BENEVOLENCE TOWARDS GOD’S ANCIENT PEOPLE
Deuteronomy 23:3-4. An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever; because they met you not with bread and with water, when ye came forth out of Egypt.
IN reading the history of God’s ancient people, we shall do well to notice even the most minute occurrences; since there will scarcely be found one which is not capable of spiritual improvement, or one from which the most important lessons may not be derived. The record before us would be passed over by the generality of readers, as pertaining only to that particular dispensation, and as affording but little instruction for us at this time: yet does it in reality contain as great practical information as can be found in any of the more signal events with which the inspired history abounds. A thousand years after this record was written, it was referred to, not by accident, as we call it, but by the special direction of Divine Providence: and was made the ground of the most self-denying command that could be given to men; and the ground, also, of the most prompt obedience to that command, that it was possible for fallen man to render. The Jews after their return from Babylon had formed connexions with the heathen that had occupied Judea in their absence: but Nehemiah, determining to rectify this great evil, read to all the people the very words which I have now read to you; and, by his clear and unquestionable inferences from them, prevailed on all the people of the land to “separate themselves from the mixed multitude,” and to act up to the spirit of the injunction there given [Note: Nehemiah 13:1-3.]. Now it is to the practical improvement of them that I wish to direct your attention: and for that end I shall set before you,
I. The duty of benevolence in general—
It is a duty—
[Love is the very essence of all practical religion. It is in a most peculiar manner inculcated under the Christian dispensation; and it is to be exercised towards every child of man. God, who is love itself, “makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain both on the just and unjust:” and our duty is to resemble him, and to be “perfect, even as our Father which is in heaven is perfect [Note: Matthew 5:44-48.].” If we be doubtful how far this precept is to be obeyed, the parable of the good Samaritan gives us a clear and unerring direction [Note: Luke 10:37.]. No man under heaven can be so distant from us, but he is entitled to the offices of our love, so far as our opportunities and ability give scope for its exercise — — —]
It is absolutely indispensable to our acceptance with God—
[Whatever else we may possess, yea, whatever we may either do or suffer for the Lord’s sake, if we have not an active principle of love in our hearts, “we are only as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.].” St. John even appeals to us on this subject, and makes us judges in our own cause: “Whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him [Note: 1 John 3:17.]?” In truth, the want of this principle, whatever else we may possess, will be adduced by our Judge, in the last day, as the ground of our eternal condemnation: “Depart, accursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels! for I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me not in; naked, and ye clothed me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not unto me [Note: Matthew 25:41-45.].”
Thus, then, as the Moabites and Ammonites are condemned for not administering to the necessities of Israel in the wilderness, so shall we, if we do not exercise benevolence towards our indigent fellow-creatures, to whatever sect or nation they belong, so far as it shall be in our power to afford them the relief which they stand in need of.]
Conceiving the general point established, that we should shew benevolence to all, I proceed to mark,
II. Our special obligation to exercise it towards God’s ancient people—
The Jews have, at all events, the same claim to our benevolence as any other people whatever. There is no exception made in Scripture with respect to them: and, consequently, if we should fail in establishing their peculiar claims, our main argument would remain in all its force. But they have claims superior to any other people upon earth—
1. We are more indebted to them than to any other people under heaven—
[To whom are we indebted for all the instruction which we have received respecting the way of peace and salvation? We owe it all to Jews. We know nothing of God and of his Christ, but as it has been revealed to us by Jewish prophets and Apostles: yea, the very Saviour himself was of Jewish extraction: and, therefore, in that very fact we may well find a motive to exercise benevolence towards all who are related to him according to the flesh. Such infinite obligations as we owe to that people should surely be requited in acts of love towards their descendants; even as God himself often shewed mercy to rebellious Israel for Abraham’s and for David’s sake; and as David for Jonathan’s sake spared Mephibosheth, who must otherwise, as a descendant of Saul, have been involved in the ruin of all his house [Note: 2 Samuel 21:7.].]
2. The very blessings which we enjoy were taken from them, on purpose that they might be transferred to us—
[The Jews were once the only people upon earth who possessed the blessings of salvation. But God, in righteous indignation, cast off them; and, in a way of sovereign grace and mercy, took us from a wild olive-tree, and grafted us in upon the stock from which they had been broken, and “from which they had been broken on purpose that we might be grafted in [Note: Romans 11:19-20.].” The fact is, that every soul amongst us, that now derives sap and nourishment from God’s olive-tree, actually occupies, as it were, the place of a Jew, who has been dispossessed of his privileges, in order that we might enjoy them. Now, I would submit it to your own judgment: Suppose a person to have been disinherited by his father, on purpose that I, who had no relation to him, nor any more worthiness in myself than the disinherited offender, might he made his heir: suppose that disinherited son, in a state of extreme distress, should ask alms of you, whilst I was living in affluence close at hand; would you not refer him to me, as the person who might well be expected to attend to his case, and to relieve his necessities? And, if I dismissed him from my door as a worthless vagabond, in whose welfare I had no concern, would you not feel surprise and grief, yea, and a measure of indignation too? And if I professed to be a man of piety and benevolence, would you not spurn at my profession, as downright hypocrisy? Now, then, if under such circumstances you would condemn me, know that “thou thyself art the man.” For, all that thou hast of spiritual good was once the exclusive heritage of the Jew: and thou art possessing what has been taken from him; yea, thou art revelling in abundance, whilst he is perishing in utter want: and all the obligation which, by thine own confession, would attach to me in the case I have stated, is entailed on thee: and thou, in refusing to fulfil it, art sinning against God, and against thine own soul.]
3. This very transfer of their blessings to us has been made for the express purpose that we might dispense them to that bereaved people in the hour of their necessity—
[True, we are permitted to enjoy them ourselves, yea, and to enjoy them in the richest abundance: but we are particularly intrusted with them for the benefit of the Jews. Hear what God himself has declared on this subject: “As ye in times past (ye Gentiles) have not believed God, but have now obtained mercy through their unbelief; even so have these also (these Jews) now not believed, that through your mercy they” should be left to perish? No: but that through your mercy they “also may obtain mercy [Note: Romans 11:30-31.].” Now, take again the case before stated: and suppose the man who had disinherited his son, and left me his estate, to have declared in his will, that he left me the estate on purpose that in the hour of his son’s extremity I might shew kindness to him, and relieve his necessities; what would you say of me then, if I spurned him from my door, and left him to perish with hunger, when I was myself revelling in all manner of luxurious abundance? Well, “Thou art the man:” and what thou wouldest say of me, thou must say of thyself, as long as thou neglectest to promote the welfare of God’s ancient people: yes, “out of thine own mouth shalt thou be judged, thou wicked servant.” God has made thee a trustee for the Jew; and thou hast not only betrayed thy trust, but left him to perish, when thou hadst in possession all that his soul needs; and which thou couldest impart to him, to the full extent of his necessities, without feeling any sensible diminution of thy wealth; yea, when, strange to say! thou mightest increase thy wealth by relieving him. Tell me, then, in this view of the matter, whether thou hast not special obligations to shew benevolence to the Jew?]
But I must go further, and mark,
III. The more particular obligations which we have to exercise benevolence towards them at this time—
God, by his providence, called the Ammonites and Moabites to shew kindness to Israel; and their guilt was greatly aggravated by their manifesting such unwillingness to co-operate with him in his designs of love towards them: and on this account was so heavy a judgment denounced against them, “even to their tenth generation.” And is not God now calling us to concur with him in what he is doing for his ancient people? Yes; I think his call to us is clear and loud. Observe,
1. The interest which is now felt in the Christian world for their restoration to God—
[This interest is really unprecedented. There have been times when a few persons have laboured for their welfare: but now there is, throughout Europe and America, a very great and general increase of kindness towards them. They are no longer made the universal objects of hatred and persecution, as in former ages: even where there is no love towards them, there is a great diminution of hostility: and in many instances they have been treated with much liberality and candour by Christian governments, being raised by them to a measure of respect and honour that has not been accorded to them in former times. And for their conversion to Christianity, and their restoration to the divine favour, exertions are making to a considerable extent — — — And is not this of the Lord? Methinks, such a victory over the prejudices of Christians is scarcely less a work of divine power, than was the deliverance of Israel from the hand of the Egyptians: and, as such, it is a call from God to concur with him in his labours of love towards them. See what is at this moment doing amongst the more religious part of the Christian community, in the circulation of the Scriptures, and especially of the New Testament; and what efforts are making by Christian missionaries for the conversion of the Jews! and I must say, that this is a call from God to us, and that it is no less our privilege, than it is our duty, to obey it.]
2. The stir which prevails amongst the Jews themselves—
[This also obtains to a degree unprecedented since the early ages of Christianity. “Verily, there is a stir amongst the dry bones throughout the whole valley of vision [Note: Ezekiel 37:7-8.].” Great numbers of Jews, upon the continent especially, and to a certain extent at home also, begin to think that Christianity may be true; and that that Jesus, whom their fathers crucified, may be the Messiah: and, if they did but know how, in the event of their embracing Christianity, they might support themselves and their families, great multitudes, I doubt not, would prosecute their inquiries, till they had attained the true knowledge of their Messiah and of his salvation. Let me then ask, Whence is this? Is not this the work of God? And is it not an encouragement to us to exert ourselves for their entire conversion? Methinks “they are saying to us, Come over to Macedonia, and help us;” and we ought, one and all of us, according to our ability, to obey the call.]
3. The earnests which God has given us in the actual conversion of some to the faith of Christ—
[If we cannot speak of Pentecostal days, we can declare, that God has accompanied his word with power to the hearts of some; and that “one of a city and two of a tribe” have already, as God has given us reason to expect [Note: Isaiah 17:6.], been brought to the saving knowledge of their Messiah. Of those who have embraced “the truth as it is in Jesus,” some have attained to a real eminence in the divine life, and are at this moment not inferior to the most exalted characters in the Christian world. This shews that God is about to rebuild his temple: and surely it does not become us “to dwell in our ceiled houses” at ease [Note: Haggai 1:4.], when he is so plainly calling upon us to co-operate with him: we should rather “strengthen the hands of those who are labouring in this good work,” and, like Cyrus, afford every possible facility for the accomplishment of this vast and glorious undertaking [Note: Ezra 1:5-7.]. We should endeavour to improve “this acceptable time [Note: Isaiah 49:8.];” removing to the utmost of our power all obstacles to their conversion [Note: Isaiah 62:10.]; and labouring, if by any means we may be God’s honoured instruments, to bring them home to him, and to present them as “an offering in a clean vessel to the Lord [Note: Isaiah 66:19-20.].”]
4. The general voice of prophecy—
[Prophecy begins to be better understood amongst us: and it is the united conviction of all who have studied the prophecies, that the time for the restoration and conversion of the Jews is nigh at hand. The twelve hundred and sixty years spoken of by Daniel, as the period fixed in the divine counsels for the establishment of the Redeemer’s kingdom among them, are, on any computation, nearly expired. Ought we not then, like Daniel, to put forth our prayers to God for the consummation of this great event, and by all possible means to help it forward?
I think, that, putting all these circumstances together—the concern of Christians, the stir among the Jews, the real converts from among them, and the unquestionable ground which is given us in prophecy to expect their speedy conversion—we may regard it all as a call from God, scarcely less powerful than that given to the Moabites and Ammonites of old, to “come to the help of the Lord,” and to labour with all our might for their salvation. In truth, if we do not act thus, we can expect nothing but “the curse of God [Note: Judges 5:23.],” and the most lasting tokens of his displeasure.]
1. You will say, perhaps, that You hare no connexion with the Jews, and therefore may well be excused from all concern about them—
[But what had the Ammonites and Moabites to do with the Jews? They were descended, not from Abraham, but from Lot, and had never had any intercourse with them. But this was no excuse for their neglect: nor can any similar excuse avail for us.]
2. You will reply, that it is God’s work, and that it should be left to him to accomplish it in his own time and way—
[And might not the Ammonites and Moabites say the same? God not only could, but did, supply their wants by miracle: but this was no justification of those who refused to them the proper offices of love. Nor will this be any justification of our neglect.]
Permit me, in conclusion, to bring two things to your remembrance:
1. That the Ammonites and Moabites had an excuse which you have not—
[They might have said, These Israelites are going to extirpate the seven nations of Canaan: and we will not concur in such a work as this. But, in converting the Jews to Christ, we adopt the readiest and most certain way for the salvation of the whole world. If they, then, were excluded from the congregation of the Lord, even to the tenth generation, for their inhumanity, judge what tokens of God’s displeasure await you for yours.]
2. That they were condemned for not coming forth, as volunteers, to “meet Israel with bread and water”—
[What shall you then be, who are thus entreated and solicited to concur with Jehovah in this good work, if you still refuse your aid, or give it with such indifference, as to shew that your heart does not go forth with your hands in the service of the Lord? You remember, that when Nabal said, “Shall I take my bread and my water, and give them to those whom I know not whence they be?” it well nigh cost him his life; yea, it actually did cost him his life [Note: 1 Samuel 25:11; 1 Samuel 25:21-22; 1 Samuel 25:37-38.]. And I tremble to think what judgments await you, if ye resist our importunity, and refuse to co-operate with God in the work proposed. But “I hope better things of you, my Brethren, though I thus speak;” and I hope and trust that you will henceforth, each according to his ability, be workers together with God for the salvation of God’s ancient people, and through them for the salvation of the whole world. And let me not be misunderstood: I am far from intending to say that all who have neglected this sacred cause are equally obnoxious to God’s displeasure; for it is but lately that the attention of the Christian world has been called to it: but I think you will agree with me, that it is now high time to exert ourselves for God, and to redeem, as far as possible, the time we have lost. The cause well deserves our most assiduous efforts: and we may be sure, that God, who so indignantly resented the supineness of the Ammonites, will richly repay all that we can do for the furtherance of his gracious designs: for he has said, “Blessed is he that blesseth thee; and cursed is he that curseth thee.”]
GOD’S CARE FOR HIS PEOPLE
Deuteronomy 23:5. The Lord thy God would not hearken unto Salaam: for the Lord thy God turned the curse into a blessing unto thee, because the Lord thy God loved thee.
TO those who are ignorant of the way of salvation, we preach Christ crucified: for “there is no other name under heaven but his, whereby any man can be saved.” But to those who are well instructed in the fundamental truths of our holy religion, we bring forward rather what relates to the life of godliness: having laid the foundation, we endeavour to build upon it a suitable superstructure. Now, a realizing sense of God’s care and love, such a sense of his goodness as leads us to live altogether by faith upon him, is one of the sublimest attainments that can be made in this world. And to assist you in this, will be my endeavour at this time.
Let us notice, then, from the words before us,
I. God’s love to his ancient people—
This appeared in bringing them forth out of Egypt, and in preserving them throughout their wanderings in the wilderness: and especially, also, in the instance that is here specified, the counteracting of the designs of Balaam, and “the turning of his curse into a blessing unto them.”
See the account given us by Moses—
[To enter fully into this, the whole history of the transaction, the 22d, 23d, and 24th chapters of tin: Book of Numbers should be attentively perused. Instigated by a desire to obtain “the wages of unrighteousness.” yet conscious that he was under a restraint from the Most High God, Balaam madly pursued his object, even after he was rebuked for his iniquity by the beast on which he rode, and which, was enabled to utter the reproof in language used by man [Note: 2 Peter 2:15-16.]. He constantly confesses his inability to go beyond what Jehovah should see fit to permit; yet as constantly sought to evade or change the divine counsels, and to execute the project for which he was hired. Every distinct prophecy which he utters, rises in force and grandeur: and when complained of by Balak for pouring forth blessings upon them, instead of denouncing curses against them, he confesses, “I have received commandment to bless: and God hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it [Note: Numbers 23:20.].” At last, finding how vain it was to seek by enchantments to alter the divine purpose, he forbore to offer any more of his sacrifices. and yielded to the impulse within him to foretell the certain successes of those whom he had sought to destroy [Note: Numbers 24:1-9.]. And, having thus provoked the king of Moab to dismiss him without the promised rewards [Note: Numbers 24:10-14.], he resumed his prophetic strains, and declared, not only that this people should triumph over Moab, but that from them should One arise, who should establish an universal empire, and have dominion over the whole world [Note: Numbers 24:15-19.].
All this, Joshua brought to the remembrance of Israel, long after they had been established in the land of Canaan; saying, “Balak the son of Zippor arose and warred against Israel, and sent and called Balaam the son of Beor to curse you: but I would not hearken unto Balaam; therefore he blessed you still: so I delivered you out of his hand [Note: Joshua 24:9-10.].”]
Now all this was the fruit of God’s unchanging love—
[God had chosen them to himself in Abraham, and had ordained that they should be to him a peculiar people above all others upon the face of the whole earth. In this choice of them he had been influenced, not by any foreseen worthiness in them; for he knew, from the beginning, what a stiff-necked people they would prove; but solely by his own sovereign will and pleasure: “He loved them because he would love them [Note: Deuteronomy 7:6-9.].” To them, also, had he promised the land of Canaan: and therefore, when the time was come for their possession of it, no enemy could stand before them, nor could any conspiracies which could be formed prevail against them. Hence, in despite of all the efforts which Balaam made to curse them, he was constrained to “bless them still.”]
From the whole of God’s kindness to them, we may be led to contemplate,
II. His love to his Israel at this day—
His people are now redeemed, even as they were of old, only from infinitely sorer bondage, a bondage to sin and Satan, to death and hell. They are brought also through a dreary wilderness, towards the heavenly Canaan. They have enemies also to contend with. True it is, they have not to dispossess any of their land; nor do they, by invading the property of others, provoke hostility: but they have enemies notwithstanding, yea, and enemies who are bent upon their destruction: but from all of them God will surely deliver his redeemed people.
He will deliver them both from men and devils—
[From the beginning of the world hare God’s chosen people been opposed and persecuted, even from the time of Abel to the present hour. It was the superior piety of Abel that called forth the resentment of the envious Cain, and stimulated him to imbrue his hands in his brother’s blood [Note: 1 John 3:12.]. And our Lord puts the question to his malignant enemies, “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?” It might be thought, indeed, that it would be impossible for any one to hate and persecute the holy Jesus, in whose whole life not a single flaw could be found, and who, by his benevolent and unnumbered miracles, must have endeared himself to every one. But the brighter his light was, the more were the children of darkness incensed against him; so that they never ceased, till they had prevailed against him, and “crucified the Lord of Glory.” All his Apostles, too, were objects of the world’s hatred: and our Lord has told us, that all his followers will have their cross to bear, after the example which he has set us. And do we not find it so? Is there a faithful servant of the Lord, especially if he fill any important station, and be active in honouring his Divine Master—is there one. I say, that is not reviled and persecuted for righteousness sake? True, fires are not now kindled, as once they were, to consume them, because the laws of the land forbid it: but it is as true at this day as ever it was in the apostolic age, that “all who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.”
And has the hostility of Satan at all abated? Does not “that roaring lion go about at this day as much as ever, seeking whom he may devour?” What can the Apostle mean, when he says, “We wrestle not with flesh and blood, (not with flesh and blood only,) but with principalities and powers, and spiritual wickednesses in high places [Note: Ephesians 6:12.]?” Or for what end are we still enjoined to “put on the whole armour of God [Note: Ephesians 6:13.],” if we have not still many enemies to contend with?
But God will preserve us from them all, and “turn their curses into blessings.” “Whatsoever will ultimately advance our welfare, he will permit: but whatsoever would have an injurious effect, he will avert; as it is said, “The wrath of man shall praise thee; and the remainder of it shalt thou restrain [Note: Psalms 76:10.].” We may not see the precise way in which good shall be brought out of evil: Joseph could form no idea of the benefit which was ultimately to accrue from all his trials: nor could Job from his: but they were constrained to acknowledge, that, however designed for evil, the events, every one of them, issued in good: and thus has God engaged, that “all things shall work together for his people’s good [Note: Romans 8:28.];” and that their “light and momentary afflictions shall work for them a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:17.].”]
To this Almighty God is pledged, by the love that he bears towards us—
[God has loved his people with an everlasting love; and therefore with loving-kindness he both draws us to him [Note: Jeremiah 31:3.], and secures our welfare. Now, the record in my text is especially intended by God himself to illustrate and confirm this truth. Hear what God says by the Prophet Micah: “O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal, that ye may know the righteousness of the Lord [Note: Micah 6:5.].” God is a righteous and faithful God; and he has engaged, that “no weapon that is formed against his people shall prosper,” and that “none shall prevail against them to pluck them out of his hands:” we may be perfectly assured, therefore, that he will keep them to the end; and that “not one jot or tittle of his word will ever fail.” “Having loved his own, he will love them to the end [Note: John 13:1.].”]
I close with a word or two of advice—
1. Be not hasty in your anticipations of evil as the result of your trials—
[Jacob, on the loss of his favourite son Joseph, exclaimed, “All these things are against me!” But that was the very event which God had ordained for the preservation of himself and his whole family; yea, and for the completion of all his promises respecting the Messiah, and the salvation of the whole world by him. And perhaps that very trial, of which we are ready to complain, is, according to his eternal purpose, to be the destined means of preserving us from destruction, and of preparing us for glory. Wait, and “see the end of the Lord [Note: James 5:11.];” and you will find as much reason to bless God for your severest troubles, as for the most acceptable of all his blessings.]
2. Learn in every dispensation to acknowledge a Father’s love—
[There is not, in fact, any single trial that does not proceed from God. “Not a hair of your head can fall” but by his gracious permission. Men, devils, yea the very elements, are only instruments in his hands to fulfil his will [Note: Isaiah 10:5; Psalms 148:8.]. The Jews, in crucifying the Messiah, executed only “what God’s will and counsel had determined before to be done [Note: Acts 4:28.]:” and, though “they neither meant nor thought so,” they were his agents, to accomplish what was necessary for the redemption of the world. Men and devils may have prepared a furnace for you: but it is God who puts you into it, to purify you from your dross, and to “bring you forth as vessels meet for the Master’s use.” True, he will punish those agents; as he did Balaam, who was slain amongst the enemies of God: but you “he will make perfect through sufferings,” and recompense in proportion to all that you have endured for him.]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Deuteronomy 23". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter