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Make known His deeds among the people.
God in Jewish history, an object of worship
I. Gratitude for His mercy is demanded.
1. The greatness of His favours.
2. The disinterestedness of His motives.
II. The celebration of His works is demanded (verse 2).
III. Delight in Him is demanded (verse 3). If a noble son rejoices in his father because of the nobility of his character, the greatness of his influence, the superiority of his attainments, natural and acquired, the greatness of his resources, how much more should a true man delight in the Infinite Father, the Fountain of all goodness.
IV. Pursuit of Him is demanded (verse 4).
1. For this we were made.
2. This alone is our happiness.
V. The remembrance of Him is demanded (verse 5). There are here two subjects for memory.
1. God’s wonderful works for man.
2. God’s wonderful utterances to man.
God has spoken to humanity many things, many times, in many lands--wonderful thought! These words should be remembered by all men. (Homilist.)
He brought them forth also with silver and gold.
A stanza of deliverance
Egypt may very fairly represent those states of sorrow and sadness, depression and oppression, into which God’s people come far too frequently. Specially is the house of bondage a true picture of our condition when we are convinced of sin, but are ignorant of the way to escape from its guilt and power. Then sin, which was once our Goshen of pleasure, becomes the iron furnace of fear. Glory be to God, He has now brought us out from that state of slavery, and we can sing of freedom given by His own right hand!
I. Our deliverance is by Divine power. When Israel came out of Egypt, it was Jehovah who brought with her armies. When any man is saved from spiritual bondage, it is the Lord Jesus who looseth the captive. But this does not exclude the use of means, or the action of the will. The Lord brought Israel forth; but they had cried unto the Lord by reason of their sore bondage, and they did not receive the blessing without desiring it, yea, and sighing for it; and when it came, they joyfully accepted it, and willingly trusted themselves with him whom the Lord had made to be their mediator and leader, even Moses. They did not share the honour of their deliverance with God, but still they gave their hearty assent and consent to His salvation. Willing as they were to move, it was still true, “He brought them forth.” We can never escape from the bondage of sin by our own power. If we are ever set free from sin and Satan, it will be eternally and infinitely true that the Lord brought us forth out of the house of bondage. “Salvation is of the Lord.” There is no true liberty but that wherewith Christ makes you free. “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” Do you know what it is to be brought out of prison by a miracle of grace, by a revelation of the Holy Ghost, by the blood of Jesus shed for many? If so, you will join with all the saints in singing, “As for His people, He brought them forth.”
I. Our deliverance was attended with enrichment: “He brought them forth also with silver and gold.” The natives as good as said, “Take whatever you please of us, for we have all treated you ill. Only leave us alone; for plagues and deaths fall upon us thick and fast so long as Pharaoh detains you here.” However, this is not my point. I am dealing with more spiritual things. When God brings His people out of bondage, they come out enriched in the best and most emphatic sense. Trials and afflictions, which threaten to kill us, are made to sanctify us; and sanctification is the best form of enrichment. How much we owe to sorrow and sickness, crosses and losses! Our bondage ends in our coming forth with much that is better than silver and gold.
1. Thus do we come forth from conviction of sin. “Now tell me,” says one, “what does a man gain by being in a desponding, sorrowful condition, convinced of sin, and full of fears?” By the work of the Holy Spirit he will gain much. He will obtain a clearer knowledge of the evil of sin. An awful sense of guilt, an overwhelming conviction of sin, may be the foundation stone of a gloriously holy character. The tried and tempted man will also see clearly that salvation is all of grace. He can do nothing, and he knows it. When a child of God can spell grace, and can pronounce it clearly, as with the true Jerusalem accent, he has gained a great deal of spiritual silver and gold. Such persons gain by their soul trouble a fund of healthy experience. They have been in the prison, and have had their feet made fast in the stocks. “Well,” says one, “I do not want to feel that sort of treatment.” No, but suppose you had felt it, the next time you met with a brother who, was locked up in the castle of Giant Despair, you would know how to sympathize with him and help him. Where this is the result of severe trial, we may well say that the Lord has brought them forth with silver and gold.
2. Thus do saints come out of persecution. The Church is refined by the fires of martyrdom. Individual piety is also deeper, stronger, nobler in persecuting times than at other seasons.
3. Thus do believers come out of daily afflictions. They become wealthier in grace, and richer in experience. A man of God, whose life has been full of mental exercises and spiritual conflict, as well as outward tribulation, becomes, through Divine grace, a man of large wealth of knowledge, prudence, faith, foresight, and wisdom, and he is to the inexperienced like some great proprietor, by whom multitudes of the poorer class are fed and guided, housed and set to work. Those who have been much tried are in the peerage of the Church.
4. When you and I reach the shores of heaven, thus shall we come into glory. When we come forth out of our graves, it will not be with loss, but with enrichment. We shall leave corruption and the worm behind us, and with them all that earthly grossness which made us groan in these mortal bodies. God will bring us forth also with silver and gold. What golden songs will we sing! What silver notes of gratitude will we pour forth!
III. Our deliverance is accompanied with health and strength: “There was not one feeble person among their tribes.”
1. This fact is typical of the health and strength of the newly saved. The Lord’s people, at conversion, are as a rule wonderfully strong in their love to Jesus, and their hatred of sin. In most cases our young converts, when they have truly come to Christ, even if they are a little timid, are vigorous, much in prayer, abounding in zeal, and earnest in speaking out the Gospel. Many of them, I believe, would die at the stake readily enough, while they are in their first love. In their earliest days nothing is too hot or too heavy for them, for the sake of Christ.
2. Full often it is so with the persecuted. A man who has fulfilled an apprenticeship to this hard master, is likely to be a man indeed. If he has endured hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ, he will be fit to become an officer in the army, and an instructor of recruits.
3. It would be a glorious day if it were so with all God’s people, that there were none feeble. We should, as a Church, labour to reach this high standard. We would have the weakest to be as David, and David as the angel of the Lord. We would have our babes become young men, and our young men fathers in Christ. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Seek the Lord and His strength: seek His face evermore.
Public recognition of God
I. After glorious success abroad, and in the most desirable affluence and security at home, it is the duty both of prince and people to have then a particular regard to the public worship of God established amongst them, and to attend it with a religious and devout disposition of soul. This the Holy Spirit demands from us by the pen of David, requiring us to exhort and encourage one another in our public assemblies for the worship of God; to “Seek the Lord and His strength.”
II. A solemn commemoration of God’s particular mercies to a nation He has chosen so to bless by distinguishing favours is a proper subject for such religious and acceptable service: “Remember His marvellous works,” etc.
III. In all such public acts of worship, we are each of us to consider ourselves in our public capacity and national relation, as being closely united to our sovereign, to our superiors, equals, and inferiors, who are our contemporaries, yes, and with our ancestors and posterity too, so as to sustain but one single person in all God’s providential dealings with us. We are not in these holy and solemn gratulations to contract our minds, nor confine our prospect to the present personal satisfactions and benefits we reap from such exercises of our faith, and gratitude, and adoration; but we are to enlarge our thoughts, and extend our view backward and forward, whilst we celebrate the praises of God, the common Lord, Deliverer, Benefactor, and Father of us all. Thus the psalmist carries the thoughts of the then worshippers of God, in his new tabernacle, to a contemplation of His lovingkindness which had been ever of old, even as far backward as to the ages of Abraham and Jacob. Do this, “O ye seed of Abraham His servant,” etc. (W. Needham, B. D.)
The face of God
This hymn is the first recorded strain of the psalmody of public worship. On the day when the ark was brought to its tent in the city of David, “David delivered first this psalm to thank the Lord.” It was sung in the presence of this sacred object, which was the ancient symbol of the presence of God. To those who heard it that day our text explained what the ark meant. “Seek the manifestation of your God, who shines upon you from over its mercy-seat. Magnify and seek His awful power, of which you are reminded by this ark of His strength. And constantly meet Him around this central depository of the covenant between your God and His congregation.” The ancient symbol is gone, being done away in Christ. Those days have come concerning which Jeremiah predicted, “They shall say no more, the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” We must remember every one of these memorials; for, though they are gone, they eternally teach their lessons. The Epistle to the Hebrews shows us this. It takes us into the old temple to teach us the mysteries of the new.
I. The God whom we worship bids us seek His face. The word is one which runs through the entire Scripture as a most attractive figure. But it is more than a figure, and suggests to our thought a most blessed reality. First, we cannot help perceiving that by such a phrase as this we are taught to approach a personal Being, supreme over all His creatures, and eternally separated from them by His essence, yet having something in Himself that is common to them and to Him. He is an individual Spirit to whom our spirits may draw near. He asks us as persons to come to Him a Person. His ways indeed are not as our ways; His thoughts are not as our thoughts: but only because they are higher and nobler than ours. There is a sense in which the same things are true in us and in Him. The Bible does not use the abstract term personality or person with reference to the Deity; but it everywhere means this. God can say Thou to me, and I can say Thou to Him. No language could more touchingly declare this than “Seek His face,” which is literally, “Visit ye your God! The face is the expression of our individual self. Now, there are two great errors under which the world has groaned in all ages, which are swept away by this simple testimony. A certain philosophy has always found it impossible to understand how the Infinite Essence can be distinct from the creature. Almost from the dawn of religious thought a system has been constructed, called Pantheism, which makes everything God and God everything: without a personal Face towards the creature; for He and the creature, or what we call the creature, are one. He is not a Person Himself, though He gives birth to millions of personalities, which appear for a little while, and then vanish back into His bosom, the infinite abyss of being. How glorious is the religion of the Bible in contrast! In Him we live, and move, and have our being; “but only as “His offspring,” who are children invited to seek their Father, and live in Him. An opposite error, or the same error under another form, has multiplied the universal Creator and Upholder of the universe into ten thousand manifestations: “gods many and lords many.” This has always been a kind of compromise between Pantheism and the doctrine of a Supreme First Cause. It gropes after one great being behind all the rest, but makes almost every force in nature a lesser god bringing that great abstraction near. The Christian worship is an eternal protest against these most destructive errors. We have inherited from Moses and the prophets the doctrine that there is one God. This is the foundation of all the devotions of this house. We visit every time we come up to it a Personal God, one Supreme Being, who summons us to His presence. He is afar off: filling and transcending all space, so that the heaven beyond the visible heavens cannot contain Him. But He is also nigh at hand: He is in all the infinity of His being present in every place, and in all His Godhead present here. Yet, though we approach one God, whose name is One, there is a Trinity of sacred Persons in that unity. And the term we consider veiled a mystery which is now fully manifested. The face of God is the Incarnate Redeemer, and its manifestation is by the Holy Ghost. This was veiled and typified by the ark of the covenant, a covenant not for Israel only, but for all flesh. The term itself implies a mediator. Now Moses was not that mediator, nor was Aaron. It was the Son of God made man in the fulness of time. It pleased God to set forth that truth under types and shadows while the ancient temple remained. Approaching from without none could behold the place of the ark without sweeping the altar of sacrifice. Their inseparable union signified that God dwelt among His people only because the great sacrifice had opened the way to Him: had enabled Him to return to man and man to return to Him. The ancient secret is fully revealed now. Our Lord Himself expressly tells us, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” The Person of Jesus through whom we approach is the very face of God to whom we approach. “God,” says St. Paul, “who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The whole system of mediation is now fully disclosed. But it was in virtue from the beginning. The face of God made man was marred for the suffering of death for us. It then became resplendent in glory, and is now the very outbeaming of the reconciled Godhead. But that sacred face is withdrawn: we could not now behold it and live. A glimpse of it has a few times been seen as it were to assure us of its glorification. We worship God in the Spirit while we rejoice and are glad in the face of Jesus. We approach not Christ in the flesh: His Person is glorified, and we must seek it and find it by the Holy Ghost. This revelation is to all and to each. We come up together to see the face of our God, but every one of us must enjoy the privilege in order to this common enjoyment. Then seek now your privilege; lift up your heart for your own blessing. “Cause Thy face to shine upon us and we shall be saved.” We proclaim in the name of God, “He pardometh and absolveth all them that truly-repent and unfeignedly believe His holy Gospel.”
II. From the face to the strength of God the transition is easy: the light of His countenance is the strength of God in the soul. The ark, however, was called emphatically the ark of His strength, and the people were called to visit it for two reasons: to acknowledge the glory of the Divine power in their midst, and to seek its manifestations within themselves. Our supreme business in this house, and in all worship, is to extol the Divine name: the noblest employment of those who have seen the Divine face in reconciliation. The strength of God is the assemblage of His perfections, of which omnipotent power was the representative. This was the attribute that came nearest to the ancient people, and of it the ark was a constant remembrancer. Jehovah was called “the Strength of Israel.” It was His Right Hand that had delivered them from the beginning. They extolled His power especially, while they also remembered His wisdom, fidelity, and other perfections which were behind. “Give unto the Lord glory and strength: give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name.” In all their worship, the glory of God was the uppermost sentiment. The ark, so awfully shut in and dwelling in such unapproachable light, kept that evermore before them. The glory due unto the Supreme the ancient worshippers offered as worthily as we can offer it. But there is a sense in which they did not so perfectly offer it, because His being was not fully known. The Three-one Deity had not been revealed. That secret was kept back, though it could scarcely be hid. Although the “Holy, Holy, Holy!” is not surpassed even in the New Testament, yet this was the Name by which Jehovah was not known to the fathers. To us the Triune name and the Triune perfections are one in the glorious works of the Redeeming God. And when we hear the words, “Declare the wonders that He hath wrought,” of what do they remind us? The ark told the Israelites a marvellous story; it had witnessed all their triumphs and all their disgraces; it was the will of God that with it should be attached the thought of His mighty interpositions. We have no visible symbol; but of what does our house of prayer remind us, what does that table silently commemorate, what is the burden of this hymn book, what is the high subject of the New Testament? We have that to remember and extol which dwarfs the Jewish annals to utter insignificance. But we cannot more effectually adore the strength of our God than by seeking its manifestation. He does not only wait in His holy Temple for our tribute, as if He had only to receive and we to give. Whoso offereth Him praise glorifieth Him, but equally he that honours his God by seeking and trusting in His power. The ark was a perpetual token that there was a reserve of strength in the God of Israel at the people’s service. In the New Testament the word is, “Where two or three are gathered together there am I in the midst of them.” There is no limit to the power of the Spirit in the assemblies of His people who pray. His strength is everything here; we must only seek it in the consciousness of our utter impotence. The only power in our assemblies is the power of the Lord. The ark was a perpetual remembrancer of that. It humbled the people by reminding them that when God was not with them they fled before their enemies; that it was only when He was with them that they conquered. We have no symbol to remind us, nor do we need it. God Himself speaks and bids us remember that we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves. “Without Me,” said the Lord, “ye can do nothing.” But God is here in His strength. The ark was the pledge that the ancient God of the people was with them. His name was still, while they trusted in Him, the Strength of Israel. The measure of His strength among His people is “the working of His mighty power, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead,” the “exceeding greatness of His power.” The standard to us is, “According to your faith be it unto you.” Then we must seek it in prayer for the carrying on of the work of salvation in our midst. There is a power in this place for the conversion of every sinner that ever enters it. Our common supplication must plead for it, our common faith must expect it, and we shall then have the desire of our heart. Enlarging our view we should remember that we belong to the catholic temple of the Church. If you study our psalm you will see how it embraces the heathen throughout. “Fear before Him all the earth.” “Give unto the Lord, ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength.” This is prophetically to them. To us it is, “Declare His glory among the heathen; His marvellous works” of redemption and grace “among all nations.” This we do by our missions abroad, and we do it by our prayers at home. This house which we have dedicated to God must never forget that He is the God of the whole earth. Once more I must remind you that the strength of God which is sought in His ordinances is altogether a personal energy within the individual soul. There is indeed a common manifestation, a shedding forth of Divine influence, which sometimes overpowers the whole congregation, and surprises those who neither sought it nor expected it. But every one after all must lay hold on the strength of God for himself. The promise is of a Divine power put forth in the inmost secret of our nature. Hear the apostle’s prayer that “He would grant us according to the riches of His glory to be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inner man.” But this is according to our own personal faith. So St. Paul says, “I can do all through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Our righteousness He is as a free gift; but our strength He is through our own faculties. Seek it then and find it in your inmost spirit. Let it be your constant exercise everywhere to make the Divine omnipotence your own. Strength to do and strength to suffer, strength to resist and strength to overcome, strength to command mountains out of the way, and strength to uproot the long-standing tree of sin: all is yours. If your religion has been scanty and feeble it is simply and solely your own fault.
III. We must not forget the emphatic manner in which the expression “evermore” is added, both as exhortation and encouragement. The actual assemblies we must delight to visit, and be found in our place continually. Here, as in everything else, we have great advantages over the people of the ancient covenant. They came up only by their representatives three times a year, and on certain other set occasions. During the intervals they could only “remember Zion.” We have constantly recurring opportunities. Every Christian sabbath we are invited to assemble; and on certain evenings in the week we may join the congregation in the services which are held around the invisible altar and ark. There are some special occasions when the members of Christ’s discipleship gather around the table of the Lord; if I may so speak, nearer than usual to the ark, and its mercy-seat, and its glorious face. Never be absent then, unless the Lord Himself keep you away. Seek His face and seek His strength continually. But this last word reminds me that there is a sense in which the true Christian is never absent from the house of the Lord, “Whose house are we.” We are not commanded to come up at set times to obtain a glimpse of His face, have our sins forgiven, gain a renewal of strength, and then go away for an interval of absence. We dwell in His house. We live and move and have our being in the mystical temple. The word of the text seems to say, “Seek Him here, but seek Him continually,” in our private devotions, in the midst of our duties, in our family worship, and everywhere. This “evermore” echoes in eternity. It is not necessary that we should determine how far the Hebrews understood the reach and meaning of this Word. Whatever they believed, or hoped, or felt in presentiment, we have the full revelation that our worshipping assemblies are earnests of an everlasting fellowship of more perfect worship in the house above. There is an eternal temple awaiting us where we shall not need to seek the face nor to seek the strength of our God. Both shall have been found in their utmost blessedness, to be lost no more for ever. The countenance of God in Christ shall be the eternal joy of the redeemed. Meanwhile the commandment is to seek His face for ever. Count time and all its opportunities of seeking the Lord as given for one sole purpose, the preparation for that eternal fellowship. (W. B. Pope, D. D.)
He is the Lord our God: His judgments are in all the earth.
God in Jewish history, working for His people
I. His absolute sovereignty (verse 9). The selection of Abraham to distinguished privileges is only an example of what has been going on in the history of men in all times. All men are not alike endowed, nor alike distinguished in privilege. Some have more health, more beauty, more talent, more enjoyments, than others. Shall any find fault with this? “Who art thou that repliest against God?” We should, however, always remember that God’s sovereignty is not arbitrary power, not capricious impulse, but is evermore the free expression of His heart, and that heart is love.
II. His inviolable faithfulness (verse 8). Men fail to fulfil their promises from one of three reasons--either because they were insincere when they made the promise, or because they subsequently changed their minds, or because difficulties occurred which they never anticipated. None of these reasons can be ascribed to God.
III. His territorial proprietorship (verse 11). Let all landowners remember that the acres they call their own are only borrowed property, they are only tenants at will, or rather stewards, responsible for the use they make of every foot of ground.
IV. His compassionate superintendence. He watched over them.
1. When they were few (verse 12). How He watched over Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, only three! We lose individuals in the mass. To Him the individual is the object of interest, the individual is His offspring, representative, fountain of immeasurable influence. “Unto that man will I look.”
2. When they were wandering strangers (verse 13). Though unknown, ignored, it may be despised, the few wandered amongst ten thousand strangers, His eye was upon them, and His sympathies were with them.
3. When they were threatened (verses 14, 15). (Homilist.)
Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm.
The inviolable Messiahs and prophets
I. Every Christian is a Messiah. Jesus was the Christ, the Messias, because that Divine Spirit dwelt in Him without measure. And if we are Christians in the real sense of the word, then, however imperfectly, yet really, and by God’s grace increasingly, there is such a union between us and our Saviour as that into us there does flow the anointing of His Spirit. And, there being a community of life derived from the Source of Life, it is no presumption to say that every Christian man is a Christ.
II. Every Christian is a prophet. The word is connected with a root which means “to boil, or bubble, like a fountain.” It expresses, not so much the theme of the utterance as its nature. The welling up, from a full heart, of God’s thoughts and God’s truth, that is prophecy. The patriarchs were prophets, in the sense of being bearers of a Divine Word, breathed into them by that anointing Spirit, that it may be uttered forth by them. That sort of prophetic inspiration belongs to all Christians. Every one who has been anointed will be thus gifted. A silent Christian is an anomaly, a contradiction in terms, as much as black light, or dark stars. If Christ is in you He will come out of you. If your hearts are full the crystal treasure will flow over the brim.
III. Every Christian, in his double capacity of anointed and prophet, is watched over by God. There is no real harm in so-called evil. That is the interpretation that Christianity gives to such words as this of my text, not because it is forced to weaken them by the obstinate facts of life, but because it has learnt to strengthen them by the understanding of what is harm and what is good; what is gain and what is loss. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Until the time that His word came: the word of the Lord tried him.
God’s promised tests
There is a contrast drawn between two “words,” “his” (i.e., Joseph’s)
and God’s. Joseph’s word, which delayed its coming, or fulfilment, was either his boyish narrative of the dreams that foreshadowed his exaltation, or, less probably, his words to his fellow-prisoners in the interpretation of their dreams. In either case the point to which our attention is directed, is the period when that word came to be fulfilled, and what nay text says is that during that long season of unfulfilled hope, the “word of God,” which was revealed in Joseph’s dream, and was the ground on which his own “word” rested--did what? Encouraged, heartened, strengthened him? No, that unfulfilled promise might encourage or discourage him; but the psalmist fixes our thoughts on another effect which, whether it encouraged or discouraged, it certainly had, namely, that it tested him, and found out what stuff he was made of, and whether there was staying power enough in him to hold on, in unconquerable faith, to a promise made long since, communicated by no more reliable method than a dream, and of the fulfilment of which not the faintest sign had, for all these weary years, appeared. It proved the depth and vitality of his faith, and his ability to see things that are not as though they were. Will this man be able continually through years of poverty and imprisonment to keep his eye on the light beyond, to see his star through clouds? We do not know how long his Egyptian bondage had lasted, nor how long before that his endurance of the active ill-will of his surly brothers had gone on. But at all events his chrysalis stage was very long, and one would not have wondered if he had said to himself, down in that desert pit or in that Egyptian dungeon, “Ah, yes, they were dreams, and only dreams,” or if he had, as so many of us do, turned his back on his youthful visions, and gained the sad power of being able to smile at his old hopes and ambitions. Cherish your youthful dreams. They are often the prophecies of capacities and possibilities, signs of what God means you to make yourselves. The trivial, short-lived anticipations which do not look beyond the end of next week are far less operative in making strong and noble characters than are those, of whatever kind they may be otherwise, which look far ahead and need years for their realization. It is a blessing to have the mark far, far away, because that means that the arm that pulls the bow must draw more strongly, and the eye that sees the goal must gaze more intently. Be thankful for the promise that cannot be fulfilled in this world, because it lifts us above the low levels, and makes us feel already as if we were endowed with immortality. The Word will test our patience, and it will test our willingness, though we be heirs of the Kingdom, to do humble tasks. Because Joseph was sure that God’s long-lingering word would be fulfilled, he did not mind though he had to be the lackey of his brothers, the Midianites’ chattel, Potiphar’s slave, Pharaoh’s prisoner, and a servant of servants in his dungeon. So with us, the measure of our willing acceptance of our present tasks, burdens, humiliations, and limitations is the measure of our firm faith in the promise that tarries. It was for Joseph’s sake that the slow years were multiplied between the first gleam of his future and the full sunshine of his exaltation. And it is for our sakes that God in like manner protracts the period of anticipation and non-fulfilment. “If the vision tarry, wait for it.” Is not the delaying of the blessing a means of increase of the blessing? And shall not we be sure that however long “He that shall come” may seem to tarry ere He comes, when He has come they who have waited for His coming more than they that watch for the morning and have sometimes been ready to cry out: “Hath the Lord forgotten? Doth His promise fail for evermore?” will be ashamed of their impatient moments and will humbly and thankfully exclaim: “He came at the very right time and did not tarry.” (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Joseph: a sermon to young men
Joseph’s was a monumental and magnificent life, not so much because of the great station and good fortune that he won as because of the coherence and completeness of his career, character, and work being wielded together, and crowned with the fitting close. It was a sunbright, victorious life! Yet a life of public action and manifold dangers and responsibilities, through which no mere cleverness could have carried him successfully. Nothing but right-mindedness, together with capacity, could ever have borne him onward to so great and just renown. That right-mindedness was truth, honour, faith, love.
I. The dreams of his youth. Possibly we find it difficult entirely to sympathize with this part of the record, because we have a not unreasonable objection to precocious children and their egotism. But, notwithstanding this general prejudice, we should remember that genius is wont to be precocious and self-conscious. Moreover, in this child of genius egotism had no unpleasant expression. His narratives are far too artless and ingenuous to be charged with conceit. We must also recognize that his dreams arose from the growing consciousness of power, and were apprehensions of that immense capacity which he afterwards displayed. Oh, a few more dreams will not hurt our young people to-day--such dreams--dreams of honourable success, of usefulness, of widening influence! It is not surprising that young people in their first endeavours to realize themselves should make some mistakes--that they should carry themselves awkwardly, and fail in self-measurement. But after all, better this, a thousand times, than that they should not be at all aware of the day of nature’s visitation, nor imagine glorious possibilities from being alive, and more and more alive every day.
II. The discipline of life. If Joseph had nourished a too luxuriant imagination, time and circumstance soon clipped the tendrils. There is something as touching, as dramatic, in his being so suddenly “dropped out of the bright world” into the dark pit in the desert, and then hurried away into a slavery that might have been worse than death--cut off at a stroke from the care of his father, from the patriarchal home with its princely privileges, and reduced, politically, below the status of a man. Here was a fate overwhelming enough to bring a young fellow to despair, or to a degradation worse than that! But there was in him that quality of moral fibre which is braced and not weakened by lonely adversity. He has virtue, and he has faith, and these united shall prevail, so that there shall be nothing more admirable in all biography than the patience, cheerfulness, and fidelity with which he fulfils his lot. Adversity is a ladder, up or down, as we will. You can, so to speak, do what you like with your troubles, or let them do what they like with you; so that they shall either be stepping stones, upon which you shall rise to a clearer, graver view of God and life; or they shall be stones of stumbling and rocks of offence to cast you down to that limbo where the craven and futile whimper their lives away. But some of you are thinking that it was hard that Joseph should have to suffer for refusing to do wrong. I would counsel you to be very slow in saying that anything is hard, if you mean as a matter of providential treatment. A little faith and patience, and God will take care of it all.
III. The man that emerged. Joseph came forth from prison with faith in God unimpaired, with the old sweetness of temper, and clearness and fixity of moral equilibrium. He is “not ashamed to stand before kings,” and there is the unerring accent of modesty and faith in his words: “It is not in me. God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” But I desire especially to point out the essential Christianity of the man, whom the word of the Lord had tried, so that he was made manifest to his generation as a pre-Christian Christian. That forgiveness of his brethren, so frank and free, without a thought behind, so foreign to every ancient code of obligation, shows him at a glance possessed by the spirit of Christ. Again in his large humanity he became an earthly Providence, and an expositor of the philanthropy of God our Saviour, not only nourishing his own family, and those brothers who plotted his ruin; but bearing the burdens of all the people, and with such benevolence and sympathy that, in the great language of that time, he was called “the Saviour of the world.” Finally, in his faith he saw something of Christ’s day. Loyal to his family and race, he was loyal also to the ancestral hope; and in his final charge showed clearly enough that his soul had her last anchorage there. “By faith he gave commandment concerning his bones;” and when, long centuries after, his people departed out of Egypt, they carried with them these dumb tokens of their great ancestor’s faith in the covenant of promise. This was a great life--pure, gracious, wise, imperial. All was on the grand scale; but all the goodliness thereof grew out of the virtues of his youth. “The child was father of the man” in reverence, and human kindness, and faith. So let it be with you. (A. H. Vine.)
Trial by the Word
I. The importance of trial.
1. Because trial and persecution test men’s professions, they are used as the winnowing fan in the Lord’s hand. “He will throughly purge His floor.” In persecution, the mere professors, the camp-followers and hangers-on, soon flee away, for they have no heart to true religion when the profession of it involves the cross. They could walk with Jesus in silver slippers, but they cannot travel with Him when His bleeding feet go barefoot over the world’s rough ways, and therefore they depart every man to his own. Oh, man, if thou be a child of God thou art like a house which He is building with gold, and silver, and precious stones; but by reason of thine old nature thou art mixing up with the Divine material much of thine own wood, and hay, and stubble; therefore is it that the fire is made to rage around thee to burn out this injurious stuff which mars the whole fabric. If the Holy Spirit be pleased to bless thine afflictions to thee, then wilt thou be daily led to put away the materials of the old nature with deep abhorrence and repentance, and thus shall the true work of God, which He has built upon the sure foundation, stand in its true beauty, and thou shalt be builded for eternity.
2. Every good man is not only tested by trial, but is the better for it. To the evil man affliction brings evil, he rebels against the Lord, and, like Pharaoh, his heart is hardened. But to the Christian it is good to be afflicted, for, when sanctified by the Spirit, trial is a means of instruction to him second to none in value. In the case of Joseph.
(1) It corrected the juvenile errors of the past.
(2) He learned in his trial much that was good for present use. That God could be with him, even in a dungeon. That temporal things are not to be depended upon. To “cease from man,” etc.
(3) The chief use of trial is very often seen in our future lives. It gave Joseph power to bear power. It trained him to bear the other dangers of prosperity. In the prison he learned to speak out. His whole course had been a rehearsal fitting him to be bravely truthful before the king.
II. The peculiarity of the trial. “The word of the Lord tried him.” How was that? Potiphar tried him, and the chains tried him, but did the word of the Lord try him? Yes. But there is a previous question--how did he receive any word of the Lord? His dreams were to him the word of God, for they were communications from heaven; the instruction he received from his father was also the word of God to him; his knowledge of the covenant which God had made with Abraham and Isaac, and his father Jacob, was God’s word to him. Moreover, the secret teachings of the Holy Spirit quickened his conscience and afforded him light on the way. When there was no written Word the Divine Spirit spoke without words, impressing the truth upon the heart itself. All these were to Joseph the word of God. How did it try him? It tried him thus,--the word said to him in his conscience, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” Without that word he would not have been tried, for nature suggested compliance with his mistress’s desires. The test, however, he could bear: grace enabled him to flee youthful lusts and to cry, “How can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” The trial which arose out of his innocence must have again tested him by the word of God. There he is in prison--for what? Why, for an action so pure that had he been set on a throne for it he would have well deserved it. Do you not think that many questions perplexed him while he lay in prison? What problems were put before him--Is there a moral governor of the universe? If so, why does He allow the innocent to suffer? Why am I in fetters, and the lewd woman in favour? Could not an omnipotent God deliver me? Why then does He leave me here? Could Joseph in the face of such questions still cling to the faithful word? He could, and he did; but the word tried him, and proved his constancy, his faith, and his integrity. Then, too, the word of the Lord which he had heard many years before would come to him and try him. His trembling heart would say, Has God ever spoken to you at all? Those dreams, were they not childish? That voice which you thought you heard in your heart, was it not imagination? This providence of God which has prospered you wherever you have gone, was it not after all good luck? Has the living God ever revealed Himself to one who at length became a slave? Look at your fetters, and ask if you can be His child?
III. The continuance and the conclusion of the trial. Trial does not last for ever. Cheer up; the tide ebbs out, but the flood will return again. He who counts the stars also numbers your sorrows, and if He ordains the number ten your trials will never be eleven. The text says, “until”; for the Lord appoints the bounds of the proud waters, and they shall no more go over your soul when they reach the boundary of the Divine “Until.” “Until the time that His word came”--the same word which tried Joseph in due time set him free. If the Lord gives the turnkey permission to keep us in prison, there we must remain, “until” He sends a warrant for our liberation, and then all the devils in hell cannot hold us in bondage for an instant longer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s promise as a refining fire
“Tried” is in the Hebrew “smelted,” and “word of the Lord” refers to the promise of greatness given to Joseph when a lad. This vision smelted his soul. How? It resulted in--
I. A purified faith. Before imprisonment, Joseph worked and God helped; the prison shut him in to God alone. Faith is this reaching Godward, and the Godward side of a man determines character.
II. A strengtheining character. The youth who entered came out a tried man. More strength is increased power, and power is valuable.
III. An enhanced value. He became worth more--to himself, to Pharaoh, to God. The promises of God Incarnate come to you in definite language. He offers you pardon, help, a growing likeness to Himself. Have you accepted? Are you holding fast? Your soul is in the furnace of the promises. Shall it come forth metal or slag? (Homiletic Review.)
Trial by the Word of God
His trial arose from “the word of the Lord.” The evils of his lot were great in themselves, but their magnitude was increased in consequence of the Divine intimation that he should be raised to greatness and honour. His faith was put to a rigorous test, his patience was severely tried.
I. Our knowledge of the Divine word is a means of trial. It tests our character, and it does this by leaving us without much we expected to receive, and imposing on us burdens from which we would fain be free: What forms, then, does this trial assume?
1. It is seen in relation to our belief, the Bible demanding our assent to truths which are beyond the range of human discovery. As Bishop Butler has said, “There seems no possible reason to be given why we may not be in a state of moral probation with regard to the exercise of our understanding on the subject of religion, as we are with regard to our behaviour on common affairs. The former is a thing as much within our power and choice as the latter.”
2. The next form of trial is in relation to our conduct. The Bible demands from us the discharge of duties which are not congenial with our nature, and large numbers who are ignorant of speculative difficulties feel strongly those that relate to Cbristian practice. We cannot practically “fulfil the law of Christ” without strenuous exertion. We must surrender pleasures we have prized and accept toils for which we have had no relish. We shall never be able to follow Christ unless we “deny ourselves and count all things as loss for His sake.” Is it not notorious that many, very many, refuse submission to the Gospel on this ground? And thus “the Word of the Lord” tries them.
3. The Word of God tries us in our experience or in respect to the fulfilment of its promises. We do not realize them at the time or in the manner we expect, many even “dying in faith” without seeing that for which they have waited.
II. The trial is of limited duration. It lasted “until His word came,” but no longer. As there came an hour of deliverance to Joseph, so there will to us, premising, of course, that we continue faithfully in the path of duty. Never will God alter the truth we are to believe, relax the duties to which He summons us, or modify the essential character of His promises; but our relation to His Word shall become such that the trial, the element of pain and disappointment shall pass away.
1. When we accept the truth of Christ on sufficient evidence, although its substance is immutable, although we may never find it to be logically explicable, it will yet gain our assent in an ever-increasing degree. It will quicken and purify our spiritual perceptions, removing the blindness thrown over us by sin. It will restore our nature to a holy condition, sanctifying us and imparting the power of recognition which comes from sympathy.
2. The duties to which we are summoned will not always be uncongenial. We shall be empowered with strength equal to our need. Our souls will become more able for works of righteousness. By reliance on God, by resolute perseverance, our work will lose its irksomeness and become a service of gratitude and joy.
3. The promises of Scripture may not secure the results we expect. That which we rightly look for may be delayed. But we shall be assured that God is doing for us the thing which is best, that He is adapting His mercy to the necessities of our condition, that He is leading us from one stage of glory to another, and will, in due time, “perfect that which concerneth us.” (J. Stuart.)
The trial of man by the promises of God
By the “word of the Lord” that “tried him,” the psalmist evidently refers to the dreams of his future destiny which were sent to Joseph from God; and in saying that they tried him “until His word came,” he evidently means that his faith in those promises was tested by his long imprisonment, until the day of his deliverance dawned.
I. God’s promises must try man.
1. By revealing his secret unbelief.
2. That He may accomplish His own purposes of discipline.
II. God sends the hour of deliverance.
1. Sometimes by death. Elijah.
2. Sometimes by transforming the height of trial into the height of blessing. The three youths in Babylon.
3. Sometimes by the glance of love on the failing soul. Peter.
4. Sometimes by continuing the trial, but increasing the power to endure it. Paul.
III. God makes the trial by promise fulfil the promise itself. We hope not for an Egyptian kingdom, our dream-vision is of a heavenly inheritance, and the palace of a heavenly King. But every temptation resisted, every mocking voice of doubt overcome, is an aid upwards and onwards. Trials, sufferings, struggles, are angels arraying the soul in the white robes of the heavenly world, and crowning it with the crown that fadeth not away. And when the end comes, then it will be seen that the long dreary endeavour to hold fast the dream-promise--the firm resolute “no” to the temptation to disbelieve, are all more than recompensed with “the exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (E. L. Hull, B.A.)
From the pit to the throne
I. The severity of His sufferings. Confined in a stifling, foetid prison, his feet bound by fetters. His religious notions added greatly to his distress. What had he gained by his integrity? Could there be any truth in what his father had taught him of good coming to the good, and evil to the bad? Was there a God who judged righteously on the earth? You who have been misunderstood, who have sown seeds of holiness and love to reap nothing but disappointment, loss, suffering, and hate, you know something of what Joseph felt in that wretched dungeon hole. Then, too, disappointment poured her bitter drops into the bitter cup. What had become of those early dreams, those dreams of coming greatness, which had filled his young brain with splendid phantasmagoria? Were these not from God? He had thought so--yes, and his venerable father had thought so too, and he should have known, for he had talked with God many a time. Were they the delusions of a fevered brain, or mocking lies? Was there no truth, no fidelity, in heaven or earth?
II. These sufferings wrought very beneficially. Iron entered into his soul. The iron crown of suffering precedes the golden crown of glory. I may be asked, Why does God sometimes fill a whole life with discipline, and give few opportunities for showing the iron quality of the soul? Why give iron to the soul, and then keep it from active service? Ah, that is a question which goes far to prove our glorious destiny. “There is service in the sky.” And it may be that, God counts a human life of seventy years of suffering not too long an education for a soul which may serve Him through the eternities.
III. Joseph’s comfort in the midst of these sufferings.
1. “He was there in the prison, but the Lord was with him.” The Lord was with him in the palace of Potiphar; but when Joseph went to prison, the Lord-went there too. The only thing that severs us from God is sin; so long as we walk with God, God will walk with us; and if our path dips down from the sunny upland lawns into the valley with its clinging mists, He will go at our side.
2. Moreover, the Lord showed him mercy. That prison cell was the mount of vision, from the height of which he saw, as he had never seen before, the panorama of Divine lovingkindness. It were well worth his while to go to prison to learn that. It was in prison that Bunyan saw his wondrous allegory, and St. Paul met the Lord, and St. John looked through heaven’s open door, and Joseph saw God’s mercy. God has no chance to show His mercy to some of us except when we are in some sore sorrow.
3. God can also raise up friends for His servants in most unlikely places, and of most unlikely people. “The Lord gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.” All hearts are open to our King; at His girdle swing the keys by which the most unlikely door can be unlocked.
4. There is always alleviation for our troubles in ministry to others. Joseph found it so. A new interest came into his life, and he almost forgot the heavy pressure of his own troubles amid the interest of listening to the tales of those who were more unfortunate than himself. (F. B. Meyer, B.A.)
Changes of fortune overruled
The chief lesson to be learned from the swift and violent alternations of fortune, to which he was subject, is not that men are like shuttlecocks, tossed up and down by random blows, either of blind chance or of hostile men, but that they are moved and guided by one loving will, which weaves malice and murderous intents into its great web, and uses unconscious men and women to effect its purposes. The point of a wheel that is at the top at one moment, is at the bottom at the next; but the wheel moves on steadily on its course, and the revolutions advance it to its goal. The naked boy in the pit, the sad captive in the prison, the favourite of Pharaoh, were equally set in these places by God, though envy and baulked lust and a despot’s whim were the immediate occasions of the violently contrasted conditions. Life’s bewildering mutations would look very differently if we habitually grasped the calming confidence that opposite states, such as joy and sorrow, elevation and depression, gain and loss, came from one source, and tended to one end, as surely as the opposite motions of two cog-wheels, working into each other, result in the forward motion of the hands of a watch. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
To . . . teach His senators wisdom.
I. God’s instruction of senators. God’s education of Joseph became the Divine education of the senators of Pharaoh; so we learn how statesmen are taught by God in all ages.
1. By the life-work of the great and good. The knowledge of Joseph’s biography would spread from the throne to the humblest tent in the land. An apprenticeship is needed for every great teacher and ruler of men.
2. By the events in a nation’s history. The Hebrews were now an incipient nation, of which Joseph was a member. Israel shall teach Egypt, and Egypt Israel. Whilst the Bible is the statesman’s great manual, the facts of all history, rightly interpreted, are a high education in anticipative experience, and in the philosophy of life. The barbaric, feudal, and constitutional periods through which all nations pass, are intended by God to educate the statesman.
3. By insight into a nation’s needs. Joseph saw and taught what was coming upon Egypt, therefore he economized its resources. Valuable is vision and revelation! England needs men like Joseph, and those who learnt of him, in her senate-house; then should we obtain needful education, emigration, economy, and national unity.
II. God’s purpose in the instruction of senators. Every highly-gifted man is the bestow-ment of God upon the age in which he lives, and upon all subsequent ages. Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel, in Judaea; Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Demosthenes, in Greece; Cicero, Marcus Aurelius, Boethius, in Rome; Goethe, Schlegel, Fichte, in Germany; Burke, Pitt, Peel, in England. God’s purpose in giving such men to a nation is--
1. The entire well-being of a country. Physical, mental, spiritual, domestic, social.
2. Advancement in scientific achievement. Egypt was scientific. The physical and spiritual resources of the universe are the gift of God for our development. God intended us to possess railways, telegraphs, machinery, and all other appliances of human progress.
3. Perfection of His creation. Perfect righteousness is the result of His will, and of all He has willed to create; therefore shall all things be gathered together in Christ. Inquire--
(1) How far have we wisdom-taught statesmen?
(2) How far is our nation a wise and understanding people? (W. N. Percival.)
He opened the rock.
The rock at Horeb
I. The source whence the waters are said to have sprung. A rock is in many respects an appropriate emblem of Christ.
1. It suggests the ideas of stability and unchangeableness.
2. Chosen by God Himself.
II. The uses for which they were designed.
1. To save from death by thirst.
2. To purify.
3. To refresh.
“Hungry and thirsty,” we are told, “their soul fainted in them.” But the same waters that saved them from perishing, renewed their strength, and enabled them to prosecute their journeyings to Canaan with fresh vigour and alacrity. And is it not thus with the weary and heavy-laden traveller to Zion, when supplies from the Redeemer’s grace are afforded to his soul?
III. The manner in which the waters flowed from the opened rock.
1. Abundantly. So it is with the grace of Christ. It is “exceeding abundant.” Its efficacy to save, to purify, and to refresh our souls is inexhaustible.
2. Freely. So with the blood of Christ. It is open even to the vilest and guiltiest.
3. Constantly. No drought could exhaust nor cold arrest the waters which the Israelites enjoyed in the wilderness; so neither shall any worldly trial deprive the true Israel of the reviving streams of the Redeemer’s grace. Goodness and mercy shall surely follow the ransomed of the Lord through all their earthly pilgrimage. (P. Grant.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 105". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20