, the flesh, and the devil, all obstruct our way; and must be vanquished, before we can sit down in the full enjoyment of the promised inheritance — — — Nor let it be thought that heaven is the less a gift on this account: for though we fight, it is not our own sword that gets us the victory. It was “God himself who drove out the inhabitants” of the earthly Canaan: and it is through God alone that our weapons produce any effect in subduing our enemies before us [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.]. How compatible the two are, will appear from what our blessed Lord has said: “Labour not for the meat that perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give unto you [Note: John 6:27.].” You must fight; and you must conquer: but, after all, you must say, “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be the praise [Note: Psalms 115:1.].”]
Together with this command, we are taught,
II. The way in which we should address ourselves to the performance of it—
The command of God to us is positive, as that to them also was: and,
1. Our obedience to him should be prompt—
[I am persuaded they would have done well, if they had never thought of sending spies to search out the land, and to tell them against what cities they should direct their first efforts. It was a carnal expedient, as the event proved. True it is, that “Moses was well pleased” with the proposal [Note: ver. 23.]: but he would not have been well pleased, if he had clearly seen from whence it issued, and what would be the result of it. He conceived it to be expressive only of a determination to go up, the very instant they should be directed where to go. And, supposing that there was no mixture of unbelief in it, it might be laudable enough. But what need had they of men to “search out the land,” and to direct their efforts? Had not Almighty God himself, for the space of a whole year, “gone before them to search out places from day to day where they should fix their tents [Note: ver. 33.]?” Had he done this “by a pillar of fire by night, and by a cloud by day,” and was he not both able and willing to shew them “by which way to go up” to the land, and what cities to attack? I say again, it was a carnal expedient, as the event proved: and it was the source of all the calamities that they endured for the space of forty years. Had they said to Moses, ‘Pray to God for us, to direct us; and we are ready to go;’ they would have done well: but, by trusting to an arm of flesh, they fell.
In like manner, we should obey the divine mandate without delay. We should “not confer with flesh and blood [Note: Galatians 1:16.]:” we should not be consulting how we may avoid the trials which God has taught us to expect; but should look simply to the Captain of our salvation, and follow implicitly his commands; regarding no word in comparison of his, nor ever dreaming of a more convenient season than the present. What He calls us to do, we should “do” instantly, and “with all our might.”]
2. Our confidence in him should be entire—
[They were bidden “not to fear, or be discouraged.” So neither should we “fear” any dangers that may threaten us, or “be discouraged” under any trials we maybe called to sustain. As for “Anakims,” or cities “walled up to heaven,” what are they to us? Is not “He greater, that is in us, than any that can be in them?” If Jehovah be on our side, what have we to fear? We may say of all our enemies, as Joshua did of those he was called to encounter, “They are bread for us [Note: Numbers 14:8-9.];” and shall not only be devoured as easily as a morsel of bread, but they, and all that they have, shall be our very support, invigorating our souls by the energies they call forth, and augmenting the happiness which they labour to destroy. Whatever may occur, we should never stagger at the promise through unbelief; but “be strong in faith, giving glory to God [Note: Romans 4:20.].” We should go forward in the spirit of the holy Apostle, “If God be for us, who can be against us [Note: Romans 8:31.]?”
Hear then, believers, and follow my advice—
1. Survey the land—
[See whether it be not the glory of all lands, “a land lowing with milk and honey.” Come up to Pisgah, and look down upon it: or rather, I would say, Come up to Zion, and behold its length and breadth. See already, and taste, the fruits of it. Take into your hands “the grapes of Eshcol,” and tell me whether the whole world besides affords such fruit. Methinks, some of you at least have already partaken of them: yes, I doubt not, but that, in “the light of God’s countenance lifted up upon you,” and in “his love shed abroad in your hearts,” you have already found an earnest and a foretaste of your heavenly inheritance. But still, I say, Survey the land. “Not one of its inhabitants ever says, I am sick [Note: Isaiah 33:24.].” “No sorrow is there, no sighing, no pain, no death [Note: Revelation 21:4.].” “Nor is there any night there: it needs neither the sun nor moon to lighten it; for the glory of God doth lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof [Note: Revelation 21:23.].”
Tell me, then, is it not worth the conflict? Is any thing too much to do, or too severe to suffer, in order to obtain it [Note: Romans 8:18.]? Only keep that glorious object in view, and you will never sheathe your sword, till you have gained the victory.]
2. Perform your duty—
[Gird on your swords. Go forward against the enemy. Make no account of any obstacles. Think neither of the strength or number of your enemies. Say not, “Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? for thus saith the Lord; The prey of the mighty shall be taken away; and the lawful captive shall be delivered: for I will contend with him that contendeth with thee; and I will save thy children [Note: Isaiah 49:24-25.].” Neither be discouraged from a sense of your own weakness: for “God will perfect his own strength in your weakness [Note: 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.].” Go on simply depending on your God. Rest on that word of his, “Fear thou not, for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee: yea, I will help thee: yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness [Note: Isaiah 41:10.].” With confidence do I address you thus: for the Lord Jesus Christ himself has said, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom [Note: Luke 12:32.].” Only “fight the good fight of faith:” and you shall be “more than conquerors, through Him that loved you.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 1". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany