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1 Kings 2:1-2
Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die.
We have here the dying charge of an old and experienced king to a young one.
I. That all men are equal in the sight of God; because--
1. Kings even are not exempt from human mortality.
2. Nor from human frailty (1 Kings 2:2).
3. Nor from human responsibility (1 Kings 2:3).
II. That obedience to the will of God inevitably issues in prosperity, in the best sense of the word. (Pulpit Analyst.)
David in view of death
The setting of David’s sun was a gradual process, as is shown by the words, “Now the days of David drew nigh that he should die” (1 Kings 2:1). A very pathetic utterance is found in the second verse, namely, “I go the way of all the earth.” From his earliest days he had Been a favourite and a hero, and has it come to this, that at the last he must simply take his place in the great world-crowd, and go down to the common grave? God is no respecter of persons. Let us learn that all earthly distinctions are temporary, and that many exaltations only show their corresponding abasements the more conspicuously. Although the king is about to take his journey into far country from which there is no return, he yet takes an interest in the future of Israel and the immediate responsibilities of his own house. His words to Solomon are the words of a soldier and a patriot: “Be thou strong therefore, and show thyself a man.” There is no sign of death in this high moral energy. We can hardly imagine the voice of the speaker to have fallen into a whisper: it seems rather to resound with the force and clearness of a trumpet tone. A noble motto this--“Show thyself a man.” Is it possible for a man to do otherwise? All human history returns an answer which cannot be mistaken. The man is not in the gender but in the character. By a “man” David means king, hero, prince; a soul thoroughly self-controlled, fearless, above all bribery and corruption, and vitally identified with the enduring interests of the people. It must be observed that the charge delivered to Solomon by his father was intensely religious in its spirit. Not only was Solomon introduced to a throne, but the book of the law was placed in his hands, and he was simply to peruse it, understand it, and apply it. Nothing was to be invented by the king himself. He begins his monarchical life with the whole law clearly written out before him. This is the advantage with which we begin our life, namely, that we have nothing to write, invent, suggest, or test by way of perilous experiment; we have simply to consult the holy oracles, to make them the man of our counsel, and to do nothing whatever which is not confirmed by their spirit. Where, then, is originality? We must find the originality in our personal faithfulness. It will be originality enough for God if He can find us acting consistently with the knowledge we already possess, and embodying it in new and sacrificial incarnations. Now we come to official words. From this point so terrible is the charge which David delivers to Solomon that we must impress ourselves with the fact that the charge is official rather than personal. We must imagine David seated upon the throne of judgment and delivering sentences as the messenger of God; this will save his speech from the charge of vindictiveness and cruelty. It should be noticed also, in connection with these judgments and sentences, that in every case a reason was assigned. That is a vital point. Looking at Joab’s conduct to David, to the two captains of the hosts of Israel, and to Abner, and to Amass, and unto Absalom, we cannot but feel that the proportion between the guilt and the doom is measured by righteousness. That David was not carried away by indiscriminate retaliation is proved by the change of tone which he adopts when he comes to speak of the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite: “Let them be of those that eat at thy table”; in this ease also a reason is assigned for the judgment: “for so they came to me when I fled because of Absalom thy brother.” Instances of this kind show how clear was the mental vision of the king even in the near approach of death. Nothing was forgotten. Judgment was meted out with discernment. David does not forget that when Shimei came down to meet him at Jordan, he sware unto the Lord, saying that Shimei should not be put to death with the sword. In Israel all pardon ceased with the death of the king, and it was for his successor to say whether this pardon should be renewed, or whether judgment should take effect. David seems to refer to this law when, concerning Joab, he said to Solomon: “ Do therefore according to thy wisdom” (1 Kings 2:6). These words would seem, to open a door of possible escape. But Joab proved himself unworthy of any protection, and brought his death upon his head with his own hand. So in the case of Shimei, David said to Solomon, “Thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him,” so the judgment was not to be an act of violence or mere triumph of might over weakness; it was to be marked by that terrible calmness which adds to judgment its most awful elements of impressiveness. David was now giving judgment according to the age in which he lived: it was not a highly civilised age: the law had only reached a certain point of development: David, therefore, must not be held responsible for the law under which we ourselves live. David’s Lord said--“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” “So David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David” (1 Kings 2:10). He died as it were in the act of pronouncing judgment, and himself went to be judged by the Eternal King. How near is that bar to every one of us; the final word is not spoken by man; he can but give judgment according to his light, or to his immediate understanding of the circumstances which appeal to him; there is one Judge who will rectify all our decisions and readjust everything which we have thrown into disorder. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The close of life not to be dreaded by the believer
Why should we be pensive and wistful when we think how near our end is? Is the sentry sad as the hour for relieving guard comes nigh? Is the wanderer in far-off lands sad as he turns his face homeward? And why should not we rejoice at the thought that we, strangers and foreigners here, shalt soon depart to the true metropolis, the mother country of our souls? I do not know why a man should be either regretful or afraid as he watches the hungry sea eating away his “bank and shoal of time” upon which he stands, even though the tide has all but reached his feet, if he knows that God’s strong arm will be stretched forth to him at the moment when the sand dissolves from under him, and will draw him out of many waters and place him on high, above the floods in that stable land where there is “no more sea.” (A. Maclaren.)
1 Kings 2:2
Be thou strong therefore, and shew thyself a man.
Religion not unmanly
This is interesting in many ways, interesting as a picture, and as a specimen of counsel. It is an old man speaking to a young one, a king to his successor, an aged warrior to a youthful man of peace, a man of action to a man of knowledge, a dying man to a man on the threshold of his earthly career, one who had done with earth to one who was entering on its fulness, a father to a son, a David to a Solomon. When he advised Solomon to show himself a man, he attached no low and feeble sense to the term. David was a judge of manliness. Yet to his advice to Solomon to be manly he appends a description of character and of a course of action, which therefore was in his estimation manly, or at the least not unmanly. “Show thyself a man,” he says, “and keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, and His commandments, and His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses.” Now all this is summed up in one word, and that is religion. In the opinion of King David, then, religion is manly. Religion then furnishes ample room for manly sentiments and manly courses of action. Nay, it requires them and makes them necessary.
I. It involves the choice of a great object. It sets a man upon living for a great end, the greatest end that he can live for. To see grown-up men occupying themselves in petty concerns, suffering them to engross their thoughts and their time and their powers, making them their all, concentrating upon them their energies and their efforts, following them with a zeal, an earnestness, and a pertinacity utterly disproportionate and exaggerated, it is a pitiable sight, ridiculous if it were not also melancholy. This is puerile, boyish, effeminate. The things of a child are very proper things for a child. There is fitness, there is beauty, there is use, in his devotion to them. But how unseemly, how contemptible, how offensive, is such a devotion in a man. We judge of men by the elevation and magnitude of their pursuits. We think a fop a puerile creature, who lives to look pretty and smell sweet. And the man “whose God is his belly,” who lives to eat, and lays out his mind on marketing and cookery, is another great child. Such men are still busy with their playthings a little changed in form. But does any man rise to the height of himself who lives for this world? Is there not in an such living the same sort of dwarfing and disparagement of the true greatness and dignity of human nature, the same sad incongruity and disproportion?
II. there is manliness again in decision, firmness, and constancy of purpose. It is characteristic of children that they do not know their own minds, that they are the sport of whim and caprice, unsteady, vacillating, freakish, easily diverted from their aim, easily discouraged by difficulties, deficient in persistency, resolution, and concentration. When we see a child more fixed and consistent in the choice of an end than children are wont to be, we call him precocious, a manly child; and if this quality is not so prominent as to be premature and unnatural, we say it augurs well for the boy’s future. To see a grown man the victim of fugitive preferences, impressions, and impulses, “a wave of the sea, driven with the wind and tossed,” is wretched. We say then that fixedness, concentration, steadfastness, are attributes of a man, are essential to the development of a truly manly character. And where are they so exhibited as in religion, if it be genuine and true? What else so tends to form and foster them? What else so draws the whole life as it were to a single focus?--so forces all its streams to run into one reservoir? What else gives life such unity, coherence, and connection of parts?
III. There is manliness in independence; and this is emphatically a religious virtue. The Christian must be singular, and pursue a path not trodden by the multitude. And he must be content ordinarily to pursue it in the face of misconception, misconstruction, remonstrance, and derision. This is to no small extent “the offence of the cross.” To be unlike others, to be looked upon with curiosity, to be thought affected or ostentatious, is trying. So, to keep a separate and isolated position, to be one by one’s self, and stand an anomaly and exception, self-centred and self-sustained, without the ordinary props of human opinion and usage, requires largely independence of character. Independence is a quality of manhood. A child is a conformist and a copyist. It leans upon the parent, and holds itself up by clinging to an older person, as the ivy hangs upon the tree or wall It goes in leading strings, and looks timidly out for examples and precedents and authorities. To think and act for himself, to mark out his own line of action and pursue it, to have the reasons and the law of his actions in himself, and not to swerve from his path at dictation or censure or contempt, is to vindicate one’s maturity, to act the part of a man. Does not religion then stand vindicated from the charge of unmanliness? And is not David s counsel to Solomon his son justified and sustained--Be manly and be religious, be manly in your religion, and religious in order to be manly? Is not religion successfully rescued from one of, the most effective and damaging aspersions that is ever cast upon it--that it is unmanly, that it is a suitable thing for the softer sex, and pretty in children, but not at all fit for robust, hardy, deep-thinking, bold-acting men? It is not in the slightest degree true. (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)
Dignity of man
The dignity of man appears from his bearing the image of his Maker. God has, besides, enstamped a dignity upon man by giving him not only a rational, but an immortal existence. The soul, which is properly the man, shall survive the body and live for ever. The dignity of man also appears from the great attention and regard which God hath paid to him. God indeed takes care of all His creatures, and His tender mercies are over all His works: but man has always been the favourite child of Providence.
I. Man hath a capacity for constant and perpetual progression in knowledge.
II. Man hath a capacity for holiness as well as knowledge. His rational and moral faculties both capacitate and oblige him to be holy. His perception and volition, in connection with his reason and conscience, enable him to discern and feel the right and wrong of actions, and the beauty and deformity of characters. This renders him capable of doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God.
III. That man hath a capacity for happiness, equal to his capacity for holiness and knowledge. Knowledge and holiness are the grand pillars which support all true and substantial happiness; which invariably rises or falls, accordingly as these are either stronger or weaker. Knowledge and holiness in the Deity are the source of all his happiness. Angels rise in felicity as they rise in holiness and knowledge. And saints here below grow in happiness as they grow in grace, and in the knowledge of holy and Divine objects.
IV. That man hath a capacity for great and noble actions.
1. We may justly infer from the nature and dignity of man, that we are under indispensable obligations to religion. Our moral obligations to religion are interwoven with the first principles of our nature. And, as man is formed for religion, so religion is the ornament and perfection of his nature. The man of religion is, in every supposable situation, the man of dignity. Pain, poverty, misfortune, sickness and death, may indeed veil, but they cannot destroy his dignity, which sometimes shines with more resplendent glory under all these ills and clouds of life.
2. This subject may help us to ascertain the only proper and immutable boundaries of human knowledge: such boundaries of our knowledge as arise from the frame and constitution of our nature, and not from any particular state or stage of our existence.
3. This subject gives us reason to suppose, that men, in the present state, may carry their researches into the works of nature, much farther than they have ever yet carried them. The fields of science, though they have been long traversed by strong and inquisitive minds, are so spacious, that many parts remain yet undiscovered.
4. The observations, which have been made upon the nobler powers and capacities of the human mind, may embolden the sons of science to aim to be originals. They are strong enough to go alone, if they only have sufficient courage and resolution. They have the same capacities, and the same original sources of knowledge, that the ancients enjoyed.
5. We are under indispensable obligations to cultivate and improve our minds in all the branches of human knowledge. All our natural powers are so many talents, which, in their own nature, lay us under moral obligations to improve them to the best advantage. Being men, we are obliged to act like men, and not like the horse or the mule which have no understanding. (N. Emmons, D. D.)
Show thyself a man
On the sixth of March, in the year 1741, the brilliant statesman, William Pitt, afterwards Earl of Chatham, felt it necessary to apologise from his place in the House of Commons for what he styled “the atrocious crime of being a young man.” The sneers at youth which provoked this wrathful protest are seldom heard to-day. In this more democratic age the value of young men as a factor in human affairs is better understood. The elder Disraeli has pointed out that “almost everything that is great in” the story of the race has been done by youth, and Thomas Carlyle has taught us that the history of heroes is the history of young men. We remember that in war the victories of Hannibal and Alexander, of Clive and Napoleon, were the triumphs of young men; that Innocent m. and Leo X., the greatest of the Popes, had won the tiara before they were thirty-seven, and that Martin Luther at five-and-thirty had achieved the Reformation. We remember that Pascal and Sir Isaac Newton had written their greatest treatises before they were thirty; that Raphael and Correggio among painters; Byron, Shelley, and Keats among poets; Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schubert, and Bellini among musicians--these, and many more too numerous to quote, had won their place among the immortals and died while they were yet young men. We have come to recognise that the qualities which command success--dash, courage, hopefulness, fertility of invention and resources--are often more abundant in youth than in age; and knowing how largely young men have made the world’s history in time past, we look to young men as the history-makers of time present and to come. There is little peril to-day of our despising young men on account of their youth; we rather need to be warned against despising old men on account of their age. The position which young men thus take in modem life adds a tone of deeper emphasis and keener urgency to the ancient, familiar, and inspiring exhortation of my text. The injunction echoes the words which Moses addressed to Joshua when he entrusted him with command. A thousand years later we meet it again in Paul’s appeal to Timothy: “Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus,” as also in the exhortation to the Corinthians, when Timothy was coming amongst them: “Watch ye; stand fast in the faith; quit you like men; be strong!” Again and again in profane history, in the pages of Homer, Herodotus, or Xenophon, we find great chieftains charging their followers in the same strain. Modem history likewise takes up the call, Latimer in the fire exclaiming: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley; play the man!” Nelson at Trafalgar sounding the war-cry: “England expects every man to do his duty.” Every mother who sends her son into the world breathes the spirit of it.. The words imply an ideal. John Trebonius, Martin Luther’s schoolmaster, always took his hat off to his schoolboys. “Who can tell,” he would say, “what man there may be here? “There was wisdom in the act, for among those boys was the solitary monk that shook the world. Yet it is not every man who becomes all that we mean by a man. Vanity emasculates some and they become--not men, but the show-blocks of their hatter, the lay-figures and walking advertisements of their tailor. Indolence destroys others, and they become--not men, but manikins dependent on the charity of their relations, and parasites that live by suction. Vice is, the degradation of others, until, sinking below shame, unworthy utterly of the human form--erect, divine,” they become as swine in sensuality or as wolves in brutal ferocity. But even if men escape these degradations they may still remain immeasurably below the standard implied in this great word, “a man.”
Unless above himself he can
Erect himself, how poor a thing is man!
What, then, is this ideal? What is it that every woman puts into her love and every man into his self-respect when we sound the challenge: “Show thyself a man? What are the marks by which a sterling manhood may be known.
I. One mark of manhood is strength. “Be thou strong, therefore, and show thyself a man.” In the notion of an ideal man we all include the attribute of physical strength. It is true that some have asserted their manhood in spite of bodily infirmity. The Apostle Paul carried the Gospel over two continents, notwithstanding that he was half blind and paralysed. Richard Baxter, the most voluminous writer and most successful pastor of his day, was a lifelong invalid. Dr. George Wilson was accustomed to deliver his lectures with a great blister on his chest. Bishop Butler, who wrote the Analogy of Religion, and James Watt, inventor of the steam engine, were both so harassed with bile and consequent melancholy as to be constantly tempted to make away with themselves. The lives of such men are notable illustrations of the triumph of mental energy over bodily infirmities, and should encourage those of us who suffer from constitutional debility; but they do not make physical weakness either natural or desirable. Young men ought to be strong, ought to take pleasure in vigorous exercises, ought to remember the ancient proverb: “The glory of young men is their strength.” In this matter of physical culture I say to every young man: “Shew thyself a man.” More, however, than either physical or mental strength, as sunlight is more than moonlight or starlight, is moral strength. In the high firmament of ideal manhood, moral strength is the greater light that rules the day. You must put the dement of conscience, you must put love for righteousness and hatred of evil-doing into your conception of manly vigour, or you never can truly say of any man what Marc Antony said of Brutus:--
The elements were
So mixed in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world--this was a man.
II. A second mark of manhood is sagacity. Milton asks: “What is strength without a double share of wisdom?” and then he adds: “Strength is not made to rule, but to subserve, where wisdom bears command.” He that would show himself a man must couple sagacity with strength; for we live in a world o| illusions, which are like traps at a young man’s feet. You young men of this new generation are face to face with what Carlyle described as “the Everlasting No.” To every precept of heaven the devil brings a “No.” “Fear God and keep His commandments.” “No,” says the devil; “indulge your passions.” “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.” “No,” says the devil; “man’s chief end is to glorify himself and enjoy his own way.” “He that findeth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for My sake shall find it.” “No,” says the devil; “let every other man be damned, body and soul, and what does it matter to you? This “Everlasting No” meets us at every call of duty, and has to be resisted and foresworn once and for ever, or we cut ourselves adrift from every possibility of achieving the ideal manhood. Thousands of men to-day are crippled and emasculated by this negative of unbelief. Their loss is incalculable. Themselves are stripped of blessing, and their influence is emptied of power. To the devil’s “Everlasting No” do you oppose God’s “Everlasting Yes.” Be positive and practical; add sagacity to strength.
III. A third mark of manhood is saintliness. A saint is one who lives unto God, and in whom God’s will is law. Here manliness completes itself. Man being created in the image of God, we can regard none as attaining the ideal of manhood who does not in thought, purpose, impulse, and deed reflect the God in whom he lives, moves, and has his being; and is not this what we mean by saintliness? Saintliness includes honesty, for it accepts the golden rule: “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you do ye also to them”; and does not Pope affirm “ an honest man’s the noblest work of God”? Saintliness includes the service of others; for every saint is a follower of Him who “came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and give His life a ransom for many.” And does not Lord Lytton remind us--
That man is great, and he alone
Who serves a greatness not his own
For neither praise nor pelf.
Content to know and be unknown,
Whole in himself!
Strength, sagacity, saintliness--these three, and the greatest of these is saintliness, if any one of us would show himself a man. (W. J. Woods, B. A.)
The last words of any one, as he takes his departure for the eternal world, are always of interest to those left behind. Even the last utterances of the criminal on the scaffold will be read by thousands, who would not have listened to one word of his when he stood begging at their door. The last words of great and good men, when spoken to those near and dear to them, are therefore of especial interest.
I. The charge of the dying father. It is that of a king to his successor, who is soon to ascend the throne of Israel. The position is so responsible, the charge will be long and weighty. But no; how short the address, how few the directions--“Show thyself a man” Be a man, that is all. Yes, but that is everything. Be a man, such as God made; not the distorted, crooked, perverted creature sin has made.
II. What is implied in this charge. Vir was the word the Romans used for man, and from which our word virtue comes. Virtue, too, with them meant courage, heroism. Whatever therefore is virtuous is manly. Truthfulness is a virtue, and therefore manly. God is truth. Man is most manly when most like God, for he was made in the image of God. Honesty is paying our just debts, paying honour to whom honour is due, exercising supreme love to God, and loving our fellow-men as ourselves (Matthew 22:27). Hence, a true man, a real man, must be a Christian and a gentleman. Temperance, patience, kindness, gentleness, unselfishness, are all virtues, and therefore manly. The gentleman’s code of honour is found in Philippians 4:8.
III. The foundation of manhood is strength. Strength of purpose, will-power, determination, self-control, power to resist popular customs when wrong, prevalent vices that have become aristocratic, fashions and habits of evil that have fastened on people whom you consider above you in age, experience, and profession; power to be called eccentric, odd, queer, to be sneered at. You need a courage that will not dilly-dally with evil, but at the first solicitation say “no,” that will “dare to do right, dare to be true.” Hence in this brief charge the very first accents are, “ Be thou strong.” David knew it required strength.
IV. The source of this strength is in God. Moses, Joshua, Paul, Luther, Wesley, were men of mighty power, and they all found their strength in God.
V. The important aim of this charge was the right development and formation of character. This should be the first aim of every young man. This is the first aim of the Gospel, now so often overlooked in this busy, bustling, noisy age. Paul’s first; instruction to Timothy was, “Take heed unto thyself.” Deceit, falsehood, lust, etc., are all intruders. Cast them out, show thyself. Let not the animal reign, but the man. Be a man, and then you will be what every true man is--a king. (G. H. Smyth.)
How men are made
To be a man requires a trinity of qualities: a strong body, a full-orbed mind, and a spiritual nature.
1. Young men, it is your duty to cultivate your physical strength by athletic sports, gymnastics, and other exercises that will help to fortify the noble temple in which God has housed your mind and soul. It matters not how valuable the possessions that are stored in a house, if the house is insecure or the roof leaky. It is no credit to a man to be so careless about the house in which the priceless treasures of mind and spirit are placed that the building becomes worn out before its time. If you and I are going to do efficient work in this the busiest age of the world’s history, if we are to hold our own in the fierce competition of this the greatest of all commercial periods, we will need sturdy muscles, stout lungs, healthy livers, and good digestion. A man handicaps himself seriously in the race of life who pays no regard to the rules of health. On the other hand, a man with a healthy body has better chances of success, because health inspires him with hope and ambition. Thomas Carlyle gave to the world a jaundiced view of many things because he had a weak stomach. What misery he caused in his own home, and in the life of that patient martyr-wife of his, has been revealed in the letters of Jane Welsh Carlyle. Many a man who most sacredly keeps the Ten Commandments breaks with impunity the laws of health.
2. The development of the body, however, is not all that makes up man. A prize-fighter has a well-developed body, but his influence does not count for much outside of the prize-ring. There is a mind to be cultivated and a soul. The man who devotes himself entirely to physical development will be apt to forget the needs of the other two parts of his nature. If all the energy in a man’s nature is running to brawn, there will be nothing left to run to brain. The men who have compelled the world’s attention have not been physical giants hut men of mental and moral muscle. Napoleon, Wellington, and Grant were not great in body. If the ideal of a perfect man consisted only in physical qualities, we should be lower in the scale than certain animals. The ex surpasses a man in muscular strength; the antelope in speed; the hound in keenness of scent; the eagle in eyesight; the rabbit in acuteness of hearing; the honey-bee in delicacy of taste; the spider in fineness of nervous energy. So we cannot measure a man by his body, nor by his material possessions. We have advanced beyond the age in which the world counted as its greatest heroes Hercules, Ajax, Croesus, Miltiades. The world to-day is ruled not by muscle, but by mind and heart. The bravest are the tenderest, the loving are the daring. A young man’s value to the world and to himself depends largely on the cultivation of his intellect. Just as in the cultivation of the body you have to regard suitable food and proper exercise, so in the development of the mind you have to consider the kind of food. Every young man ought to mark out for himself a course of reading in history, biography, poetry, and philosophy. Another thing: As you would not knowingly take into your system diseased meat, or decayed fruit or vegetables, in like manner you will not desire to poison your mind by the reading of impure books. The quality of our thoughts determines the quality of our character. Impure thoughts are worms which eat away the tissues of moral character. The man who falls a victim to temptation is the man whose character has become worm-eaten. Guard most sacredly the door of the mind, and keep it closed against the entrance of evil thoughts. Had General Grant been a man of weak will, he never could have carried the campaigns of the Civil War through to success. Yet his memoirs reveal a man with a heart as tender as a girl’s, hating war and disliking the very sound of a gun, but possessed of such self-command that to foresee a thing necessary to be done was to command, even though he had to fight it out on one line all summer. Opposition, discouragement, difficulties, never can keep a man of will power down. The party leaders at Rome thought they would get rid of the ambitious young Caesar, so they gave him a commission which necessitated a prolonged absence from Rome and a difficult expedition into the heart of an un-civilised and unexplored region of country. They said: “Rome never again will hear of young Caesar.” But the young man conquered Gaul, and returning after a campaign of ten years seized the sceptre of imperial power. It is a sad thing to see a man in whom the will power has gone to decay. Dr. Maudsley, the English scientist, says the beginning of recovery from mental derangement is always a revival of the power of the will. When an expert in an insane asylum finds a patient able to execute some new plan of conduct, and to hold himself in the pursuit of it for hours at a time, he is apt to say that that man will soon go out of the asylum.
3. Let me now come to the final quality that goes into the makeup of symmetrical manhood, and that is the spiritual nature. Physical strength is good, but it is only the cellar foundation of the house. No one would be content to live in the cellar, no matter how well stocked it might be with provisions and other comforts. He would at least want to have another storey to the building, and we have spoken of the intellectual development. But to stop with that would be like dwelling in a library, or art gallery, and never having any higher rooms where we might come into fellowship with the Creator, and with His Son, our Saviour. To change the figure, lev me say that to neglect the spiritual nature, as some men have done, equipping the physical and mental natures with everything needful, is like building a splendid ship and leaving off the rudder. The spiritual nature in a man is the rudder which controls his thoughts and purposes. Sometimes a ship at sea is found flying the signal, “Not under control.” That is a very terrible signal. The splendid athlete who can win a boat race, or in the arena knock out his opponent, may be only a baby in his moral manhood. A man with muscles strong enough to fell a horse may be weak enough to yield to some subtle temptation. The secret is spiritual character. You remember what men said of the noble Greek who governed his city by unwritten laws--“Phocion’s character is more than the constitution.” The power of character in Lamartine was such that during the bloodiest days in Paris he never bolted his doors, and once when he rose to speak the one who introduced him said: “Sixty years of a pure life are about to address you.” Emerson says there was a certain power in Lincoln, Washington, and Burke not to be explained by their printed words. John Milton said: “A good man is the ripe fruit our earth holds up to God.” If the Roman youth were elevated in spirit by standing one day each week in a room devoted to the statuary of great heroes, and making vows to their imaginary presence, how much more are we ennobled when we go into the presence of the infinite and eternal Jehovah, who is able to impart to us the transforming influence of His Holy Spirit. (D. H. Martin, D. D.)
Duty and privilege
This is the parting advice of a king to his son, whose right it was to grasp the sceptre as it fell from the pallid hand of his dying father.
I. Be thou strong.
1. Not boastful severest conflict, when many are fainting.
2. How is this strength obtained? From God alone, through our Lord Jesus Christ. How from Him? Repent of all sins. Resolve to break from all sins, and live a devoted Christian life. Cultivate personal trust in Christ as your Saviour, and believe that God for His sake pardons and saves you.
II. Show thyself a man. Lot it not be a mere inference, but a palpable fact; a demonstration. “Show thyself.” Men put a value upon us according to how we show ourselves. Don’t leave it to others to show that you are a man; do it yourself. Not an angel, but a man. There is no instrument God can use in so many ways and places, and with such wonderful success, as a devoted Christian who can show himself a man--a man who has the tear of sympathy for the sorrowing, a word of comfort for the bereaved, and a word of hope for the downcast and desponding. (Homilist.)
A son charged to be brave
The sword presented by the Emperor William to his little son, the Crown Prince, on his tenth birthday, contains an inscription on its blade, of which the following is a translation: “Trust in God. Be brave in combat to preserve honour and glory. He who fights bravely, relying on the help of God, is never overcome. All your powers of body and mind belong to your country. To my dear son William, May 6, 1892.
In what manliness consists
True manliness is to stick to your principles if they be good and right. When Garfield was a lad at Williams College, he climbed up Mount Greylock one day with many of his companions, and spent the night on the mountain top. Seated around a camp fire they sang college songs and told stories all the evening. At length Garfield took a Testament out of his pocket, and said: “Boys, it is my custom to read a chapter before going to bed and have a prayer. Shall we have it together?” And they all did. We admire the boy for his courage.
Learning to be brave
Mr. Mortimer Mempes, in his World’s Children, gives some remarkable specimens of the Spartan training in courage that the boys of Japan must all undergo. All kinds of games are played to test the character in this particular of the children. They are told thrilling stories of dragons and giants, and, when worked up to terror, each boy has to go into a darkened room and bring out a strand of wick which is burning in a dish of oil; and this, too, with a smiling face, absolutely unruffled. Another favourite game is to gather in a lonely graveyard, under a tree, and plant flags in a haunted spot. Then each boy is made to walk up the avenue alone, pull out a flag slowly, with dignity, and without a nervous tremor. So, having borne the yoke in his youth, his courage is believed to be equal to all demands upon it in later life.
Play the man for God
On one occasion when Whitfield was surrounded by a mob, and began to show symptoms of alarm as the stones flew in all directions, his wife, standing by his side, cried out, “Now, George, play the man for God.” We are to play the man in the battle of life because God made us to be manly and not unmanly; because the Son of Man came upon earth to show us how to suffer and be strong; because if we fear God we shall have no other fear. (Quiver.)
1 Kings 2:7
Shew kindness unto the sons of Barzillai.
Gratitude for kindnesses repaid
An old English story tells of Frescobald, an Italian merchant who showed great kindness to Thomas Cromwell when he was in sore distress far from home. The stranger was welcomed to the merchant’s dwelling, and sent back safely to England. Years passed, and reverses came to Frescobald. He lost wealth and friends, and wandered as a beggar to this country. One day he saw a great crowd moving along the streets of London. The Lord Chancellor was going in state to open the courts. To Frescobald’s delight, the central figure of the procession was his old friend Thomas Cromwell The Italian merchant soon reaped the fruit of his generous kindness in other days. Cromwell’s hospitality and munificence quickly made him forget all his care and sorrow. (J. Telford, B. A.)
Sympathy with monarch appreciated
Sympathy for those who are stronger, wealthier, healthier, more influential, and higher in authority than ourselves, is not so easily rendered. It does not often occur to us to extend the sympathetic hand or word to those whom we look upon as in any way our superiors, and yet none need our sympathy more than such as these. The minister is expected to feel for and with his parishioners, but the truth is that the minister needs sympathetic encouragement from them quite as much. So, too, of the physician and his patient. One of Tennyson’s biographers quotes the Queen as saying of the Laureate, “When I took leave of him I thanked him for his kindness, and said I needed it, for I had gone through much, and he said, ‘You are so alone on that terrible height; it is terrible.’“ The sovereign appreciated kindness, consideration, and sympathy from her subjects, and the poet had a full realisation of what it meant to be so high up as to be practically alone in the world. We easily give our pity, our sympathy, and even our helping hand, to those who seem to us in sore stress, but we are not so thoughtful about what consolation and strength we might give to those who need it because their very elevation isolates them, and cuts them off from those human relations to which we all look for sympathetic aid. (Great Thoughts.)
Barzillai’s truly Highland courtesy, also, is abundantly conspicuous in the too-short glimpse we get of the lord of Rogelim. For, how he anticipated all David’s possible wants! How he put himself into all David’s distressed place! How he did to David as David would have done to him! How he came down from his high seat, with all his years on his head, in order with his own hand to conduct the king over Jordan! And, then, with what sweetness and music of manner and of speech he excused himself out of all the royal rewards and honours and promotions David had designed and decreed to put upon him!
The service and the loyalty I owe,
In doing, pays itself. Your Highness’ part
Is to receive our duties; and our duties
Are to your throne and state children and servants,
Which do but what they should, by doing everything
Safe towards your love and honour.
The rest is labour which is not used for you.
The humility, also, of that Old Testament hero is already our New Testament humility in its depth and sweetness and beauty. In my spare hours this winter I have been delighting myself with Plutarch’s Lives in Thomas North’s Bible English. But how often as I read one noble name after another have I exclaimed, Oh, if some of those great men of old had only been among the Greeks who came to Philip, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus! Had they only seen Jesus, or even heard or read Paul! Then what ornaments would they have been in all New Testament nobleness and courtesy and humility. (Alex. Whyte, D. D.)
1 Kings 2:8-9
And, behold, thou hast with thee Shimei, the son of Gera.
David and Shimei
David’s death-bed has never been without its own difficulties to thoughtful and reverential readers. For Shimei with all his good and his bad uses comes back again to David’s death-bed to tempt and to try David, and to discover what is in David s dying heart. The death-bed sayings of God’s saints have a special interest and a delightful edification to us; but David’s last words to Solomon about Shimei--we would pass them by if we could. Three or four several explanations of those terrible words of David have been offered to the distressed reader by able men and men of authority in such matters. I shall only mention those offered explanations, and leave you to judge for yourselves. Well, some students of the Old Testament are bold to take David’s dreadful words about Shimei out of David’s mouth altogether, and to put them into the mouth of the prophet who has preserved to us David’s life and death. Those awful words, they say, are that righteous prophet’s explanation and vindication of the too late execution of Shimei by Solomon after his “reprieve,” as Matthew Henry calls it, had come to an end with the death of David. Others again, and they, too, some of our most conservative and orthodox scholars, say to us that the text should run in English in this way: “Hold him not guiltless; at the same time bring not his hoar head down to the grave with blood.” You will blame me for my too open ear to such bold scholarship; and you will think it very wrong in me to listen to such evil men. But the heart has its reasons, as Pascal says, and my heart would stretch a considerable point in textual criticism to get Shimei’s blood wiped off David’s death-bed. Another interpretation is to take the text as it stands, and to hear David judicially charging Solomon about a care of too long delayed justice against a blasphemer of God and the king. And then the last explanation is the most painful one of all, and it is this, that David had never really and truly, and at the bottom of his heart, forgiven Shimei for his brutality and malignity at Bahurim, and that all David’s long-suppressed revenge rushed out of his heart against his old enemy when he lay on his bed and went back on the day on which he had fled from Jerusalem. You can choose your own way of looking at David’s death-bed. But, in any case, it is Bahurim that we shall all carry home, and carry for ever henceforth, in our hearts. We shall have, God helping us, David’s Bahurim-mind always in us henceforth amid all those who insult and injure us, and say all manner of evil against us falsely; and amid all manner of adverse and sore circumstances, so as to see the Lord in it all, and so as to work out our salvation amid it all. And the Lord will look upon our affliction also, and will requite us good for all this evil, if only we wisely and silently and adoringly submit ourselves to it. (Alex. Whyte, D. D.)
The sins of godly men
There are three ways in which David may have been influenced in giving this dying injunction to his son--
I. As the agent, unconscious or otherwise, of Divine justice. We cannot conceive this measure as being the consummation of a Divine purpose, it had apparently so much about it of human plan. The Almighty’s power, when exerted in support of justice, has always been certain and direct in its action, without any reference to contingencies. A man’s punishment ,never precedes his crime, nor is inflicted without one. With God it is all justice or all mercy; no half measures. No sparing for a time in uncertainty or doubt as to our guilt, begetting in us a sense of false security, till suddenly the knell of.doom sounds on our deafened ears. How different from man’s punishment this. The very manner of Shimei’s death is the greatest argument against its having been ordained by God (verses 36-46.) David’s conduct in giving this dying injunction to his son may have been influenced--
II. By a conscientious desire to administer human justice, according to the will of God. David, we are told, was a man of God, one after His own heart. How; then, with such clear perceptions of the Divine attributes, can we conceive of him as acting in this matter conscientiously and with cool judgment, in the full belief of the harmony of his decree with Almighty rectitude? To do so is to dishonour the unswerving uprightness of God’s justice, or to depreciate David’s experiences and knowledge of the Divine character. We would rather be left to our final alternative in--
III. Regarding his injunction as prompted by revenge. As a man he forgave Shimei at the time of his crime, which, then, should have been utterly effaced from his memory. Heavenly justice, if not satisfied, would have taken its own way of vindicating itself, without further action on David’s part. With David as a man of God and Israel’s law-giver, we must utterly disconnect this act, and attribute it entirely to a flaw in his character, which, at the last, reasserted its natural power in antagonism to Divine grace. In nothing, during life, do men differ so greatly as at death. The weakest on earth often enter the gates of heaven triumphant. While yet in the flesh, one foot is firmly planted on the threshold of the mansion prepared for them. On the other hand, the spiritual giant now is frequently then but as a timid and fearful child; often, indeed, appearing to lose his entire spiritual existence in the fearful struggle which Satan and his earthly nature keep up in endeavouring to wrest another soul from heaven to people the wilderness of hell. (R. Liswil, B. A.)
1 Kings 2:10-12
So David slept with his fathers
Views of life and death
The view which is presented in the Scripture of the death of saints is the exact opposite of that which is popular to-day.
You nearly, without exception, find death painted as a reaper coming with his sickle. That is merely a human idea. What is God’s idea in the Word? Death is not the reaper; death is the sower. That is a very different thing. It is not death that comes and gathers in the harvest: it is death that sows the seed. The agriculturist goes out with his basket of bare grain, and that is cast into the earth and it is covered up and lost to sight; but it germinates because it dies. It dies to live under the soil, and by and by there comes the rich golden harvest. Death will lose half of its gloom if you view death, not as the reaper, but as the sower. It is because we limit our idea of life to the brief period we spend in this world, that we make death the terminator of life. It is not so, but the true beginning of life. Death may take the beautiful form of your loved one, and cast it in the ground; but it is all that death can do: Death sows the seed, but God reaps the harvest in the dawn of His coming. (R. Venting.)
1 Kings 2:19-20
Bathsheba therefore went unto King Solomon, to speak unto him for Adonijah.
What mothers can do for their children
Nearly twenty times the Book of Kings makes mention of the names of mothers as connected with the good or evil deeds of their sons. We are not always told what was the character of these mothers, nor how far it was due to their influence that their sons turned out as they did, but the introduction of their names in such close connection with the good or evil, is sufficiently significant. “His mother’s name was Jecholiah; and he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.” The sacred penman adds no more, and yet we can scarce restrain the natural exclamation of the heart, “Blessed art thou among women!” so certain are we that the youth who honoured God had enjoyed the care of a good mother. In contrast, what unenviable notoriety is given to Abijah’s name when the mention of it is accompanied with the painful record, “he walked in all the sins of his father” (1 Kings 15:2). Maachah, the mother, may have been a good woman herself, in spite of her husband’s evil ways; yet what volumes are expressed in that embalming of her name--and only hers--in connection with the wrong-doings of her son! Alas! the agonies of the wretched parent’s heart, in this world and the next, concerning whose offspring the record must be made, “he did evil all his life; he did evil because of his mother’s neglect to teach him better!” St. Augustine, and Gregory of Nazianzen, are striking examples, which cry aloud, “Christian mothers, pray on in faith!” Theodoret, and Basil the Great, and Chrysostom were instances almost as remarkable. General Harrison, not long before taking his place at the head of the Government, visited his old home in Virginia, and turned his steps at once to his “mother’s room,” where, as he said, he had seen her daily reading her Bible, and where she had taught him to pray. Fame and glory became dim before him as the pleasant light burst forth from the scene of his earliest and best impressions. Where is the son so wayward and so cruel, who would not promptly answer, like Israel’s king, when besought by her who had nursed him in helpless infancy, “Ask on, my mother, for I will not say thee nay”? “My mother asked me never to use tobacco,” remarked Senator Thomas H. Benton, “and I have never touched it from that time to the present day. She asked me never to gamble, and I never have. She admonished me against hard drinking, and whatever usefulness I have attained in life, I owe to my compliance with her pious wishes.” The Christian mother who thus loves her children may be sure of their sincerest affection in return. An old man, wasted with disease, was struggling feebly with death. His family and friends stood by, rendering every kind office which they could, but still there was one thing which he longed for, and which all their tenderest affections failed to supply. He rolled his head in agony, and faintly whispered, “I want mother!” She had been dead for fifty years! As a child, he had carried his little sorrows to his mother, and she had always proved his ready comforter, and now, after all this lapse of time, forgetful, for the moment, that wife and children and grandchildren were with him, he remembered no one but his mother! A noted infidel was once suddenly brought under religious influences, and cried aloud, in his agony, “God of my mother, have mercy on me!” When a lady once told Archbishop Sharpe that she would not trouble her children with instruction about religion until they had reached the years of discretion, the shrewd prelate answered, “If you do not teach them, the devil will!” (J. N. Norton.)
The power of mothers
The power of mothers is a fertile theme for contemplation and one most fascinating. It has been said that “the greatest moral power in the world is that exercised by a mother over her child.” Can you name any force which you dare call equal to it? Is it not true, as Douglas Jerrold put it, that “she who rocks the cradle rules the world”? In the first place, note the fact that--
I. The early years of a child belong to the mother. These are the years which give shape and colour to all the rest of life. And in these the natural guide and companion of the child is the mother. Her presence and her varied teachings are the most potent force brought to bear upon it in the fresh and dewy morning of its existence. As soon as the child begins to comprehend language and to ponder ideas it conveys, what priceless opportunities are the mother’s for inspiring and leading it! It learns its words from her lips and pronounces them after her methods. A mispronunciation acquired in childhood often clings to one all his days. The child thinks its mother’s thoughts as well as speaks her words. Its views of things are largely derived from her. She can teach the child to be observant of what is within him and without him, upon notice of which wisdom so largely depends. She can develop in it the habit of thought, which so enhances the power of thought. She can elevate its thinking. She can teach it to be affectionate, aspiring, loyal, and brave. In short, she can mould her child well-nigh as easily as the sculptor shapes his plastic clay into the statue of faultless beauty.
II. The example and the teachings of the mother are permanent influences. This from their very nature, not simply because she has the control of the years of youth. A mother’s life is one of the regulating and animating forces of that of her children as long as they live. There is a sacredness in that example which time increases rather than lessens in the bosom of every right-minded child. Even those who are wayward admit its power, and it is always one of the most invincible agents in their restoration. The same is true of the precepts she has given him. Not merely do they start him in the course he takes, they remain with him as elemental factors of his being and his conduct. They were the warrant of his early actions, and he unconsciously makes appeal to them all his life. Charles Reade, the famous novelist, when near the end of his life, declared: “I owe the larger half of what I am to my mother.” And John Ruskin, nobly eminent as he is, cannot be disloyal to the memory of her who gave him birth. He wrote in this strain: “My mother’s influence in moulding my character was conspicuous. She forced me to learn daily long chapters of the Bible by heart. To that discipline and patient, accurate resolve I owe not only much of general power of taking pains, but the best part of my taste for literature.” And this is the testimony of an author whose facile pen has traced some of the most superb and exquisite sentences to be found in our English speech.
III. Affection for mothers is enduring. It is this, in large measure, which lends power to their example and instruction. Still, it is a force by itself beyond these, in all the life of the child. If there is no love on earth like a mother’s love, it calls forth in response an affection that many waters cannot drown. And this affection is a purifying, uplifting, gladdening element in the life of one who shares it. It spurs him to labour and self-denial. It kindles patience, zeal, hope, courage. It elevates, and quickens all his nature by its silent yet persuasive influence. When he is tempted, that love nerves him for victory. When he is despondent it clothes him with fortitude. When he is weary he rests upon it. When he is lonely its sweet presence enlivens his soul. When he is strong he rejoices for her dear sake. When he is successful he exults because she will be happy. Said Lord Macaulay: “I am sure it is worth while being sick to be nursed by a mother.” One of the most pathetic elements in the sensitive spirit of William Cowper was his affectionate regard for his mother, who died when he was in his sixth year. To a niece who sent him her picture he wrote: “Every creature that bears an affinity to my mother is dear to me . . . The world could not have furnished you with a present so acceptable to me as the picture which you have so kindly sent me. I kissed it and hung it where it is the last object that I see at night, and, of course, the first on which I open my eyes in the morning.” Who can doubt the healthful charm of that beautiful portrait over the life of the son? A mother’s face--what beauty in its outlines, what sweetness in its expression, what inspiration in its presence in the mind only! No wonder that Napoleon said the greatest need of France was “mothers.” It does not appear strange that in the early centuries of our era Christian matrons should have been held in high esteem. The names of the mothers of not a few heroes of the Church are inseparably linked with their own. Emmelia with Basil; Nonna, who died while praying, with Gregory Nazienzen; Anthusa, whose noble character led the heathen to exclaim: “Ah, what wonderful women there are among Christians!” with Chrysostom, the golden-mouthed; Monica, who died in the arms of her son, with Augustine, the great theologian; Aletta, of whom an eloquent orator has recently said, “I cannot but feel that that saintly mother who died eight hundred years ago in Burgundy has modified the civilisation of the age in which we live--that she has left the touch of her hand immortal on your heart and mine!” with Bernard of Clairvaux. And in modern times the mother of the Wesleys is called also “the mother of Methodism,” such was her impress upon her sons. John Quincey Adams doubtless gave utterance to the sober truth when he said: “All I am, or ever have been, in this world, I owe, under God, to my mother.” And there is no flower in all the field that owes as much to the sun aa multitudes in the lesser walks of life owe to their mothers. The glory of motherhood has been strikingly set forth by some one who said: “God could not be everywhere, and therefore He made mothers.” Theirs is the post of honour in the world. They sit upon thrones most regal. Sceptres of unbounded empire are in their hands. O mothers, realise the proud eminence you have attained! Aim to meet well its immense responsibilities, its limitless possibilities. Your children are, in a large degree, at your own disposal. Charles Dickens did not err when he thought that it must be written somewhere that “the virtues of mothers should be visited, occasionally, upon their children as well as the sins of fathers.” (A. W. Hazen, D. D.)
The king rose up to meet her, and bowed himself unto her.--
A mother’s noble recognition
The story is told that not long ago President Loubet paid a brief official visit to a town near his birthplace. A triumphal procession was formed through the town, and the President, seated in the magnificent four-horse state carriage, was driven between long lines of enthusiastic people towards another part of the town, where his old peasant mother patiently awaited his coming. She had a special seat, from which she could have an uninterrupted view of the passing procession. When she caught sight of the magnificent carriage approaching, surrounded by a brilliant cavalry escort, notwithstanding her eighty-six years, she rose quickly to her feet in order to get a better view of “her boy,” as she always calls the President. The latter, who had been privately told where his mother was, noticed the movement. Seized by a sudden impulse, he ordered the carriage to step, and, turning to the general in attendance, said hastily: “For the moment I cease to be President of France, and become a son.” Then, springing quickly to the ground, Monsieur Loubet hastened by the garden, which he well knew, to the little stand, caught the quivering old mother in his arms, and embraced her long and silently, while copious tears streamed down her wrinkled cheeks. The large crowd that witnessed this scene of filial affection was so touched as not to be able at first to signify their approval, and it was not till the President was in his carriage again, and the procession was moving once more, that the spell was broken, and the people cheered the dutiful son as he deserved.
A ruler’s regard for his mother
President Roosevelt, in his life of Oliver Cromwell, tells us how devoted the mother of Cromwell was to her great son, and how he loved her. When he was young, he followed her counsel. When he became Dictator of England, he placed her in the royal palace of Whitehall; and when she died, he buried her in Westminster Abbey. This care for our mothers is one element of greatness which we may all possess.
1 Kings 2:26-27
And unto Abiathar the priest said the king.
Friends that fail us
In middle life--much more in old age--we may have many acquaintances, but we have few friends. “If,” said an old man quaintly, “my acquaintances would fill a church, my real friends could go in the pulpit.” Socrates used to keep two chairs only in his house: “One for myself, and another for a friend--when I find him!” How well then it is that there is a Friend “who sticketh closer than a brother”--a Guide and Comforter whom we cannot fail to find if we look for Him with the eyes of faith! (Quiver.)
1 Kings 2:28
Joab had turned after Adonijah.
The peril of protracted temptation
Joab was David’s nephew, the second of the three sons of his sister Zeruiah. His youngest brother, Asahel, famous for his swiftness in running, was killed by Abner at the battle of Gibeon. The oldest, Abishai, a brave, fierce, revengeful man, was always at his uncle’s side, and rendered him invaluable service. But Joab, greatest in military prowess, as well as most statesmanlike, reached the place of power next the king himself. He treacherously killed Abner, partly in revenge for his brother’s death and partly lest he should hold under David the same post of commander-in-chief that he had held under Saul. The king was grieved and outraged at this act, and compelled Joab to attend Abner’s funeral in sackcloth and with rent robe. Still, induced, no doubt, by his pre-eminent fitness, he gave him Abner’s place. Joab had fairly won this by accepting the challenge of David to scale the rock of Jebus and thus capture the fortress that was to become the national capital So far as defence and conquest are concerned he may be called the founder of the kingdom. Joab was loyal to his sovereign through a long life. He was loyal against many temptations to be otherwise. From the time of Abner’s death David feared his impetuous, passionate nephews; indeed, he said at the funeral, “I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah are too hard for me” (2 Samuel 3:39). Joab could not have been uninfluenced by this fact; it is difficult for an inferior to retain respect for a superior who he knows fears him, or whom he regards as in any essential particular a weaker man than himself. Moreover, he was in the secret of his master’s great crime--guilty, indeed, as an accessory, but not so guilty as the principal, and so with another consciousness of superiority which worked against his devotion. And monarchy was new in Israel. The king reigned more by virtue of his personal power than of an established habit of obedience on the part of his people. There were the incessant intrigues against the throne that to this day mark all Oriental governments. A score of times Joab must have been solicited to join the fortunes of this or that pretender, to accept anything that he chose to ask, to escape the growing ill-will of his sovereign and avenge the repeated slights that he had suffered. Against all solicitations he had stood firm year after year. But now David is near his end--in fact, is almost comatose. It is known that he has promised the succession to a younger son, Solomon. The legitimist party, who favour the oldest son, Adonijah, determine not to wait for the king’s death, but to at once seize the throne. It is particulariy odious treason against a dying and presumably helpless man. And it is especially pitiful to find the aged Joab engaged in it. A few years before he had resisted the pretensions of the fascinating and popular Absalom, and at the risk of his own life had put him to death, as he deserved. But meanwhile his moral fibre has deteriorated. He lacks the robust virtue of other years. Even the thought of his dying sovereign and of the great things that they had passed through together cannot hold him to loyalty. So he “turns after Adonijah, though he had not turned after Absalom.” The theory is commonly held that old men and women are safe from temptation. We talk about character being formed, settled, fixed. We speak of unassailable virtue. We devote all our skill and energy to safeguarding the young, which is right; but we neglect to throw any protection about the middle-aged, which is wrong. We treat ourselves in the same fashion, assuming that, say, after middle life we are in small peril of going astray. We accordingly subject our virtues to strain to which we would not have thought of exposing them twenty or thirty years earlier. Hence every community is frequently shocked by acts of amazing folly, vice, and even crime on the part of those who were supposed to have outlived all temptation in such directions. Hence we have the proverb, “Count no man happy until he is dead”--until he has passed beyond the possibility of throwing away by one stupendous blunder or sin the accumulated good reputation of three or four score years. We say of such a man, “He was old enough to know better,” which is in effect a confession that knowing better by no means carries with it the strength to do better. Hamlet regards it as the gravamen of his mother’s offence in her criminal marriage with the king, that she had passed the age when she could plead the excuse of impetuous passions. History, literature, our own observation unite to demonstrate that, while youth is imperilled by temptation, age is not safe, and to give some countenance to the rather harsh maxim that “there is no fool like an old fool.” The fact is, that the danger that lurks in temptation is not a matter of age at all. Personality is of course the main thing. We are tempted accordingly to our heredity, our appetites, our constitutional or acquired weaknesses, our individual proclivities toward this or that sin. These vary at different periods of life. Hence some temptations are strongest in youth, others in maturity, others in old age. There is a sense, too, in which youth is weaker to resist than maturity or age. The moral fibre, like the physical, is not yet toughened. Physicians tell us that the period of greatest peril to life, after infancy, is from eighteen to twenty-five or thirty years. All vital organs have developed rapidly; one looks most robust; he will quickly take high physical training in any direction, and, if he endures it, gain marvellous power. But at the same time, he lacks high efficiency to resist or throw off disease. Add to this such imprudence as must accompany the unthinking conviction that nothing can harm him--that he may eat and sleep and exercise as irregularly as he pleases--and it is not marvellous that so many young men die.in their years of greatest promise and apparently highest vitality. They are carried off by disease before they have learned their own powers of endurance, or, knowing them, gained the moral courage to live well within them. It is not an irrational solicitude, therefore, that parents feel for the health of their sons and daughters even after they are old enough to be supposed to wisely care for themselves. Here the moral and spiritual nature affords a close analogy to the physical. Time brings to the soul certain qualifications to resist temptation that nothing else can bring, such as an intelligent fear of doing wrong and an accurate conception of its pernicious consequences. Especially it brings the habit of resisting the wrong and doing the right. And it is to that settled habit more than to anything else, except the immediate grace of God, that we all owe our moral safety. But, whatever the age, the real peril of temptation lies in its being long continued. It was not because Joab was old that he turned after Adonijah, while a few years before he had not turned after Absalom, but because at that time the temptation of disloyalty to his king had not been long enough at work to undermine his powers of resistance. When, however, Adonijah raised the standard of revolt and invited Joab to join him, the soliciting voice had spoken so many times, and each time more alluringly, that his ability to say no had been exhausted. He threw away reputation, honour, life itself, not because he was a weak old man--for he was not that--but because he had exposed himself through a series of years to the temptation that he had always hitherto been able to master, but that now at last mastered him. The fact is--and herein lies the reason for the young standing so grandly as they do--that few are swept away by the first attack of temptation. The fortress of our instinctive love of the right and our careful early training is not usually carded by assault, but by sapping and mining. The bravest army ever marshalled cannot for ever stand such dogged attacks from an enemy with resources sufficient to keep them up indefinitely. Nor can the strongest human nature stand such attacks of temptation. No matter how confident you and I are of the quality of our moral fibre, we will act unwisely in subjecting it to too prolonged a strain. Indeed, this law holds throughout all nature. We speak, for instance, of the life of a steel rail, meaning the period during which it can do its work. The incessant hammering on it of locomotive and car wheels finally changes the relation of its molecules until their coherence is so weakened that the strength of the metal is gone. Suddenly there is an unaccountable railway accident. It means only that rail or bridge or locomotive had been strained, not too hard, but too long. They stood through Absalom’s day, but could not stand through Adonijah’s. Bacteriologists say that the germs of many or most diseases exist in our bodies while we are in good health; but we are able to resist them. There comes a time, however, when such resistance is weakened by that clogging of the system that we call a cold, and we have pneumonia; or when our foes are reinforced by impure water, and we nave typhoid fever, we can withstand for a long time--a marvellously long time--the poison of a foul atmosphere, but the most robust constitution will finally succumb to it. We are horrified by stories of plagues and pestilences, as the yellow fever, cholera, the black death. They sweep over a country with awful devastation. But they pass by, and, after all, do not kill one where bad ventilation and unsanitary drainage, with their endless persistence, kill tern The mighty storms that sweep the Matterhorn throw down with awful crash only the rocks that the constantly trickling and freezing rills of water have through years or centuries insensibly crowded to the edge of the cliff. We may be too proud to believe that we who have withstood so long can ever yield, but this is the very “pride that goeth before destruction.” “I do not allow myself to look at a bad picture,” said Sir Peter Lely, the artist, “for if I do my brush is certain to take a hint from it.” The only safe way to treat a temptation that has begun to meet us frequently is the way of this wise book: “Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass on.” And even this counsel, good as we at once recognise it to be, we will not heed unless we seek Divine.grace. And that is ready: “God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation make also the way of escape, that ye may be able to endure it.” Trust Him and you shall not turn after either Absalom or Adonijah. (T. S. Hamlin, D. D.)
The vitality of sin
We sometimes think that we have done with a sin, because it is dormant for a time. We think that it is dead, that under no circumstances can we be troubled with it any more. But it is very often only in a state of suspended animation Circumstances are against its showing its vitality, but that vitality is there, and will show itself when circumstances are favourable. In a lump of ice delivered to a restaurant lately there was embedded a frog. After having been on exhibition for some time the ice was smashed, and the frog was like a stone. It was put near the stove, and in two hours it was as lively as possible. It had been ten months frozen up. Many a sin that we thought dead has got near some stove--some warm temptation--and we have had sad experience of its tenacity of life. (Quiver.)
Joab fled unto the tabernacle of the Lord.--
Joab had passed a proud and prosperous life, without submitting himself to the authority, or seeking the favour of God. He was a cruel, revengeful, and imperious man. He suffered his own vindictive spirit to imbrue his hands in causeless blood, in his long and prospered life, he might have been the instrument of vast blessings to others. But the man who lives without God cannot live as a blessing to his fellow-men. The blessing of God is not with any thing that he does. Joab comes to old age, and his character remains entirely unchanged. He engages with Adonijah in his unnatural rebellion against the aged king, to whose cause he had been so faithful while the power was with him, and thus prepares himself for the punishment which must in justice overtake him. David delivers him over to Solomon his son, with the injunction, “thou knowest what Joab did to me,” etc. He fled to Gibeon, and concealed himself for protection in the tabernacle of the Lord, and caught hold on the horns of the altar. But there was no protection for impenitent guilt as the altar. The Divine law was, in regard to the murderer, “thou shalt take him even from Mine altar, that he may die.” And Joab, the aged rebel, perishes in guilt, even while he clings to the altar for protection. No desire for God led him to the tabernacle. A fear of punishment drove him thither. He had no longing to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord. He would far rather dwell in the tents of ungodliness. How very important is the admonition which is here furnished! What multitudes, like Joab, attempt to compensate for a life of sin, by an ineffectual attempt to return to God in the hour of death, and encourage themselves to hope, that their wicked and persevering neglect of Him will be wholly forgotten, if they ask His forgiveness, when they can rebel no longer! Their hearts are in the world, and they will live to that. But their future, everlasting safety, can only be with God, and they will still endeavour to die in peace with Him.
I. Such a running at the last to the tabernacle is entirely deficient in the proper motive of obedience. The distinguishing motive of an acceptable return to God, is a love for His character, and a desire for His service. This must always be the principle which guides a sinner in a true return of his soul to God. A godly sorrow for sin respects the honour of God which is involved in transgression. It sees the love sir Jesus, and the hatefulness of the sin which has repaid it; and turns back with mourning, for that which has crucified the Lord of Glory.
II. Such an apparent return to God in our last hours is ineffective, because it allows no time to accomplish the important work. I do not speak now of the man who has never heard the blessed tidings of a Saviour, until this late hour; but of the man whose life has been passed amidst the full privileges of the Gospel, and who has no new message to be delivered to him in the hour of his death. Such a one has professed that he had no time to perfect this return to God in his life and health, though he acknowledged it to be necessary; and he will, in fact, have no time to do it in the hours of sickness, and age, and death. It is vain to say that God may then pluck him in a moment as a brand from the burning. So He might have done at any previous time of his life. But He did not do it then; and there is not the slightest ground for hope that He will, do it now.
III. This projected repentance is ineffective for good, because it is itself an act of rebellion against God. He has, in abundant mercy, opened a way for sinful men to return to Him in peace. He gives them all the opportunities, all the means, and all the assistance, which they need in order to perfect this return to His favour, and then solemnly warns them that it must be done in a limited and appointed time. But what does the man do, who still looks for a more convenient season for his reconciliation unto God, but directly contradict and falsify these positive assertions of the God of Truth? And of what more positive act of rebellion against God can man be guilty, than is involved in this determination which says, man and his Creator. And what would be the effect of God’s acceptance of this wilfully postponed submission to Himself, but giving countenance to rebellion against Himself, and showing a fickleness of government, the supposition of which is impossible?
IV. Such a proposed return is ineffective, because its allowed success would overturn all the purposes of God in regard to men, for which the Gospel has provided. Its acceptance by Him would altogether annihilate the design and operation of the Gospel The great purpose of God, in the gift of His Son, is the restoration of man frown sin to obedience; the cleansing of him from guilt and condemnation, that he may serve God in holiness and righteousness before him all the days of his life. The proper and designed operation of the Gospel is to annihilate the actual rebellion of the world; to reduce its living inhabitants into subjection to their Creator, and thus to restore His dominion here, in perfect and eternal peace. How foolish and false is that hope which can only stand upon the annihilation of the very purposes and power upon which itself depends! Nay, which can be indulged in fact and form only, because some others at least, are supposed to be guided by better principles to a safer course! The very expectation, therefore, which plans such a return to God, shuts up against itself the avenue of mercy, destroys the design and usefulness of the Gospel, and, like the scorpion in his circle of fire, puts an end to itself. (S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
Religion the last quest of the godless
During an epidemic of cholera I remember being called up, at dead of night, to pray with a dying person. He had spent the Sabbath in going out upon an excursion, and at three on Monday morning I was standing by his bed. There was no Bible in the house, and he had often ridiculed the preacher; but before his senses left him he begged his servant to send for me. What could I do? He was unconscious; and there I stood, musing sadly upon the wretched condition of a man who had wickedly refused Christ and yet superstitiously fled to his minister. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Of Antiochus, the great persecutor of the Jewish people, it is told that during his last illness he vowed he would become a Jew himself, and go through all the world that was inhabited and declare the power of God, yet, continues the historian, “for all this, his pains would not cease, for the just judgment of God was upon him.”
1 Kings 2:30-34
Nay; but I will die here.
A warrior’s death
The circumstances in which Joab uttered the words, “Nay; but I will die here,” were the outcome of a conspiracy which had been formed during the latter days of David to prevent Solomon, his son, reigning in his stead.
I. Joab’s character. Joab as a man was somewhat like Esau, belligerent from his youth. As one of the sons of Zeruiah, of whom David complained that they “were too hard for him,” he readily acquired the character of a reckless soldier, and a most unscrupulous disposition. However brave or successful as a warrior, he was never known to forget an insult or to forgive an injury. He always waited for his enemies, real or supposed, as a bear robbed of her whelps, and would punish them without mercy. In some respects he was more cruel and vindictive than Nero, or any of the Roman Caesars. It was in cold blood that he assassinated Abner, and slew Absalom with his own hand. These and similar acts of cruelty, instead of checking his career, or making him more thoughtful, only paved his way for the commission of still greater crimes. He cared as little for the king’s curse, on account of Abner’s assassination, as he cared for the king’s grief over Absalom’s death. For years he had been guilty of shedding the blood of innocents, and the king seems to have been powerless in checking him or punishing him for his enormous crimes. But on his death-bed he charged Solomon to deal with him, so that the “innocent blood which he had shed might be purged from him and from his father’s house” (1 Kings 2:31). This was the character of Joab, the man who fled in terror to the tabernacle of the Lord, and laid hold upon the horns of the altar.
II. Joab’s refuge. Why did Joab, in his extremity, run to the tabernacle? As a drowning man is said to catch at a straw, Joab ran to the tabernacle as his only hope of safety. It was the hour of his desperation; the pressure of destiny was upon his heart, the Nemesis of retribution had laid hold upon him; and rather than die like Judas, he would lay hold upon the horns of the altar as his only means of salvation. But he had no right to do so. He was one of those expressly forbidden by the law of Moses (Deuteronomy 19:12) to enter the tabernacle, or to lay hold upon the horns of the altar. As a murderer--as a murderer “with guile,” as a murderer with deliberate purpose--he had no right to take refuge in God’s sanctuary, or to lay hold upon the altar with his defiled hands. Solomon knew the law, and honoured it when he commanded Benaiah to drag him forth from the altar and have him slain (Exodus 21:14). But what cares a sinner, who has lived all his days to outrage all law and order, when pressed by the shadows or pangs of despair, whether he enters in by the door or climbs up some other way? When he becomes, like Samson, a helpless creature--his eyes out, and sport for the Philistines--he will dare the most terrible things, if only he can be saved.
III. Joab’s resolution. There he would die, and nowhere else. It has been said that soldiers, as a class, are not greatly concerned for religion. It was alleged by Dean Swift that “no class of men had so little sense of religion as English soldiers.” It is said that Pope Gregory the Great tried hard at one time to assure the Emperor that it was not a thing impossible to discover devout soldiers in the army. Gibbon, the historian, records the ease of a Roman general who as early as the year 398 a.d. spent most of his time in praying and fasting, and singing Psalms. But he has evidently more satisfaction in telling us of the soldier who, before some terrible battle, prayed thus, “Oh God--if there be a God--save my soul--if I have a soul.” Perhaps we ought to regard such men as Colonel Gardiner, Sir Henry Havelock, Captain Hedley Vicars, General Lee, General Gordon, and Gustavus Adolphus, as exceptions to what is common in military circles. But there is nothing necessarily antagonistic to a religious life in the army. It is not necessary that a soldier should be brutal in his character or a murderer in heart and action. But Joab was so. He was utterly regardless of human life, and lived far from God and righteousness. We may regard Joab’s resolution as the outcome of nature, not of fear. “It is the fashion of our foolish presumption,” says Bishop Hall, “to look for protection, under the pressure of necessity, when we have not cared to yield obedience. Even a Joab clings to God’s altar in the hour of his extremity, which in his prosperity ha regarded not. Necessity will drive the most profane and lawless men to God.” When the Angel of Death comes to men in no unmistakable way, when, by ago or by accident, lingering sickness or the sorrows of bereavement, they seem to hear it said, “Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live!” or when, in some significant way, their doom is forecast, as Belshazzar’s doom was written upon his palace wall, they will waken up and cry out for a refuge in despair. But as there is a mirage in the spiritual as well as in the natural world, they may find that the harvest is past and the summer ended; they may find that prayers then extorted are in vain--the hour of mercy pearl Those who are saved at God’s altar are drawn to it, never driven. (J. K. Campbell, D. D.)
1. Joab was a man of war. He delighted in battle, he scented it from afar, the thought of it was in his heart. He never saw the tragedy--the madness of it; or, if he did, he ignored it, as thousands of great soldiers have done. He was a man of blood and iron, a lesser Napoleon, who climbed to greatness, such aa it was, over a hecatomb of corpses. He was never happy but amid tumult and bloodshed; the sweetest music that over greeted his ear was the bugle call to charge the enemy. Empire-making was his life-work, but, fortunately, David’s ambition was limited to a small geographical area, and Joab had no standing army at his beck and call, or the peace of the world would not have been safe for a single day.
2. The havoc wrought by envy. Joab was David’s sister’s son, a fact he never forgot himself, and never permitted others to forget. David’s brothers never quite forgave him being greater than themselves. Abner and the rest, could not forget that scene in the vale of Succoth, when David by one supreme act of faith and courage became the nation’s idol. Saul’s was not the only heart which felt the pang of jealousy that day. Envy, that black imp of hell, was dancing in and out amid the troops of Israel, and he wrought great havoc in Jesse’s household. Only great natures can rejoice at the prosperity of others. A man had better take a nest of rattlesnakes into his bosom than envy into his heart. But among those who stood staunch and true to David was his nephew, Joab. He had his faults, but treachery was not one of them, and he was a courageous man, and could not only fight himself, but could inspire others; and he possessed that dogged perseverance that never knows when it is beaten, but rises out of the ashes of defeat to fight once more and to conquer. “The battle is lost, sire,” said a messenger to Napoleon one morning. “Then,” he said, pulling out his watch, “there is time to win another.” And that was Joab, too, a very glutton for a hard fight, who never admitted defeat, but just kept pounding away, as Wellington said, until the enemy yielded. But Joab had the defect of his qualities: he was selfish, ambitious, with a nature of stone and iron; there was no light and shade in his character; he never suffered himself to be thwarted, but bore all down by the violence of his temper. And David grew to be afraid of this imperious, loud-voiced, combative nephew of his, and perhaps to yield to him on occasions when it would have been better if he had not.
3. David plays the fool Joab was a great man, his own nephew, a very useful man when the kingdom was threatened, and so David made a tearful speech, and let the culprit go. And Joab from that day thought himself indispensable, and acted accordingly. And the time came when David played the fool, as he now played the coward. A beautiful woman bewitched him, and he fell so foully that we stand and gape in astonishment at the deed of wickedness David did. The saddest thing on earth is when a good man forgets himself, turns his back on God, and shakes hands with the devil. “Do not mistake me,” said saintly Jacob Behmen, the mystic, so beloved by Dr. Whyte, “for my heart is as full as it can be of all malice, and all ill will. My heart is the very dunghill of the devil, and it is no easy matter to wrestle with him on his chosen ground. But wrestle with him on this ground of his I must, and that the whole of my life to the end.” “I have never read of a crime,” says Goethe, “which I might not have committed.” And the lust of the eyes seized David, and he wrote a disgraceful letter to Joab, who, when he read it, gave a hoarse, derisive laugh, and felt glad in his heart, for there are hard, coarse natures who delight in the moral downfall of a better man. If Joab had been the friend of David he would have torn that letter into thousands of pieces, and he would have gone forth and remonstrated with the king, for he is our best friend who cannot bear to see stain upon our character, and who will risk giving offence rather than let us cheapen ourselves in the eyes of the world. But Joab kept the letter as a precious treasure, for use on another day.
4. Joab master of the situation. And Joab obeyed the letter, and put Uriah in the front of the battle, and the brave soldier fell fighting for the king who planned his death, and dreamt not that his general was the worst foe that he had that day. It was as shameful a deed as ever was committed on a battlefield. And from that hour Joab twisted the king round his little finger. David never lost his conscience, and it is the man who has a conscience who suffers. What a mental purgatory the spiritually minded man lives in who has fallen from grace. Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter has shown us how a secret sin eats like a cancer at the heart until confession becomes, not only a necessity, but a relief. Joab could sleep as soundly as a child, and no vision of the slain Uriah came to haunt him. But David could not. Through many a sleepless hour he wailed out his broken-hearted penitence in psalm and prayer. This man could not go through a mire of sin and be merry over it, he could not forget, and forgetting is the sinner’s only refuge. Better a thousand times be David, with his tear-smitten face turned Godward, hating himself for the wrong done, than the sneering, self-complacent old warrior who found no place for repentance. Such men as Joab make hell a necessity of the future if ever justice is to be done, and right vindicated. Yes, I believe in hell, I cannot but believe in it, or there is no such thing as justice. It is awful to see the sinner when remorse has seized him. But I tell you what is far more awful, and that is to see the sinner going on cursing, laughing, unheeding to his doom, as indifferent as the fattened ox goes to the shambles. The best things in life are tenderness, sweetness, graciousness; and Joab never saw them, never knew them, but was always harsh, strident, and stern. (S. Horton.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "1 Kings 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany