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Ye shall keep My Sabbaths, and reverence My sanctuary.
Of the stated times of God’s worship, particularly the Lord’s Day
I. What were the reasons upon which God might be supposed, under the law, to have instituted more solemn and set times of worship.
1. As to the reasonableness of the institution in general, it was highly agreeable to the natural light of mankind upon these following accounts.
(1) All external worship is designed to give us impressions of greater reverence for the Divine Majesty. Now, such is the temper of human nature, that men have much less regard for those things that are common than for those which have some peculiar mark of distinction set upon them.
(2) It being one of the first principles of natural religion that God is to be publicly worshipped, order requires that there should be some determinate and public times set apart for His worship and piety, that such times should be vacations from the common affairs of human life.
(3) It being a further end of religious worship to advance the spiritual life and bring us nearer unto God, it is not only agreeable to piety, but to all the maxims of religious prudence, that the times appropriated to the more solemn worship of God should be distinguished by a cessation from the common business of life, that by this means, our minds being wholly taken off from earthly things, they may be more open to the heavenly impressions of grace and truth.
2. These are some of the natural reasons upon which we may account for God’s commanding His people to keep His Sabbath, that is, all the stated and solemn times of His public worship; but what I have here principally an eye to is the institution of the Sabbath, which the Jews were so forcibly enjoined to keep holy in the Fourth Commandment. Now, the two principal reasons of this institution seem to have been--
(1) That hereby they acknowledged God to be the Lord, the Creator and Governor of the world; and--
(2) That they acknowledged Him to be in a more eminent and peculiar manner their God by delivering them out of the hand of Egypt.
II. How far those reasons, in either respect, hold good under the Christian dispensation.
1. The general reasons I laid down for setting apart some solemn time for the worship of God certainly extend to us Christians, and to all the nations under heaven, as well as to the Jews. Indeed, when we consider that to everything under the sun there is a time, and that the natural order of things requires there should be so, it seems highly reasonable that some stated seasons should be appropriated to His service, to whom we owe all the moments of our time and the capacity of all other enjoyments. Jesus Christ did not come to destroy any one duty arising from the law of nature or the common principles of natural religion, but to give all such duties their utmost force.
2. The great difficulty to be considered is how far those reasons, upon which the Jewish Sabbath in particular was instituted, may be supposed to affect us Christians.
(1) It appears matter of moral obligation that there should be some day set apart more peculiarly devoted to the honour and worship of Almighty God.
(2) It appears no less reasonable that the returns of such a day should be so frequent as to keep up a constant sense of religion, and their duty to God, in the minds of men, without interfering with the necessary affairs of human life.
(3) It must be granted somewhat difficult to determine this matter exactly from any principle of natural reason, it not clearly discovering what proportion of our time we are to set apart for the more solemn worship of God, or why one day in seven, rather than six or eight, should be observed to this end.
III. How and in what manner the Lord’s day ought to be observed.
1. We are to consider the Lord’s Day is a time set apart for the more public worship and service of God, wherein we are to do Him honour and praise Him according to His excellent greatness.
2. We ought also on the Lord’s Day to employ ourselves constantly in the private exercises of religion.
3. As the Lord’s Day is a day of thanksgiving for the public or private mercies we have received from God, it is a proper exercise of it to perform acts of mercy and charity to others, and both with respect to their souls and bodies.
4. As the Lord’s Day is a day devoted to the service of God and religion, let us take care to sanctify it by religious conversation.
5. That we may better attend these duties, we must not only intermit our ordinary labours and employments, but take off our thoughts, as much as possible, from the business of them. (R. Fiddes, D. D.)
Of the stated places of God’s-worship, and in what manner our reverence towards them ought to be expressed
I. The reasons of appropriating places to the public worship of God are the same in general under the Christian as under the mosaic dispensation.
1. One end of God’s appointing the tabernacle, and afterwards the temple, was to possess the minds of the Jews with more devout affections in their religious addresses to Him. The place we are in naturally puts us in mind of the proper business and design of it.
2. It is a principle highly agreeable to the natural notions of mankind that God is in a special manner present in such places, not only as they are consecrated to Him, and He has thereby a special propriety in them, but also by reason of the united prayers which are therein put up to Him, and which are reasonably presumed to be of more efficacy than those of single persons to bring down the real and sensible effects of His presence with the blessings prayed for.
3. The common notions we bare of order and decency require that the place designed for God’s more immediate service should be appropriated to Him, and to Him only. Of order, that men may know where to repair on all occasions to worship God; and of decency, because it is contrary to all the rules of it, and, indeed, to the ordinary acceptation of holiness throughout the Scriptures, that what is common or unclean should be promiscuously used with things set apart for holy and religious uses.
II. Places so appropriated have a relative holiness in them, and ought therefore to be reverenced. This is the notion of holiness with respect to things, and persons, and times, as well as places designed for the service of God, in the Old Testament, that they were separated from common uses to His own. And if for this very reason they were accounted sacred then, what imaginable pretence can there be that the same reason should not render them, and all of them, sacred now? If it be pretended that the temple was accounted holy by reason of the legal sacrifices which were offered to God in it, we ask why the Christian sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in our churches should not be a sufficient ground for reputing them holy also? If it be said that there were sensible effects of God’s presence in the temple upon which it had a peculiar relation of holiness to Him, we answer that God, as to the spiritual and gracious effects of His presence, and wherein He manifests it in the most beneficial and excellent manner, is present in our Christian temples. If it be said, further, that the temple was built by the special command of God, and upon that account a certain holiness was ascribed to it, whereas we have no such command for building any places purely for God’s worship now, it is answered again that the design of David’s building a temple, and Solomon’s going on with it, do not appear to have proceeded from any positive and direct command of God. God, it is true, gave particular directions about building the temple, but it does not therefore follow that the design of building it was not antecedently laid by these princes upon natural motives of piety and religion, the same motives upon which the patriarchs erected sanctuaries or separate places of worship to God before any positive institution to this end. Shall I now show that our Christian churches, which I have proved to be sanctuaries in a proper sense, ought therefore to be reverenced? This is a consequence which flows so naturally, or rather, indeed, necessarily, from what has been said, that I need not say much to illustrate it. I shall only observe that we are agreed in other cases to set a value on things or persons, not in consideration of their absolute and real worth, but of their relative use or character. An insect is considered in itself as a living creature more valuable than the brightest or richest jewel in the world; but we should think him very weak who would for that reason prefer a butterfly to a diamond, which, by common consent, serves him to so many more useful ends. For the same reason, with respect to the different characters of men, or any special relation they bear to God, to the prince, or to ourselves, we give them different and suitable testimonies of our esteem. Nay, when we truly honour or love any person, we naturally express a value for everything that nearly belongs to him or wherein he has a particular interest. Certainly, then, nothing can be more reasonable than that upon account of the special propriety God has in places set apart for His service, and for so many holy uses, we should express our reverence toward such places by all becoming testimonies of it.
III. Even natural reason discovers further to us how and in what particulars our reverence towards such places ought to be expressed.
1. We are to reverence God’s sanctuary by constantly repairing to it on all proper occasions.
2. We are to reverence God’s sanctuary by a serious, devout, and regular behaviour in it.
(1) By a serious and devout behaviour, I mean such decent postures of the body as most properly express the inward sentiments and attention of the mind.
(2) By a regular behaviour in the worship of God, I understand a due conformity to the rules and order of the public service, and particularly that we should kneel or stand up at the usual offices.
3. If we reverence God’s sanctuary as we ought, we shall be willing to contribute what may be thought necessary towards the proper ornaments of it or the greater solemnity of the public worship in it.
I shall now proceed to a conclusion, with a proper application or two from what has been said.
1. To those who offend against the first rule I laid down, concerning the reverence due to God’s sanctuary, by coming late to it, or perhaps after a considerable part of the service is performed. If you are conscious to yourselves of any such scandalous, especially if it have been a customary, irreverence, be careful not to give any further offence to God or man, for it is really so to both in the same kind--to God, because it is so insolent a method of presenting ourselves in His courts, in order to beg any blessing or the pardon of our sins before we have made a humble confession of them; to man, because the Church, which we are presumed by attending her service to be members of, has piously directed such a confession at the beginning of her service. Not to mention the other disorders occasioned by this irreverence, and how contrary it is to the rule prescribed us by holy David, of worshipping God in the beauty of holiness (Psalms 29:2; Psalms 96:9). And for the same reason--
2. If your consciences reproach you with any former unbecoming or irregular behaviour in the sanctuary of God, resolve hereafter to correct so great an indecency, or rather, indeed, so flaming an impiety.
3. What I shall say to those who have in any signal manner expressed their zeal for God’s house, by contributing to the beauty or solemnity of it, shall be by way of encouragement. And certainly men cannot propose to themselves to show their reverence for God by a more truly pious act--an act whereby they more immediately glorify Him, in letting their good works shine before men. This consideration cannot but, at the same time, fill the minds of those who are concerned in it with a sensible pleasure and satisfaction, and make their hearts even spring for joy. This was the effect which the preparations of David and the Israelites for building the temple had upon them (1 Chronicles 29:8).
4. What I would observe, in the last place, is that persons who are subservient in this respect towards promoting the honour of God may piously hope that He will by some wise methods pour down His special blessings upon them as He did upon Obed-Edom and his household, because of the ark of the covenant of God (2 Samuel 6:11). (R. Fiddes, D. D.)
If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them.
The advantages of religion in a nation’s life
I. Wherein a nation’s religious life consists. The recognised presence of God in the midst of the people (Leviticus 26:11-12) may be realised--
1. In sanctuaries consecrated to Divine worship throughout the land, and in assembled congregations gathering to adore Him (Leviticus 26:2).
2. In sacred literature diffusing religious knowledge among the people.
3. In benevolent and elevating institutions diffusing Christianity in its practical forms.
4. In educational agencies for the training of children early in moral and religious truth.
5. In homes and family life sweetened by the influence of piety.
6. In a legislature ruled by the fear of God and observant of Scripture precepts.
7. In wealth, gathered righteously, being expended for evangelical and Christian ends.
8. In the happy relationship of all social classes, based upon goodwill and respect.
9. In the stores of harvest and gains of commerce being acknowledged as God’s providential gifts and generous benefactions (Leviticus 26:4-5). All such public recognitions of the authority and the claims of religion, emphasise and declare that within this nation’s life God dwells--known, revered, and served.
II. Advantages which result to a nation from religion.
1. Religion impels to industry, intelligence, self-respect, and social improvement; and these will affect every branch of labour and enterprise, resulting in material prosperity (Leviticus 26:4-5).
2. Religion leads to avoidance of agitation and conflict, checks greed, ambition, and vainglory, and thus promotes a wise content among the people, and peaceful relationships with surrounding nations (Leviticus 26:6).
3. Religion fosters sobriety, energy, and courage, and these qualities will assert themselves on the fields of war when sad occasion arises, and will ensure the overthrow of tyranny and the defeat of invasion (Leviticus 26:8).
4. Religion nurtures the wise oversight of homes and families, the preservation of domestic purity, the development of healthful and intelligent children, and these will work out in a strong and increasing population (Leviticus 26:9).
5. Religion corrects the intrigues of self-destructive commerce, and teaches honesty, forethought, and justice in business arrangements; thus checking waste, extravagance, and insolence, and these issue in the enjoyment of plenty (Leviticus 26:10).
6. Religion enjoins Sabbath observance and sanctuary services (Leviticus 26:2) which nourish holiness in thought and life, sweeten character, purify the springs of action, incite to righteous and noble deeds, to social goodwill, to mutual regard, to sacred ministries, to reverence for Scripture, to recognition of the claims of the unseen world, and thus bring down upon all people the blessings of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Leviticus 26:11-12).
III. Within a religious nation god pledges himself to dwell. And where He makes His tabernacle (Leviticus 26:11) there--
1. Happiness will be realised, the joy of the Lord will be known, “His lovingkindness, which is more than life,” will be enjoyed.
2. Security will be assured. “None make you afraid” (Leviticus 26:6), for He will be as a “defence to His people.”
3. Sanctity will flourish. Intercourse with God (Leviticus 26:12) will elevate, refine, and grace a people’s character and life. (W. H. Jellie.)
Temporal blessings connected with obedience
These temporal blessings--peace’s victory over all their enemies, the fruitfulness of the land, the enjoyment of God’s tabernacle in the midst of it--all are promised to obedience. This is still true of nations. Nations that are highest in Christian character will always be highest in every other national blessing. Just cast your eyes over the map of Europe; and if you had a thermometer, and could gauge the amount of living Christianity in each nation, you will find that the nation in which Christianity is purest, rises highest, spreads the farthest, descends the deepest, is the very nation that is highest in all that dignifies, ennobles, and blesses a nation. And so, in our own native land, the victory of our armies in the righteous warfare to which it is committed, the maintenance of our land in peace and prosperity against all foe and all invasion, will rest, not only upon the banners of our brave troops, not only upon the gallantry of our heroic sailors, but far more upon the living religion that saturates the masses of our country. It is righteousness that exalteth a nation, and sin is the ruin of a nation. If you will read the history of nations, you will find this universally true; no nation ever falls before a foreign foe--it always commits suicide. Nations die suicides; they are self-slain. Rome fell only because of its inner corruption; the beautiful sisterhood of Greek states fell by their universal depravity; and our nation will never fall before a foreign foe as long as it is--what it is now in a greater degree than any other--a nation that fears God, and works righteousness, and counts the sunshine of His favour more precious than gold and silver, and whatsoever things may be weighed or bought. (J. Cumming, D. D.)
The advantages of faithfully serving God
A Fingo, traveling through Hankey, where the L.M.S. have a station, sat down to rest at the door of the place of worship; and looking round on the houses, behind which the gardens were concealed, asked one of the deacons how the people got food in such a place, for he had formerly known it as a desert. The deacon told him to look at him and see if he was not in health and well clothed. He then called a fine child, and told the man to look at it and see if it was not well fed. The deacon then told him if he would attend service the next day he would see that it was so with them all. The Fingo rose to depart, and lifting up his eyes and his right hand to heaven, exclaimed, “It is always so where that God is worshipped!” (Andrew Thomson, D. D.)
The unbroken continuity of God’s gifts
There is in Leviticus 26:10 a promise as to the fulness of the Divine gifts, which has a far wider reach and nobler application than to the harvests and granaries of old Palestine. We may take the words in that aspect, first, as containing God’s pledge that these outward gifts shall come in unbroken continuity. And have they not so come to us all, for all these long years? Has there ever been a gap left yawning? has there ever been a break in the chain of mercies and supplies? has it not rather been that “one post ran to meet another”? that before one of the messengers had unladed all his budget, another’s arrival has antiquated and put aside his store? “Things grown common lose their dear delight.” “If in His gifts and benefits He were more sparing and close-handed,” said Luther, “we should learn to be thankful.” But let us learn it by the continuity of our joys, that we may not need to be taught by their interruption; and let us still all tremulous anticipation of possible failure or certain loss by the happy confidence which we have a right to cherish, that His mercies will meet our needs, continuous as they are, and be threaded so close together on the poor thread of our lives that no gap will be discernible in the jewelled circle. May we not apply that same thought of the unbroken continuity of God’s gifts to the higher region of our spiritual experience? His supplies of wisdom, love, joy, peace, power to our souls, are always enough, and more than enough, for our wants. If ever men complain of languishing vitality in their religious emotions, or of a stinted supply of food for their truest self, it is their own fault, not His. He means that there should be no parentheses of famine in our Christian life. It is not His doing if times of torpor alternate with seasons of quick energy and joyful fulness of life. So far as He is concerned the fiery is uninterrupted, and if it come to us in jets and spurts like some intermittent well, it is because our own evil has put some obstacles to choke the channel and dam out His Spirit from our spirits. The source is full to overflowing, and there are no limits to the supply. The only limit is our capacity, which again is largely determined by our desire. So after all His gifts there is more yet unreceived to possess. After all His self-revelation there is more yet unspoken to declare. Great as is the goodness which He has wrought before the sons of men for them that trust in Him, there are far greater treasures of goodness laid up in the deep mines of God for them that fear Him. Bars of uncoined treasure and ingots of massy gold lie in His storehouses, to be put into circulation as soon as we need, and can use them. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Ye shall make you no idols.
I. What the proneness of human nature to idolatry suggests. It shows both the dignity and depravity of man; that--
1. He is endowed with religious instincts. Capable of worship, of exercising faith, hope, love, reverence, fear, &c.
2. He is conscious of amenability to some supreme power. Seeks to propitiate, secure favour, and aid.
3. He is apprehensive of a future state of existence. Ideas vague, indefinite, absurd, yet the outcome of inward presentiment, &c.
4. He is unable by light of nature to discover God. His knowledge is so faded, light so dim. How low the soul must have fallen to substitute “nothings” for the Eternal One! Heathenism has never of itself emerged into the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, as seen in the voice that has spoken from heaven, and has been recorded by holy men moved by the Holy Ghost.
II. What indulgence in idolatry entails.
1. Degradation. Worship of heathen deities demoralising. In their temples, at their services, the rites observed are grovelling, and, in some instances, demoniacal.
2. Superstition. Devotees are duped by priests, enslaved by torturing ritualism, subject and victims of absurd delusions.
3. Misery. Fear the ruling passion, not love. Nothing ennobling, inspiring, quickening, comforting. Idol worship mocks the longings of the human soul, cannot appease its hunger, satisfy its thirst.
III. How idolatry may be abolished. Darkness can only be dispersed by the letting in of light. The folly of idolatry must be shown, its helplessness, misery, sin by the spread of the written revelation of heaven, the preaching of the glorious gospel. (F. W. Brown.)
The common worship of the sanctuary
There are many who make light of the common worship of the sanctuary, and who are in the habit of depreciating the interest and value of its influences. They tell us that Nature’s temple is far grander than any human shrine; that the voices of the birds are a sweeter minstrelsy than that of a mediocre choir; that they find “sermons in stones” whose eloquence is mightier and more penetrating than that of a poor preacher with his string of stale platitudes; and that, therefore, a pleasant country walk is more profitable and sanctifying than an hour spent in the stuffy atmosphere of church or chapel. Nay, even their own fireside has more powerful charms, for have they not Bibles at home, and cannot they read for themselves? and can they not obtain far better sermons for a few pence per volume than they are likely to hear? No doubt there is much truth in such reasoning, but it ignores the social needs of human nature. Man is a social being; social worship is therefore a necessity of his nature. And its necessity has been universally felt. “Groves, mountains, grottoes, caves, streams, valleys, plains, lakes, as well as altars and temples, have been consecrated as the abodes of gods.” Everywhere men have sought out some shrine at which to offer common and united worship. And in Christian ages the house of prayer has ever been held in honour, and its services regarded as hallowed privileges by the best and wisest men. They meet a deep-seated need of human hearts. As Dr. Geikie has said, “There is a breadth of human experience, and of understanding of Divine things to be obtained in the great congregation, in the common confessions, the common prayers, the common praises, the common exhortation of the sanctuary, which would be sought in vain in solitudes.” As long as human nature is unchanged, the place of public worship cannot be superseded. (Howard James.)
Commonness of the idolatrous spirit
Yes, the orthodox Greek Churchman is grievously scandalised at the image-worship of the Romanist; it is flat idolatry, and he denounces it vehemently. But what are those pictures, many of them made to stand out with solid plates of gold and silver? Why, these are pictures of the Virgin or of her Son, as the case may be, and your anti-idolatrous Greek bows before these with voluntary humility. He hates image-worship, you see, but stands up for picture-worship. Behold how sinners disagree in name and unite in spirit! Put Greek and Roman in a sack together and let the greatest idolater out first: the wisest solution would be to keep them both in, for Solomon himself would be puzzled to decide between them. Are there no such inconsistencies among ourselves? Do we not condemn in one form what we allow in another? Do we not censure in our neighbours what we allow in ourselves? This query need not be answered in a hurry; the reply will be the more extensive for a little waiting. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Then I will give you rain.--
The philosophy of rain
To understand the philosophy of this beautiful and often sublime phenomenon, so often witnessed since the creation of the world, and essential to the very existence of plants and animals, a few facts derived from observation and a long train of experiments must be remembered.
1. Were the atmosphere everywhere at all times at a uniform temperature, we should never have rain, or hail, or snow; the water absorbed by it in evaporation from the sea and the earth’s surface would descend in an imperceptible vapour, or cease to be absorbed by the air when it was once fully saturated.
2. The absorbing power of the atmosphere, and consequently its capability to retain humidity, is proportionably greater in warm than in cold air.
3. The air near the surface of the earth is warmer than it is in the region of the clouds. The higher we ascend from the earth the colder do we find the atmosphere. Hence the perpetual snow on very high mountains in the hottest climate. Now, when from continued evaporation the air is highly saturated with vapour, though, if it be invisible and the sky cloudless, if its temperature be suddenly reduced by cold currents descending from above, or rushing from a higher to a lower latitude, its capacity to retain moisture is diminished, clouds are formed, and the result is rain. Air condenses as it cools, and like a sponge filled with water and compressed, pours out the water which its diminished capacity cannot hold. How singular, yet how simple, the philosophy of rain! Who but Omniscience could have devised such an admirable arrangement for watering the earth? (Dr. Ure.)
Rain from God
St. Ambrose, speaking of great drought in his time, when the people talked much of rain, he sometimes comforted himself with this hope, Neomenia dabit pluvias (“The new moon will bring us rain”); yet saith he, “Though all of us desired to see some showers, yet I wished such hopes might fail, and was glad that no rain fell, donec precibus ecclesia data esset, &c., until it came as a return upon the Church’s prayers, not upon the influence of the moon, but upon the provident mercy of the Creator.” Such was the religious care of that good saint then, and the like were to be wished for now, that men would be exhorted not to be so much taken as they are with the vanity of astrological predictions, to read the stars less and the Scriptures more, to eye God in His providence, not the moon so much in its influence, still looking up unto Him as the primus motor, and upon all other creatures whatsoever as subordinate. (J. Spencer.)
And five of you shall chase an hundred.
Panic among soldiers
During the Italian war a panic occurred in a whole reserve corps d’armee of the French forces, and the account is given us by the Hen. Mr. R-- , the editor of a prominent American journal, who was there, partook of the fright, and ran himself with the fugitives. Five Austrians, whose retreat was cut off, rode rapidly into the village where the reserve forces were stationed, with the design of giving themselves up. The frightened inhabitants cried out, “The Austrians are coming!” and ran for their lives. The soldiers followed suit--horse, foot, and dragoons, pell-mell, without waiting to take care of the wounded, ran fifteen miles without stopping. One wounded French general offered a large reward to be carried to a place of safety. Mr. R--confesses to have run ten miles on foot before he stopped. A panic among the loyal troops in the first battle of Bull’s Run in the American civil conflict, if not the cause of their defeat, greatly aggravated the disasters of the battle. (Lowrie.)
But if ye will not hearken.
National transgression and disaster
I. A nation’s progressive apostasy.
1. Passive indifference to Divine teachings and appeals: “Not hearken.”
2. Non-compliance with Divine calls and claims: “Not do.”
3. Contemptuous rejection of God’s statutes: “Despise” (Malachi 3:14-15).
4. Spiritual revolt from all sacred demands: “Your soul abhor My judgments” (John 3:20; Job 24:13). A fearful departure from God.
5. Violation of all covenant relationship: “Ye break My covenant.”
II. An apostate nation’s, calamities.
1. Sin brings disease and physical suffering in its train (Leviticus 26:16): “Terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart.” Impiety inevitably drifts into impurity.
2. Failure and penury follow quickly upon habits of indulgence and impurity: “Sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it” (Leviticus 26:16). Nothing succeeds in the hands of a dissipated and dissolute man, and he becomes a prey to his hated scorners and rivals.
3. A godless life invites the ravages of the enemy (Leviticus 26:17). God withdrew His protection, and adversaries swept down upon Israel. They who repudiate Divine government are “taken captive by the devil at his will,” and serve their enemies. Sin is very cruel. It “slays” its victims; slaughters their virtue, peace, happiness, hopes; destroys precious souls.
4. Sin also fills the life of wrongdoers with terrors; they “flee when none pursueth.” Even in nations there is “strong confidence” and “a sound mind” only when conscious of rectitude and the enjoyment of God’s approval. It paralyses a people’s heart to feel that Heaven is alienated and Divine favour lost. Armies, too, have gone with assurance into battles when convinced that God is with them--as Cromwell’s “Ironsides”--while enemies have fled with panic, as did the Spanish Armada, when possessed with alarm that God was against them.
5. There are the yet darker calamities of abject overthrow and Divine desertion: “I will break the pride of your power, and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass” (Leviticus 26:19)--a picture of prostration and helplessness which finds verification in
(1) Babylon’s fall--now lying buried amid bleaching sands, emblem of rebuked pride;
(2) the desolation of Jerusalem--now a waste scene, and her children the “tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast”;
(3) the buried cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum--interred beneath volcanic ashes, a monument of sudden wrath on a voluptuous people. Such historic admonitions warn against national impiety, and call mankind to seriousness and prayer; for even in the solemn threatenings of God there lies an overt assurance of mercy, that “if a nation or individual will cease from apostasy and hearken unto Him” (Leviticus 26:18), He will turn aside the “seven times more” punishment for sins, and show the forgiveness in which He delights, and the salvation which the glorious gospel of His grace proclaims. (W. H. Jellie.)
God’s warning against rebellion
I. How their sin is described, which would bring all this misery upon them. Not sins of ignorance and infirmity--God had provided sacrifices for these; not the sins they repented of and forsook, but sins presumptuously committed and obstinately persisted in.
1. A contempt of God’s commandments.
(1) Despising His statutes; both the duties enjoined, and the authority enjoining them. Those are hastening apace to their own ruin who begin to think it below them to be religious.
(2) Abhorring His judgments. They that begin by despising religion will soon come to loathe it; mean thoughts of it will ripen into ill thoughts of it. They that turn from it will turn against it, and their hearts rise at it.
(3) Breaking His covenant. They that reject the precept will come at last to renounce the covenant. Observe, it is God’s covenant they break--He made it, but they break it. Note--If a covenant be made and kept between God and man, God must have all the honour; but if ever it be broken, man must bear all the blame; on him shall this breach be.
2. A contempt of God’s corrections. Their contempt of God’s Word would not have brought them to ruin if they had not added to that a contempt of His rod, which should have brought them to repentance. Three ways this is expressed.
(1) “If you will not for all this hearken to Me” (Leviticus 26:18; Leviticus 26:21; Leviticus 26:27). If ye will not learn obedience by the things which you suffer, but be as deaf to the loud alarms of God’s judgments as you have been to the close reasonings of His Word, and the secret whispers of your own consciences, you are obstinate indeed.
(2) “If ye will walk contrary to Me” (Leviticus 26:21; Leviticus 26:23; Leviticus 26:27). All sinners walk contrary to God, to His truths, laws, and counsels, but those especially that are incorrigible under His judgments. The design of the rod is to humble them, and soften them, and bring them to repentance; but instead of this, their hearts are more hardened and exasperated against God, and in their distress they trespass yet more against Him (2 Chronicles 28:22). This is walking contrary to God.
(3) “If ye will not be reformed by these things.” God’s design in punishing is to reform, by giving men sensible convictions of the evil of sin, and obliging them to seek unto Him for relief. This is the primary intention, but those that will not be reformed by the judgments of God must expect to be ruined by them.
II. How the misery is described which their sin would bring upon them.
1. God Himself would be against them; and this is the root and cause of all their misery.
(1) “I will set My face against you” (Leviticus 26:17); i.e., “I will set Myself against you, set Myself to ruin you.” These proud sinners God will resist, and face those down that confront His authority; or the face is put for the anger--“I will show Myself highly displeased at you.”
(2) “I will walk contrary to you” (Leviticus 26:24; Leviticus 26:28). “With the froward He will wrestle” (Psalms 18:26). When God in His providence thwarts the designs of a people, which they thought well laid, crosseth their purposes, breaks their measures, blasts their endeavours, and disappoints their expectations-then He walks contrary to them. Note--There is nothing got by striving with God Almighty; for He will either break the heart or break the neck of those that contend with Him, will bring them either to repentance or ruin. “I will walk at all adventures with you”; so some read it, “All covenant lovingkindness shall be forgotten, and I will leave you to common providence.” Note, those that cast God off, it is just with Him to cast them off.
(3) As they continued obstinate, the: judgments should increase yet more upon them. If the first sensible tokens of God’s displeasure do not attain their end to humble and reform them, then (Leviticus 26:18), “I will punish you seven times more”; and again (Leviticus 26:21), “I will bring seven times more plagues”; and (Leviticus 26:24), “I will punish you yet seven times”; and (Leviticus 26:28), “I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.” Note--If lesser judgments do not do their work, God will send greater; for when He judgeth He will overcome. If true repentance do not stay process, it will go on till execution be taken out. Those that are obstinate and incorrigible, when they have weathered one storm, must expect another more violent; and how severely soever they are punished till they are in hell, still they must say there is worse behind, unless they repent. If the founder have hitherto melted in vain (Jeremiah 6:29), the furnace will be heated “seven times hotter” (a proverbial expression used Daniel 3:19), and again and again “seven times hotter.” And who among us can dwell with such devouring fire? God doth not begin with the sorest judgments, to show that He is patient, and delights not in the death of sinners; but if they repent not, He will proceed to the sorest, to show that He is righteous, and that He will not be mocked or set at defiance.
(4) Their misery is completed in that threatening (Leviticus 26:30), “My soul shall abhor you.” That man is as miserable as he can be whom God abhors, for His resentments are just and effective. Thus, “if any man draw back,” as these here are supposed to do, “God’s soul shall have no pleasure in them” (Hebrews 10:38); and He will spue them out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16). It is spoken of as strange, and yet too true, “Hath thy soul loathed Sion?” (Jeremiah 14:19.)
2. The whole creation would be at war with them; all God’s sore judgments would be sent against them, for He hath many arrows in His quiver. The threatenings here are very particular, because really they were prophecies; and He that foresaw all their rebellions knew they would prove so (see Deuteronomy 31:16; Deuteronomy 31:29). This long roll of threatenings shows that evil pursues sinners. Here is
(1) temporal judgments threatened.
(a) Diseases of body, which should be epidemical (Leviticus 26:16). All diseases are God’s servants, and do what He appoints them, and are often used as scourges wherewith He chastiseth a provoking people. The pestilence is threatened (Leviticus 26:25) to meet them when they are gathered together in their cities for fear of the sword. And the greater the concourse of people is, the greater desolation doth the pestilence make; and when it gets among the soldiers that should defend a place, it is of most fatal consequences.
(b) Famine and scarcity of bread, which should be brought upon them several ways, as:
(i.) By plunder (Leviticus 26:16): “Your enemies shall eat it up, and carry it off, as the Madianites did” (Judges 6:5-6).
(ii.) By unseasonable weather, especially the want of rain (Leviticus 26:19); “I will make your heaven as iron,” letting fall no rain, but reflecting heat; and then the earth would of course be as hard and dry as brass, and their labour in ploughing and sowing would be in vain (Leviticus 26:26); for the increase of the earth depends upon God’s good providence more than upon man’s good husbandry.
(iii.) By the besieging of their cities; for sure that must be supposed to reduce them to such extremity, as that they should “eat the flesh of their sons and daughters” (Leviticus 26:29).
(c) War, and the prevalency of their enemies over them: “Ye shall be slain before your enemies” (Leviticus 26:17).
(d) Wild beasts--lions, and bears, and wolves--which should increase upon them, and tear in pieces all that came in their way (Leviticus 26:22), as we read of two bears that in an instant killed forty and two children (2 Kings 2:24). This one of the four sore judgments threatened (Ezekiel 14:21), which plainly refers to this chapter. Man was made to have dominion over the creatures, and though many of them are stronger than he, yet none of them could have hurt him, nay, all of them should have served him, if he had not first shaken off God’s dominion, and so lost his own; and now the creatures are in rebellion against him that is in rebellion against his Maker, and when the Lord of those hosts pleaseth, are the executioners of His wrath and ministers of His justice.
(e) Captivity, or dispersion: “I will scatter you among the heathen” (Leviticus 26:33) “in your enemies’ land” (Leviticus 26:34). Never were more people so incorporated and united among themselves as they were; but for their sin God would scatter them, so that they should be lost among the heathen, from whom God had so graciously distinguished them, but with whom they had wickedly mingled themselves. Yet when they were scattered Divine justice had not done with them, but would draw out a sword after them, which should find them out, and follow them, wherever they were. God’s judgments, as they cannot be outfaced, so they cannot be outrun.
(f) The utter ruin and desolation of their land, which should be so remarkable that their very enemies themselves, who had helped it forward, should in the review be astonished at it (Leviticus 26:32).
(i.) Their cities should be waste, forsaken, uninhabited, and all the buildings destroyed; those that escaped the desolations of war should fall to decay of themselves.
(ii.) Their sanctuaries should be a desolation, i.e., their synagogues, where they met for religious worship every Sabbath, as well as their Tabernacle, where they met thrice year.
(iii.) The country itself should be desolate, not tilled or husbanded (Leviticus 26:34-35); then the land should enjoy its sabbaths, because they bad not religiously observed the sabbatical years which God appointed them. They tilled their ground when God would have them let it rest, justly therefore were they driven out of it; and the expression intimates that the ground itself was pleased and easy when it was rid of the burthen of such sinners, under which it had groaned (Romans 8:20. &c.). The captivity in Babylon lasted seventy years, and so long the land enjoyed her sabbaths, as is said (2 Chronicles 36:21) with reference to this here.
(g) The destruction of their idols, though rather a mercy than a judgment, yet being a necessary piece of justice, is here mentioned, to show what would be the sin that would bring all these miseries upon them (Leviticus 26:30).
(2) Spiritual judgments are here threatened which should seize the mind, for He that made that can, when He pleaseth, make His sword approach unto it. It is here threatened--
(a) that they should find no acceptance with God (Leviticus 26:31).
(b) That they should have no courage in their wars, but should be quite dispirited and disheartened (Leviticus 26:17; Leviticus 26:36). Those that cast off the fear of God expose themselves to the fear of everything else (Proverbs 28:1).
(c) That they should have no hope of the forgiveness of their sins (Leviticus 26:39; Ezekiel 33:10). Note--It is a righteous thing with God, to leave those to despair of pardon that have presumed to sin; and it is owing to free grace, if we are not abandoned to pine away in the iniquity we are born in and have lived in. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
Imprecations among the ancients
Imprecations like those set forth in our section were not unusual among the ancients; one brief parallel may here be inserted. When the people of Cirrba and others had polluted the temple of Delhi and profaned its holy treasures, the Amphictyons, after having devastated their territories, and sold the inhabitants as slaves, protested and swore that no one should ever cultivate the devoted land, and they publicly pronounced this curse: “If any persons transgress this edict, whether private individuals, or a tribe, or a people, their land shall, bear no fruit, and the women shall bring forth no children who resemble their fathers, but shall give birth to monsters; nor shall the beasts produce young of a normal shape; misfortune shall befall them in their wars, their tribunals, and their public assemblies; they themselves, with their houses and their whole race, shall be destroyed; and they shall never again present to the gods an acceptable offering.” (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)
God’s warning a blessing
In the summer of 1884, when the cholera was raging in Spain, our newspapers constantly warned the people that dirt bred disease, and opened up a highway for the cholera to spread rapidly, if once it reached our shores. This theme was not dwelt on for the sake of frightening people, for the sake of the alarm, but to frighten them into doing a good thing which otherwise they would have left undone. The result, at least in New York City, was most beneficial. Alarm bred action and action cleansed the city as it never had been cleansed before. And not only did we have no cholera, but in the fall of 1885 the death-rate of the city had been unusually low. In this case forewarned was forearmed, and the warning was a blessing, and not a curse. The same is true of the patient and his wise physician. The latter sees, perhaps, that the manner of his patient’s living is injurious. It will end fatally, so he warns him. He does not do it merely to frighten him, but to frighten him away from the folly of his present manner of life. (A. F. Schauffler.)
God’s presence a source of blessing to a nation
When the king removes, the court and all the carriages follow after, and when they are gone the hangings are taken down; nothing is left behind but bare walls, dust, and rubbish. So if God removes from a man or a nation where He kept His court, His graces will not stay behind; and if they be gone, farewell peace, farewell comfort; down go the hangings of all prosperity, nothing is left behind but confusion and disorder. (J. Spencer.)
The sun hath but one simple act of shining; yet do we not see that it doth unite clay and straw, dissolve ice and water? It hardens clay, and melteth wax; it makes the flowers to smell sweetly, and a dead corpse to scent loathsomely; the hot fire to be cold, and the cold water hotter; cures one man with its heat, yet therewith kills another. What is the reason? The cause is in the several objects, and their divers dispositions and constitutions, and not in the sun’s act of shining, which is one and the same thing. Or let a looking-glass be set in the window. Will it not represent to the eye diversity of objects? If thou go to it in decent and seemly apparel, shalt thou not see the like figure? If dejected, and in coarse raiment, will it not offer to thy view the same equal proportion? Do but stretch thyself, bend thy brow, and run against it, will it not resemble the like person and actions? Where now is the change--shall we conclude in the glass? No; for it is neither altered from the place nor in the nature. Thus the change of love and affection is not in God, but in respect of the object about which it is exercised. If one day God seem to love us, another to hate us, there is alteration within us first, not any in the Lord. We shall be sure to find a change, but it must be when we do change our ways; but God never changeth. Such as we are to ourselves, such will He be to us; if we run stubbornly against Him, He will walk stubbornly against us; with the froward He will be froward, but with the meek He will show Himself meek; yet one and the same God still, in whom there is not the least shadow of change imaginable. (J. Spencer.)
God proceeds from milder to sharper courses
The physician, when he findeth that the potion which he hath given his patient will not work, he seconds it with one more violent; but if he perceive the disease to be settled, then he puts him into a course of physic, so that, medice misere, he shall have at present but small comfort of his life. And thus doth the surgeon too: if a gentle plaster will not serve, then he applies that which is more corroding; and to prevent a gangrene, he makes use of his cauterising knife, and takes off the joint or member that is so ill affected. Even so God, when men profit not by such crosses as He hath formerly exercised them with, when they are not bettered by lighter afflictions, then He sends heavier, and proceeds from milder to sharper courses. If the dross of their sin will not come off, He will throw them into the melting-pot again and again, crush them harder in the press, and lay on such irons as shall enter more deep into their souls. If He strikes and they grieve not or they be so foolish that they will not know the judgment of their God, He will bring seven times more plagues upon them, cross upon cross, loss upon loss, trouble upon trouble, one sorrow upon the neck of another, till they are in a manner wasted and consumed. (J. Spencer.)
Then I will walk contrary unto you.
God’s determination to punish sinners
I. As affecting supposition stated. “If ye will not,” &c. The Lord here supposes that His people may commit three grievous sins:
1. The sin of disobedience. “If ye will not hearken unto Me.” Hence observe--
(1) That the Lord in His Word speaks to us (Hebrews 8:12).
(2) That whatever the Lord says in His Word it is our bounden duty to hear (Hebrews 3:7; 1 Thessalonians 5:20; James 1:19).
(3) That we are too apt to turn a deaf ear to Him (Exodus 5:2; Psalms 12:4).
2. The sin of incorrigibleness. “If for all this ye will not hearken.” Note here--
(1) That afflictions sometimes have the nature of punishments (Jeremiah 13:21).
(2) That punishment is the natural and necessary consequence of transgression.
(3) That in the punishment which God inflicts He seeks our reformation (2 Chronicles 18:22).
(4) That our depravity in too many cases frustrates His designs (Zephaniah 3:2).
3. The sin of perverseness. “If ye walk contrary to Me.” Observe again--
(1) That the Lord’s pleasure is, we should walk with Him (Micah 6:8).
(2) That we walk with the Lord when we walk in His way (2 Kings 20:3; Ecclesiastes 12:13).
(3) That walking otherwise than He has commanded is to show a perverse and untoward heart.
II. An awful consequence declared. “I will walk contrary also to you in fury.” Thus we see that--
1. Conformable to our character will be our end. If God should deal thus with us
(1) We shall lose the blessing which He imparts to> His obedient followers (Leviticus 26:4-12).
(2) Our expectations will issue in disappointment and vexation (Hosea 8:7); and
(3) Like chaff before the wind we shall speedily be carried to destruction (Psalms 1:4-5).
2. Enforcement of these considerations: we see--
(1) That a religion consisting of mere notions will never saw a man.
(2) That men are not at liberty, as some suppose, to live as they please.
(3) That God takes notice of the ways of all.
(4) That if He displays His anger we should be anxious to find out the cause; and
(5) That if any one perish he will have no one to blame for it but himself (Isaiah 3:11). (Wm. Sleigh.)
Desolation threatened to Israel
I. How horrifying the miseries which may befall a privileged people. The miseries of penury and siege (Leviticus 26:29); of captivity and slaughter (Leviticus 26:33); of anguish and derision (Leviticus 26:36); of pitiless misery and disaster (Leviticus 26:39).
1. None are so secure in grace and privilege that they can disregard the possibility of a fall.
2. None are so rich in sacred favours as to be beyond danger of their total loss.
3. None are so honoured by God’s selecting and distinguishing grace but they may lapse into alienation and desolation.
II. How amazing the disasters which may devastate a beautiful country. Canaan was a wealthy land, a scene of loveliness, abundance, and delight. Yet on it came the disasters of depopulation (Leviticus 26:31), sterility (Leviticus 26:32), desertion (Leviticus 26:35)--even enemies abandoning it.
1. National plenty and prosperity are conditional upon national righteousness and piety.
2. National greatness and glory have been withered by the anger of an insulted God.
3. National strength and safety are only guaranteed as religion is fostered by the laws of a country, and in the habits and lives of its people.
III. How piteous the profanation which may despoil a nation’s sanctities! Canaan was the scene of Jehovah’s sanctuary: the Temple rose on Zion; and the land sent up her tribes to the celebration of sacred feasts and to the holy worship of God. Yet all her “sanctuaries” were brought “unto desolation” (Leviticus 26:31), all the fragrance of her sacrifices became loathsome to Jehovah (Leviticus 26:31), and her desecrated Sabbaths were avenged in the bleak silence and loneliness which fell on hallowed scenes (Leviticus 26:34).
1. Religious favours, if abused, may be utterly withdrawn from us.
2. God loathes the offerings once delightful to Him, when the offerer’s love is estranged.
3. Holy scenes and holy days become a barren mockery if a trifling spirit alienate the sacred Presence: “Ichabod!” (W. H. Jellie.)
Verse 40-45. If they shall confess their iniquity.
God’s promises to penitents
I. What is that repentance which God requires?
1. That we acknowledge our guilt. Our fathers’ sins as well as our own are first grounds of national humiliation. Our own sins are the chief burden of personal contrition. But sin should be viewed in its true light, as “walking contrary to God” (Psalms 51:4).
2. That we justify God in His judgments. If we have dared to walk contrary to Him, is not He justified in “walking contrary to us”? Whatever inflictions He imposes we have reason to own it as less than our deserts (Ezra 9:13), and that His judgments are just (Revelation 16:7).
3. That we be thankful for His dealings by which He has “humbled our uncircumcised hearts.” Only real contrition can produce this. It realises mercy in judgment, and love in affliction.
II. The connection between our repentance and God’s mercy. Repentance is void of merit. Even obedience is destitute of merit; “when we have done all we could we are unprofitable servants.” The acknowledgment of a debt is a very different thing from a discharge of that debt. A condemned criminal may be sorry for his offences, but that sorrow does not obliterate his crime, still less entitle him to rewards. Yet there is connection between repentance and pardon, and meekness in the exercise of mercy towards the penitent--
1. On God’s part. For repentance glorifies God (Joshua 7:19).
2. On the part of the penitents. It incites to loathing of the sin, and to adoration of Divine grace. So God insists on the condition, “If they be humbled, then will I pardon.” For then God can do it consistently with His honour, and they will make a suitable improvement of the mercy vouchsafed them.
III. The ground and measure of that mercy which penitents may expect. God’s covenant with their ancestors was the basis and warrant of His mercy to Israel (Leviticus 26:42; Leviticus 26:44-45). His covenant with us in Christ is our hope and guarantee.
1. Be thankful that you are yet within reach of mercy.
2. Have especial respect unto the covenant of grace. It is to that God looks, and to that should we look also. It is the only basis on which mercy and redemption are possible. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The bow in the cloud
I. That the way was left open for the rebellious to return.
1. It was the way of reflection.
2. It was the way of confession.
3. It was the way of humiliation.
They were not to return proudly, feeling they had not been rewarded according to their iniquities. The way is still open for the vilest to return; for, the New Testament teaches that these are the steps in the ladder of life, out of sin to holiness, from earth to heaven, from self to God, viz.: Repentance, conversion, consecration.
II. That if the rebellious returned to the lord in his own appointed way he would graciously receive them.
1. He would do so for the sake of their fathers. He would remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
2. He would do so for the sake of His name. “For I am the Lord.” He had purposed, as well as promised, to deal mercifully with them.
3. He would do so for the sake of the land. He had selected Canaan as the arena where He would specially display His glory to men, and He would not allow it to lie waste for ever.
4. He would do it for the sake of His covenant. “I will remember My covenant.” The Lord does not make a covenant and then tear it rashly to pieces; if broken by man He will speedily renew, nor allow the irregularities and irreligion of men to thwart His beneficent arrangements. Here, indeed, was a resplendent bow of many colours, beaming with the beautiful light of the mild and merciful countenance of the Most High. What encouragement for sinful men to return to the Lord, “for He will have mercy upon them, and abundantly pardon.” The Levitical law closes with offers of mercy, the last words of the law are words of entreaty and promise. (W. H. Jellie.)
Gains of a good ancestry
“I will for their sake remember the covenant of their ancestors.”
I. The vows and prayers of a goodly parentage exercise influence upon the divine plans. That “covenant “is thrice referred to as determining God’s arrangements (Leviticus 26:42; Leviticus 26:44-45). Note Job’s prayers for his children (Job 1:5; cf. with verse 10), “Made a hedge about Job and about his house.”
II. Over long intervals the influence of parental covenants extend. This “covenant” with Abraham was made 1900 years B.C. (Genesis 15:13-14). It is now 1900 years A.D., yet the word stands, “They are beloved for the fathers sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance (Romans 11:28-29). God is at work, though He seems to wait. “In due season ye shall reap if ye faint not.” Praying soul, anxious heart, clinging to the promises--“Hope, and be undismayed; God hears thy cries, and counts thy tears, God shall lift up thy head.”
III. How grand the link between a parent’s piety and the children’s destiny!
1. Live and pray for your descendants.
2. Value the sacred benefits even though as yet unrealised, of a godly ancestry.
3. Rest in the unfailing pledge of God to reward piety and prayer. (W. H. Jellie.)
The advantage of submission
It is recorded of Edward I., that, being angry with a servant of his in the sport of hawking, he threatened him sharply. The gentleman answered, It was well there was a river between them. Hereat the king, more incensed, spurred his horse into the depth of the river, not without extreme danger of his life, the water being deep and the banks too steep and high for his ascending, Yet, at last recovering land, with his sword drawn, he pursued the servant, who rode as fast from him. But finding himself too ill-horsed to outride the angry king, he reined, lighted, and, on his knees, exposed his neck to the blow of the king’s sword. The king no sooner saw this but he put up his sword and would not touch him. A dangerous water could not withhold him from violence; yet his servant’s submission did soon pacify him. While man flies stubbornly from God, He that rides upon the wings of the wind posts after him with sword of vengeance drawn. But when in dust and ashes he humbles himself, and stands to His mercy, the wrath of God is soon appeased..
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Leviticus 26". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Easter