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This is the blessing wherewith Moses, the man of God, blessed the children of Israel before his death.
The blessing of the tribes
The many successive “blessings” of Israel were a necessary consequence of his Divine election. In that seed all families of the earth were to be blessed. Therefore it was fitting that formal and repeated blessings should be pronounced upon the bearer of such high destinies, that none of the issues of his history might seem to be by chance, and that he and all men might know what was “the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance among the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of God’s power towards us who believe.” The notion of a distinct continuity in calling and in privilege between Israel and the Christian Church is no fancy of an antiquated theology. It springs out of the very root idea of the Bible, the principle which rightly leads us to speak of so many Scriptures, written at sundry times and in divers manners, as one book and one revelation. The first utterance of blessing upon the chosen people proceeded from the lips of God Himself, and was renewed in nearly the same form of language to each of the three great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It can hardly be by an accident that the record in Genesis of this initial benediction is sevenfold. Seven times exactly did God declare His purpose to bless the seed of Abraham in the line of Isaac and of Jacob; and having thus established His covenant as by an oath, He spake no more by a like direct communication, but He used the lips of inspired men to enlarge the scope of His blessing, and to give definiteness to its first and necessarily somewhat vague generalities. The blessing of Moses was evidently founded upon the earlier utterance of the dying Jacob concerning the future of his twelve sons. But the differences between the two blessings are far more suggestive than their resemblances. There are parts of Jacob’s discourse to which the notion of “blessing” is altogether foreign. Simeon and Levi are stricken in it with an absolute curse; the prediction concerning Issachar is at least equivocal in its reference to willing servitude; and for Reuben there is nothing but a mournful foreclosure of his natural birthright (Genesis 49:3-7; Genesis 49:14-15). But the prophecy of Moses is really a benediction upon every tribe that is named therein. It is couched throughout in the language of unfeigned affection, intercession, and giving of thanks for what is or for what may be unequivocally good. Careful readers will observe that the tribes of Israel are arranged in different order in the two blessings by Jacob and by Moses. The natural order of age and of maternal parentage is followed by Jacob; but Moses at first sight seems to adopt an altogether arbitrary arrangement, three times putting a younger before an elder son, separating children of the same mother, and omitting one name altogether. This fact, however, is itself one of our clues to the right understanding of the blessing as a whole, for its only possible explanation depends upon the typical character of Israel’s national history. The place which Divine Providence assigned to each tribe in the temporal commonwealth of Israel at different stages of its development was meant to illustrate some permanent principle of God’s spiritual kingdom which Moses foresaw in its continuance to our own day. The thirty-third chapter of Deuteronomy has a prologue and an epilogue, which may not be passed over in silence. The blessings of the children of Israel are embraced between them intentionally, for the inspired author wished to set forth the unalterable conditions of blessing in God’s kingdom, and the inseparable connection which subsists between obedience, happiness, and faith towards God. No grander description of the Divine covenant with Israel was ever given than is contained in the opening verses of this chapter, nor has the law from Sinai been anywhere else depicted so awfully and yet so attractively in its character of “the inheritance” of Jehovah’s “congregation.” That law, in its outward form, has no doubt passed away for Christians, but the obligation of its spirit is perpetual, and the blessing of each citizen of God’s new covenant kingdom depends upon a loving acceptance of that obligation. Not Moses, but Christ, has “commanded us a law.” He is our “king,” and we are “not without law to God, but under the law to Christ.” (T. G. Rooke, B. A.)
The end in sight; or last works and dying songs
There is not a more illustrative example of the benefits of early training and religious culture than Moses. Whether we think of the depth of his religious convictions, the purity of his personal character, the clearness of his spiritual insight, the sagacity of his legislation, or the rectitude of his administration, we cannot but wonder at the manifold perfection of his human greatness and the closeness of his walk with God. But in one respect he stands preeminent. He was transcendent in moral glory when age had wrinkled his brow and whitened his head, when the sun began to go down in the golden west, and the shadows were casting their long lengths of darkness round him. “His eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated.” Neither was his mind obscured, nor were his sympathies narrowed, nor his heart soured. The shadow of a great disappointment was trailing over his path and clouding his future; yet, to his fellows, the radiance of his spirit was undimmed, and the clear shining of his intellect was as sparkling as the morning dew.
I. The end in sight and the last works of the man of God.
1. He knew his death was certainly near. God hardly ever allows men to wear the crown of completed undertakings in this world--“that no flesh should glory in His presence.”
2. Faithful in his house, he set everything in order, under the influence of this certainty.
3. The characteristics of the last work of his pen are worthy of special study. There is a rich and glowing beauty about these last words. There are in them some of the most marvellous predictions of the Old Testament. “The Prophet like unto himself” finds its fulfilment in Him who was both Prophet and Redeemer. There is also a forecast of the Hebrew history and the Hebrew doom, which cannot be read without wonder at its truth, and awe in presence of certain Divine judgments disclosed. His burdened heart looks down the vista of ages, and sees, with but too clear a vision, the sad departures from the true line of spiritual duty and obedience, which were only too possible. Side by side with ritual and ceremonial requirements, he lays down the principle that spiritual consecration, that loving devotion to God, is the only safety. He is not a Jew, even to Moses, who is one outwardly. Even here “love is the fulfilling of the law.” But he uses, especially, “the terrors of the Lord” to fortify them against the unfaithfulness and unbelief which were their danger. As Dean Milman says, “The sublimity of these denunciations surpasses anything which has ever been known in the oratory or poetry of the whole world. Nature is exhausted in furnishing terrific images; nothing except the real horrors of Jewish history, the miseries of their sieges, the cruelty, the contempt, the oppressions, the persecutions, which for ages this scattered and despised nation have endured, can approach the tremendous maledictions which warned them against the violation of their law.”
II. His dying songs; or the thoughts which animated the great Lawgiver in the near prospect of death.
1. Here is his faith in Divine relations to those who were to come after him. Nothing is more difficult to an old man than the graceful resignation of the power and authority which have come to him through his origination of office or business, and through the long experience of active, ruling life. Abdication is the most difficult act of sovereign authority. But Moses has supreme confidence in God.
2. Not only was there this confidence in God for those who were to succeed him, there was a supreme consciousness of the Divine glory. There is here a singular absence of self-glorying; a marvellous prominence given to the Divine ideas which underlie true life. Jehovah appears in almost every line of his dying song; Moses never. The song of the dying believer is always one which celebrates distinguishing, elective, and redeeming graze. When the spirit gets close to the realities of things, it is the Divine that is felt to be uppermost, the human which sinks and fades away. When John Owen, greatest of the Puritan theologians, the Nonconformist Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, was dying, he said to Charles Fleetwood, “I am going to Him whom my soul has loved, or rather, who has loved me with an everlasting love, which is the whole ground of all my consolation. I am leaving the ship of the Church in a storm; but while the Great Pilot is in it, the loss of a poor under-rower will be inconsiderable. Live, and pray, and hope, and wait patiently, and do not despond; the promise stands invincible, and He will never leave us nor forsake us.”
3. There was calm trust in a faithful God and in His faithful promises. These were the most powerful of his inspirations, and they poured themselves out in his glowing song. There is not one of the blessings but has this basis; and they have also a deep, inner, spiritual, religious, redemptive sense. Dr. Watts, after the scholarly labours of a long and devoted life, said: “I find it is the plain promises of the Gospel that are my support. And I bless God, they are plain promises that do not require much labour and pains to understand them, for I can do nothing now but look into my Bible for some simple promise to support me, and I live upon that. I bless God, I can lie down with comfort at night, not being solicitous whether I awake in this world or another.” “Underneath are the Everlasting Arms!” So Guthrie felt that it was the simpler, fundamental truths and facts which inspired dying trust and hope, and said: “Sing me a bairn’s hymn,” and fell asleep on the bosom of the Eternal. So Benjamin Parsons said: “My head is resting very sweetly on three pillows: infinite power, infinite love, and infinite wisdom.” Horace Bushnell, one of the great teachers of our age, but recently departed, woke up in the night and said, “Oh, God is a wonderful Being!” And when his daughter replied, “Yes; is He with you?” the old man replied, “Yes, in a certain sense He is with me; and I have no doubt He is with me in a sense I do not imagine.” So He is. It is “above all we ask or think”! Then the old man eloquent said: “Well, now we are all going home together; and I say, the Lord be with you--and in grace--and peace--and love--and that is the way I have come along home!” (W. H. Davison.)
From His right hand went a fiery law for them.
Yea, He loved the people.
The law of antagonism
At first sight the text might seem to involve a contradiction, but closer consideration will show that it expresses a great truth, namely, that the severity of human life is an expression of the Divine goodness.
I. In nature. The fiery law published at Sinai is proclaimed from every mountaintop; it burns and blazes through all the earth; the sea also is crystal mingled with fire. Nature knows nothing of indulgence; she makes no concessions to ignorance, folly, or weakness. Nature is imperative, uncompromising, terrible. In our day the severity of nature has been recognised as “the struggle for existence,” and students have shown with great clearness and power how full the world is of antagonism and suffering; yet these same students distinctly perceive that the struggle for existence is at bottom merciful, and that whenever nature chooses an evil it is a lesser evil to prevent a greater.
1. They see the advantage of severity so far as all sound and healthy things are concerned. If the conditions of life are in any degree softened, it is to the detriment of the noble organisms concerned.
2. They see also the advantage of severity so far as defective things are concerned. It is better for the world at large that weak organisms should be eliminated, otherwise the earth would be filled with imperfection and wretchedness; it is better for the creatures concerned that they should perish, for why should a miserable existence be indefinitely prolonged?
II. In civilisation. It is not by gentle yielding restrictions, by pliant understandings, by soft phrases, by light penalties easily remitted, by facility and complaisance, by the coddling of the individual, and the pampering of the nations, but by laws most exacting and rigorous, that God governs the race and conducts it to ultimate perfection. And yet once more we may see that the fiery law is only a definition of love.
1. Take the struggle of man with nature. The tropical sun burns us; the Arctic cold freezes us; in temperate regions the changeability of the weather troubles us; everywhere we experience the fury of the elements. All climates and countries have their special inconveniences, inhospitalities, and scourges. But is not this conflict with nature part of the inspiration and programme of civilisation? Contending with the globe, we are like Jacob wrestling with the angel. The fight is long and hard amid the mystery and the darkness, and the great Power seems reluctant to bless us; but the breaking of the day comes, and we find ourselves blest with corn, wine, oil, purple, feasts, flowers. Ah! and with gifts far beyond those of basket and store--ripened intelligence, self-reliance, courage, skill, manliness, virtue.
2. Take the struggle of man with man. Society is a great system of antitheses. There are international rivalries--a relentless competition between the several races and nations for power and supremacy. The various peoples watch each other across the seas; the earth is full of feuds, stratagems, competitions. And within the separate communities what complex and unceasing emulations and antagonisms exist! But this social rivalry brings its rich compensations. Solicitude, fatigue, difficulty, danger, hunger, these are the true king-makers; and the misfortune with many rich families today is, that they are being gradually let down because they are losing sight of the wolf. The wolf not merely suckled Romulus; it suckles all kings of men. The wolf is not a wolf at all; it is an angel in wolves’ clothing, saving us from rust, sloth, effeminacy, cowardice, baseness, from a miserable superficiality of thought, life, and character.
III. In character. When we are called upon to perform duties utterly repugnant to flesh and blood, to suffer grievous losses, to experience bitterest disappointments, to bleed under social humiliations, to be tortured by pain, to lose those whose love was our life, to endure the great fight of afflictions which sooner or later comes upon us all, we may rationally and consolingly murmur to ourselves, “This is a lesser evil to prevent a greater.” For as the catastrophes of nature are, after all, but partial and temporary, preventing immeasurably greater calamities, so our physical pain, impoverishment, social suffering, severe toil, bereavement, and all our terrestrial woes are the lesser evils, saving us from the infinitely greater one of the superficiality, corruption, misery, and ruin of the soul. And not only is the fiery law a wall of fire securing our salvation from the abyss; it is also a call unto a high and splendid perfection. It shows the way to the dignities, freedoms, treasures, felicities, perfections, of the highest universe and the unending life.
1. Let us not reject the law of Sinai because of its severity. The musician with the harp believes in strait-lacing, and it is only when the strings are stretched nigh to the breaking that he brings out the finest music. So in human life, caprice, licence, abandonment mean dissonance and misery; only through obligation, duty, discipline do all the chords of our nature become tuned to the music of a sweet perfection.
2. Let us not reject the Lord Jesus because He comes to us with a cross. To attain the highest, we must be crucified with Christ.
3. Let us not shrink from the tribulations of life. “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice,” etc. The whole case is here. We must not consider the fiery trial “a strange thing.” It is the universal order. We witness it in all nature; we discern it in all the history of civilisation; it is the common experience. The fiery trial is not some ordeal peculiar to the Christian saints; it is appointed to the whole of humanity. We must not consider the fiery trial an uncompensated thing. The cross we carry is no longer a pitiless and crushing burden; we look to its ultimate design, and know it as the rough but precious instrument of our purification and perfecting. (W. L. Watkinson.)
All His saints are in Thy hand.
Saints in the Lord’s hand
These holy ones are distinguished by many things from each other. Some of them are in public life and some in private. Some are rich and some poor. Some are young and some old. But all are equally dear to God; and partakers of the common salvation; in which there is neither Jew nor Greek, for we are all one in Christ Jesus. This honour have all His saints--“All His saints are in His hand.”
1. In His fashioning hand. They are the clay, He is the potter; and He makes them vessels of honour, prepared unto every good work.
2. In His preserving hand. For now they are precious, they are the more exposed. They are called a crown and a diadem; and the powers of darkness would gladly seize it.
3. In His guiding hand. Though God, says Bishop Hall, has a large family, none of His children are able to go alone: they are too weak, as well as too ignorant. But fear not, says God: I will strengthen thee, yea, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.
4. In His chastening hand. (W. Jay.)
God and His saints
I. The Divine love which is the foundation of all. “He loved the people.” The word used here is probably connected with words in an allied language, which mean “the bosom,” and “a tender embrace”; so the picture we have is of the great Divine Lover folding “the people” to His heart, as a mother her child, and cherishing them in His bosom.
2. The word is in a form which implies that the act is continuous and perpetual. Timeless, eternal love--always the same.
3. Mark the place in the song where this comes in. It is the beginning of everything. This old singer, with the mists of antiquity round him, who knew nothing about the Cross or the historic Christ, who had only that which modern thinkers tell us is a revelation of a wrathful God, somehow or other rose to the height of the evangelical conception of God’s love as the foundation of the very existence of a people who are His.
4. If the question is asked, Why does God thus love? the only answer is, Because He is God. The love of God is inseparable from His being, and flows forth before, and independent of, anything in the creature which could draw it out. It is like an artesian well, or a fountain springing up from unknown depths in obedience to its own impulse.
II. The guardian care extended to all those that answer love by love. “All His saints are in Thy hand.”
1. A saint is a man that answers God’s love by his love. The root idea of sanctity or holiness is not moral character, goodness of disposition and action, but separation from the world and consecration to God. As surely as a magnet applied to a heap of miscellaneous filings will pick out every little bit of iron there, so surely will that love which God bears to the people, when it is responded to, draw to itself, and therefore draw out of the heap, the men that feel its impulse and its preciousness.
2. The saints lie in God’s hand.
(1) Absolute security; for, will He not close His fingers over His palm to keep the soul that has laid itself there?
(2) Submission. Do not try to get out of God’s hand. Be content to be guided, as the steersman’s hand turns the spokes of the wheel and directs the ship.
III. The docile obedience of those that are thus guarded. “They sat down at Thy feet; everyone shall receive of Thy words.” These two clauses make up one picture, and one easily understands what it is. It presents a group of docile scholars, sitting at the Master’s feet. He is teaching them, and they listen open-mouthed and open-eared to what He says, and will take His words into their lives, like Mary sitting at Christ’s feet, whilst Martha was bustling about His meal. But perhaps, instead of “sitting down at Thy feet,” we should read “followed at Thy feet.” That suggests the familiar metaphor of a guide and those led by him who without him knew not their road. As a dog follows his master, as the sheep their shepherd, so, this singer felt, will saints follow the God whom they love. Religion is imitation of God. They “follow at His foot.” That is the blessedness and the power of Christian morality, that it is keeping close at Christ’s heels, and that, instead of its being said to us, “Go,” He says, “Come”; and instead of us being bade to hew out for ourselves a path of duty, He says to us, “He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” They “receive His words.” Yes, if you will keep close to Him, He will turn round and speak to you. If you are near enough to Him to catch His whisper He will not leave you without guidance. That is one side of the thought, that following we receive what He says, whereas the people that are away far behind Him scarcely know what His will is, and never can catch the low whisper which will come to us by providences, by movements in our own spirits, through the exercise of our faculties of judgment and common sense, if only we will keep near to Him. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Let Reuben live, and not die.
The name of Reuben stands first in the blessing of Moses, but this recognition of his natural place among the tribes is almost sadder in its suggestiveness than would have been the putting of his name farther down. When the substance of a high and ancient dignity has been withdrawn, the continuance of its hollow outward semblance becomes a pitiable spectacle. Reuben had outraged the most sacred principles of patriarchal law and primitive morality, Moses could not disregard the curse which behaviour so flagrant had provoked. Nay, in Reuben and his tribe Moses recognised an inherent vice which forbade them ever to “excel,” He could therefore only pray that Reuben might “live and not die”--not become extinct and cast out from Jehovah’s inheritance, as it seemed only too likely he might become. The fatal flaw which Moses thus discerned in the fortunes of Jacob’s firstborn arose from the instability of his character; a fault which seems by no means to have been corrected, bur rather to have been perpetuated and confirmed in the character of his descendants. A practical lesson of warning for ourselves is surely not far to seek. The impulsive yet irresolute disposition of Reuben is painfully common amongst ourselves. Too many a young man, the excellency of his father’s dignity, and the centre of highest hopes, both for this world and the next, is at this moment the subject of sorely anxious prayers, such as this which Moses uttered. And too many a Christian convert, who has been baptized like Reuben unto God’s high calling, in the cloud and in the sea, is seeming at this moment to his pastor to be coming short of the promised reward, because of his unstable will, and his fickle yielding to influences that lie outside the boundaries of Jehovah’s covenant. Not even the loving intercessions of a Moses can deliver such souls from death, if they make not an end of their wavering and indecision, and engage not themselves to seek the life of God with all their hearts. God Himself can only mourn over them, saying, “What shall I do unto thee? for thy goodness is like the morning cloud, and like the dew which early goeth away.” (T. G. Rooke, B. A.)
The omission of Simeon
The Alexandrian manuscript of the Greek Old Testament contains a remarkable interpolation in the clause of Reuben’s blessing. It introduces the name of Simeon, and refers to that tribe the prayer of Moses that “his men may not be few.” The suggestion cannot possibly be entertained; although, if it be rejected, the very singular fact stares us in the face that the tribe of Simeon is passed over in absolute silence. This omission has been used to support the theory of a later origin of the Book of Deuteronomy. It has been said that the Simeonites had disappeared from the soil of Canaan in the reign of Josiah, and that therefore the writer thought it needless to make allusion to them. But the same reason would have caused him to pass over all the tribes comprised in the northern kingdom of Israel; for they had been recently rooted out of their possessions in the land of promise, and carried away captive into Assyria. Moreover, as a matter of historical fact, there were flourishing settlements of the Simeonites within the territory of Judah so near to Josiah’s time as the reign of Hezekiah (1 Chronicles 4:34-43), and the heroine of the apocryphal book of Judith was a daughter of Simeon: a fact which, even with all allowance for the license of historic fiction, obliges us to recognise the continuance of Simeon as a tribe in the very latest period of Jewish national existence. The true reason why Simeon’s name is passed over in this blessing was the deep and righteous indignation which the inspired prophet felt in regard to the recent sin of Israel at Shittim. Simeon had headed the foul apostasy which cast the glory of Jehovah’s chosen people at the feet of Moabs vilest idol; and the bulk of the twenty-four thousand victims of God’s avenging plague were men of this guilty tribe. With such recollections fresh in his mind, it was impossible for Moses to utter words of blessing upon Simeon, or to mitigate in any sense the curse which Jacob had already pronounced upon his posterity (Genesis 49:5; Genesis 49:7). (T. G. Rooke, B. A.)
And thus is the blessing of Judah.
The name “Judah” was given to Jacob’s fourth son in memory of his mother’s grateful utterance of praise to God when this child was vouchsafed to her. It is the Hebrew word meaning “praised,” and had reference originally to Jehovah, upon whom Leah in her joy conferred that title, saying, “Now will I praise the Lord” (Genesis 29:35). But, by a very natural change, the praise which this name implied came to be attributed to the individual who bore it; and Jacob’s dying blessing embodies that new application of the idea: “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise.” The blessing of Jacob goes on to disclose the great reasons for Judah’s exaltation in the esteem of men. He was to be the royal tribe in Israel; from him was to spring the Prince of Peace, the promised Messiah, “unto whom shall be the obedience of the peoples” (Genesis 49:8; Genesis 49:10). A third part of his eldest brother Reuben’s birthright was conferred upon him,--and this, not by his father’s caprice, but by God’s deliberate appointment; so that the refusal of his brethren to acknowledge Judah as their leader would have been nothing less than rebellion against Jehovah. The sons of Jacob, however, seem to have acknowledged this leadership very willingly from the first. Reuben, Simeon, and Levi yielded the place of honour to Judah without a murmur, so far as the sacred record suffers us to judge, Only one tribe submitted with ill-concealed impatience and reluctance to the divinely appointed leadership of Judah. This was Ephraim, which had come to represent Joseph, the favourite of Jacob and the inheritor of another third part of Reuben’s forfeited birthright. The first settlement of Canaan after its conquest by Joshua shows us the secret rivalry between these two tribes, and also allows us to see how completely these two had cast all the others into the shade. For Judah and Joseph divided the whole conquered territory between themselves; so that the central mountain ridge of Palestine received a permanent name from the one tribe in its southern portion, and from the other tribe in its northern continuation. It was not until some few years had elapsed that the murmurs of seven other tribes, for which no landed possessions had been allotted, shamed Judah and Ephraim into a more equitable division of their spoils, and led to the well-known partition of Canaan into nine lots, instead of the original two (Joshua 15:1-63; Joshua 16:1-10; Joshua 17:1-18; Joshua 18:2-7). But about one hundred years later the old dual division reappeared in more pronounced and permanent form. The seceding kingdom of Israel was established through the union of eight tribes or fragments of tribes under Ephraim, who now for the second time ruled over the whole northern half of the Promised Land; whilst Judah retained dominion over the south, in which part of the country Benjamin, Simeon, and Dan had found settlements under the wing of their stronger brother. From that time forth the name of “Jew” (that is, “man of Judah”) was given to every subject of the kingdom of David’s house, whether he belonged to the tribe of Judah or not. The second clause of this blessing may seem at first sight a little obscure; but the traditional Jewish interpretation will probably commend itself to everyone who bears in mind that peculiar position of Judah among his brethren which has been already described. The royal tribe was also the “champion” tribe, bound to go before all the rest in the path of warfare and of danger. The third and fourth clauses of the blessing bring out, on the one hand, Judah’s valiant and unselfish discharge of the honourable task assigned him; and, on the other hand, they contemplate the serious hindrances which would oppose his work. He would have many adversaries, not only from among the surrounding Gentile nations, but also from amongst his own brethren, some of whom would envy him, and set up a rival kingdom and championship to his. But if God would be his helper, these rivalries and oppositions would only serve to make his glorious destiny more manifest. The Lord would set His anointed One king upon His holy hill of Zion; there He should rule in the midst of His enemies. The opening words of Judah’s blessing are, however, the most suggestive in regard to the actual history of the tribe and to the typical application of that history to our own circumstances. Judah’s triumph and rest and help were to come from God in answer to the uplifting of Judah’s voice. Distinct as was God’s purpose to bless him and to make him a blessing, He would yet be inquired of for this: prayer and supplication on the part of His chosen people were to be the condition of their effectual blessing. The Apostle Paul has taught us that “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving” our “requests” should “be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6). This oft-forgotten but Important truth is forcibly suggested in the wording of Judah’s blessing: “Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah”; for, as already explained, that name was given by Leah in token of the debt of praise which was owing on Judah’s account to God. The history of the reign of Jehoshaphat furnishes a notable commentary upon the point which is thus suggested. Moab, and Ammon, and Edom had become confederate against that prince; and in his fear “he set himself to seek the Lord; and all Judah gathered together to seek help from the Lord” (2 Chronicles 20:1-4). The answer which was given to this cry for help required from the king and from the people no ordinary display of faith, and no easy sacrifice of praise. But Judah was strengthened to stand the test (2 Chronicles 20:21-28). Perhaps this hint from the meaning of Judah’s name may be the most needed and the most profitable teaching of the blessing of Judah for someone who now reads it. It is no unfrequent experience when a Christian’s prayer fails to be answered from God, simply because it was conceived in a querulous, ungrateful, and complaining spirit. No element of praise mingled with its petitions. It was wholly occupied with requests for something that seemed lacking; whilst God was expecting a thankful acknowledgment of countless mercies which His selfish servant had received in silence, or even with discontented depreciation. Let not the offerer of such defective prayers expect any share in the blessings which Moses invoked on Judah. The voice of rejoicing and of thanksgiving was in his tabernacles; therefore the right hand of the Lord did valiantly for him. For thus saith the Hope of Israel, the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Psalms 50:23). (T. G. Rooke, B. A.)
And of Levi he said.
Levi was the third son of Jacob and Leah, and his name commemorated the desire and hope of his mother, that her husband’s heart would be “closely joined” to her now that she had borne him three sons (Genesis 29:34). The Hebrew word from which “Levi” is derived means “to adhere,” or “to be closely joined.” An undesigned prediction lay hid in the name thus given; for Levi was ordained by God to be the official link of union betwixt the whole nation of Israel and its spiritual Head. Through the Levitical priesthood the descendants of Jacob were to be joined unto God in a peculiar covenant; and this fact is distinctly connected with the meaning of Levi’s name by an inspired utterance recorded in Numbers 18:2. Yet, during the lifetime of Levi himself, this high spiritual destiny of his tribe could scarcely have been guessed; for this third son of Jacob was joined to his elder brother Simeon in deeds of violence and cruelty that drew upon them a common curse, which in Simeon’s case, as we have seen, made every “blessing” of the tribe impossible. The dying patriarch Israel, speaking by the spirit of prophecy, formally disinherited both these men from their natural share in the promised land of Canaan. They were to be “divided” and “scattered” (Genesis 49:7). And this curse was never recalled in its terms, nor abolished in the case of Levi any more than it was in the case of Simeon; only the wonder working providence of God converted it into an occasion of blessing and honour for the one tribe, whilst leaving it in its original force of a punishment for the other tribe. The exclusion of the Levites from a landed inheritance, and their dispersion amongst the other tribes of Israel, became the highest tokens of the Divine favour towards them, and the means by which they were recognised as the channels of heavenly grace to all the nation. This remarkable change of a curse into a blessing deserves to be studied and remembered by those who are conscious of having brought themselves under the inevitable penalties of past wrong-doing. Those penalties cannot perhaps be recalled, but they can be converted into marvellous opportunities of good in a circle far wider than has been affected by the former evil. And for such a miracle of grace to be accomplished, it is only needful that human repentance and self-consecration should work together with the providence of heaven. (T. G. Rooke, B. A.)
Urim and Thummim
In the blessing of Levi by Moses, the usual order of these two mysterious words is reversed, and Thummim is put before Urim. There is probably a reason for this, namely, to suggest that Levi’s zeal for the “right and perfect way” of God, amid the general defection at Horeb, was his real title to the honourable office of interpreting God’s “light” and God’s “truth” from His holy oracles. This supreme devotion of himself to “right” was indeed the sole condition of his blessing and of the Divine election which it declared. (T. G. Rooke, B. A.)
Of Benjamin he said, The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him.
The safety of the Lord’s beloved
I. He was the special object of the Divine affection. God especially loves His spiritual children with a love of--
II. He was to dwell near to the Lord.
1. By grace.
2. In providence.
3. In reference to His ordinances.
4. With regard to the prevailing impressions of the mind.
III. He was to abide in perfect security. God’s chosen dwell in safety from--
1. The curses of the Divine law.
2. The powers of darkness.
3. The perils of life.
4. The terrors of death and the judgment day. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The blessing of the tribes by Moses consisted largely in a prophetic foreshadowing of the lots which these tribes were severally to occupy in the conquered territory of Canaan. The first distinct example of this fact meets us in the case of Benjamin, who, although he was the youngest of all the sons of Jacob, stands fourth in this significant enumeration which the man of God was inspired to make before his death. It has been suggested that the spirit of prophecy caused Moses to look far beyond the merely temporal aspect of the history of Israel, and to recognise its typical relations with the spiritual kingdom of Messiah; and that the peculiar arrangement of the names was partly meant to indicate certain of these hidden mysteries. Such an opinion would be fully confirmed by a review of the order in which the tribes have been marshalled thus far. Reuben is mentioned first, not so much by courtesy and in remembrance of his birthright, as to mark with emphasis the mournful lessons of his fall. The real leader and head of Israel is Judah, and the blessing makes haste to rest on him with the first of its utterances in which no ambiguity lies. But the royal destinies of Judah are incomplete if separated from the priestly destinies of Levi. Messiah, that seed for whose sake Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had received their divine election, was to be a “priest upon his throne”; and therefore the blessing of the third son is made by Moses to follow immediately upon the blessing of his sceptred brother. So the keynote of the entire prediction is struck in a spiritual rather than in a temporal sense; remembering which fact, we cease to wonder at finding the name of Benjamin next in the enumeration to that of Levi. For the local centre of Jehovah’s spiritual kingdom in Israel was fixed in the lot of Benjamin. The famous temple of Solomon was built upon the hill between the city of David and the Mount of Olives; and was wholly in the territory of Benjamin, though, according to the Rabbins, a part of its outer courts fell within the lot of Judah. This fact furnishes the most exact and beautiful explanation of all the peculiar expressions which meet us in Benjamin’s blessing. For the God and King of Israel may be said literally to have thus dwelt between the two mountain ridge’s which formed the extremity of the lot of this tribe, and Benjamin dwelt “alongside” the holy spot; not “around” it, but stretching out from it as from the point where his safety and honour had their origin; all which is implied in the preposition which Moses uses when he says, “The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him.” Further, the phrase, “He will cover him all the day long,” may very fairly be taken as referring to the cloud of glory which was inseparably associated with the earthly dwelling place of Jehovah, and which in the wilderness had been spread for a covering over all the tribes. That sign of the Divine protection was now to rest specially over Benjamin; and beneath the shadow of the Almighty he was to abide securely day and night. The history of the tribe of Benjamin from the time when the Temple was built upon his frontier hill of Moriah yields a very complete commentary upon the splendid promise of his blessing. This member of the Hebrew commonwealth did dwell in safety that was all the more noteworthy by contrast with the calamities which befell not only the tribes which cast in their lot with Ephraim, but also the outlying portions of the kingdom of Judah. A kind of charmed circle of peace and security was drawn around the towers of Salem, and all the land of Benjamin seemed to be within that happy region. Egypt might come up against Israel from the south, and Syria might invade his territory from the north; the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, Moab and the Hagarenes, might be confederate to assault it from the east; and these hostile floods more than once filled all the breadth of Immanuel’s land; but the tableland of Benjamin was ever the last to be overflowed, and often escaped even the spray of the angry tide. The spiritual application of this blessing must be self-evident to everyone who has received the assurance of God’s love toward himself in Jesus Christ. The Christian has joined himself to the Lord’s anointed King, even as Benjamin chose to unite his lot with Judah, and to acknowledge the right of David’s house to rule over him. He has accepted Christ to be his head, and has prepared Him a dwelling place in a nobler house than that of Moriah, even in his own renewed and adoring heart. Therefore does the Spirit of Christ bear witness to him of his adoption as God’s well-beloved child. He has found a dwelling place under the shadow of the Almighty; Jehovah’s truth has become his shield and buckler. (T. G. Rooke, B. A.)
Benjamin as a figure of the true Church
1. In his birth--hard travail, sorrow, pain, and death, preceded and accompanied his birth. So in the spiritual birth, in the regeneration of the soul, there is great pain, sorrow, and anguish of mind, and even the death of all self-righteousness and legal hope in bringing the soul to spiritual birth.
2. In his name. The believer, in his moments of conviction, humiliation, and sorrow for sin, calls himself Benoni, the son of sorrow, but the Lord calls him Benjamin, the son of my right hand; witness Ephraim bemoaning himself, and the Lord’s declaration concerning him (Jeremiah 31:18; Jeremiah 31:20).
3. In the description given of him, “the beloved of the Lord”; loved from eternity, freely, indissolubly, everlastingly.
4. In his security. He shall dwell in safety by Him, or through His protecting hand and power; in battle the Lord shall cover him, as a hen covereth her chickens--as with a shield, and he shall dwell, his resting place shall be, between the shoulders, in the heart of his covenant God. (A. Hewlett, M. A.)
Safety near God
1. There is no safety like that which comes of dwelling near to God. For His best beloved the Lord can find no surer or safer place. O Lord, let me always abide under Thy shadow, close to Thy wounded side. Nearer and nearer would I come to Thee; and when once specially near Thee, I would abide there forever.
2. What a covering is that which the Lord gives to His chosen! Not a fair roof shall cover him, nor a bomb-proof casement, nor even an angel’s wing, but Jehovah Himself. Nothing can come at us when we are thus covered. This covering the Lord will grant us all the day long, however long the day. Lord, let me abide this day consciously beneath this canopy of love, this pavilion of sovereign power.
3. Does the third clause mean that the Lord in His temple would dwell among the mountains of Benjamin, or that the Lord would be where Benjamin’s burden should be placed, or that we are borne upon the shoulders of the Eternal? In any ease, the Lord is the support and strength of His saints. Lord, let me ever enjoy Thy help, and then my arms will be sufficient for me. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Of Joseph he said, Blessed of the Lord be his land.
The character of Joseph is not often correctly apprehended, although it comes out very distinctly in the picture which Scripture has given us of the boy, the youth, and the man. Its most conspicuous quality was firm resolution and indomitable strength of will. There was nothing weak or undecided in him; and from this sterling root of character, sanctified as it was by true piety, sprang the virtues which all can recognise in Joseph’s behaviour throughout his chequered experiences; a master sense of duty, cheerful courage, and perseverance under misfortune, rigid justice, and indefatigable diligence in all to which he set his hand. Ephraim was evidently the true son of Joseph in all his natural force of character; and, in the history of the Hebrew nation, we find him practically absorbing the individuality of his elder brother Manasseh. But, unlike his father, Ephraim seems to have been proud and selfish and overbearing, asserting his claim to supremacy without regard to the feelings or the rights of others, and angrily resenting every sign of resistance to, or questioning of, his right to the chief place among his brethren. Such a character is sure to secure its ambitious ends, at least, for a time, if only it is backed by the ability to rule; and in this way alone we might account for the tacit submission of all Israel to Ephraimitish dictation from the days of Joshua, the greatest hero of the tribe, and a man who reproduced all the spotless virtues of Joseph himself, until the disastrous “day of battle,” when “the glory departed from Israel,” and when Shiloh, the former centre of Joseph’s dominion and of the religious worship of all his brethren, ceased to be God’s chosen dwelling place, and was turned even into “a curse to all the nations of the earth.” But something more than the mere ancestral force of the Ephraimitish character explains this long-continued supremacy of the tribe in Israel. The distinction which Joseph claimed among his brethren seemed to be invested with an almost sacred authority by the traditions of his father’s express appointment, which, moreover, Moses appears to acknowledge in the blessing which is now before us. His richly coloured phraseology is reproduced in part by Moses in Deuteronomy, whilst the thought which underlay the words of the older prophecy is manifestly present to the mind of the later seer. Now what that thought really was is revealed in a brief incidental passage of 1 Chronicles. We are told by the author of these annals that Jacob transferred from Reuben to Joseph the birthright of the first-born son; that birthright consisting of a double portion of the patrimonial estate, as well as of titular headship in the family, such as the father himself exercised until his death. Jacob assumed the liberty to take away this high distinction from his eldest son, who had justly forfeited it by gross misconduct, and to confer it upon the latest-born but one, whom he had already singled out for other peculiar privileges when the lads were young and living together at home. And further, as if to emphasise the liberty of preference which he thus assumed, the dying patriarch singled out the younger of Joseph’s two children as the special inheritor of this transferred birthright. But some will very naturally doubt whether he did not go beyond other limits which his recognition of the Divine decrees ought most distinctly to have set before his mind. For God had assigned the headship of His chosen people to Judah, and Jacob was not ignorant of this arrangement, but had given utterance to it in his prediction concerning the royal sceptre which his fourth son was to stretch forth over his enemies and his father’s sons alike. Perhaps he may have drawn some subtle distinction in his thoughts between this regal honour, which also had a certain spiritual aspect, and the temporal substance of the birthright which he desired to transmit to Joseph. And this theory was very likely present to the mind of Moses when he adopted so much of Jacob’s former blessing, and seemingly confirmed it absolutely to Joseph. But this was a judgment after the flesh, and not after the spirit; and in Jacob’s case the assumption of a right to judge at all in such a matter was specially unwarrantable, and is all the more surprising because he had been so often punished for former acts of similar self-willed interference with the course and directions of God’s providence. Could the patriarch have foreseen all the evil consequences of what he did, he would surely never have attempted to advance the tribe of Joseph into the place of preeminence which God had reserved for Judah. It was in the death chamber of Jacob in Egypt that birth was first given to that disastrous rivalry which for more than a thousand years weakened the house of Israel, and which still points a mournful proverb for the Church of the living God. One is tempted to linger over the very serious lessons which are suggested by this striking instance of the conflict which may arise between Divine election and human self-will, and of the well-marked differences in the fortunes and character of those whose inheritance is chosen of God, and of those whose inheritance is derived from men. How often do we think to do good to our friends or to our children by setting apart for them special gifts or asking specific requests for them from God, when, in truth, we are only procuring them evil and a curse; whereas, if we had left them in faith to God, and taught them to submit cheerfully in all things to His sovereign will, they would indeed have been blest more richly than we could have desired or conceived! And how often do we congratulate ourselves upon the proud advantages which human affection or policy has conferred, forgetting that there is only one inheritance which avails eternally and truly--that which pertains to the children of Divine election, “who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). (T. G. Rooke, B. A.)
By the fountain
(with Genesis 49:22):--
I. This figure describes Joseph’s character.
1. He was in clear and constant fellowship with God, and therefore God blessed him greatly. How can we fail to be fruitful if we draw our life and all its vigour from the Lord Jesus?
2. Because Joseph lived near to God, he received and retained gracious principles. We need an instructed people if we are to have a fruitful people.
3. Joseph showed his character throughout the whole of his life. Always the Lord his God is the star of Joseph.
4. This abiding near to God made Joseph independent of externals. If you are not living in God on your own account, your religion may as well fail you at once; for it will ultimately do so.
5. Joseph was very conscious of his entire dependence upon God. Take the well away, and where was the fruitful bough?
II. This is of itself a great blessing. It is a high favour to know the deep things of God, and to enjoy the far-down securities, enjoyments, and privileges of the children of heaven.
1. In deep union with God are to be found the very truth and life of godliness. A man may possess the catalogue of a library, and yet be without a book; and so may you know a list of doctrines, and yet be a stranger to truth.
2. When a man like Joseph can be compared to a fruitful tree by a well, because he is rooted in fellowship with God, he has the blessedness of drawing his supplies from secret, but real, sources. His life is hid, and the support of his life is hidden too. The world knoweth him not; but the secret of the Lord is with him. There is the tree, and there is the fruit, these can be seen by all; but none can see the roots which are the cause of the clusters, nor the deep that lieth under, from which those roots derive their supply.
3. The supplies of such a man are inexhaustible. Infinite mercy is a storehouse for a starving world.
4. The man who dwells near to God has supplies which can never be cut off. We have heard of cities which have been surrounded by armies, and were never captured by assault, but were compelled to surrender because the besiegers cut off the water courses, broke down the aqueducts, and so subdued them by thirst. Jerusalem was never thus captured, for there were deep wells within the city itself which never ceased to flow. Ah, he that hath a well of living water within him is beyond the enemy’s power.
5. Supplies gained by nearness to God Himself are constant. Grace is not a landspring, but a well. I do not say that your root can always take in the same measure of water from the well of life; but I do say that it will always be there for you to take; and I think, also, that to a large extent you will be able to partake of it with constancy.
6. The supplies of the believer who dwells deep are pure as well as full. Draw your supplies at first hand.
III. This brings with it other blessings.
1. If you are by the well, sending your roots into waters, you will obtain fruitfulness.
Notice how Moses puts it: he mentions quite a treasury of jewels. The best pearls come out of deep seas. He mentions the precious things of heaven, the precious fruit brought forth by the sun, the precious things put forth by the moon, the chief things of the ancient mountains, the precious things of the earth, and the fulness thereof, and the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush. All these blessings came upon the top of the head of him who was a fruitful bough by a well. The best wines in God’s house are in the cellar. Those who never go downstairs have no idea of the secret sweetness. A deep experience is a precious experience. The Lord fills certain of His people with pain and grief, that they may know His choicer consolations. We are too apt to let our roots run along just under the surface, and so we get no firm rootage; but trouble comes, and then we grow downward, rooted in humility; then we pierce the treasures of darkness, and know the deep things of God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The precious things of heaven.
Things that are precious
Happy is the mall who aspires to possess precious things. We need not be poor, blind, miserable, naked. There is available for us a hoard of precious things--things earthly and heavenly, present and future, temporal and eternal.
I. The gift of life. Are you using it well? Is yours a sanctified life, fruitful of wise thoughts and worthy deeds? Do not say that if you were somewhere else, or in some other employment, or in an entirely different condition of life, you would then live a truer and more splendid life. “The trivial round,” etc.
II. The promises of God and our Saviour Jesus Christ. There are more than three thousand of these. Promises of guidance, food, raiment, defence, consolation, mercy, peace, health, prosperity, honour, glory, immortality, eternal life, endless joy in heaven, etc. Rest, then, in the Lord. Be quiet, be patient. He is faithful that promised. The Scripture cannot be broken. All the promises of the heavenly Father are yea and amen in Christ Jesus.
III. Real, personal, blessed communion with God, our Father, through the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Remember the Divine method of prayer. There is the way, and it is written plainly in the Scriptures. Listen, and be glad: “For thus saith the high and lofty One,” etc. Listen and learn: “If any man sin,” etc. Listen and obey: “If I regard iniquity,” etc. Listen and trust: “The Spirit itself helpeth, etc. Listen and rejoice: “Be careful for nothing,” etc.
IV. A good name. “Rather to be chosen than great riches.” They flourish like the palm tree. Think of the names of Martin Luther, George Washington, David Livingstone, Richard Cobden, and the Prince Consort. They are like pillars of white marble, to remind us that we may be great and good. Yes, the names of the saints are immortal.
V. The beauty of earth and heaven. Make this use of eternal beauty and grandeur. Look at the mountains, and think of God’s strength; the flowers, and think of His love; and the sun, and think of His glory. Go into the fields to find God, to the sea to worship Him. In the rich emblazonment and embroidery of nature, see the vesture of the Almighty, and know Him as thy Father in heaven, and thou shalt feel a sense of dignity and blessedness unknown before. (G. W. McCree.)
The precious things of the earth.--
The precious things of the earth
It is the poetic sense which perceives beauty in the things of the natural world, where the purely prosaic mind would see nothing to attract or impress. What we call the “poetry of nature” is, in fact, that view of nature which is in the eye of the poet observer. Dr. Shairp has, indeed, claimed that poetry itself is as true a form of thinking as is science in its estimate of external nature; and that the place of poetry in the present order of things in our universe was not made by the conceit of man, but was intended by the Maker of this order. He is sure that, as Wordsworth claims, poetry is “the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge,” and “immortal as the mind of man.” The poetic spirit invests the things of nature with the emotions of the human heart; looking down through that which is seen, into that which is thought and felt. There are associations of scenery which grow out of the lessons of history; and just in proportion as the man of poetic soul is informed in these lessons is the scenery about him transfused with their glory and imbued with their inspirations. The arid wastes of desolated Egypt have fullest meaning to him who reads in the mighty monuments which tower above these wastes the story of the Pharaohs and the shepherd kings; of the priests of Isis and Osiris; of all the legendary rulers of the land of Mizraim from Menes to the Ptolemies. The fields of Marathon and of Marston Moor and of Waterloo have a meaning in the light of their history which makes the scenery about them vocal with the praise of noble deeds. And who could look upon the scenery of Palestine but in the glow of its sacred history? But history is never so dear to us as memory. No associations with those of whom we know only in story can so vocalise the poetry of our surroundings as do the recollections of our own former days of joy or sadness in that locality, and of our fellowship there with those whom we loved, and from whom we are now separated. But, after all, the best associations of natural scenery are the associations of truth; the associations, not of history or of memory merely, but of truth--of immutable truth that takes hold of the past, the present, and the future. There is truth pictured in all nature, even in the commonest phases of nature; and poetry is the heart’s view of truth. There are associations of God’s presence with every phase of natural scenery; and he who looks at mountain, or forest, or ocean, or plain, without recognising and rejoicing over these associations, lacks the true poet’s soul and the true poet’s eye. On the contrary, he who notes and heeds them finds comfort, as well as poetry, in them everywhere. (H. G. Trumbull.)
The goodwill of him that dwelt in the bush.--
The goodwill of Christ the best of blessings
I. What this goodwill is and whose it is. It is the love and free favour of Christ to all His covenant people: that grace of His, in which there is continuance, which He ever bears towards them that are His.
1. Christ ever bears a goodwill towards His people. They are precious and honourable in His sight, they are highly favoured; His thoughts towards them are thoughts of peace, and so they were from eternity (Micah 5:2). The Church is His spouse, His body, His fair one. Every dispensation of Providence is for our good; the sorest strokes that befall us come in love; when persecuted, forsaken, made a shame of before men, His heart stands towards us the same as ever; underneath are His everlasting arms: we endure the fire, and come purged and refined out of it. 2 This favour and goodwill Christ is pleased to discover to His people for their edification and comfort (Song of Solomon 2:4).
II. Why this goodwill is thus particularly described as “the goodwill of him that dwelt in the bush” (Exodus 3:12).
1. Because the fire in the midst of the bush was a type of the incarnation and sufferings of Christ. For man’s nature is a poor, despicable thing, like a dry bramble bush that would be soon fired, as it were, and utterly consumed by the approach of God; but the Son of God dwells in this bush, and though the flame is seen, the bush is not burnt.
2. Because God revealed His covenant to Moses at the time of His glorious appearance. God is a fire to consume, not to enlighten, warm, and refresh ungodly sinners, such as have not made a covenant with Him by sacrifice.
3. This appearance of the angel in the bush sets forth the love and care of Christ to His Church, even in their greatest troubles and dangers. All Christ’s mercy, wisdom, power, love, and grace are for us; yea, His very life is on our behalf (John 14:19). It is good to remember former deliverances even in the want of present mercies.
4. Because Moses had at this season the most special experience of the love and goodwill of Christ; it is one of the top manifestations of the Redeemer’s fulness and grace to his own soul. There is a great deal of emphasis in my text, “And for the favourable acceptation of my dweller in the bush.” As if Moses had said, “Then He revealed Himself to be mine, I saw His glory as my Surety, my Redeemer, my God manifest in the flesh, and to my soul He sealed all the love and grace of the everlasting covenant.” Our first views of God and Christ are often exceeding precious ones. This was Christ’s first visible appearance to Moses that we read of; now the visions of God began; and what so sweet an introduction to his after-communion with Him as a sight of the second person in the Godhead united to flesh, and in our nature transacting all the concerns of salvation?
III. How or in what manner this goodwill is to be sought.
1. Seek this goodwill of Christ, His free grace and favour, as a blessing distinct from and over and above what God the Father hath promised on His own part in the everlasting covenant.
2. This goodwill of God-man mediator is to be sought, as what alone can give life and liberty to the believer in all acts of Gospel worship. Take away the person of Christ as God-man, and the object of worship is as it were lost, for there is no going to the Father but by Him. What can sinners do with an absolute God? Take away Christ’s sufferings, merit, righteousness, and intercession, what plea can there be for faith? And believers, when they go in Christ’s name, yet if their spirits are not taken up in the exercise of faith on His goodwill, grace, and acceptation, there is no nearness to God. Christ’s presence is our life, we have none in ourselves; Gospel liberty is Christ’s purchase and gift.
3. This goodwill is to be sought with great expectation and hope. Jesus loves a fear which produces watchfulness in the soul, but He hates those fears which breed torment. The goodwill of my dweller in the bush, says Moses; the goodwill of my Lord and God, say thou. Keep in view the sense thou hast had of past brace and favour under thy burden, and grieve for want of present tokens of it.
4. This goodwill is to be sought in its higher manifestations, and a sweeter experience of it from day to day. Moses leaves the decree wherein this goodwill should be shown to Joseph, to the sovereignty of Him in whom it dwells; but withal, the manner of expression he uses shows that it was no small portion he asks of it for him, the goodwill of my dweller in the bush.
IV. Wherein consists the greatness of the blessing, which renders it so well worthy of all our seeking.
1. The goodwill of Christ, who of old dwelt in the bush, lies at the foundation of every other blessing. The day is coming when none but Christ, an whole Christ, will be deemed a portion sufficient for an immortal soul. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness: this is the one thing needful.
2. Every other blessing is comprehended in this. If Christ be thine, all is thine.
3. This is needful to make our other blessings blessings indeed. The whole world cannot satisfy a soul without this: men may be in straits in the abundance of their possessions; have, and never enjoy; be crying, Who will show me any good? They see nothing worth calling so in what they have already. Now, whence is this? It arises from a want of God, and Christ, and covenant love, and goodwill, to put a sweetness and relish into creature comforts, and to make up all creature deficiencies.
4. This is a blessing infinitely better than all outward blessings, and makes up the loss of all. (John Hill.)
At the bush
I think this is the only reference in the Old Testament to that great vision which underlay Moses’ call and Israel’s deliverance. There seems a peculiar appropriateness in this reference being put into the mouth of the ancient lawgiver, for to him even Sinai, with all its glories, cannot have been so impressive and so formative of his character as was the vision granted to him solitary in the wilderness. It is to be noticed that the characteristic by which God is designated here never occurs elsewhere than in this one place. It is intended to intensify the conception of the greatness, and preciousness, and all-sufficiency of that “goodwill.” If it is that of Him that dwelt in the bush, it is sure to be all that a man can need. So then here, first, is a great thought as to what for us all is the blessing of blessings--God’s goodwill, “Good, will”--the word, perhaps, might bear a little stronger rendering. “Goodwill” is somewhat tepid. A man may have a good enough will, and yet no very strong emotion of favour or delight, and certainly may do nothing to carry his goodwill into action. It is more than “goodwill”; it is more than “favour”; perhaps “delight” would be nearer the meaning. It implies, too, not only the inward sentiment of complacency, but also the active purpose of action in conformity with it on God’s part. If I might dwell for a moment upon scriptural passages, I would just recall to you, as bringing up very strongly and beautifully the all-sufficiency and the blessed effects of having this delight and loving purpose directed toward us like a sunbeam, the various great things that a chorus of psalmists say it will do for a man. Here is one of their triumphant utterances: “Thou wilt bless the righteous; with favour wilt Thou compass him as with a shield.” That crystal battlement, if I may so vary the figure, is round a man, keeping far away from him all manner of real evil, and filling his quiet heart as he stands erect behind the rampart, with the sense of absolute security. That is one of the blessings that “the favour, or goodwill, will secure for us.” Again, we read: “By Thy favour Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong.” He that knows himself to be the object of the Divine delight, and who by faith knows himself to be the object of the Divine activity in protection, stands firm, and his purposes will be carried through, because they will be purposes in accordance with the Divine mind, and nothing needs to shake him. So he that grasps the hand of God, not because of his grasp, but because of the hand that be holds, can say, “the Lord is at my right hand; I shall not be greatly moved.” And again, in another analogous but yet diversified representation, we read: “In Thee shall we rejoice all the day, and in Thy favour shall our horn be exalted.” That is the emblem, not only of victory, but of joyful confidence, and so he that knows himself to have God for his friend and his helper can go through the world keeping a sunny face, whatever the clouds may be. So the goodwill of God is the chiefest good. Now, if we turn to the remarkable designation of the Divine nature which is here, look what rivers of strength and of blessedness flow out of the thought that for each of us “the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush” may be ours. What does that pregnant designation of God say? That was a strange shrine for a God. That poor, ragged, dry desert bush, with apparently no sap in its grey stem, prickly with thorns, with no beauty that we should desire it, fragile and insignificant--yet that is God’s house. Not in the cedars of Lebanon, not in the great monarchs of the forest, but in the forlorn child of the desert did He abide. “The goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush” may dwell in you and me. Never mind how small, never mind how sapless, never mind how lightly esteemed among men, never mind though we make a very poor show by the side of the oaks of Bashan or the cedars of Lebanon. It is all right; the fire does not dwell in them. “Unto this man will I come, and with him will I dwell who is of a humble and a contrite heart, and who trembleth at My word.” Let no sense of poverty, weakness, unworthiness ever draw the faintest film of fear across our confidence, for even with us He will sojourn. Again, what more does that name say? He that “dwelt in the bush” filled it with fire, and it burned “and was not consumed.” Our brethren of the Presbyterian Churches have taken the Latin form of the words in the incident for their motto--Nec Tamen Consumebatur. But I venture to think that is a mistake; and that what is meant by the symbol is just what is expressed by the verbal revelation which accompanied it, and it is this: “I am that I am.” The fire that did not burn out is the emblem of the Divine nature which does not tend to death because it lives, nor to exhaustion because it energises, nor to emptiness because it bestows, but after all times is the same; lives by its own energy and is independent. “I am that I have become,” that is what men have to say. “I am that I once was not, and again once shall not be,” that is what men have to say. “I am that I am” is God’s name. And this eternal, ever-living, self-sufficing, absolute, independent, unwearied, inexhaustible God is the God whose favour is as inexhaustible as Himself, and eternal as His own being. “Therefore the sons of men shall put their trust beneath the shadow of Thy wings.” What more does the name say? He that dwelt in the bush dwelt there in order to deliver; and, dwelling there, declared “I have seen the affliction of My people, and am come down to deliver them.” So, then, if the goodwill of that eternal, delivering God is with us, we too may feel that our trivial troubles and our heavy burdens, all the needs of our prisoned wills and captive souls, are beknown to Him, and that we shall have deliverance from them by Him. The goodwill, the delight of God, and the active help of God, may be ours, and if it be ours we shall be blessed and strong. Do not let us forget the place in this blessing on the head of Joseph which my text holds. It is preceded by an invoking of the precious things of heaven, and “the precious fruits brought forth by the sun . . . of the chief things of the ancient mountains, and the precious things of the lasting hills, and the precious things of the earth and the fulness thereof.” They are all heaped together in one great mass for the beloved Joseph. And then, like the golden spire that tops some of those campaniles in Italian cities, and completes their beauty, above them all there is set, as the shining apex of all, “the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush.” That is more precious than all the precious things; set last because it is to be sought first; set last as in building some great structure the top stone is put on last of all; set last because it gathers all others into itself. So the upshot of my homily is just this--Men may strive and scheme, and wear their fingernails down to the quick, to get lesser good, and fail after all. You never can be sure of getting the little good. You can be quite sure of getting the highest. You never can be certain that the precious things of the earth and the fulness thereof will be yours, or that if they were, they would be so very precious; but you can be quite sure that the “goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush” may be like light upon your hearts, and be strength to your limbs. And so I commend to you the words of the apostle: “Wherefore we labour that, whether present or absent, we may be well-pleasing to Him.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Rejoice, Zebulun, in thy going out.
The blessing of Zebulun and Issachar considered
I. The different circumstances and occupations in which men are placed. It is owing to God’s directing the inclinations of men that some are fond of the country and some of the town; that some love the noise and bustle of cities and seaports, the fatigue and hazard of navigation and travelling; while others prefer the retiredness and silence of the country. Some choose to dwell with Zebulun at the haven for ships; others with Issachar in the tents of the country, among the bleatings of the flocks. Nor is this different choice entirely owing to education and habit, since it is frequently seen that young people choose a different occupation from their fathers; and some are uneasy till they have changed that to which they were brought up. This diversity of inclination is by appointment and influence of God, the supreme sovereign of every community. Further, His hand is to be owned and adored in giving men ability and skill to pursue their several occupations, in giving them the use of their limbs and senses, health of body, and capacities of mind.
II. The duties incumbent upon men, however different their occupations be.
1. To be content and cheerful with their lot and calling. Every calling hath its conveniences and inconveniences. A dislike to the business to which a man hath been brought up generally ariseth from pride, ignorance, or an inordinate love of wealth or ease; and if the discontented person were to have his wish, and change with the person he envies, in all probability he would repent it speedily, and wish he had continued as he was. But prudence, diligence, and good economy will gradually lessen the difficulties of any employment, and piety and humility reconcile the mind to them. We are to guard against that excessive application, hurry, and fatigue, on the one hand, which men of ambitious and covetous spirits impose upon themselves, so that they can have no real pleasure in the enjoyment of life. On the other hand, we are to guard against a trifling, indolent, extravagant disposition, by which men first lose their trade, and then complain of the deadness or unprofitableness of it.
2. To make religion their chief business and greatest concern. Those who pretend that they cannot find time for religion can find time for pleasure, and spend more in unnecessary sleep, idle chat with their neighbours, or other amusements than would be necessary for the acts of religious worship, secret and social. Where a person’s disposition is serious and spiritual, and when his great aim is to please God and save his soul, there will be no difficulty at all to find time for religion.
3. To endeavour to promote religion in others. Thus it is said in the text, “They,” that is both Zebulun and Issachar, “shall call the people to the mountain”; to the house of God, which Moses foresaw, by a spirit of prophecy, would be built upon a mountain. The tribes spoken of in the text, though their employments were so different, were to unite in promoting the interests of religion. Thus, though Christ hath appointed pastors and teachers in His Church, yet it is the duty of every one of His disciples to “do good to all men” as they “have opportunity,” to “seek the things of Jesus Christ,” and to “exhort one another daily.” Let merchants and tradesmen, then, improve their commerce to spread the knowledge of God and religion, and to promote piety, justice, and charity. Let farmers improve their business and connections with others to the same good purpose. Let those of you whose labours God hath prospered honour the Lord with your substance, and cheerfully concur in any good design for promoting the happiness of all around you, supplying the needy, and relieving the afflicted; and thus, according to that expression of the prophet, “consecrate your gain unto the Lord and your substance unto the Lord of the whole earth” (Micah 4:13). But the great thing you are to be solicitous about is to promote the salvation of one another’s souls. (Job Orton, D. D.)
Joy in going out
The blessings of the tribes are ours, for we are the true Israel who worship God in the spirit, and have no confidence in the flesh. Zebulun is to rejoice because Jehovah will bless his “going out”; we also see a promise for ourselves lying latent in this benediction. When we go out we will look out for occasions of joy. We go out to travel, and the providence of God is our convoy. We go out to emigrate, and the Lord is with us both on land and sea. We go out as missionaries, and Jesus saith, “Lo, I am with you unto the end of the world.” We go out day by day to our labour, and we may do so with pleasure, for God will be with us from morn till eve. A fear sometimes creeps over us when starting, for we know not what we may meet with; but this blessing may serve us right well as a word of good cheer. As we pack up for moving, let us put this verse into our travelling trunk; let us drop it into our hearts, and keep it there; yea, let us lay it on our tongue to make us sing. Let us weigh anchor with a song, and jump into the carriage with a psalm. Let us belong to the rejoicing tribe, and in our every movement praise the Lord with joyful hearts. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Zebulun and Issachar
Two tribes are joined together in this common blessing and prediction; and there was a long-established reason for close community of interest between them. Their ancestors were sons of the same mother, Leah, and were born, in close succession of time, under circumstances which made it almost inevitable that, as they grew up, they should form a little group by themselves. Yet the two brothers were far from being alike. Both in character and in personal appearance they presented contrasts that were strongly marked. The Rabbinical traditions on these points simply confirm the hints which we gather from Scripture, and which lead us to picture Issachar as a large made, heavy, and sluggish man, not over bright in intellect, but honest, good-natured, and full of plodding industry; whilst Zebulun is distinctly mentioned as one of the five “men of activity” whom Joseph selected from among his brethren and brought before Pharaoh, to give the best possible idea of their intelligence and cleverness. Issachar was the elder, yet Zebulun is almost invariably named before him: a clear sign that the younger had taken precedence of the elder by virtue of his natural superiority in energy. The characters of Zebulun and of Issachar seem in many respects to have been complementary, and, with the wisdom which springs from true affection, they seem to have made all their possessions and resources complementary also, holding their lots in Canaan as a sort of partnership estate, by which each should be benefited alike. Zebulun gave himself mainly to the exciting tasks for which his adventurous nature fitted him, and sought to win the harvests of that capricious field, the broad salt sea. Issachar, more stolid by his tastes, held contentedly by the tamer toils of one who tills the bosom of mother earth; but both brothers rejoiced in common over the gains of each, and each grew richer because his labour and his chosen employment nourished the other’s store. This idea is concealed in the “parallelism” of Deuteronomy 33:18, which, in its poetic way, describes the united life of the two linked tribes in the mutually helpful aspects of work and rest; and, lest any superficial reader should imagine that one tribe was to monopolise active toils and the other the comforts procured thereby, the next verse significantly mingles both sides of the common picture, saying, “they,” i.e. both of them and all of them, without distinction of private property or of original right to the gains--“they shall stink of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hidden in the sand.” Thus also it ought to be with Christian brethren in their handling of the diverse opportunities and gifts which God may have severally bestowed. True Christian count it a holy duty to combine their talents; and when gain accrues from their united efforts they rejoice together, and no one member grudges another his praise or his honour in the result, even though he himself has no share therein. (T. G. Rooke, B. A.)
They shall call the people unto the mountain, there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness.
The seaman’s return
I. Their privilege. To “suck the abundance of the sea” is a metonymical expression, signifying as much as to be enriched with the wares and merchandise imported by sea to them. The sea, like an indulgent mother, embraces those that live upon it in her bosom, and with full flowing breasts nourisheth them, and feeds them as a mother doth the infant that sucks and depends for its livelihood upon her breasts. And these breasts do not only afford those that hang upon them the necessaries of life, bread, raiment, etc., but the riches, ornaments, and delights of life also. This was the blessing of the tribe of Zebulun, whose cities and villages were commodiously situated upon the seashore for merchandise (Joshua 19:11).
II. Their duty to which these mercies and privileges obliged them: “They shall call the people to the mountain,” etc. By the “mountain,” we are here to understand the temple, which Moses, by the spirit of prophecy, foresaw to be upon Mount Sion and Mount Moriah; which two were as the shoulders that supported it (Deuteronomy 33:12). Here was the worship of God; the sacrifices were here offered up to Him. And hither Zebulun, in the sense of God’s mercies to them, should call the people, i.e. say some, their own people, their families, and neighbours; or as others, the strangers that were among them for traffic; saying, as Isaiah 2:3. And here they shall “offer the sacrifices of righteousness.” By which we are to understand their thank offerings for the mercies they had received of the Lord.
1. The nature of the duty needs opening; for few understand what it is. Alas! it is another manner of thing than a customary, formal, cold God be thanked. Now, if we search into the nature of this duty, we shall find that whoever undertakes this angelic work, must--
(1) Be a heedful observer of the mercies he receives. This is fundamental to the duty. Where no observations of mercies have been made, no praises for them can be returned.
(2) Particularly consider them in their natures, degrees, seasons, and manner of conveyance; there is much of God’s glory and our comfort lost for want of this (Psalms 111:2). And indeed, there is no employment in all the world that yields more pleasure to a gracious soul than the anatomising of providence doth.
(3) Duly estimate and value his mercies. It is impossible that man can be thankful for mercies he little esteems.
(4) Faithfully record His mercies, else God cannot have His due praise for them (Psalms 103:2). Forgotten mercies bear no fruit: a bad memory in this case makes a barren heart and life.
(5) Be suitably affected with the mercies he receives. It is not a speculative, but an affectionate remembrance that becomes us: then God hath His glory, when the sense of His mercies melts our hearts into holy joy, love, and admiration.
(6) Order his conversation suitably to the engagements that his mercies have put him under. When we have said all, it is the life of the thankful that is the very life of thankfulness. Obedience and service are the only real manifestations of gratitude.
2. The grounds and reasons of this duty; why you are obliged after the reception of mercies to such a thankful return of praises.
(1) God requires and expects it. As great landlords oblige their tenants to a homage and service, when they make over their estates to them, and reserve a quit rent to themselves, which they value at a high rate; so God, when He bestows deliverances of mercies upon us, still reserves an acknowledgement to Himself: and this is dear to Him, He will not endure to be defrauded of it; much less that it be given to another.
(2) You are under manifold engagements to render it to the. Lord. Common ingenuity obliges to a due acknowledgment of favours freely received; and unthankfulness on that score is the odium of mankind. The examples of the very heathens will condemn you. They praised their gods, which yet were no gods, when they received any deliverance (Judges 16:24). Many of you have formally and expressly obliged your souls to it, by solemn vows and promises in the day of your distress: and yet will you deal perfidiously with God
(3) Your ingratitude is the ready way to deprive you of the mercies yon have, and to withhold from you the mercies you might have in your future distresses and wants.
1. Is it your unquestionable duty to return praises upon every receipt of mercies? Then, in the first place, bear your shame and just reproof for your manifest unthankfulness. Mourn heartily for thy unkindness to thy best friend, “The God that hath done thee good all thy life long, and deserves other returns from thee than these.”
2. It calls upon you all to be thankful for your mercies. Chrysostom once wished for a voice like thunder, that all men might hear him. O that I could so call you to this duty, that some of you might effectually hear God’s call in this exhortation!
1. How freely have all your mercies streamed to you from the Fountain of grace! There was nothing in you to engage it.
2. How seasonably your mercies have been bestowed upon you in the very point of extremity and danger I
3. How special and distinguishing have some of your mercies been! God hath not dealt with everyone as He hath with you.
4. Did not your mercies find you under great guilt? Surely such mercies have a constraining power in them, upon all sensible souls.
5. To conclude; if all the goodness of God which hath passed before your eyes does indeed prevail upon you to love the Lord, and fear to offend Him; if it really constrains you to give up yourselves, and all you have, to be His; then all this is but the beginning of mercies, and you shall see yet greater things than these. God hath more mercies yet behind, and those of a higher kind and more excellent nature than these temporal mercies are. Happy souls, if these deliverances do in any measure prove introductive to the great salvation. (John Flavel.)
Blessed be He that enlargeth Gad.
We are able to form a more than usually distinct idea of the personal character which pertained to Gad, and which he transmitted to his descendants. Scripture hints and Jewish traditions bear one another out in suggesting that this man was wild and turbulent and headstrong above his brethren; and that, being by no means content with the peaceful occupations of pastoral life which belonged to his family, he threw himself with ardour into the fierce forays which then, as now, kept the land of Canaan in a state of chronic warfare and unsettlement. It was to this feature that Jacob probably referred in his dying prophecy, in which he introduces a characteristic play upon the name which Leah had bestowed--
“Gad, a plundering troop is plundering him,
But he is plundering at their heels.”
-- Genesis 49:19.
When the children of Israel went out of Egypt, Gad marched and encamped, not as we might have expected with his whole brother Asher, but with Reuben and with Simeon, two tribes which closely resembled his own in character and occupation. All these three retained the nomad habits of their father’s earlier life in a marked degree, and had not, like some other Hebrew tribes, settled down in Egypt into the ways of an organised and civilised nation. They still preferred to live in tents as did the unreclaimed Ishmaelites of the desert. All their wealth consisted in huge flocks and herds of cattle. All their sympathies were with the freebooting mode of life which lies on the border line between civilisation and barbarism. Thus, when Canaan was settled, although Simeon parted from his former companions and sought his fortunes alone in the dry south land of Judah, Gad and Reuben kept their alliance fast, and took possession of the country east of Jordan, where alone there was room for their immense flocks, and opportunity for predatory raids. In this alliance Reuben seems to have willingly yielded the first place to his younger brother, whose character was evidently stronger than his own; and it is curious to notice how invariably Gad speaks and acts as the leader in all the transactions that attended this settlement. We recognise the same masterful character in all the men who rise up before us in the after history of the Bible as members of the tribe of Gad; namely, Jephthah, the eleven heroes who joined David at the most critical period of his fortunes, and Elijah the Tishbite, in whose rude strength and fearlessness we seem to behold the Gadite type in its best development, and to recognise the noblest aspect of the comparison which Moses had instituted in his blessing between this tribe and the shaggy forest lord “which is mightiest among beasts, and turneth not away for any.” (T. G. Rooke, B. A.)
Dan is a lion’s whelp.
Dan; or activity in conflict
1. The section in Moses’ blessing devoted to Dan offers three significant points of contrast with all the other sections of the poem.
(1) It is the shortest of all. This sudden economy of his utterances is all the more noticeable because of the lavish scattering of his choicest flowers of eloquence upon the three preceding blessings.
(2) There is no indication in the case of Dan as to the local inheritance which he should occupy in Canaan. In the case of the other tribes, from Benjamin onwards, Moses paints for us a kind of bird’s-eye view of the portions which God was about to assign to them in the promised land; but although the lot of Dan invited this pictorial treatment as well as did any other, we have no description of any of its well-known features, its fertile corn lands, its sandy seaboard, or its gently swelling hills towards the east, where Sorek and Zorah gave their names to the choicest vintages of southern Palestine.
(3) There is no mention of, or allusion to, the Divine name in what Moses says concerning Dan. No word is used that could suggest any special relation as subsisting between this tribe and Israel’s covenant God. In this respect Dan stands absolutely alone amongst all his brethren.
2. Nor does the history of the tribe do ought but confirm the unhappy suggestion which flows from all these features of brevity and of omission in Moses’ words. That history is exceedingly meagre, and records very little to the credit of the Danites. The character of their ancestor, which seems also to have been transmitted to the tribe, was crafty, deceitful, and cruel. In the Book of Judges this tribe has no small space appropriated to its doings, but the narrative is one of shame and of inexcusable sin against both universal laws of justice, humanity, and truth, and the special obligations of the Hebrew nation. Moreover, two incidental notices which we find in the later historical books suggest that the Danites disregarded the law of Moses, which forbade intermarriages with heathens, and that they fell very early into the idolatrous practices of their Phoenician and Philistine neighbours (2Ch 2:14; 1 Kings 12:28-31; Judges 18:1-31; Judges 14:1-5).
3. When we have noted the uniform tenor of these glimpses into the character and conduct of the tribe of Dan, we can hardly be surprised to find that no members of that tribe cared to return with Judah into the land of promise when the captivity in Babylon ended. No Danite name occurs in the lists which Ezra and Nehemiah compiled in reference to the returned exiles of Israel; and the only conclusion which can be drawn from that omission is, that all the tribe of Dan despised or neglected the opportunity of temporal redemption which God had given to His people as the earnest of a better spiritual blessing when Messiah should appear. How sad in its inferences is this single fact! But the sadness of the omen is increased when we read the list of the sealed in the Book of Revelation and find no mention in it of the tribe of Dan. The only interpretation which can be put upon it is, that Dan had somehow forfeited his right to the blessings of Israel’s covenant, and that, for his special unfaithfulness and sin, his very name had been blotted out of the Lamb’s book of life (Exodus 32:33). (T. G. Rooke, B. A.)
And of Naphtali he said.
It may seem to anyone who looks upon a map of Canaan as divided amongst the tribes, that this definition of locality is far enough from corresponding with the facts. Simeon’s lot would better answer to the description here, for he did occupy the southwest corner of the Promised Land; whilst Naphtali’s territory was in the extreme north, and had another tribe, Asher, on its western border. Hence it is probable that the Hebrew word translated “west” should have here another meaning which very frequently belongs to it, and should be rendered “sea,” referring to the well-known sea of Chinnereth, or Gennesaret. This interpretation would agree very happily with the actual boundaries of Naphtali upon the map; for by far the greater portion of this famous lake belonged to the tribe, and its southern border stretched in a right line westward from the sea until it met the frontier of Asher’s lot. The most ancient Jewish interpreters adopt this explanation of the blessing, and point out how well the appearance and resources of Naphtali’s portion justify the enthusiastic language of congratulation which Moses has employed. In the days when they wrote, the plain of Gennesaret and the great inland district of Galilee which stretched northward to the roots of Lebanon, were the most populous and flourishing parts of Palestine. The first fruits were brought to the temple at Jerusalem from Mount Naphtali before they were ripe for gathering anywhere else; so that the men of this tribe were always the first to receive the benediction of Jehovah’s priests upon each new harvest. Solomon drew from this same region the largest supplies of food for the expensive entertainment of his court; and in David’s time, Naphtali, with Zebulun’s aid, was able to feast all Israel abundantly for three days with stores which they brought up to Hebron “on asses, and on camels, and on mules, and on oxen.” This was an ample fulfilment in temporal things of the blessing which Moses pronounced upon the tribe. But there is a passage in Isaiah (Isaiah 9:1-2; comp. Matthew 4:1) which seems to intimate that there was a hidden spiritual reference in the lavish outpouring of “favour” from the Lord of which Naphtali is here assured. The first fruits of Messiah’s ministry were to be vouchsafed to this same highly-favoured region, a city of which, Capernaum, was indeed chosen by the Lord Jesus as His dwelling place for one whole “acceptable year.” Too little, indeed, did the men of Galilee understand their high privilege; and though they might have been satiated with the spiritual blessings which were thus brought to their door, they suffered the day of visitation to pass by them unused. Therefore the failure of their blessing in its highest sense serves now as a warning to the men who have received still better promises from God through Christ. Many of these are ready to boast that they are “full,” and that they “reign as kings,” being “rich, and increased with goods, and in need of nothing”; yet is there only one substantial ground on which to build these confident professions. In Christ are hid all treasures of spiritual blessing. He who has Christ is more than satisfied, but he who rejects Christ, or who lets Christ dwell near him unrecognised and unappropriated in His great salvation, is empty and beggared, though all riches of corn and wine may be increased to him (1 Corinthians 3:21-23; 1 Corinthians 4:8; Revelation 3:17-20). (T. G. Rooke, B. A.)
Let Asher be blessed.
“Asher” signifies “happiness,” or “prosperity,” and was given by Leah to the son of her handmaid Zilpah, in token of the joy which this new gift of God had brought to her wounded heart (Genesis 30:13). In this blessing of Moses there is manifestly a play upon the name thus given. It is treated as a good and true omen concerning Asher’s temporal lot. The next line, “Let him dip his feet in oil,” is a prediction of the exceeding richness and fertility of Asher’s territory in the promised land. Jacob had already foretold the same thing in his dying prophecy (Genesis 49:20). Fatness is to an Oriental the quality which chiefly recommends any viand. Olive oil, “butter of kine,” and the animal fat which is lodged in the curiously overgrown tail of a Syrian sheep, are to this day the peculiar dainties of Eastern cookery, and all of these were produced in abundance on the land which fell by lot to this favoured tribe (Deuteronomy 8:7-9). The figure by which Asher is here said to “dip his foot in oil” is a familiar Eastern idiom to describe the overflowing abundance of all these natural productions of the soil. Job uses it in precisely the same way (Job 29:6). The fourth line of the blessing is certainly meant to be parallel with the third line in its reference to some natural feature of the territory reserved for Asher in Canaan; but the exact force of the reference is still a matter of dispute amongst the learned. Some would read the line as it stands in the margin: “Under thy shoes shall be iron and brass (i.e. copper)
”; and this would be a perfectly the description of the mineral wealth of a part of the mountain range which Asher ought to have occupied, but which he abandoned to the Zidonians, who very diligently dug out the metals above named from their subterranean veins. Moses had noted this feature of the soil of Canaan (Deuteronomy 8:9). But in all likelihood the notion of “shoes” is quite foreign to the true interpretation of this part of the blessing; and the Hebrew word which suggested it alike to the Septuagint and English translators should properly be rendered “thy bars,” or, “thy bolts.” Here, again, we find a very graphic poetical description of Asher’s lot in the promised land. His boundary is traced on its landward side by strongly-marked mountain ridges; and on the west these barriers run out into the sea in successive capes, that resemble the traverses of some titanic fortification, and which are as rugged and ironbound in aspect as the inland region which they protect is smiling and soft. If this allusion be recognised in Moses’ blessing, the intention will plainly be to suggest the security of Asher in the portion which God was about to bestow upon him. There he should be fenced in, as it were, by bolts of iron and bars of brass, which no envious foe should be able to break through with hostile or thievish intent. This interpretation of the fourth line in the blessing would almost lead us to prefer the following amongst the many renderings that have been given of the fifth line: “According to thy life shall be thy rest”; that is, Asher’s repose from warlike labours and alarms should continue as long as his tribal existence. But the associations which long attached to the rendering as given in the English Bible will probably make most readers reluctant to give up the thought which many a sermon and hymn will have endeared and familiarised: “As thy days shall be thy strength”--that is, the strength of him whom God favours shall always be in proportion to his need (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 12:9). One could wish that the actual history of Asher furnished a happy comment upon, and illustration of, his blessing as thus interpreted; but in truth the comparison of prophetic poetry and prosaic fact in this particular instance is full of suggestive disappointment. Asher did dwell securely for a certain period within his mountain barriers, and his sons seem to have enjoyed a long season of material prosperity; but this was not through their trust in Divine protection, but through their own subtle worldly policy, which involved, alas, the faithless surrender of their highest duty to God. The men of Asher deemed it too hard a task to drive out the Phoenicians and Canaanites whom they found in possession of the strong cities and fat valleys of their portion. God would indeed have helped them utterly to exterminate their heathen rivals; but they preferred to make a cowardly truce and compromise, by virtue of which they dwelt peaceably “among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land” (Judges 1:31-32). Nor did Asher from that time forward ever redeem the shame of his dishonourable compact with foes whom he ought to have destroyed. The very name of the tribe almost vanishes from the page of Hebrew history, and it had better have been absent altogether than conspicuous as it is in the bitterly scornful allusion of Deborah (Judges 5:17-18). Yet the name of Asher is not, like that of Dan, blotted with hopeless ignominy from the list of God’s redeemed. A woman of this tribe, Anna, the centenarian prophetess of Jerusalem, was among the first to hail the infant Saviour, and to give thanks for His salvation unto the Lord (Luke 2:36-38). Though the majority of the tribe perished through worldly conformity and ease-loving apostasy from the covenant of God, yet the blessing of Moses upon Asher was not wholly forfeited nor unfulfilled. Let the lesson of this story be for our instruction in the dangers of temporal prosperity, even for the Lord’s elect, and no less in the meaning of those reverses of earthly fortune by which the backslidings of the chosen people are continually chastised. When Asher forgets the covenant of his Redeemer, “the Lord, the Lord of hosts, will send among his fat ones leanness, and under his glory He will kindle a burning like the burning of a fire”; but even in those experiences of well-deserved, correction and adversity, the soul that God has favoured and pronounced “blessed” shall not be abandoned to utter ruin. As his days, so his strength shall be (Isaiah 10:16-21). (T. G. Rooke, B. A.)
Thy shoes shall be iron and brass.
Shoes of iron, and strength sufficient: a new year’s promise
I. Thy shoes shall be iron and brass. The passage has several translations, which may serve as divisions in opening up the meaning. The Lord’s promises are true in every sense they will fairly bear. A generous man will allow the widest interpretation of his words, and so will the infinitely gracious God.
1. That Asher should have treasures under his feet--mines of iron and copper.
(1) The Word of God has mines in it. There are treasures upon the surface of the Word which we may pick up very readily: even the casual reader will find himself able to understand the simplicities and elements of the Gospel; but the Word of God yields most to the digger. We waste too much time upon the pretentious, poverty-stricken literature of the age; and some, even Christians, are more taken up with works of fiction than they are with this great Book of everlasting fact. Remember that God has given to us to have treasures under our feet; but do not so despise His gifts as to leave the mines of revelation unexplored.
(2) You will find these treasures not only in the Word of God, but everywhere in the providence of God, if you will consider the ways of the Lord, and ,believe that God is everywhere at work.
2. R.V. “Thy bars shall be iron and brass”--there shall be protection around him. Peace from all assaults, safety under all alarms, shutting in from all attacks--this is a priceless boon.
3. He shall have protection for his feet. It is no objection that shoes of iron and brass would be unusual, for the protection which God gives His people is unusual. Theirs are no common equipments, for they are no common people. You have peculiar difficulties, you are a peculiar people, you traverse a peculiar road, you have a peculiar God to trust in, and you may therefore find a peculiar consolation in a peculiar promise. We want to have shoes of iron and brass--
(1) To travel with. We are pilgrims, journeying along a road which has not been smoothed by a steamroller, but remains rough and rugged as the path to an Alpine summit.
(2) To fight with. These shoes are meant for trampling upon enemies.
(3) For climbing. We ought not to be satisfied till we reach the highest places of knowledge, experience, and practice.
(4) For perseverance. Since the Lord has shod you in this fashion, it is a warning to you that the way is long and weary, and the end not by-and-by.
II. As thy day, so shall thy strength be. The words carry a tacit hint, that we have no strength of our own, but have need of strength from above. Come down from your self-esteem: stoop from the notion of your own natural ability: divest yourself of the foolish idea that you can do anything in and of yourself, and come now to the Strong for strength, and ask your Lord to fulfil this promise in your experience.
1. Strength to abide through days. Not for today only, but for tomorrow, and for every day as every day, shall come.
2. Strength to be given daily. A day’s burden and a day’s help, a day’s sorrow and a day’s comfort. A storage of grace would turn into self-sufficiency.
3. It will be given to us proportionately. A day of little service, little strength; a day of little suffering, little strength; but in a tremendous day--a day that needs thee to play the Samson--thou shalt have Samson’s strength.
4. Our strength continuing as our days continue. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Iron shoes for rough roads
Turning this old-time word into a promise for ourselves as we set out on a new year’s journey, it suggests to us that we may have some rugged pieces of road before we get to the end. If not, what need would there be for iron shoes? If the way is to be flower strewn, velvet slippers would do. No one can live nobly and worthily without struggle, battle, self-denial. Then we may have special trials or sorrows this year. We shall need our iron shoes. It is said there was a compensation in Asher’s rough portion; his rugged hills had iron in them. This law of compensation runs through all God’s distribution of gifts. One man’s farm is hilly and hard to till, but deep down beneath its ruggedness, buried away in its rocks, are rich minerals. One person’s lot in life is hard, with peculiar obstacles, difficulties, and trials, but hidden in it there are compensations of some kind. One young man is reared in affluence and luxury. He never experiences want or self-denial, never has to struggle with obstacles or adverse circumstances. Another is reared in poverty, and has to toil and suffer privation. The latter seems to have scarcely an equal chance in life. But we all know where the compensation lies in this case. It is in such circumstances that grand manhood is grown, while, too often, the petted, pampered sons of luxury come to nothing. In the rugged hills of toil and hardship life’s finest gold is found. Shoes of iron are promised only to those who are to have rugged roads. There is a comforting suggestion here for all who find peculiar hardness in their life. God will provide for the ruggedness. There is a most delicate connection between earth and heaven’s grace. There is yet another suggestion in this old-time promise. The Divine blessing for every experience is folded up in the experience itself, and will not be received in advance. The iron shoes would not be given until the rough roads were reached. There was no need for them until then, and besides, the iron to make them was in the rugged hills themselves, and could not be gotten until the hills were reached. Some people are forever unwisely testing themselves by questions like these: “Could I endure sore bereavement? Have I grace enough to bow in submission to God if He were to take away my dearest treasure? Or could I meet death without fear?” Such questions are unwise, because there is no promise of grace to meet trial when there is no trial to be met. Grace for dying is nowhere promised while death is yet far off and while one’s duty is to live. There is a story of a shipwreck which yields an illustration that comes in just here. Crew and passengers had to leave the broken vessel and take to the boats. The sea was rough, and great care in rowing and steering was necessary, in order to guard the heavy-laden boats, not from the ordinary waves, which they rode over easily, but from the great cross seas. Night was approaching, and the hearts of all sank as they asked what they should do in the darkness when they would no longer be able to see these terrible waves. To their great joy, however, when it grew dark, they discovered that they were in phosphorescent waters, and that each dangerous wave rolled up crested with light which made it as clearly visible as if it were midday. So it is that life’s dreaded experiences when we meet them carry in themselves the light which takes away the peril and the terror. The night of sorrow comes with its own lamp of comfort. The hour of weakness brings its secret of strength. When we come to the hard, rough, steep path we find iron for shoes. “How can I get shoes, and where?” one asks. Do you remember about Christ’s feet, that they were pierced with nails? Why was it? That we might have shoes to wear on our feet, and that they might not be cut and torn on the way. Dropping all figure, we cannot get along on this year’s pilgrimage without Christ; but having Christ, we shall be ready for anything that the year may bring to us. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
And as thy days, so shall thy strength be.
Strength according to the days
1. It is not the design of these words to suppress forelooking and foreplanning in secular things.
2. It is not designed to teach men that God will maintain a providence of miracles in their behalf.
3. We cannot know beforehand what help will spring up from our circumstances.
4. Anxiety for the future is labour lost.
(1) To those who follow conscience against their worldly interests.
(2) To those who wish to reform from evil habits, but fear they will not be able to hold out.
(3) To those who look wistfully on a Christian life, but doubt if they would be able to maintain it.
(4) To those who are troubled exceedingly in regard to expected events.
(5) To those who are troubled about relative afflictions.
(6) To those who are troubled about their own death. (H. W. Beecher.)
Thy strength as thy days
What a picture of boundless variety is called up by “thy days”--even the days of a single life! Who shall delineate the manifold, chequered, ever-changing lights and shadows of the days of man? Yet amidst all the varieties, there is a general unity. There are great interests that are common to all lives, and which bind up in unity all the days of each individual life, weaving all its parts into one texture. This opens to us a plain distinction among the days. “Thy days” may be viewed collectively, as the sum of thy life--all the days of thy life,--or they may be viewed distributively, as special days, distinctive days.
I. Thy days are all the days of thy life, having great relations, purposes, or interests, to which the strength is adjusted.
1. Thy days are for salvation, and thy strength shall be proportioned to thy days’ task. The days of life are the steps of the ladder by which we are to ascend the skies.
2. Thy days are for spiritual progress, and thy strength shall be proportioned to the task. Days are given to us on earth to educate us for heaven, for the acquisition of suitable excellence. Let us therefore go on to larger acquisitions. We shall never have cause, like the world’s conqueror, to sit down and weep that there are no more worlds to conquer.
3. Thy days are for service and duty, and thy strength shall be proportioned to thy service.
II. Thy days are special, distinctive days, demanding special strength. Thy days maybe special, as affected by events which can only be met by strength from the Fountain of strength, and the strength shall be proportioned to the emergency. That is not an assurance which man of himself could give. For life is so full of startling events, that we dare not, from all we see and experience, promise ourselves strength to cope with all possible events. No doubt some lives, in comparison of others, are tranquil to outward appearance, without almost any change, like some mountain tam, now bright, now clouded, but showing the same features through all the seasons; and others are like the ocean, never resting, often tossed by terrible tempests; but to all the promise applies--“As thy days, so shall thy strength be.”
1. There are days dark with care, not merely selfish, but generous care. “Cast thy burden on the Lord,” etc.
2. Then there are days dark with sorrow, when a man must sit alone under God’s hand. And the strength is not mere endurance. There is a kind of dogged endurance of all the trials and ills of life, to which a man can accustom himself. He may not die under them, but he comes out of them with no increased capacity for action, for comfort, for hope. But we cannot suppose the Divine promise fulfilled in such a case. The strength promised will not only turn off the edge of calamities, but will make us more than conquerors over them, and turn their power into a tributary to our own enlargement.
3. Last of all, there is the day of our death. Not only in stormy seas or devouring fires does it need strength to master one’s self, but on the most ordinary commonplace deathbed. Ah! it needs God-given strength to enable the father or mother dying to leave their little helpless children in a cold and wicked world. (J. Riddell.)
Strength proportioned to the day
I. To whom is this promise made? Some of the promises in God’s Word are of universal application (Genesis 3:15; Genesis 8:21-22; Genesis 22:17-18). But there are promises which are special, and have regard to separate and distinct classes of persons: e.g., to the wicked (Isaiah 55:7); to the poor (Isaiah 41:17); to the penitent (Psalms 51:17); to the young (Proverbs 8:17); to the aged (Isaiah 46:4). In the text, Asher is the person to whom the promise is made; and if your character is similar to that of Asher, the promise is to you.
1. Asher received Christ, and believed the oracles of God. Do you answer to this description?
2. Asher attended the Divine ordinances. God will strengthen us in His sanctuary. It is in the Lord’s house, on the Lord’s day, that we receive light, instruction, and vigour.
3. Asher must have been diligent in his proper vocation; else he would not have dipped his foot in oil. We are to be diligent in business, fervent in spirit, actively serving our generation, according to the will of God.
4. Asher desired the lot of the inheritance. He looked for his place in the promised Canaan. So we are to look for our place in the inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. There is eternal life in the promise.
II. What is the meaning of this promise? There are ordinary days, which have in them no signal event, no remarkable calamity or disaster, no striking prosperity or success. They roll round in the even tenor of their course. Perhaps the great majority of our days are of this character. But in all the ordinary days, have we not found corresponding resources of help, and strength, and mercy, and supplies according to our need? There are days of prosperity, and seasons when everything goes well with us. Then, too often, our goodness is like the morning cloud and the early dew. But if even then a man is kept humble and conscious of his responsibility; if he wishes to do good, and is concerned to be a blessing; where all this is accomplished, moral and spiritual resources are supplied according to our day. You may think the difficulty to be deeper in adversity; when the tide ebbs; when there are changes, overturnings, bereavements, desolation, etc. To pass through the rivers, and say, I am not overflown; to pass through the furnace, and say, I am not burned; this is by the secret sustaining hand of the Almighty. If we are humble and patient when He seems severe, it is by the grace of God. There may be days of personal temptation, when the adversary cometh in like a flood. The dark and evil day may arrive, when we have to stand in the firmness of opposition. If we triumph, it is by the grace of God. There are days of duty, which seem to be beyond our strength; as when the scholar has to pass through his examination; or when the minister ascends the pulpit and asks, “Who is sufficient for these things?”
III. Where is our security?
1. It is in the power and faithfulness of God. Remember that one of His titles is, “The Strength of Israel”; then it follows, “He will not lie”; here is power and faithfulness in its loftiest form. God is able to keep us from falling; and He has sworn by two immutable things, that we might have strong consolation. No conjuncture shall arise, in which the strength of heaven shall not make us victorious.
2. We are also assured by the word and sympathy of Jesus. “The promises are yea and amen in Christ Jesus”; that is, they are ratified in His blood, and established in His mediation; and He is a High Priest touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
3. There is our own experience in the past. Hitherto the Lord hath helped us.
IV. If we receive the promise of our text, what should be the effect upon our lives? We answer, Dismiss all anxieties and fears. (J. Stratten.)
Strength as the days
I. What this promise is not.
1. It has no direct relation to the past--no power of retrieval and recovery. Negligence is negligence, and no spiritual alchemy can change it into diligence. This only may be done: precious lessons may be drawn out of that which has been; and thus the moral continuity of the results of what was evil may be in a measure interrupted, and good drawn out of the evil.
2. It does not bring us into any immediate connection with the future. No doubt there is what may be called grace in stock; in capital if you will, in the existence and operation of gracious principles and dispositions. You may reckon with certainty on getting large interest from these. But even that is on condition of continued faithfulness, and in order to secure that God gives by the day. It is only in the day itself--in the dispensation--in the duty--in the melting of the heart grief; in the bitterness of the disappointment, or in the fierceness of the temptation, that you can fully know what strength you will require--and only then, in the nature of things, can you receive it.
II. What this promise is. You are going some distance to a banquet. It will, of course, be pleasant if the sun shines by the way, and all the world looks fair. But if the clouds hang heavy, and the air is cold, you will go to the banquet just the same. You are going across the sea to claim a property, and you are to sail in a ship that cannot sink. It will be pleasant if there is only the ripple of quiet waters from the prow of the ship, and the flashing of the sunlight from the scarcely crested waves. But if even there should come the roar and burly of the storm, and the dash of the angry waves against the sides of the vessel, until the very masts are white with spray, you will none the less, and probably even none the later, see and claim your good estate. If a man lives well each day--die well he must, whatever his feeling be. Death will be to him a very chariot of fire to take him to the banquet of heaven; or a ship that turns back for no weather, nor ever strikes sail till she enters the harbour. Lessons--
1. Do not be managing and masterful over circumstances and providence; hammering and hewing at the “days” to compel them into a certain shape. Take them as they come; for they come as they are sent, arrayed darkly or brightly by the hand of God, and filled with such elements as His wisdom and goodness have put into them.
2. Do not be timorous and fearful and full of anxious care; you see how little need there is for it, how well you are provided for!
3. Such a subject, and such a promise is surely a call to diligence. For here you see is an unlimited promise of strength--strength to match the “days”--that is God’s side of it. Our part is to try to raise the “days” to match the strength. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)
As thy days, so shall thy strength be
When we have seen the hills clad with verdure to their summit, and the seas laving their base with a silver glory; when we have stretched our eye far away, and have seen the widening prospect full of loveliness and beauty, we have felt sad that the sunlight should ever set upon such a scene, and that so much beauty should be shrouded in the oblivion of darkness. But how much reason have we to bless God for nights! for if it were not for nights how much of beauty never would be discovered. Night seems to be the great friend of the stars: they must be all unseen by eyes of men, were they not set in the full of darkness. It is even so with winter. Much of God’s marvellous miracles of hoar frost must have been hidden from us, if it had not been for the cold chill of winter, which, when it robs us of one beauty, gives us another,--when it takes away the emerald of verdure, it gives us the diamond of ice--when it casts from us the bright rubies of the flowers, it gives us the fair, white ermine of snow. Well now, translate those two ideas, and you will see why it is that even our sin, our lost and ruined estate, has been made the means, in the hand of God, of manifesting to us the excellencies of His character. If you and I had been without trouble, we never could have had such a promise as this given to us--“As thy days, so shall thy strength be.”
I. The self-weakness hinted at in the text. To keep to my figure, if this promise be like a star, you know there is no seeing the stars in the daytime when we stand here upon the upper land; we must go down a deep well, and then we shall be able to discover them. Now, as this is daytime with our hearts, it will be necessary for us to go down the deep well of old recollections of our past trials. We must first get a good fair idea of the great depth of our own weakness, before we shall be able to behold the brightness of this rich and exceeding precious promise.
1. Ye children of God, have ye not proved your own weakness in the day of duty? The Lord has spoken to you, and He has said, “Son of man, run, and do such and such a thing which I bid thee”; and you have gone to do it, but as you have been upon your way, a sense of great responsibility has bowed you down, and you have been ready to turn back even at the outset, and to cry, “Send by whomsoever Thou wilt send, but not by me.” Reinforced by strength, you have gone to the duty, but while performing it, you have at times felt your hands hanging exceeding heavy, and you have had to look up many a time and cry, “O Lord, give me more strength, for without Thy strength this work must be unaccomplished; I cannot perform it myself.” And when the work has been done, and you have looked back upon it, you have either been filled with amazement that it should have been done at all by so poor and weak a worm as yourself, or else you have been overcome with horror because you have been afraid the work was marred, like the vessel on the potter’s wheel, by reason of your own want of skilfulness.
2. We prove our weakness, perhaps more visibly, when we come into the day of suffering. There it is that we are weak indeed. Ah! people of God, it is one thing to talk about the furnace; it is another thing to be in it. It is one thing to look at the doctor’s knife, but quite another thing to feel it. That man has never been sick who does not know his weakness, his want of patience, and of endurance.
3. Again, there is another thing which will very soon prove our weakness, if neither duty nor suffering will do it--namely, progress. Let any of you try to grow in grace, and seek to run the heavenly race, and make a little progress, and you will soon find, in such a slippery road as that which we have to travel, that it is very hard to go one step forward, though remarkably easy to go a great many steps backward.
4. See what thou art in temptation. I have seen a tree in the forest that seemed to stand fast like a rock; I have stood beneath its wide-spreading branches, and have sought to shake its trunk, to see if I could, but it stood immovable. The sun shone upon it, and the rain descended, and many a winter’s frost sprinkled its boughs with snow, but it still stood fast and firm. But one night there came a howling wind which swept through the forest, and the tree that seemed to stand so fast lay stretched along the ground, its gaunt arms which once were lifted up to heaven lying hopelessly broken, and the trunk snapped in twain. And so have I seen many a professor strong and mighty, and nothing seemed to move him; but I have seen the wind of persecution and temptation come against him, and I have heard him creak with murmuring, and at last have seen him break in apostasy and he has lain along the ground a mournful specimen of what every man must become who maketh not the Lord his strength, and who relieth not upon the Most High. We have all our tender points. When Thetis dipped Achilles in the Styx, you remember she held him by the heel; he was made invulnerable wherever the water touched him, but his heel not being covered with the water, was vulnerable, and there Paris shot his arrow, and be died. It is even so with us. We may think that we are covered with virtue till we are totally invulnerable, but we have a heel somewhere; there is a place where the arrow of the devil can make way: hence the absolute necessity of taking to ourselves “the whole armour of God,” so that there may not be a solitary joint in the harness that shall be unprotected against the arrows of the devil.
II. The great promise--“As thy days, so shall thy strength be.”
1. This is a well-guaranteed promise. There is enough bullion in the vaults of Omnipotence to pay off every bill that ever shall be drawn by the faith of man or the promises of God. Now look at this one “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” God has a strong reserve with which to pay off this promise; for is He not Himself omnipotent, able to do all things? Remember what He did in the days of old, in the former generations. Remember how He spake, and it was done; how He commanded, and it stood fast. He hangeth the world upon nothing; He fixed the pillars of heaven in silver sockets of light, and thereon He hung the golden lamps, the sun and the moon; and shall He that did all this be unable to support His children? Shall He be unfaithful to His word for want of power in His arm or strength in His will? Remember again, thy God, who has promised to be thy strength, is the Cod who upholdeth all things by the word of His hand. Who feedeth the ravens? Who supplies the lions? Doth not He do it? And how? He openeth His hand and supplieth the want of every living thing. He has to do nothing more than simply to open His band. Who is it that restrains the tempest? Doth not He say that He rides upon the wings of the wiled, that He maketh the clouds His chariots, and holds the water in the hollow of His hand? Shall He fail thee?
2. It is a limited promise. “What!” says one, “limited! Why it says, ‘As thy days, so shall thy strength be.’” Ay, it is limited. I know it is unlimited in our troubles, but still it is limited. First, it says our strength is to be as our days are; it does not say our strength is to be as our desires are. Oh! how often have we thought, “How I wish I were as strong as So-and-so”--one who had a great deal of faith. Ah! but then you would have rather more faith than you wanted; and what would be the good of that? “Still,” says one, “if I had faith like So-and-so, I think I should do wonders.” Yes, but you would get the glory of them. God does not want you to do wonders. That is reserved for God, not for you,--“He only doeth wondrous things.” Once more, it does not say, our strength shall be as our fears God often leaves us to shift alone with our fears,--never with our troubles. The promise is “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” “When your vessel gets empty then will I fill it; I will not give you any extra, over and above. When you are weak then I will make you strong; but I will not give you any extra strength to lay by: strength enough to bear your sufferings, and to do your duty; but no strength to play at matches with your brethren and sisters in order to get the glory to yourselves.” Then, again, there is another limit. It says, “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” It does not say, “as thy weeks,” or “months” but “as thy days.” You are not going to have Monday’s grace given you on a Sunday, nor Tuesday’s grace on a Monday. No; “as thy days, so shall thy strength be.”
3. What an extensive promise this is! “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” Some days are very little things; in our pocket book we have very little to put down, for there was nothing done of any importance. But some days are very big days. Ah! I have known a big day--a day of great duties, when great things had to be done for God--too great, it seemed, for one man to do; and when great duty was but half done there came great trouble, such as my poor heart had never felt before. Oh! what a great day it was! there was a night of lamentation in this place, and the cry of weeping, and of mourning, and of death. Ah! but blessed be God’s name, though the day was big with tempest, and though it swelled with horror, yet as that day was, so was God’s strength.
4. What a varying promise it is! I do not mean that the promise varies, but adapts itself to all our changes. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” Here is a fine sunshiny morning; all the world is laughing; everything looks glad; the birds are singing, the trees seem to be all alive with music. “My strength shall be as my day is,” says the pilgrim. Ah! pilgrim, there is a little black cloud gathering. Soon it increases; the flash of lightning wounds the heaven, and it begins to bleed in showers. Pilgrim, “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” The birds have done singing, and the world has done laughing; but “as thy days, so shall thy strength be.” Now the dark night comes on, and another day approaches--a day of tempest, and whirlwind, and storm. Dost thou tremble, pilgrim?--“As thy days, so shall thy strength be.”
5. What a long promise this is! You may live till you are never so old, but this promise will outlive you. When thou comest into the depths of the river Jordan, “as thy days, so shall thy strength be”; thou shalt have confidence to face the last grim tyrant, and grace to smile even in the jaws of the grave. And when thou shalt rise again in the terrible morning of the resurrection, “as thy days so shall thy strength be”; though the earth be reeling with dismay thou shalt know no fear; though the heavens are tottering with confusion thou shalt know no trouble. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” And when thou shalt see God face to face, though thy weakness were enough to make thee die, thou shalt have strength to bear the beatific vision: thou shalt see Him face to face, and thou shalt live; thou shalt lie in the bosom of thy God; immortalised and made full of strength, thou shalt be able to bear even the brightness of the Most High.
III. What inference shall I draw except this? Children of the living God, be rid of your doubts, be rid of your trouble and your fear. Young Christians, do not be afraid to set forward on the heavenly race. You bashful Christians, that, like Nicodemus, are ashamed to come out and make an open profession, don’t be afraid: “As your day is, so shall your strength be.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Kept of God
1. If God prosper His people He will still keep them humble. He ever plants some thorn in the flesh, sends some messenger of Satan to buffet them, that thus they may be kept mindful that the present life is not their home, nor the present enjoyments their heaven. An unpolished partner, or a vicious son, or a sickly constitution, or some other unpropitious circumstance, has ever preyed upon the spirits of the prosperous believer. And these mixtures of bitter ingredients in his cup of blessings, have kept him from selling his birthright for the perishing and contemptible objects of sense.
2. If God afflict His people, He will bestow those comforts which will keep them happy, and make them thankful. Hope is a grace which God is as much resolved to cherish in His people as humility. Hence, if He pain them, He is sure to preserve them from despair. While there is the deep conviction that His strokes are fewer than their crimes, and lighter than their guilt, there, too, is clear discovery of a parental hand which wields the rod, and a parental eye which smiles through every cloud that covers them.
1. How safe and happy are the Lord’s people. They are not exempt from trials, but are permitted to know that their strength shall be proportioned to their burdens.
2. Their present strength and courage do not decide how they shall appear in the hour of conflict, or what shall be their future condition. It is absurd that the believer should yield his hope because he does not find himself prepared for trials which have not yet come. He expects, in this case, a mercy never promised. God will prepare him when He tries him, will give him strength when He calls him to the onset. Our strength is not to be greater than our day, but equal. Should it be greater, we should become proud; should it be less, we should be discouraged. If, then, we find our strength equal to our present conflicts, we have nothing to fear. Our courage will kindle as the battle thickens, and our strength increase as we march on to the more desperate onset. If our present strength is sufficient for our present purpose, this is all that God has promised, and is enough. Here is the test by which we are to try our character. Do we submit cheerfully to present disappointments, and exhibit a right temper under all the present little corroding incidents of this conflicting world? (D. A. Clark.)
Dr. Doddridge was one day walking, much depressed, his very heart desolate within him. But, says he, passing a cottage door open, I happened at that moment to hear a child reading, “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” The effect on my mind was indescribable. It was like life from the dead. And what does this word say to us? “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” There is strength bodily. The continuance of this is a mercy. How easily can it be crushed, so that we may be made to possess months of vanity; and endure wearisome nights; and feel every exertion a difficulty, and every duty a burden! But there is strength spiritual. This is very distinguishable from the former, and often found separate from it. The Lord does not always give His people a giant’s arm, or an iron sinew; but His strength is made perfect in weakness. This is the strength here spoken of. For two purposes His people will find it necessary: service and suffering. Every Christian has a course of duty common to him as a man; which is, to provide for his outward wants, and the support of his family. And this is done by labour, in which he is required not to be slothful. But there is a series of duties pertaining more immediately to him in his religious character; to believe, to pray, to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present evil world. Suffering is commonly connected with service in the Divine life. It was so invariably in the beginning of the Gospel. Then it was deemed impossible for anyone to live godly in Christ Jesus and not suffer persecution. Therefore, no sooner was Paul converted, than he was told how great things he had to suffer. As real religion is always the same, some degree of the same opposition may be always looked for; and the hatred of the world will be shown as far as they have liberty to express it, and are not restrained by law, or the usages of civilised life. But when the Christian has rest from such trials as these, God can subserve their purpose, by personal and relative afflictions, which are often severer than even the endurings of a martyr. They are called chastenings and rebukes which he is neither to despise, nor faint under. Now the prospect of all this, when he looks forward into life, is enough to awaken the Christian’s anxiety; and nothing can effectually encourage him but the discovery of strength equal to his exigencies. And this he finds not in himself. The natural man has no sensibility of his weakness, because he is not earnestly engaged in those applications which require spiritual strength. The Christian is. He knows that he is as destitute of strength as he is of righteousness. He feels himself entirely insufficient for all the duties and trials of the Divine life. And the consciousness, instead of diminishing, grows with the experience of every day. And he need not be afraid of this. Rather, let him cherish it; for when he is weak, then is he strong. What he wants is provided and ensured by the promise of a God who cannot lie. (W. Jay.)
Strength growing with days
We generally hear these words misquoted, and put into the shape, “As thy day, so shall thy strength be,” as if the substance of the promise was strength proportioned to the special exigencies of each movement. That is very beautiful, and may well be deduced from the words, but it fails to take into account that little “s” at the end of the word “day,” which obliges us to understand the promise as meaning: “As thy days” (increase) “thy strength shall” (increase). The older a Christian is, the stronger Christian he Ought to be. Then there is another thing to be noted, and that is that in their original connection the words are a promise, not to an individual, but to a community. It is the last of the series of promises to the various tribes of Israel which occupy this chapter of Deuteronomy.
I. Increase of strength with increase of age. In its application to the individual life. Here is a promise dead in the teeth of nature, because all living things that belong to the material universe come under the law of growth, which ultimately passes into decay. The same sea of Time that flings up its spoils on some shores, and increases the land, when you get round the promontory is eating away the coast. And so, the years, which at first bring us strength, very soon begin to reverse their action. Nor is it only the physical life which dwindles as the days increase, but also much of the inner life is modified by the external, so that the old man’s memory becomes less retentive, and the old man’s impulses less strong. But “as thy days, so shall thy strength be,” and when the eyes become dim, it is possible that they may be longer sighted, and see the things that are, just in proportion as they begin to fail to see “the things that do appear.” They may be able to discern more clearly what is above them, as they see less clearly the things on their own level. It is possible that as the days increase, and the strength drawn from externals decreases, the power of the Spirit, the maturity of the soul, the insight into the Eternal, the Christ-likeness and assimilation to that which we more clearly behold, as the clouds thin themselves away, may all increase. And so, in all that makes the Christian life, it is possible that there shall be increase with the increase of our days. Why so? Just because the Christian life is a supernatural life that has nothing to do with dependence on physical conditions. If it were not so, if my Christian vitality stood exactly on the same plane as my vigour of intellect, my retentiveness of memory, my energy of purpose, or other capacities, which make up the non-material part of my being--the “soul,” as people call it--then it, too, would share in the decrepitude and decay. We sometimes see people, in the measure in which their physical strength decays, drawing into themselves more and more of that supernatural and Divine strength which has nothing to do with the material or the external. Is that not a reason for believing that that life which thus obeys a law, as I said, dead in the teeth of nature, is a life altogether independent of this bodily existence, and our connection with this material universe? There is no better proof of immortality, if you except the fact of the resurrection, than the way in which, right up to the edge of the grave, and even when a man’s foot is on its threshold, there burns in his soul, brighter and brightening as the darkness falls, all that makes the Christian life. But if this contradiction of nature by a supernatural life is to be ours, as it may be, let us not forget that this promise, like all God’s promises, is a promise with conditions. They are not stated here, but we know them. “The youths shall faint and be weary; the young men shall utterly fall; but they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength”--they, and only they. God does not give gifts to men who He sees are wasting them, and the gift of growing strength that is promised to us is strength that is to be used for His service. Has my strength grown with years? Let me say one word, and it shall be but a word, about the other application of this great thought. As I said, it is a tribal benediction, and all the benedictions of all the tribes have passed over to the great community of New Testament believers. The Church is heir to the Divine promise that as its days increase its strength increases. And though, of course, there have been fearful instances to the contrary, and churches, like other institutions, are apt to stiffen and decay in their old age, yet the only institution in the world that has lasted so long, and kept up so much vitality through centuries, is the Christian Church. Why? If there were not a supernatural life in it, it would have been dead long ago. “As the Church’s days increase, so will her strength grow.” But the promise of our text is susceptible of another application, though that is not its true signification, and may be taken as meaning the necessities of the days shall determine the nature of the strength given. And that adaptation of supply to need will be true in many directions. It will be true if we consider the tasks imposed by each succeeding day. For God never sets His servants to work or warfare beyond the limits of the strength which they have or may have, if they will. Again, this adaptation will shape the day’s strength according to the day’s wants. The “matter of a day in its day” will be given. There will be daily bread for daily hunger. God makes no mistakes, sending furs for June or muslin for December. His gifts are never belated, nor arrive after the need for them is past. That adaptation takes effect for us on the same condition as the increase does, of which we have been speaking, namely, on condition of our waiting on God. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I. Man’s emergency.
1. Man’s journey is along a rough and thorny road.
2. Conscious experience of wear and tear: “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” Fresh obligations of unfolding life, and hence increasing pressure. At first we only dream of bliss and peace from religion; at length we realise in it fidelity, obligations, responsibilities, sacrifices, conflicts. How real to every true man is the “wear and tear” of a religious life, the necessary exhaustion from duty. When the business and the bustle of life come in conflict with religion and pious reflection. When the conflict for principle leaves us consciously weaker, even if making us truer at heart. No conflict, however its success and triumph, without reaction. Such man’s emergency.
II. God’s provision.
1. For the rough journey, the shoes of iron and brass. Equipment proportionate to need. Thus in illustrations of the Christian life: “Conflict”--armour (Ephesians 6:12-17). “Duty”--conviction (2 Corinthians 1:12). “Journey”--“shoes of iron and brass” (Deuteronomy 8:2-4). With the same and yet higher provision men make against emergency does God provide for His people: The Arctic whaler is built for her voyage, no pleasure yacht for a summer’s day. The soldier is equipped for service, not decorated for a holiday parade. Thus with God for us. Against every rough pebble there is a nail in the shoes of grace.
2. For the “wear and tear”--the supply: “As thy day, so,” etc. Note--God’s communications of grace never anticipative but always sufficient. Men paralyse their energies in the anticipation of possible emergencies. “What shall I do,” says a man, “if so-and-so should happen?” and he forgets how he does new--the once future of anticipated forebodings. God gives not to the heart, unembarrassed by worldly cares and anxieties, and rejoicing in its gladsomeness, the strength for the hour of care and worry that may or may never come to it. God’s provisions are economic. Waste has no part in the laws of God’s moral government. “As thy days, so,” etc. But God’s provision is in the presence of man’s emergency. God gives us our desires as fully in giving us strength for the rough journey, as in smoothing the way for us and strewing the path with flowers. And more. For the effort of manhood, assisted by grace, results in a bettering of manhood for ourselves; while the interpositions of grace merely--kindly, gracious though they be--leave us as we were before, “afraid of that which is high,” and faltering in the presence of difficulties. How a man that has overcome gains confidence. “I have met a trouble before,” says he, when trouble lies ahead, “and by God’s grace I can meet this one.” Results are more from efforts than helps. It is from “the swing of the heavy sledge, week in, week out, from morn to night, that the muscles of the brawny arm are strong as iron bands.” And God assures us that the effort of our manhood will have His support. “As thy days, so shall thy strength be.” (W. Henderson.)
Help for the hard places
1. Consider the width of the promise--thy days, that is, all thy days.
2. Consider the specificalness of the promise--each one of thy days,
3. Consider the adaptedness of the promise--for every sort of day. For the day of dull routine. For the day of” weariness. For the day of disappointment. For the day of sorrow. For the day of difficult duty. For the day of death.
4. Consider the maker of the promise. He makes the promise who knows all our days (Psalms 139:1-6). He makes the promise who measures our days (Psalms 31:15). He makes the promise who is with us through all the days (Matthew 28:20).
1. Be sure of a specific and caring Providence.
2. Do not fear.
3. Make alliance with God. (Homiletic Review.)
There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun.
The God of Jeshurun
Are we to understand this passage as revoking all the threatened judgments previously denounced against Israel? No. But Moses saw, amidst all the rebellion with which Israel as a nation was to be chargeable, and amidst all the reverses which they were consequently to experience, that the true Israel would be preserved, defended, and cared for. That in these words Moses addresses the true Israel, the spiritual seed of Abraham, is evident from the name he gives them Jeshurun, “upright,” or “righteous.” He begins by exalting the God of Jeshurun above all other gods; and he does so in language fitted to impress them with a conviction of the utter impotency of the gods of the nations.
1. The description conveys the idea of glorious majesty, absolute sovereignty, power infinitely beyond comprehension or resistance. But while thus reminding them of this view of the Divine character, he introduces it in a connection fitted to awaken confidence. He does not merely tell them that the God of Jeshurun rideth on the heaven, but that He does so as Jeshurun’s help; and that if He revealed His own excellence and glory, it was in working out their deliverance, and making bare His holy arm for their protection. There as none like, etc. What peace should this truth inspire! What patience should it inspire! What confidence should it awaken and keep alive, even in circumstances the most gloomy and perplexing! If it does not produce this effect, must it not be because they are remaining contentedly in doubt whether they have really been justified and accepted with God, or are culpably insensible to the value of their privileges in having all their best interests bound up with the manifestation of His own glory?
2. The security of God’s justified people is still further set forth. God is declared to be their refuge, or rather dwelling place--not a temporary, but a perpetual refuge; and they are reminded that He is the eternal God, unchangeable in His being, and equally unchangeable in His purpose. They might feel at times as if they were altogether unequal to any new conquest over the adversaries which still remained to be subdued; but God Himself was to thrust out the enemy from before them, and to say, “Destroy them.” So it is, and has always been, in regard to the spiritual conflict of believers. The Scripture saints, in relating their experience--their fears and hopes, dangers and deliverances, seasons of depression and times of triumph, painful struggles with temptation and the strength by which they successfully resisted it--employ the very language which might have been appropriately used to describe the conflicts and conquests of Israel in Canaan (Psalms 27:3; Psalms 72:5; Psalms 91:1-4). To all who know anything experimentally of the spiritual warfare of the believer, such language will be not only intelligible, but faithfully descriptive of what they have experienced, and in so far as they have been enabled to contend successfully with the risings of a corrupt nature within, the temptations of a sinful world without, the suggestions of Satan--with everything that would have brought their spiritual interests into jeopardy, everything that would have marred their peace and robbed them of their comfort--and in so far as they can now cherish the good hope of ultimately gaining the victory over all these, their spiritual enemies, it is because they have experienced the faithfulness of this declaration.
3. From this description of the conflict of God’s people, Moses proceeds to foretell their final and glorious triumph. “Israel then shall dwell,” etc. Viewing this prediction merely as referring to the settlement of Israel in Canaan, it was, in the first instance at least, only partially fulfilled. Israel did not so conquer the land as to dwell either in safety or alone. Through their unbelief, the command, “Destroy,” which otherwise would have been accompanied by a Divine power, was not fully carried into effect. But even had Israel literally dwelt alone and in safety, yet it would have been but a type of the still more glorious state of things to which Moses was instructed to direct the faith and hope of the Church. Nothing short of the glory of the latter day can exhaust the meaning of this passage. Many generations, indeed, have passed away, and we, too, may follow them, and still the prediction remain unfulfilled. But we have in Moses an example of the satisfaction and delight with which the saints of old contemplated the future prosperity of the Church, even when they should be gathered to their fathers; for though he was not to enter on the promised land, or participate in the rich blessings which awaited Israel there, yet could any one of them, even the man who had the prospect of sharing the longest and the most largely in these blessings, have expressed himself more joyously and with warmer gratitude in that prospect than Moses did in his last words to Israel? (R. Gordon, D. D.)
Israel’s God and God’s Israel
I. Israel’s God. Truly, when Moses looked upon the gods of Egypt--a country so superstitious that the satirist wrote of them, “O happy nation, whose gods grow in their own gardens”--when he heard the wild mythology of their idolatry, he might well say, “There is none among them that is like unto the God of Jeshurun,” Perhaps Moses had seen those vast catacombs of idolised animals which Egyptian discoverers have lately opened, where the crocodiles, cats, and birds, which had been worshipped in life, were afterwards carefully consigned. Wise as Egypt professed to be, she preserved her dead gods in myriads. Truly, the fancies of the most civilised nations have invented no deity comparable for a moment to the living God who made the heavens and the earth. Moses, in the particular words here used, seems to intimate that there is none like the God of Jeshurun as the ground of our confidence, Now, ye who have trusted in God, remember there is room for you to trust Him still more; and the more you shall confide in Him, the more emphatically will you declare, “There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun.” If we rely upon men, we put trust in fickleness itself. Fall back upon yourselves, lean upon your fellow creatures, trust upon earth-born confidences, and ye fall Upon a rotten foundation that shall give way beneath you; but rest upon your God alone, and the stars in heaven shall fight for you, and things present and things to come, and heights, and depths, and all the creatures subservient to the will of the omnipotent Creator, shall work together for good to you seeing that you love God and are depending upon His power.
II. Israel’s safety.” “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Two sentences, with a little variation of expression, containing essentially the same sense. God is first said to be the refuge of His people, that is, when they have strength enough to fly to Him He protects them; but it is delightfully added, “underneath are the everlasting arms,” that is, when they have not strength enough to flee to Him, but faint where they stand, there are His arms ready to bear them up in their utmost extremity. I will mention some times when a Christian needs these arms peculiarly. These are when he is in a state of great elevation of mind. Sometimes God takes His servants and puts them on the pinnacle of the temple. Satan does it sometimes; God does it too--puts His servants up on the very pinnacle, where they are so full of joy that they scarce know how to contain themselves, “whether in the body or out of the body they cannot tell.” Well, now, suppose they should fall! for it is so easy for a man, when full of ecstasy and ravishment, to make a false step and slip. Ah! but, in such moments, “underneath are the everlasting arms.” They are safe enough, as safe as though they were in the valley of humiliation, for underneath are the arms of God. Sometimes He puts a man in such a position in service--there must be leaders in the Lord’s Church, captains and mighty men of war--and the Lord sometimes calls a man and says to him, “Now, be Moses to this people.” Such positions are fraught with temptation; but is God’s servant in greater danger than an ordinary Christian? Yes, he is, if left to himself; but he will not be left to himself, for God does not treat His captains as David treated Uriah, and put them in the forefront of the battle, to leave them, that they may be slain by the enemy. No, if our God calls a man to tread the high places of the field, that man shall say with Habakkuk, “He will make my feet like hinds’ feet, and He will make me to walk upon mine high places.” “Underneath are the everlasting arms.” Another period of great need is after extraordinary exaltations and enjoyments, when it often happens that God’s servants are greatly depressed. In the wilderness, all alone, you hear Elijah cry, “Let me die, I am no better than my fathers.” Yes, the man who never was to die at all, prayed that he might die. Just so, high exaltations involve deep depressions. But what was under Elijah when he fell down in that fainting fit under the juniper tree? Why, underneath were the everlasting arms. So shall it be with you who are called thus to fall into the depths of depression; the eternal arms shall be lower than you are.
III. Israel’s future. You have seen a man in our streets with a telescope, through which you may see Venus, or Saturn, or Jupiter. Now, if that gentleman, instead of revealing the stars, could fix up a telescope, and undertake that everybody who looked through it could see his future life, I will be bound to say he would make his fortune very speedily, for there is a great desire amongst us all to know something of the future. Yet we need not be so anxious, for the great outlines of the future are very well known already. We have it on the best authority, that in the future as in the past, we shall meet with difficulties, and contend with enemies. My text, like the telescope, reveals to those who trust in God what will become of their difficulties, and we see that they are to be overcome. God will work, and you will work. He shall thrust out your enemies, and He shall say to you, “Destroy them.” It is a grand thing to go straight on in the path of duty, believing that God will clear the road. Like the priests, when they came to the edge of Jordan, and saw the billows rolling up, yet on they went, and not so much as one of them was touched by the waves, for as they put down their feet the waters receded. Oh, it must have been grand to be the first man in that march--to see the waters flow away before your feet! So shall it be with you: the water shall come up to where you are, yet it shall not touch you; you shall find it disappear as you by faith advance.
IV. Israel’s blessedness.
1. “Israel then shall dwell alone.” Dwelling with God in communion, having with Him one object, one affection, one desire, we dwell apart from the rest of mankind, coming out daily more and more from them, and desiring to be nearer and nearer to Christ, and farther and farther from men. Here we dwell safely; nowhere safe except when alone with God, but always safe then.
2. Abundant provision. “The fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine.” God’s people are to be supplied from a fountain, and around that fountain there shall always be a superabundance of corn for their necessities, and of wine for their comfort and their luxury. Those who come to God receive no stinted allowance, they are gentlemen commoners upon the bounty of God. There is a daily portion allotted to them, and it is measured on a princely scale, equal to the dignity of the new birth. We drink from an ever overflowing fountain.
3. Celestial unction. “Also His heavens shall drop down dew.” How we want this! How dry we get, how dull, how dead, unless the Lord visit us! The Oriental knew the value of dew. When he saw the green pastures turn brown and at last dry up, till they were nothing but dust and powder, how he sought for the shower, and the dew; and when it came, how thankful was he! When that dew of the Holy Spirit is gone from us, what dead prayers, what miserable songs, what wearisome preaching, what wretched hearing! Oh, there is death everywhere when the Holy Spirit is denied us; but we need not be without Him, for He is in the promise--”His heaven shall drop down dew.” The words read as if there were much dew, superabundance of moisture. So, indeed, we may have the Holy Spirit most copiously if we have but faith enough. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The God of Jeshurun
I. The appellation given to Jehovah. The term Jeshurun is a collective term used, just as Israel, Jacob, etc., to designate the covenant people--the people who, like Israel of old, have received a Divine call to come out from the world and be separate; who, in obedience to this Divine call, have separated themselves unto the Lord, and have entered into a solemn and public covenant with Him in which they have engaged to be His, and in which He has been graciously pleased to receive them, so that they now constitute His peculium. Jeshurun is, in other words, a symbolical designation of the Church. The text, therefore, represents God as sustaining to those who are members of the Church a relation that He does not and cannot sustain to one who is outside its fold. But there must be special reason for using this particular term to designate the Church. Viewed etymologically we find Jeshurun seems to be the plural diminutive of the word upright. It may, therefore, probably be best translated the children of uprightness. This is God’s designation of the Church, indicative of its true character and mission in the world. Its mission is through the power of Divine grace to set upright that which has fallen. Its first work is to lift truth out of the dust; to free it from the incubus of error and superstition under which it has been borne down; to vindicate it, to defend it against all assaults of error, and to preserve it pure from all the inventions and sophistries of men. Broader, even yet, is the mission of the Church in establishing and maintaining uprightness in the earth. It is designed of God to be the great conservator of virtue, the great bulwark of morality, the efficient safeguard of the rights and liberties, of the intelligence and virtue, of the beneficence and charity that now beautify and gladden the world.
II. The action ascribed to Jehovah. “Who rideth upon the heaven.” It is the same bold figure, so often used by the inspired Psalmist, as when he represents Jehovah as “making the clouds His chariot,” or as “riding upon the wings of the wind.” It is the glory of natural law that it is the power which God wields, the chariot upon which God rides. The more majestic modern science shows it to be, the more do our hearts rejoice in it as a fitting vehicle for the triumphant progress of our King. Let the agnostic blindly worship the material chariot if he will, his eye dazzled with the effulgence of its glittering wheels, and his ear fascinated with its music as it glides over the celestial pavement; be it ours to pay our homage to Him who rides upon it, whose eye of intelligence looks down into ours, whose heart of love beats in sympathy with ours, and whose firm hand upon the rein assures us that all things are working together for our eternal good.
III. The object of Jehovah in thus doing. This riding of the God of Jesburun upon the heaven is “in His people’s help.” The chariot was the most formidable of all the implements of ancient warfare. The celerity with which it swept across the field of action; the momentum with which it crushed its way over the prostrate forms of opposing hosts; the vantage it afforded to the warrior by its elevated platform and protecting rail, and the carnage wrought by the sharp blades upon its axles as they hewed their way through the masses like scythes through the ripened grain: these made it of all engines of war the most effective and the most terrible. The children of Israel fled in dismay as they heard the rumble of Pharaoh’s chariot wheels. When intercepted by the waters of the Red Sea they stood cowering with affright as they saw the gleam of the chariots in the sunlight. Moses, therefore, introduces an element of encouragement peculiarly appropriate to the circumstances and experiences of the people when he represents Jehovah as an infinite charioteer riding majestically forth upon the heaven, keeping ever near His people in their wilderness journey, and ready in the hour of their conflict and peril to appear for their relief and for the discomfiture of their foes. It was just the assurance needed by a host who felt the inferiority of their equipment and resources to those of the enemies with whom they would have to contend. But without discarding from our view the special symbolism of the text, what can be more inspiring to the Church in this age, and in the midst of her present conflicts, than this thought of her Jehovah-Jesus, sitting upon the circle of the heavens, holding in His hands the reins of God’s providential government; keeping pace in the march of His providence with the progress of the Church; then always nearest when she is in her times of greatest peril; holding all the powers of heaven, earth, and hell in subjection to Himself, and plucking His grandest victories over the powers of darkness out of the very jaws of apparent defeat? (T. D. Witherspoon, D. D.)
God and the true
1. The last words of a truly great man.
2. Referring to subjects of the highest moment.
I. The incomparable God of the good.
1. His activity. Never slumbers or sleeps. The universe moves because He moves.
2. His grandeur.
3. His eternity.
II. The incomparable blessedness of the good.
1. None are so well protected from the perils of life.
2. None are so well supported under the trials of life.
3. None are so certain of conquering the enemies of life.
4. None are so enriched with the enjoyments of life,
These they shall possess--
(1) in safety;
(2) in rich variety;
(3) under the guardianship of God. (Homilist.)
The last words of Moses
Moses the man of God (who had as much reason as ever any mere man had to know both) with his last breath magnifies both the God of Israel and the Israel of God, They are both incomparable in his eye; and we are sure, in this his judgment of both, his eye did not wax dim.
I. No God like the God of israel.
1. This was the honour of Israel. Every nation boasted of its God, but none had such a God to boast of as Israel had.
2. It was their happiness that they were taken into covenant with such a God. Two things he notes as proofs of the incontestable preeminence of the God of Jeshurun--
(1) His sovereign power and authority (verse 26).
(2) His boundless eternity (verse 27).
II. No people like the Israel of God.
1. Never was people so well seated and sheltered (verse 27).
2. Never was people so well supported and borne up. The “everlasting arms” shall support--
(1) The interests of the Church in general, that they should not sink or be run down.
(2) The spirits of particular believers; so that, though they may be oppressed, they shall not be overwhelmed by any trouble.
3. Never was people so well commanded and led on to battle.
4. Never was people so well secured and protected (verse 28). “Israel then shall dwell in safety alone.”
(1) Though alone; though they contract no alliances with their neighbours, nor have any reason to expect help or succour from any of them, yet they shall dwell in safety, they shall really be safe, and they shall think themselves so.
(2) Because alone; they shall dwell in safety as long as they continue pure and unmixed with the heathen, a singular, and peculiar people. Their distinction from other nations, though it made them like a speckled bird (Jeremiah 12:9), and exposed them to the ill-will of those about them, yet it was really their preservation from the mischief their neighbours wished them, as it kept them under the Divine protection. All that keep close to God shall be kept safe by Him. It is promised that in the kingdom of Christ Israel shall dwell safely (Jeremiah 23:6).
5. Never was people so well provided for. The fountain of Jacob, i.e. the present generation of that people, which is as the fountain to all the streams that shall hereafter descend and be derived from it, shall now presently be fixed upon a good land. The eye of Jacob (so it might be read, for the same word signifies a fountain and an eye) is upon the land of corn and wine, i.e. where they now lay encamped they had Canaan in their eye; it was just before their faces, on the other side the river; and they would have it in their hands and under their feet quickly.
6. Never was people so well helped (verse 26). They that are added to the Gospel Israel are such as shall be saved (Acts 2:47).
7. Never was people so well armed. God Himself was the shield of their help, by whom they were armed defensively, and sufficiently guarded against all assailants; and He was the sword of their excellency, by whom they were armed offensively, and made both formidable and successful in all their wars. God is called the sword of their excellency, because, in fighting for them, He made them to excel other people; or, because in all He did for them He had an eye to His sanctuary among them, which is called the excellency of Jacob (Psalms 47:4; Ezekiel 24:21; Amos 6:8). Those in whose hearts is the excellency of holiness, have God Himself for their shield and sword, are defended by the whole armour of God; His word is their sword, and faith in it is their shield (Ephesians 6:16-17).
8. Never was people so well assured of victory over their enemies. They shall be found liars unto thee, i.e. shall be forced to submit to thee sore against their will, so that it will be but a counterfeit submission. Yet the point shall be gained, for thou shalt tread upon their necks (so the Seventy), which we find done (Joshua 10:24). (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
The eternal God is thy refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms.
Man’s refuge and support
I. Man needs a refuge and a support. “We make mistakes, and men misunderstand and misinterpret them, and a word or a look fans the flame and makes a foe, and our heart craves for someone to fly to who knows our sincerity and will look kindly on our error. We feel the din and bustle, the agitation, and anxiety, and restlessness of active life; our spirits often are fretted by it, our hands hang down and are weary, and we want One by our sides, ever present, ever powerful, and ever loving, to cheer, uphold, and encourage us. We realise daily our own weakness. Resolutions are made and broken. Where shall I find a refuge from self, a refuge from sin, a refuge from an accusing conscience, a refuge from coming wrath, in the hour of death, in the day of judgment, and through the ages of eternity?
II. Just such a refuge as man needs is provided for him by God.
III. What such a need, and such an offer, demand of us.
1. Your first step is to fly to Jesus as your refuge. Do you ask how? Have you not read or heard of the homeless poor in London, and the refuges prepared for them? Numbers who have no home to cover their heads and no morsel of food to sustain their fainting bodies, hasten all shivering amidst the storm, night after night, and wait hours at the door of some rooms prepared by Christian charity to receive them for a night’s lodging and a night’s food. They have no recommendation but their poverty. Go thus to Jesus, realising your spiritual poverty, and pleading your spiritual need.
2. Your next step is to rest in Him, as an everlasting support. (Canon Morse.)
The everlasting arms
In one of the old classic fables of our schooldays, we used to read of the giant Sisyphus, condemned to go on forever and ever, rolling a mighty stone up a mountain, whose summit was forever becoming more distant and out of reach. Can such a fable be in any wise emblematic of the task of human life? Can it be that life is, after all, one long and meaningless rolling of an eternal stone up an eternal hill? Let the venerable lawgiver make answer to our questionings; let him teach us faith; let him show us the true meaning and dignity of our life on earth.
I. The eternal God is thy refuge. It is an impressive figure; one, moreover, we well can understand, in the mouth of Moses. The idea is borrowed, doubtless, from that wild and awful mountain scenery of which the aged lawgiver had seen so much in his experience of the Sinai peninsula. There, amid those lonely and tremendous heights, with here and there some majestic rock standing isolated from the rest, like a solitary watchtower and frontier fortress of the desert; amid such scenes as this, as all travellers can tell, the mind of man is over-mastered with a sense of human insignificance. What more natural than that Moses should draw from these Titanic battlements and buttresses a picture, however inadequate, of the omnipotence of the Creator; a parable of the Rock of Ages; an emblem of the Divine Power Himself; a similitude of that Tremendous and Ineffable Being, who is indeed the only abiding Refuge and Stronghold of the soul of man; the Rock, the Fortress, the Castle, the Tower of Strength, the House of Defence, to which it may always resort?
II. “And underneath are the everlasting arms.” The idea suggested here goes much further than the bare notion of protection from storms and troubles without; it suggests also that God offers to the soul of man the comfort of His love, the welcome to a Father’s heart; it reminds us, irresistibly, of the unwearying pity of the Good Shepherd, rescuing the sheep that was lost, bearing it in the strong arms of His everlasting love, receiving the little ones into His enfolding embrace, gathering the lambs with His arm, carrying them in His bosom. (H. B. Ottley, M. A.)
The only refuge
“The Eternal God is thy refuge”--from what? The word itself implies the existence of peril and distress; and God, if we seek Him, will be our refuge from every form of peril and distress--the only sure refuge from every one of the many ills of which our life would otherwise be the helpless prey.
I. From the illusions, the disappointments, the inexorable weariness of life. “Vanity of vanities,” saith the Preacher, “all is vanity.” “Few and evil have been the days of the years of my pilgrimage.” Each man soon finds for himself that these are not common places, but sad realities. God has two ways of leading men to Him through the narrow gate of disappointment--one by refusing our desires, to show us that they are not according to righteousness; the other, by granting them, and sending leanness withal into our souls. I hardly know which of the two experiences causes the most bitter disappointment. And yet to be led by these facts into gloom or pessimism is entirely to misunderstand their nature, and would be the most fatal of all errors. For why does God deal thus with us? It is simply His way of convincing us that this earth is not our home, that here we have no abiding city, that if we are in any way to fulfil the true law of our life we must set our affections on things above, and not on things on the earth.
II. From the insoluble mysteries of life. We cry aloud for surer knowledge, and while to the froward and presumptuous there comes back no answer except the echo of their own voice, even for humbler and faithful questioners there is only the whisper, “What I do thou knowest not now, but thou shalt know hereafter.” There is silence and there is darkness. Our vaunted science cannot break that silence and cannot dissipate that gloom. Yes; but faith can speak to us even though there be neither voice nor language, and can shed upon our path a light which is not of earth. We see not, nevertheless we believe. The mystery ceases to be so oppressive when humility accepts it and hope enlightens it, for then we soon realise that, after all, we know all that it imports us to know. Though the walls of an impenetrable darkness are around us, the lamp of conscience is in our hand, and it shines on the clear though narrow path of duty.
III. From sin, from our evil selves, from the guilt of the past, from the weakness of the present, from the dread of the future. For each true penitent the handwriting of ordinances that was against us is torn asunder and nailed to Christ’s Cross, and there will be granted to us, not only pardon for the past, but also strength and grace to help in time of need. And when, at last, each of us is laid on the bed of death, and the moment has come when we must enter into the presence of God and see our souls, with every mask of hypocrisy, conscious or unconscious, torn away--what can help us then? “The Eternal God is our refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Dean Farrar.)
Present privilege and future favour
I. The present blessing.
1. God is His people’s shelter.
(1) Even when they are under the yoke. Even some of those who are never converted, have sense enough to feel at times that the service of Satan is a hard one, yielding but little pleasure, and involving awful risks. Some men cannot long go on making bricks without straw, without being more or less conscious that they are in the house of bondage.
(2) When captivity is led captive, God becomes the refuge of His people from their sins.
(3) He is also their refuge in times of want.
(4) When their enemies rage.
(5) When their falls into sin had cursed the people of God, and provoked the Most High, so that He sent fiery serpents among them, even then the Eternal God was their refuge. When we are conscious that sin has brought us into any mischief or sorrow, we are apt to fed--“I must not go to God with this, because it is clearly the natural and inevitable result of my sin, it is a rod of my own making.” Yes, but we may go even with that, for if the Lord should send the fiery serpents, still, you must fly into the arms of that very God who has sent the serpents to bite you; for it is He, and He alone, who can lift up the brazen serpent before your tearful eye, and give yon life through looking thereon.
2. God is our mansion, our dwelling, our abiding place.
(1) At home one feels safe. So, when we get to our God, not bolts of brass nor gates of iron could guard God’s people so well as that wall of fire which Jehovah is to all His chosen.
(2) At home we take our rest. When I get to my God, no servile work have I to do, no hewing of wood and drawing of water, like a Gibeonite, in God’s house; but here! am, His servant, happy in His service, and finding sweet rest in what I do for Him.
(3) At home we let our hearts loose. We feel at ease. So is it when we are with our God. I dare tell Him what I dare not tell anyone else; there is no secret of my heart which I would not pour into His ear; there is no wish that might be deemed foolish or ambitious by others, which I would not communicate to Him; for surely if “the secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him,” the secrets of them that fear Him ought to be, and must be, with their Lord.
(4) It is at home, if anywhere, that a man is thoroughly happy and delighted. He takes his soul’s best solace there; his eyes sparkle most at his own fireside; whatever the man may be abroad, with all his cares and his troubles, he looks to getting home, as going to the place of his delight. So I trust it is with us and our God.
(5) It is for home that a man works and labours.
3. God is our support, and our support just when we begin to sink.
(1) At certain seasons the Christian sinks very low in humiliation. But the great atonement is still under all.
(2) The Christian sometimes sinks very deep in sore trial from without. Loss of property. Bereavement. You cannot sink so low in distress and affliction, but what the covenant grace of an ever-faithful God will be still lower.
(3) Possibly you are sinking very deep down, under trouble from within. You have felt such vexations of spirit as you never thought you could have known; you have waged such a conflict as you never dreamed of; the fountains of the great deep have been broken up; and, as a deluge, sin threatens to cover your spirit, and drown all the life in your heart. You cannot even there be brought so low as Christ was, for what did He say--“My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
(4) This also I may give you by way of comfort, in any weary labours in which you may be engaged.
(5) At last, when death comes, the promise shall still hold good.
II. The future.
1. Here is a Divine work. Before yon get to your difficulties, your God will have removed them.
2. A Divine word. Whatever sins we have, there is only one thing to be done with them, and that is, to “destroy them.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The words are placed at the end of Moses’ song, and they are its crown and climax. He had wound himself up to the highest pitch of poetic excitement and spiritual fervour, and this passage is the result. He had spoken grandly before concerning the separate tribes, and the words which fell from his lips are unspeakably rich; but now he is about to close, and therefore he pours forth his loftiest strains and utters full and deep meanings, the ripest and choicest fruit of a lifetime of communion with God. As our Lord ascended to heaven blessing His disciples, so did His servant Moses, before climbing to Pisgah, pour out a torrent of benedictions full and deep, inspired by the Divine Spirit.
I. Where? “Underneath” is a region into which we cannot see. We associate the subterranean with all that is dark and hidden, and because of this it is often regarded as terrible. Life will soon end: what is death? What is the immediate result of death? What shall we feel when we are traversing those tracks unknown, and finding our way to the judgment seat of God? Not knowing, except that little which has been revealed to us, we are all too apt to conjecture terrors and invent horrors, and so to begin trembling concerning that which we do not understand. What a comfort it is to be told by the voice of inspiration that “Underneath are the everlasting arms”! “Underneath”--the word arouses thought and inquiry. Everything ought to be sound, solid, and substantial there. “Underneath” must be firm, for if that fails we fail indeed. We have been building, and our eyes have been gladdened with the rising walls, and with the towering pinnacles; but what if something should be rotten “underneath”? Great will be the fall thereof, if we have built as high as heaven, if the sand lie underneath, yielding and shifting in the day of flood. Let us look more closely into this most important matter. “Underneath are the everlasting arms.”
1. That is, first, as the foundation of everything. If you go down, down, to discover the basement upon which all things rest you come ere long to “the everlasting arms.” The things which are seen are stayed up by the invisible God. He is the foundation of creation, the fountain and source of being, the root and basement of existence. “Underneath” everything “are the everlasting arms.” Most true is this with regard to His Church. He chose her and redeemed her to Himself: the very idea of a church is from the Lord alone.
2. “Underneath are the everlasting arms,” in the sense of being the bottom and end and object of everything. Underneath the best events are the arms of love to make them good, and underneath the worst that can happen are the selfsame everlasting arms to moderate and overrule them. As the design, and object of all, “underneath are the everlasting arms.”
3. I take the text, “Underneath are the everlasting arms,” to mean next that the arms of God are there as the preservation of His people. Holiness, strength of faith, and ultimate perfection are the things which we must daily aim at, but it is a blessed consolation that when through infirmity or carelessness we do not fully maintain our consecrated walk we are not therefore cast away forever, for it is written, “Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with His hand.” “Underneath are the everlasting arms.”
4. The everlasting arms are the rest of His people. If these everlasting arms are always outstretched to preserve me lest I totter in weakness and fall into destruction, then on those arms let me lean my whole weight for time and for eternity. That is the practical lesson of this choice word.
5. The text gives a promise of exaltation. The merciful God is great at a deadlift.
II. What is it which is beneath us? The everlasting arms.
1. The arms of everlasting purpose. We have to deal with one whose gifts and calling are without repentance.
2. The arms of everlasting love. Love has hands and arms with which it draws us, and these are at this moment underlying all the dealings of God with us.
3. The arms of power. Strength is needed to uphold the people of God lest they fall to their confusion, and that strength is always ready, nay, it is always in exercise. He is able to keep thee from falling and to present thee faultless, and He will do it.
4. The arms of immutability.
5. The arms of everlasting blessing.
III. When? The only answer is now and for evermore.
1. Now; at this moment, the everlasting arms are underneath us. The life of a Christian is described as walking by faith, and to my mind walking by faith is the most extraordinary miracle ever beheld beneath the sun. Walking on the waves, as Peter did, is a type of the life of every Christian. I have sometimes likened it to ascending an invisible staircase far up into the clouds. You cannot see a step before you, but you wind up towards the light. When you look downward all is dark, and before you lies nothing visible but cloud, while beneath you yawns a fathomless abyss. Yet we have climbed, some of us, now for years up this perpetually ascending stair, never seeing an inch before us. We have often paused almost in horror, and asked in wonder, “What next, and what next?” Yet what we thought was cloud has proved to be solid rock; darkness has been light before us, and slippery places have been safe.
2. So it shall be forever and forever, for the arms are everlasting in their position as well as their power. Now thou hast come to die; thou hast gathered up thy feet in the bed; the death sweat stands upon thy brow: thou art sinking so far as this life is concerned among the sons of men, but underneath thee shall then be the everlasting arms. Beautifully has Bunyan described confidence in death, when he pictures the pilgrims passing the river. Christian cried out to young Hopeful, “I sink in deep waters, the billows go over my head, all his waves go over me.” Then said Hopeful, “Be of good cheer, my brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good.” Thus shall it be with you. You shall feel the bottom of death’s chill river, but you shall say “it is good”; for underneath are the everlasting arms. Then comes the last plunge, and we shall be as when a man stands on the edge of a precipice and leaps over into the clouds below him. You need not fear to take your last farewell and drop into your Father’s arms, for underneath you shall be the everlasting arms; and oh, how sweetly shall you be caught up together with the Lord in the air, pressed to the bosom of the great Father, and borne upward into the heaven of heavens.
IV. What then?
1. Let us look underneath. It is well to look underneath an outward providence when it frowns darkly upon you, for it conceals the eternal purpose of love.
2. Let us lean heavily. God loves His children to treat Him with entire confidence. Your load is no burden to Him.
3. Let us rise confidently. Be not afraid of high doctrines, or high enjoyments, or high attainments in holiness. Go as high as you like, for underneath you are the everlasting arms. It would be dangerous to speculate, but it is safe to believe.
4. Let us dare unhesitatingly, and be very courageous for our God. Are you called upon to lose everything for Christ? Go on and leap like Curtius into the gulf for your Lord Jesus, for underneath you are the everlasting arms. Does your Master call you to an enterprise which seems impossible? Nevertheless, if God has called you to it, attempt it, for He rendereth to every man according to his work. Remember what the negro said: “If Massa Jesus say to me, ‘Sam, you jump through that brick wall,’ I jump. It is Sam’s business to jump. It is Massa’s work to make me go through the wall.” So it is with you. It is yours to leap forward when the captain gives the watchword, and in confidence to attempt what mere nature cannot achieve, for the supernatural is still with us. Underneath us are the everlasting arms. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The everlasting arms
This short passage is found in the midst of a mass of gold, sentences containing the richest treasures of truth. All this spiritual wealth is the heritage of the people of God. Notice, in verses 26-29, how near God is said to be to His people. Above, before, around, and in the text beneath us.
I. The quarter that is thus honourably secured. “Underneath.”
1. The point of mysterious assault. You may be tempted by Satan, but it shall only be in a measure; God will not let him put forth all his diabolical strength.
2. The place of our daily pilgrimage. Some of you go forth to your daily labours, and you find the place of your service to be a real wilderness, full of trial and everything that is unpleasant to you. Yet look again, with eyes touched with heaven’s eye-salve, and instead of seeing the bitter poverty, and the grinding toil, and the daily trial, you will begin to see that God is in it all, and “underneath are the everlasting arms.”
3. The place of perilous descent. You cannot go so low but that God’s arms of love are lower still.
4. A matter of intense concern. Examine your foundations.
5. The secret of singular discoveries that will yet be made. Perhaps some of us are in sore perplexity; we cannot understand the Lord’s providential dealings with us. He does not always tell us the reason for His actions; we might not understand if He did, but we may rest assured that He is working out purposes of infinite love. He ceases not to care for us even when things appear to be at their very worst. I bear my willing witness to the faithfulness of God; I am not so old as some, but I am old enough to have gone through fire, and through water, and I am here to testify that I have not been burned by the one, nor drowned by the other. Cannot many of you say the same? In your sorest trials, and in your hottest furnaces, has He not been specially present with you, and bestowed great blessings upon you?
II. The manner in which this quarter is secured.
1. God Himself is close to us, guaranteeing the eternal safety of all who trust in Him. Even the false prophet, Mahomet, had a strong faith in God,--in Allah,--and when he fled for the first time, and hid in a cave with only one friend, his companion said to him, “Our pursuers are after us, and there are only two of us.” “Stop,” exclaimed Mahomet, “there are three, for Allah is here!” It was the utterance of a brave and grand faith; would that his whole career had been in harmony with it! Wherever there are two of God’s people, there is Another with them, for God is there. Mr. Wesley said, as he died, “The best of all is, God is with us”; and that is the best of all, is it not?
2. The Lord’s immutable purpose is being fulfilled. Where God’s arms are, He is at work, and He is at work accomplishing His purposes of grace.
3. His inexhaustible patience is waiting its time. “Underneath are the everlasting arms,” bearing up thy load, sustaining it with long endurance, while He keeps on working for thee--invisible, yet active on thy behalf.
III. There are times when this text is very precious to believers.
1. When we are very sick and very feeble. It is delightful to feel that our feebleness impinges on Omnipotence; that, just when there is nothing left to us, then God comes in with His fulness, and bears us up.
2. When burdened with sore trouble, or oppressed with heavy labours. The most wonderful joys that ever were felt by mortal hearts, have been felt by men who, on the morrow, were to be burned at the stake; but whose very souls have danced within them because of the unspeakable delight which the presence of God has given to them. I think it was Socrates who said that “Philosophers could be merry without music.” I take the statement from his mouth, and alter it, and say, Christians can be happy without happy circumstances; they can sometimes, like nightingales, sing best in dark nights. Their joy is not mere outward mirth. Sorrows fall upon them; yet, from the deep that lieth underneath, wells up yet more exceeding joy.
3. When trembling and shaking. Your wing feathers will grow by your very attempt to fly; the possibilities of grace are boundless; leave yourself to them. Be not always weak and trembling; God help you to become as a David, and you who are as David to become as an angel of the Lord!
4. The hour will come when everything will begin to melt away beneath your feet. Earthly comforts will fail you, friends will be unable to help you; they can wipe the clammy sweat from your brow, and moisten your lips with a drop of water, but they cannot go with you on the great voyage upon which you are about to be launched. When heart and flesh fail, then may the Lord speak to you the sweet words before us, “Underneath are the everlasting arms”! It will be a sinking to the flesh, but a rising to the spirit. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Is the everlasting arms
There are two sides to a religious life. One is the active side. We are urged to faithfulness in all duty, to activity in all service, to victoriousness in all struggle, to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. But there is another side. We are to trust, to have quietness and confidence, to repose on God. The picture suggested is that of a little child, lying in the strong arms of a father who is able to withstand all storms and dangers. God comes to us first in our infancy, in our mothers, who bear us in their arms. Yet they are only dim revealings of God for a time. They leave us after teaching us a little of God’s tenderness, but God Himself remains when they are gone, and His arms never unclasp. The thought of the embracing arms is very suggestive. The figure is to be interpreted by what it would mean in human friendship.
1. One meaning is protection. A father puts his arm about his child when it is in danger. God protects His children. “Thou hast with Thine arm redeemed Thy people.” “Be Thou their arm every morning.” “His arm brought salvation.”
2. Another meaning is affection. The father’s arm drawn about a child is a token of love. The child is held in the father’s bosom, near his heart. The shepherd carries the lambs in his bosom. John lay on Jesus’ breast. The mother holds the child in her bosom because she loves it. This picture of God embracing His children in His arms tells of His love for them. His love is tender, close, intimate. He holds them in the place of affection.
3. Another thought suggested by an arm is strength. A mother’s arm may be frail physically, but love makes it strong. When it is folded about a feeble child, all the power of the universe cannot tear the child away. We know what it is in human friendship to have one upon whose arm we can lean with confidence. There are some people whose mere presence seems to give us a sense of security. We believe in them. In their quiet peace there is a strength which imparts itself to all who lean upon them. Every true human friend is more or less a strength to us. Yet the surest, strongest human strength is but a fragment of the Divine strength. This is Omnipotence. “In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength.”
4. Another suggestion is endurance. The arms of God are “everlasting.” Human arms grow weary even in love’s embrace; they cannot long press the child to the bosom. Soon they lie folded in death. So pathetic is human life with its broken affections, its little moments of love, its embraces that are tom away in one hour. But these are everlasting arms--these arms of God. They shall never unclasp.
5. There is another important suggestion in the word “underneath.” Not only do the arms of God embrace the child, but they are underneath--ever underneath. That means that we can never sink, for these arms will ever be beneath us, wherever we may be east. We cannot sink below them or out of their clasp. And when death comes, and every earthly thing is gone from beneath us, and we sink away into what seems darkness and the shadow of death--out of all human love, out of warmth and gladness and sweet life, into the gloom and strange mystery of death, still it will be only into the everlasting arms. (J. R. Miller, D. D.)
The everlasting arms-a thought for the new year
“Underneath are the everlasting arms,”--that was the repeated burden of the great men of Israel. They lived in the midst of national calamities and distresses. They were defeated, puzzled, baffled. The way looked dark. Then they fall back on the one great reestablishing thought: after all, it is God’s world. It is not going to ruin. Changes which seemed tremendous are not fatal or final. Israel dwells in safety, for God holds us in His arms. We need some such broad, deep confidence as we enter a new year. We get involved in small issues and engrossed in personal problems, and people sometimes seem so malicious, and things seem to be going so wrong that it is as if we heard the noise of some approaching Niagara. Then we fall back on the truth that after all it is not our world. We can blight it or help it, but we do not decide its issues. In the midst of such a time of social distress, Mr. Lowell, in one of his lectures, wrote: “I take great comfort in God. I think He is considerably amused sometimes, but on the whole loves us and would not let us go at the matchbox if He did not know that the frame of the universe was fireproof.” That is the modern statement of the underlying faith and self-control and patience which come of confessing that in this world it is not we alone who do it all. “Why so hot, little man?” says Mr. Emerson. “I take great comfort in God,” says Mr. Lowell; and the Old Testament, with a much tenderer note, repeats, “Underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Prof. F. G. Peabody.)
Happy art thou, O Israel.
The peerless nation
The word “Israel” never grows old. It is a name that, though it figures on the page of history as a name of long, long ago, still lives, and lives to represent a living people at this day. When Daniel interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he said (Daniel 2:44). That kingdom is the kingdom of Immanuel It is composed of those who love and trust and serve the once despised Jesus. These are the true “Israel.” The true Israel, like the Israel of old, have been saved out of Egypt. Egypt represents darkness, bondage, misery, idolatry, the whip of the taskmaster, the toilsome mockery of vain labour--bricks without straw. Again Israel today, like the Israel of old, is a separate and distinctive people. Those ancient people were altogether different from the various nations who dwelt around them, and through whose territories they passed. They were subjected to singular laws, such as none other people would acknowledge or obey. They had a religion, had customs unlike those of any other race or tribe. Their fashion of dress, their mode of speech, their manner of worship, their acknowledgment of a King unseen, a sceptre superhuman--all these proclaimed them to be peculiar, separate, distinct, alone. All the world besides were Gentiles; they alone were Jews. That is the unchanging characteristic of the real, spiritual Israel of God today. This distinction does not now refer to any special external sign. It is not a matter of dress, of language, or of manners. It is a difference in moral allegiance, a difference in heart, a difference in motives, a difference in aims and ends; a difference made evident by a godly and a consecrated life. “Come ye out from among them!” says the Book, prompt and peremptory. Where it is so, then, “happiest is Israel, saved of the Lord.” Our Israel, like Israel of old, is a pilgrim people. From the Egypt of bondage the former marched, without long-abiding resting place, to the land of promise that lay beyond. So the Saviour’s Israel goes forward, forward towards holiness, forward towards heaven. “This is not their rest,” and they know it; and so they will not set their affections on things of the earth; will not clog and trammel themselves with aught that will hinder their march, or risk their ultimate inheritance. Each one grips his staff, and girds his loins and goes on his pilgrim way, “Westward ho,” and often sees the distant hills of Canaan tinged with the glow of the setting sun. Happy thus, I tell you, is Israel, for he is the saved of the Lord, and the crowning glory of that salvation shines brightly on before. Again, Israel, like the Israel of old, is a tried and tempted people. They had hardships and sufferings, they had perils and pains. The more they were loyal to God and their leader, the more they were plagued by the hostilities of men. It is so with Israel still. They can buy a little transient ease, by cringing to custom, toying with expediency, shirking duty and coquetting with the world; but it is dearly bought; and as with the former Israel, such alliances bring a harvest of thorns. “In the world ye shall have tribulation, but in Me shall ye have peace,” and with that compensation, the very trials of the way become triumphs, and the crosses are transformed to crowns. “Behold, we count them happy that endure.” “Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.” O yes, Moses speaks the simple truth, Israel, Immanuel’s Israel is happy I He is chosen of God. “I have loved thee,” He says, “with an everlasting love.” “With loving kindness have I chosen thee, my jewel, my portion, my delight!” He is redeemed! Out of what bondage, what darkness, what slavish toil his God hath brought him! Out of what deadly peril He hath snatched him! Out of what dread and doubt and fear and sad distress He hath uplifted, him! “His own right hand and holy arm hath gotten Him the victory!” Besides, Israel is led by His hand, guarded by His arm, cheered by His presence. He appoints Israel’s every place and circumstance. He marks out all their way. He keeps their foot from perilous byways, and like Greatheart with the pilgrims, goeth with drawn sword before them all the way. (J. J. Wray.)
The happiness of God’s chosen people
I. The guidance of a Divine Leader. Two elements here meet in the special knowledge which is supplied for the guidance of the Christian Israel; elements which in knowledge are of supreme value. There is the element of importance and the element of certainty, Christ has not come into the world to lead His Israel, without the need and the capacity to make the most important of all questions known. The pardon of sin and the way in which it is to be secured; the standard of duty and the means of being raised up to it; the existence of a life beyond the grave and the possibility of reaching it; these, and all that is included in these, are the points on which the God of Israel through His Son has showed His people light; and therefore the glad strain is everywhere heard, “Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound!” But the certainty of this knowledge is equal to its importance. It is often said, How can a professed revelation which deals with matters of history, and history too, now hundreds of years old, bring with it certainty, original and soul satisfying certainty? Now I am prepared to take up this challenge, and to show that Christians have an original and soul satisfying certainty in regard to Christ and His salvation, such as men have not in regard to many of the operations of their daily life. How much of your most needful knowledge in ordinary life is second hand! But in regard to salvation, the highest and saving knowledge must be repeated by everyone in direct contact with the living God, who carries the testimony of His Word home to the soul by the voice of conscience and of the Holy Spirit. Surely, then, those are blessed to whom a fountain of certainty is thus opened, which flows with ever-increasing stream.
II. The memory of a great deliverance. The Christian, awakened to the ruin of his state through sin, has stood as on the brink of a Red Sea of guilt, formed by the swelling of his own trespasses, with the avenger behind, and no possible escape before. But behold, the Cross of Christ, stretched out with a mightier power than the rod of Moses, has opened a way through the depths, and he has passed safely over into the land where the ransomed and pardoned dwell, and shall never come into condemnation. He sees his grand enemy and all his host defeated and destroyed, while the prey is taken from the mighty, and the lawful captive delivered. It is a rescue not for time only, but for eternity; and, with unutterable joy mingled with trembling, he sings, not the song of Moses, but of the Lamb: “O Lord, I will praise Thee with all my heart, and I will glorify Thy name forever, for great is Thy mercy towards me, and Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell!” The rescue is once for all; but as Israel by disobedience entailed repeated enslavement, so do Christians, alas! by renewed sin, incur once and again the painful sense of loss and danger; and as deliverance again comes, with the assurance of pardon:” “I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions, and as a cloud thy sins; return unto Me, for I have redeemed thee!” the voice of penitent Israel renews the grateful strain: “Sing, O ye heavens,” etc. (Isaiah 44:23).
III. The prospect of certain victory. Our warfare is on God’s side with rebellion against God, with the temples of idolatry, superstition, and false religion, with the dark embattled hosts of pride and lust, of avarice and cruelty from one end of the world to the other. “Wherever the Canaanite is still in the land; wherever there is that within us or without us, that exalts itself against God, there must our deadly strife” be to bring it down; and every high thought must be brought “into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” The range of our spiritual geography is very limited. There remains much land to be possessed. But this is our great, our arduous, our worldwide mission, impossible to ourselves, but possible with God, and made by Him at once our duty and our happiness.
IV. A glorious inheritance. The conquests of Israel became their own possessions. The warrior was turned into the colonist. The army of invasion was turned into a peaceful army of occupation, dispersed amidst the scenes of their exploits over hill and valley, sitting each under his vine and fig tree with none to make him afraid. In the centre was the tabernacle of Jehovah; and the pillar which had led them to battle, and sent out its guiding light on their path, now diffused its mild and gracious beams over the abodes of rest and worship to the extremities of the land. Here was an emblem of the Christian Church translated to heaven. But how feeble and defective a figure after all are these “sweet fields beyond the swelling flood,” of the heavenly Canaan! With the outward victory of Israel, redemption was still incomplete and waited for a higher stage; God was still distant, dwelling in one selected spot, and leaving the rest in comparative shadow; Canaan itself, the joy of all lands, might be deteriorated, as it has been, to sterility and barrenness; and the people, them divinely settled, might for their sins be rooted up and scattered among the nations! What a contrast have we here to that inheritance, yet future, on which the hope of the Christian rests, and by which all the toils and conflicts of earth are to be crowned! Redemption has now reached its limit. The great Captain has come, temple. In conclusion, let me urge, that the blessedness of Israel, though guarded and defined, is not exclusive. The question “Who is like unto thee?” does not indicate anything restricted and unattainable. Even in ancient days, the sons of the stranger might come bending to take hold on Israel’s God, and claim the blessings of His covenant; and how much more in Gospel times, when every wall of partition is broken down, and all, who see Christ with Abraham’s faith, “are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Yes l however far off you may have been, you may now be made nigh by the blood of Christ! (John Cairns, D. D.)
Happiness: the privilege and duty of Christians
When you praise a man’s position, it is the next thing to flattering the man himself, for most men do not divide between themselves and their condition, but read a commendation of their condition as a commendation of themselves, though it be not so. Hence one has sometimes to be very chary of calling men happy; and all the more so because we cannot generally be sure that they are happy; external circumstances being but a poor means of judgment. Yet Moses speaks thus openly to Israel without a word of qualification. We are sure he did not speak ignorantly or rashly. Israel was happy. The people were favoured, and it was right for them to be told so. I think that Moses eulogised the nation to console them for his departure. “I climb the mount to go away to God, but happy art thou, O Israel: whether Moses be with thee or not, God is with thee. I think also that he had in his mind’s eye the fact that they were now about to face new difficulties. “Happy art thou, O Israel: thou art about to throw thyself into the midst of ferocious tribes who will all conspire to cut thee off; but thou art a people saved of the Lord; thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee, and thou shalt tread upon their high places.” So, then, it is right to commend a man’s condition, if you have a wise motive for it, and can either console him under trouble or inspire him for future service.
I. The happy condition of God’s people. If you have been born again and saved, you are the pick and choice of all God’s creatures, and He has indulged you with a measure of love and kindness such as He has shown to none else. Would you barter grace for gain? Gold cannot lighten the heavy heart or cool the burning brow; far oftener it cankers the soul, and lies like a weight upon the spirit. Turn you, if you will, to those famous for knowledge, men of skill, and wit, and research; yet among these there are none to be found comparable in happiness to Christians. Wealth, rank, learning fame pleasure, and all else that man holds dear, we would gladly renounce for the joy of our Lord. Israel knew what it was to be saved in many ways, and so do we. We have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus, fed with the bread of heaven, and made to drink of water from the Rock of Ages; and as for our adversaries, they have not been able to harm us, for the Lord has saved us unto this day.
II. The result of realising our blessed estate. Upon this subject there ought to be no need to dilate, for each heir of heaven should live in the hourly enjoyment of his divine inheritance; but, alas, few are doing so. Surely spiritual blessings are the only ones men decline to enjoy. You should enjoy your privileges and be happy, because--
1. It tends to keep our allegiance to God unshaken. It is because you lose the sweet flavour of the waters of the flowing fountain that you dabble in those muddy, stagnant gatherings which linger in the broken cisterns.
2. It will create enthusiasm and a grateful love within your bosom.
3. It will give you confidence to expect other blessings. Gratitude for the past inspires with courage for the future.
4. It will give you strength for bearing all your burdens and courage for facing all your enemies.
5. For Christians to be happy is one of the surest ways to set them seeking the salvation of others. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Deuteronomy 33". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26