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The children of Israel asked the Lord.
Simplicity in prayer
Just that! How we have modernised and complicated and destroyed prayer! “The children of Israel asked the Lord.” How simple, how direct, how sensible, how likely to succeed! The altar may have lost its power: no atheist has pulled down the altar, no outsider has taken away one stone from the holy pile; the suppliants may have torn down their own altar. We will modernise and invent and enlarge and embroider the simplicity that would have saved us. “The children of Israel asked the Lord,” whispered to Him, hailed Him, arrested His condescending attention by some sign of necessity. They whispered to the Lord, they told Him plainly the condition in which they were placed, and brought the whole need under His attention; they wanted leadership and captaincy and guidance, and they said, “Who shall do this?” The method has not been changed; Jesus Christ added nothing to this old method. Said He, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask.” We have changed all that; we now are in danger of approaching the Lord as if He were an infinite Shah, and must needs be approached with long words and logical sequence. Speaking to God elevates the mind; prayer, however brief and however tremulous, takes the suppliant up to a higher level than he has ever scaled before. The whole idea of religion is intellectually elevating; no man can be truly religious and meanly little; to touch the Divine garment even at its edge is to rise to a new stature and to breathe a new air. I repeat, therefore, that asking God, talking to God, communing with God, elevates the mind. It is the spiritual exercise that elevates the soul; the words themselves may be poor, they may be ungrammatical, they may be uttered in a very halting and stumbling tone, but the exercise, spiritually understood, rightly interpreted, lifts the soul world on world a thousand worlds higher than can ever be occupied by a mere denizen of this world of dust. We cannot look God in the face without catching something of the brightness of His smile. Do they take knowledge of us that we have been with the literature of the day, with the journals of the morning, with the gossip of the time? or do they take knowledge of us that we have just come from the altar, that we have just seen the King, that we have not a moment ago been closeted with Christ, having shut the door, and do we come out of the presence-chamber new born, newly ordained, just crowned with the approbation of the Divine love? Talking to God, asking God, laying the whole case before God, sometimes laying it before Him without words, sometimes simply looking into His face, sometimes letting our throbbing, aching misery look into the infinite peace of the Divine tranquillity, will lift a man to a new status and clothe him with a new influence and enrich him with an abiding benediction. Let your misery seek the face of the King. Do not keep anything from God; yon know perfectly well that you cannot keep anything from His omniscience; that is not the meaning of the exhortation; the meaning rather is, tell God everything as if He had never heard it; go and tell Jesus. Do not ask the man who never prayed to tell you what he thinks of prayer. People are tempted to make a great mistake in that matter. They are going to hear an agnostic lecture on the subject of prayer! A prayerless man cannot lecture on that theme. Sooner ask a dead man to tell you his candid opinion of Beethoven than ask a prayerless man to tell you what he thinks of prayer. Ask the man who never was an inch from his own fireside what he thinks of the climate of the North Pole or the South. Consult saintly souls about the value of prayer. “The children of Israel asked the Lord.” They did not dictate to Him. Prayer is not dictation; prayer is not always even suggestion, and when prayer is suggestion it is offered with halting breath and with a most reverent faith, lest a suggestion should be not only a sophism but an expression of selfishness. Ask God about everything; you undervalue life if you think there is anything beneath His attention; the very smallest thing that concerns you concerns Him; He has told us so in many a beauteous parable. Saith He, “A sparrow cannot fall to the ground without My notice.” Observe, the people in question were “the children of Israel.” Character is implied; character is not only implied, it is recognised and held up as a lesson. They belong to a praying host, to a covenanted ancestry, they were involved in the baptism of an oath. Do not imagine that a man can leap out of atheism and begin to pray for some selfish purpose, and have his answer on the spot. Character determines prayer; the simple heart suggests the right petition; the sincere spirit, praying at the Cross and in the name of Christ, can alone pray with lasting and ennobling effect. In this respect there is something in heredity, there is something in the covenant, something in the eternal decree. We stand the last members up to this moment of a great ancestry of prayer. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?--
Dead leaders and living duties
I. A great leader dead, and life’s duties as pressing as ever.
1. Let who will and what will pass away, our own work only passes with our own life.
2. The advancement of God’s purpose is dependent on no life in particular.
3. Great lives are sometimes removed that other lives may better feel their responsibility and cultivate their strength.
II. human direction suddenly failing, and Divine guidance specially sought.
1. Prayer prompted by the removal of long familiar light.
2. Prayer over unfulfilled commandments.
3. Prayer provoked by gathering dangers.
4. Prayer for God’s appointment of our post in life.
5. The realism of prayer to every true-hearted suppliant.
III. An eminently faithful past demanding a no less vigorous future. Judah had already done well. He who has done well in the past is under perpetual obligation to do no less well in the future. God also chooses those for new duties who have best served in the past.
IV. God specially choosing some of His servants, but leaving them liberty to seek the help of others.
1. The benefits of co-operation. What one cannot do, two can. What one can only do with difficulty, two can do easily.
2. The limits of co-operation. Judah might only seek aid from his own brethren, not from idolaters.
V. The Lord’s call to great duties followed by His rich blessing on those who seek faithfully to perform them. “The Lord delivered the Canaanites and the Perizzites into their hand.”
1. God calls and sends none of His servants in vain.
2. God’s blessing answers to His own promise of blessing.
3. God’s blessing satisfies His people’s highest hopes. (F. G. Marchant.)
Dead heroes missed
1. In that this people was now constrained to look about them, and (now Joshua was dead) to do that themselves for their peace and quiet which he was wont to do for them, we are taught that when special persons are taken away then they who were left behind must put forth themselves and take the more pain than before. The which being so, men should make this use of such changes to provide and learn to want their good helps and friends beforehand. They should also acknowledge daily with hearty thanks to God what a benefit they have of them, while they enjoy them, and do all good that they may by the help of them. Which they cannot do, but they must of necessity feel the loss of them to be very great, and see that they must now lay their shoulders to the burden. For the which purpose this I add--oh, how sweetly and to their good liking have many lived when they had others to bear their burdens for them--as husbands, wives, subjects, children, neighbours: there is no doubt but that (which is the chiefest of all} they have therewith, that God is their friend also. But seeing many depend only on them in a carnal manner, and on their living still with them, and rest not on God, therefore their props fail them, and their desolation cometh upon them as the enemy upon an unarmed man.
2. We are taught here by their example, who sought to God in their doubts for counsel and resolution, that in all our doubtful eases, partly touching our estate towards God, and partly particular duties and actions if our special callings and conditions of life, while we remain here on earth we should consult with and ask counsel of God for our resolution, in such manner as He hath taught us, and in no wise to conceal and bury our wants and defects that trouble us, or pass by the sins that cleave to us, or other difficulties in our dealings and business that oppress us, for so we provide ill for ourselves, even to live in ignorance and sorrow (with ether inconveniences annexed thereunto) for ever after. (R. Rogers.)
And the Lord said, Judah shall go up.
God sovereign over His servants
May we not pause here to allow this oracular response to sink into the heart? How full it is in its manifold meaning! It asserts the sovereignty of God in disposing and ordering the work which His servants have to perform. It reminds us that every one is not to attempt everything; for Judah is to fight the enemy and the other tribes are to remain at home. It promises victory, not to every ardent soldier who might volunteer to take the field, but to the tribe whom the Lord shall order to the battle. It disturbs all rule-of-three calculations of success in proportion to the number of agents men may induce to go to work; success is for those whom the Lord shall send. It allows of no objection, no plea of incompetency, no deceitful humility, on the part of the called soldier: “Judah shall go up”; it is the word of a King. It hides pride from man, by declaring that although Judah would conquer, it would be only through Divine ordination and help. (L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)
The punishment of Adoni-bezek
I. The instability and uncertainty of worldly greatness. Look at this man--and behold in what slippery places God sets the mighty and noble. From the eagerness with which mankind pursue the distinctions of life, we should conclude, not only that they were very valuable in themselves, but that no kind of precariousness attached to them. But let not the strong be secure; let not the honourable be vain; let not the rich be high-minded. What is all history but a narrative of the reverses to which all earthly things are liable, however firmly established they once appeared to be; of the revolutions of empires; the destruction of cities; of the mighty put down from their seats; of counsellors led away spoiled, or politicians disgraced, generals banished, and monarchs put to death!
II. Judgment overtaking the sinner in this life. Nor does Adoni-bezek stand alone as an instance of the present punishment of sin. Adam and Eve driven out of paradise; flood; cities of the plain; Lot’s wife; Gehazi; Ananias and Sapphira, etc. This, however, is not always the case. The misery of the sinner is principally reserved for a future world, and we are now in a state of probation. But God would confirm our faith in His adorable providence. If all sin was punished here, we should look no further; if no sin, we should not easily believe in the power, the holiness, the truth of God. We may add that the punishment of sin in this world is sometimes unavoidable. If nations are punished at all, they must be punished in time--for in eternity men exist only as individuals. Nearly the same may be said of a family. Yea, the present punishment of sin is in some measure natural. For how frequently do men’s sufferings arise from the very sins they commit! Extravagance breeds ruin--indolence, poverty--intemperance, disease.
III. Punishment inflicted after long delay. Behold the career of this sinner! What a lengthened course of iniquity was here! “So long and so often had I done this, that I thought God had not seen, or did not remember. But He has found me out; and I live long enough to be a miserable instance of this awful truth--that however long punishment may be delayed, it will at last be inflicted--as I have done, so God hath requited me.”
IV. A correspondence between sin and suffering: “What I have inflicted upon others, is now inflicted upon me; and in my very punishment I read my crime--as I have done, so God hath requited me.”
1. Between sin and punishment there is sometimes a comparative conformity. This is the case when we suffer things which have some resemblance to our crimes.
2. Sometimes there is also between them a direct conformity. This is the case when we suffer in the same way and in the same things in which we sin.
3. But there is a future conformity still mere dreadful (Galatians 6:7).
V. The hand of God acknowledged, while men are only employed--“God hath requited me.” But who saw anything of Him? A good man perceives the hand of God in all events, and he wishes to see it. But it is otherwise with the sinner. His apprehension of God is forced upon him; he would gladly get rid of the conviction: it is all terror and dismay to him--for he knows that God is his adversary, and He may now be coming to lay hold of him; he knows that he has a long account to give, and this may be the time of reckoning. Hence the bitterness of affliction: it is regarded not only as a trial, but as a punishment.
1. Abhor cruelty. It is equally disgraceful to religion and humanity. It renders you unpitied of God and man.
2. Improve the case of examples. If they were not particularly adapted to do us good, the Word of God would not be so full of them. Lodge them in your memory. Often reflect upon them. And make use of the dreadful as well as the pleasing. It is necessary that we should be awakened to flee from the wrath to come. (W. Jay.)
The story of requital
I. The life of man cannot escape the judgment of God: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” etc. Man may deny it, may theoretically disregard it, but cannot escape it! At the heart of things is the spirit of judgment. Human life appears to be confused, but before the Almighty it has shape, and plan, and purpose.
II. Let no man take the law into his own hands: “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” Why have we suffered loss in business? May it not be that we have oppressed the poor and needy? Why are our schemes delayed and thwarted? Probably because we have been obstinate and unfriendly towards the schemes of others. Why are we held in disesteem or neglect? Probably because of the contempt in which we have held our brethren. So we are to look at the moral working of things, and to see in the results which are forced upon us, not the petty anger of men, but the holy and righteous judgment of God.
III. Every good deed will be honoured with appropriate reward.
1. Good deeds are their own reward.
2. Deeds done merely for the sake of reward cannot be good.
IV. Though justice be long delayed, yet it will be vindicated eventually. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Adoni-bezek; or, righteous retribution
In the accompaniments of war, not only have the most terrible injuries been inflicted during the battles, but when over the persons of the conquered have sometimes been subjected to worse torments than any they could have endured on the field. These doings have often been defended on the ground that they were necessary to self-defence and self-preservation. Alas! they are sometimes only to be explained by the depraved desire in the human heart of exercising arbitrary and cruel power. The practice referred to in this chapter--that of excision of the thumbs of captives--comes under this class. Probably it was to brand men as cowards that Adoni-bezek carried on such a cruel practice. He had evidently delighted in practising as much cruelty as possible. If he had thus treated seventy-two kings, it is probable that he had maltreated, or caused to be tormented, many others of inferior rank. The victorious Israelites advance, and Adoni-bezek has to fight a battle in which, instead of being the victor, he is the captive. He was taken and led, a prisoner, into the presence of another. Never had he anticipated this; much less that he would have to suffer as others had done through him. With hands and feet writhing from the recent excision, he makes this acknowledgment: “As I have done, so God hath requited me.”
1. Adoni-bezek notices the remarkable correspondence between previous barbarity and present suffering. He takes it in the sense of retribution.
2. The evil which falls upon us may ofttimes be the consequence of the wrong-doing of others. Sometimes various circumstances connected with bringing the offender to justice are so remarkable, and seemingly so responsive to crime, that there arises in the minds of others the belief that it is a special and divinely-imposed retribution.
3. The recognition of the correspondence between past acts and his present misfortune leads Adoni-bezek to ascribe it to a Divine hand: “God has requited me.” He was not an Israelite, had probably been an idolater, and may have trusted in false gods for a long time, He had heard of God, and what He had done to other nations; now he finds himself conquered, and is led to attribute his personal sufferings to the God of the Israelites. God has so arranged natural law that it works in harmony with eternal justice. There is a subtle connection between our acts and our sufferings. We may see illustrations of this every day. A man may act in a certain loose and careless way and prepare for himself consequences the most terrible and unlooked-for. Another gives way to fierce, ungoverned passions, and makes himself, thereby, wretched. Another chooses to spend his time only in the pursuits of pleasure, and to squander his money on every foolish thing that pleases his eye; he soon finds himself without the power to enjoy, and without money to procure such enjoyment. Another gives way to pilfering, and soon finds himself discharged, characterless. Even if he is not punished by law, he is dishonoured. Or a youth may have kind parents, and every opportunity of making his way in the world, but he gives way to dissipated habits, and finally, when character is gone and friends are dead, is glad to earn the most trifling sum under men whom he once despised A just retribution in all such cases certainly follows the sin. Like Adoni-bezek, such must confess that God “hath requited” the wrong-doing.
4. This acknowledgment concerning the just requital of sin is sure to take place in the other world, if not in this. Pagan mythology taught that the mean and sly will, in the other world, take the lynx form; the slanderers, that of the vampire fanning ever to sleep, and sucking the life-blood at the same time; that the hypocritical will be as crocodiles, crawling in mud and shedding false tears; and that the narrow and bigoted, fearful of truth and loving error, may be as owls, hooting amid darkness and ruin, in the forsaken and desolate regions of the other world. May not the dishonest man there have to cringe and hide himself still more? May not the drunken man have a constant craving, a burning thirst, a racking brain? May not the ambitious man have a constant anxiety to obtain power, and the torment of always being supplanted, or effectually checked, by others? May not the avaricious man be in a constant fever of suspicion? May not the ill-tempered man be in a constant whirl of passion, and make himself more and more wretched? May not the ruthless and cruel fear the scorn of their victims and clutches of their enemies? May not the voluptuary have to bear the torment of an inflamed heart and ungratified lusts? (Fred. Hastings.)
A thrilling life and its lessons
I. The life. Brief biography. Throned. Successful in war. Cruel. At last a defeated tyrant, Three scenes.
1. Celebrating his victories.
2. Feeding royal captives.
3. The defeated tyrant’s unsuccessful flight.
II. The lessons. Note three--
1. To what depths of cruelty it is possible for some to sink themselves. How came Adoni to be such a tyrant?
(1) Possibly, in part, through parental neglect.
(2) Through neglect of self-discipline.
2. Honoured men sometimes fall from palace to prison.
3. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” (Homiletic Review.)
God often forbears and defers His punishments. “As I did long ago,” saith Adoni-bezek, “yea again and again, seventy times one after another--so long and so often that I thought God had either not seen or quite forgotten me; yet now I see He requiteth me.” How true this observation is, is sufficiently witnessed by their experience who have little less than stumbled hereat. This made Care, a heathen man, to cry out: “The disposals of Divine providence are not a little cloudy and dark.” This made David, a man after God’s own heart, to confess and say: “My feet were almost gone, my steps had well-nigh slipped.” This made Jeremiah cry out from the bottom of an amazed soul: “Righteous art Thou, O Lord, when I plead with Thee; yet let me talk with Thee of Thy judgments. Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Why are they happy that deal very treacherously?” Yea, those martyred saints (Revelation 6:10) are heard to cry from under the altar, “How long?” etc. Now as these forenamed have stumbled at God’s delaying His judgments, so others there are who have been quite deceived, verily believing that with God what was forborne was also forgotten. Such an one was Adoni-bezek here, who, having escaped so long, thought to have escaped ever. And such were those whereof David spake (Psalms 10:6). Such an one is the great whore of Babylon, that sings: “I sit like a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.” Such an one was Pherecydes Syrins, master of Pythagoras, and a famous philosopher, and one that is said to have been the first philosopher that taught among the Greeks the soul to be immortal; and yet among all his knowledge had not learned this one principle: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” For, as AElian reports, he used among his scholars to vaunt of his irreligion after this manner, saying that he had never offered sacrifice to any god in all his life, and yet had lived as long and as merrily as those who had offered several hecatombs. But he that thus impiously abused the long-suffering of God came at length to an end as strange as his impiety was unusual; for so they report of him that he was stricken, like Herod by the angel of the Lord, with such a disease that serpents bred of the corrupt humours of his body, which ate and consumed him being yet alive. But that we may neither distrust the righteous ways of God, nor prevent His unsearchable counsels with our over-hasty expectation, let us a little consider of the ends why God oftentimes defers and prolongs His judgments.
1. For the sake of godly ones, for whom God useth to forbear even multitudes of sinners. So had there been but ten righteous persons in Sodom, Sodom had never been destroyed: “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.” So for good Josiah’s sake God deferred the plagues He had decreed to bring upon that people (2 Kings 22:20).
2. To give time of repentance and amendment (2 Peter 3:9). This is shown by the parable of the fig-tree (Luke 13:7). A hundred and twenty years the old world had given them before the flood came.
3. The opportunity of example by them unto others and of manifesting His own glory. God is Lord of times; and as He created them, so He alone knows a fit time for all things under the sun. He, therefore, who knows all occasions, when He seeth a fit time for His judgments to profit other men by example, and most of all to set forth His own glory, then He sends them forth and till then He will defer them.
4. When God, intending some extraordinary judgment, suffers men’s sins to grow unto a full ripeness that their sin may be as conspicuous unto the world as His purpose in their punishment shall be. Thus God punished not the Canaanites in Abraham’s time, but deferred it till Israel’s coming out of Egypt; and that, as Himself witnesseth (Genesis 15:16): “Because the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full.” And therefore is not this last end to be looked for in all God’s delays; but it seemeth proper to His extraordinary punishments--when God meaneth, as it were, to get Himself a name amongst men, then God stays to have the sin full, upon which He will pour a full vial of wrath and indignation. (Joseph Mede, B. D.)
I. The suffering of punishment extorts the confession of sin. The reason whereof is the very nature of punishment, which always implieth some offence, and therefore is a good remembrancer of the same. Thus Joseph’s brethren, when they were distressed in Egypt, cried, “We are verily guilty concerning our brother.” Proud Pharaoh, when he saw the plague of hail and thunder, said: “I have now sinned; the Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.” The proud stomachs of the Israelites came down when once the fiery serpents stung them, and then they came to Moses and said: “We have sinned; for we have spoken against the Lord and against thee.” Manasseh, whom all the threatenings of God’s prophets in fifty years’ space could never move, yet when he was bound in fetters and carried prisoner unto Babylon, “then he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.” Whosoever, therefore, he be that feels not this fruit and makes not this use of his afflictions is worse than hard-hearted Pharaoh, worse than cruel Adoni-bezek. But if by this means we come to see and acknowledge our sin, then may we say with David: “It is good for me that I was afflicted,” and give praise unto our God, who is able out of such hard rocks as these to make flow the saving waters of repentance.
II. God’s judgment for sin is one of the strongest motives to make an atheist confess there is a God. Those who say, “There is no God,” David accounteth them in the number of fools (Psalms 53:1). Solomon styleth punishment the schoolmaster of fools. If for all fools, then also for atheistical fools, that they, either by their own or by example of God’s plagues upon others, may be taught to put away their folly. Most certain it is, the not observing of God’s judgments, or the supposed examples of some who seem to escape the hand of God in the greatest sins, is a main occasion of atheism. For this cause, therefore, David, as jealous of God’s honour and knowing what force God’s judgments have to keep atheism from creeping into the hearts of men, desireth God (Psalms 59:13). Hence it is also that God often in Ezekiel doth plainly affirm this to be the end of His judgments, that it might be known that He was the Lord. As in Ezekiel 6:6 thus He threatens Israel: “Your cities shall be laid waste, and your high places shall be desolate,” etc. verse 7: “And the slain shall fall in the midst of you; and you shall know that I am the Lord.” And again, verses 12, 13: “He that is far off shall die by the pestilence; and he that is near shall fall by the sword. Then shall ye know that I am the Lord.” And Ezekiel 25:17, concerning the Philistines: “I will execute great vengeance upon them, saith the Lord, with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the Lord when I shall lay My vengeance upon them.” If this, then, be so as ye have heard, let us learn hence a good preservative against atheism and all the ill motions of the devil and our flesh drawing thereunto; not lightly, as most men do, to pass over the judgments of God upon sin, but duly and diligently to observe them; if in ourselves, then more severely; if in our neighbours, curiously but charitably.
III. As punishment in general bringeth sin to mind which else would be forgotten, so the fashion and kind thereof well considered may lead us as it were by the hand, to know the very sin we are punished for. God’s visible judgments have usually in them a stamp of conformity with the sin for which they are inflicted; for either we suffer the same thing ourselves that we have done to others or something resembling or like unto it, or else are punished about the same thing wherein our sin was, or, lastly, in the place or time where and when we sinned. I am persuaded there is no judgment which God sends for any special sin but it hath one of these marks in it. Come, therefore, to Adoni-bezek, and let us learn of him by God’s stamp in our punishment to find out what sin He aims at. If we would once use to read this handwriting of God in our afflictions, what a motive would it be to make us leave many a sin wherein the devil nuzzles us the greater part of our life without sense and feeling? For if anything would scare us from sin, sure this would, to hear word from God Himself what the sin is He plagues us for and so sharply warns us to amend. Whensoever, therefore, any cross or calamity befalls us or any of ours, either in body, goods, or name, or in the success of anything we take in hand, let us not rebel against God with an impatient heart, or fret at the occasion or author of our misery; but let us take a just account of our life past, and thus reason with ourselves: “This is surely none other but the very finger of God; I am punished, therefore have I sinned. I am punished thus and thus, in this or that sort, in this or that thing, in this or that place or time; therefore God is angry with me for something I have done, the same with that I suffer, or something like unto it, or because I sinned in this thing, or at this time, or in this place, when and where I am now punished. ‘As I have done, so surely God hath requited me.’ Therefore I will not look any longer upon any other cause or occasion of this misery, of this cross or calamity, but look unto my sin and give glory unto God who sent the hand which hath done all this unto me.” (Joseph Mede, B. D.)
The law of retribution
“The fox finds himself at last at the furrier’s,” and his fate is all the more certain because of the foxy conduct in which he has been engaged. They say “A bad deed never dies”; and they might further say that its life is quickened and its sting intensified by the cumulative influence of time. “He can’t reap wheat that sows hemlock”; the harvest must be to the full as poisonous as the seed. As we brew, we must drink; so we cannot be too prudent as to the purity of the materials or too careful of the mixing. “Do well, and have well; do ill, and look for the like.” “Remember the reckoning” is a pregnant old saw that might well be suspended in home and office, hearthstone and wayside; it would often save men a tremendous balance on the contra side of the ledgers both of money and morals. Sin and punishment are like the body and the shadow, never very far apart. Who sin for their profit will not profit by their sin; you may see nothing but well in its commission, you will see nothing but woe in its conclusion. The law of retribution is as fixed as the law of gravitation. There is a connecting string between ourselves and our misdeeds. We tie ourselves by an invisible and enduring thread to every evil deed we do. There is an Australian missile called the boomerang, which is thrown so as to describe singular curves, and falls again at the feet of the thrower. Sin is that boomerang, which goes off into space, but turns again upon its author, and, with tenfold force, strikes him who launched it. (J. Jackson Wray.)
The retribution of God acknowledged
In saying, “God hath requited me,” it is to be noted that he, an heathen idolater, could see so far as to ascribe to God his affliction. Whereby we may see that very bad men do acknowledge God to be the striker and punisher of them. But where should he learn it? for though it did him no good to acknowledge it, yet it is that which many who have been baptized do not come to, but curse and ban, rage and fret, in their afflictions, crying out of their ill-fortune, as they call it, so far are they from resting in the justice of God, and to say, “He hath done righteously.” Also as they ascribe to chance and fortune their calamities, so do they run for help to witches and sorcerers when they be oppressed with them, which is greatly to the convicting of them. (R. Rogers.)
Gravitation is not more unerring than retribution. Sin and punishment have been said by Emerson to “grow out of one stem.” Sin is like the flower that appears first; but punishment is the fruit lurking and swelling within, and destined to appear when the flower is blown. (G. A. Sowter, M. A.)
The name Kirjath-sepher, that is Book-Town, has been supposed to point to the existence of a semi-popular literature among the pre-Judaean inhabitants of Canaan. We cannot build with any certainty upon a name, but there are other facts of some significance. Already the Phoenicians, the merchants of the age, some of whom no doubt visited Kirjath-sepher on their way to Arabia or settled in it, had in their dealings with Egypt begun to use that alphabet to which most languages, from Hebrew and Aramaic on through Greek and Latin to our own, are indebted for the idea and shapes of letters. And it is not improbable that an old-world Phoenician library of skins, palm-leaves or inscribed tablets had given distinction to this town lying away towards the desert from Hebron. Written words were held in half-superstitious veneration, and a very few records would greatly impress a district peopled chiefly by wandering tribes. Nothing is insignificant in the pages of the Bible, nothing is to be disregarded that throws the least light upon human affairs and Divine providence; and here we have a suggestion of no slight importance. Doubt has been east on the existence of a written language among the Hebrews till centuries after the Exodus. It has been denied that the law could have been written out by Moses. This difficulty is now seen to be imaginary, like many others that have been raised. It is certain that the Phcenicians trading in Egypt in the time of the Hyksos kings had settlements quite contiguous to Goshen. What more likely than that the Hebrews, who spoke a language akin to the Phoenicians, should have shared the discovery of letters almost from the first, and practised the art of writing in the days of their favour with the monarchs of the Nile valley? The oppression of the following period might prevent the spread of letters among the people; but a man like Moses must have seen their value and made himself familiar with their use. The importance of this indication in the study of Hebrew law and faith is very plain. Nor should we fail to notice the interesting connection between the Divine lawgiving of Moses and the practical invention of a worldly race. There is no exclusiveness in the providence of God. The art of a people, acute and eager indeed, but without spirituality, is not rejected as profane by the inspired leader of Israel. Egyptians and Phoenicians have their share in originating that culture which mingles its stream with sacred revelation and religion. Letters and religion, culture and faith, must needs go hand in hand. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
To him will I give Achsah my daughter.
Difficulties and hardships in life
There was more difficulty and danger in the winning of this city than others; which teaches us that we must not think it strange if some part of our life be more encumbered than other parts and times. The husbandman is hindered sometimes by the rainy weather: but yet so, as he hath his seasons free from it, to do his business in. The artificer is troubled about putting away his wares, and the falling of the price, so that he cannot always make his advantage of them, as ordinarily he doth, for the maintaining of himself and his charge. But God changeth those times so that they do not always keep at one stay. In more particular manner I might show the disappointments that all sorts of people meet with and have. And why do I set down all this about the matter in hand? but that we may see the wisdom and mercy of God herein, who mixeth both together, because if all our life should be smoothly carried, and easily passed, we should be made thereby unfit for our change, especially for great trials, when they come; and so likewise, if it should be for the most part tedious and troublesome, there should be nothing but weariness and discomfort. And therefore all sorts should seek to be in God’s favour, that so they may also be under His government in both estates. (R. Rogers.)
Thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water.
The blessings given in the gospel
To Achsah Caleb gave a south land--a plot of land with a southern aspect. It did not face the dark and chilly north; but the midday sun beat full upon it. But still she has a request to make: the blessing given her is not enough. The text reminds us of the blessing God has given us in the gospel. “A south land.” What splendour of light--what a clear revelation of His mind and will! Never has anything been seen on earth to rival it! Think of this! The splendour of gospel light--the clear discovery of the way of our salvation--the vision of a perfect harmony between all God’s attributes, no less than between the creature’s highest good and the Creator’s highest glory! Ours is a “south land.” The light does not come to us refracted through an atmosphere of types and shadows; but falls full, so that our eyes are dazzled and filled with tears; for it is “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” seen “in the face of Jesus Christ.” What fervour of love! There is light in the wintry meteor that blazes across the northern sky, but there is no warmth in it--nothing to stir the dulness of sleeping germs or folded buds, to bring the blade through the soil or the blossom on the tree. But sun-rays have heat as well as light in them--they have a quickening as well as an illuminating power. And so the gospel is as fervent as it is splendid--it brings near to us a God of light and love. Such is the blessing already given to all who are faithfully taught the glorious gospel. The text tells us of another blessing yet to be implored. See the case of Achsah. The mere possession of south land was not enough for her; the light and heat of the noonday sun were not enough. Her heritage needed another kind of influence to make it fruitful--that influence that comes with springs of water. Without this the sun might shine and glow in vain--nay, worse than in vain: it might soon become a curse rather than a blessing. When “the heavens are as brass, and the earth is as iron,” that land fares badly that faces the southern sun, and is without springs of water. How naturally, then, might Achsah put up the prayer, “Thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water.” See our case. Oh, it is very terrible to think of, but plainly declared--that the great blessing of the gospel may become a curse! If it is not “a savour of life unto life,” it will prove “a savour of death unto death.” If it does not make us fruitful to man’s good and God’s glory, it will only harden us, wither us, consume us. O dwellers in the south land, awake! Awake, and cry aloud for “springs of water.” See the work of the Holy Spirit. That work is very frequently referred to in Holy Scripture under the figure of rain from heaven: rain, sometimes filling the wells and watercourses, and sometimes feeding the secret springs. Observe--there is no antagonism between the work of Christ and the work of the Spirit, any more than between sun and rain. The one is the supplement to the other; both co-operate harmoniously together to one blessed end. (F. Tucker, B. A.)
Achsah’s asking a pattern of prayer
I. Her consideration of the matter before she went to her father.
1. She naturally wished that her husband should find in that estate all that was convenient and all that might be profitable; and looking it all over, she saw what was wanted. Before you pray, know what you are needing. “Oh!” says somebody, “I utter some good words.” Does God want your words? Think what you are going to ask before you begin to pray, and then pray like business men.
2. This woman, before she went to her father with her petition, asked her husband’s help. When she came to her husband “she moved him to ask of her father a field.” It is often a great help in prayer for two of you to agree touching the thing that concerns Christ’s kingdom. A cordon of praying souls around the throne of grace will be sure to prevail.
3. Achsah bethought herself of this one thing, that she was going to present her request to her father. I suppose that she would not have gone to ask of anybody else; but she said to herself, “Come, Achsah, Caleb is your father. The boon I am going to ask is not of a stranger, who does not know me, but of a father, in whose care I have been ever since I was born.” This thought ought to help us in prayer, and it will help us when we remember that we do not go to ask of an enemy, nor to plead with a stranger; but we say, “Our Father, which art in heaven.”
4. She went humbly, yet eagerly. If others will not pray with you, go alone; and when you go, go very reverently. Thou art on earth, and God is in heaven; multiply not thy words as though thou wert talking to thine equal.
II. Her encouragement. “Caleb said unto her, what wilt thou?”
1. You should know what you want. Could some Christians, if God were to say to them, “What wilt thou?” answer Him? Do you not think that we get into such an indistinct, indiscriminate kind of a way of praying that we do not quite know what we do really want? If it is so with you, do not expect to be heard till you know what you want.
2. Ask for it. God’s way of giving is through our asking. I suppose that He does that in order that He may give twice over, for a prayer is itself a blessing as well as the answer to prayer. Perhaps it sometimes does us as much good to pray for a blessing as to get the blessing.
III. The prayer itself.
1. A good beginning: “Give me a blessing.” Why, if the Lord shall hear that prayer from everybody in this place, what a blessed company we shall be; and we shall go our way to be a blessing to this City of London beyond what we have ever been before!
2. Notice next, how she mingled gratitude with her petition: “Give me a blessing: for thou hast given me a south land.” Go back in grateful praise to God for what He has done for thee in days gone by, and then get a spring for thy leap for a future blessing or a present blessing. Mingle gratitude with all thy prayers.
3. There was not only gratitude in this woman’s prayer, but she used former gifts as a plea for more: “Thou hast given me a south land; give me also,” etc. Oh, yes, that is a grand argument with God: “Thou hast given me; therefore give me some more.” Every blessing given contains the eggs of other blessing within it. Thou must take the blessing, and find the hidden eggs, and let them be hatched by thine earnestness, and there shall be a whole brood of blessings springing out of a single blessing. See thou to that.
4. But this woman used this plea in a particular way: she said, “Thou hast given me a south land; give me also springs of water.” When you ask of God, ask distinctly: “Give me springs of water.” You may say, “Give me my daily bread.” You may cry, “Give me a sense of pardoned sin.” You may distinctly ask for anything which God has promised to give.
IV. Her success
1. Her father gave her what she asked. And God gives us what we ask for when it is wise to do so. But sometimes we make mistakes.
2. He gave her in large measure. The Lord “is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Some use that passage in prayer, and misquote it, “above what we can ask or even think.” That is not in the Bible, because you can ask or even think anything you like; but it is “above all that we ask or think.” Our asking or our thinking falls short; but God’s giving never does.
3. He gave her this without a word of upbraiding. Now, may the Lord grant unto us to ask of Him in wisdom, and may He not have to upbraid us, but give us all manner of blessings both of the upper and the ‘nether springs, both of heaven and earth, both of eternity and time, and give them freely, and not say even a single word by way of upbraiding us! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The upper springs and the nether springs
What is told us about Caleb’s daughter is an illustration of the life of the soul.
1. Every earnest Christian, realising the seriousness of life, the meaning of his profession, the destiny which is before him, ought to ask of God a field; that is, a vocation. God individualises His servants. He has endowed each one in His own wise way, and He expects each one to exercise His own particular endowment for the glory of the Master and Lord. At the same time it is also true that He allows us a great deal of liberty in adapting our vocations to our lives, or perhaps one should rather say, adapting our lives to our vocations. One who believes himself called to the ministry may not take up any other profession, yet may without sin choose whether he will devote himself to mission work or minister as opportunity may present itself in parish life. In like manner the less marked commonplace vocations of everyday Christian life are largely shaped by the earnest disciple himself following the bent of his own enthusiasm, though it must be always in deference to the will of God, when that is in any way specially manifested. Even in cases where there seems to be no possibility of individual choosing, where one’s way seems marked out by circumstances, and there is nothing to do but to go on in it, there should still be conscious recognition of the opportunity of a willingly accepted vocation; there should be the asking for a field on the part of the loyal soul; that is, the asking for grace to do a true and useful work for God in the circumstances He has prepared for us.
2. It does not take us long to discover that our fields are in the land of the south--arid, hard to cultivate, lacking moisture. All true vocations are hard and trying. The purpose of the existence of the kingdom of heaven upon earth is the conquest and overthrow of the kingdom of evil; that means that all who will serve in the Master’s service have to fight. It often happens that, because vocations are found to be very hard, the disciple comes to the conclusion that what he thought to be his calling is not truly so, that he has made a mistake.
3. What then? The undaunted soul betakes itself to prayer. The vocation is hard, almost unendurable; never mind, light down from off the ass and pray for a blessing. There is here no thought of surrendering one’s calling; of saying, “This is too hard a thing for me; take it away, and give me an easier lot in Thy service.” Caleb’s daughter did not ask her father to exchange the arid field for a fruitful and better situated one; she asked him to give her something besides it, however. God loves to have us develop our vocations by prayer. We must have especial and particular times of prayer set apart for that purpose, wherein we light down, as it were, from our daily duties and make our petitions to the Most High.
4. Did Caleb respond to his daughter’s petition? Aye, surely, but no more surely than God responds to the prayers of His children who are striving to live loyally in the vocations He has assigned them. She asked for springs of water, for with springs of water to irrigate it the south land might be made most fertile and profitable for every sort of good fruit. It is said significantly that he gave to her both the upper springs and the nether springs. For the lower springs, that is the wells, supplement the waters of the upper springs. These last coming down abundantly in torrents from the mountains, guided by the hand of man through the fields, make them exceeding fertile, and then the superabundance of their waters is stored, according to nature’s wise provision, in the lower wells, which do not dry up with the long-continued heat of the summer, but remain an ever reliable and constant supply. If God has given to His children hard and arid fields of labour, in which they are to find their several vocations, we are not to forget that to those who seek His help in prayer He grants abundantly the upper and the nether springs.
5. What, then, are these upper springs, the fresh, cooling waters from the hills, flowing down in copious streams, for man’s use and profit, that the dry ground may be refreshed by them, and made to blossom as the rose and to be fruitful with all manner of good things? Evidently these upper springs of God’s gift are the waters of supernatural, sacramental grace; the waters that flow down from the delectable mountains, the heavenly provision in overflowing abundance for earthly spiritual drought. We were never meant to fulfil our vocations without the help of grace. We think so much of our own energy, gifts, work, money, as if these things earnestly and heartily applied were to make the arid south land of God’s calling for us fertile. They are all very well, but do not anything more valuable than dig the irrigating trenches which shall carry the sparkling waters of the upper springs down through the dry land, and make it productive.
6. And the nether springs, the lower wells, what are they in the Christian life? They are those blessed reservoirs of the sacramental grace which has been drawn in and assimilated by the correspondence of earnest disciples, ready for use in the times when the upper springs do not seem to flow freely, and to make fertile the field of the soul’s labour. They are living fountains of God-given water, staying us when the special help from on high seems for the time withdrawn.
(1) There is the nether spring of love. As the wells in the lowlands are filled from the upper springs, so love of God, fed by sacramental grace, becomes a living fountain of perennial freshness in the soul.
(2) The sacramental life teaches one patience; the graces which flow from Holy Communion fill up this deep fountain, so that it never runs dry.
(3) There is yet another fine nether spring of precious value in the devout Christian life--the spring of confident expectation, the spring which combines faith and hope in one great wealth of unshaken trust. This too is filled by the upper springs of sacramental grace. One learns by his experience in confessing his sins how true and real is the pardon that comes through the precious blood. One learns, as the result of his communions, how mighty is the transforming power of the Christ-life so lovingly imparted to us. Thus he becomes sublimely sure, magnificently confident, with a sureness and a confidence that are not inconsistent with genuine humility. (Arthur Ritchie.)
Zephath . . . Hormah.
Zephath and Hormah
In the world of thought and feeling there are many Zephaths, whence quick onset is often made upon the faith and hope of men. We are pressing towards some end, mastering difficulties, contending with open and known enemies. Only a little way remains before us. But invisible among the intricacies of experience is this lurking foe who suddenly falls upon us. It is a settlement in the faith of God we seek. The onset is of doubts we had not imagined, doubts of inspiration, of immortality, of the incarnation, truths the most vital. We are repulsed, broken, disheartened. There remains a new wilderness journey till we reach by the way of Moab the fords of our Jordan and the land of our inheritance. Yet there is a way, sure and appointed. The baffled, wounded soul is never to despair. And when at length the settlement of faith is won, the Zephath of doubt may be assailed from the other side, assailed successfully and taken. The experience of some poor victims of what is oddly called philosophic doubt need dismay no one. For the resolute seeker after God there is always a victory, which in the end may prove so easy, so complete, as to amaze him. The captured Zephath is not destroyed nor abandoned, but is held as a fortress of faith. It becomes Hormah--the consecrated. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
Judah . . . could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley.
What hinders the gospel
Infinite Intelligence has a plan by which He does all things. He never works by impulse or caprice.
1. God frequently makes human agency the condition of His own action.
2. So entirely does the Almighty abide by this plan, that if the required human agency is not put forth, He will not work. These “chariots of iron” so discouraged and terrified the Israelites that they would not do the part which God designed them to do; and because God would not violate His own plan, He “could not” drive them out. God’s plan is the best, and He cannot deviate from the best. Now, the plan by which He promotes the circulation of the gospel amongst men is most clearly revealed in the Bible; and it is this--a proper human representation of it. The Divine idea is to be reflected on man through man. Why the great Author of the gospel should proceed on such a plan is a question which, if proper, it is not necessary to determine. We may as well ask why He has left the life of the world, vegetable and animal, to depend upon the solar beams and the fertile showers. It is enough for me to know, as the reasons of His procedure in any case, that as His nature is love, the ultimate reason of every act is some benevolent idea. Love is the planning genius of the universe: it frames and fashions all. Nor is it difficult to see love in the plan in question. What an honour does it confer on human nature to make it the reflector and exponent of Divine ideas! What benign power, too, is there in the arrangements to stimulate the devout to benevolent effort, and to unite the human family in the bonds of gratitude and compassion! Three general remarks may suffice to show that there has been sufficient mal-representation to account for its present limited influence.
I. That the gospel regards the ceremonial as subordinate to the doctrinal. Though the Old Testament had many rites, the New has only two--baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But the rites of both the Old and the New were intended to answer the same functions in the economy of revelation, namely, to adumbrate doctrines.
II. That the gospel regards the doctrinal as subservient to the ethical. And if this is so, a mere theological manifestation is a mal-representation. Christianity consists mainly of two elements--doctrines and precepts: subjects for faith and rules for life--theology and morality. Doctrines and precepts are rays from the same eternal sun of truth; the former, however, throwing their radiance upwards--revealing the vast heavens that encircle us, and impressing us with ideas of infinitude; the latter flowing down upon our earthly path, and guiding our feet in the way of life. Of what use would the sun be to us if all its rays streamed upwards, unfolding the boundless blue, and none reached our earthly sphere, to show us how to act? The theology of the Bible is useless to a man unless it changes his heart and moulds his life anew. The doctrines of Christ are not learnt like the doctrines of Newton or Euclid, by mere intellectual study; they are learnt by the heart and the life. Action alone translates Christian doctrines into meaning.
III. That the gospel regards the true ethical as embodied in the life of Christ. And if this is so, a mere dry legal manifestation of it is a mal-representation. Where are the ethical elements whose illustration, enforcement, and promotion, all doctrines are to subserve, to be found? Are they to be found in the statutes of governments, the rubrics of Churches, or the practices of religious sects? No! Men have often made sound doctrine subservient to the corrupt ethics drawn from such sources; but the ethics to which all sound theology should ever minister are embodied in the life of one Being--Christ. Our whole duty is summed up in His command, “Follow Me.” Assimilation to Christ is the perfection of man. Another train of thought may further serve to illustrate the various forms of the mal-representation, and to sum up our observations upon this truly momentous theme.
1. The ceremonies of the gospel being only intended as the symbols of its doctrines, a mere ritualistic ministry of it is a mal-representation.
2. The doctrines of the gospel being coincident with human reason, any irrational manifestation of it is a mal-representation.
3. The meaning of the gospel being only truly reached by experience, a mere professional manifestation of it is a mal-representation. Christianity is only thoroughly understood by the heart.
4. The genius of the gospel being that of benevolence, any unloving manifestation of it is a mal-representation. Does the Church represent love? warm, self-denying, world-wide love? If not, it does not represent the gospel.
5. The provisions of the gospel being for universal man, any restricted offer of them is a mal-representation. Let the narrow-minded bigot preach that the sun was lit up for a class; or that the ocean was poured forth for a class; or that the sea of air, whose every wave is life, rolls through the world for a class; and his sermons will be as true to nature as those sermons are to the gospel, that proclaim that God’s mercy is only for a “favourite few.” My conclusion is, that the first thing to be done in order to convert the world is to reform the Church. You may have your missionary societies, you may send forth your emissaries, you may stud the globe with your missionary stations; but unless the Church will give the Christianity of Christ in His own spirit of love, it will be labour lost. (Homilist.)
Chariots of iron.--
Chariots of iron
I. The Lord’s power was trusted and magnified: “The Lord was with Judah.”
1. Great victories.
2. Numerous victories.
3. Brotherly action (Judges 1:3).
4. God gave great proofs of His presence and power by raising up, here and there, a man in their midst who performed heroic deeds. Caleb shall be gathered to his fathers, but Othniel shall follow him, who shall be as brave as he.
5. The reason why the men of Judah were successful was because they had full confidence in God. The Lord will not fall short of the measure: let us not make the measure short.
II. The Lord’s power restrained because distrusted. The men of Judah could drive out the inhabitants of the mountain, but they could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley, because they had chariots of iron. As far as their faith went, so far God kept touch with them, and they could do anything and everything; but when they despondingly thought that they could not drive out the inhabitants of the wide valleys, then they failed utterly.
1. They retained too much confidence in themselves. If their confidence had been in God alone, these chariots of iron would have been ciphers in the calculation, The bare arm of God is the source of all power.
2. They believed one promise of God and did not believe another. Beware of being pickers and choosers of God’s promises.
3. There was a further reason for failure arising out of this imperfection of their faith: they could not conquer the chariots of iron, because, first, they did not try. The Hebrew does not say that they could not drive them out. What the Hebrew says is that they did not drive them out. Some things we cannot do because we never make the attempt. I wish we had among Christian workers the spirit of the Suffolk lad who was brought up in court to be examined by an overbearing lawyer. The lawyer roughly said to him, “Hodge, can you read Greek? . . . I don’t know, sir,” said he. “Well, fetch a Greek book,” said the lawyer, and showing the lad a passage he said to him, “Can you read that?” “No.” “Then why did you not say that you could not?” “Because I never say I cannot do a thing till I have tried it.” If that spirit were in Christian people we should achieve great things; but we set down such and such a thing as manifestly beyond our power, and, silently, we whisper to ourselves, “therefore beyond God’s power,” and so we let it alone. No chariots of iron will be driven out if we dare not make the attempt.
4. Next, I suspect that they did not drive them out because they were idle. If cavalry were to be dealt with, Judah must bestir himself. If chariots of iron were to be defeated they must enter upon an arduous campaign; and so, taking counsel of their fears and their idleness, they said, “Let us not venture on the conflict.” There are many things that Christ’s Church is unable to do because it is too lazy.
5. Then, again, they were not at all anxious to meet the men who manned those chariots, for they were afraid. These men of Judah were cowards in the presence of chariots of iron, and what can a coward do? He is great at running away. They say that he “may live to fight another day.” Not he: he will live, but he will not live to fight, depend upon it, any more another day than he does to-day.
6. There was no excuse for this on the part of Judah, as there is really no excuse for us when we think any part of God’s work to be too difficult for us--for, recollect, there was a special promise made about this very case holy (Deuteronomy 20:1).
III. The Lord’s power vindicated. I could tell you of women, sick and infirm, scarcely able to leave their beds, who are doing work which, to some strong Christians, seems too hard to attempt. Have I not seen old men doing for the Lord in their feebleness that which young men have declined? Could I not tell you of some with one talent who are bringing in a splendid revenue of glory to their Lord and Master, while you fine young fellows with ten talents have wrapped them all in a napkin and hid them in the earth? I wish that I could shame myself, and shame every worker here, into enterprises that would astonish unbelievers. God help us to do that which seems impossible. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The house of Joseph . . . went up against Bethel; and the Lord was with them.
Success in carrying out God’s commands
This work of the house of Joseph which they went about, namely, to take this city Bethel, as God had injoined them, doth lively set before our eyes the duty of all God’s people, that is to say, readily to go about and set upon the work that God hath appointed them, yea, and this is to be done, whatsoever discouragements may stand up in the way to hinder them. For hath not He commanded them? And is not He able to remove those impediments, rather than they shall hinder His work in the hands of His servants? For otherwise, if we look not to God by faith, but what let is in the way, and be hindered thereby, we shall cast the commandment of God behind our back, and do as they who observe the wind, and therefore sow not; and look too much to the clouds, and therefore reap not; and so for fear of inconveniences we shall let pass necessary duties. Again, when we thrive and have good success, we bless God, and are merry; but if we be crossed, we curse ourselves with impatience. Whereas it ought to be enough to us, that God hath brought it to pass either thus, or otherwise. And beside the authority He hath over us, His bountiful rewarding of us in His service, ought to encourage us to address ourselves to all such work; and not only so, but further, seeing He commandeth and would have us do it, as it may be most for our own ease, that is, willingly, readily, cheerfully; for the Lord loveth that, in all His service, as He loveth a cheerful giver. And we know (for our own parts) that men go untowardly about that work which they take in hand unwillingly. But I would that even they who are so, did go about that which they do by God’s commandment cheerfully, and with delight for the Lord’s sake; then should there many excrements be cut off from the infinite actions which are done in our lives, and with so much sin removed; many plagues and annoyances should be avoided from men’s lives also. (R. Rogers.)
The spies saw a man come forth.
The spies and the man of Bethel
In this verse, where it is said that the spies met this man coming out of the city, somewhat is to be noted by occasion of the man and somewhat from the spies. By the man first, going in his simplicity out of the city (whether to save his life or upon some other necessary occasion), meeting with these spies, and falling into such a fright thereby, that either he must lose his life or betray the city (for the spies said to him, “Show us the way into the city and we will show thee mercy”). We may see what straits and difficulties we meet with in this life; for that peril which we neither fear nor once think of, may befall us, even to the hazarding of our lives, much more of our undoing, or the loss of the best of God’s blessings that we enjoy, as wife, children, goods, dec. The Shunammite’s child went into the field in the morning well, but died at noon. This we have to learn by occasion of the man. Now of the spies. The spies offered him kindness, if he would show them the way into the city; in that they dealt kindly with him, rather than roughly and cruelly, seeking such a matter at his hands, they did as became them. But he being one of the cursed nations, how could they promise him mercy? For though they did so to Rahab before, yet she turned to their religion; and so did the Gibeonites serve them as bondmen, and embraced their religion also. But no such thing can be said of this man, for he went unto the Hittites, out of the seven cursed nations, and dwelt there. I answer, we must interpret the laws of God against the Canaanites, and concerning the rooting them out, by mitigating them with this equity, that if they made peace with Israel, they should not root them out. And this appears by that which is written in Joshua, that these nations were rooted out, seeing none of them save the Gibeonites, made peace with the Hebrews. And this being so, teacheth all men to deal even with the bad kindly, and to be harmless toward them. And again, oh that we could deal pitifully, kindly, and lovingly with the miserable and the afflicted; and that all the gentlest means were used to reclaim offenders, of whom there is hope, such as are as this man of Bethel was, in great distress, which is not done but very rarely, and therefore is there much hardness of heart in those to whom it is neglected, and wilfulness, that carrieth them to all profaneness and impenitency. (R. Rogers.)
Neither did Manasseh drive out.
Forsaking the Lord’s work
Manasseh and Ephraim, and the rest of these tribes, did not fail in completing their warfare because they had begun imprudently, but because they did not continue believingly. The tower of conquest was unfinished, not because they had not counted the cost at the beginning, but because they forgot their infinite resources in the help of Jehovah.
I. Men forsaking a work which had been begun after long preparation. The plagues of Egypt, the miracles of the wilderness, the gifts of the manna and other supplies, and the long period of discipline in the desert, were all designed to lead up to the full inheritance of the land.
II. Men forsaking a work which had already seen prosecuted with great energy and at great cost. The Church has thrown away not a little energy for want of just a little more.
III. Men forsaking a work about which they had cherished ardent hopes. The whole way up from Egypt had been a long path of expectation. We see here brilliant hopes blasted for ever for want of a little more faith and a little more service. How many of our once cherished visions have fled for the same reason!
IV. Men forsaking a work in which they had already won splendid triumphs. The path of their past prowess was almost vocal against this sinful inaction and unbelief.
V. men forsaking a work to which God had commanded them, in which God had marvellously helped the, and in which He no less waited to help them still. They did not “remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” “They forgat His works.” No less did they forget His absolute commands, and His unbroken promises. (F. G. Marchant.)
A good work forsaken
We here learn how ready men are to leave and forsake a good course, although they have hardly, and with much ado, been brought to embrace and fasten upon it; which much concerneth us to mark. For we are easily deceived about this, and think both of ourselves and others, that if we begin to dislike and turn away from some gross and common faults that we were wont to commit, then the worst is past with us, and that we ought justly to be reckoned among the godly; whereas it is nothing so, but we be yet, for all that, far off. For a far greater matter is required to the endeavour effectual calling to repentance may be approved of God, and be sound indeed, how we ought to try and search into ourselves, and cannot now stand about it. But although we were truly turned to God, and had, as these, obeyed God for a time with a good heart, yet ought we to fear danger, in respect of our own frailty, and according to the present occasion, when we see to what point these tribes came, for all they had followed the Lord commendably for a time, in beginning to cast out the nations as they were commanded. And the reason of this, to wit, that we should thus carefully look to ourselves, is this, that we are reformed but in part, and that in small part; in which respect yet, because we have received some grace, we are able thereby to desire and go about to do God some service, and specially at some time, namely, while we be watchful to hold under our rebellious passions, assisted by grace; but what then? For we having a sea of corruption ever flowing in us, and our own concupiscence beside outward objects enticing us a contrary way; it must be drained and purged out daily, by little and little, and not be let alone in us, lest it should choke and drown the grace that we have received; which if it be, we become impotent by and by, so that we do not only cease to obey, but we are carried rather as with a stream to any evil that we be tempted to; and namely, to this one here mentioned that overtook these tribes; that is, to be weary of well doing; and so much the rather, seeing there are so many allurements and occasions in every place to provoke us and set us forward. And although we are not without hope, nor naked in the midst of all these storms, yet if we know not these things, yea, and if also we do not resist carefully such evil as I have mentioned, neither strive to nourish such sparkles of grace as are kindled in us, our hearts being set wholly hereupon, as the weightiest thing that we have to deal in; what marvel is it, though we fall from the goodness that was wrought and begun in us, and so become others than we were before? (R. Rogers.)
Attitude of the world towards the Church
“The Canaanites would dwell in that land,” says the historian, repeating the words used in reference to the same tribe and the same places elsewhere (Joshua 17:12). The Hebrew word rendered “would dwell,” intimates that the Canaanites wished to arrange the matter agreeably; that they made friendly overtures to the men of Manasseh to be permitted to remain--a permission which was granted them on condition of their paying tribute. Such is the attitude which, in these latter days, the world frequently assumes towards the Church of Christ in Christian countries. It is willing enough to pay tribute, both in gold and outward forms of deference, if only the Church will allow it a peaceable lodging and refrain from using against it the sword of the Spirit. Too often has the Church, like the men of Manasseh, consented to accept tribute money, whether of the State or of private individuals, as the price of permitting the world to remain unmolested within its borders; and how often has she found, in her bitter experience, the degrading and enslaving effect of such compromises--verifying to the letter the prediction of Joshua in regard to such unhallowed connections (Joshua 23:13). (L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)
The Amorites forced the children of Dan into the mountain.
A neglect of duty injurious to others
So that we see that the negligence of the other tribes in suffering the forbidden nations to remain and wax strong caused these their brethren to be wronged, and to go without their due which God had allotted them. For if they had kept their enemies out they might have been able now to help this tribe of Dan: who, if the house of Joseph had not done more than the rest, they had been left almost without habitation. And by this way we may see that men’s sins do not only redound to their own hurt, but also to the hurt of others. Whereas none are hurt, neither themselves, by those that fear to offend God, and be careful to do their duties, but they may receive great benefit thereby. But the other hurt many as well as themselves. As we see bad parents, what woe they hoard up for their unhappy children, as Ahab and the like. As also, how many souls doth an ignorant, idle, or scandalous minister destroy and cause to perish. (R. Rogers.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Judges 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20