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2 Samuel 24:1-25
Go, number Israel and Judah.
David numbering the people
I. The sin committed by David. It is possible that David dwelt with satisfaction upon the thought of his ample resources and numerous armies, and calculated that he was possessed of a power to repel aggression, and attempt fresh conquests. He may have forgotten that God alone, who had made him great, could preserve to him his greatness, and thence he may have longed to reckon up his forces, as though he could thence learn his security, or compute the extension of his kingdom. And let no man think that, because he occupies a private station, he cannot sin after the exact mariner in which David sinned, who filled the throne of a flourishing empire. The very same offence may be committed in any rank of life, and is probably chargeable, in a degree, on most in this assembly. What! to take one or two instances--is not the proud man he who delights to count up his monies, and catalogue to himself his cargoes, and his stock, and his deposits, and his speculations--is he not doing precisely what David did when taking the stun of his forces?--ay, is it not with the very same feeling that he prepares the inventory; the feeling that his wealth is his security against disaster; that the having largo possessions will comparatively place him and his family beyond the reach of trouble? The wish to be independent of Gad is natural to us in our fallen condition. This rigidly virtuous man may be all the while pluming himself on his excellence, and employing the captain of his host in summing up the number of his righteous qualities and actions, that he may certify his power for winning immortality. There may be freedom from gross vices, with a growing strength of pride which puts more contempt on the crown of the Redeemer than an open violation of every moral precept.
II. The punishment incurred. No doubt there is something strange, which it is hard to reconcile with our received notions of justice, in the declared fact that sins are often visited on others than the perpetrators. Who will think that David escaped with impunity because the pestilence smote down his subjects and touched not himself? It is evident from his passionate imprecation--“Let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me and my father’s house”--it is evident that the blow would have fallen more lightly had it fallen on himself and not on his subjects. In what manner should he be visited for his sin? So visited that the penalty may best indicate the offence it resists. Under what shape must vengeance come that it may touch him most closely, and most clearly prove by what it is provoked? You will admit at once that, forasmuch as it was the thought of having many subjects by which David had been puffed up, the most suitable punishment was the destruction of thousands of those subjects; for this took away the source of exultation, and stripped the boastful king of the strength on which he vain-gloriously rested. Certainly this was adapting the penalty to the fault; for not only was David punished, but punished by an act of retributive justice, from which himself and others might learn what it was which had displeased the Almighty. But, perhaps you will say that it is not enough to show that the king was punished through the death of his subjects; you will say that this does not touch the point of the innocent being made to suffer for the guilty. We allow this; but it is of great importance to establish that David himself was not left unpunished. One of the chief objections which seem to lay against the justice of the crime being in one creature and judgment in another, arises from the supposition that the guilty escape while the innocent suffer. Now we do not believe that this is ever the case; it certainly was not in the instance now under review. We believe that those who are punished deserve all which they receive, though they have not committed the precise fault of which they bear the penalty. It is evident enough that David regarded himself as the sole-offending party, and had no suspicion that the penalty had any other end than that of his own chastisement. The exclamation, “Lord, I have sinned; I have clone wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done?”--this is sufficient proof that the king thought of no criminal but himself, and of no punishment but that of his own wickedness. But it is equally evident that David was mistaken herein, and that God had other ends in view, besides that of correcting the monarch for his pride. It was in order that there might be occasion for the punishment of His subjects that God allowed Satan to tempt the ruler. For it is this--“And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” In the Book of Chronicles, where the instigation is ascribed to the devil, the people are actually spoken of as the objects aimed at through the king--“And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” So that it is put beyond doubt that the people had moved the anger of the Lord before the king moved it by his worldly confidence and pride. And if David had not offended, and thus made an inlet for Divine vengeance, another occasion would have been found, and wrath would have come down on Israel. We are not, indeed, told what the precise and particular sin was by which, at this time more especially, the chosen people had moved the indignation of God. Possibly their frequent rebellions against David, their ingratitude, their fickleness, and their growing dissoluteness of manners, which is a too common attendant on national prosperity, exposed them to those judgments by which God is wont to chastise an erring community; buff it is of no importance that we ascertain what the offence was of which the penalty was the punishment. We are at least certain that the people were really smitten for their own sins, though apparently for the sins of David; and that, therefore, there can be no place for the objection, that the innocent were made to suffer for the guilty.
III. The expiation that was made on the threshing floor of Araunah. So soon as the destroying angel had stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem, and, therefore, before any altar had been reared, or any burnt-offering presented, the Lord, we are told, “repented Him of the evil, and said to the angel--It is enough; stay now thine hand.” We sufficiently gather from this, even if it were not on other accounts evident, that the plague was not stayed from any virtue in the sacrifice which was offered by David. Even had the sacrifice preceded the arrest of the pestilence, we should know that it could not of itself have procured it, whereas now that it follows, none can dream of ascribing to it a solitary energy. But though the burnt-offering would not of itself have been efficacious, it would not have been commanded had not the presenting it subserved some great end; we may believe, therefore, that it was as a type, figuring that expiatory sacrifice, by which the moral pestilence that had been let loose on the globe would be finally arrested, that the offering was required from the contrite and terrified king. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
David’s numbering of the people
The boldness of the expression is startling. “He moved David against them.” Can it be that Jehovah stirred up the king of His choice against the people of His choice, to conceive and execute a design which so speedily called down upon them a deadly punishment? Or can we smooth away the difficulty by recourse to the parallel account in the book of Chronicles, and read the text as the margin of our English version suggests “Satan moved David against them?” Such an explanation is, I believe, untenable. If we had only the book of Samuel before us, we should not think of proposing it. The problem must be faced, that, in some sense or other, God is said to have moved David to this sin; while, on the other, hand, it was due to the instigation of Satan. Can we harmonise these divergent statements? We tread here on the skirts of that most mysterious problem, the relation of the Divine sovereignty to the human will. We approach here, also, and that still more closely, another problem wrapt in a thick cloud of mystery: the relation of the Divine will to the causation of evil. God never compels a man to sin. If that were possible, God would cease to be God; sin would cease to be sin. The moral consciousness of man revolts instinctively from such an idea. The teaching of Holy Scripture gives it no countenance whatsoever.
1. He purposely leads His saints into circumstances of trial, that their faith may be proved and tested, and coming forth from the furnace triumphantly, shine as a witness before the world.
2. God sees a man’s heart turning aside from Him, and withdraws for a time His restraining grace and presence. He deserts the sinner who has deserted Him.
3. God is said to harden the hearts of men. But not until His mercy has been set at naught, not until His long-suffering has been defied to the uttermost, does He finally pronounce this sentence. Not until a Pharaoh has hardened his own heath against judgment after judgment, is God said to harden His heart. Not until a Saul has mocked His calling and despised repeated admonitions, does the Spirit of the Lord leave him, and an evil spirit from the Lord trouble him. Not until mercy has been tried and tried in vain is a judgment pronounced in this world. And who shall dare in any easel to say that it is final? But we not unnaturally ask, Why was David allowed to sin? There was, it seems, some national transgression which roused God’s wrath and demanded punishment. Nor was this the first occasion of the kind. We read, “Again the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel.” Once before they had been smitten with famine for the unexpiated sins of Saul and his bloody house: what the offence was now, we are not told. The king’s sin was in some way the culmination and representative of the nation’s sins. It was the final offence which filled up the cup of wrath, and the punishment smote the nation, and through the nation its ruler. A still more perplexing question meets us next.
Wherein lay the guilt of David’s Act? The answer must be that the motive which inspired the act was sinful.
1. He designed, say some, a development of the military power of the nation with a view to foreign conquest. He wished to organise the army, and visions of self-aggrandisement dazzled his brain.
2. It was the outcome of pride: pride at the growth of the nation. He wished to satisfy the foolish vanity of his heart; to know to the full over how vast a kingdom he ruled. It may be said that the sin of the people was in essence the same: that here on the very threshold of their national existence as a powerful kingdom, they were tempted by visions of worldly glory to forget that they were not to realise their vocation to the world in the guise of a conquering secular state, but as Jehovah’s witness among the nations. It this was so, if already Israel was in peril of a virtual apostasy, no wonder that Jehovah’s wrath was kindled. Vet in such a case wrath is in truth but another phase of love, chastisement is mercy in disguise. Judgment is mercy when it leads unto repentance. Wisely wrote St. Augustine of this fall of David: “Let us remember how that a certain man said in his prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’ But he was taught how rash were his words, as though he attributed to his own strength what was given him from on high. This we learn by his own confession, for he presently adds, “Lord, by Thy favour Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: Thou didst hide Thy face and I was troubled.” He was deserted for a moment by his guide in healing Providence, lest in fatal pride he should himself desert that guide” (“Works,” vol. 6. p. 530). Observe in this history:--
1. The hidden motive determines the character of the action.
2. If it was pride which was Israel’s transgression and David’s sin, mark how heinous an offence it is in the sight of God. (Homiletic Magazine.)
Numbering the People
One spot on earth there is, which, for four thousand years, has had more of human annals and human interest concentrated in it, by providential suggestion, than any other in she world. For a while, it was only a threshing-floor, owned by Araunah the Jebusite. This thrifty husbandman had selected an area on the top of Mount Moriah. We do not know that his imagination was ever awakened by the thought that here once was the thicket, in which the ram was caught that Abraham substituted for Isaac as a sacrifice. Nor, though Abraham saw the day of Christ afar off, and “was glad,” have we any reason to think that Araunah’s faith ever gained a glimpse of the fact that the cross on which Jesus Christ suffered, was to be planted there in the future ages. Today, that spot lies covered with a canopy of silk, underneath a Mohammedan dome in Jerusalem. Years have passed since the temple of Solomon disappeared in its ruins, though for generations its matchless splendour rendered the ridge of Moriah historic. Thus forty centuries of fame have made that floor one of the centres of the world. We are to visit it to-day in our studies, and it may be expected that question after question will seek an answer.
1. What was this act of David, which brought on the catastrophe and the pestilence, that was happily stayed there? At first sight, it seems almost impossible to explain the transaction; for up to this time it had never been considered a crime to take a census in Israel. Indeed, it was one of the requirements of the Hebrew law, that each tribe and each family in it, and all the persons in the households, should be enrolled openly and regularly. Except for these disastrous circumstances detailed afterwards, we should never have conjectured any wrong had been done: It was one of the most rational things in history, that the ruler of any great nation should wish to be exactly informed concerning the military resources of the people.
2. But now we ask again: what was the moral character of this act in numbering the people? How do we know that it was one of the most sinful that King David ever committed?
(1) Even Joab, the unscrupulous warrior, pronounced it dangerously wicked from the start (2 Samuel 24:3-4). Over-ruled by the king he went about his work reluctantly, and to the last he persisted in his protest by refusing to count the two tribes of Benjamin and Levi, “for the king’s word was abominable to Joab.”
(2) Consider the origin of the suggestion (2 Samuel 24:1, compared with 1 Chronicles 21:1).
(3) But the strongest proof of the guilt of this action of David, is found in his own confessions. The census was scarcely completed, before the monarch seemed suddenly to become aware of his wickedness, and fell on his knees before God (2 Samuel 24:10).
3. Still our question remains: what was there in the action of David that made it so guilty in the sight of God?
(1) For one, I would just as soon say, “I do not know,” as anything else. The story is silent almost altogether. The commentaries are full of nothing but conjecture.
(2) But some things can be surmised, if that will furnish any help.
For one thing, there must have been a pride of power moving the king: the language of Job (1 Chronicles 21:3), as he sternly expostulates, seems to touch on this; he intimates his hot contempt for a vanity so childish. Then, also, the greed of gain may have been in the heart of David: this may have been his first step towards the liberties of the people, a plan of augmenting the power of the crown. We feel safe in saying that distrust of God was in the wrong: he knew that Israel was not to be so strong because of a large standing army; many a prosperous year had rendered it sure that the nation’s strength was in God. Then there was the possible lust of conquest: if David was thus appealing to the ambition of his people, his sin was greater, in that he was teaching them positive unbelief, also.
4. Now in the next place, we come to the dreadful punishment which this sin brought on; what was the course of it?
(1) First of all, there came a revelation from heaven to awaken David’s conscience.
(2) Then there was a choice offered that would test the devotion of David’s heart. For always the main question is, Does a penitent man retain his confidence in God, or is he wholly under the sway of selfishness, and fixed in disobedience?
(3) Next, there was a humble selection made, which showed David’s piety and unbroken faith, still held true in the midst of his perversity.
(4) Then there was a sharp infliction of penalty (verse 15.) Over that land went the wild wail of bereaved men and women and children, from Dan to Beersheba, where the census-gatherers had just been ordered to go by this presumptive monarch.
5. But was there to be no limit to this affliction? That leads us forward to our final question: what was it that arrested the hand of God, and brought relief to dying Israel?
(1) Observe now the hopelessness of regrets after sin has been committed, and is rushing on (verse 17). It is plain that David’s heart is wrung with pity and indescribable anguish for the multitudes, who gasp and grow black and die, and make no sign. But he could not take back the sin he had set floating on the currents of God s providence; it was sweeping out in wider circles.
(2) Observe also the uselessness of offering any vicarious atonement for sin as a release from its retributions. In his sad sincerity, David says: “Oh, spare these sheep l take me, and my house!” But this is not God’s way (Psalms 49:7-8). Paul said the same (Romans 9:3). So did Moses (Exodus 32:31-33).
(3) Observe the availability of effectual prayer in arrest of God’s judgment (verse 16). (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
David numbering the people
In what, then, did the sin of David consist? It appears to me that the answer to this is exceedingly plain: it is an answer which we derive from the account itself; it is an answer, too, full of very deep and profitable instruction. David’s command was, “Go, number Israel and Judah;” and when Job brought the sum to the king, it was divided under the two heads, Israel and Judah. Israel, i.e. the ten tribes (excluding Levi and Benjamin), numbering 800,000 men; and Judah, 500,000. Here, then, we see the secret of David’s sin. He wanted to know, not so much the number of the whole people, as the number of Judah, the royal tribe--David’s own tribe--compared with the rest of Israel. God had made him king over the whole people; and Satan tempted him to consider himself the king of the one tribe, so that he should endeavour to ascertain whether the tribe, upon whose strength and affections he could always rely, would not be a match for all the rest; and so he should be at ease in governing in the interest of his flesh and blood, rather than in the interest of all his people. David’s sin, then, was not the sin of pride, but the sin of division and party, spirit. God, as far as we can judge from the Bible, Himself ordained the right of primogeniture, or the right of the first-born, and generally upheld it. God assigned to Judah this pre-eminence, when He expressly commanded that the standard of Judah should go the first before the tabernacle in the vanguard of the children of Israel (Numbers 2:1-2). But God had prepared the tribe of Judah, by His Providence, for this pre-eminence which He assigned to it: for you will find that the tribe of Judah was, in point of numbers, by far the most powerful of all. Its numbers were nearly double those of the greater part of the other tribes: the next tribe, that of Dan, does not come within twelve thousand of it. Then, when the tribes were settled in the promised land, the same design of God is apparent. Reuben, the actual first-born, has his portion assigned to him on the east side of Jordan, and so is removed out of the way. Simeon at once sunk to be the lowest tribe in point of influence; and, in fact, soon disappears altogether. Levi, by having the priesthood, could not have the civil and military preeminence; so the field is left, as it were, to Judah. Then he had by far the largest and the most compact portion of the promised land assigned to him. Such was the tribe. But what was the first family in this tribe? Beyond all doubt the family of Jesse. Throughout the whole history of the people the first was that from which David sprung. David’s ancestors were the first family in point of blood of the first tribe of Israel. I believe that David, as a man of God, governed with a faithful and true heart, as the King of all Israel; but in the best of men there is a mixture of motives. In the most just line of human temporal policy there is that which is crooked and time-serving, and David, in this instance, gave way and succumbed to the temptation of the god of this world. He numbered the people for the purpose of ascertaining the strength on which he felt sure that his family could, under all circumstances, rely. David was right in his surmise. The census was taken, and the extra-ordinary fact came to light, that God had so increased and multiplied the tribe of Judah, that it was more than half as strong as all the rest of the tribes put together: for the single tribe of Judah showed 500,000 fighting men to the 800,000 of the other ten tribes. But the gratifictaion of family or party pride, as opposed to national exultation at the prosperity and numbers of God’s people, was short-lived. With the sum of the numbers came the smiting of the heart--the precursor, in this case, of immediate and signal punishment.
1. The account of David’s punishment is exceedingly instructive. God, to try what was in David’s heart, gave to him the choice of three evils--the sword, famine, and pestilence; and David, by his choice, showed plainly that his heart was right with God. But another very instructive fact is that the moment David surrendered to God those private family feelings and partialities that had been the real root of the mischief, then God at once turned and remitted the punishment.
2. And now let us say something respecting the punishment which God inflicted. There seems, at first sight, a difficulty about the persons whom God intended to punish. Throughout the chapter, however, David appears to be the sinner, and the punishment is evidently directed against him, though it falls on his people. Then, with reference to the effect of the punishment, it was inflicted, as all God’s punishments are, in far-seeing mercy. For, if future princes Of the House of David--Solomon and Rehoboam--had learnt the lesson which God intended them to learn, the disastrous rebellion in the time of Rehoboam, which entailed centuries of idolatry and civil war and its attendant miseries, would, humanly speaking, have been avoided.
For the punishment inflicted by God was intended to show God’s just displeasure at partial government. I must now, in conclusion, make two or three practical applications of the foregoing remarks.
1. First of all, the Bible deserves to be well and carefully studied, as a book full of the deepest insight into human nature--fallen and crooked human nature.
2. Let us see how hateful division, party-spirit, partiality, or a spirit of schism, is in the sight of God.
3. Let us also learn from this, that those who have the right to the first social place may have this evil spirit, as well as those who have not. (F. M. Sadler, M. A.)
The Church’s resources
Too much dependence may be placed in elements of power in the Church which are secondary and inferior. There is power in numbers. We should not despise numbers. It should awaken alarm and inquiry when the number of Church members does not steadily and rapidly increase. God will not deal with us when we make up the statistical tables as He did with David when he numbered the people. But there is something more important than multitudes. A Church with one hundred members may be stronger than one with a thousand. There is power in wealth when wisely used. In the promotion of education, in the supply of money to print Bibles and build churches and carry the Gospel to all parts of the world, wealth is a mighty agent. But there are more potent elements than wealth. A Church whose members are not worth one thousand pounds sometimes excel in usefulness Churches whose members represent many thousands.
In what respect the census was sinful
An ordinary census was perfectly legitimate; it was expressly provided for by the Mosaic law, and upon three occasions at least a census of the people was taken by Moses without offence. It was not then the census which was displeasing to God., but the motive which inspired David to take it. Some suppose that he intended to develop the military power of the nation with a view to foreign conquest; others that he meditated the organisation of an imperial despotism and the imposition of fresh taxes. The military character of the whole proceeding, which was discussed in a council of officers and carried out under Joab’s superintendence, makes it probable that it was connected with some plan for increasing the effective army, possibly with a view to foreign conquests. But whether any definite design of increased armaments or heavier taxation lay behind it or not, it seems clear that What constituted the sin of the act was the vain-glorious spirit which prompted it. (A. F. Kirkpatrick, M. A.)
2 Samuel 24:10
And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people.
I. David’s confession--“And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done.” It is an unreserved confession. There are no excuses made by him for the sin he has committed. If we would confess our sins acceptably we must confess, as David did, without reserve--without any attempt to dissemble or to cloak them.
II. The petition. “And now, I beseech Thee, O Lord! take away the iniquity of Thy servant.” To “take away” means something more than to forgive. To “take away iniquity” is not only to pass it over, but to clear the soul of it; so that, though it should be sought for, it should not be found. And this is the Blessed Saviour’s office. It is “the Lamb of God,” and He alone, “that taketh away the sin of the world.”
III. The plea. For I have done foolishly.” When we want to get a pardon from a fellow-creature, we are not apt to lay a stress upon the greatness of our fault, but to catch rather at something that may take a little from its guilt. “Take away,” saith he, “I beseech Thee, the iniquity of Thy servants;” and why? what is the argument he brings to give weight to his petition? You might have thought he would have said, “for I did it in my haste; it was no intentional offence.” But no; “Take away my iniquity,” says he, “for I have done very foolishly.” It reminds us of a similar petition in the 25th Psalm. Why, what could David mean, when he names the greatness of his sin as the ground on which he asks for pardon? His meaning probably was this: “My sin is great--I have acted very foolishly, and therefore Thou wilt shew the riches of Thy grace the more abundantly in taking my iniquity away.” O! blessed be the God of our salvation that such an argument as this can be adopted! If the efficacy of the blood of Jesus had been limited--why then we should have been afraid to say to God, “My sin is great.” (A. Roberts, M. A.)
The “afterward” of sin
Lord, before I commit a sin, it seems to me so shallow that I may wade through it dry-shod from any guiltiness, but when I have committed it, it often seems so deep that I cannot escape without drowning. Thus I am always in extremities; either my sins are so small that they need not any repentance, or so great that they cannot obtain thy pardon. Lend me, O Lord, a reed out of thy sanctuary, truly to measure the dimension of my offences. But O! as thou revealest to me more of my misery, reveal also more of thy mercy; lest if my wounds, in my apprehension, gape wider than any tents (plugs of lint), my soul run out at them. If my badness seem bigger than Thy goodness but one hair’s breadth, but one moment, that-is room and time enough for me to run to eternal despair. (Thomas Fuller.)
2 Samuel 24:13
Now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me.
Christians exhorted to consider what answer their ministers will have to return to God concerning them
I. Christian ministers are the messengers of God, and sent on an important errand.
1. They are sent of God.
2. They are sent on an important errand.
II. Ministers are to return an answer to Him that sendeth them.
1. They are to return to their Master.
2. They are to answer as to their own fidelity.
3. They are likewise to return an answer concerning the reception which they themselves met with.
III. It becometh the members of Christian churches seriously to consider what answers their ministers will have to return concerning them. Application.
1. This subject affords some useful instruction to Christian ministers. It should lead them to “magnify their office,” as “the messengers of God.” It should excite their warmest gratitude that they are employed under Christ, on the same errand which brought him into the world. Further, they may learn to deliver their message with all plainness, seriousness, and fidelity.
2. Christian people may derive some useful instruction from these particulars. Learn, then, to be thankful that messengers are sent to you on so kind and gracious an errand. (J. Orton.)
2 Samuel 24:14
I am in a great strait; let me fall now into the hand of the Lord.
David’s choice of a national calamity
The scene before us, while it is pregnant with interest on its own account, develops two opposite classes of principles, and furnishes a lesson both of seasonable direction and solemn warning.
I. It presents us with a sin into which David fell at the close of his life, and a judgment denounced upon him in consequence of that sin by the Almighty. He was at peace in his kingdom; he had recovered from all the troubles of his house, and his victorious sword had been lifted up above the heads of all his enemies round about. The state of his affairs, after long agitation, had subsided into a condition of peace and serenity, calling loudly for thankfulness to God for His favours. But such seasons of temporal prosperity, alas! are not favourable to the preservation of humility and good principles. Through the weakness and corruption of our nature they are apt to soften and enervate, to secularise and pollute, and thereby to render us accessible to the most perilous temptations. If the prosperity of fools destroys them, the prosperity of good men often does them incalculable injury. David, therefore, though so wise and pious, is now off his guard. His conscience, however, which had been enlightened by Divine grace, soon awoke out of the slumber into which it had fallen, and unbraided him. “His heart smote him” for what he had done, before he was left to prove his weakness by any outward disaster. It was well for him that his own ways reproved him, and that’ conscience sounded the first trumpet of alarm. This is characteristic of the regenerate. Thus Samson’s heart smote him in the midst of the night for what he was doing, and he arose and carried away the gates of the city. Men who have no light of grace, no tenderness of conscience, must have their sin recalled to them by the circumstances which at once reveal its enormity and visit it with punishment; but the regenerate have an inward monitor that awaits not for these consequences to rouse its energy, but lights up the candle of the Lord within them, and will not let them rest after they have done amiss, till they have felt compunction and made confession. Their sin and their sorrow are near together. No circumstance can keep them long apart. Let us not wonder at a judgment so severe for a sin that appears to us so comparatively trifling. It is only to us that it seems trifling. We are apt to be more terrified at outward sins, and individual acts of atrocity between man and man; but sins of the heart and of the spirit committed against the majesty, and the purity, and the goodness of God, for which we feel but little conscious guilt, are surely of far greater enormity and more especially offensive to God. We are, moreover, to bring into account David’s relation to God. He was a man after His own heart; he stood high in His favour: when he was a child, God loved him and brought him into covenant with him; adopted him into His family, made him most magnificent promises, and poured His favours upon him. And does the near relation in which a man stands to God and the surpassing favours which he has received, lessen his sin? Iris rather heightened in its enormity, aggravated in its guilt, by such considerations.
II. Observe the evils which the history represents to us as proposed to the king’s choice. They are three of the most dreadful that can befall a country or a nation. But yet in the permission of a choice among them, a singular test was presented of the return of David’s heart to a proper sense of dependence and submission. Each of them is a terrific scourge, but united, as they sometimes are, and naturally may be, they form a three-fold plague, whose horrors are indescribable. But the one which David chose, brought him and his people more immediately into conflict with the sovereign hand of the Almighty than either of the others would have done. Nothing could be here ascribed to second causes. Against God directly and exclusively had David sinned, and from God’s hand visibly and directly, and by sad preference, must come the punishment. If famine spread extensively among nations, affecting more countries than one at the same time, the condition of that which is its chief seat, or which, from other circumstances, is shut out from foreign aid, will soon become desperate. New and disgusting modes of supporting existence will be resorted to; the natural instincts will be overpowered; all feelings will be subdued before the cravings of hunger and the love of life. War, accompanied with defeat, is an equally dreadful calamity to a country that is the seat of it. The most diabolical passions of human nature are awakened and stimulated by war. But pestilence, in some respects, is yet a more dreadful calamity than either. It is more silent in its approach, and less horrible in its outward array; hut it is an evil preying upon the heart of a nation. It is the destruction of its soul and spirit. Other evils may be seen at a distance, and be guarded against; there valour may hope to defend, prudence to resin, flight to escape. But no place exempts from the attacks of this enemy; he gives no notice of his approach; his motion is silent and sure; he steals upon us in the dead of night, as well as in the day; triumphantly and secretly he rides upon the wings of the wind, and treacherously destroys us by the breezes which we court for refreshment, or the air which we inspire for life. We are not sensible of his presence till we feel his fangs, and are inevitably within his grasp. At one and the same moment he is heard of by us at the distance of leagues, and felt in our own bosoms. We are unconscious that the shaft has flown, or found its mark, till we feel its venom boiling through our veins.
III. But we have here The choice he made, with the reasons of it. Let us attend to the wisdom and piety that dictated it and to the merciful relief afforded him under it, in consequence of it pleasing God.
1. But we may see in this preference the most exalted patriotism. David, though a king, was too much identified with his subjects to think of saving himself at their expense. If it must be a calamity, let it be one that shall involve me with them. I and my people will survive or perish together. Noble resolution, full of magnanimity, and demanding our admiration!
2. There was penitence also in this preference. Slight thoughts of his sin, in comparison with the sins of his people, would have dictated the choice of a calamity that might have left him free, while for them there was no possibility of escape. But he was too sensible of the guilt of his preposterous pride and presumption not to choose a judgment to which himself might be as liable as any of the inhabitants of the land.
3. Nor is the piety that led to this preference less evident and operative. There was piety in consulting by it the honour and interests of religion, which in either of the other calamities would have very much suffered. And there was piety in David’s choice, from the confidence it evinced in the Divine compassion. He knew that God was provoked, but he could expect mercy from Him in that state, sooner than from man whom he had not injured at all. Conclusion:
1. In attempting some improvement, our desert of the judgments of the Almighty because of our secret sins first occurs to us. A judgment worse than war, pestilence, and famine awaits every such sinner. He stands exposed to wrath that will destroy both body and soul in hell.
2. There is a retributive Providence. The punishment of God’s people often grows out of their sin, and that so conspicuously and so instructively as to convince them of it, and induce them to deplore and renounce it. (J. Leifchild.)
Choice of David under anticipated judgments
What comparison is there between the evils that moral creatures can inflict upon us, and those which we have to fear from a God immortal and omnipotent? What comparison between those who kill the body, and after that have nothing else that they can do, and him who can cast both body and soul into hell? But if we consider the woes of the present life, if we compare the compassions of God with those of men, then we must change our language, and the penitent sinner, even at the moment when he sees heaven angry for his crimes, will exclaim, “Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for very great are His mercies, but let me not fall into the hands of men.” But, you ask, did David reason justly? When we are suffering under war, or any other calamity whatever, are we not in the hands of God? Are not the different agents of the universe, men, angels, elements, equally the ministers of His justice, or of His mercy? Yes; and no one more fully or explicitly acknowledged this universality of Providence than did David. He always, without justifying the wickedness of the instruments, bowed submissively to the disposals of God in all His persecutions. But still, there is a wide difference between those afflictions which come to us directly from the hand of God, and those which come by the intervention of mere When men are the immediate authors of our sorrows, though it is always true that it is God who permits them; that it depends only upon His pleasure to arrest them; still, in the sufferings which they cause us to endure, it is they whom we first behold; it is their unkindness or enmity which first strikes us; and this view irritates the wounds of our souls, and agitates our afflicted hearts. It is often with difficulty that we elevate our eyes to the Supreme Governor of all, to acknowledge His sovereign justice in those same sufferings that are unjustly inflicted by our fellow men. Besides, the malignity of the principle whence our woes proceed, when they come from men, permits us to hope neither for bounds nor mitigation to them, because the hatred and passions which produced them still may continue. The heart then feels the present with bitterness, while it beholds no resource in the future. All these visible causes affect our senses and our mind, and hide from us more or less the invisible hand of God. What a difference when our afflictions proceed immediately from heaven! Then the believing soul sees only its God; it, adores with submission the paternal hand which chastens it. Through His just anger, it discerns His infinite goodness. Penitent sinner! how many motives are there to induce you to adopt this language, and imitate this example.
1. “Let me fall into the hands of God,” for He is my Owner and Proprietor; to Him I unreservedly belong.
2. Because mercy is His darling attribute: He loves to glorify it in the forgiveness of the penitent.
3. Because he reads my heart. He has be held my secret groans, and prayers, and tears.
4. Because He mingles with the strokes of His rod the consolations of grace, and chastens as a Father.
5. For the design of His chastisements is merciful; they are intended not to destroy, but to benefit.
6. From reflecting on the advantages that myself, that thousands of the redeemed, have experienced from His chastisements. Let such be your language and your feelings when penetrated by a sense of guilt. Bend to that hand which supports while it smites.
1. This subject, in connection with the history of which our text is a part, teaches us that sin may be pardoned, and yet punished with temporal afflictions.
2. This subject should excite in us the tenderest love to God.
3. This subject teaches us where the soul may find a refuge from the unkindness and cruelties of men. (H. Kollock, D. D.)
In the hand of God
David had learned from the history of his nation and his own personal experience the blessedness of all who put their trust in the living God. Let us notice a twofold train of thought, suggested by our text, peculiarly appropriate for the new year.
I. Why fear mingles with our greeting of the new year.
1. We are confronted by sorrowful memories of the past. Frailties, failures, sins of omission and of commission, broken vows, ideals not reached, prayer restrained--“unprofitable servants”; we have fallen short of the glory of God.
2. Painful consciousness of present feebleness. No reserve of strength, imperfectly equipped, hands hanging down, knees feeble, heart faint, mind weary. We cannot pierce the impenetrable veil and see what battles we may have to fig]it, what storms we may have to encounter, what burdens we may have to bear, what sufferings to endure. Our only refuge is to fall into the hands of the Lord.
II. How faith may subdue fear in our greeting of the new year.
1. Faith in the unseen God. In His
(1) Power; that is, He is able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.
(2) Wisdom--to guide as well as guard amid the vicissitudes and mysteries of our earthly pilgrimage.
(3) Faithfulness--that He will never leave nor forsake, never falsify His Word.
(4) Goodness--To supply our ever returning wants, to withhold from us no good thing and make all things work together for our good.
(5) Mercy--to bear with our ingratitude and proneness to forget and wander from Him. Such faith in God stimulated and sustained the Old Testament heroes and New Testament saints; they all endured as seeing Him, who is invisible, realising His glorious and gracious presence ever with them.
III. Faith in the unseen world. David felt that if desolation and death overtook him he would be safe if, when leaving this life, he fell “into the hand of the Lord.” With home in view, pilgrimage will be cheered, the heart will be calmed and comforted. With the eternal God for our refuge and the eternal arms underneath us, “forward” may be our fearless watchword. Into the infinite, unfailing “hand of the Lord” let us commit ourselves. (Homilist.)
David’s choice of the plague
War would place the nation at the mercy of its enemies; famine would make it dependent on corn merchants, who might greatly aggravate the miseries of scarcity; only in the pestilence some form of plague sudden and mysterious in its attack, and baffling the medical knowledge of the time--would the punishment come directly from God, and depend immediately upon his will. (A. F. Kirkpatrick, M. A.)
The stroke of God preferred
David prefers what was usually designated “The stroke of God.” “Let us fall,” says lie, “now into the hand of the Lord; for his mercies are great; and let me not fall into the hand of man.” A saying of Gordon (it was among his last) may be recalled--were not the two men in many respects moulded alike?: “I have the Shekinah, and I do like trusting to Him and not to men.” (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
The greatness of God’s unfailing, mercy
A well-known minister tells us lie once visited the ruins of a noble city that had been built on a desert oasis. Mighty columns of roofless temples stood in unbroken file. Halls in which kings and satraps had feasted two thousand years ago were represented by solitary walls. Gateways of richly-carved stone led to a paradise of bats and owls. All was ruin. But past the dismantled city, brooks, which had once flowed through gorgeous flower gardens and at the foot of marble halls, still swept on in undying music and unwasted freshness. The waters were just as sweet as when queens quaffed them two thousand years ago. A few hours before they had been melted from the snows of the distant mountains. And so God’s love and mercy flow in ever-renewed, form through the wreck of the past. Past vows and past covenants and noble purposes may be represented by solitary columns and broken arches and scattered foundations that are crumbling into dust; yet through the scene of ruin fresh grace is ever flowing from His great heart on high.
2 Samuel 24:15-25
So the Lord sent a pestilence.
The plague stayed
It was time of peace and prosperity in Israel. King David’s rule had been blessed, and the people dwelt in safety. In the midst of this happy quiet, David was moved to order a numbering of the people.
I. Sin overtaken by judgment. What was the sin? Outwardly it was in the numbering already referred to. But what wrong could there be in taking a census? It is now found to be useful. It had before been done in Israel, and with Divine approval. The wrong could not have been in the census itself. The real sin, then, like all sin, was in the heart; and plainly its root was pride and vain-glory. King and people forgot their dependence upon God, and the allegiance due to him. The pestilence struck directly at the pride of people and ruler. It crippled their power. It thwarted military ambition. It smote that of which they were ready to boast into feebleness and death. Are we, of these later ages, to look upon like visitations, as of fire or famine or war or pestilence as judgments for sin, or corrections for moral transgression? Never are we to be in haste, or too confident, in interpreting Divine Providence. But when we are told that devouring flames consuming great cities, famine depopulating broad lands, and pestilence which walketh in darkness, and destruction which wasteth at noonday, mean wiser building, better agriculture, more careful drainage--just this and nothing more, at least nothing moral or spiritual--we are sure that one great part of the Divine purpose has been overlooked. Doubtless God does mean that the lower lessons should be learned. He does mean to correct neglect of maxims of prudence. He does so order His laws and dealings as to make us studious, watchful, and faithful in all that pertains to physical life.
II. Judgment deepening repentance. Our Saviour has taught us that the angels shall be God’s ministers in the final judgment (Matthew 13:41.) Here we find that they are His messengers in present ills. It was as one of these had reached Jerusalem, and had outstretched his hand for its destruction, that tie became visible to the king. What true humility, what deep repentance is here! There is no syllable of complaint that the Divine stroke is too heavy. There is no word of personal justification; no shielding of self under another’s fault. The sin was not all his; but he saw only his own. “My sin, my transgression!” Such was the language of his crushed, repentant heart. Such is the language of true repentance always--when its work is deep and thorough.
III. Repentance met by mercy. “The Lord repented Him of the evil.” The words are startling, as applied to God. And yet they need not be obscure. Note three things with respect to this mercy:--
1. It followed upon the deepened repentance.
2. It came in connection with expiation.
3. Then it did not straightway remove all the consequences of the sin; but, as we may believe, did convert them into means of disciplinary good.
One thing only is required from us as the condition of restored Divine favour. That is trusting repentance.
IV. A trustful reconsecration. Observe the prompt and cheerful obedience which now marked the king’s conduct. No sooner did the Divine message reach him than he “went up as the Lord commanded” (v. 19). Nor did he find the way closed before him. Clearly the Lord, as He is wont to do with contrite souls, had gone before to prepare it. Observe, the Lord is now “the Lord my God!” Here is nearness, trust, love. There is no longer distance or aversion; but such peace as assured pardon always brings. Men who have had great deliverances felt to be from God have always delighted to make them occasions of fresh consecration. With all the more of humble, swelling joy will this be done when the deliverance is from what is seen to be the effect of personal sin--mercy arresting deserved judgment. In his description of the distress of Harold, the last of England’s Saxon kings, on account of his false oath, the novelist, Bulwer, has said: “There are sometimes seasons in the life of man when darkness wraps the conscience as sudden night wraps the traveller in the desert, and the angel of the past with a flaming sword closes on him the gates of the future. Then faith flashes on him with a light from the cloud; then he clings to prayer as a drowning wretch to a plank; then that mysterious recognition of atonement smooths the frown on the past, and removes the flaming sword from the future. He who hath never known in himself, nor marked in another, such strange crises in human fate, cannot judge of the strength and weakness it bestows; but till he can so judge, the spiritual part of all history is to him a blank scroll--a sealed volume.” There would seem to be many of whom this is true.
Is there now any one of us to whom any part of the truth brought to view in this Scripture has not some application?
1. Searching our own hearts, we should surely find some form of sin there--perhaps the very spirit which provoked the displeasure of God against Israel.
2. In His patience God may not as yet have made His displeasure felt by us in pains and ills seen to be traceable to it; and yet He may have sent sorrow, loss, hardships, intended to bring us to Himself; it is certain that He has faithfully forewarned us that for every unpardoned sin He will at some time bring us to judgment.
3. To escape in the evil day no way is offered, none is to be found, save the old way of humble, trusting repentance.
4. For those who thus come the door of His heart is wide open; expiation has already been provided; pardon will be instant and complete; and, while to life’s end many painful effects of sin may remain, these, in their case, will be changed to means of good, to chastisements whereby He wilt perfect us in His own image and for His everlasting kingdom.
5. The proof of our repentance and trust and acceptance will appear in prompt obedience, childlike thought of God as our God, and a heart ready, nay, eager to serve in any, however costly, service He may appoint. (Monday Club Sermons.)
The plague stayed
1. In this lesson we have, first, an account of the judgment: “So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel; and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men.” Here is judgment following repentance and confession. There are some sins which, though truly repented of and forgiven, still bring retributive consequences from which the transgressor cannot escape in this life. He must wear them as brands of condemnation set upon sin by Divine justice for his own and others’ good. These consequences, while they come in just retribution, are also sent in mercy as God’s barriers against the progress of sin. It is here affirmed that the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel. Plagues and pestilence have various national and physical causes. But it is equally plain that they are connected with the sins and follies of men. They are the penalties of violated law. In other words, they have a place in the righteous government of God, and so come to execute His will. Here the pestilence is attributed, instrumentally, to angelic agency.
2. This lesson furnishes an example of true penitence. Here is a case of genuine repentance which is accepted with God. David’s confession was not extorted from him by the pressure of the Divine judgment. Before it came he saw his sin, and said unto the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done.” Divine judgments are often, indeed, instrumental in arousing men to see the enormity of their guilt. They are used as goads to prick a dull and sleeping conscience. But true penitence is not the result of fear. It springs from seeing the hatefulness and wickedness of sin as done against the wisdom, justice, holiness and love of God. Sin is folly, and brings ruin to tile transgressor, but its chief enormity lies in the fact that it is done against a God of holiness and love. So true confession is confession to God.
3. This lesson also shows us how saving mercy was obtained for Israel. The judgment of God was righteously destroying the people, and His mercy, though free, sovereign and ready to save, could not ignore His righteousness. There must be a way opened for its manifestation if Jerusalem is saved. This is secured through the Divine appointment. David is directed by Gad, a prophet of the Lord, to build an altar unto the Lord, that the plague might be stayed from the people. It was not by David’s tears of penitence and confession of sin that the plague was stayed. In like manner, not our tears or prayers or confessions, but the blood of Christ shed for us, furnishes the only ground for the removal of the sentence of death which the broken law of God has passed upon us. He was made sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
4. This passage presents another feature of spiritual life worthy of attention. It is the spirit of generosity and unselfishness manifested by David in fulfilling the command of God. Here was royal liberality; and it is set down to his everlasting honour in the Word of God that he gave “like a king.” He stands before us as a noble representative of those large-hearted, generous men who are ever ready, when the occasion demands, to sacrifice their private interests for the public good. And never did David make a better investment of his means than when he bought Araunah’s threshing-floor. It was the building-lot for the temple which for a thousand years prefigured Christ, and so became a fountain of blessing to the nations. Money invested in such a cause is not lost, but laid up in store for the life to come. (S. D. Niccolls, D. D.)
God’s judgment on pride
See the power of the angels, when God gives them commission, either to save or to destroy. Joab is nine months in passing with his pen, the angel but nine hours in passing with his sword, through all the coasts and corners of Israel. See how easily God can bring down the proudest sinners, and how much we owe daily to the Divine patience. David’s adultery is punished, for the present, only with the death of one infant, his pride with the death of all those thousands, so much does God hate pride. (M. Henry.)
Divine justice in national retributions
Famine, pestilence, revolution, war, are judgments of the Ruler of the world. What sort of a Ruler, we ask, is He? The answer to that question will determine the true sense of the term, a judgment of God. The heathen saw Him as a passionate, capricious, changeable Being, who could be angered and appeased by men. The Jewish prophets saw Him as a God whose ways were equal, who was unchangeable, whose decrees were perpetual, who was net to be bought off by sacrifices, but pleased by righteous dealing, and who would remove the punishment when the causes which brought it on were taken away; in their own words, when men repented God would repent. That does not mean that He changed His laws to relieve them of their suffering, but that they changed their relationship to His laws, so that, to them thus changed, God seemed to change. A boat rows against the stream; the current punishes it. So is a nation violating a law of God; it is subject to a judgment. The boat turns and goes with the stream; the current assists it. So is a nation which has repented and put itself into harmony with God’s law; it is subject to a blessing. But the current is the same; it has not changed, only the boat has changed its relationship to the current. Neither does God change--we change; and the same law which executed itself in punishment now expresses itself in reward. (G. Brooke.)
Death on the Pale Horse--the Black Death of mediaeval times (1848) in some one of divers forms, issued forth now. “Appearing in the heat of the summer months, aggravated by the very greatness of the population which had occasioned the census, spreading with the rapidity of an Oriental disorder in crowded habitations, it flew from end to end of the country in three days.” (Dean Stanley.)
2 Samuel 24:17
And David spake unto the Lord when he saw the angel that smote the people.
The problem of undeserved suffering
David’s sin in numbering the people was want of confidence in God. At any rate, it is certain that for a time he lost his faith, and was in open rebellion against God. Then came his punishment--a grievous punishment for the king who has the welfare of his people at heart. One man sins; his sin is punished; but the punishment fails on the innocent--that is the strange problem which rises before us on reading this chapter, and it is a problem which very often presents itself in the facts of human life. The problem is forced on our notice every day we live. A careless shipwright does not send his bolt or rivet home properly, and, in a storm at sea, a gallant ship founders, carrying with it many precious lives. A man commits a great crime; he is found out and punished, but the punishment does not stop with himself: it falls also on his family, who have to bear the shame and the reverse of fortune. A husband and father becomes a drunkard; the sin brings its inevitable punishment; but the punishment is as heavy on the wife, who is never free from anxious care, and on the children, who grow: up weakly, uneducated, and wilful, for the lack of parental guidance. Two or three men combine in a gigantic fraud; they are detected and punished, and utter ruin falls on them; but the consequences of the fraud, in a thousand ramifications, affect the happiness and prosperity of a whole nation. A sovereign does not feel himself secure on his throne, and, in order to surround himself with military glory and strengthen his position, declares war against a neighbouring people. The punishment of his ambition is disastrous to himself; but still worse are the calamities which come on thousands of his unoffending subjects. Is not the suffering of the innocent with the guilty, and for the guilty, one of the most familiar facts in human life? We would think it fair and right that each one should start in life with the same chance of good and evil, and should have it in his power to carve out his fortunes as seemeth, good to him but it is only too plain that such is not the case. Some are overweighted from the very first; some spend all their lives in reaching the point from which others start; some struggle on for a few years, and die in the bloom of youth, through inherited feebleness of constitution. And even if we did all start with the same chances, it is evident that we do not work through life freely and independently; our aims are defeated, our efforts crushed by events over which we have but little influence. Job, sitting among his comforters and bewailing his unhappy fate; Prometheus, chained to the rock and defying the unjust power that chains him; Philoctetes, left behind in his misery on the desert island--these present, in the highest flights of tragic poetry, what many a one feels bitterly in his own thoughts--the truth that wrong-doing and suffering do not always go together; and to those who believe in a Governor of the universe they present also some apparent justification for the complaint of mankind, which is most briefly expressed in the words of Solon to Croesus, King of Lydia, “The Deity is altogether envious and full of confusion” (Herod 1, 32.) So long as the facts are put in this way, I do not think it possible to explain or palliate them. It is of no use to say that, looking to the whole experience of human history, sin is punished and righteousness prospers. The doctrine of averages, however true and consoling to the plilosophising observer, does not make the: individual wrong lighter. Nor is it of much use, I fear, to point out that suffering is not always a misfortune, nor prosperity a gain; for the man who has been ruined by others’ guilt, the wife who has been bereaved through another’s folly, the youth who finds himself cramped and fettered by the circumstances of his birth, does not cry out against the suffering so much as against the seeming injustice and unfairness. But let us look at all these facts from another point of view. Our difficulty hitherto has been, that the innocent have often to suffer for the guilty, that punishment often falls on those who have not deserved it. But what are we to say about the enjoyment of benefits for which we have not laboured, the reaping of reward where there has been no desert on our part? Is there not such a thing as receiving good where we had not earned it? And, when we talk of the innocent suffering with or for the guilty, should we not also speak of the undeserving being blessed with prosperity along with the deserving, or even instead of the, deserving? We cry out passionately against receiving less than justice in the arrangements of the universe; but do we not sometimes receive more than our just share? To go back to the case from which we started: the people were suffering in Israel on account of the sin of their king; but had they not derived great benefit from the same king’s good government, or success in war? If they did not deserve to share in his punishment, can we say that they deserved to share in his prosperity? But the same is true of life generally. If we suffer where we have not sinned, do we not also prosper where we have not proved worthy? If, after all our toils and honest exertions, our hopes are defeated through the fault of others, do we not also reap where we have not sowed, and gather where we have not strawed? If the wrong-doing of others sometimes brings an undeserved retribution on our heads, is it not true that every day some happiness is added to our lot, through the right-doing of others? The fraud of two or three men causes a national calamity; but the honest dealing of a thousand others, with their conscientious discharge of duty, makes the nation prosperous, secures to very many the advantages of an easy income with little trouble to themselves, and preserves the country from bankruptcy, moral and commercial; and if the calamity is undeserved, surely we cannot say that we have deserved all the prosperity. Just think how, in a hundred ways, we reap the benefit of other men’s labour; how our enormous material prosperity during this century has been chiefly due to James Wart’s invention of the steam-engine, so that thousands have now the opportunity of culture and refinement, who otherwise would hays been toiling in the fields all day, with dulled senses and faculties of thought disused. Think how many lives are saved every year in our coal-mines by Sir Humphrey Davy’s lamp; think how much physical suffering has been spared us, in the practice of surgery, by the discovery of nitrous oxide and chloroform; think how many pure and pleasant thoughts have come to us through the work of some great poet, or painter, or musician--and say, is it not emphatically true that, if we suffer by the sins of our fellow-men, we benefit also by their virtues? Here, again, it would be easy to furnish examples; it is sufficient to observe the general’ principle that the influence of other men on our fortunes is for good as well as for evil. But look further at the problem of hereditary evil--“the sins of the fathers coming on the children”--is there not also such a thing as hereditary good? We have not all inherited feeble constitutions from our ancestors, or the race would come to an end; we are not all placed in circumstances where we cannot lead an honest life, otherwise society would cease to exist. As an actual fact, hereditary evil is the exception; and what we have to consider, in most cases, is the great fact of hereditary good, which is as little deserved by us as the evil. Is it not the case with many of us that the patient industry, the upright conduct, and the virtuous lives of our fathers and forefathers, have surrounded us with advantages from the very moment of our birth--advantages which they perhaps were morally bound to secure for us, but which we have in no sense earned by our own merit? If our fathers and forefathers were only discharging their duty, none the less have they, in such ways, conferred great blessings upon us. Thus far our considerations have involved no principle distinctively religious. We are dealing with facts which are facts to the Atheist or Agnostic quite as much as to the Christian. Up to this point, we have only reached this conclusion--that our weal and woe are indissolubly linked with the actions of our fellow-men, that from this connection there come to us both good and evil, and that we must be content to take the evil with the good. Now, how does the gospel of Christ stand to all this? Does it help us further in solving the problem? It does give a complete solution, but in a very unexpected way. So far from regarding this problem of undeserved suffering as a part of the universe to be explained or defended, Christianity takes it up as the starting-point of its moral teaching. Now, see how all this bears on our problem. The universe is so ordered that we live in the closest relations to one another; we exercise an immense influence over one another’s fortunes, both for good and evil. We accept the good without acknowledging it with gratitude; we receive the evil with loud complainings against fate, and passionate upbraidings against Providence; but all the time we think only of ourselves. Christ bids us think of others. While we complain because we suffer from others’ wrong-doing, Christ says to us, “Take heed that others do not suffer from your wrong-doing. You live in close relation with your fellow-man; then see to it that, from this relation, nothing but good flows to him; love even your enemies, bless even them, that curse you, do good even to them that hate you; in all things strive to make your fellow-man better, happier, nobler, by loving him with all your heart.” In short, while we cry out about our rights, Christ bids us think of our duties; while we think only of the claims we have on others, He calls us to consider also the claims which others have on us. In this there seems to me to lie the true solution of the problem. We must cease to look at it with purblind selfishness of vision; we must not continue to ask the one question, “Why should I suffer, being innocent?” but we must also ask, “Why should I receive benefit when I have neither laboured nor deserved?” and above all, we must ask, “How can I live and act, so that my life and actions shall bring good, and good only, to my fellow-men?” We utter passionate complaints about our own wrongs and woes, about the evil influences which our fellow-men exercise on our fortunes; but we should utter heartfelt acknowledgments of boundless good received from the good offices of those who went before, and those who are living now. We are related to one another, not as Alpine peaks rising from a cold sea of mist--divided, solitary; but as stones which help each other in building up the great fabric of God’s world. God has clearly meant it to be so. Not one of us lives to himself or dies to himself; the living or dying, even of the humblest man, has its influence on some other fellow-creature for evil or for good. What a changed world it would be if all such influence--if the influence of every man’s living and dying--were an unmixed good to others! Where, then, would be the undeserved suffering which at present seems such a grievous wrong? But Christ’s command has, for its practical result, the direction of every man’s influence for good; and the whole essence of Christian morality lies in the words of St. John, “Little children, love one another.” If we could only adopt, in its entirety, the principle of Christ’s commandment, we would be vexed no more by perplexing doubts and anxious fears--we would find, in this solidarity of the human race, our greatest strength and our best educator. Buffering, whether deserved or undeserved, can always be traced to sin; and sin has its root in the selfishness of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. If love were to take the place of selfishness in every human heart, sin would be unknown, its consequent suffering unheard of, and earth be changed from a purgatory into a paradise. In spite of the centuries which are completed since Christ lived and died in the world, Christianity, as a moral force among men, is little more than in its infancy. Whatever power it may have had over individual hearts, in cleansing them from sin and widening them to some comprehension of God’s love, the full significance of its teaching has been little felt on society as a whole. But more and more, as men become possessed by this intense feeling of sympathy with their fellows, this single-hearted desire to make all their influence on them tell for good, this death of all selfishness, this regenerator of the moral nature which Christ called forth, and which we denominate love--more and more the evils under which the race of men now groan will disappear. (D. Hunter, D. D.)
2 Samuel 24:24
Nay, but I will surely buy it of thee at a price.
The unselfish offering
Then David had not learned the now commonly approved methods of piety. It was surely very strange for one who could offer a sacrifice without expense, to prefer to offer a purchased sacrifice, and, instead of embracing a presented opportunity of costless worship, to insist upon paying for the materials of his service. It was a generous impulse which prompted the refusal, and David had generous impulses. With all his faults, he could be quite at home with the noble in sentiment and spirit.
I. The real spirit of David’s conduct. We must keep in mind this fact, that David would not do what he might have done. It was not compliance with a hard necessity; it was not a reluctant submission to what could not well be helped: he might have acted otherwise without inflicting any injury or causing any offence. Araunah could well afford to make the gift, and he wished to make it. Had David accepted it, his offering would not have been at all deficient; in place and matter and instruments it would have been complete. He had a fine opportunity, as some would esteem it, of reconciling self-interest with godliness, prudence with principle; of doing a good thing for nothing: what would multitudes give for such an opportunity? Why, then, did David forego it? The answer is, that he felt that which would not have been represented by the acceptance of Araunah’s present. He wished to sacrifice, did not wish another to do it. Acting otherwise, the materials of the sacrifice would have been the same, but the virtual offerer would have been different. It would have been no fit expression of David’s spirit, no full gratification of the feelings that now filled his heart. An illustration may be taken from some of the old sacred buildings. You will find them “finished with the most circumstantial elegance and minuteness in those concealed portions which are excluded from public view, and which can only be inspected by laborious climbing or groping,” a fact explained by saying, “that the whole carving and execution was considered as an act of solemn worship and adoration, in which the artist offered up his best faculties to the praise of the Creator.” These men of “the dark ages,” as we love in the pride of our compassion to call them, had in this a true and grand idea: what would they say of our veneered and gilded modern life, in which everything is for show and nothing from reality, everything for a purpose and nothing from a principle? Everything depends on the predominant principle and purpose. If a man’s prime feeling be that of self, he will go to the easiest and most economic way to work and worship; if a man’s prime feeling be that of God, he will rebuke all thoughts of cheapness and facility. In the first case, he will seek the largest possible results from the least possible expenditure; in the second, the expenditure will be itself the result. Now it is the end and essence of all religion to turn the mind from self to God; to give it absorbing views of the Divine beauty and glory; to fill it with Divine love and zeal; to make it feel honoured in honouring God, blessed in blessing Him; to make it feel that nothing is good enough or great enough for him: and when the mind is thus affected and thus possessed, it will understand and share the spirit of David’s resolve, not to offer burnt-offerings unto the Lord God of that which doth cost nothing.
II. See how this spirit will act and manifest itself.
1. It will make our service, whatever it is, a living thing. What we do, even when it is the same that others do, will be animated by another and a loftier principle and passion. Whether it be worship or labour, it will be an end and not a means. It will not be the driving of a bargain with God, not compliance with terms and conditions of favour and recompense, but the pouring out of a loving and reverential heart; not the result of a careful calculation, but of sympathy with the goodness and glory of the Lord. A man thus inspired will no more think of inquiring the advantages, the probable gains of his deeds and his adoration, than he would think of the profitableness of gazing with admiration on a lovely landscape, or regaling his soul with the noble qualities of a hero or a martyr. But this spirit will not only affect what we do, not only make a reality of our service, but it will make us do more, far more, than would otherwise be possible. The language of the man who tools as David felt will be, What can I do to glorify God? what modes and methods of honouring him are within my power? There are two questions asked consciously or unconsciously by men in relation to religious service: one is, How little may we do? The other is, How much can we do? These questions involve different principles and ends. He who puts the first thinks only of safety; he who puts the second thinks only of duty: in the first it is interest that speaks; in the second it is gratitude, love, reverence, and zeal. And if these inspire us, we need not repeat David’s act; there is no necessity to insist on making costly what might be without price. It would be easy to illustrate the operation of this spirit in connection with every department of human service. It must, for instance, influence the study of truth. We are satisfied with our religious faith; we have no doubt at all that the great and life-giving principles of the Gospel are understood and held by us; we can afford to look with profound pity on those who think otherwise, to commiserate the paucity or erroneousness of the articles of their creed. We have learned to distinguish between things necessary to be believed in ordered to salvation and things unnecessary; the first we maintain with rigorous fidelity, the last occasion us no concern: we meet every suggestion or solicitation to inquiry and examination, to deep and extended thought, with the response that it is not needful, a man may be saved without it. Is that the spirit of the text? Is that giving God our best? Far from it. Let us lose sight of the question of mere salvation, and be fired with a zeal for the honour of the God of truth; let us love truth for its own sake, and not for the sake only of the profit of believing it; and, whatever our present convictions, we shall bring to its pursuit and its contemplation our keenest investigations and finest thought, and, irrespective of all considerations of gain or safety, shall “follow on to know.” It will influence us in connection with the more difficult and least popular morals. We are not only to do good, but not to let our “good be evil spoken of;” not only to avoid evil, but “the appearance of evil;” not only to work that we may not steal, but to work that we may “have to give;” not only to resist temptation, but to flee from its scenes and instruments; to forbid the impure and wrathful thought and desire, as well as the outward act; to be “without offence,” to “think “ upon whatsoever things are “lovely and of good report,” to deny ourselves, to love our enemies; in one word, to be “imitators of God,” and walk “even as Christ also walked.”
3. This spirit will affect certain forms of religious profession. When the duty of a formal acknowledgment of Christ, art identification with His people, and the commemoration of His death in His Supper, are urged, the reply for substance is frequently made: “It is not absolutely necessary to join a church: you cannot maintain that only those who belong to religious societies will enter the kingdom of heaven. It may be very good and profitable as a rule, but I am left at liberty to do it or leave it alone as I think proper. You cannot pretend that there is no salvation out of the church.” The answer to this is not far to seek. We suppose that there is no fixed and universal rule of necessity in such things. Necessity is not in the subject but in the man. We can conceive of great things not being necessary sometimes, and of very little things being necessary sometimes, on this ground. Is it necessary for a man to do, or safe to leave undone, what he knows to be according to the will of God? Is persistence in disobedience compatible with a state of spiritual security? But why talk at all of necessity? Necessity in relation to what? Your salvation? But, conceding what you assume, is that the only light in which to regard the Divine will? Is personal profit the only thing that gives that will power over your nature? Do you really mean that you will do only what you are obliged to do, that you care nothing for law and love, that you are indifferent to Maker’s pleasure and a Saviour’s grace, but that you do want to get to heaven?’ Is that, the offering you make to God, an offering dictated by no sense of his claims and favours, no passion to serve Him worthily, but a mere calculation of spiritual profit?
4. This spirit will prompt us to labour to do good, and not to refuse even the more arduous and self-denying services of benevolence.
III. The considerations by which the spirit of the text should be excited.
1. Consider what God is; how worthy of your utmost zeal and love and honour in Himself, in His ineffable perfections. How “glorious” He is “in holiness”; “how great is His goodness, how great is His beauty.” To give to him the best is a necessary fruit of any true, however inadequate conception of His infinite worth.
2. Think, again, that every offering you make to God is already His own. The materials of service are His, the power to use them is His;. His are the outward instruments, and His the moral faculties.
3. But, lastly, remember that God does not offer to us that which cost him nothing. (A. J. Morris.)
A test of sincerity
A free salvation does not necessarily imply a religion which costs us nothing. If the text were to be translated into New Testament language, it would read thus: “I will not make a profession of being a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ which involves no necessity for self-denial or self-sacrifice.” Now, in illustration of this subject I would observe, that both in the type and in the fulfilment of the type the Lord Jehovah has set before us salvation as that which on His part is free and gracious, “without money and without price.” See how the graciousness and freeness of salvation were pointed out here. The sinner might have been expected to be consumed himself, and that a sacrifice was accepted as an atonement for him must only be attributable to the rich grace and kindness and love of God. The sinner could never have expected that in such a way as this, without anything that he had done to deserve favour, God should have provided for him a way of escape; but it is even so in the fulfilment of the type. But there was one circumstance, in the typical institution, which tends still further to show the freeness of God’s salvation. This burnt-offering was placed within reach of even the poorest; but in each case the man was required to give something, in order that he might come before God in the prescribed way of acceptance. Even so is it, when we come to look at the fulfilment of these typical institutions, as set forth in the Gospel of salvation. The Lord Jesus Christ is not only a Saviour for the rich man, but a Saviour for the poor man; and the poor man may come to God with as great a welcome as the richest and the most honourable. But then it is very possible for men to deceive themselves, and to suppose that they are coming before God in His appointed way of acceptable worship, when “a deceived heart hath turned them aside,” so that they cannot ask themselves, “is there not a lie in my right hand?” It becomes necessary, therefore, to show the second part of this proposition--that although God’s salvation is free, it does not necessarily imply a religion which costs a man nothing. Salvation itself costs him nothing. In order that we may see this, observe the circumstances referred to in the text. Now, the sacrifice might have been offered--the burnt-offering, God’s appointed way of coming before Him acceptably under that dispensation, might have been consumed on the altar--David might have been present, and ostensibly have been the man to offer this sacrifice--and yet Araunah might have borne all the cost of it; but, if so, would not David have been proved to have been a hypocrite in his worship? For what was the signification of presenting a burnt-offering to the Lord in this manner? Was it not an acknowledgment of the sinner’s guilt, a thankful acceptance of God’s mercy, and at the same time a dedication of all he had to the Lord’s service? See how this truth is brought out clearly in New Testament language. “Ye are not your own, for ye are bought with a price,” says the apostle Paul, “therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.” So that the result of redemption received into the heart by faith is the determination to “glorify God in our body and our spirits, which are His.” Now, when there is this dedication of ourselves to God, I ask whether it is possible to imagine a case in which there will be no manifestation of it by some practical and self-denying acts. An act of my mind may be connected with a thought known only to God, but the dedication of my body as well as my spirit to God implies an outward act of which my fellow-creatures can judge, though God Himself, who reads the heart, can alone discern the motive from which that outward action proceeds; and inasmuch as it is the duty of believers in Jesus Christ not merely to dedicate their spirits unto God,. which have been “redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without spot,” but their bodies also, which have been redeemed at the same precious price, it follows that such act of self-dedication must be attended with the giving up of some things which we might have selfishly enjoyed--connected with the making of sacrifices which perhaps would have been displeasing to flesh and blood, but which we are now thankful to make, because under the constraining power of the love of Christ--connected, in short, with the manifestation of the feeling which makes us determine that while we serve God we will not serve Him of that which costs us nothing. Now, let this truth be applied to two or three individual characters, in order that we may see its importance. Take the ease, for example, of the worldling, the man who is following the customs and the habits of the world. Perhaps, if he have a respect for religion, manifested by occasional attendance upon God’s ordinances, he will tell you that he serves the Lord--that although he does not care for being righteous overmuch, and although he makes no profession such as many hypocrites do, yet that he means what is right. But the question is, does that man offer burnt-offering to the Lord of that which costs him something? Where is his self-denial? Where is his self-sacrifice? There must be a devotedness of spirit and devotedness of life; there must be both acts of the mind, and outward acts which his fellow-creatures can judge of, to denote his devotedness to God, if he be indeed serving God as an acceptable worshipper of our Lord Jesus Christ. Or take the case of the more determined professor of religion. I allude to the case of the man who professes to value those great doctrines of the Gospel concerning a full and free salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. But every privilege is connected with a corresponding duty; every blessing received from God involves responsibility on the part of the man who receives it. For example, Christ’s presence with His people to the very end of the world is a privilege; but it is connected with the duty, that they should observe all things whatsoever He has commanded them, and that they should be making constant efforts to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who would be sincere in this matter must show his sincerity by the determination which David manifested--that whilst his burnt-offering shall be presented in the way God has appointed, it shall not be at other people’s cost, but at his own--that he will not serve God of that which costs him nothing. And now the point to which I am come is, that whether as to money, or time, or influence, if we are really under the power of Christ’s constraining love, our religion must be that which costs us something Has your religion ever cost you anything in this respect? (W. Cadman, M. A)
The true principle of Divine service
On the place over which the angel of God had stayed his hand of judgment, the king resolved to erect an altar, and to offer a burnt-offering. That spot where judgment halted was the threshing-floor of Araunah. The point in the transaction which will fix our attention is that of the king’s refusal of Araunah’s generosity; not because so princely a nature as David’s could not appreciate such generosity, but on principle. “I will surely buy of thee.” There you have the principle which I desire to illustrate.
1. The principle was the expression of the true feeling of the greatest, the devoutest, the most remarkable man of his day--a man whose many-sidedness of nature links him with the highest; a man whose influence has been felt in all ages, from his own till this, and in an ever-widening circle, in the ratio of the missionary zeal of the Church of Jesus Christ, for there is no religious poetry equal to David’s psalms. It received the Divine endorsement. “The plague was stayed.”
2. The principle applies to the minister’s dedication, and preparation for his work. He should resolve, “Neither will I offer to the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing.”
3. The principle further applies to intellectual and heart preparation for the work of the ministry.
4. Apply the principle to personal dedication. It will cost something to offer yourself to the Lord your God. If it cost nothing, the enjoyment of God’s favour would be little esteemed. The dedication of the person to God involves the dedication of all that belongs to him. (R. Thomas.)
Genuine service for God
This subject is connected with that of “The Three Temples of the One God,” not only because the event transpired on the very spot that became a few years afterwards the site of the Temple, and so the centre of the worship of Judea, but because of its association in motive and principle with Him Who was the Second Temple, and because of its practice in the erection of the third temple throughout the worm and the ages. The principle that comes out in these words of David to Araunah is one that will sweep the whole circle of worship, and work, and gifts, and personal religious life.
1. Worship. For in our buildings, in our service of praise and prayer, preaching and hearing, we are to give our best in effort, in intelligence, in all things, facing and resisting every temptation to the contrary, with the words, “Shall I offer,” etc.
2. Work--not to schemes only that are pleasant, and in times that are convenient and by proxies that are easily obtainable will the true worker for God devote himself.
3. Gifts. Not with careless gifts, almost covertly given, or the smallest coin doled out niggardly, can he give who says, “Shall I offer,” etc.
4. Personal religion. There is meanness and ingratitude in the spirit that relegates all religious care to the leisure of Sunday, or of the sick-room, or the infirmities of old age. Why should we not offer to God that which costs nothing?
Three questions may throw light upon it.
1. How far what costs you nothing is any benefit to yourself? Such may be of some benefit. But only what “costs something” calls out
(1) highest motives, and employs
(2) all faculties.
2. How far what costs you nothing has much influence upon the world? Sacrifice is the subtle and tremendous element needful in all great influence. In the home, in the Church, in the state, they only climb true thrones, and wear real crowns, who have the spirit of sacrifice. The Saviour Himself relied on that--“I, if I be lifted up will draw all men unto me.” So does the Eternal Father of men, for He has made “Christ,” who is incarnate Sacrifice, “the power of God.”
3. How far what costs you nothing is acceptable to God? Christ’s praise of the poor widow’s gift, God’s acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ, sufficiently indicate the Divine estimate of self-denial. And since that service which costs us something has the pulses of reality, the glow of love, and the reflection of Christ, it surely is acceptable to God. (U. R. Thomas.)
The principle of giving
I. The true motive to benevolence, “offering unto the Lord.” His offerings were gifts to the Lord; and our offerings, too, must be gifts to the Lord. There may be a sense in which we can give nothing to Him, and there are times in which He reminds us of His sublime and eternal independence of us. We give to each other what we may happen to need. God needs nothing. Into the infinite ocean of His nature no streams are ever Seen to run. Unlike the oceans of the earth, it is never supplied, but always supplies. Streams flow from it, but never to it. They flow with a ceaseless and unflagging volume and speed. They flow to angels and to men. They bear life, and strength, and wisdom, and grace, and love. These streams ere carrying to-day light to unnumbered worlds, health to unnumbered living things, comfort to unnumbered weary ones, hope to unnumbered despairing ones. A father gives to his son a plot of ground that he may turn it into a garden. He gives him the tools with which to prepare it. He gives him the seeds from which he is to raise the fruits and flowers. He gives him a home to live in. He gives him his daily food. At length, the father finds on his table the richest fruit and fairest flowers which the garden has produced as a loving acknowledgment from his son. What is this acknowledgment? It is a gift, and yet it is only a gift of what is his own. In this manner, and in this only, we can give to God. To offer to the Lord; this expression lies at the root of all true service. To the Lord was a sort of touchstone, which the Apostle carried with him everywhere, and by which he tested both his own doings and those of others. You know that in life everything depends upon the motive from which it springs. Man is what his motives are, and he is no better and no worse. The outward, visible deed we may perform, or the audible word we may speak, have no meaning to us, until we have first ascertained the motive which incited them. It is only too common to think of the giving of money as a lower branch of Christian duty. On the contrary, that giving may be the highest and most religious act of the godly man. Generosity may be one of their constitutional peculiarities. It is so with many, and it may be so with them. They were born with it. But there are others of a very different character, in whom the generous giving of their means would be the sublimest shape in which their religion could make itself manifest.
II. The measure of Christian liberality. “I will not offer unto the Lord of that which costs me nothing.” This was but the negative form of David’s noble principle. He meant that he would give to the Lord of that which cost him something. This principle, interpreted widely, and under the inspiration of a grateful love, would yield a sufficiency of means for carrying on without embarrassment every Christian agency in the world. The spirit of Christian liberality is evermore a spirit of self-denial. It is prompted and fed by the thought of Him who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich. The vital nerve which runs through it is one of gratitude for infinite mercy. And those whose Christianity has cost them the most are the men who will be faithful unto death. Will Luther, will Melanchthon, will Zwingle, will Calvin, will Latimer, will Knox, will Ridley, will Hooper, forsake the reformation? Nay; they will go for it to prison if needful, or even unto death, but they will not deny it. Having love as the impulse to our benevolence, its measure will be determined by the nature of the case which appeals for our help, and also by the means which God has placed at our disposal. Here is false measure! It is stamped with the words, “What have I given before?” This carries with it a double falsehood. It may be too heavy, or it may be too light. This weight will be condemned at the last day. There is another weight, stamped with the words, “How little can I give?” Of this weight I say nothing, nor of the man who uses it, except this, that he that soweth sparingly shall read also sparingly. Gratitude demands that we give to the Lord. Giving to the Lord is as Christian a work as prayer or the avoidance of sin. Giving must always be tending towards sacrifice and self-denial (E. Mellor, D. D.)
A religion that costs nothing
The doctrine of sacrifices, as under the old dispensation, is not easy to fathom completely. Of course one purpose was to foreshadow the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. But there must have been much more lying behind the system than this typical teaching. Such elaborate directions as are given as to the value, the composition, the way of celebrating these burnt-offerings, were no doubt intended to serve a more direct purpose of teaching than what was merely typical. There was one eternal principle of God, a principle which has been running all through the ages, which these burnt-offerings did teach. A burnt-offering meant the giving up of a certain amount of pleasure, or trouble, or possessions, and was essentially, in the literal sense of the word, a sacrifice. The man who presented a burnt-offering to God was bound to take a certain amount of trouble before he could do so. Wealth, or property, then, was far more equally divided than it is now. Much of it was in kind. In fact, these old sacrifices were an instance of that irrevocable law which prevails all through the universe, the necessity of taking pains. This was the old principle, so well put by Carlyle, “It is only with renunciation that life, properly speaking, can be said to begin.” Renunciation, but of what? Of all that is satisfactory in life? By no means, but renunciation of the self-spirit in man. One of the most favourite maxims which we now hear quoted, and which has been quoted so often that we have almost come to believe it is true, is that we should not, as a rule, force ourselves to do anything. Wait till the desire comes--till the spirit moves you--till you are in the humour for it--say many of our advisers. Forced work, say they, is not good work. Sit down quietly, or take a walk, until you feel more disposed to attack your difficult task. Which, in other words, means this, wait until it is easier for me to do it. Wait until it costs me less exertion to perform it, And this principle seems to be an entirely false one, and it is at the root of a great deal of the mischief in the world. Every daily duty is, or should be, a duty done to God--for God, whether it be wielding the workman’s hammer, or presiding on the judicial bench. This plan, then, of not forcing ourselves to do a disagreeable duty, when reduced, means, offering unto the Lord that which costs me, not perhaps nothing, but at any rate not very much. Can you conceive an Israelite, to whom the time had come to offer to God His accustomed sacrifice, reasoning thus to himself? That is a true possession--that is a true offering--that is the salt of life--that God demands at our hands service which costs us something. The truth of this principle is shown in various ways. More especially it is shown by the increased store which we always set upon any possession which has cost us self-renunciation to obtain. The Canadian settler, who is surrounded by the rough-hewn chairs and tables of his own construction, probably values and cherishes these more than the owner of a fashionable London drawing-room does her magnificent furniture. In the one case they are the result of labour and toil, and very frequently, in the other case, they represent no more than someone else’s toil. And it is an eternal law of God that we cannot have as much true pleasure from some one else’s labour as from our own. Or if we do contrive to extort much pleasure from it, it is an indication of how very low we have fallen in character. It is one of the misfortunes of those who inherit possessions, that they are unable to appreciate the having them in anything like the same proportion as if they had toiled for them themselves. But I desire to put before you the view of the offering which every man has to make, willingly or unwillingly, unto his Maker. That offering is the sum of his own life’s career. “We bring our years to an end,” says the Psalmist, “as it were s tale that is told.” And having brought them to an end, they are presented, as a long and patchy scroll, unto God who gave them. I conceive that when the smoke of the years of our life ascends in upward flight to God, that only can be an acceptable, or in any sense an offering or sacrifice to Him, which bears the trace of the eternal principle of having taken pains with it. Earthly successful careers, which in many ways are typical of spiritually successful careers, are produced by the age-long genius of taking pains. The fool physical, and the fool spiritual, is the man who takes no pains. The one cannot succeed, neither can the other. In an infinitely higher way our Saviour teaches us this same lesson: “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” What else is this but saying that life--life--that magnificent possession given to us sons of God--this life is a sacrifice, living is a sacrifice, our years are a sacrifice, and this sacrifice, when we shall enter the portals of Hades-land, we must take, and present, and lay it upon the altar of God. Perhaps, then, the question to be asked is this: Is your spiritual life costing you anything? Sacrifice of money is but a small part of the life-sacrifice. The money is not yours--the life is. Many of you are toiling, and wearing out brain and body over the earthly life, are you straining every fibre, too, to make beautiful and glorious the life which is hid with Christ in God? I am not hinting that the spiritual life and the earthly life are separate and distinct--I know at least that they need not be--but do not make the spiritual life earthly, but make the earthly life spiritual. Do all to the glory of God. But to those who find but little to do, there is the danger. Many a life stagnates because it eats away its heart in comfortable inactivity. Those of you who are fed, and clothed, and served, and protected, and toiled for by thousands of suffering others, let me tell you, you cannot pay for these things, therefore your life, when laid before God, must be a life that has cost you something, some scouring, some cleaning, if God can accept it. Yes, assuredly, you too must go up upon the hill of God, and by dropping your contribution of usefulness, real usefulness, into God’s world, must help God. And the greatness and the reality of that sacrifice of love which Jesus made for the whole world, and for you, is an example of the sacrifice which He asks you to make of the jewel He has given you--your life! A diamond it is, unpolished, uncut, but capable of infinite beauty of form, infinite purity of lustre. He will help to shape and mould it, then to brighten and polish it, and then to keep its lustre undimmed and its sparkle clear. Finally, also, God will ask you for it, i.e., your life, and if worthy, He will place it, a bright jewel, in the eternal crown. High destiny! Great end! How can I, thus conscious of the eternal plan, do else than present to Him my noblest and my best? I will not offer unto the Lord my God that which has cost me nothing. (A. H. Powell, M. A.)
A costly gift freely bestowed
In Disruption times, a poor woman, Janet Fraser, owned a small cottage and garden in Penpont, which she freely and cordially offered to the Free Church. A “sough” of this having gone abroad, the duke’s agent called on Janet, and began by offering her £25 for the ground, presently rising to £50; but Janet declared that she had given it to the Lord, and would not recall it for all the dukedom of Queensbury. On her ground the church was accordingly built. (W. G. Blaikie.)
Service costs sacrifice
A fashionable and wealthy lady in America made up her mind to become a missionary. For a long time the church of which she was a member, doubting her fitness, delayed acceptance of her offer; but, at last, as she persisted, they yielded and asked her what sphere of labour she preferred. Looking down thoughtfully on her dainty gloves, she replied, “I think I should prefer Paris to any other place.” That was the city that suited the belle of fashion rather than the neglected millions of China or India, or Central Africa. But our Master declares, “If any man will be My disciple, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (H. O. Mackey.)
Bibles gratis refused
When Mr. Campbell went upon his first mission to Africa, the Bible Society sent along with him a number of Bibles to be distributed to a Highland regiment stationed at the Cape of Good Hope. Arrived there, the regiment was drawn out in order to receive the Bibles. The box which contained them was placed in the centre, and on Mr. Campbell presenting the first Bible to one of the men he took out his pocket four shillings and sixpence for the Bible, saying, “I enlisted to serve my king arid my country, and I have been well and regularly paid, and will not accept of a Bible as a present when I can pay for it.” His example was instantly followed by all the regiment. (Anecdotes of the Old Testament.)
Give God the best
This is a touching story a missionary tells of a Hindu mother who had two children, one of them blind. The mother said her god was angry, and must be appeased, or something worse would come to pass. One day the missionary returned, and the little bed had but one child in it. The mother had thrown the other into the Ganges. “And you cast away the one with good eyes?” “Oh, yes,” she said; “my god must have the best.” Alas! Alas! the poor mother had a true doctrine, but she put it to a bad use. Let us try to give God the best. Too long already have we put Him off with the drippings from life’s overful cup.
2 Samuel 24:25
And David built an altar there unto the Lord.
The altar and sacrifice
The history of David affords us an instructive lesson of the blessings arising out of sanctified affliction, as well as the dangers of prosperity.
1. At the beginning of the chapter it is said, “the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, go number Israel and Judah.” In the parallel passage (1 Chronicles 21:1-30.) it is said “Satan provoked David to number Israel,” i.e., (as Bishop Hall remarks) God did so by permission, Satan by suggestion; God as a judge, Satan as an enemy.
2. It has occurred to some as difficult to see exactly wherein David’s sin consisted.
(1) Distrust. God had said Israel should be as the dust of the earth, as the sand on the sea shore, and as the stars in the heavens--why count them then?
(2) Pride. David thought no doubt he would appear more formidable by a display of numbers, like Hezekiah afterwards, he wished to make a display of his power.
3. Observe, again, “David’s heart smote him after he had numbered the people; after, not before. Sin leaves a sting behind, though it may give a momentary gratification.
4. Remark David’s sorrow and confession and guilt: “I have sinned and done very foolishly.” Ah! here was grace; this was unnatural, it was supernatural; it was the very opposite of fallen nature to take all the blame to himself.
5. David was, on his repentance and acknowledgment, charged to rear an altar and to offer a sacrifice which was intended, no doubt, to represent that “without shedding of blood, there is no remission.”
I. The altar and sacrifice represent the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the only sacrifice God will accept as an atonement for sin.
1. David offered “burnt-offerings and peace offerings.” The burnt-offerings represent God’s justice; the peace offerings represent God’s mercy--a striking emblem of our great sacrifice I Here, in Jesus, “Mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other.” Here, God’s justice is satisfied, and His mercy manifested. Here, we see God “a just God,” and yet “a Saviour”--“just, and the Justifier of all who believe.” Where shall we look for the great proofs of God’s righteous displeasure against sin? The great proof is found in the sufferings of God’s own Son. Again, where shall we look for the great proof of God’s mercy? You remind me of the ark in which Noah and his family were saved, or of Zoar, where Lot found refuge? Yes; but the great proof of mercy is to be found in the same garden, and on the same cross where we found the other
1. In one sense, and that a very important sense, our acceptance with God cost us nothing--it is free. Nothing we can do is meritorious: salvation is God’s free gift through Christ. This is the vital pulse of a sinner’s hope--“By grace he is saved.”
2. The other point is: our redemption cost God much. “Ye are bought with a price,” said St. Paul to his Corinthian brethren; how great a price he did not say; he could not. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “God so loved.” Who can say how much? There is no mercy out of Christ, and “no condemnation to them who are in Christ.”
II. David’s resolution and conduct on the occasion of God’s mercy to him. David’s conduct by no means implies he regarded his offering as meritorious. (Psalms 51:16-17,) “For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt-offering; the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt act despise.” It proved two things as regarded David’s peculiar case, viz., sincerity and thankfulness. Sincerity--unlike the ruler mentioned in the Gospel, he wanted a religion which would cost him nothing, and therefore “he went away sorrowful.” Thankfulness. David longed to show what he felt, like the leper (Luke 17:1-37.), he “returned to give glory to God.” Oh! what a spring it would give to charity, to feel as David felt. Observe, in the parallel passage (1 Chronicles 21:1-30.) it is said, David bought the threshing-floor for 600 shekels of gold. We can reconcile the two accounts by merely supposing the author in the book of Samuel stated the price of the oxen, while the author in the book of Chronicles mentioned the price of the threshing floor. Let me now mention a few particulars which the Gospel claims as proofs of gratitude, and God’s Word proposes as tests of sincerity.
1. Coming out of the world.
2. The Gospel demands the sacrifice of every known sin--not one, but all; not in part, but entirely.
3. The Gospel demands of us to deny self. “Of all idols,” says one, “idol self is worshipped the longest.”
Let me close with a word or two of direct and personal application.
1. I address those who suppose, by offering to God what cost them much, thereby to merit heaven. Turn, my brethren, to 1 Corinthians 13:3. “Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” This exactly meets your case.
2. To such as, Gallio like, “care for none of these things,” I would say your case is an awful one. A religion which costs you nothing--which allows you to keep your sins--to be conformed to the world, and to indulge the flesh, is not of God. (W. E. Ormsby, M. A.)
And the plague was stayed from Israel.
The infliction and removal of the judgment upon David for numbering the people
These words record the removal of a terrible visitation sent from Heaven on the people of Israel. The circumstances connected with that Divine judgment, and the means by which its terrors were ended, are replete with the most valuable instruction. And therefore choose thee one of these three things--“Shall three years of famine come unto thee in thy land? Or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? Or that there be three days’ pestilence in thy land? Now advise thee what answer I shall give to Him that sent me.” How forcibly does this part of our subject teach us the great danger of engaging in any scheme or course of action upon which we cannot ask the blessing of God! How carefully ought we to examine and weigh by the balance of the sanctuary, the motives by which we are actuated! How easily can God crush our most favourite plans and blight our dearest hopes, and punish our forgetfulness of Him, and dependence on our own strength, by turning those very things upon which our hearts were most bent, into sources of the bitterest anguish and the most humiliating mortification! Thus a man will often set his heart upon riches, and worship Mammon rather than God; and those riches are taken away from him after they have been for awhile possessed in abundance--a deprivation, which makes poverty far bitterer than ever it was before; or while actually possessed, they in various ways cause him troubles and sorrows more intolerable than any that fall to the lot of the poor.
1. The great danger of prosperity, and the folly of coveting riches and honours as the chief good.
2. The deceitful nature and the terrible consequences of sin. David’s heart smote him after, not before, he had numbered the people. This is Satan’s method of dealing with his prey, and this is the way he succeeds in beguiling men to ruin. He blinds the eye to the guilt, until the evil deed is done. How deeply is this felt by the penitent, when brought to loathe himself for his iniquity! What a sting is left behind by sin, though it may have been committed with very little alarm, and with scarcely any sense of its malignant nature! What a picture is displayed in this history of sin’s terrible consequences--the angel of God running to and fro through the land with the sword of vengeance, and slaying seventy thousand men in less than three days! How it exhibits the Almighty’s resolve not to let iniquity go unpunished!
3. The great and invaluable efficacy of the sacrifice of the death of Christ. The Almighty God, who is “angry with the wicked every day,” and who has declared that all the nations that forget Him shall be turned into hell, has, nevertheless, made with them who believe in Christ, “a covenant well ordered in all things and sure,” and, in that covenant, we have a Divine promise made, and the Divine veracity pledged, that they shall never perish, who rest their hopes on the offered propitiation.
4. The importance of promptitude in applying for mercy, and in deprecating the Divine wrath through the appointed sacrifice.
5. Finally, learn hence the duty of activity, liberality in the service of God, and for the benefit of your fellow sinners. It is a Scriptural precept--“Honour the Lord with thy substance.” He who has a religion which costs him nothing has a religion that is worth nothing. (H. Hughes, B. D.)
The destroying angel arrested
If we knew how to enjoy our blessings in the fear of God, they would be continued unto us; but it is the sin of man that he extracts, even from the mercies of God, the poison which destroys his comforts: ha grows fat upon the bounty of Heaven, spurns its laws, and awakens it vengeance. This was the case with the Israelites at the period to which our text refers. It is probable their sin was a general forgetfulness of God, and a vain confidence in the strength, numbers, and valour of the nation; for with this feeling of national vanity David was affected. The time was come when punishment could be no longer delayed; and the pestilence received its commission. Seventy thousand men died from Dan to Beersheba; and that the judgment might be known to proceed from God, an angel was made visible, with a drawn sword, directing, by His terrible agency, the vengeance and the death. The history indicates to us:
I. The strict regard paid by the Almighty to the conduct of His creatures. This is a consideration which ought ever to impress our minds. The want of it is one of the causes of the misconduct of men. All are not openly infidels; they do not deny a God; nor do they allow His existence, and deny His omniscience. All do not confine Him to His own heaven, and make it part of His greatness and grandeur to avert His eyes from earth. All do not make Him indifferent to sin and say, with the unbelief of those of old, “The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it.” But though we may not, say this, we may be influenced by the very principle from which it proceeds. All who sin forget God; act as though there were no God, or He had no omniscience, or that He is indifferent to their conduct. To awaken us to a consciousness of the regard he pays to our actions, to His ever-bending, ever-watchful eye, it is, that he has so often specially interposed to punish sin, and in a manner which could leave no doubt of His agency. For this, among other purposes, the histories in the Old Testament have been preserved; that observing the displays of His power and justice, we might “sanctify the Lord in our hearts,” and that the whole earth might “tremble and keep silence before Him.” Does any one suppose that because He is but an individual, one amidst the myriads of the human race, he shall pass in the crowd, and escape the notice of his Judge? Let him learn that David was an individual, yet his individual sin was noticed, dragged to light, reproved, and punished.
II. We are instructed by the history to consider sin as an evil followed by the most disastrous consequences. The pride, and forgetfulness of God, of which David and his people were guilty, might appear, if sins at all, sins of a very venial kind, the common infirmities of human nature; yet they were followed by the dreadful choice of evils, and with the destruction of seventy thousand persons. One of the most fatal habits of mind is to treat sin lightly or with ‘indifference. It is exhibited as a mark of eminent folly. “Fools make a mock at sin.”
III. The history also exhibits to us the only means of forgiveness and escape from punishment. The altar was built unto the Lord: “David offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings; so the Lord was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed.” In other words, sin was expiated by the intervention of a sacrifice. This is the doctrine of every book of Scripture, of every age, and of every nation. Let us, then, observe that the testimony of the Church of God, from every age, is that the anger of Him whom we have offended can only be propitiated, and that He only can be approached, by sacrifice. When man became a sinner, then an altar marked the place in which he worshipped, and his offering was a bloody sacrifice. When Noah left the ark, his first act was to erect an altar, to reconcile God to a world which bore so many marks of His wrath; and at the Smell of the sweet savour of the offerings, He gave the promise, “I will no more curse the ground for man’s sake.” When the first-born of Egypt fell beneath the stroke of the angel, it was the blood of the lamb sprinkled upon the door-posts that guarded in safety the offspring of Israel. When the plague broke forth against the rebels in the wilderness, Aaron ran between the living and the dead with his censer and incense, and the plague was stayed; but it was incense inflamed by fire from the altar of sacrifice. Thus, on ordinary occasions by stated, and on extraordinary displays of the Divine anger by extraordinary sacrifices, did the Church show forth the intended death of the true Sacrifice. This is our method of salvation: “We are saved by His blood,” and it is important for us to know that, in this single doctrine of a substituted sacrifice, the whole method of our salvation is included. The manner in which sacrificial rites were performed illustrates even now the method of salvation. The offerer confessed the fact of his offence by bringing his victim; and he that believes in Christ, by assenting to this method of expiation, confesses the fact too: “I have sinned, and therefore I fly to Christ as my atonement.” The offerer was prompted by the fear of punishment to slay his victim, and sprinkle the blood; so David in the text. If we are properly alarmed at our, danger, we shall haste to the only refuge of a Saviour’s bleeding side. The sacrifice was the instrument of sanctification; it supposed a covenant with God; the sacrifice was eaten; the parties were made friends; and sin, which only could make them enemies, was renounced for ever. Thus, the appointment of sacrifices supposes the confession of sin; a salutary fear of the terrors of a holy God; a just apprehension of the desert of sin, death in its most painful forms; and a reliance and trust in God’s appointed means of salvation, and the renunciation of all sin, and the recovery of His blessing and friendship. All these are taught you and enjoined upon you by the death of Christ; and on these terms we invite you to receive pardon and salvation.
IV. We observe that the erection of this altar by David was a public act, an act in which the public were interested; and in this respect it agreed with the practice of all ages. The building of an altar was ever a public act; the place was separate from common purposes; and it stood as a religious memorial for the instruction of mankind.
1. The erections themselves, and more especially the acts and observances of worship, are memorials of religious facts and doctrines. They keep a sense of God upon the minds of men; they turn She thoughts of the public, whether they will or not to serious subjects.
2. Our worship is public, and the places we erect are places of public resort.
3. Besides this, our places of worship are to be considered as the places where the Gospel, the good and glad tidings of salvation, are announced to men. They are the places of treaty and negotiation between God and man. Ministers are the ambassadors of God. Clothed with authority by Him, they enter His house, and a rebellious world is summoned to hear from them God’s gracious terms of pardon, and His authoritative demand of submission.
4. They are houses of prayer, and remind us of our dependence upon God, and of His condescension to us. They are houses of shelter from the storms and cares of life; the places where we cast our care on Him, and prove that He careth for us; the place where He is known, eminently known, for a refuge.
V. The zeal and liberality which good men have ever discovered in the erection of houses and altars to God. The words of the text are an instance. When Araunah saw David coming, he went to meet him; and, when informed of the occasion--“to buy the threshing-floor, to build an altar to the Lord”--he spontaneously makes him the offer of his threshing-floor. (R. Watson.)
The arrest of the plague
In the modern city of Rome is a fortress, once the mausoleum of the Emperor Hadrian, and bearing his name. About twelve hundred years ago so tradition says, there raged a devastating plague in that old imperial town; and while people and pope and priests were making a procession with prayers, there appeared on the summit of the citadel the form of the Archangel Michael, in the act of sheathing his sword, to show that the pestilence was stayed. So there, in the place the vision, Gregory erected the statue of the angel poising on his beautiful pinions, and hovering over the city he had saved. Ever since, this edifice, converted into a stronghold, had been called “San Angelo,” the Castle of the Holy Angel. Nobody asserts that an exquisite marble can render a fable true; the legend is only a poor little travesty of our grand old Bible story; but it may help in making our picture, as it shines out at the closing of our lesson. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
The site of the altar
The last entry in the appendix to Samuel consists of a document which may be described as the charter of the most famous of the world’s holy places. By the theophany here recorded the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite received a consecration which has made it holy ground not only for Judaism and Christianity, but for Islam as well. Upon this spot, we can scarcely doubt, stood the great altar of Solomon’s temple. To-day, as all the world knows, the site is covered by the magnificent mosque, the Kubbet es-sahara, or Dome of the Rock, the most sacred of Mohammedan shrines after those of Mecca and Medina. (Century Bible.)
Starr King, one of the most eloquent champions of the Socinians, paid the following tribute to the doctrine of the vicarious atonement: “It is embodied by the holiest of memories, as it has been consecrated by the loftiest talent of Christendom. It fired the fierce eloquence of Tertullian in the early Church, and gushed in honeyed periods from the lips of Chrysostom; it enlisted the life-long zeal of Atuanasius to keep it pure; the sublimity of it fired every power, and commanded all the resources of the mighty soul of Augustine; the learning of Jerome and the energy of Ambrose, were committed to its defence; it was the text for the subtle eye and analytic thought of Aquinas; it was the pillar of Luther’s soul, toiling for man; it was shapen into intellectual proportions and systematic symmetry by the iron logic of Calvin; it inspired the beautiful humility of Fenelon; fostered the devotion and self-sacrifice of Oberlin; flowed like molten metal into the rigid forms of Edwards’s intellect, and kindled the deep and steady rapture of Wesley’s heart . . . All the great enterprises of Christian history have been born from the influence, immediate or remote, which the vicarious theory of redemption has exercised upon the mind and heart of humanity.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Samuel 24". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17