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Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which shall befall you in the last days
Jacob as a prophet of the Lord;
In this dying speech of Jacob to his sons we have the characteristics of true prophecy.
I. THE NATURE OF ITS CONTENTS.
II. THE NATURE OF THE STYLE EMPLOYED. It is vague and mysterious; there are no accurate and minute details, but all is given in shadowy outline; and this forbids us to suppose that it was written in after-ages in order to fit into history.
III. THE IMPOSSIBILITY OF ACCOUNTING FOR THESE DELIVERANCES UPON NATURAL PRINCIPLES. Jacob was now a weak and aged man; the last sickness was upon him. And yet he speaks in this sublime style, the proper vehicle of exalted thought and feeling. Inspiration is the only solution. That which reveals so much of God’s thoughts and ways must be from God.
IV. THE STAGE OF PROPHETIC DEVELOPMENT WHICH IT INDICATES, The prophecy of Messiah now becomes clearer. First, it is “the seed,” in general terms; then “thy seed,” Abraham’s. Now, the very tribe out of which the Messiah is to spring is announced. We have here the full bloom of patriarchal prophecy. The language rises to that poetic form which is peculiar to the Messianic predictions. The blessing of Judah is the central point, where the discourse reaches on to the last times, when God would bring His first-begotten into the world, and set up His everlasting kingdom.
V. THE PROMISE OF ETERNAL LIFE WHICH IT SUGGESTS. The spirit of these prophecies is the testimony of Jesus. And He came that we may have life. Eternal life is the end of all prophecy. (T. H. Leale.)
1. The predictions are partly explicable on natural grounds. Jacob’s sagacity was sufficient to distinguish the germs of character already shown in his sons, and from thence he could foretell the results. Reuben’s instability, for instance, was the result of a sensual character. The nomad, fierce life of the Simeonites and Levites was the natural consequence of a cruel disposition.
2. But there is a part of this remarkable chapter which we cannot so get over--the prediction of Zebulon’s future locality by the seaside; of the descent of the Saviour from Judah--events both of which took place after the settlement in Canaan. Here we are plainly out of the region of things cognizable by sagacity, and have got into the sphere of the prophetic faculty.
3. Observe that five of these sons have their fortunes specifically told, and in detail; the rest generally. We divide the chapter, therefore, into these two divisions:
I. THE FIVE SPECIFIC PROPHECIES.
1. The first of the specific prophecies is that respecting Reuben, and is in two divisions:
(1) An enumeration of his original circumstantial advantages contrasted
(2) with the destiny determined for himself by character. Learn, therefore--First, self-rule is the condition of influence and success. Rule thyself,thou rulest all. To subject appetites is not a very high achievement; but for him who has not attained that first, simplest step in Christian life excellence is impossible.
2. Next, learn how sin adheres to character. Years had passed since Reuben sinned. Probably he had forgotten what he had done. It was but a single act. But the act was not fixed to the spot which witnessed its performance. It went inwards, and made him irresolute, feeble, wretched, unstable. So with every sin, whether one of weakness or of violence, You are the exact result of all your past sins. There they are in your character.
3. The second and third of whom Jacob uttered his predictions were Simeon and Levi. They were charged with immoderate revenge. Observe, not revenge alone. “Cursed be their anger, for it was cruel” (Genesis 49:7). Had they not felt anger, had they not avenged, they had not been men. That responsibility which is now shared between judge, jury, the law, and the executioner, was necessarily in early ages sustained alone by the avenger of blood. That instinct of indignation which is now regularly expressed by law was then of necessity expressed irregularly. I do not think they were to be blamed for doing the avenger’s justice. But they slew a whole tribe. Now, the penalty which fell on them was of a very peculiar kind: “I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” This has a plain meaning in Simeon’s case, for his tribe was weak, his territory divided. But in Levi’s case the prediction is not so intelligible as a penalty. For Levi, though scattered in Israel, having no territorial allotment, was a peculiarly privileged tribe; they were chosen to be the tribe of priests. We consider this, therefore, as one of the many, many cases in which a penalty is by grace transmuted into a blessing.
4. Predictions respecting Judah.
(1) His brethren should praise him. We should have expected him to be envied rather than praised by them. But there is a spirit which can disarm envy. It is that meekness which hides its own superiority, seems unconscious of it, and even shows that it feels more pain in surpassing than others can feel in being surpassed. Such persons may be superior and still praised--a rare and honourable peculiarity. “The meek shall inherit the earth.” Earth’s inheritance, its praise and its love, belong to such.
(2) Next, Judah is put forward as the type of the Hebrew hero. He is represented under the similitude of a lion. “He stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up?” (Genesis 49:9.) It has been remarked, perhaps not idly, that the simile is a lion couchant, not rampant. Not the strength of the oppressor, but that of one strong in right, the majesty of defence: “who shall rouse him up?”
(3) The third thing said respecting Judah brings us to the most difficult passage in Scripture: “The sceptre shall not depart,” &c. (Genesis 49:10). Shiloh, the Pacificator, or Prince of Peace. Much has been written to evade the difficulty which arises from the fact that there was no king in Israel when He came. But surely it is not needed. Ten tribes disappeared. Of the remaining two, both merged themselves in Judah; and the sceptre is only a figurative and poetical name for nationality. Israel’s nationality, merged in Judah, lasted until Shiloh came. “Lion”--“Shiloh”: the two harmoniously declare a truth. There is a strength of force; and there is another strength, the might and majesty of gentleness which is invincible through suffering, the glory of Him who is the Lion and the slain Lamb, the Lion because the Lamb.
(4) The fourth prediction respecting Judah has reference to his temporal prosperity. His was to be a territory rich in vineyards and pastures (Genesis 49:11-12).
5. We now come to Joseph, the last of those five of whom we have a special prediction. Here the whole tone of Jacob’s language changes. Specially observe two things:
(1) An illustration in this blessing of the fulfilment and principle of the promise of the fifth commandment. Joseph’s peculiarity was filial obedience; and his lot above his brethren was distinguished by worldly success and honour. He was the best governor Egypt had ever had. The two were, however, connected. In childish obedience he learned fitness for rule. He who can obey well is the only one who can well command. Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control--these three alone fit a man to be a ruler.
(2) He had been “separate from his brethren” (Genesis 49:26), and doubtless it was better for him, though an apparent disadvantage. Education and admixture with equals are two good things; but sometimes the deprivation of these things is better.
II. GENERAL BLESSINGS ON THE SEVEN REMAINING SONS. Observe in all these different characters the true principle of unity. They were not lost in one undistinguished similarity, but each has its own peculiar characteristic: one made up of seamen, another of shepherds; one warlike, another cultivated; and so on. And yet, together, one.
III. Finally, we have on all this chapter FOUR REFLECTIONS to make.
1. Jacob’s spiritual character, as tested by his ejaculation, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord” (Genesis 49:18)--a religious ejaculation from the dying patriarch breathless and exhausted with speech. Our exact character is tested by our spontaneous thoughts.
2. See what is assumed in this personification of the tribes. Judah, Simeon, Levi, are taken as the type of the future career of their several tribes. Every man impresses his character on his descendants. Let us add that to the innumerable motives for abstinence from sin.
3. Think of this father’s feelings as his family gathered round him. Over each of those children a mother’s heart had bled and a father’s heart rejoiced. Their very names contained the record of such feelings: “Reuben”--lo! a son. Yes; and, lo! there he is; and what has he become? Happy is it for Christian fathers now, that in looking round on their assembled children they cannot read the future as Jacob did, that they are not able to fix on each of their sons and say, This for God and that for sin.
4. Lastly, let us see something here that tells of the character of future judgment. Have you ever attended the opening of a will, where the bequests were large and unknown, and seen the bitter disappointment and the suppressed auger? Well, conceive those sons listening to the unerring doom. Conceive Reuben, or Simeon, or Levi listening to their father’s words. Yet the day will come when, on principles precisely similar, our doom must be pronounced. Destiny is fixed by character, and character is determined by separate acts. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The prophet; or, Jacob blessing his sons:
I. THE VALUE OF THE TESTIMONY OF EXPERIENCE. It affords encouragement and warning; it reveals the conditions of success, the means to be used, and the errors to be avoided.
II. THE STIMULUS OF EXAMPLE (Genesis 48:16; cf. also Genesis 48:5). The memory of the efforts and struggles of others nerves to patient endurance.
III. THE SOLEMN RESPONSIBILITY OF LIFE. Each one is making his own future. Our daily conduct is proving what we are fit for.
IV. THE RECOGNITION THROUGHOUT OF OUR SPIRITUAL DEPENDENCE UPON GOD. This is the only right, sure, and safe way of facing and bearing the solemn responsibility of life.
V. THE PROPHECY OF THE MESSIAH. (A. F. Joscelyne, B. A.)
The blessings of the tribes:
Jacob’s blessing of his sons marks the close of the patriarchal dispensation. Henceforth the channel of God’s blessing to man does not consist of one person only, but of a people or nation. It is still “one seed,” as Paul reminds us, a unit that God will bless, but this unit is now no longer a single person--as Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob--but one people, composed of several parts, and yet one whole; equally representative of Christ, as the patriarchs were, and of equal effect every way in receiving God’s blessing and handing it down until Christ came. And it is at this point--where Israel distributes among his sons the blessing which heretofore had all lodged in himself--that we see the first multiplication of Christ’s representatives, the mediation going on no longer through individuals, but through a nation; and where individuals are still chosen by God, as commonly they are, for the conveyance of God’s communications to earth, these individuals, whether priests or prophets, are themselves but the official representatives of the nation. As the patriarchal dispensation ceases, it secures to the tribes all the blessing it has itself contained. The blessing of Israel is now distributed, and each receives what each can take; and while in some of the individual tribes there may seem to be very little of blessing at all, yet, taken together, they form a picture of the common outstanding features of human nature, and of that nature as acted upon by God’s blessing, and forming together one body or Church. In these blessings, therefore, we have the history of the Church in its most interesting form. In these sons gathered round him the patriarch sees his own nature reflected piece by piece, and he sees also the general outline of all that must be produced by such natures as these men have. The whole destiny of Israel is here in germ, and the spirit of prophecy in Jacob sees and declares it. Being nearer to eternity, he instinctively measures things by its standard, and thus comes nearer a just valuation of all things before his mind, and can better distinguish reality from appearance. One cannot but admire, too, the faith which enables Jacob to apportion to his sons the blessings of a land which had not been much of a resting-place to himself, and regarding the occupation of which his sons might have put to him some very difficult questions. And we admire this dignified faith the more on reflecting that it has often been very grievously lacking in our own case--that we have felt almost ashamed of having so little of a present tangible kind to offer, and of being obliged to speak only of invisible and future blessings; to set a spiritual consolation over against a worldly grief; to point a man whose fortunes are ruined to an eternal inheritance; or to speak to one who knows himself quite in the power of sin of a remedy which has often seemed illusory to ourselves. And often we are rebuked by finding that when we do offer things spiritual even those who are wrapped in earthly comforts appreciate and accept the better gifts. So it was in Joseph’s case. No doubt the highest posts in Egypt were open to his sons; they might have been naturalized, as he himself had been, and, throwing in their lot with the land of their adoption, might have turned to their advantage the rank their father held and the reputation he had earned. But Joseph turns from this attractive prospect, brings them to his father, and hands them over to the despised shepherd-life of Israel. One need scarcely point out how great a sacrifice this was on Joseph’s part. And his faith received its reward; the two tribes that sprang from him received about as large a portion of the promised land as fell to the lot of all the other tribes put together. You will observe that Ephraim and Manasseh were adopted as sons of Jacob. Jacob tells Joseph, “They shall be mine”; not my grandsons, but as Reuben and Simeon. No other sons whom Joseph might have were to be received into this honour, but these two were to take their place on a level with their uncles as heads of tribes, so that Joseph is represented through the whole history by the two populous and powerful tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. Ephraim and Manasseh were not received alongside of Joseph, but each received what Joseph himself might have had, and Joseph’s name as a tribe was henceforth only to be found in these two. This idea was fixed in such a way, that for centuries it was stepping into the minds of men, so that they might not be astonished if God should in some other case--say the case of His own Son--adopt men into the rank He held, and let His estimate of the worth of His Son, and the honour He puts upon Him, be seen in the adopted. This being so, we need not be alarmed if men tell us that imputation is a mere legal fiction or human invention. A legal fiction it may be, but in the ease before us it was the never-disputed foundation of very substantial blessings to Ephraim and Manasseh; and we plead for nothing more than that God would act with us as here He did act with these two, that He would make us His direct heirs, make us His own sons, and give us what He who presents us to Him to receive His blessing did earn and merits at the Father’s hand. We meet with these crossed hands of blessing frequently in Scripture; the younger son blessed above the elder--as was needful, lest grace should become confounded with nature, and the belief gradually grow up in men’s minds that natural effects could never be overcome by grace, and that in every respect grace waited upon nature. And these crossed hands we meet still; for how often does God quite reverse our order, and bless most that about which we had less concern, and seem to put a slight on that which has engrossed our best affection. In Reuben, the first-born, conscience must have been sadly at war with hope as he looked at the blind, but expressive, face of his father. He may have hoped that his sin had not been severely thought of by his father, or that the father’s pride in his first-born would prompt him to hide, though it could not make him forget, it. Could his father, at the last hour, and after so many thronged years, and before his brethren, recall the old sin? He is relieved and confirmed in his confidence by the first words of Jacob, words ascribing to him his natural position, a certain conspicuous dignity too, and power such as one may often see produced in men by occupying positions of authority, though in their own character there be weakness. But all the excellence that Jacob ascribes to Reuben serves only to embitter the doom pronounced upon him. Men seem often to expect that a future can be given to them irrespective of what they themselves are, that a series of blessings and events might be prepared for them, and made over to them; whereas every man’s future must be made by himself, and is already in great part formed by the past. It was a vain expectation of Reuben to expect that he, the impetuous, unstable, superficial son, could have the future of a deep, and earnest, and dutiful nature, or that his children should derive no taint from their parent, but be as the children of Joseph. No man’s future need be altogether a doom to him, for God may bless to him the evil fruit his life has borne; but certainly no man need look for a future which has no relation to his own character. His future will always be made up of his deeds, his feeling, and the circumstances which his desires have brought him into. The future of Reuben was of a negative, blank kind--“Thou shalt not excel”; his unstable character must empty it of all great success. And to many a heart since have these words struck a chill, for to many they are as a mirror suddenly held up before them. They see themselves, when they look on the tossing sea, rising and pointing to the heavens with much noise, but only to sink back again to the same everlasting level. Men of brilliant parts and great capacity are continually seen to be lost to society by instability of purpose. The sin of the next oldest sons was also remembered against them, and remembered apparently for the same reason--because the character was expressed in it. The massacre of the Shechemites was not an accidental outrage that any other of the sons of Jacob might equally have perpetrated, but the most glaring of a number of expressions of a fierce and cruel disposition in these two men. In Jacob’s prediction of their future he seems to shrink with horror from his own progeny--like her who dreamt she would give birth to a firebrand. He sees the possibility of the direst results flowing from such a temper, and, under God, provides against these by scattering the tribes, and thus weakening their power for evil. They had been banded together so as the more easily and securely to accomplish their murderous purposes. “Simeon and Levi are brethren”--showing a close affinity, and seeking one another’s society and aid, but it is for bad purposes; and therefore they must be divided in Jacob and scattered in Israel. This was accomplished by the tribe of Levi being distributed over all the other tribes as the ministers of religion. The fiery zeal, the bold independence, and the pride of being a distinct people, which had been displayed in the slaughter of the Shechemites, might be toned down and turned to good account when the sword was taken out of their hand. Qualities such as these, which produce the most disastrous results when fit instruments can be found, and when men of like disposition are suffered to band themselves together, may, when found in the individual and kept in check by circumstances and dissimilar dispositions, be highly beneficial. Very humbling must it have been for the Levite who remembered the history of his tribe to be used by God as the hand of His justice on the victims that were brought in substitution for that which was so precious in the sight of God. The blessing of Judah is at once the most important and the most difficult to interpret in the series. There is enough in the history of Judah himself, and there is enough in the subsequent history of the tribe, to justify the ascription to him of all lion-like qualities--a kingly fearlessness, confidence, power, and success; in action a rapidity of movement and might that make him irresistible, and in repose a majestic dignity of bearing. If there were to be kings in Israel, there could be little doubt from which tribe they could best be chosen. A wolf of the tribe of Benjamin, like Saul, not only hung on the rear of retreating Philistines and spoiled them, but made a prey of his own people, and it is in David we find the true king, the man who more than any other satisfies men’s ideal of the prince to whom they will pay homage--falling, indeed, into grievous error and sin, like his forefather, but, like him also, right at heart, so generous and self-sacrificing that men served him with the most devoted loyalty, and were willing rather to dwell in caves with him than in palaces with any other. The kingly supremacy of Judah was here spoken of in words which have been the subject of as prolonged and violent contention as any others in the Word of God. “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come.” These words are very generally understood to mean that Judah’s supremacy would continue until it culminated or flowered into the personal reign of Shiloh; in other words, that Judah’s sovereignty was to be perpetuated in the person of Jesus Christ. But it comes to be an inquiry of some interest, How much information regarding a personal Messiah did the brethren receive from this prophecy?--a question very difficult indeed to answer. The word Shiloh means “peacemaking,” and if they understood this as a proper name, they must have thought of a person such as Isaiah designates as the Prince of Peace--a name it was similar to that wherewith David called his son Solomon, in the expectation that the results of his own lifetime of disorder and battle would be reaped by his successor in a peaceful and prosperous reign. It can scarcely be thought likely, indeed, that this single term “ Shiloh,” which might be applied to many things besides a person, should give to the sons of Jacob any distinct idea of a personal Deliverer; but it might be sufficient to keep before their eyes, and specially before the tribe of Judah, that the aim and consummation of all lawgiving and ruling was peace. And there was certainly contained in this blessing an assurance that the purpose of Judah would not be accomplished, and therefore that the existence of Judah as a tribe would not terminate, until peace had been through its means brought into the world. Thus was the assurance given that the productive power of Judah should not fail until out of that tribe there had sprung that which should give peace. But to us who have seer the prediction accomplished it plainly enough points to the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who in His own person combined all kingly qualities. In Him we are taught by this prediction to discover once more the single Person who stands out on the page of this world’s history as satisfying men’s ideal of what their King should be, and of how the race should be represented--the One who, without any rival, stands in the mind’s eye as that for which the best hopes of men were waiting, still feeling that the race could do no more than it had done, and never satisfied but in Him. Zebulun, the sixth and last of Leah’s sons, was so called because, said Leab, “Now will my husband dwell with me” (such being the meaning of the name), “for I have borne him six sons.” All that is predicted regarding this tribe is that his dwelling should be by the sea, and near the Phoenician city Zidon. This is not to be taken as a strict geographical definition of the tract of country occupied by Zebulun, as we see when we compare it with the lot assigned to it and marked out in the Book of Joshua; but though the border of the tribe did not reach to Zidon, and though it can only have been a mere tongue of land belonging to it that ran down to the Mediterranean shore, yet the situation ascribed to it is true to its character as a tribe that had commercial relations with the Phoenicians, and was of a decidedly mercantile turn. It is still, therefore, character rather than geographical position that is here spoken of, though it is a trait of character that is peculiarly dependent on geographical position. We, for example, because islanders, have become the maritime power and the merchants of the world; not being shut off from other nations by the encompassing sea, but finding paths by it equally in all directions ready provided for every kind of traffic. Zebulun, then, was to represent the commerce of Israel, its outgoing tendency; was to supply a means of communication and bond of connection with the world outside; so that through it might be conveyed to the nations what was saving in Israel, and that what Israel needed from other lands might also find entrance. In the Church also this is a needful quality: for our well-being there must ever exist among us those who are not afraid to launch on the wide and pathless sea of opinion; those in whose ears its waves have from their childhood sounded with a fascinating invitation, and who at last, as if possessed by some spirit of unrest, loose from the firm earth, and go in quest of lands not yet discovered, or are impelled to see for themselves what till now they have believed on the testimony of others. And as the seafaring population of a country might be expected to show less interest in the soil of their native land than others, and yet we know that in point of fact we are dependent on no class of our population so much for leal patriotism and for the defence of our country, so one has observed that the Church also must make similar use of her Zebuluns--of men who, by their very habit of restlessly considering all views of truth which are alien to our own ways of thinking, have become familiar with, and better able to defend us against, the error that mingles with these views. Issachar receives from his father a character which few would be proud of or would envy, but which many are very content to bear. As the strong ass that has its stall and its provender provided can afford to let the free beasts of the forest vaunt their liberty, so there is a very numerous class of men who have no care to assert their dignity as human beings, or to agitate regarding their rights as citizens, so long as their obscurity and servitude provide them with physical comforts and leave them free of heavy responsibilities. They prefer a life of easy and plenty to a life of hardship and glory. They, as well as the other parts of society, have amidst their error a truth--the truth that the ideal world in which ambition, and hope, and imagination live is not everything; that the material has also a reality, and that though hope does bless mankind, yet attainment is also something, even though it be a little. Yet this truth is not the whole truth, and is only useful as an ingredient, as a part, not as the whole; and when we fall from any high ideal of human life which we have formed, and begin to find comfort and rest in the mere physical good things of this world, we may well despise ourselves. There is a pleasantness still in the land that appeals to us all; a luxury in observing the risks and struggles of others while ourselves secure and at rest; a desire to make life easy, and to shirk the responsibility and toil that public spiritedness entails. Yet of what tribe has the Church more cause to complain than of those persons who seem to imagine that they have done enough when they have joined the Church and received their own inheritance to enjoy; who are alive to no emergency, nor awake to the need of others; who have no idea at all of their being a part of the community, for which, as well as for themselves, there are duties to discharge; who couch, like the ass of Issachar, in their comfort, without one generous impulse to make common cause against the common evils and foes of the Church, and are unvisited by a single compunction that while they lie there, submitting to whatever fate sends, there are kindred tribes of their own being oppressed and spoiled? Next came the eldest son of Rachel’s handmaid, and the eldest son of Leah’s handmaid, Dan and Gad. Dan’s name, meaning “judge,” is the starting-point of the prediction--“Dan shall judge his people.” This word “ judge” we are perhaps somewhat apt to misapprehend; it means rather to defend than to sit in judgment on; it refers to a judgment passed between one’s own people and their foes, and an execution of such judgment in the deliverance of the people and the destruction of the foe. We are familiar with this meaning of the word by the constant reference in the Old Testament to God’s judging His people; this being always a cause of joy as their sure deliverance from their enemies. So also it is used of those men who, when Israel had no king, rose from time to time as the champions of the people, to lead them against the foe, and who are therefore familiarly called “The Judges.” From the tribe of Dan the most conspicuous of these arose, Samson, namely; and it is probably mainly with reference to this fact that Jacob so emphatically predicts of this tribe, “Dan shall judge his people.” And notice the appended clause (as reflecting shame on the sluggish Issachar),” as one of the tribes of Israel,” recognizing always that his strength was not for himself alone, but for his country; that he was not an isolated people who had to concern himself only with his own affairs, but one of the tribes of Israel. The manner, too, in which Dan was to do this was singularly descriptive of the facts subsequently evolved. Dan was a very small and insignificant tribe, whose lot originally lay close to the Philistines on the southern border of the land. It might seem to be no obstacle whatever to the invading Philistines as they passed to the richer portion of Judah, but this little tribe, through Samson, smote these terrors of the Israelites with so sore and alarming a destruction as to cripple them for years and make them harmless. We see, therefore, how aptly Jacob compares them to the venomous snake that lurks in the road and bites the horses’ heels; the dust-coloured adder that a man treads on before he is aware, and whose poisonous stroke is more deadly than the foe he is looking for in front. And especially significant did the imagery appear to the Jews, with whom this poisonous adder was indigenous, but to whom the horse was the symbol of foreign armament and invasion. The whole tribe of Dan, too, seems to have partaken of that “grim humour” with which Samson saw his foes walk time after time into the traps he set for them, and give themselves an easy prey to him--a humour which comes out with singular piquancy in the, narrative given in the Book of Judges of one of the forays of this tribe, in which they carried off Micah’s priest and even his gods. Gad also is a tribe whose history is to be warlike, his very name signifying a marauding guerilla troop; and his history was to illustrate the victories which God’s people gain by tenacious, watchful, ever-renewed warfare. And there is something particularly inspiriting to the individual Christian in finding this pronounced as part of the blessing of God’s people--“A troop shall overcome him, but he shall overcome at the last.” It is this that enables us to persevere--that we have God’s assurance that present discomfiture does not doom us to final defeat. (M. Dods, D. D.)
Jacob’s prophetic survey:
What a mind was Jacob’s, as shown in the various blessings pronounced upon his children l How discriminating those now closing eyes l How they glitter with criticism l How keen--penetrating, even to the finest lines of distinction! Surely what we see in those eyes is a gleam of the very soul. This is no joint salutation or valediction; this is no greeting and fare well mixed up in one confused utterance. This is criticism. This is the beginning of a career of mental development which is the pride of human education and culture. How affectionate too! In nearly every line there is some accent of affection peculiar to itself. And how prophetic! The ages are all revealed to the calm vision and sacred gaze of this man who is more in heaven than upon earth. But this prophecy is no phantasy. We have accustomed ourselves now to a definition of prophecy which enables us in some degree to understand this way of allotment and benediction. Prophecy is based on character. We have already defined prophecy as moral prescience. Retaining the definition, we see in this instance one of its finest and clearest illustrations. This is no fancy painting. It is the power of the soul in its last efforts to see what crops will come out of this seed and of that; it is a man standing upon fields charged with seed, the quality of which he well knows, forecasting the harvest. Moral prophecy is vindicated by moral law. There was no property to divide. There was something better than property to give. What a will is this I It has about it all the force of a man being his own distributer--not only writing a will like a testator, which is of no force until after the testator’s death, but already enriching his sons with an inheritance better than measurable lands. What have you to leave to your children? to your friends? You could leave an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled and that fadeth not away--bright memories of love, recollections of sacred sympathy prayers that lifted the life into new hope, forgiveness that abolished the distinction between earth and heaven, and made pardoned souls feel as if they had seen their Father in heaven; great will: eternal substance. How Jacob’s conscience burned up in that sacred hour! He remembered the evil of his sons. He reminded Reuben of what he had done; he recalled the deed of shame, never to be spoken aloud by human tongue, wrought by Simeon and Levi in the land of Hamor the Hivite; and because their anger was fierce and their wrath was cruel, he divided them in Jacob and scattered them in Israel. “The evil that men do lives after them.” Simeon and Levi had forgotten what they did in their sister’s case. Jacob had not. In such a malediction there are great meanings, even so far as Jacob is concerned. Jacob knew the cost of sin. Jacob knew that no man can of himself shake off his sin and become a free man in the universe. The sin follows him with swift fate, opens its mouth like a wolf and shows its cruel teeth. No man can forgive sin, Who but God can wrestle with it? We fly from it, try to forget it; but up it leaps again, a foe that pursues unto the death, unless some Mighty One shall come to deal with it when there is no eye to pity and no arm to help. But presently Jacob will come to a name that will change his tone. How some faces brighten us! How the incoming of some men makes us young again! Jacob we have never seen until he comes to pronounce his blessing upon Joseph. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The destinies of Israel:
I. MORAL DISTINCTIONS. What is it which “exalts” a nation (Proverbs 14:34.)? In the development of history, the character of individuals is an important element. God’s government of the world is moral government, and sin never, eventually, goes unpunished. Sooner or later, our sin “finds us out.”
II. MESSIANIC HOPE. The hope of a coming king is the central point of Judah’s blessing. And Judah’s blessing is the central blessing of all that Jacob says concerning his sons.
III. MANIFOLD DESTINIES. Apply this to ourselves. How different the conditions, circumstances, capabilities of each one of us! how various the particular destinies in store for us! Yet, God will help, and guide, and bring us on our way, if we trust in Him. We know not exactly where God will lead us, or place us; or what our particular difficulties or temptations may be, but let us trust Him, and seek to do His will always, and everywhere. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)
Jacob’s prophetical blessings of his sons:
Written it is of the swan, that before his death he singeth most sweetly, and so did this holy patriarch in this place. Never more sweet songs have passed from the godly than toward their latter ends (Moses in Deuteronomy 31:1-30. and in the two chapters following, Joshua in his last chapter, and even our Saviour Himself in John 14:15-17 and at His last supper). The apostle Paul,when the time of his offering was at hand (2 Timothy 4:7-8, &c.). The apostle Peter, when he told them he thought it meet, while he was in this tabernacle, to stir them up, knowing that the time was at hand that he must lay down his tabernacle, &c.
The right way to regard prophecy
I am profoundly affected by the grandeur of prophecy. God unveils the frescoed wall of the future, not so much that we may count the figures, and measure the robes, and analyze the pigments; but that, gazing upon it, our imaginations may be enkindled, and hope be inspired, to bear us through the dismal barrenness of the present. Prophecy was not addressed to the reason, nor to the statistical faculty, but to the imagination; and I should as soon think of measuring love by the scales of commerce, or of admiring flowers by the rule of feet and inches, or of applying arithmetic to taste and enthusiasm, as calculations and figures to these grand evanishing signals which God waves in the future only to tell the world which way it is to march. (H. W.Beecher.)
Belief in death-bed prophecies
A belief prevailed among nearly all ancient nations, that the human mind, at the approaching hour of death, is capable of penetrating into the mysteries of the future, and of distinctly revealing them in prophetic speech. We are on this point not restricted to obscure inferences. We find the idea clearly and explicitly stated by more than one classical author. Cicero observes: “When death is near, the mind assumes a much more Divine character; and at such times easily predicts the future.” Socrates, when defending himself in the capital charge preferred against him, and foreseeing a condemnatory verdict, is recorded to have reminded the judges that, with death before his eyes, he was in that state which enables men to utter prophecies. Xenophon relates, in his “Institution of Cyrus,” that this prince, when feeling his impending dissolution, summoned his sons and friends to his death-bed; and, in order to impress upon them the doctrine of immortality, used the following argument: “Nothing resembles death more closely than sleep; but it is in sleep that the soul of man appears most Divine, and it is then that it foresees something of the future; for then, as it seems, it is most free.” In a perfectly analogous manner, Pythagoras and other philosophers, according to Diodorus Siculus, considered it a natural consequence of the belief in immortality, that the soul, in the moment of death, becomes conscious of future events. In harmony with these views, Greek and Roman writers not unfrequently introduce persons in the last stage of their existence predicting the destinies of those survivors who at that time particularly absorb their attention. Patroclus, mortally wounded, foretells, in Homer’s Iliad, the immediate death of Hector, from the hand of Achilles; and when this prophecy was literally verified, Hector, in his last moments, augurs that Apollo and Paris would, at the Scaean gate, soon destroy Achilles, who, convinced of the truth and reality of such forebodings, exclaims: “I shall accept my fate whenever Jupiter and the other immortal gods choose to inflict it.” In the AEneid of Virgil, the expiring Dido prophesies not only the chief incidents in the future life of AEneas, his laborious and exhausting wars with Turnus, the Rutulians, and the Latins; his separation from his beloved son, Iulus, when imploring assistance in Etruria; and his early death, unhonoured by the sacred rites of sepulture: but she alludes to the inextioguishable hatred and the sanguinary enmity that would rage between the Romans and the Carthaginians, and to Hannibal himself, who would avenge her sufferings, and as a fearful scourge of war desolate the beautiful plains of Italy. In the same epic poem, Orodes, before closing his eyes in death, threatens his victorious antagonist, Mezentius, that he would not long enjoy his triumph, but would soon also be hurled into the lower regions; which menace, indeed, Mezentius haughtily scorns but recognizing the possibility of its fulfilment, he laughs “with mixed wrath.” Posidonius makes mention of a man of Rhodes, who, not long before his demise, stated the exact order in which six of his friends would successively die. When Alexander the Great, at the termination of his days, was asked whom he appointed his successor, he replied “the best; for I foresee that great funeral games will be celebrated for me by my friends”; and this remark is adduced by Diodorus as an example of the astonishing realization of prophecies pronounced shortly before death. And Cicero, extending the same power of presentiment to perfectly uncivilized tribes, mentions the uneducated Indian Calanus, who, when about to burn himself, predicted the almost immediate death of the Macedonian monarch. (M. M.Kalisch, Ph. D.)
Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.
I. The first thing which strikes us in the instability of water is that IT HAS NO COHESIVE SHAPE OF ITS OWN. It takes the form of the vessel into which you pour it; it changes one form for another without resistance; and water spilt on the ground falls asunder and vanishes. This suggests the first defect of instability--that it prevents a man gaining an independent position in life. There is a true position in the world which we should all aim at, a place where we may stand on our own feet, fill our own sphere, and meet all the just claims which come upon us in the family, in friendship, and in society. This cannot be gained without some measure of stability. If, indeed, there is entire instability in the ground of the character, it is very difficult to deal with, and if men were under fixed laws of nature the case might be incurable. But nature has its emblems of hope even for this indecision; there is a possibility of crystallizing water.
II. Another thing in the instability of water is THE CHANGEFULNESS OF ITS REFLEXION. Look at the water in an outspread lake. It takes moon and stars and changing seasons into the depths of its confidence, and its seeming depths are only a surface. This is beautiful in nature, but very unhappy in men; and we may see in it an illustration of how instability unfits us for gaining either true culture or character.
III. A third thing we may mention in the instability of water is that IT INSPIRES DISTRUST. Its very calm is danger: there are hidden rocks under the smoothness, and treacherous currents which wind like serpents round those who trust them. This reminds us that instability destroys influence. The world is governed not so much by men of talent as by men of will.
IV. Water is READY TO MOVE ANY WAY BUT UPWARD. It descends, but cannot rise to its source; and it illustrates this most serious defect of instability, that it unfits a man for a successful endeavour after the higher life. In seeking to conquer instability there must
(1) be a sincere desire to escape from this defect where it is felt.
(2) In arriving at decision, a man should seek to ascertain what he is capable of.
(3) There are helps in this struggle against indecision:
(a) Method or system;
(c) the taking an early and manly stand. (J. Ker, D. D.)
The Holy Spirit is here describing the character of Reuben, the eldest son of Jacob. He is acknowledged, indeed, as the firstborn, but at the same time he is given to understand that he has forfeited his right; he is now to have no pre-eminence or authority over his brethren; he is not to excel, This passage may well lead us to serious reflection on the great and peculiar danger of unsteadiness.
I. This verse was written especially for the learning of those among Christians who have GOOD FEELINGS, who feel something of the beauty of holiness, who admire it, and are shocked at crime in others. All of us are by nature more or less partakers in these feelings; but we may, if we will, neglect to cherish them, and then they will die away and do us no good.
II. The true and faithful Christian is marked by nothing more certainly than by his FIRMNESS AND DECISION OF PURPOSE. He makes good resolutions and keeps them. He sets his face like a flint, and is not ashamed. A Christian without stability is a miserable wonder in the sight of God and His angels.
III. PERSEVERANCE--a kind of bold and generous obstinacy--is a necessary part of Christian goodness. There is no excelling without it; nay, so many are the snares and dangers which surround us, that there is no chance, but by it, of keeping even the lowest place in God’s kingdom.
IV. To all our other good purposes this one must be added--we must resolve, by the grace of God, not to measure things by the judgment of men, but to go strictly by THE RULE OF GOD’S COMMANDMENTS. We must guard against that tendency, so natural to many, to exhaust their repentance and good meaning in feelings and professions and strong words, instead of going on without delay to the calm and sober keeping of the commandments. We must pray that He who holds our hearts in His hand may not suffer our repentance to be as unstable as water, pouring itself out in vain and useless lamentation. (Plain Sermons by Contributors to the “Tracts for the Times. ”)
The blessing of Reuben
I. HIS PRIVILEGES. The first-born. Entitled to
(1) first rank among his brethren;
(2) leadership of the tribes;
(3) a double share of the inheritance (Genesis 27:29; Deuteronomy 21:17).
II. HIS FORFEITURE OF HIS PRIVILEGES.
1. By a foul sin.
2. By his instability of character.
3. By a life of sensuality. (T. H. Leale.)
Instability aloe to excellence
I. THAT ALL ARE UNDER OBLIGATION TO EXCEL. This arises from our duty towards God, others, and ourselves. It is taught in every department of nature, every scriptural command, every instinct of the soul.
II. THAT ALL EXCELLENCE HAS A DEADLY FOE IN INSTABILITY, How strikingly does St. James speak of the waverer (James 1:6). Double-minded man, unstable ways. Wrong in religion, wrong in everything.
III. THAT THIS DEADLY FOE OF INSTABILITY MAY BE VANQUISHED. In the gospel there is all that is necessary for conquest. It is the wisdom and power of God.
1. It points direct to God Himself.
2. It changes man’s very nature (cf. Isaiah 11:6 with 1 Peter 1:16)
. (J. Barber.)
I. WHAT OUGHT TO BE THE GRAND AIM OF EVERY REASONABLE BEING--To “excel.”
1. An excellence of dignity which all ought to desire; an “honour that cometh of God only”--a distinction, “whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
2. An excellence of power which should also be our aim.
II. WHAT MAY BE REGARDED AS ONE OF THE MOST FATAL IMPEDIMENTS TO THE ATTAINMENT OF THIS OBJECT.
1. If you are unstable in your principles--ever wavering and changing in your views of Christian truth--how is it likely that you should gain any assurance of ranking high in the favour of God? any growing power against the enemies of your soul?
2. If you are unstable in your purposes, it will be impossible for you to excel.
3. If you are unstable in your practice, the same consequence must needs follow; there can be no excellence.
III. BY WHAT MEANS THIS IMPEDIMENT MAY BE SURMOUNTED.
1. Seek to have a more abiding sense of your own insufficiency.
2. Expose your heart more habitually to the influences of the Spirit of God. (J. Jowett, M. A.)
Instability in religion
I. If we throw a stone into the water, although at first certainly it divides the surface and gives it a new impression, yet, after a few circling eddies, tranquility is restored, and no mark remains of its recent motion. If you launch a boat upon the stream, instead of its remaining a fixed weight upon it, it rolls and moves with the rolling current. If we cast our eyes upon the ocean, that mighty world of living waters, how changeable is the scene that comes before us! Every breeze that blows varies even its colour, while its waves exhibit to us nothing but tumult and commotion. Now all this is, in reality, what it is intimated to be in the text--an emblem and a picture of several amongst the children of men.
1. Whenever a new object comes before some people, it makes, like the stone cast into the water, an impression upon them at first; it engages their attention; they are, probably, pleased with it and delighted, and fancy that they have discovered the treasure of true satisfaction. But again, like the stone, after a few circling eddies--that is, after a few observations, after a few gratifications and short acquaintances--the novelty is over; something fresh catches the attention, and the former object departs without leaving a single mark or vestige behind.
2. You shall see other people, like the boat upon the stream, quite at the mercy of the fickle current. They never fix to anything; they are without a rudder, without ballast, without any of the other requisites of good management. The surface upon which they rest is soft and variable; and thereon, without allowing any confidence to be placed in their firmness and stability, they rock about with every momentary agitation of the water.
3. Thirdly, there are others completely like the sea. Such people never continue in the same mind for a month, nay, sometimes not even for a day together--and that too upon subjects of the greatest possible concern and importance. Now they view life and the world under one colour, and now under another: one while they are full of hope, and energy, and self-satisfaction; at another time they are absorbed in gloomy presentiments, and anxieties, and melancholy: one day they represent this life as everything; the next they speak against it as of no kind of importance or value at all: and all this, not from any change of circumstances; nor indeed from any one good cause, as relates to themselves, is this alteration in their opinions, but from an innate principle of unsteadiness, and from the temper and humour they happen to be in at the moment of forming them. Now, look at such men in their pursuits, and in their occupations; and there they are just the same as they were in their opinions; there is a perpetual variation. Observe such persons once more--observe them in their attachments: and what are they in this respect? The very same--inconstant and fickle.
II. But I come now to the most useful bearing in this argument: and that is the adaptation of it to higher, and to spiritual designs. If the sentiment in the text be a true one in affairs of this world how much more true is it in things connected with that world which is to come! If a man cannot excel in a trade, a profession, or science without study, application, and perseverance; if a man cannot, and with very just cause cannot, we will say, become either a good scholar or a skilful architect, provided he will not submit to the rules of the art, and if he only attend by fits and starts; how, let me ask, can he reasonably expect to become a good Christian by the same means? What is it that exempts Christianity from that careful attention that belongs to every other pursuit? What is it that induces us to hope that the foundation and superstructure, the knowledge, the experience, the application, the comfort of religious truths, are all to be acquired by a few trifling fanciful attempts, just according to a momentary burst of feeling, or a capricious use of accidental opportunities? Is it that religion is of no importance, and therefore need not take up much of our time? Our work is never done. Amongst the clearest truths in the whole Bible is this: that religion is a progressive state. (E. Scobell, M. A.)
The wretchedness of a wavering mind
I. Now the condition of a man who is divided between two contrary ways of life, between virtue and vice, godliness and irreligion, is CERTAINLY VERY WRETCHED AND DEPLORABLE.
1. This doubtful, uncertain way of living and thinking proceeds from a mean state of mind, such as is beneath the dignity of human nature.
2. But the dignity of our nature, is a consideration capable of touching but few. Let us go on therefore to more plain and affecting considerations. For such an unsettled temper of mind as we have described creates a great deal of trouble and disturbance to the man who is so unhappy as to be master of it.
3. But further, such a temper, so distracted between contrary inclinations and practices, is mischievous to a man in point of interest as well as ease. For it renders him unfit for all the affairs and business of life; incapable of forming advantageous designs with confidence, or of persecuting them with effect.
4. But these are slight inconveniences, in comparison of what follows; that such a wavering, uncertain temper of mind is utterly inconsistent with the terms of salvation, and the hopes of eternal happiness. For it is not an holiness taken up by fits and starts that can carry a man to heaven. It must be a constant regular principle, influencing us throughout, that must do that.
II. Secondly, to persuade the man that is thus bewildered To RETRIEVE HIMSELF BY SERIOUS CONSIDERATION, AS SOON AS IS POSSIBLE; AND TO FIX A SURE PRINCIPLE OF VIRTUE IN HIS MIND, THAT MAY GUIDE AND GOVERN HIM THROUGHOUT, AND MAKE HIM UNIFORMLY WISE AND HOLY. For which purpose I shall take leave to recommend two or three plain but useful considerations.
1. And first, he that sets about this work must be sure that his belief is right and sound at the bottom. For it is generally the uncertainty and waveringness of this that produces all that unevenness and disorder in the life and practice of mankind.
2. In the next place, consider well what that particular weight was, that in the days of his irresolution still hung upon him, and clogged all his virtuous endeavours.
3. When he has thus settled his faith upon good ground, and armed himself well against that sin which does so easily beset him (Hebrews 12:1), he must take care not to suffer himself to come within reach of anything that may anyways unfasten his resolutions, whilst they are yet young and tender.
4. If to these endeavours he joins fervent and unwearied prayer to Almighty God for the aids and support of His grace, he shall assuredly from thence be made perfect at last, be established, strengthened, settled. He shall have a new heart created in him, that shall enable him to be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58). (Bp. Atterbury.)
Here there is a reference to the forfeiture of the birthright by Reuben, and the sin of which that was the punishment. Its commission is traced to the geyser-like quality of Reuben’s character, which burst forth intermittently, now boiling up in a sudden surge, and now receding out of sight. Of this peculiarity we have instances in his spasmodic and therefore unsuccessful attempt to save the life of Joseph by getting him put into the pit, and then leaving him, and in his altogether extravagant offer to allow his two sons to be slain if he did not bring Benjamin safely back. Now, such a temperament never achieves excellence. It lacks perseverance and steadiness of application, and Jacob affirms that Reuben’s posterity, taken after their father in this respect, would never rise to any eminence in the nation. Nor did they; for it is remarkable that not one of the judges belonged to this tribe. It gave no great captain to the armies of Israel, and no name to the goodly fellowship of the prophets in the laud. In the song of Deborah it is mentioned with disapprobation among those who came not up to the help of the Lord; and the unreliableness of its members may be referred to in the words, “For the divisions of Reuben there were great thoughts of heart. Why abe(lest thou among the sheepfolds to hear the bleatings of the flocks? For the divisions of Reuben there were great searchings of heart.” So it passes down into the region that is below mediocrity, and becomes the type of superficial and short-lived impulse that dies away into inactivity and inefficiency. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Some years ago, there was an eldest boy in one of our religious schools--it was a school at Marlborough--and he was a Christian boy, and the younger boys loved him, and they said that he did more good than the master; he was such a Christian boy. I will not tell you his name, though I know it--he was always first in every good thing--first in loving and fearing God; and he did such good in Marlborough, that many boys said they owed a great deal indeed to that boy. He was the eldest, Reuben is the eldest, and therefore you will see his father calls him, in the verse before the text, “the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power,” and he calls him too “unstable as water.” Reuben had one great fault, and that spoiled him. Do you know what it was? He was unstable.” What does that mean? “Unstable.” I will tell you what that word means exactly; it means that his character did not stand; he was always changing; he was not steady to one thing: he was not a firm character: and because he was not a firm or steady character, it spoiled all. Now it says here, you see, that an “unstable man” is like “water.” Shall we think how he can be like “water”? There are several sorts of water--what water shall we think of? There is the sea, that is all water, and you know the sea is very restless--it does not keep still--it is not the same one day as it is another day--it occasionally looks a different colour, it sometimes looks green, sometimes blue, sometimes a kind of purple, sometimes whitey-brown; and then it is always tossing about. You remember it says in Isaiah 57:20, “Thewicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt.” I do not think that this is what the word means. Do you know how “water” is made? Water is made up of numbers and numbers of little round things called “globules,” little spheres; and they touch one another only at points, just like marbles in a bag; they cannot stick to one another. To speak properly, there is not much attraction or cohesion, because they are little round things; but they may be easily separated. Now a piece of wood is altogether different, because it is close, it is not composed of little round things. We can put our hands into a basin of water and move it about, but we cannot put our hands into a piece of wood, it is too firm; but as water sticks so little together, you can easily move it. If you put some water in a basin on a table, and you walk across the room, the water will move by the shaking; and even if you breathe upon it, the breath will cause it to move. For this reason it is so “unstable.” And you cannot, you know, make water stand up by itself. Supposing you get some water, and try to make a pillar of the water, you cannot do so. If you try to make water stand up by itself, it will not stand up. No, not even the most wonderful man that ever lived in the world, could make water stand up like a pillar. So a man that is “unstable” cannot stand; he is always moving--that is what it means. Think of the sea--think of the water in the basin--how it moves by a little touch. You may try but I am sure you cannot make water stand up. It is said of some people they are just like “water,” they cannot stand; they are always moving, always changing--“Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.” Will you look at Hosea 6:4 --“O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah what shall I do untothee? For your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.” Are you like that? Does all your religion soon pass away, soon go? It is very often the case with little children. I will tell you how it is. You kneel down to say your prayers, and before you have gone through them your thoughts travel I don’t know where; your thoughts all wander.
Then you go to other things. You go to your studies; you may be very diligent; you commence well; you open your books and begin to study, but before you get a very little way you have looked at something which sends your thoughts all wandering about; you do not keep steady; you are “unstable.” Then I will tell you another thing I think about some of you; that yon determine that you will be good, and love God, and do what is right; and yet, after perhaps a very little time, you break your resolution. You are “ unstable.” I will tell you a sad story. An old man was lying on a sick and dying bed, and he sent for all his children. When they gathered round him he said something like this: “ My dear children, never grieve the Holy Spirit. Take warning by me. When I was a little boy I had often religious instructions, but I did not take much account of them till I was about sixteen. Then I had very strong religious feelings--I had great convictions of sin, and I remember what I did. I remember saying to myself, ‘I must become a Christian, I must be religious, but I am very young now; there are a great many pleasures, and I will take my pleasure now, but will become religious soon.’ And so I put it away, and went on till I was twenty-five--just after I was married--and then came another, when it seemed as if the Holy Spirit was striving with me again, for He was very patient with me, and I had very strong religious feelings, and something seemed to whisper to me ‘Now, now.’ I remember what I did then. I said, ‘ Now I am married, and I must attend to my wife, to my home, and my children; I cannot forget them just now.’ And so it went on till I was forty. And when I was forty, I remember how the Spirit worked in my heart again, and urged me very strongly to decide for God. And again I said, ‘I am a man of business, I can’t do it while I have to keep up my business; when I give up my business, then I will give my whole heart to God.’ And so it went on for another ten years, till I was fifty, and then it once more came to me and said, ‘Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.’ I put it away more easily than I did before; I thought that soon I should be a very old man, and then I should be infirm and be obliged to stop in-doors, and then it would be the time to be religious. But now I lie upon my sick-bed, and now it does not seem as if the Holy Spirit is with me; He does not seem to draw me. I listen, I listen; but I quenched the Spirit--I stifled conviction. I have gone through life without Him, and now He seems gone! ‘Quench not the Spirit.’” And he died. I am not going to say, my dear children, whether that man was saved or not--God only knows--he may be; Jesus may have saved him. I know he was very unhappy indeed, to look back and think when he was dying that, he had been so “unstable.” Now I will tell you one more thing in which I think you are like the “water.” Don’t you find that you are very different, when you are with different sorts of people? When you are with good people, you feel hew pleasant it is to be good! Ah, when you go with another sort of people--wicked people, then you are like the wicked people, and you act like them, and feel like them! You are always like the people you are with--changing your character, and striving to please everybody. There is avery awful instance in the Bible of a man who did that. Do you know who it is? Pontius Pilate--he was like the people he was with. When he was with Christ, he was a Christian; when he was with a Jew, he was like a Jew; and when he was with a Roman, he was always like a Roman; and just see what he did. He at last became so wicked that he crucified Christ! He was a weak character. “Unstable as water thou shalt not excel.” Now I think you see how you are like “water.” Do you remember whether it is so? I think it is. Sometimes you have very good feelings, and they pass away like “the dew” in the morning. I think you make good resolutions and break them again. I think you act according to the people you are with. And in all these things you are “unstable” like the “water.” Now God has said, my dear children, that if you are “unstable” like the “water,” you “shall not excel.” If you are restless and changeable--if you are easily moved, like the “water” in the basin, by the breath of what anybody says, or the footsteps of a companion--if you cannot stand up you will never be great. Now I come to the all-important thing. Are you very weak, my dear children? Which is weaker--your bodies or your souls? You have not very strong bodies, but your souls are weaker than your bodies, A good old divine, one of the old Puritans, who lived a long time ago in England, says that he always had a broken wine glass, without the bottom, and around the wine glass he used to have the text written--“Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.” His soul was like the wine glass. To remind him how weak he was, he had this wine glass before him with the text written around it--“Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe.” How can we become more firm and strong that we may “excel”--that we may all be useful Christians? That is what I want you to think about. One thing is (and I am going to tell you four things), to keep your promise, to be consistent and decided. That is one thing. Let us look at something which does not change. It helps us very much if we want to do anything steadily, to look steadily at steady things. For instance, when a man is steering a ship, he must not look at the waves, he must look at the compass, or at some star; or when a man is ploughing a furrow, he must not look close to him, but at some object at the end of the field, and then the furrow would be straight; and if you want to walk along a plank, you must not look on the plank, you must look at the end. Do that with your soul. Think how unchangeable Jesus Christ has been to you ever since you were born. This is one thing; now I come to the second. You will find, if you live long enough and think about it, that you cannot stand, and your soul cannot stand by itself. As soon as you get a vine in your garden, and you wish to make that vine a splendid tree, you bind it around something--all the little creepers must be entwined about something for that purpose, else it will not become beautiful; and, oh I my dear children, we are all of us creepers, we cannot live and grow unless we creep. Well, let us look at Psalms 61:2 --“Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.” What a pretty prayer! “Oh! I am a poor, weak little girl (says one), I cannot keep my good resolutions; oh! ‘lead me to the Rock that is higher than I,’--that is, Jesus Christ: He is the Rock, and He will hold me up. And I shall twine around Christ, and shall get strong, because He is strong.” I will tell you about a man who lived some time ago. When he was a boy, he was very passionate, and often became very angry. This little boy had a very good mother--a kind, pious mother; and this mother used to read the Bible with him every morning, and she did what a great many good mothers do, when she had read a passage she used to say to the boy, “Let us take a verse and think of it during the day--have it for our motto for the day.” And one morning, when this little boy had been in a great passion, and had been a very naughty boy indeed, when he went to read to his mother, she chose the sixty-first Psalm, and they read it together, and she said, “Now, my dear boy, let us choose out of this Psalm a verse that shall be for our text for the day; and I think the best will be, ‘Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.’” And then she explained to him that Jesus Christ was “the Rock,” and that he could not conquer his temper if he did not go to Jesus Christ for help, and if he loved Jesus Christ he would be able to conquer himself; and he said, “I know I shall, I am sure I shall, I will conquer myself; I feel so different, that I am sure I shall never be angry again.” But, before the breakfast was over, the little boy was in a passion; yet when he was in that passion, his text came to his mind, “O lead me to the Rock that is higher than I”: and he was conquered much sooner than was generally the case, because he offered up the prayer,” O lead me to the Rock that is higher than I; He will conquer me.” That boy lived on, and had a great many troubles in life. He was a young man who was very unkindly treated. I will not tell you who it was; but he said he found his text like a talisman--that is, a sort of charm; and whenever he was getting angry, he thought of these words, “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I; and I shall conquer.” And when that man came to lie upon his dying bed, a minister went to see him, and he said, “What shall I read?” And he said, “Oh, read the sixty-first Psalm--I owe everything to that--read it; oh, read it on!” and when the minister came to the end of the second verse--“Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I,”--the sick man cried out, “Stop, stop; I can’t tell you what I owe to my mother who pointed out to me that verse when I was a little boy! She taught me to say, ‘Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I’; and so I was conquered.” Now I must go on to my third point. If you are a weak character, and know it, you must not expose yourself to temptation. Supposing a doctor came and said to you, “Now you are a person who will very easily take a fever”--would not you take great care not to go near a place where you knew there was a fever? Would not you be very careful? Supposing the cholera was very bad about, and you were told you must be particularly careful what you ate or drank, for you would easily take the cholera. Would not you be careful about your diet? I tell you, as the physician of your soul, that you are a character that will easily catch sin. Then, for God’s sake, don’t go near it--to danger; don’t go in temptation’s way, lest you catch that most contagious disease--sin. Once more. Take good care that you have some good foundation, as you are so “unstable.” We may be easily led--take care to have a good foundation. Some time ago a ship was wrecked on the coast. She was riding at anchor, but she slipped her anchor, and so, drifting, ran on shore. The sea was running very high; only a few were saved on that dreadful night; they were saved by swimming on shore, or by getting on planks. There was one man on board ship, who was as calm as possible on that terrific night. One of the sailors went to him and said, “Do you not know the danger? Don’t you know we have lost our anchor, and are drifting on to the shore? Our destruction is certain.” “Oh, I know, I know,” he replied, “I have an anchor for the soul, a castle built upon a rock, sure and steadfast.” And it was that which gave him such stability; because he had the anchor of the soul, he could do anything. (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
As the first-born, the full sprout of Jacob’s strength, Reuben was entitled according to natural right to the first rank among his brethren, the leadership of the tribes, and a double share of the inheritance. This dignity is expressed by Jacob in a few but simple words: “Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power.” Reuben’s standing among his brethren could not have been more exalted, and Jacob seems to set it before him in increased and reiterated language. Dignities such as are implied in these words involve tremendous responsibilities, which Reuben did not realise or fulfil. In equally few but startling words, Jacob sets before him his sin and consequent judgment: “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father’s bed; then defiledst thou it; my couch is gone.” Reuben’s sin was sensuality, lust, by which he was carried away; and because of this dominating propensity he would never excel. And what is the first truth taught us in this dignity and utter failure of Reuben? It is the truth running through the entire Scripture in every varied form--man’s original dignity and his utter failure. Its bud is seen in Eden at man’s creation, and the full-blown fruit in the awful and universal apostacy in the Book of Revelation. But there are other and more startling truths shadowed forth in this sin of Reuben’s. It is probable that old Jacob had not resented that sin at the time, or that Reuben had thought little of his father’s deep wrong, and of the sorrow that had wrung his heart in secret. In a little while it was passed over, and Reuben thought nothing more of it. How often it is so with many. The crime they have committed in secret has for the moment made the conscience uneasy. The deep wrong inflicted has perhaps left some temporary compunction. But because no hand of retribution has been laid upon them, and no shadow of vengeance has darkened their path, it is soon forgotten. The pressure of business, and the round of amusements, and the ten thousand influences driving the thoughts into new channels, has forced it out of memory, and so the thing is forgotten. Nay, but sin dogs the steps, and brings its consequences to light at unexpected moments, and in most unlikely ways. Here, years after its commission, it starts up to darken the path of the criminal, surefooted though slow of pace to cast a blight over all its prospects, and make a man feel that there is a judgment awaiting him. Observe, again, how few trace their not excelling to some past act which has tainted their whole moral and intellectual nature. Some secretly gratified lust has given a downward impetus to the character, which has been again and again repeated. These undisclosed chapters in the man’s history are the explanation of his “instability” of character, just as the hectic flush on the countenance betrays the deadly disease preying upon the vitals. There is no remedy for such a state of things but a change of heart, a great and mighty transformation, of soul by the Spirit of God. And even then, the taint of the original sin will colour the natural life to the end, and can only be met by constant watchfulness, struggle, and prayer. (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
Perfect stability has ceased from the world since the day when Adam fell. He was stable enough when in the garden he was obedient to his Master’s will; but when he ate of the forbidden fruit he did not only slide himself, but he shook the standing places of all his posterity. Perfect stability belongs alone to God; He alone, of all beings, is without variableness or shadow of a turning. He is immutable; He will not change. He is all-wise; He need not change. He is perfect; He cannot change. But men, the best of them, are mutable, and therefore to a degree they are unstable, and do not excel. Yet it is remarkable that, although man has lost perfect stability, he has not lost the admiration of it. Perhaps there is no virtue, or, rather, no compound of virtues, which the world more esteems than stability of mind. You will find that, although men have often misplaced their praise, and have called those great who were not great, morally, but were far below the level of morality, yet they have scarcely ever called a man great who has not been consistent, who has not had strength of mind enough to be stable in his principles. Now my brethren, if it be so in earthly things, it is so also in spiritual. Instability in religion is a thing which every man despises, although every man has, to a degree, the evil in himself; but stability in the firm possession and practice of godliness will always win respect, even from the worldly, and certainly will not be forgotten by Him whose smile is honour and whose praise is glory, even the great Lord and Master, before whom we stand or fall. I have many characters here to-day whom I desire to address in the words of my text. “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.”
I. First, then, to all Christians permit me to address myself. We are none of us stable as we should be. We had a notion when we were first converted, that we should never know a change; our soul was so full of love that we could not imagine it possible we should ever flag in our devotion; our faith was so strong in our Incarnate Master, that we smiled at older Christians who talked of doubts and fears; our faces were so steadfastly set Zionward that we never imagined By-path Meadow would ever be trodden by our feet. We felt sure that our course would certainly be “like the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” But, my brethren, have we found it so? Have we not this day to lament that we have been very changeable and inconstant, even unstable as water? How unstable have we been in our frames? We have had more changes than even this variable climate of ours. It is a great mercy for us that frames and feelings are not always the index of our security; for we are as safe when we are mourning as we are when we are singing; but, verily, if our true state before God had changed as often as our experience of his presence, we must have been cast into the bottomless pit years ago. And how variable have we been in our faith! In the midst of one trouble we have declared, “though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him,” we have courted the jeer, we have laughed at the scorn of the world, and have stood like rocks in the midst of foaming billows, when all men were against us; another week has seen us flying away, after denying our Master, because like Peter, we were afraid of some little maid, or of our own shadow. And have you not also, at times, my friends, felt variable in your love? How unstable we are! At one time we are quite certain we are the Lord’s; though an angel from heaven should deny our election, or our adoption, we would reply that we have the witness of the Spirit that we are born of God, but perhaps within two minutes we shall not be able to say that we ever had one spiritual feeling. We shall perhaps think we never repented aright, never fled to Christ aright, and did never believe to the saving of soul. Oh! it is no wonder that we do not excel, when we are such unstable creatures.
II. And now leaving these general remarks I have to single out a certain class of persons. I believe them to be TRUE CHRISTIANS, but they are Christians of a singular sort. How many Christians have we in our churches that are unstable as water? I suppose they were born so. They are just as unstable in business as they are in religion; they open a grocer’s shop, and shut it in three months, and turn drapers, and when they have been drapers long enough to become almost bankrupts, they leave that and try something else. When they were boys they could never play a game through; they must always be having something fresh: and now they are just as childish as when they were children. Look at them in doctrine, you never know where to find them. Oh ye unstable Christians, hear ye the word of the Lord! “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.” Your life shall have little of the cream of happiness upon it: you shall not walk in the midst of the King’s highway, in which no lion shall be found, but you shall walk on the edge of the way, where you shall encounter every danger, feel every hardship and endure every ill. You shall have enough of God’s comfort to keep you alive, but not enough to give you joy in your spirit and consolation in your heart. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Reuben the unstable
1. Reuben seems to have been a man who exercised no control over himself. He schooled himself to no particular line of thought or work, but was carried hither and thither by every momentary desire or passion.
2. Jacob’s prophecy concerning Reuben was a true one. His weakness and character and its baneful influence would have seem to have affected all his posterity. There is no record of any great action, and no mention of any judge or prophet or leader of any kind belonging to the tribe of Reuben.
3. The character of this man is by no means a rarity. There are those who have had every advantage of birth, education, and social position to start with in life; but from the first they were so shifting in purpose, so volatile in character, and so apt to be carried away by impulse and passion, that they have not benefited by their superior advantages, and have utterly failed to make progress in the race of life.
4. It is the curse of sin, that it unnerves man, destroying the nobility of his character and bringing him down to be the slave of his lower nature.
5. The great secret of excellence lies in steadiness and perseverance. (J. Menzies.)
Example of indecision
Pilate exhibited a sad degree of vacillation, inconsistency, indecision. Now he throws all blame upon the priests: “I am innocent of His blood; see ye to it.” Again he takes the entire responsibility upon himself. “Knowest Thou not that I have power to crucify Thee, and power to release?” Now he pronounces Jesus innocent, yet with the same breath proposes to have Him punished as guilty; now he gives Him up, and then he has recourse to every kind of expedient to rescue. Unstable as water, he does not, he cannot succeed. He allowed others to dictate to him. Carelessly and inconsiderately, he submits that to their judgment which he should have kept wholly within his own hold. He becomes thus as a wave of the sea, as a feather in the air, which every breeze of heaven bloweth about as it listeth. (Dr. Hanna.)
Vacillation of indecision--
A man without decision can never be said to belong to himself; since, if he dared to assert that he did, the puny force of some cause about as powerful you would have supposed as a spider, may make a seizure of the hapless boaster the very next moment, and contemptuously exhibit the futility of the determinations by which he was to have proved the independence of his understanding and his will. He belongs to whatever can make capture of him, and one thing after another vindicates its right to him, by arresting him while he is trying to go on; as twigs and chips floating near the edge of a river, are intercepted by every weed and whirled in every little eddy. Having concluded on a design, he may pledge himself to accomplish it--if the hundred diversities of feeling which may come within the week will let him. His character precluding all foresight of his conduct, he may sit and wonder what form and direction his views and actions are destined to take to-morrow; as a farmer has often to acknowledge that next day’s proceedings are at the disposal of its winds and clouds. (J. Foster.)
Weakness of indecision
Incapable of setting up a firm purpose on the basis of things as they are, he is often employed in vain speculations on some different supposable state of things which would have saved him from all this perplexity and irresolution. He thinks what a determined course he could have pursued if his talents, his health, his age had been different; if he had been acquainted with some one person sooner; if his friends were on this or the other point different from what they are; or if fortune had showered her favours on him. And he gives himself as much license to complain as if all these advantages had been among the rights of his nativity, but refused by a malignant or capricious fate to his life. Thus he is occupied, instead of marking with a vigilant eye, and seizing with a strong hand all the possibilities of his actual situation. (J. Foster.)
Example of indecision
He was--i.e. Balaam--as an old writer remarks, one of those unstable men whom the apostle calls “doubleminded,” an ambi-dexter in religion, like Redwald king of the East Saxons, the first that was baptised, who (as Camden relates) had in the same church one altar for the Christian religion, and another for sacrificing to devils; and a loaf of the same leaven was our resolute Rufus, that painted God on one side of his shield and the devil on the other, with this desperate inscription, In utrunque paratus--“ready for either.”
It is related of Alexander the Great, that, being asked how it was that he had conquered the world, he replied, “By not wavering.”
The decided man
Behold the decided man! He may be a most evil man; he may be grasping, avaricious, covetous, unprincipled, still, look how the difficulties of life know the strong man, and give up the contest with him. A universal homage is paid to the decided man as soon as he appears among men. He walks by the light of his own judgment; he has made up his mind; and having done so, henceforth action is before him. He cannot bear to sit amidst unrealised speculations; to him speculation is only valuable that it may be resolved into living and doing. There is no indifference, no delay. The spirit is in arms; all is in earnest. Thus Pompey, when hazarding his life on a tempestuous sea in order to be at Rome on an important occasion, said, “It is necessary for me to go; it is not necessary for me to live.” Thus Caesar, when he crossed the Rubicon, burned the ships upon the shore which brought his soldiers to land, that there might be no return. (E. P. Hood.)
Evils of inconstancy
An inconstant and wavering mind, as it makes a man unfit for society (for that there can be no assurance of his words or purposes, neither can we build on them without deceit), so, besides that, it makes a man ridiculous, it hinders him from ever attaining any perfection in himself (for a rolling stone gathers no moss, and the mind, while it would be everything, proves nothing. Oft changes cannot be without loss); yea, it keeps him from enjoying that which he hath attained. For it keeps him ever in work, building, pulling down, selling, changing, buying, commanding, forbidding. So, while he can be no other man’s friend, he is the least his own. It is the safest course for a man’s profit, credit and ease, to deliberate long, to resolve surely, hardly to alter, not to enter upon that whose end he sees not unanswerable, and when he is once entered not to surcease till he have attained the end he foresaw. So may he, to good purpose, begin a new work when he hath well finished the old. (Bp. Hall.)
Difficulty of decision:
“I have often made stern resolutions not to overwork myself, and to take more relaxation; but ‘no’ is not learnt in a day.” (George Moore.)
A contrast of decision:
When general Suwaroff commanded, under the Prince of Coburg, on the frontiers of Turkey, he had an army of twenty-five thousand men. Coburg himself had thirty-seven thousand, and the Turks only twenty-eight thousand. Prince Coburg’s army, which had taken a good position on a rising ground, about nine miles distant from Suwaroff, was attacked and obliged to fall back. Coburg then wrote to Suwaroff, “I was attacked this morning by the Turks. I have lost my position and artillery. I send you no instructions what to do. Use your own judgment, only let me know what you have done as soon after as you can.” Suwaroff immediately sent the following answer, “I shall attack the Turks to-morrow morning, drive them from your position, and retake your cannon.” Before three o’clock in the afternoon Surwaroff kept his word; and Coburg’s army had the cannon and their old position before night.
The prophecy respecting Reuben:
That the tribe of Reuben did not excel is evident at the first glance of Hebrew history. At the time of the Exodus it was but the seventh in population, and, before entering Canaan, its numbers had so far diminished that it was then the ninth (Numbers 1:21; Numbers 26:5). On the division of the Promised Land, the Reubenites received an inheritance on the east side of the Jordan, where they were exposed to the incursions of surrounding nations (Numbers 32:1; Joshua 1:14, &c.), and it is observable that they were among the first of the tribes of Israel who were carried away by the kings of Assyria (see 1 Chronicles 5:26). (Thornley Smith.)
It is a miserable thing to see men and women driven before the wind like thistledown. You can make your choice whether, if I may so say, you shall be like balloons that are at the mercy of the gale, and can only shape their course according as it comes upon them and blows them along; or like steamers that have an inward power that enables them to keep their course from whatever point the wind blows; or like some sharply-built sailing ship, that, with a strong hand at the helm, and canvas rightly set, can sail almost in the teeth of the wind and compel it to bear it along in all but the opposite direction to that in which it would carry her if she lay like a log on the water. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
An irresolute man:
Surely there is nothing walks the earth more contemptible, as well as more certainly evil, than a man who lets himself be made by whatever force may happen to be strongest near him, and fastening up his helm, and unshipping his oars, is content to be blown about by every vagrant wind, and rolled in the trough of each curling wave. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Man united to the strong
We must be made fast to something that is fast, if we are not to be swept like thistledown before the wind. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
A strong purpose in life:
What a noble thing any life becomes, that has driven through it the strength of a uniting single purpose, like a strong shaft of iron bolting together the two tottering walls of some old building. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Simeon and Levi are brethren
The blessing of Simeon and Levi:
1. Immoderate revenge.
2. Cruelty to unoffending beasts.
3. Their cruelty was deliberate.
II. THEIR PENALTY.
1. To be disavowed by the good.
2. Their deed is branded with a curse.
3. They are condemned to moral and political weakness. (T. H.Leale.)
Simeon and Levi
The passage begins by declaring “Simeon and Levi are brethren.” “Brethren” not merely as having the same parents, but in thought, feeling, action. “Instruments of cruelty are in their habitations.” Such wickedness had these two brothers committed (see chap. 34. 25th and following verses) that Jacob could have no sympathy with it. As they had joined together to commit it, so righteous retribution was to follow. They were to be “ divided” and “ scattered.” Thus the murderous propensity of their nature would bring untold trouble upon Israel, and only by breaking this union and scattering them throughout Israel could their power for evil be weakened. They should form no independent or compact tribes. This sentence was so strikingly fulfilled when Canaan was conquered, that on the second numbering under Moses, Simeon had become the weakest of all the tribes (see Numbers 26:14).
1. Among the many lessons taught by the conduct of this tribe let us notice first, that though men may be “brethren,” there may be underneath this hallowed term principles utterly at variance with it. How sacred may be the outward sign, how suggestive of all that is commendable and holy, how hideous the principles it covers! The whited sepulchre may indeed cover the revolting sight of dead men’s bones. Such terms are the outward memorials of what should be, but too often they serve to represent their very opposite. One bearing the holiest of all names, Christian, may have a devil at heart.
2. Mark another truth. “Their swords are weapons of violence,” the patriarch says--the “anger was fierce,” the “wrath was cruel.” The sword is a lawful weapon. Anger may be right and wrath too. It is when they degenerate into “violence,” “fierceness,” and “cruelty” that they become sin. From being instruments of righteousness it is an easy transition to become instruments of Satan. And let not our inveterate self-righteousness take refuge under the covering that because no such crime as “houghing the oxen” is ours, therefore we are all right before God. Is it possible for such an easy self-deception: Yes, possible, and the thought of many, yea of most. What I is there not adultery in a “look”? Is there not murder in a feeling?
3. And observe, it is the sin that is cursed and not the sinner: “Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel.” It is the same all through the Bible. The sinner is never cursed apart from the sin that is in him. And for this sin which draws down that curse God has made a rich provision in Christ’s precious blood. If the sinner is cursed it is because he loves his sin, and clings to it, and will not have it removed. “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.” Sin must be cursed. And if the sinner will not avail himself of the remedy, but still cleave to his sin, then he may be cursed with it--“the wrath of God abideth on him.”
4. Observe another truth in the history of these tribes in conjunction with that of Reuben in the last chapter. It is this, that the result of all sin, all living to the flesh, is diminution. Reuben’s sin led to it, for Moses had to pray that he might have a “few men” left, and not become altogether extinct. Simeon and Levi were to be “divided” and” scattered”; and both traceable to one cause--giving way to the flesh, to sensuality and self-will. Yes, living to self, to sin, to anything lower than Christ, does diminish. It makes us little--increasingly little. It banishes every vestige of largeness and greatness and grandness from our character, and from everything about us. We become little hearted, little souled, little in our ways of looking at things.
5. Lastly, let Jacob’s word of warning go forth to every Christian: “O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united.” The patriarch, as he thinks of their sin, traces its source to a “secret” spring, and its manifestation in an “assembly.” He warns us to have nothing to do with one or the other. The outward association and the secret spring are both alike dangerous to the soul. Like the Psalmist in his first Psalm, he would, as a faithful sentinel, warn us against coming in the way of either. And it is well, when evil is around us, to talk to one’s own soul about it all. “O my soul, come not thou into their secret; mine honour, be not thou united.” To make a clamour is easy. But let us watch our own souls, and all such meditation should have one effect--one of solemnity, separation, holiness: “Come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united.” If there is anything of God in you, then, “be not thou united.” No union with the flesh, or with aught that is contrary to God. (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
The tutor’s prediction respecting Tiberius
Theodorus Gaddaraeus, who was tutor to Tiberius the Roman Emperor, observing in him, while a boy, a very sanguinary nature and disposition, which lay lurking under a show of levity, was wont to call him “a lump of clay steeped and soaked in blood.” His predictions of him did not fail in the event. Tiberius thought death was too light a punishment for any one that displeased him. Hearing that one Carnulius who had displeased him had cut his own throat, “Carnulius,” said he, “has escaped me.” To another, who begged of him that he might die quickly, “No,” said he, “you are not so much in favour as that yet.” (Moral and Religious Anecdotal.)
A curse or a blessing
I would remind you of the different histories of the tribes of Simeon and Levi, as being alike fulfilments of one and the same prophecy. That was not because the prediction itself was, like some of the heathen oracles, so vague or so ambiguous that it could not be falsified by any event, for the phrases, “I will divide them in Jacob and scatter them in Israel,” are both definite and clear. But the explanation is to be found in the subsequent conduct of the men of Levi, as contrasted with that of the men of Simeon, whereby in the one case the prophecy took the ultimate character of a blessing, and in the other it kept that of a curse. Now this was in the lifetime of a tribe which extended over hundreds of years, but something not dissimilar may occur in the lifetime of an individual. Let us suppose that two men have been guilty of the same sin, and that as the penal consequence they have both had to bear the same thing, namely, separation from their native land and virtual transportation to a new and strange country. But the one, unwarned thereby, continues in his wicked ways, and goes down and down in iniquity, until he ceases to be recognizable even by those who look for him; while the other, moved to penitence, begins a new career, earns an honourable independence, gives himself to public affairs, and becomes a benefactor to the colony or the state, so that at length his name is everywhere mentioned with gratitude and respect. Here the proximate results in both cases were the same, but the ultimate how different! and all owing to the different dispositions of the two men. Nor is this an improbable supposition; you may have come on many eases like it, and they are all full of warning to some and encouragement to others, not only for the present life, but also for that which is to come. Up to a certain point we have power, by our penitence, to make blessing for ourselves for the life that now is and for that which is to come; nay, even after we have lost the first opportunity, there may come another on a lower plane; but at length there is a limit, beyond which all such opportunities cease, and we must “dree our weird” eternally. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise
The blessing of Judah:
THAT HE SHOULD WIN THE PRAISE OF HIS BRETHREN.
II. THAT HE SHOULD BE THE TYPE OF THE VICTORIOUS HERO.
1. A growing power.
2. A. righteous power.
3. A power to be dreaded.
III. THAT HE SHOULD BE THE TYPE OF THE MESSIAH.
1. In his sovereignty. For--
(1) He had regal power.
(2) He had power combined with gentleness.
(3) He had a power which sweetly wins obedience.
2. In his prosperity. (T. H. Leale.)
I. JUDAH’S PRAISE.
1. He is first in intercession.
2. He is first in wisdom.
3. He takes precedence in offering (see Numbers 7:12).
4. He takes precedence in march (see Numbers 10:14; Judges 1:2). In all things he has the pre-eminence (Psa 68:67-68).
II. JUDAH’S TRIUMPHS ABROAD. “Thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies.” Illustrate by life of David--He passed through severe conflicts 1 Samuel 17:34-36). He gained great victories (2 Chronicles 13:14). He founded a peaceful empire. He utterly crushed the forces of his foes, and broke the neck of all opposition. So has our Lord done by His life, death, resurrection, reigning power, and second coming.
III. JUDAH’S HONOURS AT HOME. “Thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.”
1. He became the head of the family.
2. He was clothed with lion-like power. “He couched as a lion, and as an old lion” (see verse 9). “The lion of the tribe of Judah hath prevailed” Revelation 5:5).
3. He is the centre of our assembling. “To him shall the gathering of the people be” (verse 10).
4. His glory is His meekness. “Binding his foal,” &c. (verse 11). “Thy King cometh, meek and sitting upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Matthew 21:5).
5. The wine hath at His first and second advent makes Him lovely in our eyes (verses 11, 12); also “I have trodden the wine-press alone” (Isaiah 63:1-3).
6. He is king to us for ever. Hallelujah (see Hosea 11:12). “Ephraim compasseth me about with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit: but Judah yet ruleth with God.” Are we among the foes against whom He fights as a lion? Let us beware how we rouse Him up (verse 9). Are we among His friends for whom He fights? Let us praise Him with all our hearts, and now bow down before Him. Are we not His Father’s children? Do we hunger and thirst after heavenly food? See in the 12th verse how abundant are wine and milk with Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The blessing of Judah
The first verse of Jacob’s blessing on Judah begins with the final triumph of the tribe and victory over all its foes. It then descends to details as to how this victory will be accomplished. As we look at it let us read in it the history of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. There are consecutive stages in the verses, beginning with the highest in the first line of the first verse of the text: “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise.” The order of these verses is one of constant occurrence in the Bible. The issue, great, grand, and glorious, is first stated, then we descend to the details by which it is brought about. “Thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise.” Praise is the final note and the never ending one to the Lord Jesus Christ. It begins when the soul is first brought to know experimentally the Lord Jesus Christ, in His Person and in His work, as the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Praise for the pardon of all guilt and the forgiveness of all sin through the precious blood of Jesus. Praise for that wondrous love that has stooped down to our lowest condition and lifted us up out of the pit of corruption to His throne of glory. And whence is the source of all this joy and praise now and hereafter? We have it in the next clause: “Thy hand shall be in the neck of Thine enemies.” It is that hand of which we read so much in God’s Word. “He laid His right hand upon me.” “And Jesus stretched forth His hand.” These and such passages tell us what it means. It is Christ putting forth His power over every foe. He conquered death and hell. He conquers still every foe thou hast. Therefore it is that “Thy Father’s children bow down to Thee.” For whom have we in heaven or on earth like Him! There is none like Thee! Lord, to whom shall we go?
Let every tongue be vocal with Thy praise, every heart bow down at Thy feet. Let all our powers, all that is nearest and dearest, be laid there. Yes, “the father’s children shall bow down before Him.” The whole of Israel and Judah shall bow down before Jesus. He is their Messiah and their King. But observe further how this is brought about. “Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion and as an old lion: who shall rouse him up?” The words point to something far greater and deeper in spiritual import. In this graphic picture we behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lord Jesus Christ. In the young lion ripening into full strength as a growing lion, and becoming the ancestor of the lion tribe, we see the growth of this Lion from infancy to manhood. “He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant and as a root out of a dry ground.” “But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto Me that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old from everlasting. And the remnant of Jacob shall be among the Gentiles in the midst of many people as alien among the beasts of the forest, as a young lion among the flocks of sheep: who, if he go through, both treadeth down and teareth in pieces, and none can deliver” (Micah 5:2-8). “He couched; he lay down as a lion, and as a great lion; who shall stir him up?” Numbers 24:9). In all these passages we see the Lion of the tribe of Judah going forth at the head, and as the Leader of His people Israel. And what is the meaning of the lion seizing its prey and then ascending to its lair in the mountains? What but that same Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Son of God from heaven, seizing its prey and conquering it, when He laid down His life on the cross. There He met every foe, and gained His great victory over the devil, over sin and death and the grave. There He seized the prey, and from that great fight and victory “He went up”--up to His Father’s throne as man’s great Representative. And so we have Him brought before Revelation 5:5-6) in the double character as the Lamb of God, the Sin-bearer of the human race, and in the royal dignity of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Yes, our Jesus went up from the prey, and as He went up, ten thousand times ten thousands of angels uttered their voices, “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of Glory shall come in. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord, strong and mighty; the Lord, mighty in battle. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord of hosts, He is the King of Glory” (Psalms 24:7-8; Psalms 24:10). But there is another figure in the picture drawn by Jacob. The figure of a lion is followed by that of a lioness, peculiarly fierce in defending its young. Have we not here the Lion of the tribe of Judah as the Avenger of His people, coming forth to execute judgment upon the nations? At present we see this Lion “ stooping down,” “couching,” waiting for that moment when He shall come forth to seize upon the prey. “From the prey” He has indeed “gone up”; but He is to return again as the Lion of the tribe of Judah to “take vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Romans 11:26; John 14:2-3; Acts 1:11; Revelation 19:11-15; Mt Amos 3:11; Revelation 1:7; Hebrews 9:28; Isaiah 11:10-11; Philippians 3:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Zechariah 14:4-5). But to pass on to the remaining portion of the text: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, till Shiloh come, and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” A sceptre is the symbol of regal command, and, in its earliest form, it was a long staff which the king held in his hand when speaking in public assemblies; when he sat upon his throne he rested it “ between his feet” inclining towards himself. The idea is that Judah was to have the rule, the chieftainship, till Shiloh came. We must also bear in mind that the coming of Shiloh was not to terminate the rule of Judah. It would then only attain to full dominion in the Person of the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Judah was to bear the sceptre with victorious lion-courage until, in the future Shiloh, the obedience of the nations came to Him, and through Him eventually widening into the peaceful government of the world. The term “ Shiloh” is strikingly confirmatory of this view in relation to Christ and His work. Critically it means “rest,” “peace,” “quietness.” So Christ is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). “In His time,” it is said, “there shall be abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth” (Psalms 72:7). Again, “This Man shall be our peace” (Micah 5:5). Of Christ, it is said, “peace on earth” was sung by angels at His birth. His own words were, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you”: “Come unto Me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest”: and again, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me: and ye shall find rest unto your souls”: again, “These things have I spoken unto you that in Me ye might have peace.” Peace, rest, and quietness, these are the meaning of “Shiloh,” and they are all fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. But let us mark another expression of Jacob’s with reference to this Shiloh: “unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” Two meanings are wrapped up in these words. First, Shiloh is the Gatherer; and secondly, He gathers to Himself. Mark how our blessed Lord confirms this Himself: “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me.” This the Lord Jesus is doing now in grace; but the full accomplishment has not yet taken place. The time is drawing near when “all kings shall bow down before Him, all nations shall serve Him.” “As I live, saith the Lord, to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall confess.” And the time is at hand. We can even now hear the sound of His chariot wheels in the distance. The Church’s journey is nearly done. All things tell us that the morning is at hand, and with that morning the joyous greeting and the eternal gladness, the sun that shall no more go down, and the hallelujahs of a multitude that no man can number meeting in the house of their Father to go no more out. Blessed morning, long expected! Hasten thy dawning upon our troubled world; Yea, “come, Lord Jesus, come quickly!” But to revert once more to Jacob’s blessing on Judah. Observe the superabundance of Judah’s blessings, and their deep spiritual import: “binding his foal unto the vine; and his ass’s colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes.” “His eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.” Judah is here depicted as having attained, even before the coming of Shiloh, to a rest acquired by victory over surrounding foes, and enjoying in peaceful repose the abundance of his inheritance. But such a view is far from exhausting the words here brought before us. Indeed, in no full sense were they ever realized in the tribe of Judah. It is to the many and great spiritual blessings of the Lion of the tribe of Judah these words refer. We read of “the love of Christ that passeth knowledge”; of “joy unspeakable and full of glory”; that if all the things about Jesus were to be written “the world itself could not contain the books that should be written;” that “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man to conceive, the things that God hath prepared for them that love Him.” And let us notice, every one of these blessings are directly connected with Christ Himself. The word “His,” which runs through these verses, shows us this. “His eyes red”; “His teeth white”; “His garments washed in wine”; “His clothes in the blood of grapes.” Such expressions remind us of the Song of Solomon, in which the Beloved is described in similar language. They all show us the preciousness of the Person of the Lord Jesus; just as the beloved apostle loved to dwell upon it in his description in Revelation 1:13-16. (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be
A revelation of Christ:
Using the word prophecy in its predictive sense, this is THE LANGUAGE OF UNQUESTIONABLE PROPHECY.
II. This prophecy contains REVELATION OF CHRIST.
III. This revelation of Christ was connected with the announcement of THE PARTICULAR TIME WHEN HE WAS TO APPEAR.
IV. This announcement is connected with a statement showing IN WHAT WAY HIS PEOPLE WILL COME TO HIM. It is at once predictive and descriptive.
V. This statement suggests an inquiry into THE DESIGN OF CHRIST IN GATHERING THE PEOPLE TO HIMSELF. In harmony with His title as “the Peaceful One,” His grand design is to give them rest.
1. Rest, by reconciling them to God.
2. Rest, by effecting the spiritual union of man with man.
3. Rest, by leading us to perfect rest in another world. (C. Stanford, D. D.)
The Shiloh; or, the world’s tranquilizer:
I. THE FULFILLED PART OF THIS PROPHECY CONCERNING CHRIST.
1. That Judah should have regal power.
2. The continuation of this authority up to a certain time.
3. The fulfilled part of this prophecy shows two things--
(1) Man’s power, through God, of foreseeing the future.
(2) God’s character as the Governor of the world.
(a) His faithfulness, strictly adhering to His word through the sweep of ages.
(b) His almightiness, so over-ruling the affairs of nations and of generations as to bring about to the very hour the facts He foretold.
II. THE FULFILLING PART OF THIS PROPHECY. “Unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.”
1. Self-sacrificing kindness attracts men.
2. Marevellousness attracts men.
3. Promise of good attracts men.
4. Sublime grandeur attracts men. (Homilist.)
The promised Shiloh:
I. THE TITLE OF THE SAVIOUR.
1. A messenger, or one who is sent (John 6:29; John 6:38; John 6:57; John 7:16; Joh 28:9-33).
2. Peace-maker (Ephesians 2:13; Colossians 1:20).
3. Prosperous Saviour.
II. THE APPEARING OF THE MESSIAH.
1. He was to be of the tribe of Judah.
2. He was to come before the rule and authority of the tribe of
Judah should cease.
III. THE WORK OF THE MESSIAH “Unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” They are gathered--
1. To His cross as the source of salvation.
2. To His cause as His devoted followers.
3. To His Church as the visible friends of His kingdom.
4. To His royal standard as His loyal and obedient subjects.
5. To His glorious kingdom as the trophies of His grace, to shine forth in the lustre of purity and blessedness for ever and ever.
1. The true character of the Lord Jesus. He is the promised Shiloh.
2. Have we been brought to a saving experimental knowledge of His grace?
3. The full accomplishment of the text is yet to come. (J. Burns, D. D.)
The prophecy of Jacob respecting Shiloh:
I. It will be proper, first, TO CONSIDER THE PROPHECY AND ITS FULFILMENT. Until the period at which it was delivered the nation of Israel was not divided into tribes; but from this period it was always so divided. The prophecy asserts that the sceptre should not depart from the tribe of Judah until a personage here denominated Shiloh should appear.
1. What we are to understand by the term “sceptre,” as here employed, is the whole question: whether it relates to regal authority, as some suppose. This appears improbable; for, in the first place, the regal sceptre was not specially placed in the tribe of Judah, and could not be said to depart from that tribe more than another; secondly, Saul was of the tribe of Benjamin, not of Judah; neither were the Maccabeans of Judah’s tribe. “Sceptre” here denotes a staff of office; each tribe had its rod of power, and the meaning is that the authority of a tribe should remain in Judah until the period specified should arrive. After the three captivities the ten tribes, which had been separated from those of Judah and Benjamin in the reign of Rehoboam, were lost and blended among the nations. But Judah and Benjamin, thenceforward regarded as one tribe, still possessed its rod of authority, and hence the name of Jew, derived from Judah, was used to mark the whole nation. Judah remained as a separate people during the captivity at Babylon.
2. The term “lawgiver” must be limited in its interpretation by the term “sceptre.”
3. Concerning the meaning of the term “Shiloh,” which occurs only in the text, various opinions have been proposed; the most probable is that it denotes the Peace-maker, Jesus Christ, who came (as the angels celebrated His nativity) to give “peace on earth”; or, as others think, it may mark Him as “sent,” and thus be taken as the same word with “Siloam,” which the evangelist interprets as “sent”; He continually spoke of Himself as one whom God had “sent.”
4. The prophecy proceeds to state that “to Him shall the gathering of the people be”; words which express the dependence of faith, the allegiance of hope, which would centre in the promised Lord of all. Jesus Christ is the bond of a new society on earth!
II. BY WAY OF BRIEF IMPROVEMENT OBSERVE--
1. The force of prophecy as an evidence of inspiration. The sign and test of prophecy is its fulfilment, according to the rule laid down by Moses, “if the word does not take place the Lord has not spoken.”
2. The dignity of our Lord. He appears as the chief, the central object of prophecy; the light that illuminates its obscurity.
3. The consolation which believers may derive from the character which our Saviour sustains.
4. Our assembling on this and similar occasions proves the truth of the prediction; it is a comment on the words, “To Him shall the gathering of the people be.” Why are we not Gentile idolaters? it is because “Shiloh” has appeared among us.
5. Observe, as the last thing, the vanity of Jewish hope. The people to whom He came are still “looking for another”: contradicting all prophecy, all history! But when the fulness of the Gentiles shall come in, when the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled, the children of Judah shall yet be visited with the Spirit of grace and supplications; “ they shall look on Him whom they have pierced; and shall mourn for Him as one that mourneth for his first-born.” Let us pray for their national conversion. (R. Hall, M. A.)
The prophecy respecting Shiloh:
I. WE SHALL ENDEAVOUR TO ASCERTAIN THE GENERAL PURPORT OF THE TERMS, SCEPTRE, LAWGIVER, AND SHILOH. If these words are satisfactorily defined, and correctly applied, there will be no difficulty whatever in the discussion of our second proposition. In our language the sceptre is a kind of royal staff or baton, which is borne on solemn occasions by kings as a token of their command and royal authority. In the Word of God it has evidently the same meaning, and was similarly used in ancient times. With regard to the word lawgiver it seems to signify legislative, or rather judicial, authority, and is intended to express the continuance of both civil and ecclesiastical power until the coming of Shiloh. But the remaining term appears the most important, and demands particular attention. It is the keystone of the prophetic edifice by which we must observe the symmetry, the magnificence, and the perfection of the whole. Shiloh evidently relates to some person, and the question is, “Of whom speaketh the prophet this?” Acts 8:34). We hesitate not to reply, he speaks of the Messiah, even Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.
II. To CONSIDER OR PROVE THE EXACT ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE PROPHECY. The passage intimates--
1. The departure of the sceptre from the other tribes of Israel.
2. That on Messiah’s appearance Judah should also give up his pre-eminence.
3. Men are to be gathered to Christ. It is of little consequence what name they bear in the professing world, what talents they possess, or with what external privileges they are favoured unless they are brought to Christ. He is the end of prophecy, the substance of ancient shadows,
(1) They shall be gathered for purposes of mercy by the ministration of the gospel.
(2) The people are to be gathered to Jesus by the agency of His own Spirit. “It is the Spirit that quickeneth” (John 6:63).
(3) The people shall be gathered to Christ in His Church.
(4) The people shall be gathered to Christ at the last day for judgment. (T. Wood.)
The Shiloh prophecy:
There are, you perceive, three parts of the blessing, each taking up and repeating the happy name of Judah: “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise,” &c.; “Judah is a lion’s whelp,” &c.; and, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah,” &c. Let us take these three parts in their order.
I. “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies: thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.” There are here two things the relation of Judah to his brethren in Israel and his relation to the enemies of Israel. His relation to his brethren in Israel is expressed in the first and last clauses, “Thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise”--“thy father’s children shall bow down before thee.” Now that there is a general reference here to the supremacy of Judah among the tribes is beyond doubt; but I cannot avoid the conclusion, a conclusion which has been strengthened by a very close examination of the principal words in this verse, that a greater than Judah is here, even Jesus, whose praise is sung by all the true Israel of God, before whom all the children of Abraham according to the spirit bow down and worship. This is supported by several considerations. The name “Judah “ means “Praise of God,” or “ Glory to God.” And there is, I cannot help thinking, something more than curiosity in the fact that if Hebrew equivalents were given for the Greek words in the hymn which was sung by angels over Bethlehem’s plains, when the great Son of Judah was born there, a Prince and a Saviour, it might read thus, “Judah in the highest, on earth Shiloh”; “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace.” This view is still further strengthened by the fact that the word here rendered “praise”--“thy brethren shall praise”--is used almost exclusively of praise to God. And if we are right in our view as to the clauses which refer to the relation of Judah to his brethren in Israel, it follows that in that clause which refers to his relation to the enemies of Israel we see not only the victories of Judah over the nations around him, but the victories of the great Son of Judah over His enemies all over the world. We have in fact here the germ of those numerous prophecies of which the second Psalm may be taken as a specimen.
II. “Judah is a lion’s whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up; he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion: who shall rouse him up?” We have here Judah’s supremacy and strength set before us in a lively figure, the figure of a lion. You observe of course the gradation in the prophecy: first the young lion rejoicing in his growing strength; then the adult lion in the full development of his power; and lastly, the old lion reposing in quiet majesty, satisfied with former triumphs, enjoying the fruit of them, but retaining his terrible strength, so that even the boldest dare not rouse him up. Here again we have the basis and explanation of not a little of subsequent prophecy. We find the Lion of Judah again in Balaam’s prophecy (Numbers 24:9; also 23:24). We find it in prophecies where perhaps we little expect it, e.g., Isaiah 29:1-2, where Ariel, you must remember, is the Hebrew for “Lion of God.” So, too, the lamentation of Ezekiel 19:1-14. is all founded on this prophecy. The reference throughout all these is obvious, to the lion strength and prowess of the royal tribe of Judah. But is this all? Perhaps some of you may be ready to say, “Yes, it is all.” Surely it cannot be said that there is any of the testimony of Jesus in a passage like that. It certainly seems as unlikely as any other prophetic passage in the whole Bible. Yet even here, if we take the Scripture for our guide, comparing Scripture with Scripture, the testimony of Jesus is not absent. And if you wish proof, follow me to two passages far apart from each other and from this, and yet evidently related to each other and to this. First, let us turn to that chapter about Ariel, “the Lion of God” (Isaiah 29:1-24.). Read especially verses 11 and 12, and compare them with Revelation 5:1-5. The Ariel of the Old Testament here appears as the “Lion of the tribe of Judah “ in the New. Who is the “Lion of the tribe of Judah”? No one reading that chapter in Revelation can hesitate about the answer. After all it is ,Jesus, the meek and lowly, and yet the great and terrible Jesus, the Lamb slain, and also the Lion slaying. He is the “Lion of the tribe of Judah!” We may not forget that there is such a thing as “the wrath of the Lamb.”
III. “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh come,” &c. Who is Shiloh? Most clearly He is “the Seed of the woman.” I set aside the translation, “until Judah come Shiloh,” i.e., the place where the tabernacle was set up after the conquest of Canaan; I set it aside, because though grammatically possible, it is contrary to the scope of the prophecy, Judah having no more relation to the place long afterwards called Shiloh than any of the other tribes, and less than Joseph, in whose territory the place was; because it exhausts the prophecies in the early history of the tribes of Israel, whereas the patriarch says at the beginning that he is about to speak of that which shall happen “in the last days”; and because the supremacy of Judah over the other tribes, and her lion-like conquests, are to be found after, and not before, the children of Israel came to Shiloh. Besides, there is no evidence that any place of the name of Shiloh was known at this time, and there was certainly no gathering of the nations (the word in the Hebrew is not the singular, “people,” but the plural, “peoples” or “nations”) to Shiloh. Without any hesitation, then, we adhere to our own translation. And then the question comes: if Shiloh be the Messiah, as He evidently is, what is the meaning of the name? The vast majority of interpreters have always, and do still connect the word “ Shiloh” with that well-known family of Hebrew words signifying “peace,” “rest,” so that “Shiloh” will signify “the One who brings peace,” “the One who gives rest.” There is almost everything in favour of this interpretation. It connects beautifully with the image of peace set forth in verses 11 and 12 which follow, and is strongly contrasted with the war-like metaphor of that which precedes (verse 9). It agrees with the circumstances under which the name “Shiloh” was given to the place where the Tabernacle of God was set up by the children of Israel after God had given them rest from their enemies. Then in 1 Chronicles 5:2, we find, in explanation of the elder tribes being set aside, these words, “For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and from him the chief ruler (or the prince)was to come,” which you may compare with that beautiful passage Isaiah 9:6, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Then, too, the name which David gave to his son Solomon (a name closely connected with the name “Shiloh”--it does not appear in English so distinctly as in the original); in that name we can scarcely fail to recognize the expectation of David, that in his just and peaceful reign there would be a type of the reign of the Prince of Peace--a position which is fully borne out by those Psalms of the kingdom, of which the well-known 72nd Psalm may be taken as a specimen. We have already referred to the angel doxology, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace,” where the words “Judah” and “Shiloh” come into a connection with each other very similar to what we find in this prophecy. Then we cannot help thinking of such precious words as these of our Shiloh, “Come unto Me, ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” And not to multiply passages, for many more might be given, do we not find at the close of the Word of God, in the Book of Revelation, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” and “the Lamb,” the one the emblem of strength, and the other the emblem of gentleness and peace, close beside each other, and referring to the same glorious Saviour? We have already spoken of the “Lion of the tribe of Judah”--well, the Lamb is the Shiloh of our text. It is, then, the “Prince of Peace” whose coming is spoken of here. “And unto Him shall the gathering of the peoples be.” The meaning of this is surely very obvious now. The Shiloh is the Seed in whom all nations of the earth are to be blessed. Here is the culmination of the royalty of Judah. The true idea is that the royalty is never to pass away from Judah, but is to culminate in the everlasting kingdom of the “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” “the Root of David,” “King of kings and Lord of lords.” The sceptre is not to depart at all. The kingdom is to be an everlasting kingdom. The royalty of the tribe of Judah will last through all eternity, because the “Lion of the tribe of Judah,” the “Prince of Peace,” the Shiloh of God, in whom that royalty culminates, is “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever,” “King of kings and Lord of lords “ for evermore! And then began the “ gathering of the peoples.” It may be interesting to take a passing glance at this prophetic gathering, as actually realized already in history. To begin with, we have an earnest of it in the long journey of the wise men of the East to worship the child Jesus. There we have the first-fruits of the great ingathering of the long excluded Shemites. Then again you remember the Syro-Phoenician woman, who, when Jesus came into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, fell down at His feet and worshipped Him, and besought Him for a blessing for her child. There we see the first-fruits of the great ingathering of the Hamites. Yet again, you remember how, when Jesus was at one of the feasts in Jerusalem, there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast, who came to Philip of Bethsaida in Galilee, earnestly asking, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” There we see the first fruits of the great ingathering of the sons of Japheth. So ranch for the first fruits; now for the harvest. And here we find that saying true, “The last shall be first, and the first last;” for when Shiloh came the very Jews refused to gather to Him; that very tribe of Judah from which, according to the prophecy, He sprung, despised and rejected Him; and accordingly, in the just displeasure of God, they were set aside “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in” Romans 11:25). Thus it is that the very Jews themselves are the last of all the peoples to gather unto their own Shiloh. (J. M. Gibson, D. D.)
The dying patriarch was speaking of his own son Judah; but while speaking of Judah he had a special eye to our Lord, who sprang from the tribe of Judah. Everything therefore which he says of Judah, the type, he means with regard to our greater Judah, the antitype, our Lord Jesus Christ. First, let the title “ Shiloh,” and secondly the testimony, “To Him shall the gathering of the people be,” engage our attention.
I. The title “Shiloh.” What an old word it is! What an old world word! I should not wonder if it was one of Jacob’s own coining. A pet name is often the product of peculiar love. Tender affection takes this kindly turn. Jacob’s name for Jesus was “Shiloh”; and it is so long ago since he called Him Shiloh that I do not wonder that we have almost forgotten the meaning of it. He knew it had a wealth of meaning as it came from his lips, and the meaning is there still; but the well is deep; and those that have studied the learned languages have found this to be a word of such rare and singular occurrence, that it is difficult, with any positive certainty, to define it. Not that they cannot find a meaning, but that it is possible to find so many meanings of it. Not that it is not rich enough, but that there is an embarrassment of riches. It may be interpreted in so many different ways. Some maintain that the word “Shiloh” signifies “sent.” Like that word you have in the New Testament, “He said to them, go to the pool of Siloam, which is, by interpretation, ‘Sent,’” you observe the likeness between the words Siloam and Shiloh. They think that the words have the same meaning; in which case Shiloh here would mean the same as Mes-siah the sent one--and would indicate that Jesus Christ was the messenger, the sent one of God, and came to us, not at His own instance, and at His own will, but commissioned by the Most High, authorized and anointed to that end. Here let us stop a minute. We rejoice to know that, whatever this title means, it is quite certain Jesus was sent. It is a very precious thing to know that we have a Saviour; but often and often it has cheered my heart to think that this dear Saviour who came to save me did not come as an amateur, unauthorized from the courts of heaven, but He came with the credentials of the Eternal Father, so that, whatever He has done, we may be sure He has done it in the name of God. Jehovah will never repudiate that which Jesus has accomplished. Him hath God sent forth to be a propitiation; He is a mediator of God’s own sending. Dwell, sweetly dwell, upon this meaning of the word Shiloh. If it means “sent,” there is great sweetness in it. Others have referred it to a word, the root of which signifies the Son. Upon such a hypothesis the name would be strictly appropriate to our Lord. He is the “Son of God”; He is the “Son of Man”; He was the “Son of Judah”; He was the “ Son of David”: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Let us linger for a while upon this gloss--“Until Shiloh,” “Until the Son shall come.” Be the annotation right or wrong, Jesus is the Son of God. He that hath come to save us is Divine. Let us bless Him as the Son--the Son of God, the Son of man. A third meaning has been given to the word “Shiloh” which rather paraphrases than translates it. The passage, according to certain critics, would run something like this: “Until He come to whom it belongs, to whom it is, for whom it is reserved”; or, as Ezekiel puts it, “Overturn, until He shall come whose right it is, and Thou wilt give it Him.” It may mean, then, “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah until He shall come whose that sceptre is.” This meaning is supported by many learned authorities, and has its intrinsic value. The sceptre belongs to Christ. All sceptres belong to Him. He will come by and by and verify His title to them. Have you not seen the picture that represents Nelson on board a French man-of-war, receiving the swords of the various captains he has conquered, while there stands an old tar at his side putting all these swords underneath his arm as they are brought up. I have often pictured to myself our great Commander, the only King by Divine right, coming back to this our earth, and gathering up the sceptres of the kings in sheaves, and putting them on one side, and collecting their crowns; for He alone shall reign King of kings and Lord of lords. When the last and greatest of all monarchs shall come a second time, “without a sin-offering unto salvation”--oh, the glory of His triumph! He has a right to reign. If ever there was a king by nature, and by birth, it is the Son of David; if ever there was one who would be elected to the monarchy by the suffrages of His subjects, it is Jesus Christ. Let Him be crowned with majesty for ever and ever. To Him the royalty belongs, for Him it is reserved. The interpretation, however, which has the most support, and which I think has the fairest claim to be accorded correct, is that which derives the word “Shiloh” from the same root as the word “Salem.” This makes it signify peace. “Until the peace, or the peace-bearer, or the peace-giver,” or, if you like it better, “the rest, or the rest-maker--shall come.” Select the word you prefer, it will sufficiently represent the sense. “Until the peace-bringer come, until the rest-maker come.” His advent bounds the patriarch’s expectation and his desire. Oh, beloved, what a vein of soul-charming reflection this opens! Do you know what rest means? Such “peace, peace,” such perfect peace as he hath whose soul is stayed; because he trusteth, as the prophet Isaiah hath it. Here is rest! Man may well take his rest when he has nothing to do, when it is all done for him. And that is the gospel. The world’s way of salvation is “Do,” God’s way of salvation is, “It is all done for you; accept and believe.”
II. Trusting, then, dear friends, that your faith has identified the Shiloh of Jacob’s vision, let us occupy the few minutes that remain to us in considering the testimony which the patriarch here bears. “Unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” “Unto Him,” as the Hebrew runs, “shall the gatherings of the peoples be.” So wide the circumference that converges in this glorious centre. It comprehends all the peoples of the Gentiles as well as Jews. Of course it includes the favoured nation, but it also takes in the isles afar off; yea, all of us, my brethren. “Unto Him shall the gatherings of the peoples be.” What joy this announcement should give us! Do you realize it, that around Jesus Christ, around His cross, which is the great uplifted standard, the people shall gather? Be assured of this: Christ is the only centre of true unity to His people. The true Christendom consists in all that worship God in the spirit, not having confidence in the flesh. The true Church consists of all that believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and are quickened by the Holy Ghost. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The gathering of the people to Shiloh
It seems to me the old man was sad. One, and another, and another of his sons passed before him, and from their posterity there came no Saviour, no Messiah. Judah came, and as his eyes rested upon him, and the visions of the future opened up, he beheld the tribe growing, becoming conspicuous, becoming the leader of the other tribes, and enduring; kings sat upon his throne, and princes were among his posterity; and then he saw Judah, becoming feeble, carried away; the tribeship crumbling; desolation is about to come, and just then he saw the star appear--a light shining on Judah--and he said: “Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise”; and then cried out, as if his soul were enraptured with a vision: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come, and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be.” He saw the day of Christ. It was just as Judah was crumbling to decay; it was just as prince and lawgiver were for ever passing from among his posterity; but he had not quite gone until the light and joy of Israel appeared, and the Prince of Peace, whose right it was to take the kingdom, took possession, and then, instead of Israel being carried captive into strange lands--instead of his hosts being wasted on the plains of Babylon and Persia, instead of being fugitives and strangers among all nations--he saw a new Israel, a new nation, under a new covenant of promise; and he cried out: “And unto Him shall the gathering”--not of Judah, nor of Ephraim, nor of Manasseh, nor of Benjamin, merely, but, “unto Him shall the gathering of the people be”--all tribes, all nations, all kindreds. The sons of humanity everywhere shall gather around Him; for He takes in both Jew and Gentile, Greek and barbarian, bond and free. All shall receive the blessings of peace. Such was the vision that came to Jacob’s peaceful departing hours. That we may the better understand this subject, we may refer to the expressions here used: “The sceptre shall not depart from Judah.” But there is another part of this prophecy. When that Shiloh should come, to Him should the gathering of the people be. Now, how beautifully was this contrasted with what Jacob saw in his vision t He had seen the scattering of the ten tribes--their being lost, merged into other nationalities, and he said: “Are these gone for ever?” He saw Jacob about to pass away, and that he was to be scattered, but as the compensation for all this, around the Shiloh, the promised Seed, the One who was to be sent, the Prince of Peace, should the gathering of the people be. In some particulars, this seemed to be an enlargement of the promises given to the Jews, and we may trace an apparent connection between their power and that under the reign of Shiloh. For instance, the gathering of the people was at Jerusalem. They came up three times in the year to worship before God on Mount Zion. Scattered, there is no longer the worship. The temple services have been long since closed. The people no longer come gathering around Mount Moriah. There is no temple standing, around which humanity gathers; but there was a cross erected. Shiloh hung on that cross, and He said: “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto Me.” And now, as the result, do we not see the gathering of humanity around the Lord Jesus Christ? But while men, here and there, may remember the name of a Homer, or an Alexander, or a Plato--while their prowess and intellect may be admired in the schools--how few of the human race know anything of them 1 But the name of Jesus I At that name every knee shall bow; to R every tongue shall confess. It is being sung east and west, north and south. Men divide on everything else, but they are rallying around Jesus. He is reigning, King of kings, and Lord of lords. He has established a kingdom which is growing wider and wider every day. Civilization attends the preaching of the gospel; inventions and arts, and refinement and culture, go hand in hand with the proclamation of the name of Jesus; and in this respect humanity is gathering around Him. But the word here interpreted” gathering “means not merely assembling. Some translate it obedience. “To Him shall the obedience of the people be.” The idea, as I take it, embraces both. The people assemble for instruction and to obey. It is like the gathering of scholars in a school. They assemble, but it is for instruction, and it is to obey. (M. Simpson, D. D.)
I. THE COMING ONE PREDICTED.
II. THE CHARACTER OF THE KING AND HIS KINGDOM. The name “Shiloh” means “Peaceable,” or “Peace-givers” or “rest,” and is akin to the name of David’s son “Solomon.” This name intimates that the King, who is to come, will give tranquillity to His people.
III. THE COMPLETENESS OF HIS RULE. The Christian religion is but the unfolding and the fulfilment of the hope of Israel. Do we rejoice in our knowledge of Jesus as King? Are we trying our best to serve and obey Him? and to do what we can to bring others under His peace-giving rule? (W. S. Smith, B. D.)
Shiloh’s sceptre spiritual, not political:
How constantly do we find this blessed assurance interpreted as if it were a shred of political news, a piece of political prognostication! “The sceptre” is interpreted as an earthly sceptre, the “lawgiver” suggests no other or higher conception than the head of an earthly government, and the gist of the whole promise is made to be that a certain earthly state, of very small account among the great kingdoms of the world, shall continue to exist till the coming of a certain person, and then shall pass away. It might be suggested, by the way, that on this principle of interpretation we should rather call it a threatening than a promise. If the coming of the promised Shiloh was to be the signal for the passing away of the very kingdom which was the subject of the prophecy, then Judah and all true lovers of Christ’s kingdom might well pray that Shiloh should be very long in coming. But let this pass, and look at the subsequent difficulties in which the political interpretation involves us. We have first a long period during which there was no political kingdom at all. Then, shortly after the setting up of the political kingdom, we have it rent in twain. Later on we find, first, the one part of it, and then the other, utterly subverted. Then we have hundreds of years, during the greater part of which it can not be said with honesty that there was a political kingdom at all. And when Shiloh did come, there was no political kingdom in Judah to pass away. These difficulties have been felt to be of such magnitude, that endless ingenuity have been expended in the attempt to evade or surmount them. Some have tried to twist history to make it agree with the passage, and others have tried to twist the passage to make it agree with the history, and neither of the methods has been found satisfactory; whereas all becomes simple, natural, beautiful, and most true, when interpreted, not according to the letter which killeth, but according to the spirit; when it is freed from those carnal, Jewish notions which have obscured it, when it is lifted out of the region of politics into the region of truth, where our Lord’s conversation with Pilate, as recorded by John, might well lead us to look for the kingdom of the prophetic word. Then we find a beautiful consistency both with the history of truth, and with the truth of history; with the former, as regards the inner reality, with the latter, as regards the outer form of the kingdom. First, in regard to the inner reality. Did not the kingdom in the truth, the kingdom in its essential, spiritual reality, continue in Judah all the while? “Was not the kingdom of God among the chosen people before either Saul or David was anointed, while as yet Jehovah was their only King? Was not the kingdom of God in Judah still, when her sons and daughters sat “by Babel’s streams,” and hung their harps upon the willows, and wept as they remembered Zion? There, in their remembrance of Zion, have we the evidence that, though the form of the kingdom had passed away for a time, the great reality remained in the weeping heart of Judah still. Truth to tell, the kingdom had much more nearly passed away, while yet the political “sceptre” and “lawgiver” remained both in Judah and in Israel, in those dark days of infidelity and idolatry, when poor Elijah thought God’s kingdom the true theocracy, was reduced to one solitary individual, till he was assured by Him, who “seeth not as man seeth,” that He still had left remaining seven thousand loyal men. And was there not in Judah, through all her captivities and all her sufferings from foreign oppressors, a true kingdom of God? A very little one indeed at times, and especially in the times which immediately preceded the advent of Shiloh; but small as it was, was it not there all the while? And when we seek for the fulfilment of the old promise as to the continuance of the kingdom till the coming in human form of the King, we are to seek it, not where so many interpreters of prophecy have sought it, in the political administration of that infidel and villain, belonging to Idumea, and not to Judah, who happened to sway a little sceptre, and give out his little laws under the great sceptre and mighty law of a foreign tyrant, but in the lowly loyal lives of the Simeons and Annas of the time, who had the sceptre and law in their hearts, and who were waiting for the fulfilment of the kingdom in the coming of Shiloh. The fulfilment of the kingdom--for there is no evidence that these faithful ones imagined that the coming of Shiloh was to be the subversion of that kingdom, which, as true Israelites, they dearly loved, but every evidence that they regarded it as the firm establishment of Judah’s throne, and the beginning of a triumphal progress which should not cease till every knee should bow before the sceptre, and every tongue confess that Judah’s King was Lord. So much for the fulfilment of the promise in regard to its inner reality. And now a moment’s glance at the consistency of the prophecy with history, so far as form is concerned. Here we must bear in mind what Principal Fairbairn has so clearly shown in his work on “Prophecy,” that the great object of prophecy was to support the faith of God’s people--a support which would be especially- needed in times of darkness. Now, if the outward earthly form, in which the kingdom was for a time embodied, had been predestined to be abiding; had nothing been anticipated in the process of history which would look like the passing away of the kingdom, there would have been no need of such a special promise as that in Genesis 49:10. On the other hand, the very fact that there is such a promise would lead us, a priori, to anticipate that there would be times, probably long times, when it would seem that the sceptre had departed from Judah--times during which it would be necessary for those who were waiting for the salvation of God, to have some assurance to rest upon, that, though the form had passed away, the reality was with them still. Thus we find that, when once we get rid of these carnal Jewish ideas of the kingdom, we discover not only an agreement between the prophecy and the true spiritual history of the kingdom, but also a correspondence between the expectations it suggests concerning the outward and formal history of the kingdom and the actual facts of the ease, as seen in the external history of the political kingdom of Israel. (J. M.Gibson, D. D.)
Genesis 49:13-21; Genesis 49:27
Zebulun . . . Issachar . . . Dan . . . Gad . . . Asher . . . Naphtali . . . Benjamin
The blessings of Zebulun, &c.
Consider these blessings--
I. IN THEIR VARIETY.
1. Maritime power.
3. Political sagacity.
4. The power to conquer by perseverance.
7. The warlike character.
II. IN THEIR UNITY. Unity in variety. This diversity in the distribution of gifts and endowments contributes to human happiness and to human prosperity. (T. H. Leale.)
Zebulun and Issachar:
The tribes of the last two sons of Leah Moses unites together, and, like Jacob, places Zebulun, the younger, first. It has been represented by many, that from the words Jacob used with regard to Issachar, the patriarch was reproving this tribe for its indolence and for preferring ease at the sacrifice of liberty, that, “like an idle beast of burden, he would rather submit to the yoke and be forced to do the work of a slave than risk his possessions and his peace in the struggle for liberty.” It is impossible, however, to be satisfied with such a view after reading the words of Moses with reference to this tribe. When we read of Issachar “calling the people unto the mountain, and there offering the sacrifices of righteousness,” such a view would be utterly inconsistent with these words. If we trace the further history of this tribe, recorded in Judges 5:15, we find that, so far from shrinking from difficulty and danger, they were among the foremost in coming to the help of the Lord against Israel’s enemies. Jacob’s language is clearly not that of reproof, but of praise, prophetically applied to them for their patience under what was heavy to be borne. With such a view the passage becomes clear, and contains many points of beautiful instruction. And let us mark first how God apportions to each one his own appointed place. Jacob allotted to each tribe the place it was afterwards to occupy, just as if he had had a map before him of the country they were to inhabit, while as yet they had not one foot of land in their possession. The tribes were not settled in their various positions according to Joshua’s plan. God appointed that their places should be given them by lot, and He made the lot to fall exactly as Jacob and Moses uttered their predictions. And God placed each one exactly in the place suited to its capacities and the best adapted for developing all that was in them, and thus for His own glory. One He placed at the haven of the sea, another inland. One where it would have to endure oppression and hardship, another where it would have great prosperity, and be less subject to such pressure. We may be sure it is the same with every one of us. We may sometimes be tempted to say, “If I were only in another place or in other circumstances, how differently I could act.” But it is not so. We may be quite sure we are each one of us in the very place God would have us to he--the very best place both for our own temporal and eternal welfare, and for His highest glory. And such a spirit, it appears to me, is manifested in the character of Issachar here. Issachar is brought before us as finding the position in which God had placed him to be the best. “He saw that rest was good and the land that it was pleasant.” Thus the Christian finds the rest into which Christ has brought him to be indeed good, and that his place in Christ is a good land. When this has been learned by experience through the teaching of God’s Holy Spirit, the soul becomes ready for all else. And then it is that, like Issachar, the soul is ready to “ bow the shoulder to bear, and become a servant to tribute.” It can stoop, yea, joyfully stoop, to the meanest service for Christ. It asks no questions, makes no bargains, but with a spirit ever sitting at the feet of the Master, exclaims, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” It “bows the shoulder to bear” whatever the Lord may be pleased to lay upon it. (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
Issachar; or, couching between the borders:
If we consider nothing more than Issachar after the flesh, we shall have done with the text almost immediately upon noticing it as a prediction that Issachar should become a tribe of laborious husbandmen. But there is a spiritual Issachar, a borderer between good and evil; and would to God that his tents were nowhere to be found in our church. With this Issachar, or in other words, the wavering and undecided, for the description of whose character we find appropriate words in the text, let us now endeavour to become better acquainted. We shall notice--
I. WHERE HE COUCHES DOWN. Issachar has a strange and unprepossessing appellation, that of a “bony ass.” But who shall say how many amongst ourselves may not be thus unflatteringly designated in various parts of the book of God? We shall see why to the spiritual Issachar this name may be given, when we have learnt the characteristics which belong to him. Where do we find him? It is between the borders. He is couched down between the borders. Now, if we give a spiritual application to these words, we may take them as describing an evil and unhappy condition. How awfully does the Lord rebuke those whose hearts are halting in indecision--who are neither cold nor hot! To each of such lukewarm ones He declares, “I will spew thee out of My mouth.” He would that they were either one thing or the other: either cold or hot. Indecision is to Him an abomination. Where, then, is it that the spiritual borderer couches down, and between what borders has he pitched his tent? Strictly speaking, he is not one of those who are neither for nor against religion, neither Christian nor heathen. He is professedly for that which is right. He appears, indeed, to many, to have pitched his tent within the kingdom of God, and yet he is in a very deplorable situation. He has mettled down, as it were, between Canaan and Egypt. He cannot exactly be classed with the people of the world; but still less can he be numbered with the children of God. He cannot properly be placed in the same rank with the crooked and perverse generation; but still less can he be accounted one of the chosen generation and royal priesthood. He is couched down between the borders of the kingdom of grace and the kingdom of Belial. In this unhappy middle situation he can never sit down with the subjects of the former; but he will perish and be consumed with the subjects of the latter. He is a nominal Christian without a birth into a new life; he acknowledges the corruption of human nature without feeling his own; he is conversant with spiritual things, but not truly enlightened in them; he professes to believe in Jesus, but is insensible of his need of Him; he numbers himself among the saints, without being one; he knows how to talk of a life of grace, without having entered upon it; he imagines his life and conversation to be quite Christian, and yet is in thought and disposition no better than a natural man. His heart and mind are unchanged.
II. How DID HE COME INTO THIS CONDITION? “He saw rest, that it was good; and the land, that it was pleasant.” “He saw rest,” or repose, “that it was good.” What rest or repose? Was it rest for his soul in Christ? Was it peace with God? Was it repose in the great Redeemer’s merits? Was it a release from the burden and curse of sin? Was it deliverance from the servile drudgery of legal bondage? Oh no! quite another repose attracted him, and provoked his longing desire. “He saw the land that it was pleasant.” What land? Was it that better country, namely, the heavenly? Was it that blissful and glorious region of light and love, in a superior state of being, unto which Jesus Himself is the Way and the Door? Or, was it even that region of grace here on earth, wherein His people live by His dew and sunshine? Did his soul really desire this? Did he long after it? Nothing of the kind can be said of him. Very different inducements was he conscious of. It is sometimes one thing, and sometimes another, which leads persons of this character into their dubious situation between the borders. Some are attracted by the harmony and mutual love which they find among those who are quiet in the land. Another has naturally a soft and yielding disposition. He is easily affected and influenced. Another has a natural inclination to thought and inquiry. This leads him to search the Scriptures, where he finds abundance for his mind to feed upon, and to exercise his quickness of understanding. Another, from being naturally gifted with a keen perception of what is intellectually beautiful, is charmed with the sublimity of the inspired writings. The moving descriptions, the luminous imagery, the parabolic language, the lovely and touching scenes with which Scripture abounds, beget in him a kind of enthusiasm. In such various ways men may be spiritually couching down between the borders. “He saw rest, that it was good; and the land, that it was pleasant.” Thus it may be no real longing for reconciliation with God, no hunger for Christ’s righteousness, no thirst for the graces of the Holy Spirit, which induces them to renounce the world, and to join the people of the Lord.
III. In the last place, briefly notice THE SPIRITUAL TOILS AND PAINS THAT NECESSARILY ATTEND THIS STATE, AS ALSO THE FEARFUL PERILS WHICH SURROUND IT. This toilsome and harassing condition is depicted in the words, “He bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant unto tribute.” Having bowed his shoulder to bear, he has a burden laid upon him, under which he sighs and groans; and this burden is--not the burden of sin! Would that he felt this, for his state would then soon begin to amend. But this burden is, alas! his Christianity itself: that notional Christianity, to the drudgery of which his own wisdom has allied him. (F. W.Krummacher, D. D.)
Issachar an example of the evil that results from too easy circumstances
Looking at the characterization of Issachar, we may see the enervatinginfluence, of too comfortable circumstances on a man or on a people. The inheritance of Issachar was pleasant, fertile, easily cultivated, and exceedingly remunerative. So his descendants came at length, for the most part, to take things easy, and submitted to outrages which those in poorer circumstances must have resisted even to the death. They grew indolent and luxurious, caring for little or nothing but their own ease, and sinking at last into mere tribute-payers. Now all this reminds us of the truth that conflict is absolutely necessary to strength of character. He who has no difficulties to contend with has therein the great misfortune of his life; for he has little or no motive for exertion, and without exertion he will be nothing in particular. It is a serious affliction to a man to be too well off, and many a son has been ruined because he inherited a fortune from his father. Unvarying prosperity is not by any means an unmingled blessing, and may be often a great evil. In the struggle for existence which adversity causes many may sink, but the “survival” is always “of the fittest,” for it is of those who have been made by the struggle into manly, earnest, strong, heroic souls. Do not plume yourself, therefore, on your easy circumstances, for they may make you only selfish, indolent, and lacking in public spirit, like that son of Jacob who had his fitting symbol in the contented, because well-fed and Trot overloaded, ass. But, on the other hand, do not whimper over your poverty, for, bravely wrestled with and nobly overcome, that may be the very making of you. Too much money has undone many a youth; too little has been the spur that has urged on many another to put forth all his strength, and so has developed and increased that strength. When you are getting comfortable and easy, therefore, suspect yourself, and watch lest your patriotism should grow languid, your activity disappear, and self-sacrifice drop entirely out of your life. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
We come now to consider the character of Dan, the eldest son of Rachel’s handmaid. The meaning of the name--“judge,” is here expanded by Jacob into the character of the tribe: “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel,” or in other words, Dan would procure justice to his people--to the people of Israel as truly as any other of the tribes of Israel. He would be behind none of them in that respect. The word “judge” is sometimes misapprehended. Its meaning is rather to defend than to sit in judgment upon. It is used of those who, when Israel had no king, God raised up from time to time as “judges” or “defenders” of the people, and who led them against their foes. The most conspicuous of these was Samson, who arose out of the tribe of Dan, and was himself an apt illustration of the character of the tribe. By his serpent-like arts he laid traps for his foes, and with great delight saw them fall into them one after another. This word “judge,” out of which Dan’s future history is evolved, is constantly used throughout the Bible with reference to God as judging His people; this judging being always a cause of thankfulness, as it meant a sure deliverance from all their foes. So much for the critical meaning of the word itself. The wisdom which is implied in the word “serpent” may be, however, of a two-fold character. It may be that wisdom which is commended by our Lord, or it may be that low cunning and craftiness which is of the very opposite character, and which stoops to the meanest arts to accomplish its ends. The expression “Dan shall judge his people as one of the tribes of Israel” clearly means that Dan would use his wisdom for the good of Israel generally, not for his own selfish ends but as one of the tribes of Israel. At the same time it is held by many that this form of serpent-like craft will be developed in a very special way as the end of the present dispensation draws near. The first germ of idolatry that showed itself in Israel, after their settlement in Canaan, was in the tribe of Dan. In the eighteenth chapter of Judges we are told the children of Dan found an image in the house of Micah, and that this image became an object of idolatrous worship all the time the house of God was in Shiloh. Here was a continuous system of idolatry, carried on in direct opposition to God and the worship of God, “until the day of the captivity of the land.” Later on again we read that Jeroboam made two calves of gold for Israel to worship in opposition to the worship of God, and he put them, one in Bethel and the other in Dan; and it is said, “this thing became a sin; for the people went to worship before the one even unto Dan.” There is also an allusion to this tribe in Jeremiah 8:16-17; and again in Amos 8:11; Amos 8:14, both of which are striking, and go far to confirm the view thus taken. In addition to this I may add the very singular fact that, in the enumeration of the tribes of Israel (Revelation 7:1-17.) as “the servants of God that were sealed in their forehead,” the tribe of Dan is omitted, and the only one so omitted. And now, the patriarch, having given utterance to his prediction with reference to the future history of this tribe, suddenly exclaims, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord.” There are two aspects in which those words must be viewed. In the first place, the previous declaration of Jacob that “Dan should be a serpent by the way, an adder in the path that biteth the horse heels, so that his rider shall fall backward,” intimated, clearly enough, that warlike times were in store for Israel, in which this tribe should take a prominent part. It would seem as if for a moment he was carried in spirit into the midst of these times, and the dangers which would on every side surround Israel, and realizing the utter insufficiency of all human help from every quarter, he gave utterance to the earnest longing of soul for God’s help on their behalf in this prayer, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord.” “Dan’s is insufficient, Israel’s tribes united are insufficient, every human arm is insufficient: O Lord, we wait for Thy salvation.” But more than even this. As a true Israelite he yearns for the time when the Messiah, God’s salvation, should appear for the help of His people. Accordingly the Jewish Targums have given the true view of Jacob’s Words. They represent Jacob as passing over all the victories which Israel might gain in these battles, and saying, “Not for the deliverance of Gideon the son of Joash does my soul wait, for that is temporary, not for the redemption of Israel by Samson, for that is transitory, but for the redemption of the Messiah, the Son of David, which Thou through Thy Word has promised to bring to Thy people Israel; for this Thy redemption my soul waits.” But there is a second aspect of these words of Jacob. He may have been carried in spirit to that time when out of this very tribe Antichrist has arisen, and as he views for a moment his own people passing through its greatest tribulations, and beholds that darkest of all dark nights through which they have yet to pass, he breathes the earnest prayer for the salvation which shall be theirs at the close of it. (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
I have waited for Thy salvation, of Lord
Times of waiting
A parenthesis in Jacob’s long blessing of his sons.
Exhausted with the thoughts and visions which passed over his mind in such quick succession, he paused to take a spiritual inspiration: “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord.”
1. Such chapters of life, such seasons of suspense, such exercises of the quiet confidences of the soul, are to be found in every Christian’s experience. They may come in different ways to different men, but they are in some form or other a necessity to every man--an essential part of the discipline of the school of salvation.
2. These intervals of waiting must be filled up with four things: prayer, praise, fellowship, and work.
3. It will be a helpful thought to you as you wait, that if you wait, Christ waits. Whatever your longing is that the time be over, His longing is greater. There are many things that you have had that have turned to a curse, which would have been blessings if only there had been more “waiting.” (J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Waiting for salvation:
1. From these words we may learn what was the nature of that inheritance which the patriarchs regarded as bequeathed to them by the Divine promises. The patriarchs looked for salvation.
2. We learn from the text what had been the great characteristic of Jacob’s life from the time that he was first brought under the power of Divine grace. His affections had been set on things above. His chief interest had lain in eternity.
3. The language of Jacob in the text proves most fully the truth elsewhere stated, that “the righteous hath hope in his death.” Practical questions:
(1) Do you know what is meant by the salvation of the Lord?
(2) Do you know what is meant by waiting for salvation--i.e., ardently but patiently looking forward to it?
(3) Do you know what is meant by preparing while you wait for the salvation of the Lord? (A. D. Davidson.)
Jacob’s dying confidence:
I. THE IMPORTANT OBJECT FOR WHICH THE PATRIARCH WAITED.
1. Salvation is present in its commencement.
2. Salvation is future in its consummation.
II. THE GLORIOUS BEING IN WHOM THE PATRIARCH CONFIDED.
1. Salvation is Divinely devised and provided.
2. Salvation is Divinely revealed and promised.
3. Salvation is Divinely imparted and realized.
III. THE SACRED EXERCISE IN WHICH THE PATRIARCH WAS OCCUPIED.
1. We must wait for salvation patiently.
2. We must wait for salvation believingly.
3. We must wait for salvation importunately.
4. We must wait for salvation perseveringly. (Sketches of Sermons.)
Jacob’s dying words:
I. The believer can use this language of the text, because he will be PUT, AT DEATH, IN POSSESSION OF A GLORIOUS INHERITANCE--“I have waited,” said Jacob, “for Thy salvation”; language implying that there was a future good not yet attained, long as he had been a subject of the Divine government, seeking humbly and holily to “ walk with God.”
II. The words imply Jacob’s WILLINGNESS TO LEAVE HIS CHOICEST EARTHLY COMFORTS. He looked for a better heritage, not exposed to vicissitude and change; not amidst a dark and idolatrous land, but in the region of glory where cherubim and seraphim abide; not accorded by the bounty of Pharaoh, but prepared by God for His people. He looked to a house, the “builder and maker of which is God.” He lived under a darker dispensation than ours; but he had heard the invitation, “Come up hither”: “Enter, thou blessed of the Lord.” If then, like Jacob, we have been reconciled and brought near through the “blood of the everlasting covenant,” are we not warranted in thinking that God will not leave His people comfortless at the last?
III. Jacob had EXPERIENCED MANY TRIALS AND BEEN SUBJECT TO MANY SORROWS. The words, accordingly, seem to have been spoken in assured belief that these would soon be past.
IV. The Christian may feel the force of Jacob’s words, inasmuch as he expects to be favoured with the nearer vision of, and to hold CONGENIAL INTERCOURSE WITH, THE SAVIOUR. (A. R. Bonar, D. D.)
Salvation! Blessed be God, that our fallen earth has heard the joyful sound! It is unheard in hell. Blessed be the grace which brought it to your ears! To multitudes it is a tuneless cymbal. Salvation! It peoples the many mansions of the heavenly kingdom. Salvation I It is a roll written by Jehovah’s pen. It is the decree of Divine councils: the fruit of omniscient mind: the first-born of unmeasured love: the perfection of eternal thought: the strength of omnipotence. Salvation! It is the work for which Jesus was born in Bethlehem, and lived on earth, and died at Calvary, and descended into the grave, and burst the bonds of death, and mounted to heaven, and sits on the right, hand of God. For this He reigns and prays on high. It is the work for which the Spirit seeks our earth, and knocks at the barred entrance of the sinner’s heart. For this He assails the fortress of self-love, and reveals the perils of sin, and wrestles with ignorance and vain excuses. Salvation! It is the first message which mercy uttered to a ruined world. It is the end of every prophecy--the purport of every precept--the beauty of every promise--the truth of every sacrifice--the substance of every rite--the song of every inspired lip--the longing desire of every renewed heart--the beacon which guides through the voyage of life--the haven to which the tides of grace convey--the end of faith, the full light of hope, the home of love. Salvation! It is the absence of this blessing which builds the prison-house of hell, which kindles the never-quenched fires-which forges the eternal chains which wraps the dreary regions in one mantle of blackness--which gives keenness to the undying worm--which blows up the smoke of torment--which gives the bitterness of despair to the hopeless wail. Does any eager soul exclaim, Tell me, further, wherein Salvation’s blessedness consists? It is a blessed rescue, to change ceaseless wailings into endless praise: the blackness of darkness into the glories of brightness beyond the sun in his strength. Does any add, Let me clearly understand how this is all accomplished! Come, see the excellent things which Jesus works. He saves by rescuing from hell. He saves by giving title to heaven. He saves by meetening for heaven. He by His Spirit dethrones the love of sin: implants delight in God. It is great, because willed, provided, accepted by a great God, even the Father: because wrought out and finished by a great God, even Jesus: because applied by a great God, even the Spirit. It is great, because it averts great woe: bestows great grace: and blesses a great multitude. O my soul! see to it that you are saved. (Dean Law.)
I. WHAT IS THIS SALVATION OF WHICH JACOB SPEAKS? As a dying man, he speaks of a salvation towards which he had looked, and for which he had waited until that hour. What that salvation really is, we now know by clear and unequivocal revelation; but the question before us is, what it was in Jacob’s estimation, what it was in its actual results upon the dying believer of his day? The full knowledge of the salvation of the gospel gives victory over sin, and death, and the grave.
1. Salvation with him would be deliverance from the burden of the flesh. A mind so spiritual as his, and so habituated to intercourse with the great Father of spirits, could not but discriminate between the immortal spirit and the perishable tenement in which it was confined. He had long experienced the sorrows incident to this imperfect state. The infirmities of age had long been stealing upon him.
2. The salvation for which he looked would be deliverance from sin. Sin was a permanent evil, with which, in some form or other, he had to contend in every period of his life. In youth, maturity, and age, it had still been, in one way or other, the cause of his anxiety. He had, however, attained by faith to the hope of the remission of sin. He leaned upon “the Angel that redeemed him from all evil.” The system of grace, however fully or scantily revealed, was to him a sufficient ground of hope and practical comfort in the house of his pilgrimage.
3. Jacob would include also in this salvation the high and permanent felicities of an eternal existence. I have waited all the days of my appointed time until my change come. And now, O Lord, fulfil all that I have been led to hope for, and crown this faint and failing spirit with immortal strength, and blessedness, and perfection.
4. Jacob evidently implied, in this strong expression of reliance upon God, the expectation of deliverance from the evils of death itself. The act of dissolution is an event from which human nature shrinks. It is unnatural. It is the consequence of sin. But, Lord, I have waited for Thy salvation. I have looked for complete deliverance. Let my Shepherd and my Guide be with me in the shadowy valley. O God most holy, O Lord most mighty, O merciful Saviour, Thou most worthy Judge Eternal, suffer me not, at my last hour, for any pains of death, to fall from Thee. Here, then, we have a view of the salvation for which Jacob waited.
II. WHAT ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND BY JACOB HAVING WAITED FOR THIS SALVATION? He refers to the habit of his previous life, to the whole tenor of his course. “This has been the grand object of my existence. This is the thing for which I have sought.”
1. The expression implies that he had believed the truth of this salvation; but of this we need say nothing, for every step of his life exhibits his willing acceptance of the promise of deliverance, and his perfect satisfaction with the covenant of mercy.
2. He had sought for this salvation in the zealous use of the means of grace, in the way of holy and prayerful obedience.
3. He had expected this salvation with increasing affection. It became more and more the object of endeared attachment. To wait, implies the intense occupation of the soul.
4. That Jacob waited implies that he was patient. A waiting spirit is a patient and submissive one. His is not a petulant wish, in a moment of dissatisfaction, to depart; but a calm and even energy of soul bearing towards immortality.
1. Be thankful that, in a rebellious and lost world, the benevolence and the wisdom of God provided, even in the earlier stages of our history, a means of redemption so ample and effective, and left on an infallible record such bright examples for our encouragement and comfort. Let us thank God, and take courage.
2. Again, be humbled when you compare the faith of earlier days with ours in days so rich in evangelical privilege.
3. Lastly, be diligent, then, that you may be found of God in peace, without spot and blameless. (E. Craig.)
The believer waiting for God’s salvation:
I. THE LIVING SAINT’S CHARACTER. He is one who is “waiting for the salvation of God.” By the term “salvation” here, we are probably to understand the Saviour Himself--the Messiah who had been promised. By the words he uses in the text, Jacob evidently expressed his faith in the testimony of God as to the coming of the Messiah, to whom he looked, as every guilty sinner must do, and in whose name he trusted for salvation and eternal life. Salvation, taken in its fullest sense, expresses all that the soul can require for time and eternity. And well might this good old saint, Jacob, say here, in addressing God, “Thy salvation.” The glorious design of saving sinners of the human race by a Mediator was conceived in the infinite Mind, and determined upon in the counsels of God, before the foundations of the world were laid, or even time had begun its course. For this salvation Jacob had waited. Numerous had been the incidents of his past life, but amidst them all he had kept his eye fixed on the salvation of God, and had consequently passed through things temporal so as not to lose those things which were eternal.
II. THE DYING SAINT’S COMFORT. Brethren, there is no real comfort in dying moments, but that which comes from having waited for God, and being in immediate prospect of entering on a full and uninterrupted enjoyment of the salvation of God; a lively and well-grounded confidence that we are in Christ, and shall be saved in Him, with an everlasting salvation; a hope that maketh not ashamed, that we are heirs of, and are about to be admitted to, glory, honour, and immortality. Sorrow is banished, and desire fully satisfied. A well-grounded hope of thus receiving the end of his faith, even the salvation of his soul, and of being admitted to the felicities, full and perfect and enduring, of the heavenly world, affords strong and abundant consolation to a dying saint. To enjoy this salvation at death and in eternity, it must now be sought by you. (W. Snell.)
Waiting for salvation:
I. How BELIEVERS LIVE. They live waiting for the salvation of the Lord. This comprehends many important particulars both in doctrine and experience.
1. A conviction of the need of salvation. The sick man only needs healing; the man in danger only needs rescuing: to offer to one that is not sick a remedy, and to one that is not lost, salvation, would only be mockery. And this teaches us the reason of a fact which is awful: the whole, in their own estimation, refuse a physician; those who are unconscious that they are lost, ruined, and undone, neglect the great salvation.
2. A knowledge of the method by which salvation is to be obtained. Waiting for a thing implies a sense of its value and importance.
3. Diligence in the use of those means with which the salvation of the soul is connected. Faith and hope do not lie dormant in the heart; they are active principles, always in exercise. The more diligent and devout your attendance on the means which God has appointed in dependence on the influences of the Spirit, the more clear will be your vision, the more fervent your desires, the more full your foretastes of salvation. Waiting on the Lord, you shall renew your strength, and go on in the beauty of holiness, till you appear perfect before God in Zion.
4. That the hope of salvation is the grand support of the believer, and the only source of his consolations under all the sufferings to which he is exposed. He “endures, as seeing Him that is invisible,” and “in hope rejoices against hope.”
II. How BELIEVERS DIE. The reigning temper of his heart is still the same. He lived, and now he dies, “waiting for the salvation of the Lord.” “The ruling passion” is “strong in death.” The last emotion, when nature sinks, and all is feebleness and decay, is a desire for the salvation of God. And this implies that the believer considers death--
1. As an entrance on immortality. Surely when he says, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord!” it does not imply that he wishes his being to become extinct. David knew that he should live in the presence of God. Jacob knew that when “the earthly house of his tabernacle was dissolved,” he had “a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.”
2. As the termination of his sufferings. His temptations and sorrows can follow him no further. At the gate of death he lays down his burden: he is to sigh and suffer no more for ever. His warfare is accomplished. His long, tedious, painful struggles are at an end. Death, which is to some the beginning of sorrows and of sufferings, is to him the end of both.
3. As the harvest, when all the graces of the spirit would be ripened, and matured, and gathered, it is said that the good man shall come to his grave, “like as a shock of corn cometh in his season.” Observe this figure: The fallow ground is first broke up, the seed is sown, and it remains unseen.
But the process of vegetation is going forward; the germ is expanding; ere long the green blade appears. The frosts pass over it, and it withers; but the sun shines, and it recovers. At length, after it has experienced a few storms, and been impeded in its growth by noxious weeds, in consequence of fruitful showers and genial sunshine, it is fully ripe and fit for the harvest. So the fallow ground of the heart is broken up; the good seed of the kingdom, the incipient principles of grace are implanted. They are hidden for a season, but they proceed; there is the principle of vitality; and we see “first the blade, then the ear, and after that the full corn in the ear.” All the graces of the Spirit are then ripened and perfected; faith into vision, hope into fruition, and love is made perfect so as to cast out all fear. Then the believer shall see God without an interposing cloud, love Him with a perfect heart, and serve Him without weariness.
4. An assurance of a glorious resurrection. When Jacob was dying, he took an oath of his son that he would bury him in the land of Canaan. And Joseph also “gave commandment concerning his bones.” What should make these holy men so anxious about the place of their interment? The world is lost to a dead man; and what matters it whether he lies in Egypt or in Canaan? What could it he for, but to express their faith in the promise of God; their belief that death would not cut them off from His favour. The place of their burial, therefore, will remain as a monument of their faith to the latest period of time: and when the angels gather up their fragments, where are they to look for them but in that land where they are laid, and where Christ appeared, and will appear again?
From the whole let us--
1. Learn the vast importance of that salvation which has been an object of desire to the saints of God in all ages. The word signifies deliverance--deliverance from all evil, and introduction to all good.
2. Behold the perfect man, and mark the upright; for the end of that man is peace. If his life is honourable to religion, his death is a confirmation of all that he professed. (W. Thorpe.)
He shall overcome at the last
FAITH TRIUMPHANT IN DOUBT. The gospel is a revelation. It is the telling of a secret. There is not one mystery either about man or about God which has been either caused or aggravated by the gospel. Doubtless there are matters not yet revealed. There are unexplained, perhaps inexplicable, difficulties, as regards God’s will and man’s future, which the gospel leaves where it found them. Faith triumphs in and over doubting (John 6:67-68).
II. FAITH TRIUMPHS IN DISAPPOINTMENT. TO be willing to wait, even for encouragement, much more for victory, is an essential part of his character who has seen the promise afar off, and been persuaded of it, and embraced it, and who now lives day by day in the calm, humble looking-for of a light that shall arise and a rest reserved in heaven.
III. FAITH CONQUERS SIN. That is our most urgent want, and that is faith’s most solemn office. Faith conquering is, above all things, faith conquering sin, faith looking upwards to a loving Saviour, and drawing down from Him the desire and the effort and the grace to be holy.
IV. FAITH CONQUERS DEATH. Death is not dreadful to the Christian, because he has in the other world a Father, a Saviour, a Comforter. (Dean Vaughan.)
The text is a prophecy respecting one of the tribes of Israel, declaring that Gad, whose name signifies a troop, should be overcome again and again; but that at the last they should overcome all their foes. It also is a prophecy concerning every Christian, and it is a picture of the life of every Child of God. We often have been overcome, but the Spirit of God has enabled us to beat back the enemies of our soul; and we to-day can cry Victory! through the blood of the Lamb. Though we stand on slippery ground, and have need every moment to watch and pray lest we fall into sin, and though, alas! we do fall continually, yet the prophecy declares that we shall not utterly be cast down, but at the last we shall stand in our lot in the city of the heavenly Jerusalem.
I. REVIEW THE PAST. The memory should be like a tradesman’s storehouse, filled with valuable commodities, such as shall be useful in the future, rather than lumber places for that which does more harm than good. But, alas! when we turn over the leaves of the past, what heaps of lumber we find we have gathered!
1. During the past year many have gone through severe trials. We are not like the great rock at Llandudno, on which the angry waves cast their fury time after time, but which hurls them back. We are rather like the trembling ship lifted up and cast down by the force of the wind and waves. We have felt every wind of sorrow that blows; and the cutting wave of trouble has dashed over us and filled our souls with vexation of spirit. But, in the midst of all, our God has kept us from despair. There is no case but what might have been worse; and according to our day our strength has been given. “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”
2. Some have had bereavement by death. There was once, when we arrived at home, a face generally looking for us from the window, and a kindly hand to open to us the door; but that gentle one has departed from us, and we are alone.
3. Many, yea, all of us, this last year have passed through fierce temptations. I do not know whether any of you have been like a heavily laden ship; perhaps your particular temptation has been too much cargo of gold. “How hardly shall they that have riches enter the kingdom of heaven.” Like some of those ships that Mr. Plimsoll has told us about, weighted with cargo until their water-line is under the wave, and the sea washes over the decks. Oh, how wearily the over-weighted ship wends its way across the ocean! The most weary of men is he who is weighted with gold. It is not riches alone that give to us happiness, peace, and contentment. The world thinks so; but the Word of God is a better guide, and we are told that it is hard for the rich man to ‘be happy. Many of us this last year have been like unseaworthy ships; we have not had strength to weather the storm; every wind of temptation has made the seams in our ship wider, and floods of sin have entered into our hearts and swamped our piety, and many are hopeless wrecks. You entered this last year holy; you are now wicked. You entered this last year with a character on which there was not a single stain; it is now black with sin. Everybody trusted you at the beginning of this year; alas! nobody believes you now. You have not had a good captain of your ship. Your pilot has wrecked many souls, yet you trusted him. The devil carries every ship he steers to the awful rocks of perdition. Thank God that a new Captain, the Lord Jesus, is willing to gather you in His arms and to lead you to the harbour of salvation, and there create within you a new heart and a new spirit. But, brethren, let us rejoice for the many who have weathered the storms of the year’s temptation. Some of us come to this period with furled sails and bare poles; but, thank God, we are still guided by our good Captain, the Lord Jesus; the rudder of our will obeys His wish, and our only compass is the Bible. Brethren, we shall reach the harbour at the last. Rejoice, for your names are written in heaven.
4. We have had many blessings.
5. We all have had mercy. The mercy-seat covered the law. Have not we broken the commandments during the last year? But mercy has covered our transgressions; and God has declared to us, “I will not remember thy sin.” In the great plague of 1666, every house door in London had painted on it these words, “Lord have mercy on us.” Well, dear friends, every hour of every day, we, alas! need to say, “God be merciful unto us”; and blessed be His name, He has poured mercy upon us. “Goodness and mercy have followed us all the days of our life.”
6. What progress have we made in the past? During snowy weather, if you go to a field and try to walk in a straight line, you must not look down at the snow, but up at some mark at the end of the field. Our footsteps are in the snow, and what a zigzag line to be sure! Why? Because we did not fix our eye upon the tree in the distance. Now, dear friends, look back upon the past year. Is your pathway a straight one or not?
II. TAKE STOCK OF THE PRESENT. What are we worth? Is God our Banker? Have we any treasure in heaven? Have we drawn out anything from Him by the cheque of prayer? Have we trusted Him with all our life and all that we have? How much do we owe unto our Lord? And let us reckon the debt of love to our fellow-men. As Christians, are we able to pay twenty shillings to the pound? Do we pay our pew-rent at the church, and yet forget to pay the debt of love to our poorer brethren? Brethren, are your hearts any bigger than they were twelve months ago? Have you any increase of faith? At the time of one of the terrible inundations which frequently take place in St. Petersburg, the Empress Catherine stood at one of the windows of the palace watching the fearful sight. The river had stolen into the city during the night, and hundreds of people were drowned. As her majesty was intently looking upon the flood and the havoc it was causing, she saw something above the surface of the water which was rapidly filling the courtyard; and, observing it more attentively, she found it to be the head of a soldier nearly up to his chin in water; but apparently taking no notice of his danger, as he still shouldered his musket as if on duty among the fishes. The Empress at once sent a servant in a boat to ask why the man remained there at the peril of his life. The soldier replied that he had been placed there to guard the palace, and that he could not quit his post until his sergeant sent another sentry to relieve him. He would not stir; and he had to be dragged into the boat by main force in-order to save his life. Brethren, in all duties let us be faithful unto death. It is he that endures to the end who shall be saved. Have you any increase of hope? Lord Bacon said that hope made a good breakfast, but an idle supper. Brethren, has your hope in God been an idle one? Has He disappointed you? What is the depth of peace in the reservoir of your heart? The Word declares that the peace of God shall be an inward garrison to your soul. Have you let the devil enter within the fortress of your honour? The peace of God shall keep the gates of all who trust Him. Have you thus trusted Him? And, then, examine your character. Your signboard may be all right, but what is the hidden state of the business of your soul? Going down the street the other day I saw in a stonemason’s yard a beautiful pillar, but it was broken. Does it not represent the character of some? But, thank God, though it is broken, it may be repaired. How about the policy with which you conduct your business? In the days of Alexander, it was fashionable for his captains and soldiers to walk with their heads leaned to one side; because Alexander had somewhat of a crooked neck, and they thought it to be an honour to imitate him. How sad it is that in our rich land men have made money with a wry policy; it has not been straight in the straightness of honour and truth. Their policy has been a crooked one. It has been, “Get money, honestly if you can, but get it.” Do not imitate such men. Their success is no proof of their wisdom. But what is your policy? Do you consider it to be expedient to cheat? And, if so, are you not a secret thief? In taking stock let the question, “Am I honest?” be fairly answered!
III. RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE FUTURE. (W. Birch.)
Lines of circumvallation:
My text speaks of a tribe who were often discomfited in battle, yet were at last victorious. But the words may be used as graphically descriptive of the defeat of Christ, to be followed by His successes. When Christ’s chin dropped upon His breast in death, the world shouted in triumph. Driven as He has been from the heart, from the social circle, from literature, from places of influence, the world gazes now upon what seems to be a vanquished Redeemer. But He shall yet rally His forces, and though now overcome by other troops, He shall overcome at the last. When a city is about to be besieged, lines of circumvallation are run out; in half circles the fortifications sweep around; the first line fifteen miles out; the second, ten miles; the next, five; the next, one mile out. The attacking host first takes the outworks, then a line nearer, coming on up until the embankment nearest the city is captured. Now, the human heart is defending itself against Christ, and it has run out four or five lines of circumvallation, and they must one by one be taken, so that Christ may overcome at the last and the heart surrender.
1. Forward, ye troops of God, and take the line of fortification farthest out, which is prejudice against ministers and churches. There are men who, for various reasons, do not believe in these things, and from that outward entrenchment contend against Christ. My reply to this is, seek out a Church and a minister that you do like. Amid all the denominations there must be one place where your soul will be blessed. This very church, to some of you, shall be the way to heaven, and through this one break in the long fortification of your prejudice I pass through with the battle-cry of the Cross, feeling that, though these prejudices have been the troop that overcame Christ, He shall overcome at the last.
2. Forward, ye troops of God, to the next entrenchment! It is a circumvallation of social influences. There are hundreds of people here to-high, whose surroundings in the world are adverse to the Christian religion. Evil companionship has destroyed innumerable men. Through this high battlement no human force can break, but, oh! that the Lord Jesus might storm it tonight.
3. Forward, ye troops of God, to the third line of entrenchment, namely, the intellectual difficulties about religion. A hundred perplexities about the parables; a hundred questions about the ninth chapter of Romans; passage set against passage in seeming contradiction. You pile up a battlement of Colenso on the “ Pentateuch,” and Tom Paine’s “Age of Reason,” and Renan’s “Life of Christ”; and some parts of the wall are so high that it would be folly to attempt to take them. But there is a hole in the wall of fortification, and through that hole in the wall I put my right hand, and take your own, and say, “My brother, do you want to be saved? “And you say” Yes.” “Well; Jesus Christ came to seek and to save that which is lost.” Scepticism seems to do quite well in prosperity, but it fails in adversity. A celebrated infidel, on shipboard, in the sunshine caricatured the Christian religion, and scoffed at its professors. But the sea arose, and the waves dashed across the hurricane-deck, and the man cried out, “O my ,God, what shall I do? what shall I do?” A father went down to see his dying son in a Southern hospital during the war. Finding that the boy was dying, he went to the chaplain and said, “I wish you would go and see my boy, and get him prepared for the future.” “Why,” said the chaplain, “I thought you did not believe in religion!” “Well,” said he, “I don’t, but his mother does; and I would a great deal rather the boy would follow his mother. Go and get him prepared.” Scepticism does tolerably well to live by, but it is a poor thing to die by. The fortification of your soul this hour gives way; and the Christ, who seemed to have been overcome by argument, and by profound questions, and elaborate analysis, now, by the force of love, overcomes at the last!
4. Forward, ye troops of light, to the next circumvallation of the heart, namely, pernicious habit. I do not believe that it is necessary to be a teetotaller in order to be a Christian (although I wish all were teetotallers), but I do say that a man who is excessive in the use of strong drink cannot love Christ. He will not dispute with you the supremacy of the bottle. Some years ago, when the cholera was raging in New Orleans, a steamer near nightfall, put out from the city, laden with passengers escaping from the pestilence. The steamer had been but a little while out when the engineer fell at his post with cholera. The captain, in despair, went up and down among the passengers, asking if there were any one there who could act as engineer. A man stepped out, and said that he was an engineer, and could take the position. In the night the captain was awakened by a violent motion of the steamer, and he knew that there was great peril ahead. He went up, and found that the engineer was a maniac; that he had fastened down the safety-valves; and he told the captain that he was the emissary of Satan, commissioned to drive the steamer to hell. By some strategy, the man was got down in time to save the steamer. There are men engineered by maniac passions, sworn to drive them to temporal and everlasting destruction. Every part of their nature trembles under the high pressure. Nothing but the grace of Almighty God can bring down those passions, and chain them. A little while longer in this course, and all is lost. Whatever be the form of evil habit, Christ is able fully and finally to deliver that man. Where sin abounded, grace does much more abound. Victory over thy sin! Victory through the Lord Jesus Christ! Through many a long year thy appetites overcame Him, but He has overcome at the last!
5. Forward, ye troops of light, to the last and the mightiest line of fortification--the pride and the rebellion of the natural heart. This entrenchment must be taken, or all the rest of the contest is lost. This is the crisis of the battle. (Dr. Talmage.)
Intermediate failures and final triumphs:
1. Do not judge until “the last.”
2. Men who are overcome should be encouraged.
3. Apply this to beginners in business--in Christian life--in the reformation of bad habits.
4. Apply this to spiritual doubt. Do not too readily describe men as infidels. Even may at last believe.
5. Hope for your children. (J. Parker, D. D)
It may seem, as we look at it spiritually, strange that the fact of being “overcome” by foes should be part of the blessing of God’s people. And yet through the darkness to the light is the order everywhere in God’s kingdom of nature, providence, and grace; and to be “overcome” is as truly a needed discipline for the soul as to be a triumphant conqueror. The type of nature’s strength is not the hot-house plant needing constant care and watchfulness to keep it alive. It is the pine-tree rocked by Norwegian winds which threaten every moment to imperil its existence by uprooting it. Thus, too, it is in the Christian life; and without such dealing the very best of us would be but dwarfs, stunted and crippled, and incapacitated for that warfare with the world, the flesh, and the devil by which we win our way to the kingdom, Nor does the Holy Spirit leave us in any doubt as to this. “A troop shall overcome him” are the words. Not a solitary foe, but many. Sometimes wave upon wave of trial rolls over the soul until we know not what it means. But the cup is measured out. Not one drop is in it beyond what is absolutely needful for the soul’s welfare. And the end is the same in every case-to lead us up out of self wholly into God. Nor let us suppose for a moment that it is because of some sin in us that this bitter cup is put into our hands. It may be this indeed, for God will be quit of sin in us at any and every cost. The gravitation of every believer is earthward, and the quick pruning-knife of the Husbandman can never be unused long without the soul suffering damage. The process of restoration may lie in a constant succession of small trials pressing upon the spirit to draw it nearer to God, or in some sharp quick operation of the knife that makes itself felt for years, turning the hair grey, and making the body stoop. But it is not always to get rid of sin in us that these strokes are sent. It may be to mould us more into the likeness of Christ. Every follower of the Lamb must be a cross-bearer. It is the branch that bears fruit which is pierced and purged, and not the unfruitful one. It may be because you are so like Christ you are made to feel the pruning-knife--in order that you may become more like Him. And how blessed the assurance of our God that we “shall overcome at last!” It is not that we shall overcome at the end of life. It is that the issue of every conflict shall be victory. This Divine assurance of the certainty of victory receives its explanation from Romans 8:35-39. (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
The blessing of Asher:
Let us look at some of the spiritual points of instruction contained in this blessing of Jacob upon Asher.
And first as to their “ bread,” which is described as “fat.” Christ is the “bread of life” to all His people, and this bread may indeed be said to be “fat.” The Psalmist uses a similar figure when he says, “My soul shall be satisfied with marrow and fatness”; and again, “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of Thy house.” And again, in speaking of those who dwell in God’s presence, he says, “Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God: they shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing” (Psalms 92:13-14). What a rich and blessed portion for the soul is hid in Christ! How our highest thoughts of it are infinitely surpassed! “I sat down under His shadow with great delight, and His fruit was sweet to my taste, lie brought me to the banqueting-house, and His banner over me was love” (Song of Solomon 2:3-4). And observe another deeply important truth: “He shall yield royal dainties.” The possession and enjoyment of Christ, and all the treasures of His grace, involves a great responsibility. Asher is to “yield royal dainties”--to give out what it possesses to others. If Christ be indeed ours, and weare living upon Him continually, we shall do the same. And to give out, we must live upon Him. It is this we need--living, abiding communion with a precious Christ. O reader! let not Satan deceive us by allowing us to have everything but this! This is his grand device, and how wonderfully he has succeeded let the lives of most Christians tell! And what is Asher said to give out in this passage? “Royal dainties.” Yes, indeed, as we live upon Christ, that which the soul gives out is no ordinary food. It is dainties--precious food--and with the stamp of the King upon them. There is a royal pardon, a royal love, a royal Saviour, from whom they all flow freely down. (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
The blessing of Naphtali
In Gad we have the Christian, soldier fighting the good fight of faith, and more than conqueror over all foes.
In Asher we have the Christian living upon Christ, and giving out Christ to others. In Naphtali we have the Christian enjoying his liberty and freedom and happiness in Christ, and testifying of Christ to others. In Joseph we have the Christian bringing forth much fruit from abiding in Christ, the well of living waters, and also showing forth that fruit to all around. As we look at these passages, we find they are a chain. Each one is a link depending upon the other. You must fight the good fight of faith if you would enjoy Christ as the “fatness” of the Living Bread; and the enjoyment of Christ brings with it true liberty and freedom; and there must be all these, with the addition that you must abide in Christ, the roots of your life ever drawing from the “well of living waters,” if you are to “bring forth much fruit.” It is surely not without design that the Holy Spirit has placed these passages thus in this consecutive order. May we dwell upon them continually in this light, and test our souls by this Divine standard. Our subject now is the third of these four passages--the tribe of Naphtali. He is brought before us under a most striking symbol--that of a hart or gazelle “let loose.” It brings before us the liberty and exultation of the soul in its new sphere of existence. It has been “let loose” from its prison-house of sin, and darkness, and misery. Its prison-doors have been flung wide open by the great Emancipator, Christ Jesus the Lord. Its debt has been fully paid. All its guilt, and sin, and transgression has been cancelled by the blood of Christ. “Let loose!” No other word in the English language could so fitly express the effect of the grand redemption-work of Christ (see Isa 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:1; John 11:44). Turning again to Jacob’s blessing on this tribe, we see another truth: “He giveth goodly words.” It is so always. St. Paul says, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom: teaching and admonishing one another: in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.” Asher lived upon the fatness of the Bread of Life, and as a result gave out “royal dainties.” Naphtali is “satisfied with favour and full of the blessing of the Lord, and so gives out goodly words.” Joseph is a “bough,” whose roots go down into the Well of Living Waters, and so brings forth “much fruit.” “Royal dainties,” “goodly words,” “much fruit.” “Out of the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Let us only be living upon and abiding in Christ, and such will ever be our testimony. It is not dainties, but “royal dainties”; not words, but “goodly words”; not fruit, but “much fruit.” Oh, reader! this is the kind of life God asks for! This is the Christianity we need. Not your just Christians and no more. No; God wants a high order of Christianity. “Royal dainties,” “goodly words,” “much fruit”--mark it well! Not only to be engaged in the work of the Lord, but abounding in it; nay, more, “always abounding” in it. (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
Joseph is a fruitful bough
The blessing of Joseph:
PREDICTION OF HIS FUTURE GREATNESS.
1. His extraordinary increase.
2. His great prosperity.
(1) All kinds of blessings were promised.
(2) His blessings were to surpass all former instances.
(3) His blessings are traced to their source.
II. PRAISE OF HIS CHARACTER.
1. He had been a much-tried man (verse23).
(1) The archers of envy and hatred.
(2) The archers of temptation.
(3) The archers of persecution.
(4) The archers of neglect and ingratitude.
2. He had gained the victory over his trials (Genesis 49:24).
III. HIS DESTINY THE NATURAL RESULT OF HIS CHARACTER.
1. His filial obedience.
2. His desire for God’s glory.
3. The operation of that principle by which God rewards in kind.
4. The principle that God’s dealings in the past constitute a ground of hope and trust for the future.
5. The principle by which a firm and well-established godliness tends to continue. (T. H. Leale.)
The fruitful bough:
I. IN HIS UNION WITH CHRIST, THE CHRISTIAN IS AS A “BOUGH.”
1. Union with Christ.
2. Dependence upon Christ.
3. Sustentation from Christ.
II. IN THE RESULTS OF HIS UNION WITH CHRIST, THE CHRISTIAN IS AS A “FRUITFUL BOUGH.”
1. Some united, but dead.
2. Some living, but fruitless.
III. IN THE SOURCE OF HIS FERTILITY, THE CHRISTIAN IS AS A “FRUITFUL BOUGH BY A WELL.” As the bough drinks of the spring through the tree, so the Christian drinks of spiritual blessings through Christ.
IV. IN THE HIGHER ATTAINMENTS OF SPIRITUAL LIFE, THE CHRISTIAN IS AS A “FRUITFUL BOUGH BY A WELL WHOSE BRANCHES RUN OVER THE WALL.”
1. Over the wall of sectarian prejudices.
2. Over the wall of unbelieving doubt.
3. Over the wall that separates the world from the Church, and blesses the dying, with fruit.
4. Over the wall that separates earth from heaven, and looks
“within the veil.” (W. H. Burton.)
The blessing of Joseph--“Joseph is a fruitful bough, even a fruitful bough by a well.” In these words we are reminded of our Lord’s own statement (John 15:5), “I am the vine, ye are the branches.” The Christian is only a bough of the Tree of Life. But he is to be a fruitful bough. “Herein is My Father glorified,” said our blessed Lord, “that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be My disciples.” And how is this fruitfulness produced? The passage shows us: “a fruitful bough by a well.” The believer is to live near to Christ, the well of living waters, and to be drawing forth all his nourishment from Christ by the Holy Spirit. The roots of the tree draw forth the waters from the well, and send them up into all its branches. Thus the “bough” becomes beautiful and fruitful. And the well is hidden. The process goes on in secret, but, notwithstanding, it is an unceasing process. Mark, also, that the branches of this fruitful bough are said to “run over the wall.” The believer’s fruit must be seen--seen by all who pass by. Alas! only the foliage is too often seen l But the world looks beneath all. But now observe how the patriarch passes rapidly from the figure of a fruitful branch to that of a military warrior: “But his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.” True faithfulness is ever linked with the cross, and also with warfare. “Fight the good fight of faith”; “put on the whole armour of God”; “quit you like men; be strong”--such are the expressions used to show us our true position in this world. There is an inseparable connection between life and faithfulness, between the cross and the warfare. But the “bow abiding in strength” points also to Christ. It tells us of the strong, unyielding position in which He would carry on His government (see Revelation 6:1-2). And we see the “arms of the hands” of the true Joseph “made strong”--in the power of His exalted position at the right hand of the Father--“by the mighty God of Jacob.” In beautiful keeping with this we see the “white horse”--always the emblem of victory--victory in holiness, purity, and truth. Let us now return to the rest of the passage: “from thence”--i.e., the mighty God--“is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel.” We must read the passage correctly: “ The arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob, even from the Shepherd and Stone of Israel.” Thus we find here that Joseph’s hands were made strong for his work by the mighty God of Jacob, the Shepherd and Stone of Israel. He who is the mighty God is the great Shepherd of His sheep, and the great Foundation Stone of Israel. And now the blessings promised and to be prayed for are described: “blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under.” They begin with heaven, and they take in the earth. This is ever God’s order. The patriarch continues: “blessings of the breast and the womb.” Jacob prays that his son may be blessed from heaven with rain and dew, and with fountains and brooks which spring from the great deep or abyss of the earth, so that everything that had womb and breast in the natural world should become pregnant, bring forth, and suckle. He then continues: “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors, unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills.” The blessings which Jacob implored for his son Joseph were to surpass the blessings which his parents had transmitted to him, as far as the great mountains towered above the earth. These blessings were to descend upon “the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of the separated one from among his brethren.” As we read these promises and prayers for blessing on Joseph, our thoughts are carried forward to the Lord Jesus Christ. Language seems to fail the old patriarch in his longings for blessings on his son; but as we see Jesus, “the separated One,” we behold these desires fulfilled. (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
“Joseph is a fruitful bough, whose branches run over the wall” (Genesis 49:22). These words remind us of our Lord saying, “I am the vine, ye are the branches; he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.” And they take our thoughts to an eastern vineyard, where the trellis bends with clusters, and a few strong shoots are left by the kindly husbandman to overhang the enclosure for the passer-by.
I. In the first place, consider THE BRANCH THAT BEARS FRUIT OVER THE WALL. It is one thing to bear fruit in the vineyard, and another to have such vigour that we also bear fruit beyond; and we speak now of the latter.
1. Fruitfulness to more than have claim upon us. Some have such claim; their relationship, their desert, their needs, appeal to us so forcibly and reasonably, that we wrong them if we refuse our sympathy and help; these are they who have right to the vintage--the children of the husbandmen, as it were, for whom the vine exists, and who are somewhat free to the grapes. But others have no such right, or have forfeited the right they had, the unloving and unlovable, those who abuse your kindness, those who bring their troubles on themselves, those who again fall when they have many times been raised, those who seem hopelessly bad and to have no redeeming trait. And there are those, of whom all this cannot be said, who are deserving, and yet have no claim on us--whose rights extend to some other vineyard, but not to ours. Now we take our text as symbolically speaking of usefulness to all these, the branch breaking away from its support, and reaching, with its grateful fruit, to those outside. And do we not need, my friends, to consider that? The good Samaritan in his kindness to the Jew that had fallen among thieves, was a branch that ran over the wall. Our Lord’s deed of mercy to the Syro-Phoenician woman was a branch that ran over the wall. Anal whilst it is right to give the bin-Jest of our life to those who have claim on the vine, it must be right to let some shoots trail to the larger world outside, and to the very grating of the prisoner’s cell.
2. Ministry to those outside our particular vineyard. Into every department of life Christianity casts some healing influence. There is much, indeed, for it to do yet; but it has been the originator or beneficent ally of all onward movements in the history of the race. See how its branches run over the wall; how contrary it is to the spirit of exclusiveness! Its blessings are for the Church, but, in a less degree, it blesses the world as well. And that warns us Christian people against exclusiveness in religious sympathy; exclusiveness is not Christianity. It were a bad day for any church when its thought, and effort, and means are spent only on its own work and wants, and it ceases to care with brotherly interest for other churches, God’s vast world-wide work. Let the main clusters, if you will, be for those for whom
God planted the vine, but see to it that strong fruitful branches run over the wall.
3. Refreshment to the casual passer-by. The text was suggested in passing a vineyard on the south side of the Alps, as outside the enclosure some unpruned shoots, with their just-formed grapes, were waving in the wind, to be perhaps a refreshment to some traveller in the summer’s heat. It is the picture of a Christian whose abundant inner life comes out unawares, as it were, for the benediction of any who may pass that way. Tired pilgrims pass us every hour, some oppressed with their burden, some parched with the world’s dust, some who have lost their strength in conflict, and some who thirst but for a tender look, a friendly utterance, a sympathetic grasp, and with these would go their way revived. Think of such finding this reviving in us!
II. Consider, secondly, THAT THIS IS THE MARK OF THE BRANCH OF THE TRUE VINE.
1. Christianity tends to the enlarging of our sympathies. It brings us into contact with Christ, and makes us partakers in His Spirit. Nothing is more striking or blessed in Scripture than the absence of exclusiveness in our Lord’s love and readiness to bless. Christianity is the being joined to Him, “and he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” In His people, then, this spirit of unexclusive sympathy exists in germ; and as they commune with Him it grows, and they spontaneously care for those He cares for.
2. Beside this, Christianity claims a deliberate consideration of others’ wants. “We, then, that are strong, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves”; “let every one of us please his neighbour for his good, for even Christ pleased not Himself”; “bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.”
3. And Christianity results in unconscious, unchecked fruitfulness. Christianity is not so much a doing as a being. We are not Christians because we do this or that. “Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name, and in Thy name have cast out devils, and in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them: I never knew you; depart from Me ye that work iniquity.” Christianity is a new nature taking the place of ours, by which heart and mind, and character and life become Divine. Now our nature cannot appoint set times in which to express itself, nor fence off a few to whom alone it shall make itself known. Every branch of the Vine which
Jesus is, necessarily runs over the wall somewhere, bearing unconscious fruit not only for the vineyard it is expected to enrich, but also for the passer-by outside to pluck.
III. Then CONSIDER HOW THIS OVER-THE-WALL FRUITFULNESS MAY RE SECURED. The very word “fruit “ teaches us. Distinguish between “works” and “fruit.” “Works,” says one, “may be the actings of a legal spirit; they are done in obedience to laws; they may be performed perfunctorily, and are no part of one’s nature.” But fruit is the sign of life; it is not due to commands, nor even to effort; it is life spontaneously, naturally, sweetly giving itself forth. Now it is fruit of which we speak, fruit that Christ wants. “Herein is My Father glorified that ye bear much fruit, so shall ye be My disciples.” Then what is needed for this over-the-wall fruitfulness is the earnest culture of our spirituality. Culture the life, and the fruit comes of its own accord; branches running over the wall are but the exuberance of life. Let me give these three brief rules:
1. It depends on the measure in which we receive the life of Christ. “Joseph is a fruitful bough.” Only a bough. We are “boughs,” that is all; therefore we have no life in ourselves, and God does not require us to have any; the life is in the Vine--“our life is hid with Christ”; “as a branch cannot bear fruit of itself except it abide in the vine, no more can ye except ye abide in Me . . . severed from Me, ye can do nothing.”
2. And it depends on our fruitfulness to those nearest to us. For the strong shoots that trail outside will spring from the strong wood in the vineyard itself, and the dresser of the vines, we may be sure, will only permit the branch that does its duty first within to carry strength elsewhere. To bear fruit over the wall only, or chiefly, is to rob the Husbandman, for where He has planted us He means our richest grapes to grow. We must love our own best--our own family, our own church; our deepest sympathies and best energies are for those to whom God has given most claim upon them; and only when we have done that, He would have us not forget them that are without. “Learn first to show piety at home”; “do good unto all men, but specially to them that are of the household of faith.” And that is the successful order. It is by putting strength into our nearest duties, and fulfilling Christian love to those nearest to us, that we get the power for the ministry beyond. Bear ripe good fruit within the wall, then--for then it will be possible, and the Husbandman will permit it--let some branches run over.
3. And it depends on our submission to the Divine culture of our piety. For Joseph was the fruitful bough--Joseph, of whom it was said “God made him fruitful in the land of his affliction.” “Every branch in Me that beareth fruit, He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. “The fruitful branch is pruned closest, and if the shoots that stray over the enclosure are to bear grapes, some others must be nipped. Is not that blessed compensation (even were it all) for Christian suffering--more fruit to God and man? That is a price that must be paid for fruitfulness. “The vine that bears much fruit is proud to stoop with it; the palm stands upright in a realm of sand.” (C. New.)
The archers shot at him, but his bow abode in strength, and the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob
Man helped by God:
I. STRENGTH FOR CONFLICT by contact with the strength of God. The word here rendered “made strong” might be translated “made pliable,” or “flexible,” conveying the notion of deftness and dexterity rather than of simple strength. It is practised strength that He will give, the educated hand and arm master of all the manipulation of the weapon.
II. The text not only gives the fact of Divine strength being bestowed, but also THE MANNER OF THE GIFT. What boldness of reverent familiarity there is in that symbol of the hands of God laid on the hand of the man. A true touch, as of hand to hand, conveys the grace. Nothing but contact will give us strength for conflict and for conquest. And the plain lesson, therefore, is--See to it that the contact is not broken by you. “In all these things weare more than conquerors through Him that loved us.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Joseph attacked by the archers:
I. THE CRUEL ATTACK. “The archers have sorely grieved him.” Joseph’s enemies were archers. The original has it, “masters of the arrows,” that is, men who were well skilled in the use of the arrow. Though all weapons are alike approved by the warrior in his thirst for blood, there seems something more cowardly in the attack of the archer, than in that of the swordsman. The swordsman plants himself near you, foot to foot, and let you defend yourself and deal your blows against him; but the archer stands at a distance, hides himself in ambuscade, and without you knowing it, the arrow comes whizzing through the air, and perhaps penetrates your heart. Just so are the enemies of God’s people.
1. First, Joseph had to endure the archers of envy. When he was a boy, his father loved him. Therefore, his brethren hated him. Full often did they jeer at the youthful Joseph, when he retired to his prayers; when he was with them at a distance from his father’s house, he was their drudge, their slave; the taunt, the jeer, did often wound his heart, and the young child endured much secret sorrow. Truly the archers sorely shot at him. And, my brethren, do you hope, if you are the Lord’s Josephs, that you shall escape envy? I tell you, nay; that green-eyed monster envy lives in London as well as elsewhere, and he creeps into God’s church, moreover. Oh! it is hardest of all to be envied by one’s brethren.
2. But a worse trial than this was to overtake him. The archers of temptation shot at him. You know it is opportunity that makes a man criminal, and he had abundant opportunity; but importunity will drive most men astray. To be haunted day by day by solicitations of the softest kind--to be tempted hour by hour--oh! it needs a strength superangelic, a might more than human, a strength which only God can grant, for a young man thus to cleanse his way, and take heed thereto according to God’s word. Truly the archers sorely grieved him and shot at him; but his bow abode in strength.
3. Then another host of archers assailed him: these were the archers of malicious calumny. Seeing that he would not yield to temptation, his mistress falsely accused him to her husband, and his lord, believing the voice of his wife, cast him into prison. There was poor Joseph. His character ruined in the eyes of man, and very likely looked upon with scorn even in the prison-house; base criminals went away from him as if they thought him viler than themselves, as if they were angels in comparison with him. Oh I it is no easy thing to feel your character gone, to think that you are slandered, that things are said of you that are untrue. Many a man’s heart has been broken by this, when nothing else could make him yield. The archers sorely grieved him when he was so maligned, so slandered. Oh child of God, dost thou expect to escape these archers? Wilt thou never be slandered? Shalt thou never be calumniated? It is the lot of God’s servants, in proportion to their zeal, to be evil spoken of.
II. We have seen these archers shoot their flights of arrows; we will now go up the hill a little, behind a rock, to look at the SHIELDED WARRIOR and see how his courage is while the archers have sorely grieved him. What is he doing? “His bow abideth in strength.” Let us picture God’s favourite. The archers are down below. There is a parapet of rock before him; now and then he looks over it to see what the archers are about, but generally he keeps behind. In heavenly security he is set upon a rock, careless of all below. Let us follow the track of the wild goat, and behold the warrior in his fastness.
1. First, we notice that he has a bow himself, for we read that “his bow abode in strength.” He could have retaliated if he pleased, but he was very quiet and would not combat with them.
2. Mark well his quietness. His bow “abideth.” It is not rattling, it is not always moving, but it abides, it is quite still; he takes no notice of the attack. The archers sorely grieved Joseph, but his bow was not turned against them, it abode in strength. He turned not his bow on them. He rested while they raged. Doth the moon stay herself to lecture every dog that bayeth her? Doth the lion turn aside to rend each cur that barketh at him? Do the stars cease to shine because the nightingales reprove them for their dimness? Doth the sun stop in its course because of the officious cloud which veils it? Or doth the river stay because the willow dippeth its leaves into its waters? Ah! no; God’s universe moves on, and if men will oppose it, it heeds them not.
3. But we must not forget the next word: “His bow abode in strength.” Though his bow was quiet, it was not because it was broken. Joseph’s bow was like that of William the Conqueror, no man could bend it but Joseph himself; it abode “in strength.” I see the warrior bending his bow, how with his mighty arms he pulls it down and draws the string to make it ready. His bow abode in strength; it did not snap, it did not start aside. His chastity was his bow, and he did not lose that; his faith was his bow, and that did not yield, it did not break; his courage was his bow, and that did not fail him; his character, his honesty was his bow; nor did he cast it away.
III. The third thing in our text is the SECRET STRENGTH. “The arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.”
1. First, notice concerning his strength, that it was real strength. It says, “the arms of his hands,” not his hands only. You know some people can do a great deal with their hands, but then it is often fictitious power; there is no might in the arm, there is no muscles, but of Joseph it is said, “the arms of his hands were made strong.” It was real potency, true muscle, real sinew, real nerve. Oh ye foes of God, ye think God’s people are despicable and powerless; but know that they have true strength from the omnipotence of their Father, a might substantial and divine. Your own shall melt away, and droop and die, like the snow upon the low mountain’s top, when the sun shines upon it, it melteth into water; but our vigour shall abide like the snow on the summit of the Alps, undiminished for ages. It is real strength.
2. Then observe that the strength of God’s Joseph is divine strength. His arms were made strong by God. Why does one of God’s ministers preach the Gospel powerfully? Because God gives him assistance. Why does Joseph stand against temptation? Because God gives him aid. The strength of a Christian is divine strength.
3. Again: I would have you notice in the text in what a blessedly familiar way God gives this strength to Joseph. It says, “the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.” Thus it represents God as putting his hands on Joseph’s hands, placing his arms on Joseph’s arms. In old times, when every boy had to be trained up to archery, if his father were worth so many pounds a year, you might see the father putting his hands on his boy’s hands and pulling the bow for him, saying, “There, my son, in this manner draw the bow.” So the text represents God as putting His hand on the hand of Joseph, and laying His broad arm along the arm of His chosen child, that he might be made strong. Like as a father teaches his children, so the Lord teaches them that fear Him. He puts His arms upon them.
4. This strength was covenant strength, for it is said, “The arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob.” Now, wherever you read of God of Jacob in the Bible, you may know that that respects God’s covenant with Jacob. Covenant mercies, covenant grace, covenant promises, covenant blessings, covenant help, covenant everything--the Christian must receive if he would enter into heaven. Now,Christian, the archers have sorely grieved you, and shot at you, and wounded you; but your bow abides in strength, and the arms of your hands are made strong. But do you know, O believer, that you are like your Master in this?
IV. That is our fourth point--A GLORIOUS PARALLEL. “From thence is the shepherd, the stone of Israel,” Jesus Christ was served just the same; the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel, passed through similar trials; He was shot at by the archers, He was grieved and wounded, but His bow abode in strength; His arms were made strong by the God of Jacob, and now every blessing rests “upon the crown of the head of Him who was separated from His brethren.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The mighty God of Jacob.
Prom thence is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel
These three names which we find here are striking and beautiful in themselves; in their juxtaposition; in their use on Jacob’s lips. Look at them as they stand.
I. THE MIGHTY GOD OF JACOB. The meaning of such a name is clear enough. It is He who has shown Himself mighty and mine by His deeds for me all through my life. The very vital centre of a man’s religion is his conviction that God is his. The dying patriarch left to his descendants the legacy of this great Name.
II. THE SHEPHERD. That name sums up the lessons that Jacob had learned from the work of himself and of his sons. His own sleepless vigilance and patient endurance were but shadows of the loving care, the watchful protection, the strong defence, which “the God who has been my Shepherd all my life long” had extended to him and his.
III. THE STONE OF ISRAEL. Here, again, we have a name that after-ages have caught up and cherished, used for the first time. The Stone of Israel means much the same thing as the Rock. The general idea of this symbol is firmness, solidity. God is a Rock--
1. for a foundation;
2. for a fortress;
3. for shade and refreshment.
None that ever built on that Rock have been confounded. We clasp hands with all that have gone before us. At one end of the long chain this dim figure of the dying Jacob stretches out his withered hands to God, the Stone of Israel; at the other end we lift up ours to Jesus and cry--
“Rock of Ages, cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee.”
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
He shall divide the spoil
The division of spoils:
There is nothing more fascinating than the life of a hunter.
On a certain day in all England you can hear the crack of the sportsman’s gun, because, grouse hunting has begun; and every man who can afford the time and ammunition, and can draw a bead, starts for the fields. On the 20th of October our woods and forests will resound with the shock of fire-arms, and will be tracked of pointers and setters, because the quail will then be a lawful prize for the sportsman. Xenophon grew eloquent in regard to the art of hunting. In the far East people, elephant-mounted, chase the tiger. The American Indian darts his arrow at the buffalo until the frightened herd tumble over the rocks. European nobles are often found in the fox-chase and at the stag-hunt. Francis L was called the father of hunting. Moses declares of Nimrod: “He was a mighty hunter before the Lord.” Therefore, in all ages of the world, the imagery of my text ought to be suggestive, whether it means a wolf after a fox, or a man after a lion. “In the morning he shall devour the prey, and at night he shall divide the spoils.” I take my text, in the first place, as descriptive of those people who, in the morning of their life, give themselves up to hunting the world, but afterwards, by the grace of God, in the evening of their life divide among themselves the spoils of Christian character. There are aged Christian men and women in this house who, if they gave testimony, would tell you that in the morning of their life they were after the world as intent as a hound after a hare, or as a falcon swoops upon a gazelle. They wanted the world’s plaudits and the world’s gains. They felt that if they could get this world they would have everything. Some of them started out for the pleasures of the world. They thought that the man who laughed loudest was happiest. They tried repartee, and conundrum, and burlesque, and madrigal. After awhile misfortune struck them hard on the back. They found there was something they could not laugh at. Under their late hours their health gave way, or there was a death in the house. They awoke to their sinfulness and their immortality, and here they sit to-night, at sixty or seventy years of age, as appreciative of all innocent mirth as they ever were, but they are bent on a style of satisfaction which in early life they never hunted: the evening of their days brighter than the morning. In the morning they devoured the prey, but at night they are dividing the spoils. Then there are others who started out for financial success. Wherever a dollar was expected to be, they were. They chased it across the ocean. They chased it across the land. They stopped not for the night. Hearing that dollar, even in the darkness, thrilled them as an Adirondack sportsman is thrilled at midnight by a loon’s laugh. They chased that dollar to the money-vault. All the hounds were out--all the pointers and the setters. They leaped the hedges for that dollar, and they cried: “Hark away! a dollar! a dollar!” And when at last they came upon it and had actually captured it, their excitement was like that of a falconer who has successfully flung his first hawk. In the morning of their life, oh, how they devoured the prey! But there came a better time to their soul. From that time they did not care whether they walked or rode, if Christ walked with them; nor whether they lived in a mansion or in a hut, if they dwelt under the shadow of the Almighty; nor whether they were robed in French broadcloth or in homespun, if they had the robe of the Saviour’s righteousness; nor whether they were sandalled with morocco or calf skin, if they were shod with the preparation of the gospel. Now you see peace on their countenance. Now that man says: “What a fool I was to be enchanted with this world.” This world is a poor thing to hunt. It is healthful to go out in the woods and hunt. It rekindles the lustre of the eye. It strikes the brown of the autumnal leaf into the cheek. It gives to the rheumatic limbs a strength to leap like the roe. Christopher North’s pet gun, the muckle-mounted-Meg, going off in the summer in the forests, had its echo in the winter-time in the eloquence that rang through the university halls of Edinburgh. It is healthy to go hunting in the fields; but I tell you that it is belittling and bedwarfing and belaming for a man to hunt this world. So it was with Lord Byron. So it was with Coleridge. So it was with Catherine of Russia. Henry II. went out hunting for this world, and its lances struck through his heart. Francis I. aimed at the world, but the assassin’s dagger put an end to his ambition and his life with one stroke. Mary Queen of Scots wrote on the window of her castle:--
“From the top of all my trust Mishap hath laid me in the dust.”
The Queen Dowager of Navarre was offered for her wedding-day a costly and beautiful pair of gloves, and she put them on; but they were poisoned gloves, and they took net life. Better a bare hand of cold privation than a warm and poisoned glove of ruinous success. Again, my subject is descriptive of those who come to a sudden and a radical change. You have noticed how short a time it is from morning to night--only seven or eight hours. You know that the day has a very brief life. Its heart beats twenty-four times, and then it is dead. How quick this transition in the character of these Benjamites! “In the morning they shall devour the prey, and at night they shall divide the spoils.” Is it possible that there shall be such a transformation in any of our characters? (Dr. Talmage.)
The blessing of Benjamin:
In Benjamin, the youngest and last of the sons of Jacob, there is expressed the culmination of all blessing for all the tribes of Israel. In this tribe is summed up, in a climax, all spiritual blessing for every child of God. Morning and evening together suggests the idea of incessant and victorious capture of booty. The warlike character manifested by this tribe was shown on many occasions in their history, and exhibited marked features of a fierce and wolfish character. Israel, as represented in Benjamin, shall devour the prey, and at night divide the spoil. The prophecies of Balaam, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, as well as the minor prophets, are full of announcements that the Lord will again take in hand His ancient people, and they shall go forth, in mighty power, under the leadership of Christ as their Messiah, and shall destroy their foes on the right hand and on the left, and shall carry off “the spoil.” This is the emphatic declaration in the blessing on Benjamin. “At night,” at the close of this dispensation of darkness and sin and sorrow, it will receive its decisive fulfilment, and a morning shall be ushered in such as the world has never yet seen--the morning of resurrection, when the Church of the living God shall exchange her weeds of widowhood for her garments of glory and beauty, and shall rise to meet her Lord in the air, and for ever reign with Him over a regenerated world. Blessed morning, long expected! Well may every true and loyal-hearted servant of Christ exclaim with the beloved disciple in his closing word of prophecy, “Even so; come, Lord Jesus.” (F. Whitfield, M. A.)
Bury me with my fathers
Love in death
The patriarch Jacob, in his last request, says, “Bury me with my fathers”; and this feeling has illustration all along the ages in different races and climes.
What is it but the outward symbol of that which is deepest in the heart? What is it but an expression of the preciousness of these earthly relationships? Bury me with my fathers. Of course in the grave, with silence and darkness, there is no device or knowledge. So far as the perishing bodies are concerned, it cannot matter essentially where they repose when the spirit has fled. And yet they are the tenements of thought and will. They are associated with all that is most expressive in our being. With them are grouped the activities, the endearments, the acquirements, the possessions, that make up our estimate of life. When the patriarch said, “Bury me with my fathers,” he thought of those whom he revered and loved, whose remains were lying in the sepulchre of Machpelah; he thought of the holy friendships that had consecrated and sweetened his years; and those forms of parent and wife and kindred seemed endued with life and feeling in the strong ardour of his soul. He wished to continue the relationship, and would sleep with those from whom he descended and loved. How natural is this sentiment, and how largely is the custom observed throughout the world l When we think of death and our place of burial, it is with thoughts of others who have gone before us. A lonely grave, a burial away from friends and kindred--remote, unvisited, neglected--brings sad thoughts. We cannot help shrinking from the picture that we make of it. To die alone, to be buried by strangers, to lie afar from any dust that once was dear, is not what we would prefer. But there where our ancestors repose, where parents are entombed, where sleeps the companion of our journey, or child, or sister, or brother, or beloved friend--there, too, we would be borne by tender hands, when we can tell none how kind they are. It is the same feeling that prefers those who love us to minister to us in our last hours, and perform the last offices that friendship can render. The human cries out of the darkness of death for the beloved presence, the heart that was true and kind. And if we can feel that when we are gone there will be any to follow us with sorrow to the grave, and there to plant some symbol of affection, and, as the days and years pass, ¢o go aside sometimes and think of us as we were, with our friendship and faith, there comes a grateful emotion. There is something sweetly tranquilizing in the thought that we shall lie down with the family around us, the revered and good who closed their eyes long ago, and those who follow us out of the doors where we followed others who have gone; and that they shall bring the children one by one to sleep by our side. All this is grateful to our thought, I say; and why? What could it mean if the heart did not reach onward to everlasting attachments, to life with the beloved beyond the grave I And oh! how dark would it be, when we come to face the dread necessity of death, were it not for the light that comes from the broken sepulchre of Christi What would be our hope without this victorious and mighty Saviour, who has put death under His feet? Dear friends, here is an assurance, glorious and indubitable, that is given for everlasting comfort and strength. He who consecrated home while on earth, with all that could sanctify and sweeten it, prepares the heavenly home. (H. N. Powers.)
Jacob’s dying charge:
I. AN EXPRESSION OF NATURAL FEELING. A natural feeling it is, a strong instinctive impulse of our humanity, this concern about the body, this concern about it to the last, this desire that, when the spirit has fled, it should not be neglected--should not be thrown carelessly into the ground anywhere, but should receive a respectful interment where its mouldering remains may mingle with the dust of our nearest relatives. How instinctive the thought that the dust in the family sepulchre has still some relationship to our material frame I How instinctive the desire that our bodies and those of our beloved friends should take the long, still sleep together I Not less natural is the wish to be remembered--to be remembered in connection with those who have been so near to us in kindred and kindly fellowship. Such feelings, my friends, are not unlawful; but neither are they unprofitable. If they be kept in their own place, if they be cherished in subordination to higher principles, if they be not permitted to overgrow and stifle the desires and expectations of that which is spiritual, they are neither unbecoming nor useless. We are the better of feeling that the body is a part of man, an integral part of our personal identity, and not lost, or unworthy of care, even in its dissolution. We are the better of feeling that beyond death there is still some tie of kindred between our dust and the dust of our beloved relatives, as well as between our souls and their souls. We are the better of feeling the wish to be remembered after we are no more seen in the world--to be remembered in association with those whom we esteem and reverence.
II. In their holier import, the words before us expressed THE PEACE AND FAITH OF THE DYING PATRIARCH. “I am to be gathered unto my people”--“I am being gathered unto my people” seems to be the proper force of the expression, pointing rather to a present than to a future event. It was the language of one who felt that the last short journey was already commenced, that his feet were already dipping into the swellings of Jordan. But there was no appearance of alarm, no token of anxiety, no struggling search as if he wanted something to rest upon, or as if the anchor of the soul were not holding firmly. All is quiet, untroubled, and peaceful. Thus he passed down--down into the dark valley--down into the rushing river--as you might speak of going home from your day’s work at evening. A similar inference may be drawn from the manner in which he conveyed to his sons the charge concerning his burial. Observe his careful, leisurely description of the place to which he referred, and its purchase by his grandfather: “Bury me in the cave which is in the field of Ephron the Hittite,” &c. That was no hurried glance at a secondary matter, amid the agony of an arduous and uncertain conflict--no snatching of a moment out of engrossing anxieties and apprehensions about his spiritual interests, to indicate his desire regarding the body which was about to be resolved into the dust from which it had been taken. If he had not been at rest in reference to his undying soul, if he bad not felt a quiet, holy confidence that it was safe, would he have been so deliberately careful in describing the situation and the purchase of the sepulchre? Let us not marvel, my friends, that saints about to depart can dwell upon the thought of some earthly and temporal matter; neither should we grieve to hear them then speaking with interest about other things besides the spiritual and heavenly. It may be the very strength and quiet assurance of their hope of immortality that permit them to give some special attention still to the body, or the household, or the world which they are leaving. Whence that peace, that terrorless tranquility of Jacob in the death-hour? Here he made no particular reference to the source of it. This was not necessary. He had indicated, by his religious profession, and by the consistent piety which adorned his life, especially the latter portion of it, that his trust was in the covenant mercy of Jehovah. In the prophetic blessing also, the sound of which had scarcely left the ears of his assembled children, he had spoken of the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel; he had named the Shiloh, to whom the gathering of the nations would be; and had concluded his prediction respecting one of the tribes with these words, “I have waited for Thy salvation, O Lord.” There was no need of further explanation there was no need for his declaring now that his peace was the fruit of faith, faith in the saving grace of that God who had given him the covenant with its blessings and promises, ratified by sacrifice and predictive of the Messiah. (W. Bruce, D. D.)
When Jacob had made an end . . . he gathered up his feet into the bed, and yielded up the ghost
HIS AFFECTION FOR THE LIVING.
1. His affection was impartial.
2. His affection was religious.
II. SYMPATHY WITH THE DEAD,
III. HIS MAGNANIMITY IN ALL. No perturbation. Two things alone can explain his calmness.
1. Faith in his future existence.
2. Faith in the happiness of his future existence. (Homilist.)
Jacob’s death and funeral:
I. THE PATRIARCH DEPARTURE.
1. A hint of immortality. Amid the shadows of the past there were beams of light that spoke of a future state (life and immortality brought to life by the gospel). Jacob “was gathered to his people” (Genesis 49:33). Jehovah was known as “the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob.” He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. The patriarchs were therefore living. To them Jacob was “gathered.”
2. An illustration of natural sorrow. Joseph “fell on his father’s face, and wept upon him, and kissed him.” Picture this affecting sight. Wealth and power had not hardened Joseph’s heart. We sorrow not, as they that have no hope.
3. An illustration of filial obedience. Joseph remembering his promise to his father (Genesis 47:29-31), had him embalmed, &c. Do we remember dying parent’s wishes, not to carry him to the promised land, but to meet him there?
II. THE MAGNIFICENT FUNERAL.
1. There was the usual ceremonious mourning of many days.
2. Joseph seeks permission of the king to bury his father.
3. At the head of a great retinue he passes up once more to Canaan. How great the difference between his leaving and entering Canaan. Thirty-nine years have elapsed. The youth of seventeen has become a man of fifty-six. The slave has become a prince. Both were occasions of grief. Then he was leaving his father through the treachery of his brothers; now he is burying his father with his brethren around him.
4. Such a funeral never before seen in Canaan. The Canaanites find that the old shepherd who went away seventeen years before is a great man. So sometimes men are brought back to be buried among the people who thought little of them while they lived. (Ill. the funeral of Cobden in the Sussex village, &c.)
. (J. G. Gray.)
Sermons from saintly death-beds:
Jacob did not yield up the ghost until he had delivered the last sentence of admonition and benediction to his twelve sons. He was immortal till his work was done. So long as God had another sentence to speak by him, death could not paralyse his tongue.
Yet, after all, the strong man was bowed down, and he who had journeyed with unwearied foot full many a mile, was now obliged to gather up his feet into the bed to die. From the wording of the text, it appears very clearly that Israel did not dispute the irrevocable decree, nor did his soul murmur against it. He had long before learned that few and evil were his days, and now that they came to an end, he joyfully accepted their conclusion. It is remarkable that the Holy Spirit has given us very few death-bed scenes in the Book of God. We have very few in the Old Testament, fewer still in the New, and I take it that the reason may be because the Holy Ghost would have us take more account of how we live than how we die, for life is the main business. He who learns to die daily while he lives, will find it no difficulty to breathe out his soul for the last time into the hands of his faithful Creator. If we fight well the battle, we may rest assured of the victory.
I. First, THE DEPARTURES OF GOD’S SAINTS, AND ESPECIALLY OF HIS MINISTERS--WHAT ARE THEIR LESSONS?
1. The first that lies upon the surface, is this, “Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of Man cometh.” When in the forest there is heard the crash of a falling oak, it is a sign that the woodman is abroad, and every tree in the whole company may tremble lest soon the sharp edge of the axe should find it out.
2. Secondly, the deaths of righteous men should teach us their value. According to the old saying, we never know the value of things till we lose them. I am sure it is so with holy men. Let me urge young people here to prize their aged godly parents, to treat them kindly, to make their last days happy, because they cannot expect to have them long on earth to receive their tokens of affectionate gratitude.
3. Furthermore, I think the departures of great saints and those who have been eminent, teach us to pray earnestly to God to send us more of such--a lesson which, I am quite certain, needs to be inculcated often. There is sadly little prayer in the church for the rising ministry.
4. Yet there is a valuable truth on the other side. We desire always to look at both sides of a question. The taking away of eminent saints from among us should teach us to depend more upon God, and less upon human instrumentality. I was reading, yesterday, the dying prayer of Oliver Cromwell, and one sentence in that man of God’s last breathings pleased me exceedingly. It was to this effect, “Teach those who look too much upon Thy instruments to depend more upon Thyself.” The Lord would have all the glory given unto His own name.
5. Coming back, however, to the old thought, do you not think that the departure of eminent saints should teach each one of us to work with more earnestness and perseverance while we are spared? One soldier the less in the battle, my brethren; then you must fill up the vacancy; you who stand next in the ranks must close up, shoulder to shoulder, that there be no gap. Here is one servant the less in the house: the other servants must do the more work. It is but natural for us so to argue, because we wish the Master’s work to be done, and it will not be done without hands.
II. Come with me to the second part of my discourse. Much may be learned from the MODE OF DEPARTURE of God’s servants.
1. To some of God’s own children the dying bed is a Bochim, a place of weeping. It is melancholy when such is the case, and yet it is often so with those who have been negligent servants: they are saved, but so as by fire; they struggle into the port of peace, but their entrance is like that of a weather-beaten vessel which has barely escaped the storm, and enters into harbour so terribly leaking as to be ready to founder, without her cargo, for she has thrown that overboard to escape the waves, sails rent to ribands, masts gone by the board, barely able to keep afloat. Many a dying pillow has been wet with the penitential tears of saints, who have then fully seen their formerly unobserved shortcomings and failures and laxities in the family, in the business, in the church, and in the world. Brethren, it is beautiful to see the repentance of a dying saint; travel far as you may, you will not readily behold a more comely spectacle. Yet at the sight; of such instances it has struck me that the fruit though precious was scarcely seasonable; it must be acceptable to God, for He never rejects repentance anywhere, but yet a brighter state of soul would have glorified Him more in dying moments. We regret to see mourning of soul as the most conspicuous feature in a departing brother, we desire to see joy and confidence clearly manifested at the last.
2. It has not unfrequently occurred that the dying scene has been to the Lord’s departing champions a battle, not perhaps by reason of any slips or shortcomings--far from it, for in some cases the conflict appeared to arise by very reason of their valour in the Lord’s service. Who among us would assert that Martin Luther failed to live up to the light and knowledge which he had received? So far as he knew the truth, I believe he most diligently followed it; beyond most men he was true to conscience, he knew comparatively little of the truth, but what he did know he maintained with all his heart, and soul, and strength; and yet it is exceedingly painful to read the record of Luther’s last few days. Darkness was round about him, thick clouds and tempest enveloped his soul. At the last the sky cleared, but it is very evident that, among all the grim battles in which that mighty German fought and conquered, probably the most tremendous conflict of his life was at its close. Can we not guess the reason? Was it not because the devil knew him to be his worst enemy then upon the earth, and therefore hating him with the utmost power of infernal hate, and feeling that this was his last opportunity for assaulting him, he gathered up all his diabolical powers, and came in against him like a flood, thinking that mayhap he might at the last overcome the stout heart, and cow the valiant spirit! Only by Divine assistance did Luther win the victory, but win it he did. Is this form of departure to be altogether deprecated? I think not. Is it to be dreaded in some aspects, though not in others, for is it not a noble thing for the knight of the Cross to die in harness? a blessed thing for the Christian soldier to proceed at once from the battle fold to his eternal rest?
3. To many saints their departure has been a peaceful entrance into the fair haven of repose. The very weakest of God’s servants have frequently been happiest in their departing moments. John Bunyan, who had observed this fact, in the description of Mr. Feeblemind’s passage of the river, “Here also I took notice of what was very remarkable; the water of that river was lower at this time than ever I saw it all my life. So he went over at last not much above wet-shod.” Heaven’s mercy tempers the wind to the shorn lamb, and gives to babes no battle, because they have no strength for it: the lambs calmly rest on the bosom of Jesus, and breathe out their lives in the Shepherd’s arms. What encouragement this ought to be to you who are the tender ones among us I what cheering tidings for you who are weak in faith 1
4. Many of the saints have gone farther than this, for their death-beds have been pulpits. When Mr. Matthew Henry was dying, Mr. Illidge came to him, and he said, “You have been used to take notice of the sayings of dying men; this is mine, ‘A life spent in the service of God and in communion with Him, is the most pleasant life that any one can bye in the world.’” Well spoken! Our pulpits often lack force and power; men suppose that we speak but out of form and custom, but they do not suspect dying men of hypocrisy, nor think that they are driving a trade and following a profession. Hence the witness of dying saints has often become powerful to those who have stood around their couch; careless hearts have been impressed, slumbering consciences have been awakened, and children of God quickened to greater diligence by what they have heard.
5. And, brethren, we have known not unfrequent cases (nay, commonly this is the case) when the dying bed has become a Pisgah, from the top of which the saint has viewed his inheritance, while anon his couch has glowed on a sudden into the chariot--a flaming chariot such as that in which Elias was borne away to dwell with God. Saints have frequently been in such triumphant conditions of mind, that rapture and ecstacy are the only fit words in which to describe their state. “If this be dying,” said one, “it is worth while living for the mere sake of dying.” (C. H.Spurgeon.)
Jacob’s debit and credit account
The struggle is over. Life’s record is completed. The sorrows of a hundred and forty-seven years, like the sufferings of the dying babe, come to an end. And now that the balance is struck, how stands the account? Debit: infirmities many; sins not a few; wrongs done to Esau; polygamy with its legacy of bickerings; partiality in the family; murmurings under the succession of distresses which his own conduct brought upon him. Credit: The early choice of Jehovah; habitual reliance upon Divine guidance; deep and abiding impressions of piety; an unquenchable faith in God; the approval of a conscience, which though not greatly enlightened was evidently sincere; a life marred by transgressions of deep moral turpitude, but remarkably exemplary for the rude age in which he lived. (J. S. Van Dyke.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 49". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20