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The nations which the Lord left, to prove Israel by them.
The trial and chastisement of an unfaithful people
I. It was God’s own thought to put them to the proof.
1. Far otherwise were the thoughts of the nations.
(1) When Israel was strong their thoughts were of alliances.
(2) When Israel became weak their thoughts were of conquest and revenge.
2. The nations could do nothing without God’s permission.
3. This proving of character was done out of respect to His covenant.
(1) God acted by principle and not by temporary impulse.
(2) He acted according to His established manner of dealing with His people’s sins.
(3) Provision made for this through the intervention of the coming Messiah, the real Mediator of the covenant.
4. God puts His people under discipline to serve wise and holy ends.
(1) Nor real injury is ever intended.
(2) Never is the rod without some gracious instruction: “Hear ye the rod, and Him who appointeth it.”
5. God Himself determines the time, manner, and severity of the trial.
II. It was necessary to put Israel to the proof.
1. Their allegiance to their God must be ascertained.
(1) God’s jealousy required it.
(2) Without allegiance the people were not in a fit state to receive Divine blessings.
(3) Ways and means were easy where there was allegiance.
2. Human protestations of obedience are little to be trusted.
III. This testing of character was made in love, not in anger.
1. All God’s dealings with His covenant people are necessarily in love. This is the very spirit of His covenant: “Your God”--“God is for you”--always on your side.
2. It was love to prevent a breach of the covenant.
3. It was love to teach the heart the bitterness of sin.
4. It is love to teach self-knowledge and humility.5. It is love where a false character exists to have the discovery of it made known in good time.
IV. Obedience is with God the all-important requirement.
1. Obedience is the index which shows that the heart is right with God.
2. Obedience springs naturally from the fear and the love of God.
3. In the gospel obedience must spring from love.
4. Obedience in the gospel is the obedience of children.
5. Obedience must be shown in the face of opposition. (J. P. Millar.)
Tests and chastisement
I. the work to be done.
1. Chastisement as well as trial.
2. A special mark is put on the reason for this course of dealing (chap. 2:20-23).
II. God’s choice of instruments.
1. God designates His own agency to do His work.
2. God selects His instruments from the camp of His enemies equally with His friends.
3. A sinning people often supply the means of their own correction.
4. God can turn the most unlikely persons into fit instruments for doing His work.
III. The tendency of the covenant people to apostatise from their God.
1. It is what might have been least expected.
2. The root-cause lies in the depravity of the human heart.
3. Remissness of parental training one of the immediate causes.
IV. Each new generation requires in some degree to be taught by an experience of its own.
1. The strange incapacity of the human heart for receiving Divine lessons.
2. Personal experience is the most effective method of teaching.
(1) A more vivid impression is made.
(2) Personal interests are more deeply touched.
3. Each generation must have a character of its own, and answer for itself. (J. P. Millar.)
To teach them war.
It was God’s will, then
it was a necessity for the Israelites that they should “learn war.” In their case “learning war” meant learning that God alone could fight for them. Do not the Canaanites of unbelief, heresy, and worldliness still remain? And is not the evil of their remaining presence overruled for a twofold good--that of teaching His Church how to make war, and of proving their faithfulness toward Himself? (L. H. Wiseman, M.A.)
Served their Gods . . . forgat the Lord, and served Baalim and the groves.
The downward course of sin
I. The form of their sin. One of omission (Judges 2:2).
1. No sin of omission is ever small.
(1) It slights God’s authority.
(2) It implies alienation of heart from God.
(3) There is no fear of God before the eyes.
2. Sins of omission may become indefinitely great.
II. The tendency of sin to multiply itself.
1. No sin stands alone.
2. The root-sin here was failure to exterminate the Canaanites.
3. It led to their dwelling among the idolators.
4. Their intermarrying with the ungodly.
5. Their worship of false gods.
6. The facility with which they made the change.
III. The deplorable end to which their evil course led.
1. There was entire abandonment of God as their God. Sin is a great--
2. There was sinking down to the level of heathen worship and heathen practices. (J. P. Millar.)
Sold them into the hand of Chushan-rishathaim king of Mesopotamia.
Israel in servitude
1. This was the first servitude of the Israelites ever since they came out of their house of bondage in Egypt; for now such detestable apostasy was found in Israel as heaven and earth had caused to be ashamed of (Jeremiah 2:12-13); therefore is he made a slave and servant (Judges 3:14). They that would not serve the Lord in the abundance of all things with gladness shall serve their enemies in the want of all things with sadness (Deuteronomy 28:47-48); therefore God forsook them, that they might know the worth of His service by the want of it under woful miseries (2 Chronicles 12:8).
2. As this was the first oppression that Israel met with after their coming out of Egypt, so this king of Syria was their oppressor. This king had God’s commission to oppress Israel, for God sold them into this king’s hands, and yet was he but a lessee; his possession was by virtue of a lease, and that only a lease limited to eight years. It surely seemed very long for those “children of light” to walk in such a place of darkness for eight years together; if so, the time of their suffering bears a due proportion to the time of their sinning.
3. The marvellous proportion God observed in proportioning Israel’s suffering to the proportion of their sinning. As Israel’s sinning increased in magnitude so their suffering increased in multitude, every term of their slavery rising higher and higher. They served this Chushan eight years, and, because not bettered thereby, they served Eglon eighteen years (Judges 3:14) and afterwards Jabin twenty years (Judges 4:3, etc.). With the froward God will deal frowardly (Psalms 18:26). When lesser corrections could not restrain them from sin, God laid heavier punishments upon them, and punishes them seven times more; yea, and seven times more, and yet seven times more to that, as He had threatened (Leviticus 26:18; Leviticus 26:21; Leviticus 26:24; Leviticus 26:28). God will not give over punishing until men give over sinning.
4. The redeemer that the Lord raised up to redeem Israel out of their first slavery was Othniel (Judges 3:9), which God would not yet do for them until they humbled themselves, when God, they saw, would get the better of them. And this deliverer, whom God sent to redeem Israel, when sold into the hands of this terrible tyrant, was a type of our Redeemer the Lord Jesus, who was sent of God to redeem us, and thus all the other judges be types of Christ, though some more eminently than others. Here the Spirit of the Lord came upon Othniel, gave him prudence, prowess, and magnanimity to make war against this tyrannical oppressor, and having vanquished him in battle, he restored rest to God’s Israel, governing his people in peace and in the profession and practice of God’s true religion according to His law. (C. Ness.)
Othniel the son of Kenaz . . . and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.
The controlling man
It is the personal soul that is the basis of all action. Your machinery is soulless, and the true driver, after all, is the man with his hand on the throttle. You invent, and you multiply motions, and actions, and skilled operations; but you never can dispense with the brain and mind and heart of the controlling man. In the same way, all movements on this earth need to head up into personal souls. God sets a man in charge of the machinery, and as the stars and suns revolve in their cycles, as the events of the human race happen and are run off the reel, they get their explanation only from the personal souls that have been in the movements. When the time of the Reformation was at hand, Luther shakes himself in yonder cell and comes forth. When the thick mists of Popish darkness were to be rolled away from Scotland, John Knox appeared. It is the same all down the ages: men, personal souls, are called forth to lead events to their God-destination and God-purpose. Events need men. So with God! When the time came, God found the Person who would undertake this great purpose of redeeming love, who would atone for man, and suffer on the Cross. (John Robertson.)
Othniel, the first of the judges, seems one of the best. He is not a man of mere rude strength and dashing enterprise; nor is he one who runs the risk of sudden elevation of power, which few can stand. A person of acknowledged honour and sagacity, he sees the problem of the time and does his best to solve it. He is almost unique in this, that he appears without offence, without shame. And his judgeship is honourable to Israel. It points to a higher level of thought and greater seriousness among the tribes than in the century when Jephthah and Samson were the acknowledged heroes. The nation had not lost its reverence for the great names and hopes of the Exodus when it obeyed Othniel and followed him to battle. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
In modern times there would seem to be scarcely any understanding of the fact that no man can do real service as a political leader unless he is a fearer of God, one who loves righteousness more than country, and serves the Eternal before any constituency. Sometimes a nation low enough in morality has been so far awake to its need and danger as to give the helm, at least for a time, to a servant of truth and righteousness and to follow where he leads. But more commonly is it the case that political leaders are chosen anywhere rather than from the ranks of the spiritually earnest. It is oratorical dash now, and now the cleverness of the intriguer, or the power of rank and wealth, that catches popular favour and exalts a man in the State. Members of parliament, cabinet ministers, high officials need have no devoutness, no spiritual seriousness or insight. A nation generally seeks no such character in its legislators, and is often content with less than decent morality. Is it then any wonder that politics are arid and governments a series of errors? We need men who have the true idea of liberty and will set nations nominally Christian on the way of fulfilling their mission to the world. When the people want a spiritual leader he will appear; when they are ready to follow one of high and pure temper he will arise and show the way. But the plain truth is that our chiefs in the State, in society and business must be the men who represent the general opinion, the general aim. While we are in the main a worldly people, the best guides, those of spiritual mind, will never be allowed to carry their plans. And so we come back to the main lesson of the whole history, that only as each citizen is thoughtful of God and of duty, redeemed from selfishness and the world, can there be a true commonwealth, honourable government, beneficent civilisation. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
Prayer helpful to leadership
You may be as unlike a warrior, as unlike one of the Lord Jesus Christ’s Ironsides as unlike can be, yet you have a great deal to do with the making and shaping and sending of them. Can you feel the woes of Israel? Can you shed tears over her? Have you a large, sympathetic heart? And, summing it all up in one word, can you cry? can you pray? “When the children of Israel cried unto the Lord,” the Lord sent this mighty Othniel, upon whom the Spirit of the Lord came Ah! I think we are weak there. We would have more great preachers, we would have more revival movements, in the large meaning of the word revival--not only the ingathering of sinners, but the up-building and brightening of saints--if we had more people who sigh and cry for the sad condition of God’s inheritance. “Ye that make mention of the Lord, keep not silence.” Tossing often on a bed of sickness, or weakness, or pain, do you sigh and cry? Then will God be getting ready His Othniels, and Ehuds, and Shamgars. (John McNeill.)
The gift of “the Spirit of the Lord”
This clearly teaches us that all gifts of the Spirit, and all excellent effects thereof, they are none of ours--they are the Lord’s; He giveth and distributeth them at His pleasure, as we see here that it was the Spirit of the Lord that came upon Othniel, whereby he brought to pass the great things that he did. And whatsoever is of any note in man for price and excellency it is all of God, and cometh from His mere bounty. Alas! there is no bird stripped of her feathers more bare and naked than man in himself is void of goodness; for what hath he that he hath not received? Insomuch as all that he hath to glory of is his sin--a most holy and approved truth, which giveth God His due, and layeth out man in his colours, that he is nothing else, if he rob not God of His honour, and prank not up himself in his gifts, he is nothing else but naked, poor, and a mirror of misery: (R. Rogers.)
Judgment, then deliverance
Judgment and then deliverance; judgment of the mistakes and sins men have committed, thereby bringing themselves into trouble; conviction of sin and righteousness; thereafter guidance and help that their feet may be set on a rock and their goings established--this is the right sequence. That God should help the proud, the self-sufficient out of their troubles in order that they may go on in pride and vain glory, or that He should save the vicious from the consequences of their vice and leave them to persist in their iniquity, would be no Divine work. The new mind and the right spirit must be put in men, they must bear their condemnation, lay it to heart and repent, there must be a revival of holy purpose and aspiration first. Then the oppressors will be driven from the land, the weight of trouble lifted from the soul. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
The making of a hero
This is a book of heroes, of strong men, and strong women too, who, in a time of storm and stress, saved their own souls and the souls of those around them also. It will brace you up, invigorate, and inspire you. It is said of Pitt that he breathed his own lofty spirit into his country. “No man,” said a soldier of the time, “ever entered Mr. Pitt’s room who did not feel himself a braver man when he came out than when he went in.” And no man can read this book sympathetically without being moved to emulation of the mighty souls that move across its pages. It tells us very briefly, but suggestively, the story of twelve people who helped to make Israel, and of these the first, and in some respects the best also, is Othniel, the son of Kenaz. Many of these “saviours,” as they are called, were far from being perfect characters. But in Othniel’s life, as we have it, there is no hint of anything that offends either the taste or the conscience. His name means God’s Lion; and throughout he seems to have been a brave, pure, noble man. And yet the age in which he lived was a very corrupt one. His surroundings were very unfavourable to the growth of character. There was no king or leader in Israel--every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Idolatry and licentiousness abounded. And the task set before you, young men and women, is not so very unlike that which faced Othniel. You must first save yourselves--you must, by God’s help, save your own souls. You must also help God to save the world. This is your task and your privilege--both to be saved and to be saviours. But how did Othniel become a hero and a saviour of his people?
I. “Caleb said ‘He that smiteth Kiriath-sepher and taketh it, to him will I give Achsah my daughter to wife.’ And Othniel the son of Kenaz took it.” That is the first fact given us from Othniel’s life, and that is all that is said about it--Othniel took it--took the stronghold of the mighty sons of Anak--the oracle city of idolatry before which even Caleb quailed. Othniel took it. But many things go to the making of such a deed as that.
1. First, of course, comes courage. It was an undertaking full of desperate difficulties. What was needed was not so much physical as moral courage. The courage to follow is common enough; it is the courage to lead that is rare. Othniel had this soul-quality. He led the way and took the city. Well, if you young people are bent upon saving yourselves from the evil that is in the world, you too must have and must exercise this soul-courage. It often needs more courage to handle the yard-wand than the sword--to be a business-man than to be a soldier. Daily life, all hum-drum as it looks, has its Marathons, its Waterloos, and its Minas; its Six Hundreds that ride into the jaws of death.
2. But courage, what is it? How does any one get courage? Well, if we take another look at Othniel we shall see that the lion in him was not born on the day Debir was taken. It was already strong, matured, full grown. Born long before this in the desert, it had been nourished by daily deeds of unrewarded valour. Acts such as this take years to grow. All his life he had been unconsciously preparing for this. Yes, that is the story of all courage. God gives it to us as He gives all things in seed form. Every heart is full of germs--courage-germs among them. If we cultivate any germ it grows and bears fruit; if we neglect it it dies. If you want courage you must grow it from a seed--that is you must practise the little you have.
3. Once more: This deed of Othniel’s lays bare to us the central secret of all true power--faith. You are familiar with great facts of which Othniel never even dreamt. But your salvation does not depend on how many beliefs you carry about with you, but on how much do you believe any of them. Any truth becomes a saving truth to the soul that trusts it and through it trusts God. Thus this little sentence, unpromising as it looks, gives us three things that go to the making of a hero: courage, habit, faith, and the greatest of these is faith.
II. “And he (Caleb) gave him Achsah his daughter to wife: and it came to pass when she came unto him that she moved him to ask of her father a field.” This, the second of the three facts of Othniel’s history, introduces us into a very different set of circumstances, a different climate of life in fact.
1. Debir is taken; Caleb has kept his word; the bride is coming to her new home. Applause is not much for a young pair to live on; so, amid the excitement and the joy, this fair daughter of the wilderness kept her eyes open and her wits about her. She noted the situation in which her new home lay. It was south land. It had no water. She moved her husband to ask for the field that had the springs of water. But Othniel is better at fighting than asking. Her humour, her sense, and her exquisite tact carried all before them. Caleb gave her “the upper springs and the nether springs.”
2. But what has this to do with the making of a hero? Much in every way. Othniel was brave enough but he had a great deal to learn. He had taken Debir with his sword, but here at his own door he is confronted with a situation in which his sword is useless. Evidently he must learn the use of other weapons. He must master the art of gracious speech. He must acquire tact. There are knots which it avails not to cut, they must be patiently untied by skilful fingers. He is to help in making a people who shall never become formidable as a military power--never produce an Alexander or a Caesar--who shall ultimately lose all their swords, lose every inch of their territory and every stone of their citadels, and yet shall overcome their enemies through sheer force of character. That he may do this God sent him to the home-school and the farm-school to learn those homely virtues of common sense, patience, and tact, without which strength and courage were of little avail.
3. Well, you too, young people, must not despise these.
III. “The children of Israel did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord . . . the children of Israel served Cashan-rishathaim eight years . . . the children of Israel cried unto the Lord.” Many years--forty, perhaps, or even more--have passed since Othniel and Achsah took possession of their new home, and we are confronted with a new and painful situation. The Lord’s people “forgat the Lord and served the Baalim“--that was their sin! “They served Cushan, King of Mesopotamia“--that was their punishment Egypt and Pharaoh were not so far away as they thought. Egypt, the land of bondage, is wherever sin is, and Pharaoh follows iniquity as the night the day. “And the Lord raised up a saviour . . . even Othniel, and the Spirit of the Lord came upon him.” He raised him to this glorious height of manhood by breathing into him His own breath of love and life. There were many reasons why Othniel should do nothing. The chief, perhaps, was that apparently he could do nothing. Perhaps Achsah was another--and the farm a third. Yes, depend upon it there were many voices both within and without that bade Othniel beware of meddling with things beyond his power. But the still small voice called. He put himself, all that he was, all that he had, upon the altar, “and he judged Israel.” He called the erring people back to truth and duty. Led by God’s spirit he began there, with the people’s own sin first. Then he “went out to war . . . and his hand prevailed against Cushan, and the land had rest forty years.” Thus Othniel, even Othniel, became a saviour of his people, and the lion-like man of war, under the influence of God’s spirit, was changed into a living prophecy of the Lamb of God, the Saviour of the world. “And Othniel, the son of Kenaz, died,” having in a rude, hard age, nobly sustained the character of the Happy Warrior. The phase “Othniel--a saviour,” is at once his epitaph and his eulogy. Well, even so are noble lives still made. Faith, patience, wisdom, and the breath of God are the great life-building powers. Saviourhood is the end of all the ways of God in a soul. He makes some men strong in order that they may help the weak. He gives wisdom to some that they may thereby guide the foolish. He makes men holy in order that they may turn the unholy from the error of their way. Now, young people, will you be made strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might? Around you, in numbers that Othniel never dreamed of, are men that “serve the Baalim and serve Cushan,” that sin, and suffer for their sin in mind, body, and estate. Will you help to save these? (J. M. Gibbon.)
The Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel.
Sin--suffering; penitence and deliverance repeated
I. New sin added: “Again”
1. A painful surprise.
2. Deeper guilt. It showed more deliberation in the act of rebellion, more stubborness of will, and greater defiance of the Divine authority. It also implied the heavy guilt of despising all the argument involved in the close and faithful dealing God had with them, in the terrible chastisements He had already brought down on their heads.
3. A perplexing problem to solve. Why should the children of such holy men as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob become such incorrigible rebels? This is the puzzle that meets us everywhere in the history of God’s Israel.
(1) The people had lost their leader.
(2) Apostasy was due in part to the universal bad example.
(3) Idolatry was their easily besetting sin.
(4) A new generation had sprung up.
(5) The inveterate depravity of the human heart.
II. New chastisement inflicted.
1. The Lord chastises in faithfulness.
2. He makes use of a new rod.
3. He sends a more severe token of His displeasure.
We do not know, indeed, that the oppression of the Moabites was heavier than that of the Mesepotamian hordes. Probably there was not much to choose between them. But it was certainly much longer continued. Now it is eighteen years of servitude, whereas formerly it was but eight years. In this respect, the scourge was much more severe, not only because the lash was longer applied, but also because God showed that His ear was more heavy to hear their prayer. It was also a deeper humiliation to be trodden upon by a people whom till now they had despised, from their birth onwards, and who had been accustomed for more than three generations to tremble at the name, and the mention of the God of Israel.
4. He helps His enemies against His own people.
III. New expressions of penitence.
1. In distress they flee to the universal refuge.
2. They had a special plea with God as children of the covenant.
3. Their temporary apostasy did not shut them out from the privilege of prayer.
(1) They had a mediator to plead for them in their priesthood, and the continual sacrifices were laid on the altar, as the means of propitiating.
(2) Their apostasy was not allowed by their covenant God to become permanent.
IV. New deliverances experienced.
1. This deliverance came in answer to prayer.
2. It was brought about by a suitable instrument. (J. P. Millar.)
Ehud the son of Gera.
The summer parlour
I. A man under great physical disadvantages may accomplish wonders. Ehud was left-handed; and the original implies some serious defect in the right hand. So it has often been. Among poets, the three greatest of all times were totally blind, viz.: Homer, Ossian, and Milton. Among sculptors: Gambassio could not see the marble or the chisel. Among authors: Pope, the poet, was a wretched invalid. Among preachers: Robert Hall, Richard Baxter, Edward Payson, Samuel Rutherford, and Dr. McAll were all invalids. These men in the battle of life fought with the right hand tied behind them; but they had something better, viz., the spirit of consecration to a righteous and noble life.
II. Ehud teaches us to make thorough work of what belongs to our deliverance from sin. Some are content to cut down sins which may be ranked as kings, princes, and captains: but Ehud slew the common soldiers as well. It is to work as thorough that each of us is called. This is no easy work. But heaven is not to be reached by easy-going people.
III. God makes ready in some sense every instrument of death, and is the sovereign disposer of all events. There are three kingdoms--of Nature, of Providence, and of Grace. Of each and all Jehovah is King. In the kingdom of Providence, some of the instruments of death are common sickness, epidemics, accidents in erecting houses, accidents at sea, accidents on the rail-train. These are no accidents! God has perfect right to slay a man either by malaria or by the instrumentality of man. He alone has the keys of the grave.
IV. Nobody steps out of life as he expects. It was so with the king of Moab. Death to him was a great surprise. There was but a step between him and death; but he knew it not. “The unexpected is the probable!” The manner in which we step out of life is pre-eminently unlooked for. If so, we press an inference: Prepare! Be ready! The accepted time is now! (W.F. Bishop.)
I have a message from God unto thee.--
A message from God
I. Before proceeding to the delivery of this message, I would insist upon The fact here stated--namely, that I come to you, as a messenger “from God.” One chief reason why mankind hear with so much indifference and with so little effect upon themselves, is simply that they fail to recognise that he who thus speaks to them does come from God. Suppose, however, that yonder heaven should open, and that down through the “everlasting gates” and along the fields of air should come an angel burning with celestial glory and should stand suddenly in your midst. Would not your minds be instantly raised to a fixed and reverent attention? Would you not almost seem to hear in the tones and words of the heavenly messenger the very voice of the Mighty One by whom he was sent? But I claim that I as truly come “from God.”
II. We pass on then, to The delivery of this message. It is a message from God; there is no place for argument. It is a message to a soul in imminent danger of destruction; there is no room for the play of imagination.
1. Man of the world, absorbed in the occupations of this present life, whatever those occupations may be, “I have a message from God unto thee.” “Riches and honours,” He declares, “come of Me alone.” “Riches,” He affirms, “certainly take to themselves wings, they fly away as an eagle toward heaven.” “Riches,” He warns you, “profit not in the day of wrath.” God declares to you, that if you allow mammon to have a higher place in your hearts than Himself and His service, you must expect nothing else but that He will strip you of all your gains when perhaps you least expect it, and render all your labour of none effect. He reminds you that you “can take nothing out” of this world. And He bids me remind you that after death there is a judgment.
2. Young man and young woman just entering life, “I have a message from God unto thee.” God bids me tell you that you have in your possession a priceless treasure which He has committed to you to be used for His glory, and for which He will hold you hereafter to a strict account. You are in the possession of sensibilities not yet dead to the influence of His grace. He has afforded you a perfect knowledge of His will, and He has, moreover, brought to bear upon your hearts the power of His Spirit. He tells you that you may squander and lose all the advantages which you now possess, but He warns you of the result.
3. Lukewarm Christian, “I have a message from God unto thee.” God bids me tell you, in few words, just what your religion means, and what it is worth. You profess with your lips to serve God, while you plot in your heart how you may serve God and the world. But God tells you that while you imagine you are deceiving Him, He sees through the duplicity, the meanness of your conduct.
4. Daring and impenitent man, you who can violate God’s law without a feeling of alarm or remorse, “I have a message from God unto thee.” You have travelled far. If ever you repent now, to the saving of your soul, it must be by a severe and terrible struggle. You have trifled with God’s mercy, but His justice has abated not one tittle of severity. God, however, sends me once more, to tell you that if you will even now put forth all your strength to break the cords wherewith sin has bound you, He will still vouchsafe to assist and bless you in your endeavours. But if you are deaf to this message, if you will still go on in impenitence and sin if you refuse to be reconciled to Him, He informs you that He “reserveth wrath to His enemies.” (W. Rudder, D. D.)
The gospel message
I. The Tidings I bring to-day are very different from those which Ehud carried to the King of Moab, and my design in delivering them is very opposite to his. He came, evidently, with an hostile intention, and concealed, under his garment, a deadly weapon. The message he brought was a message of vengeance, and though artfully disguised, was to prove fatal to the King of Moab. But the message I bring is a message of peace and goodwill to men, and my intention in delivering it is the most kind and friendly.
1. In the first place, let me beseech you to awake from that slumber and insensibility in which, perhaps, you have too long remained. If you were hanging upon the brink of a precipice, would you not haste away to some place of safety?
2. A second message which I have from God to you is, to intreat you to be reconciled to Him. Will you persist in your enmity to God when He is willing to become your friend?
3. A third message I have got from God to you is to beseech you to kiss the Son; that is, honour, love, and obey the Son lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way. It was the great object of our blessed Lord’s ministry to recommend Himself to the affections of men, and to persuade them to come to Him.
4. A fourth message I have from God to you is, that you be prepared to meet Him.
5. A fifth message which I have got from God to you is, that you set your hearts and your house in order, for you must die and not live.
II. I go on to urge you to comply with the gospel message, by a few motives and arguments.
1. Reflect first on the authority of the Person who sends the message.
2. A second argument to persuade you to comply with the gospel message, is the vast importance of it. It is not of a trifling nature, like a piece of idle news, to which you may listen or not as you please. It is the most interesting which was ever published to mankind. What is the history of all the arts and sciences, when compared with the life and doctrine, with the sufferings and death, with the resurrection and glory of the Son of God? Are they not mere childish tales? And shall we prefer what tends to amuse and entertain us, to what contributes to enlighten and to save us? S. A third argument to engage you to comply with the gospel message is the encouraging and precious promises contained in it. It is suited to our guilt and depravity as sinners, and to our weakness and imperfection as creatures.
4. One argument more to engage you to comply with the gospel message is, that your ruin is certain and inevitable if you do it not. Perhaps the message I have now delivered you may be the last you ever shall receive; and is not this a strong argument for complying with it? (D. Johnston, D. D.)
I have a message from God unto thee
And perhaps you are ready to say, If we were certain you had, we should hang upon your lips with the utmost attention. Have you, indeed, had any immediate communication from heaven concerning us? No. Have you any new revelation to deliver to us? No: and yet, “I have a message from God unto you”: that message is in this book--this book that many of you neglect and despise. “I have a message from God unto you.” You are all equally interested in it.
I. To the young. It may be you start astonished that I begin with you. You fancy I should begin with the aged who are just stepping into the grave. But how do you know they are nearer death than you?
II. I have a message from God unto you who are in the meridian of life. You who are engaged in its active business--ye merchants, ye tradesmen, I have a message from God unto you: “Be careful for nothing,” etc. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” etc. “What shall it profit a man, if he should gain,” etc.
III. I have a message to the old and grey-headed: “The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.” Is that honour yours? “Though you walk through the valley,” etc. But are you an aged sinner, a hoary-headed trifler, scoffing at eternity, with one foot in the grave? Alas! alas! I have a message from God unto you: “The Judge standeth at the door.” “Behold, I come quickly,” etc.
IV. I have a message from God unto the rich. I have a message of warning: “Charge those that are rich in this world,” etc. It is a message of caution: “How hardly shall they that have riches,” etc. It is a message of admonition. What says the wise man, “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not?” “Riches make to themselves wings,” etc. Are riches the right soil for piety? No--but the most formidable obstruction to its growth.
V. I have a message to the poor. Are you poor and pious? Then yours is the kingdom of heaven. “The poor have the gospel preached unto them.” The promises of Scripture are principally applicable to the poor.
VI. Are any of you sceptical? I have a message from God unto you. Are you sincere? Do you really wish to ascertain the truth? I have a message from God unto you: “If any man will do His will,” etc., that is the man who shall ascertain the truth, and be emancipated by its freedom. But it is not the man who comes to speculate--who comes to gratify an idle curiosity--who comes cherishing the love of sin; that is not the man who shall know the truth.
VII. is your mind deistical? You want more evidence to prove that this holy book is the Word of God. Do you want mathematical demonstration? It were madness to ask it upon a moral subject. What evidence do you want? Is it evidence of testimony? You have it; and, I venture to say, there is more evidence of the Scriptures than of any other history on the face of the earth. What evidence do you want? Is it the evidence of prophecy? You have it. The Jews, at the present day, are a living and a mighty argument in proof of the truth of the Scriptures. What evidence do you want? Is it the evidence of miracles? That evidence was given in the first ages of Christianity, in order to establish the Divine authority of the Christian system, and, having accomplished it, it is done away; for if miracles had continued to the present hour, they would have ceased to operate in the way of miracles. There is sufficient evidence to justify the ways of God to men in your condemnation, if, after all this evidence, you reject Him.
VIII. Do I speak to any who are desponding and penitential? What a sudden change! what a delightful contrast! “I have a message from God unto you.” “Come, and let us reason together,” etc. (T. Raffles, D. D.)
The gospel message
I. The ministers of the gospel are God’s messengers.
II. The ministers of the gospel must be faithful in delivering their message.
III. If men refuse to attend to the message thus delivered to them, it is at their own peril.
IV. A more direct application of the text: “I have a message from God unto thee.”
1. To the careless, thoughtless person.
2. To the ungodly and the profane.
3. To the humble and serious inquirer after Divine truth (Hebrews 10:38; Revelations 2:5).
4. To those who, having once known the way of righteousness, are turned from the holy commandment delivered unto them.
5. To him whose heart now labours under a sense of sin; who, being brought to see his guilt and danger, is full of fear, and trembles for the consequences. How shall he escape the sentence of His righteous law? What shall he do to be saved? “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,” etc.
6. To the established Christian; the man who, having fled to Christ for refuge, from the guilt and power of sin, has found peace and joy in believing; and being now professedly devoted to the Lord’s service, is living in hope of the glory that shall be revealed. “Be faithful unto death,” etc. “Be not weary of well-doing.” “Grow in grace,” and “Let thy profiting appear unto all men.” (E. Cooper, M. A.)
I. God’s messages are of different kinds.
4. Life and salvation.
5. Gospel privileges.
6. Special tokens of Divine favour.
8. Warning and threatening.
9. Calls to duty.
II. Every man has Divine messages sent to him personally. In the gospel, in the ordinary providence of God, and in the workings of his own conscience.
1. God individualises every man.
2. The wise thing for every man is to act as if he were the only person dealt with.
3. The messages are framed so as to have always an individual application.
III. God’s messages are always to be reverently received.
IV. it is dangerous to turn a deaf ear to God’s messages.
V. Messages of good to the righteous and of evil to the wicked often come together.
VI. God sends messages of mercy before he sends messages of judgment.
VII. It is our duty and our wisdom to be always ready to receive the Lord’s messages. Most men are not ready when the message comes (Luke 17:27-30; Luke 12:20; Luke 16:19, with 23; Matthew 25:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:3; 1 Kings 22:26-27, with 34-37; Proverbs 14:32; Matthew 7:13; 2 Samuel 18:9). Some are ready (Luke 2:29-30; 2 Timothy 4:6-8; Acts 7:59-60; Hebrews 11:13-16; 2 Corinthians 5:2; 2 Corinthians 5:9; 2 Samuel 15:26; 1 Chronicles 23:5; 1 Samuel 3:18). (J. P. Millar.)
A distinct message
Can there be any person to whom God has never sent a message? Is He your Creator? And has He made you to drift on the tempestuous sea of life in solitude without compass or guide?
I. Messages from God. This Bible is in the house of every Englishman. It is “a message from God unto thee.” Other messengers you have had. Ought not the kindness and compassion extended to you in providence to have led you to say, “How can I grieve such a God?” Other messages have come to you draped in black. Can you forget the season when life trembled in the scale, and the physician knew not which way it would turn? Another dark messenger has come to you. Death has bereaved you of friends and comrades. Are there those whom thou didst ensnare who have gone their way before thee to feel their terrible remorse? Let the remembrance of them make you pause and think and turn from your sins to the living and true God.
II. The gospel of the grace of God is in itself a message from God to you. Be sure of this, let our case be what it may, the gospel preached is a message from God to our souls. The hypocrite cannot long attend upon the means of grace without finding that its doctrines are very heart-searching. They pierce his thoughts; they hold a candle up to him, and if he would but look they would expose his desperate condition. The formalists, the men who delight in ceremonies, cannot long frequent God’s hallowed courts, where His true ministers proclaim His name, with out perceiving that there is a message from God to them. The most careless spirit will find in the Word a looking-glass held up to his face in which he can see a reflection of himself.
III. If there be such a message as this from God to us, how should we treat it? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The Christian minister bearing a message from God to man
I. The bearers of the message.
II. The nature of the message. Ehud.
III. The danger of neglecting this message. (H. S. Plumptre, M. A.)
A message from God
I. It is a message of truth.
II. It is a message of love.
III. It is a message of peace.
IV. It is a message of reconciliation.
V. It is needed by thee. This alone is the message humanity needs; it alone meets the breadth and depth and multitude of its necessities. The light of nature is Cimmerian darkness. It reveals your danger, but reveals no means of rescue.
VI. It is suited to thee.
1. It is suited to your ignorance, “making wise unto salvation.”
2. It is suited to man’s sin, expiating its guilt by the blood of the Cross,
3. It is suited to man’s misery.
VII. It is sufficient for thee. No want is there in our being which it cannot fill--no multitude it cannot minister to. VIII. It is sent to thee. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
A message from God
Think, first of all, of the feelings with which we should expect such a message to be received. For, consider the scene from which that message comes: from God’s throne on high. And consider the Presence from which that message emanates--even from our Creator, our Preserver, in whose presence we may at any moment be called to stand. And think next of the effects which we should expect the delivery of such a message to produce--profound attention, deep gratitude, perfect obedience. “A message from God! “Is such a thing possible? Has there ever come to earth, and to us men, a message from God? Surely. The whole world is full of voices of God. The night wears away--the grey light comes stealing on. And the sweet dawn of early day says, “I have a message from God unto thee.” To the sick--“I have a message to thee.” “There shall be neither sorrow, nor crying . . . neither shall there be any more pain.” To the mourner--“I have a message to thee.” “God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” To the secret sinner--“I have a message from God unto thee.” “God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” The day goes on--a clock strikes. “I have a message from God unto thee,” it says: “to thee, O careless one. The sands are fast running out--take heed how you waste time.” Men are at work in the fields. Suddenly there comes a booming sound, borne towards them on the breezes, “Hark! that’s the passing bell.” “I have a message from God”--“It is appointed unto men once to die; and after this, the judgment!” (J. B. C. Murphy, B. A.)
Application of the truth
D. L. Moody was first awakened to an interest in spiritual things while sitting drowsily in Dr. Kirk’s church in Boston, by some one suddenly rousing him and telling him that the sermon “meant him.”
Ehud . . . took the dagger . . . and thrust it into his belly.--
According to the Septuagint, Ehud was an ambidexter; that is, a man who could use both hands with equal facility. Hector boasted ”Many a Greek hath bled by me, and I can shift my shield from right to left.” Of the children of Benjamin we read (Judges 20:16). Plato recommended all soldiers to acquire equal facility in the use of both hands. It is evident from all this, as well as from what is known amongst ourselves, that left-handedness has always been considered peculiar, otherwise it would, not have been pointed out as a feature in any case. We never say of a man that he is right-handed, but we do remark upon any man whom we see using his left hand for purposes which are usually assigned to the right.
I. Many men may be dependent upon one man.
1. The one man may be in a better position than the many, and this may account for his influence. Take the case of a besieged city: one man outside the walls may work out the deliverance of the whole, etc.
2. The one man may be able to move about more quickly than the many. Crowds cannot be hurried to any wise action. They soon lose themselves in confusion. They need leadership to give unity and precision to their movements.
3. Specially is one good man more than all the hosts of evil. For the sake of the one God preserves the many.
II. The instruments chosen of God may often surprise and disappoint men. God sent a left-handed man to deliver Israel! It seemed like a mockery. In view of this apparent eccentricity of the Divine method we should remember--
1. A man is not a great man merely because he is left-handed. Bunyan was a tinker, but it does not follow that every tinker is a Bunyan. George Whitefield was cross-eyed, but it does not follow that squinting is a condition of good preaching.
2. No man should be condemned merely because he does not take hold of things in the common way. Give every man an opportunity of proving himself.
III. Some good use may be made of the most unlikely qualifications. Many are secretly lamenting some peculiarity of temperament, some defect of body, or some circumstance which seems to shut them off from the general band of workers. Let such persons look at the text and take heart again! (J. Parker, D. D.)
Lessons from the death of Eglon
I. The power of left-handed men. There are some men who, by physical organisation, have as much strength in their left hand as in their right hand; but there is something in this text which implies that Ehud had some defect in his right hand which compelled him to use the left. Oh, the power of left-handed men! Genius is often self-observant, careful of itself, not given to much toil, bringing increase to its own aggrandisement, while many a man with no natural endowments, actually defective in physical and mental organisation, has an earnestness for the right, a patient industry, an all-consuming perseverance, which achieves marvels for the kingdom of Christ. Though left-handed, as Ehud, they can strike down a sin as great and imperial as Eglon. But! don’t suppose that Ehud, the first time he took a sling in his left hand, could throw a stone a hair’s breadth and not miss. I suppose it was practice that gave him the wonderful dexterity. Go forth to your spheres of duty, and be not discouraged if in your first attempts you miss the mark. There was an oculist performing a very difficult operation on the human eye. A young doctor stood by and said, “How easily you do that--it don’t seem to cause you any trouble at all.” “Ah,” said the old oculist, “it is very easy now, but I spoiled a hat full of eyes to learn that.” Be not surprised if it takes some practice before we can help men to moral eyesight, and bring them to a vision of the Cross. Left-handed men, to the work! Take the gospel for a sling, and faith and repentance for the smooth stone from the brook. Take sure aim, God directs the weapon, and great Goliaths will tumble before you.
II. The danger of worldly elevations. This Eglon was what the world called a great man. There were hundreds of people who would have considered it the greatest honour of their life just to have him speak to them; yet, although he is so high up in worldly position, he is not beyond the reach of Ehud’s dagger. I see a great many people trying to climb up in social position, having an idea that there is a safe place somewhere far above, not knowing that the mountain of fame has a top like Mont Blanc, covered with perpetual snow. Oh, be content with just such a position as God has placed you in. It may not be said of us, “He was a great general,” or “He was an honoured chieftain,” or “He was mighty in worldly attainments”; but this thing may be said of you and me, “He was a good citizen, a faithful Christian, a friend of Jesus.” And that in the last day will be the highest of all eulogiums.
III. Death comes to the summer-house. Eglon did not expect to die in that fine place. Amid all the flower-leaves that drifted like summer snow into the window; in the tinkle and dash of the fountains; in the sound of a thousand leaves fluttering on one tree branch; in the cool breeze that came up to shake feverish troubles out of the king’s locks--there was nothing that spake of death, but there he died! In the winter, when the snow is a shroud, and when the wind is a dirge, it is easy to think of our mortality. And yet my text teaches that death does sometimes come to the summer-house. He is blind, and cannot see the leaves. He is deaf, and cannot hear the fountains. Gather about us what we will of comfort and luxury, when the pale messenger comes he does not stop to look at the architecture of the house before he comes in; nor, entering, does he wait to examine the pictures we have gathered on the wall. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
1. I daresay you think it was a rash thing of Eglon to receive Ehud in private, when he knew very well that the man who asked to see him was one of a people that hated him and longed to be rid of his oppression. And what is more extraordinary in his rashness is that he suffers Ehud to come to him with that great dagger a cubit long on his thigh. It is true that Ehud had a cloak, but I do not think it could altogether have concealed the weapon. I believe the reason why Eglon was easy in mind was this, Ehud had got his dagger slung on the wrong side. He left the fact of Ehud being left-handed entirely out of his calculation, and that was his ruin.
2. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” We have enemies, temptations without and within, to watch against. It is just when, and where, and how you least expect danger, that a fall may come. Take care! be sober! be vigilant l (S. Baring-Gould, M. A.)
Effective preachers compared to Ehud
When you see a man with a gift in his right hand, and his dagger concealed where only his left hand could get at it, that man is worth the watching. There is no preacher in the world worth his salt who is not like that. Like Ehud, have the right hand filled with the gift, with the gospel offer and present, if you like, but for God’s sake, and for the sake of everything, hit hard with the left! Preaching that does any good is typified in Ehud. The gift, and the gift in the best hand, and the gift put first; but look out for the left, look out for the blow. It is not to be all coddling, and wheedling, and coaxing, and pleading, “Oh!” and “Ah!” and “Won’t you come?” There must be the law, the terror, the close-quarters, the words that are daggers, and the daggers driven home, and that unexpectedly. For that is another element in Ehud. Ehud is what we may call a man who does his work in his own way, and therefore he abounds in what I may call ”surprise.” In the Church, in all our pulpits, in all our active operations for God at home and abroad, would that we had more of the surprise; more unexpected things happening. More men who can work the left hand when the right hand gets tired, And when God sends a surprise-man to us, don’t you turn round and find fault with that man. Encourage him; cheer him on. He doesn’t do as you do--he does, it may be, the other way; don’t find fault with his methods. The test of all preaching styles is, do they hit? Do they go home? Do they minimise man and magnify God? Then they are all right. (John McNeill.)
They took a key.--
A sermon upon keys
There are many different kinds of keys in the world, but I think we might select one or two of them, and try if we can make them keys of wisdom, to open our understandings. We shall, then, begin with a small but a very important key, namely--
I. The Watch-Key. The heart of the watch is the mainspring. The watch will not go unless the main spring is right.
II. The “Safe” Key. Two burglars have been trying hard for hours to break into a merchant’s safe. At last they give it up as hopeless and make their escape. In due time the merchant opens his shop, and takes a small key out of his pocket, and in less than a minute, and as if by magic, the heavy iron doors swing open. Then he takes out the gold, silver, and other valuables that he only can reach. The Bible is the “safe” of the Christian. Many people look at it, but only a few possess the key and are able to get at the treasures. Some people are so foolish as to deny that there are treasures in the Word of God because they cannot find them.
III. The House Key. To be presented with the key of a house signifies to have liberty to go in and out of that house. Christ speaks of a house of which He is the door (John 10:9). Faith is the key to open it, for He again tells us that (John 3:19). All who are in Christ are safe from the many dangers that ruin the souls of men. Within the fold there is pasture for the sheep. So in Christ there is refreshing and satisfying pasture. Nothing else can satisfy us. (John Mitchell.)
Shamgar the son of Anath.
This is one of the most singular and astonishing battles in the history of the world. If Shamgar had been stationed in some Thermopylae, where the foe could only come one or two at a time it would not have been so wonderful; but he was in the open field, literally surrounded by six hundred desperadoes, bent on plunder and death. It gives us some idea of what pluck can do for a man when fired with the love of home and country. To my mind, there is something wonderful, almost miraculous, in this strange battle and unparalleled victory. I wonder, first of all, how he could muster courage to face so many, and how he escaped when surrounded by such a multitude. I wonder also, that when the Philistines saw that they were being slaughtered at every blow, and that they had no power to injure their mysterious antagonist, that they fought on and stood their ground until the last man was slain. It only shows that men may have courage in fighting on the side of evil without a particle of truth or righteousness to inspire them; that they will sacrifice their lives on the altar of a bad cause as well as a good one.
I. Men determine their future by the manner in which they meet the duties and provocations of the present. God never selects a lazy, idle man, when He is going to choose a person to do some noble work. He promotes none but busy men. Shamgar was ploughing when the Philistines came upon him. It speaks well for him that he had heart to plough at such a time, for the whole country was thrown into great fear and discouragement. Few men, I am inclined to think, had courage enough just then to plough. Such men are an inspiration and a blessing to any community. So far as we can ascertain, Shamgar was an humble labouring man. Yet his heroic conduct on this occasion brought him into notice, and raised him to be one of the judges of Israel. The world is looking for men who can bring things to pass. Noble deeds are the stairway leading to greatness and honour. If you would be trusted, first learn to be honest; if you would rule, first learn how to obey; if you would rise to a more important position, fill the place where you are to overflowing with yourself, and God will soon beckon you to a wider sphere.
II. In the absence of success, it is poor logic to throw the blame on our instruments or surroundings. The workman is more than his tools. The spirit and skill of the worker tower above his surroundings, and give value and significance to the instruments he wields. Shamgar fought this battle with an ox goad. However discouraging your circumstances, if you give yourself fully to God, and walk in the full honours of uprightness before Him, the great Captain of our salvation will not only give you blessed foretastes of the “rest that remaineth for the people of God,” but He will also enable you to cut your way to victory through all the spiritual Philistines that may confront you, even though your instruments may be as insignificant as those of Shamgar.
III. In our life work we should be natural, and use the instruments we know best how to handle. Shamgar fought with the ex-goad. He knew so well how to handle it that, at close range, it was a terrible weapon to come in contact with. He could kill more men with it in a crowd than with sword or musket. He knew the spring and feel of it so perfectly that every stroke brought two or three Philistines to the ground. What we want in order to our greatest possible efficiency is, not somebody else’s way of doing things, but our own, trained and sanctified by the grace of God. No two persons are exactly alike; and so there are phases of work which each individual is constitutionally fitted to do which no other person can ever do quite as well.
IV. New instrumentalities should not be condemned simply because they are new and out of the regular order, but should be judged and valued according to their results. As a weapon of destruction the ox goad was unknown up to this time; but, judged of by its results, it was worthy of high appreciation. It may be that, in the past, the Church has been a little too conservative in the matter of new agency; that she has been too much inclined to condemn any agency that was not officially sanctioned or technically approved. There is nothing that carries conviction like the logic of facts, and nothing succeeds like success. Think of one man against six hundred, with nothing in his hands but an ox goad. You may not be as well qualified for the work as some others; but still God has a work for you to do, and He will help you to do it if you do your best and trust Him. It may be that your sphere is humble and obscure, but you can live a noble life and do grand work in obscurity. Some of the greatest evangelists of our own day teach us two lessons--
1. That sanctified individuality is the condition of usefulness and the great want of the times.
2. That the vast majority of Christians have talent enough to become each a mighty power, in the hands of God, to hasten the millennial glory of the future. (T. Kelly.)
A man for the time
From this let all true patriots take heart--with the hour and the peril comes the man required.
I. The apparent incompatibility and insufficiency of the deliverer and his weapon. A herdman carrying a goad, an ugly implement some eight or ten feet long, and shod with iron. Uncouth, without such military training as the science of the times could give, destitute of such arms as the Philistines would be likely to fear. He could only be looked upon as an improvised leader with an extemporised armament. Opposed to him was a host led by hereditary chieftains. Now, as ever, the Philistine opponents of Christ and the truth grin inanely at the rabble rout, as they deem the Lord’s host to be. They sneer at the Word, albeit they bear many scars inflicted by that old Damascene blade. They laugh at the praying, the preaching, and the labour of the “unlearned and ignorant men” whom the Lord has called to do His work.
II. The triumphant efficacy of both. Shamgar’s generalship, strong arm, awful ox-goad, proved to be no laughing matters. The soul of a patriot, the genius of a leader, the skill of a strategist, were all in him. Neither devil, lords, nor army had much time to sneer when Shamgar reached them. They had mistaken the man, the instrument, and the God behind all. History repeats and spiritualises itself. For, we ask, in what is the augury, whence is the success of our Christian warfare, waged against the enemies of God and man? In numbers, literary efficiency, dialectical skill, scientific theology? Not so; Satan can beat us out of the field in every one of these. He is constantly doing it. Not all the drum-beating, banner-waving, and shouting of our conferences and demonstrations ever frighten him. But his doom is sealed when a Christ-filled Shamgar leads. That man who on his knees pleads and waits to know, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?”--such are the men we want, the men we should pray for, the men we ought to be. The fact that we are Christians should be a certificate that we are surrendered, Christ-filled men, or our profession is a lie. Would that all were so. Oh, that all may become so! Whatever the sacrifice involved, there is no more happy life, and, at its close, can be no more glorious epitaph than “he saved Israel!” (James Dann.)
Shamgar: mean instruments
1. How absurd it is for any man to blame his tools for bad work. Shamgar used an ox-goad; Samson wielded the jawbone of an ass; David had but a sling and stone. Some times we think what wonders we could do if we had better instruments.
2. How important it is that men should use those instruments which they can handle most skilfully. Shamgar knew how to use the ox-goad, and David knew how to use the sling and stone.
3. How foolish it would be to ridicule the instruments when the results are so obviously good. Look at the six hundred dead men! Look at the slain giant! Look at the prostrate walls of Jericho! The rule applies to every department of life. It applies to preaching. It applies to foreign missions. It applies to every Christian effort.
4. How victories are sometimes won in the face of the greatest improbabilities. One man against six hundred! Some men would have succumbed under the mere pressure of numbers, but Shamgar fought the crowd. Do not let us blame men for working with instruments that have not been officially or technically approved. The one great object is to do good. What meaner instrument can there be than the Cross? (J. Parker, D. D.)
Shamgar considered not whether he was equipped for attacking Philistines, but turned on them from the plough, his blood leaping in him with swift indignation. The instrument of his assault was not made for the use to which it was put: the power lay in the arm that wielded the goad and the fearless will of the man who struck for his own birthright, freedom--for Israel’s birth right, to be the servant of no other race. Undoubtedly it is well that in any efforts made for the Church or for society men should consider how they are to act, and should furnish themselves in the best manner for the work that is to be done. No outfit of knowledge, skill, experience, is to be despised. A man does not serve the world better in ignorance than in learning, in bluntness than in refinement. But the serious danger for such an age as our own is that strength may be frittered away and zeal expended in the mere preparation of weapons, in the mere exercise before the war begins. The important points at issue are apt to be lost sight of, and the vital distinctions on which the whole battle turns to fade away in an atmosphere of compromise. (R. A. Watson, M. A.)
The ox-goad was not much; but Shamgar with the ox-goad, that was the sight to see. Perhaps you cannot work the ox-goad. It fitted Shamgar, and he fitted it; but, after all, it was the man. It is the man. I read Wesley’s sermons--those sermons that routed the Philistines of a hundred years ago, and delivered Israel over all this England; I read those sermons of Wesley and Whitefield, and, I say, what is in them? You would be tired of them from me. Why? You see the obvious answer. You look at that ox-goad and say, “There is not much in that”; neither is there. It was the man, and God in the man. One was taken to see a famous sword that had belonged to a famous swordsman, and when he saw it he said, “I do not see much in that sword,” and there came the obvious answer, “No, but you should have seen the arm that wielded it.” Shamgar’s hand grew into the hilt of that ox-goad, and it became part of him. The ox-goad and Shamgar, again, became part of the arm of the Lord God Almighty. That was all in it, and that may be in you and me, God taking our individuality and consecrating it and using it for His eternal glory. Now, be yourself, whether you be at the plough or at the desk; God can do His work with the ox-goad; He can do it with the pen; He can do it with anything if it lies near His hand. And, last of all, what honourable mention this ploughman gets: “He also delivered Israel.” Why, the mighty Joshua did no more! (John McNeill.)
Great results with imperfect tools
Many of the discoveries in astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, navigation, and science generally, were made with very imperfect instruments. Dr. Valentine Mott’s remarkable surgical skill is the more honourable because of his comparatively poor instruments. True genius shows itself in accomplishing grand results with imperfect tools. Rittenhouse, whose name is a synonym for marvellous scientific attainments, worked in boyhood on his father’s farm, and calculated eclipses on plough-handles and fences; and, although studying alone, made himself master of Newton’s “Principia,” and discovered for himself the method of fluxions when in his nineteenth year. It is little wonder that when he observed the transit of Venus (June 3, 1769), while in his private observatory at Norriton, he fainted from excitement at the moment of apparent contact. Benjamin West, the Anglo-American painter, made his first colours from leaves and berries, and his first brushes were taken from a cat’s tail. Thus self-taught, at the age of sixteen he practised portrait-painting in the villages near Philadelphia, his first historical picture being “The Death of Socrates.” Humphry Davy had but little opportunity to acquire scientific knowledge, but he made old pans, kettles, and bottles contribute to his success as he experimented in the attic of the apothecary shop in which he was employed. Over a stable in London lived Michael Faraday, a poor boy who made a living by carrying news papers to customers. While apprenticed to a bookbinder and engaged in binding the “Encyclopaedia Britannica,” his eyes fell on the article on electricity. He had only a glass vial, an old pan, and a few other articles with which to make experiments. A friend took him to hear Sir Humphry Davy lecture on chemistry. Later the great Davy called on the humble Michael. The years pass, and Tyndall said of Faraday, “He is the greatest experimental philosopher the world has ever seen.”.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Judges 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19