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Ye have not left your brethren.
Helping one another
I. These tribes helped their brethren to their own inconvenience and positive detriment. A narrow-minded, selfish race would have recognised no claim for any service which could not be repaid dollar for dollar. What fine excuses could have been made for the non-performance of this duty if they had been in the excuse-making mood! How prominently that threadbare proverb, “Charity begins at home”--a proverb often outrageously perverted--might have figured in their conversation! We have our own children and our own houses to look after; our crops must be planted and harvested; our homes must be established in this new land; the wandering tribes of our enemies may at any time swoop down upon our vineyards and gardens. Small and selfish souls always reason in this way, whether they live in Palestine or America, in the fifteenth century before Christ or the nineteenth after Christ. Such reasoning and such living inevitably lead to national and individual bankruptcy in all the generous and noble qualities which make a nation great. Let us remember also that it is not what we can spare as well as not which helps our brother. It is not the cast-off coat which we should never wear, the superfluous dollar whose gift we should never feel, that blesses the world; it is the gift that carries part of ourselves with it that helps to regenerate mankind. The Reubenites and Gadites gave themselves, their sturdiest men, their bravest warriors, not merely a quota of drafted hirelings. There is no other brotherly kindness worth the name; a dollar bill given without the personal interest of the one who sends it is but a piece of printed paper; a dollar bill sent with love and prayer, a bill that represents the yearning of some heart to do good, may be--yea, it always is--the winged messenger of God, carrying a blessing to him to whom it goes and leaving a larger one with him who sends it.
II. These heroic israelites helped their brethren persistently and patiently. Seven long years passed before all their battles were fought and they were at liberty to return to their wives and their children. In our deeds of benevolence and charity the tendency is to leave the work half-done because of discouragement at the slowness of results. “Ye did run well, who did hinder you?” might be the epitaph on the tombstone of many abandoned schemes of philanthropy. If the world could be converted in a year, there would be many enthusiastic missionaries among those who now chiefly find fault with the slowness of missionary operations, because the Lord chooses to make use of centuries in bringing about the triumph of His cause. The reason for this seeming slowness of God’s hosts is not far to seek. There is more virtue in the fight than in the victory. There are souls to be enlarged, there are sympathies to be quickened, there are lives to be inspired with zeal for God and truth and fellow-men. All this is accomplished by the struggle and not by the ease and the possession of the goodly land that follows the struggle.
III. Their home-coming after the seven years of conflict. There is another home-coming to which every true heart aspires, and the conditions of honourable discharge and of welcome to that home are typified in our lesson. What is heaven except the final gathering-place for those who have helped their brethren for Christ’s sake? (F. E. Clark.)
The law for us is the same as for these warriors. In the family, the city, the nation, the Church, and the world, union with others binds us to help them in their conflicts, and that especially if we are blessed with secure possessions, while they have to struggle for theirs. We are tempted to selfish lives of indulgence in our quiet peace, and sometimes think it hard that we should be expected to buckle on our armour and leave our leisurely repose because our brethren ask the help of our arms. If we did as Reuben and Gad did, would there be so many rich men who never stir a finger to relieve poverty, so many Christians whose religion is much more selfish than beneficent? Would so many souls be left to toil without help, to Struggle without allies, to weep without comforters, to wander in the dark without a guide? All God’s gifts in providence and in the gospel are given that we may have somewhat wherewith to bless our less happy brethren. “The service of man” is not the substitute for, but the expression of, Christianity. Are we not kept here, on this side Jordan, away for a time from our inheritance, for the very same reason that these men were separated from theirs--that we may strike some strokes for God and our fellows in the great war? Dives, who lolls on his soft cushions, and has less pity for Lazarus than the dogs have, is Cain come to life again; and every Christian is either his brother’s keeper or his murderer. Would that the Church of to-day, with infinitely deeper and sacreder ties knitting it to suffering, struggling humanity, had a tithe of the willing relinquishment of legitimate possessions and patient participation in the long campaign for God which kept these rude soldiers faithful to their flag and forgetful of home and ease till their general gave them their discharge. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Standing by our brethren
A ship arrived at San Francisco recently which had been two hundred and ninety-six days from New Castle, Australia. She had been in great peril in a storm at sea and had had long delays. One night when she was in great danger the captain asked the captain of another ship to stand by through the night, and he did so at great risk to his own vessel and his own life, but finally was the cause of the salvation of the imperilled vessel. As soon as he was safe in harbour the captain of the ship that had been threatened with wreck gave his first attention to showing appreciation of the other captain’s assistance, and sent him a gold watch, and went before the council of the city of Sydney and told the story of his heroism. On learning of it the Sydney authorities presented to the noble captain a medal bearing his name on one side, and on the other the simple inscription, “The man that did stand by.” In the midst of the campaign for righteousness that is going on in our modern life the noblest ambition for a Christian man is to share the fate of righteousness; to be no more popular than Jesus Christ would be, if He stood in his place, and sought as of old to make it easy for men to do right and hard for them to do wrong. Rather than anything else the Christian man should prize having Christ look down upon him and say: “The man that did stand by.” (Louis A. Banks, D. D.)
Take diligent heed to do the commandment and the law.
The commander’s parting charge
They were about to depart for a life of comparative separation from the mass of the nation. Their remoteness and their occupations drew them away from the current of the national life, and gave them a kind of quasi-independence. They would necessarily be less directly under Joshua’s control than the other tribes were. He sends them away with one commandment, the imperative stringency of which is expressed by the accumulation of expressions in verse 5. They are to give diligent heed to the law of Moses. Their obedience is to be based on love to God, who is their God no less than the God of the other tribes. It is to be comprehensive--walking in all His ways; it is to be resolute--cleaving to Him; it is to be whole hearted and whole-souled service, that will be the true bond between the separated parts of the whole. Independence so limited will be harmless; and, however wide apart the paths may lie, Israel will be one. In like manner the bond that knits all divisions of God’s people together, however different their modes of life and thought, however unlike their homes and their work, is the similarity of relation to God. They are one in a common faith, a common love, a common obedience. Wider waters than Jordan part them. Graver differences of tasks and outlooks than separated these two sections of Israel part them. But all are one who love and obey the one Lord. The closer we cleave to Him, the nearer we shall be to all His tribes. (American Sunday School Times.)
All the great duties of a Christian life are no more incumbent upon Christians than upon other men; for men are bound to be and to do right on the religious scale of rectitude not because they are Christians, but because they are men. Religious obligations took hold of us when we were born. They waited for us as the air did. They have their sources back of volition, back of consciousness, just as attraction has. Though a man declares himself an atheist it in no way alters his obligations. Right and wrong do not spring from the nature of the Church. Obligation lies deeper than that. It is as much the worldling’s duty to love God and obey His laws as the Christian’s. (H. W. Beecher.)
When the truth of our sincerity requires to be weighed out in drachmas and scruples, and runs so sparingly as from an exhausted vessel--when the state of the conscience must be ascertained by a theological barometer, the health of the soul must be in a very feeble and crazy condition. (H. G. Salter.)
If conscience be enlightened, and faithful in the trial, a man cannot deliberately deceive himself: he must know whether his resolutions and endeavours be to obey all the will of God; or, whether, like an intermitting pulse, that sometimes beats regularly, and then falters, he is zealous in some duties, and cold, or careless in others? Saul would offer sacrifice, but not obey the Divine command to destroy all the Amalekites: for his partiality and hypocrisy he was rejected of God. ‘Tis not the authority of the lawgiver, but other motives that sway those who observe some commands, and are regardless of others. A servant that readily goes to a fair or a feast, when sent by his master, and neglects other duties, does not his master’s command from obedience, but his own choice. Sincere obedience is to the royalty of the Divine taw, and is commensurate to its purity and extent. (H. G. Salter.)
What trespass is this that ye have committed?--
The memorial altar
1. Notice the proper jealousy of the elders. When the chiefs of the tribes of Israel heard of this altar they arose in great alarm and went down to their brethren, the two and a half tribes, to demand an explanation. Their jealousy was hasty, it was ignorant and uncharitable, but it was not unnatural. It arose, indeed, from a misunderstanding. They imagined that the eastern men were wishful to do the exact opposite of that which was in their hearts; they took the altar to be a sign and a means of division, whereas it was intended to be a symbol and an influence for unity. Such misunderstandings often and naturally arise. Men look at what others are doing; they do not stay to inquire, they assume they know all about it; they read in what they see their own notions, and hence they come to unwise and uncharitable opinions. It is surely necessary that Christian men, in judging each other’s work, should cultivate a spirit of candour, should be anxious to be clear in judgment, should assume the better motive until the worse is proved; and should remember that, within the limits of what is right, there is room for wide difference of taste, even where there is equal loyalty for the truth and equal anxiety for its maintenance.
2. Now notice the anxiety of the fathers. They were very anxious to have a symbol of unity. They themselves, who had borne a part in every conflict, could never forget the battle or the victory; but to their children those memories might become dim, and might even become to be thought mere myths, and so they desired a symbol, the existence of which could only be accounted for by the fact symbolised, and the sight of which, exciting curiosity and comment, should keep the glorious facts alive amongst them. And they were surely right. Symbols and monuments are useful, the human mind requires them, and men in all ages and lands have provided them erected on the sites of great battles, as Waterloo and Quebec; to commemorate great discoveries, such as chloroform; or great inventions, such as the steam engine; they have been executed to keep green the memory of great men. The busy world is only too apt to forget its benefactors and to lose trace of the events which have been mightiest in moulding its fortunes, so the instinct of men has led them to keep alive precious memories by monumental symbols. And the principle has been recognised by God Himself, and has been embodied in the institutions of the Church. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is a symbol, a memorial observance in which we do show forth the Lord’s death till He comes. By its frequent observance the Church recalls to the mind of its members and the attention of the thoughtless world the supreme fact of human history. And surely never were becoming memorials of great and noble events more necessary than in our own time! These are days of rush and hurry unexampled. Events succeed each other so rapidly that one impression overlays, and perhaps effaces, its predecessors. Anything that will help us to keep in mind great deeds done for God and man, and their influence on subsequent events, will preserve the rich treasure of our spiritual heritage.
3. But, again, those fathers were anxious for a link with the past. They were unwilling that the continuity of their history should be broken. They, and their children after them, would be impoverished if the memories of the past should be lost. Some of them might be memories of shame, but even therein were precious lessons of warning; and many of them were memories of triumph invaluable for the inspirations to duty and to enterprise which they conveyed. Those old heroes were unwilling that the past with its lessons should fade away and disappear, and they were right. How much we owe to the past, though we are often unconscious of the debt! Our position, our mental quality, the balance of our faculties, our peculiar character, have come to us through the mingling of many strains and the influence of a thousand varying circumstances. Our mental conceptions arise out of the heritage of ideas which we find before us when we come into the world, possessed by all minds as a common endowment and embodied in a multitude of forms, literary, mechanical, social, religious. What magnificent possessions the past hands on to us!
4. And, especially, these people were anxious for their children; they were anxious that their share in the toils and risks of the campaigns of Israel should not be forgotten. They were fearful lest their children should lose their part in the original heritage of the covenant. Many causes would favour this: distance, which made it impossible for them to attend the great national festivals; difference of habits occasioned by the different surroundings of their life; the influence of neighbouring idolatry; intermarriage with the tribes hard by--all these things would make it only too likely that, after one or two generations, their children would fall away from the faith of Israel. If by the sight of this great altar overlooking the Jordan they could be reminded of God’s claim upon them and God’s covenant with them and God’s dealing with their fathers, perhaps they might be preserved from the apostasy which would otherwise ruin them. Who does not sympathise with this anxiety of the fathers of the ancient days which has always been a marked characteristic of truly godly men, that they have been anxious for their children’s salvation? “Oh, that Ishmael might live before Thee!” is a prayer which has often found echo in the hearts of men. Love itself becomes more true and tender when, with all the other passions, it is sanctified by the indwelling Spirit. Then, too, the successes or failures of life become properly discriminated. Men who see the invisible estimate the more correctly the things temporal and the things eternal. And the chief solicitude for their children comes to be, not that they should be rich or fashionable, but that they should be good. (T. R. Stephenson, D. D.)
The altar of testimony
Suppose we call the Israelites who built the altar the Eastern Church, and those who found fault with them the Western Church. We shall hope to get instruction from both. From the builders of the altar of testimony we shall ask you to learn a lesson in Christian doctrine; from their brethren of the west, who found fault with them, a lesson in Christian practice.
I. Now the story of the altar on the banks of the Jordan appears to me remarkable as a perfect illustration of what may be called a great spiritual ambiguity, common (in fact, universal) throughout the church of the moderns. It certainly is something above and beyond a mere theological refinement when we discuss one with another the right province of duty and work in the system of Christianity. It enters into every judgment we form of other men’s Christianity or our own. The hard-toiling Christian, is he a Pharisee or not? The idle and the use less Christian, is he a humble believer in the sacrifice of Christ? Here, then, it is that the Reubenites will come in and render us a valuable service as teachers of sound doctrine. “We dwell,” said they, “in the near neighbourhood of idolatrous tribes. There is nothing now--there will be less when we are dead and gone--to mark us out from the heathen and to rank us with the chosen of the Lord.” And therefore up went the altar--a memorial, a lasting memorial, in the style of it, or the inscription it bore, that the builders were they who had come up out of Egypt, and belonged to the seed of Abraham according to the promise. And is it not for this very same purpose that we Christians are commanded to “let your light so shine before men”? The offerings of the silver and the gold, the building of churches, the visiting of the widow and the fatherless, the carrying of the gospel to foreign climes, the reclaiming of untaught and neglected childhood from misery and guilt--there are lesser motives for doing these things, but the chief motive is that we may adorn the doctrines we profess, that men may take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus, and that all the world may discover that ours is no barren or unprofitable faith. Or perhaps, like the Reubenites, our motives may stretch out into other generations. We may build, with our money, and our toils, and our example, and our lives, that our children and our children’s children may say of our memory, “Behold the pattern of the altar of the Lord, which our fathers made.” But now, mark you. It was an altar that the Church east of the Jordan built up for their memorial. Were the Reubenites wrong in rearing their memorial in the form of an altar? It came out, “Not at all.” It was not designed for a victim: no sacrifice, in the proper Shiloh sense of sacrifice, was ever to be offered up from it. “Behold the pattern of the altar of the Lord.” That was all they intended by the erection. They would tell the heathen, and their children would tell the children of the heathen, that the Jordan made no difference between them and the seed of Abraham on the other side. They must build something. What shall it be? Why, let it be a model, a copy, of the altar that is at Shiloh. What more fitting? What more pregnant with meaning? It reminds them whilst they live of the one solitary spot where the blood must be shed for the remission of sin; it will prove to friends and enemies, when they themselves are no more, that they too were blessed in faithful Abraham. The altar was a tribute, not a rival, to the tabernacle that dwelt in Shiloh. Oh, beautiful picture this of what a Christian’s good works are, and what a Christian’s good works are not. They are a memorial, a demonstration. They must take some form. What form shall they have? What? Why the form of patterns, copies, models of the sacrifice of Christ. To be trusted in? To be looked to for salvation? To supplant the offering on the Cross? Nay, indeed, not so. But to do homage to that Cross by imitation, to remind us of it while we live, and to point our descendants to it when we are gone.
II. Learn, then, from the warm-hearted Israelites on the east of the Jordan that a good man’s toils are not the good man’s atonement, but that they may be reared, and must be reared, in the shape and on the model of Christ’s atonement--an altar, but an altar of witness or testimony, reminding both yourselves and your neighbours of the one sacrifice for sin which, though none can ever repeat, all are commanded to copy. But now it seems hardly possible to make the Reubenites and the Gadites our only teachers in this story. They may render a lesson upon Christian doctrine, but certainly their brethren across the water match them with a lesson on Christian practice. Just think for a moment of the spirit and manner wherein, from the days of the apostles, the Church has carried on the innumerable controversies that split up the Catholic Church into parties. Grace and good works. What a happy thing it would have been for every one but the booksellers if the champions on both sides had only had the charity and good sense to do what the men of Western Israel did towards the men of Eastern Israel three thousand years ago. They condescended first to find out whether, in point of fact, there was any heresy to fight against. “Strike,” then, in your controversies, but “hear” first; and when you “strike,” let it be only with the strong argument, and never with the frenzy of the persecutor. Remember the words of Bishop Taylor: “Either the disagreeing person is in error, or he is not. In both cases to persecute is extremely imprudent. If he be right, then we do open violence to God and to God’s truth; if he be wrong, what stupidity it is to give to error the glory of martyrdom. Besides which, there is always a jealousy and a suspicion that persecutors have no arguments, and that the hangman is their best reasoner.” No, no, we will not hastily “bear false witness against our neighbour,” but we will speak one to another, and judge other men’s servants no longer; and may the very God of peace and love give to all of us to build up everywhere humble models and copies of His great work for our salvation, and help us to do all that we do in the spirit of charity. (H. Christopherson.)
The purity and unity of the Church
I. The state of mind which the erection of this altar excited in the other tribes.
1. Zeal for the honour of God.
2. Fear lest they should incur the Divine displeasure.
II. THE real design for which the altar was erected.
1. It was a memorial that they were one people.
2. It was a memorial that they had one God and one religion.
1. These Israelites, by setting up this altar, show their love to the service and worship of God. Had they not valued their privileges, it would not have occurred to them to provide against the possibility of losing them: that which we value we endeavour to keep.
2. They show their love to their brethren. Had they not felt a regard for them, they would not have sought means to preserve the know ledge of their common relation to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They who sincerely love God will love their brethren, and love will secure unity; but not at the expense of purity. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)
A supposed wrong explained
1. How little reliance can be placed upon hearsay! It is always so difficult to give a true report of what has happened, that to draw inferences from, and institute action upon mere rumour, is a dangerous course. A fact is not necessarily the truth, because it may be but part of the truth. Part of the truth is often the most dangerous, subtle, and wicked lie. A fact is after all but the expression of a motive; so that to grasp the bearing of a fact the motive must be first of all understood. Consequently, hearsay must always be an unsafe, and often a mischievous guide.
2. Notice how a religious symbol, employed with the most innocent design and for a praiseworthy end, was interpreted as a signal of idolatry and rebellion. At the present day, what excites the worst passions so powerfully, and that, too, in the name of religion, as some devout act or pious sign, of which the meaning is not quite clear to the uninitiated, or which prejudice associates with heresy or superstition.
3. If all would follow the example of the Israelites, and, before going to war, as it were, to right a supposed wrong, would first seek an explanation, how often the wrong would be found to have no existence, and how clear of discord the atmosphere of the world would become!
4. Never assume the guilt of those whom you suspect. It creates a prejudice in one’s own mind, which it is hard to overcome. It makes one’s own manner severe and condemnatory, instead of being conciliatory and impartial. The effect upon the opposite party is to create an attitude of resentment, to excite irritation, to give a sense of injury, to predispose to a perpetuation of the quarrel, instead of seeking to remove it.
5. The eastern tribes behaved with exemplary self-control. They were the grossly injured party. Yet, smarting as they were under the sense of injustice, they did not resent the indignity. You hear no reproaches or recriminations. They simply state their innocence and disclose their real motives.
6. Phinehas and the people blessed God that war was averted. Are we not sometimes disappointed when we find there is no cause for quarrel? (T. W. M. Lund, M. A.)
1. Prepossessions and misunderstandings are too often the occasion of great divisions in the world, and of such as, if not prevented, draw after them very pernicious and fatal consequences.
2. There ought to be the speediest and most effectual care taken for preventing the ill-consequences of such misunderstandings, and to rake up the case before it comes to the utmost extremity.
3. The most proper method for preventing such misunderstandings, and for composing differences arising from such misunderstandings, is examination and inquiry into the cause with deliberation and meekness, that they may see where the difference lies, and take the best course for the composing of it.
4. It is a comfortable evidence of God’s presence with a people to bless, defend, and prosper them when mistakes are removed, differences happily composed, and they are at union and peace among themselves. (John Williams, D. D.)
Thus quarrels among brethren oft arise from mere mistakes, as betwixt Cyril and Theodoret, who excommunicated one another for heresy, &c., yet afterwards coming to a better understanding of each other’s meaning, and finding they both held the same truth, they were cordially reconciled. We must justly wonder at the over-hasty jealousy of the ten tribes against their brethren, whose faithfulness and valour for God and His people they had so long experience of in the Seven Years’ War; yet now to find fault, when themselves were foully faulty of a rash censure, having only Allegata’s, or matters alleged, but no Probata’s, or things proved; but alas I how oft doth inconsiderate zeal transport even religious men to uncharitable censures. Would to God all such differences upon mistakes in our day may be as happily ended as this was here, then God is among us (Joshua 22:31), perceivingly; but dissension drives God from us, and will let in dissolution among us if we avoid not all giving offence carelessly and all taking offence causelessly. Oh, that the Lord would take away that morosity and malignity of a censorious spirit from us, and give to us more meekness of wisdom (James 3:13). The Reubenites, &c., here were really to be commended not only for their care in building this altar for the spiritual good of their posterity (lest they should forsake the sincere service of the true God in their following generations), but also for their meekness when thus foully calumniated. They did not bristle and set up the crest in a way of scornful defiance, but they calmly sought to give due satisfaction to their offended brethren; and the ten tribes were verily more blameworthy for misconstruing their religious meanings and doings upon such slender grounds as a bare report (without any solid proof), misrepresenting the matter to them. Yet herein were they truly praiseworthy, not only that they were so blessedly blown up with a zeal for God’s glory, in preparing war against idolatry, yea, even in one half of the tribe of Manasseh against the other half beyond Jordan, when the purity of their religion came in competition with brotherly affection, like Levi in that heroic act of Divine justice (Exodus 32:26-29), would not spare their own brethren (Deuteronomy 33:9), but also, and more especially, that the ten tribes first sent Phinehas, so famous for his heroic act against Zimri and Cozbi, whereby God’s wrath was appeased (Numbers 25:8-11; Psalms 106:30), to compromise the controversy, which he happily effected without any imbruing their hands in one another’s blood. Sure I am we want such a Phinehas in our day to put an happy end to our unhappy differences. (C. Ness.)
Achan . . . perished not alone in his iniquity.
Achan and his punishment
Where could I allege Scripture so wonderful to show the mystery of God’s justice, lest we speak unadvisedly with our lips: “Why art Thou so wrath with the sheep of Thy pasture?” Strike once upon this rock of justice, and I dare promise a fountain will issue out from thence of fear and reverence not to provoke the Lord by sins and trespasses; for if He threaten, shall He seem as one that mocks? First, We must put the cause foremost, the cause of all the wrath that follows, and that both general: it is iniquity, and with an instance his iniquity. The subject, Achan, but not alone; the affliction, that he perished. Now let not any man make it a fallacy to deceive his own soul. Doth not the cause deserve severe arraignment? Then blaspheme not as the wicked do: “He seeketh an occasion to punish.” Sin in its essence is confederate with death and punishment. Thus much for the cause in general. But what offence his iniquity did give, the sin of Achan will ask a peculiar and a larger trial. You are deceived if you think it was but larceny or greedy pilfering. But heinous was the fact of Achan, first in scandal, that an Israelite, preserved so long in the wilderness, one that fought the Lord’s battles, and came always home with victory, that he should be the first that trespassed among the Canaanites, the heathen that would blaspheme the living God. Secondly, In disobedience: that Joshua, his noble general, made the head of all the tribes by God’s appointment, and Moses’ good liking, and Eleazar’s unction, could not command to be obeyed. Thirdly, In faithless covetousness. That since manna did fall no more from heaven about their tents, the Lord did heed His people no longer, every man must catch what come to his hands, so Achan took the accursed, &c. Here is scandal to them that were without; within themselves contempt of the Lord and His servant Joshua, in his own heart an inordinate desire to grow rich and sumptuous. Now turn to the punishment of this man. Behold Achan, the son of Zerah, that man perished not alone in his iniquity. Achan that had outlived the corruption of his young years, and was grown in age able to go to warfare, to have many children, to know how to steal from God, and dissemble with Joshua, doth his hoary head go down with peace into the grave? Like the web of Penelope, all that hath been wrought in the year may be ravelled out in a night. Secondly, He that was spared among all the dangers of the wilderness is consumed in the city; he that could escape the pilgrimage of forty years is doomed to die in Canaan; he that was not devoured in the fire of Taberah is burnt in the valley of Achor. As Aristotle speaks of Homer’s poetry, when he set up walls for Troy in one book, and plucked them down in another. They that walk in the night preserve the flame of their torch or candle from winds and casualties abroad, which notwithstanding they put out when they return to their home. So Achan that walked over the sea, when the bridge was under water, and lived among scorpions, and was not consumed in the sedition of Dathan, nor slain in the battles of Moab, yet the vessel is not cast away in the ocean sea, but in the haven, and his light is put out at home in the long-expected Canaan. Note this, thirdly, in Achan’s person, mischief did light upon him, not in the hunger and thirst of the wilderness, not in his poverty, but having compiled much riches together, enough to purchase a good fee-simple in Canaan if the Lord had not given him his portion. Men think themselves nowadays past the law and penalties of death, when they have sinned so much that they are grown wealthy in iniquity; because, if need be, they can buy the favour of the judge. But this man, when he was furnished to live sumptuously, then he is cut off, that, as Solomon says, the remembrance of death may be bitter to that man, who thought it pleasant to live. This was St. Austin’s rule when he was old and had learnt the world: “I fear no hurt from the world when it goes against me, and casts a froward look upon my fortunes, but my danger is near at hand, when it smiles and flatters me, as if all were happy.” The sponges that swell with liquors are most likely to be pressed and emptied. Now recollect these three qualities of Achan, who was more likely to prosper than a soldier in the flower of his age, a joyful man at his journey’s end in the land of his peace, a wealthy man in the plenty of his riches. Take it to thought, all you that have the world tied unto you with a threefold cord of health and peace and prosperity, which men dream as if it could not be broken; for it broke like tow among the sparks. I have many theorems to propound unto you, but all shall end in this doctrine, that excepting the first Adam, the root of our corrupt nature, and excepting the second Adam, who, being without spot or sin, gave Himself to the death of the Cross for the sins of all the world, these two excepted, every man dies for his own iniquity. First, I do presume that you will consent unto me that the heart of man is only evil continually, and that we may call it, as Theodorus did revile Tiberius, mud tempered with pollution. Then, it is confessed, that the wages of sin is death. Give me your credit but to one thing more. You are bound to answer to as painful and severe a death as God’s vengeance shall inflict upon you. Observe these points, then. First, If the disobedience of one sinner is enough to consume many persons, Lord whither will a multitude of iniquity send one man headlong? Sufficient are our evil days wherein we have walked too much before after the vanity of our mind. Secondly, As the greatest unity of the triumphant Church above doth consist in the glory which they enjoy together in the sight of God, so our unity of the militant Church below is to suffer and die together. It is that which must combine the souls of Christians. Thirdly, Shall not this make me as careful to prevent every man’s sins as mine own? Shall I not offer myself to be my brother’s keeper? Like watch men that compass the city in the night, not only for the safety of their own house, but lest any mansion take fire about them. Thus is the brief sum of the second part of my text, man perished in iniquity. Secondly, That man Achan, a branch of the olive tree, even Israel which God had planted. But an evil branch is evil though the stock were a cedar of Libanus. Is it any glory for the dead branches to boast they were vine branches, and not heythorn, since they are cut off and cast away? Lastly, He fell down like the tower of Siloam, and brained all that were about him. I have but one short part to dispatch, his execution, that man perished, &c. To search much into Achan’s punishment were not the way to be more learned, but more tormented. Briefly thus, Every man in the rank of a subject lives under the authority of three commanders--
1. Under the conscience of his own heart.
2. Under the laws of his king.
3. Under the commandments of God.
And if we displease either God or the king, or our own conscience, vengeance meets us on every side. Conscience hath a worm in store, nay, a cockatrice to sting us; the magistrate bears a sword to divide us; but especially it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. In an evil conscience we die unto all joy and comfort; in our trespass against the laws of man we die unto men; in breaking the statutes of God we die unto heaven: surely he deserved not to die but one death that offended three. Some, perchance, will go a thought further, and pronounce a fearful sentence that this man was wiped for ever out of the book of the living. Nothing should make me mistrustful and doubt of his salvation but his too late repentance. Is this a time to leave off sin when we must leave off life and can sin no more? Do you then come to play the huxters for mercy, as if the market were cheapest at the latter end of the day? (Bp. Hacket.)
Achan’s sin, and Achan’s end
I. The perpetration of sin. Iniquity is the common characteristic of all mankind: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” But there is before us a reference to one particular act of sin, which, while proceeding from the depraved heart possessed by the perpetrator in common with others, appears to us in prominent and isolated distinction of enormity.
1. The iniquity of Achan was heinous, on account of its intrinsic nature. It was an act of covetousness. He was beguiled by a greedy and unprincipled desire after the attainment and preservation of wealth.
2. The iniquity of Achan was perpetrated against the Divine command, distinctly expressed and amply known.
3. The iniquity of Achan was heinous on account of its attendant dissimulation and attempted concealment.
II. The infliction of punishment. The punishment of the transgressor himself: “That man perished in his iniquity.” The terms of our text appear to justify the implication, that his iniquity was not repented of, and that therefore it was not cleansed or forgiven; he confessed, but he was not contrite; and the whole spirit of the narrative must be regarded as justifying the view which now is expressed. So that you perceive the death of his body was the sign of the ruin of his soul. And it is true with regard to every impenitent sinner, in every age of the world, who dies in iniquity, that thus he must “perish.” “They shall utterly perish in their own corruption.” They die “the second death.”
2. Observe the punishment of the transgressor, in relation to the interests of others. “That man perished not alone in his iniquity.” Men by their iniquity often associate themselves with the ruin of the souls of their fellow-men. It is probable that no person can long continue in a state of alienation from God without exerting (although he attempts it not) some baneful influence on the character and the interests of others; and there are, we have reason to fear, numerous instances in which men by bad example, or even by direct efforts for that purpose, make others “partakers of their evil deeds” and lead them down to hell. How horrible, how thrice horrible, to lead others into the prison I to lash around others the fetters! to administer to others the poison! to enwrap others in the flame! Deeds at which hell itself may wonder and fiend may point with amazement to his fellow fiend “That man ‘perished not alone in his iniquity’; there is the seducer, and there are his victims--all victims now!” Lessons--
1. There ought to be anxious application for the pardon of our transgressions perpetrated in past times.
2. There ought to be the determined repudiation and avoidance of sin for the time to come.
3. There ought to be diligent endeavour to bring our fellow-men to salvation. Some are “not alone in their iniquity”; it must be our ambition not to be alone in our salvation. (James Parsons.)
The history of Achan improved
I. The nature of the iniquity which he committed. He transgressed the plain command of God, and thus sinned against Him. He no doubt sinned also against his own soul, against his family, and against his people. But no notice is taken of this. What is dwelt upon is, that he sinned against the Lord. His iniquity was a transgression of the command and law and covenant of his God. It implied the basest ingratitude for the mercies he had received, as well as a secret disbelief of the Divine omniscience, power, holiness, righteousness, and truth. Was this sin peculiar to Achan? Are there not many others who are virtually guilty of the same thing? Are there not many who apply to their own use what has been dedicated to God? Are there not many who retain in their own possession gold and silver which they ought to consecrate to Him? Are there not many who rob Him of the time which He has set apart for His immediate worship and service? Are there not many who by no entreaty can be prevailed upon to glorify Him in their body, and in their spirit, which are His? What incited Achan to commit sacrilege, and thus to sin against God, was avarice--an inordinate desire of money, an eagerness of gain. And are there not many who, under the influence of the same sordid spirit, act like him, and thus sin against God and their own souls? “Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth.”
II. The way in which the iniquity of Achan was brought to light.
1. The Lord hates and abhors sin. It is an enemy within the camp which is sure to betray us into the hands of those that are without, and ultimately make us their prey.
2. The Lord sees our sins, however secretly they may be committed.
3. God is able to bring our sins to light even now, and that He frequently does bring them, to our utter confusion. By such visitations in time the Lord warns us of what we are to expect in eternity.
III. The confession which Achan made of his iniquity. Had Achan made this confession sooner, there would have been room to hope that he truly repented of his iniquity; but as he deferred his acknowledgment of his guilt till the lot actually pointed him out, there is reason to fear that it proceeded at last from no real change of heart; that, in fact, it was constrained and not voluntary.
1. How he was led to commit his iniquity. Mark here the way in which men are frequently led to sin against God. The temptation makes its insidious approach by means of the eyes, or one of the other senses; then there arises in the heart an evil desire for the thing seen; and desire, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin. It is necessary, therefore, that we should make a covenant with our eyes, that we should watch against temptation, that we should guard against the first approaches of iniquity, that we should stop every avenue by which sin can enter.
2. How full of fear and disquietude is the life of a sinner. Achan, having taken the accursed thing, hid it in the earth in the midst of his tent. Why? Because he was afraid some one would see it; and in this fear he must have lived day after day, until his iniquity was brought to light. Such always is sin, every sin, and especially the sin of theft or sacrilege. It deludes those who are under its dominion. It promises them much, but pays them little but wretchedness and misery. It fills them with fears and anxieties, and often causes them to flee when no man pursueth.
IV. The punishment which followed the iniquity of Achan.
1. As to Achan himself, condign punishment speedily overtook him: “He perished in his iniquity.” He suffered death as the due reward of his crime. And such is the wages which every sinner is sure to receive unless he obtains deliverance through the death of Christ, who died that we might live.
2. Others also suffered for the iniquity of Achan: “That man perished not alone in his iniquity.” Who, then, perished besides him? Many had perished before him, and perished too for his iniquity, namely, the thirty-and-six men who were smitten by the men of Ai. It is also probable that all his family were put to death with him for the same sin. Such were the dreadful consequences occasioned by the iniquity of this man. And is not sin, even in our own day, frequently followed by similar consequences? How often do we see children suffering for the sins of their parents and parents for the sins of their children? How often do we see thieves and murderers, adulterers, drunkards, and such like, involving their wives and families, and perhaps other relations also, in poverty and disgrace, in troubles and anxieties, in wretchedness and misery, if not in still more awful calamities? How often, also, has one order of society to bear the ill consequences arising from the misconduct of another?
1. How wonderful is the patience of God towards the world we live in. In the conduct of Achan we may see, as in a glass, what is the conduct of hundreds and thousands who are now living on the earth. How astonishing, then, is the patience of God! How wonderful that He should still bear with us, that He should still give us space for repentance, that He should still be unwilling theft we should perish! Oh, let us not despise the riches of His goodness and forbearance and long-suffering!
2. The patience of God, however great and wonderful, will not last for ever. (D. Rees.)
Fellowship in Achan’s fall
If indeed, says Dr. South, a man could be wicked and a villain to himself alone, the mischief would be so much the more tolerable. But the case, as he goes on to show, is much otherwise; the guilt of the crime lights upon one, but the example of it sways a multitude; especially if the criminal be of any note or eminence in the world. “For the fall of such an one by any temptation (be it never so plausible) is like that of a principal stone or stately pillar, tumbling from a lofty edifice into the deep mire of the street; it does not only plunge and sink into the black dirt itself, but also dashes or bespatters all that are about it or near it when it falls.” Well may the note of exclamation follow: how strange, yet how inevitable, the tie which may link our uneventful life with the stormy passions of numbers far away! More wonderful than even the Atlantic cable is declared to be that unknown fibre, along which, from other men’s sins, responsibility may thrill even to our departed souls: “a chain whose links are formed perhaps of idle words, of forgotten looks, of phrases of double meaning, of bad advice, of cynical sentiment hardly seriously meant; yet carried on through life after life, through soul after soul, till the little seed of evil sown by you has developed into some deed of guilt at which you shudder, but from participation in responsibility for which you cannot clear yourself.” Every sin, we are in fine reminded, may waken its echo; every sin is reduplicated and reiterated in other souls and lives. A distinguished French preacher has a striking discourse on what he entitles the solidarity of evil; and lie, too, dilates upon the mysterious links which connect together persons and acts that appear to have nothing in common--suggesting melancholy examples of the contagion of guilt and its consequences, of the expansive power of corruption and its almost boundless results. Very forcibly Mr. Isaac Taylor warns us that in almost every event of life the remote consequences vastly outweigh the proximate in actual amount of importance; and he undertakes to show, on principles even of mathematical calculation, that each individual of the human family holds in his hand the centre lines of an interminable webwork, on which are sustained the fortunes of multitudes of his successors; the implicated consequences, if summed together, making up therefore a weight of human weal or woe that is reflected back with an incalculable momentum upon the lot of each. The practical conclusion is that every one is bound to remember that the personal sufferings or peculiar vicissitudes or toils through which he is called to pass are to be estimated and explained only in an immeasurably small proportion if his single welfare is regarded, while their “full price and value are not to be computed unless the drops of the morning dew could be numbered.” (F. Jacox, B. A.)
The Lord God of gods, He knoweth.
It is a great satisfaction when we feel that there is one Being who knows everything. After some great perplexity, some dark hour, or some mysterious visitation, when there seemed to be no clue to an event, no interpretation arching it, and not a spark of illumination about it, it is a blessed relief, both to mind and soul, when we feel that somebody can understand it, can thoroughly sift it, and will in good time bring out its illuminated side, and reveal the spiritual diamonds so long concealed in darkness, sorrow, and grief. God knows--what? The uses of things--why the world was made, why we were made, the meaning of the events that greet us, what lessons they convey, what benedictions they unfold, what promises they hold out, and how much culture we shall gain by them. Can anything be more cheering than this fact, and is there anything strange about it? Strange that the Maker should be familiar with what He has made, wonderful that the Architect should understand all about His building, peculiar that the Creator of the world should comprehend what He has produced? How is it in everyday affairs? Would it not be wonderful if Mozart and Beethoven did not understand their own music, stood apart from it as strangers, and were unable to comprehend the science of its melody? or if Powers stood before one of his statues dumb as an idiot, and unable to give an account of how it was shaped into its wondrous beauty? or if Rubens stared at one of his own pictures with a vacant gaze, and with a total inability to trace out the preparatory steps that led to its execution? Then is it not very natural that the Great Musician of earth and heaven should be able to explain all the grand chorus of the ages, that the Holy Sculptor of all time should be able to describe every particular of His work, or that the Great Painter of both worlds should, with a keen wisdom, delight in His own magnificent paintings? I come now to my second proposition, that grows out of the first--we do not know. Here we find two parties in the Church. One says, “We do not know anything, and never can know anything,” and the other says, “We do know something, but that something will not amount to much until God reveals more knowledge.” I confess, I do not think that, in order to exalt God, we must utterly extinguish ourselves. If I say that a human being is utterly incapable of ever being enlightened, has no power, and is bound irrevocably to sin, with no chance to escape, you may very properly ask me, “Who could have made such a being as that?” But, because we can do something--aye, many things--and because we are something--aye, much--it does not follow that we can do everything or that we are Self-sufficient. No, never. God made us, and therefore we are not failures; and let us not for a moment suppose that God has made a mistake in our creation, but, because we are made, we are dependent, frail, and we must often and always look to our Creator for aid and blessing. We are engirdled by mysteries. Yet is it not something that we can, by the grace of God, think, talk, write, walk, live? and can we speak meanly of one who can do all these things? Forbid it, Father! Make us humble, but do not let us be ungrateful. As we look at history and at historical results, it becomes very evident that all through the past ages there has been a providential plan. If we made ourselves Romans, Grecians, or Hebrews, and if we threw ourselves back thousands of years, we should hardly understand that some of our greatest trials were to prove such a vast benediction to after-ages. We could hardly believe that our decay would prove to others life, and that every pang we suffered, both as nations and as individuals, was in accordance with the great, glorious, and holy scheme of Providence. What would be called in ancient days subjugation, invasion, and a despotism, has since proved emancipation, while the baptism of blood then offered has resulted in the salvation of the future. Time explains a great many things that we do not understand to-day; and events always prove that He who rules the heavens and the earth is never bewildered, nor mistaken, nor vanquished. Let each one of us take our own personal experience and trace it back, and see what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go when God would not let us do it, and when God held us back, and when God seemed to be working against us, and how does the retrospect look with our present experience? Did not God know best? and has not everything come out right, and was it not well for us that years ago a restraining hand was placed upon our pleasures, appetites, and desires? And is it not better that we were turned aside from the road that we desired to travel? I think one of the bewitching attractions of biography rests in the fact that we often detect what appear to be very slight and trivial matters, changing the whole course of a person’s life. Washington gave up going into the navy in order to please his mother; and thus a hero was secured for America and a splendid monument of goodness and greatness for all the world. Franklin started on a journey to Philadelphia as a mere pauper, and went under false promises to London; and thus a philosopher was educated for all time. The eyesight of a Prescott was suddenly eclipsed, but out of that darkness an historian was born, whose sweet rhetoric will always prove a fascination and a culture. Yes, the slightest incidents that we call disappointments are often the turning-points in our experience, and prove the very moment when Heaven interposes, and shapes us for ends more consistent with the will of God. (Caleb D. Bradlee.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Joshua 22". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30