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THE INHERITANCE OF THE LEVITES.
Then came near the heads of the fathers of the Levites. We are not to suppose, with Calvin, that the Levites had been overlooked. Such a supposition is little in keeping with the devout spirit of him who now directed the affairs of the Israelites, who had been minister to Moses the Levite, and had but lately been concerned with Eleazar, the high priest, in making a public recognition of that God to whose service the Levites had been specially set apart. The delay in appointing to the Levites their cities arose from the nature of the arrangement which had to be made for the Levitical cities. The prophecy which threatened (Genesis 49:7) to "scatter them in Israel" was to be fulfilled for the benefit of the whole people. Instead of a portion for himself, Levi, as we have been repeatedly informed (Joshua 13:33; Joshua 14:3; Joshua 18:7), was to have "the Lord God of Israel for his inheritance." Since, therefore, their cities were to be assigned them within the limits of the other tribes, it was impossible to apportion them until the other tribes had been provided for. Unto Eleazar the priest. The close connection between the military and the sacerdotal power is kept up throughout the book. Warned by his one act of neglect in the case of the Gibeonites, Joshua never again appears to have neglected to have recourse to the high priest, that he might ask counsel of God for him, as had been prescribed in Numbers 27:21. Eleazar is placed first here, because, as the acknowledged head of the tribe, he was the proper person to prefer its request to the leader. But the whole history shows how entirely Joshua and Eleazar acted in concert. And unto Joshua the son of Nun. In a matter of ecclesiastical organisation the ecclesiastical took precedence of the civil leader. And unto the heads. The position of Joshua was that of a chief magistrate ruling by constitutional methods. The representatives of the tribes were invariably consulted in all matters of moment. Such appear to have been the original constitution of all early communities, whether Aryan or Semitic. We find it in existence among Homer's heroes. It meets us in the early history of Germanic peoples. It took a form precisely analogous to the Jewish in the old English Witan where the chief men in Church and State took counsel with the monarch on all matters affecting the commonweal of the realm; and the remains of this aristocratic system still meet us in our own House of Lords.
At Shiloh. Another instance of exact accuracy. Shiloh was now the place of assembly in Israel (see Joshua 18:1). The Lord commanded. The command is given in Numbers 35:1-34. We have here, therefore, another quotation from the books of Moses. If we refer to it we find how exactly the precepts were carried out. First, the six cities of refuge were to be appointed, and then forty-two more were to be added to them. Calvin, not noticing this, has complained that this narrative is not in its proper place, and that it should have been inserted before the details in Numbers 20:1-29. The very reverse is the fact. These cities of refuge are included, in what follows, among the number of forty-eight cities in all, assigned to the Levites. Suburbs. See Joshua 14:4. And so throughout the chapter.
Out of their inheritance. Out of that of Israel (see note on Joshua 21:1). These cities. The number was forty-eight, i.e; four times twelve. Bahr ('Symbolik des Alten Testaments,' 1:221) remarks on the symbolical meaning of this number. He compares it, first, to the twelve tribes marching in four detachments, the ark of God and its guard in the centre (see Numbers 2:1-34). Four, he says, is the number of the world, and three the sign of God, and twelve of the combination of the two. Thus we are reminded of the heavenly city which "lieth four-square," which has "twelve foundations of precious stones," "twelve gates of pearls, and at the gates twelve angels," and the names of "the twelve tribes of Israel" written thereupon, and wherein was "the tree of life," with its "twelve manner of fruits," which were "yielded every month" (Revelation 21:12, Revelation 21:14, Revelation 21:16, Revelation 21:19, Revelation 21:21; Revelation 22:2).
And the lot came out. As in the distribution of the land among the tribes, so in the division of the cities among the tribes of Levi, the whole matter was referred to the judgment of God. Thus solemnly placed in His hands, the division would not afterwards become the occasion of jealousy or dispute. The division was first made between the descendants of the three sons of Levi, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari (see Exodus 6:16-25), and then, as regards the Kohathites, between the priests, the descendants of Aaron, and the rest of the Levites. We have remarked above (Joshua 19:50) on the disinterestedness of Joshua. We have now to remark on the same characteristic as displayed by Moses. There was no attempt on the part of Moses to "found a family," the object of ambition with most men, whether kings or private persons possessed of wealth. No special privileges belonged to his descendants. They merged in the undistinguished herd of the Levites generally. In this Moses contrasts favourably with most public men in our own day; he stands out prominently before nearly all the great leaders and conquerors before or even after the Christian era. The same may be said of Joshua, his successor. Cincinnatus may be in some measure compared with them, but as a dictator simply in time of danger, his power was by no means so absolute, nor were his temptations so great as those of the two successive leaders of the Israelites. Thirteen cities. It has been contended by Maurer and others that this number of cities was largely in excess of what could possibly be required for the descendants of Aaron in so short a time. But we have to consider
(1) that the cities were probably not, at least at first, inhabited exclusively by the priests;
(2) that the Israelites multiplied rapidly, and that the number of descendants in the fourth generation would probably be nearly a thousand, and in the fifth, above five thousand;
(3) that all the cities were not, as yet, actually taken from the Canaanites at all, and so therefore were in all probability only intended as an eventual possession of the priests, and
(4) that the cities themselves were probably not of any very great size. It may be worthy of remark, as a proof of the accuracy of the writers of the Old Testament, and as a means of approximately ascertaining the date of the Book of Joshua, that Nob, mentioned as a priestly city in 1 Samuel 22:11, 1 Samuel 22:19, is not found in the list given here. For the number of priests being sure to increase, it is not surprising that in the course of time additional cities should be assigned to them. And since Nob is not mentioned here, we have good grounds for concluding that the Book of Joshua was not a compilation put together after the reign of Saul Calvin does not fail to remark on the prescience of God here demonstrated. He had fixed upon Jerusalem as the place where he would "put His Name." He therefore directed that the lot of the priests should fall within the limits of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, on whose borders Jerusalem stood. Simeon is also mentioned, but the territory of that tribe (Joshua 19:1, Joshua 19:9), was contained within the borders of Judah. For theirs was the first lot. Not because Kohath was the firstborn, for this Gershon appears to have been, but because to Aaron and his sons had the priesthood been reserved.
In the hill country of Judah. The word in the original is הַר, mountain, the title which is consistently applied to the highlands of Palestine in the Bible, while our version translates indiscriminately by "mountain" and "hill."
The fields. The original is in the singular. We are not necessarily, therefore, to suppose that the land was mapped out into divisions analogous to our fields. Our word "land" would more accurately represent the meaning of the original, which refers to the arable and pasture land in the neighbourhood of the city, with the agricultural villages or homesteads dotted about it. Keil contends that the Levites only received as many houses within the city as they needed, and that the rest belonged to Caleb. Bahr, moreover ('Symbolik,' 2:49), supposed that the Levites dwelt with the other inhabitants of the city, and that the pasture land within the distance of 2,000 paces from the city was reserved for them, the rest of the land belonging to the inhabitants of the tribe (see note on Gezer, Joshua 10:33). This seems the most probable explanation. The land in general was owned by the descendants of Caleb. But the Levites had certain pastures reserved for them, whither they drove their cattle (see note on suburbs, Joshua 14:4). The special information about Hebron here again is worthy of notice. It is copied by the author of 1 Chronicles in 1 Chronicles 6:1-81.
Hebron with her suburbs to be a city of refuge for the slayer. Rather, the city of refuge for the slayer, Hebron and her cattle drives (see note above on Joshua 21:2). The translation in our version obscures the meaning, which is clearly that the cities of refuge were first fixed on, and then assigned to the Levites. Most of the cities in the following list have been noticed already.
Ain with her suburbs. We have "Ashan" in 1 Chronicles 6:59. If the view taken above of Ain (see note on Joshua 15:32, and Joshua 19:7) be correct, Ashen is the true reading here.
Anathoth. The birthplace of Jeremiah, where we find that Anathoth was still a priestly city (Joshua 1:1). No doubt it was for this reason that it was chosen (1 Kings 2:26) as the place of Abiathar's banishment. Here again we see to how close an examination the writers of the Old Testament may be submitted without in the least degree shaking their testimony. Observe, too, the geographical accuracy of Isaiah's mention of Geba and Anathoth in his description of an Assyrian invasion through the passes at Ai or Aiath and Michmash (Isaiah 10:29, Isaiah 10:30).
To be a refuge for the slayer (see above Joshua 21:13). This order is observed in every case but one, which is explained in the note on Joshua 21:36.
Tanach. The same as the Taanach before mentioned, Joshua 12:21. In 1 Chronicles 6:70 (56 Hebrews text) we have Eth-aner, an obvious blunder, as the Hebrew shows, Resh having been read for Hheth, and Aleph having been inserted to form the Eth of the accusative ease. This reading existed, however, as far back as the LXX. version. Gath-rimmon. There is a blunder also here, where Gath-rimmon has crept in by the mistake of a copyist from the last verse. The true reading is preserved in 1 Chronicles 6:70, where we find Ibleam (see Joshua 17:11), or as it is there written Bileam; no doubt by mistake; the Hebrew letters (omitting the Jod, which has dropped out), being those that compose the familiar name of Balaam the prophet. The LXX. reads Jebath here.
To be a city of refuge (see above, Joshua 21:13). Be-eshterah. Thus printed by the Masorites, and thus translated by the LXX; but no doubt the same as Og's city Ashtaroth (see Joshua 12:4, and 1 Chronicles 6:71).
Abdon (see note on Joshua 19:28).
Galilee (see above, Joshua 20:7).
And out of the tribe of Reuben. This verse and the succeeding have the Masoretic note appended that they are not found in the Masora or true tradition. Kimchi therefore rejects them. But they are found in the LXX. and the rest of the ancient versions, and they are necessary to make up the number of forty-eight cities. Dr. Kennicott, as well as Michaelis, Rosenmuller, and Maurer defended their genuineness. So does Knobel, who complains that Rabbi Jacob Ben Chajim, in his Rabbinical Bible of 1525, has very improperly omitted these towns on the authority of the Masora, and that many editors have foolishly imitated him They have no doubt been omitted by the mistake of a copyist, who passed on from the אַרְבָע (four) of Joshua 21:35 to that of Joshua 21:37, omitting all that lay between. The LXX. adds here "the city of refuge for the slayer," words which may have possibly formed part of the original text, as they do in every other instance. Jahazah. It is worthy of remark that this city, with Heshbon and Jazer and Mephaath, fell into the hands of the Moabites in later times, a sad indication of religious declension (see Isaiah 15:1-9; Isaiah 16:1-14.; Jeremiah 48:21, Jeremiah 48:34).
To be a city of refuge (see above, Joshua 21:13). Mahanaim (see Joshua 13:26). Perhaps the unquestionable entente cordiale between David and the sacerdotal party may have determined him to fix on this as his refuge when fleeing from Absalom, in addition to its situation beyond Jordan, and near the fords (2 Samuel 17:22, 2 Samuel 17:24).
These cities. Rather, perhaps, these cities were, (i.e; "have been enumerated,'' or "were given"), city by city, and their cattle drives surrounding them, thus was it with all these cities.
And the Lord gave. The LXX. adds before this passage: "And Joshua completed the division of the land in its boundaries, and the children gave a portion to Joshua, by the commandment of the Lord. They gave to him the city for which he asked, Thamnath Sarach gave they him in Mount Ephraim, and Joshua built the city, and dwelt in it. And Joshua took the stone knives, with which he had circumcised the children of Israel, which were in the way in the wilderness, and he placed them in Tamnath Sarach." The repetition is very much in the manner of the sacred historian, and it is possible that we have here an authentic passage, which some copyist has omitted in the Hebrew text. All the land. As has been before remarked, the Hebrew כל must not be pressed to mean literally "all." Yet, in a sense, the word is true here. The land had been put in their power. They had only to exert themselves to complete its conquest. This they failed to do, and not only so, but violated the conditions under which the land was granted them. Thus they soon fell under the dominion of those who had been their own vassals. Ritter thinks that the Asherites and Danites submitted to the inhabitants of the land in consequence of being allowed equal citizen rights with them. He draws this inference from Judges 5:17, supposing that these tribes addicted themselves to the commercial and maritime life for which the Phoenicians were so famous.
And the Lord gave them rest. LXX. κατέπαυσεν. The student of Scripture will not fail to recall the passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Joshua 4:8) in which reference is made to this passage, and especially to the LXX. version of it. The word signifies rather rest from wandering than rest from toil, though in some passages (e.g. Exodus 23:12; Deuteronomy 5:14) it has the latter signification (cf. Deuteronomy 12:10). Round about. Or, from round about, i.e; from the assaults of the surrounding nations. According to all that he sware (Exodus 33:14). There stood not a man of all their enemies before them. This was true, as far as the present history is concerned. We read that the Ephraimites did not, or "could not," drive out their enemies, and that the other tribes also failed to obtain complete possession of the land. But
(1) we are not told that this was in the time of Joshua, and
(2) it is intimated that this was their own fault.
How could it be otherwise? Had the same faith been theirs which caused the Jordan to dry up, and the towers of Jericho to fall down at their march, which discomfited one vast confederacy at Beth-horon, and annihilated another vast confederacy, even better supplied with munitions of war at Lake Merom, they could not have failed to root out the scanty remnant of their humiliated and disheartened foes. As has already been remarked (see Joshua 11:23, note), it was from no neglect on Joshua's part that this was not done at once, for it had been God's own command that it should not be done, lest the country should become a desert (Deuteronomy 7:22). Calvin concludes a similar argument with the words, "nothing but their own cowardice prevented them from enjoying the blessings of God in all their fulness."
Ought of any good thing. Literally, a word from all the good word. This Keil regards as the "sum of all the gracious promises that God had made." But he should have added that דָבָר, beside signifying, as it does, "word," is also the word for "thing" in Hebrew (see, for instance, Genesis 15:1; Genesis 20:10), and innumerable other passages, as well as the use of לֹא דָבָר for "nothing." The translation "thing" makes the best sense, and is more agreeable to the Hebrew idiom. All came to pass. The Hebrew is singular, the whole came, the word translated "came to pass "in our version being a different one from that usually so translated.
The ecclesiastical settlement of Canaan.
Though the ecclesiastical institutions of the Christian Church differ, in some respects materially, from these of the Jewish, yet inasmuch as the law and the gospel came from the same All-wise Hand, we may naturally expect that the main principles of each will be the same. Perhaps we have insisted too much of late on the fact that the law was "done away in Christ," and too little on the qualifying truth that Christ came "not to destroy, but to fulfil it." It may be well, therefore, to consider briefly what the duties of the priests were under the old covenant. From this we may be able to infer what their duties should be under the new. The New Testament Scriptures contain some information on the point, but not so much as to render it unnecessary to seek some enlightenment from the Old. The reaction from an obedience to powers unduly chimed and unjustly used, has rendered it an the more necessary that we should recur to first principles in the matter. The hatred of what is called "sacerdotalism" has resulted on the part of the laity in general to something like an undue impatience of the just influence of ministers of religion, and this can only lead to disorder in the Christian body. We may observe, then,
(1) that the performance of the public duties of religion belonged exclusively to them, and the cases of Korah, Saul, Uzzah, and King Uzziah show how rigidly this law was to be observed. For the sacrifies of the old law we must substitute the spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise in the congregation, the administration of the sacraments, the ordering of the, services of the sanctuary. They had
(2) to "bear the iniquity of the sanctuary (Numbers 18:1) which would seem to mean, in the ease of the Christian clergy, that they are bound to take upon themselves the office of public and private intercession for God's people, just as Daniel did during the Babylonish captivity (Daniel 9:8-20). Nor is this to be confined to their own particular flocks. Who can tell the blessing to Christian society if all the ministers of religion kept up a ceaseless intercession for the sins of Christian people in general, and especially for those of their own country and Church? Again,
(3) the decision of difficult causes is referred to them as well as the judges. To claim such a right would be regarded in these days as an unbounded instance of priestly arrogance. Yet it has been claimed, not only by ecclesiastics of the Roman Church, but by Calvin and his followers, by John Knox, and by the Puritans in the reign of Elizabeth. No doubt the claims of an these parties were pushed to inordinate lengths. But, on the other hand, it does not seem extravagant to believe that in a healthy state of society, the influence of those whose studies are chiefly concerned with the word of God, should be considerable in matters relating to the application of the principles of morality. Of course nothing like an absolute authority is claimed for them. All that Scripture gives them is a consultative voice, a coordinate with that of the magistrate or legislator. Such was actually the position given to the clergy in Anglo-Saxon times, and though, no doubt, the increased and increasing complexity of modern society renders special study more and more necessary for the interpretation of laws, the same rule does not hold good regarding their enactment. Lastly, the priests of the old covenant, though not formally charged with it by the law, yet (see Le John 10:11; Deuteronomy 17:9-12) became practically
(4) the interpreters of God's revealed will. We learn this from the text, "The priests' lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth" (Malachi 2:7). This office, though not formally committed to the clergy under the gospel, any more than under the law, is yet at present vested in them exclusively by common consent. They are the authorised expounders of the truths of religion. Not that the people are bound to accept implicity whatever they say. For it is implied in the passage above cited and by many others, that the priests' lips did not keep knowledge, and that men sought the law at his month in vain. It is the duty of the laity to test the truth of what is delivered to them by the word of God. But, except in very rare instances, that of Origen for example, the task of the public exposition of the oracles of God has been reserved for those who have been called to the office of the ministry. In these four respects the ecclesiastical arrangements of a Christian country should correspond, it may fairly be urged, with the ecclesiastical arrangements of the promised land. On the other hand, it must not he forgotten that the whole history of Israel, from Moses downwards, shows that the civil magistrate had a large influence in ecclesiastical affairs. Not to go beyond the limits of the present book, we have instances of the exertion of such an influence in Joshua 3:5, Joshua 3:6; Joshua 4:10, Joshua 4:17; Joshua 5:2, Joshua 5:8; Joshua 6:6; Joshua 21:1. Some additional considerations are added.
I. THE LEVITES RECEIVED THEIR INHERITANCE LAST OF ALL. This self abnegation was fitting among those who were specially appointed to the service of God. So, in like manner, should the ministers of Jesus Christ, instead of grasping eagerly at power or pelf, be desirous of being "last of all and servant of all," in imitation of Him who was among His own disciples as one that serveth. It may be added in a spirit, not of boasting, but of thankfulness, that never was there a time, since the hour of the first fervour of the gospel in the days of the Apostles, when this spirit was more abundantly displayed than in our own age and country—when there were so many ministers of God content to serve God in the sanctuary, without the prospect of earthly countenance or reward. Let them not murmur if men take these things as a matter of course, but look forward to the "recompense of the reward."
II. PROPER PROVISION WAS MADE FOR THE SERVICE OF GOD. The Levites were carefully dispersed throughout all the tribes of Israel, not, of course, for the service of the sanctuary, which was kept up at one place only, but obviously in order to diffuse among the tribes a knowledge of and attachment to the law of God. A similar provision has been made in all Christian countries. At first, bodies of men were gathered together in the chief cities of a country, from whence the rural districts were gradually evangelised. Thence, by an extension of the principle of Levitical dispersion, came our present institution of a resident minister or ministers in every village. To this institution, more than to any other, do we owe the diffusion of Christian principles throughout the whole land. It would be the sorest of all calamities were any untoward event to overthrow it.
III. PROPER PROVISION WAS MADE FOR THE MAINTENANCE OF THE CLERGY AND MINISTERS OF RELIGION. Here we may do well to quote Matthew Henry, who says, referring to the words, "The Lord commanded by the hands of Moses," and observing that the Levites based their claim, not on their own merits or services, but on the command of God: "Note, the maintenance of ministers is not an arbitrary thing, left purely to the goodwill of the people, who may let them starve if they please, but a perpetual ordinance that 'those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel' (1 Corinthians 9:14), and should live comfortably." Many other passages in the New Testament enforce this truth (e.g; 1 Corinthians 9:7, l 1; Galatians 6:6). The clergy may feel a natural repugnance to enlarge upon that in which they themselves have a personal interest, and which their flocks might find in the word of God. But they should not be deterred by an over scrupulous feeling from doing their duly. They are bound to declare the whole counsel of God. And if, by an insufficient provision for God's ministers, the cause of God is likely to suffer (and it is to be feared that such is now very often the case), if the energies which should be devoted entirely to God's cause are dissipated in worldly anxieties, in endeavours to keep the wolf from the door, in efforts to eke out a too scanty income by other labours than those of the sanctuary, it is plainly their duty to speak out. Instead of "living of the gospel," it is to be feared that there are many clergymen and their families starving of the gospel, though they have too much self respect to let the fact be known. And while the spectacle of ecclesiastics rolling in riches and living idly and luxuriously is a hateful one, on the other hand, our present haphazard regulations, which deprive a good many estimable clergymen of the wherewithal to purchase their daily bread, and keep a good many more in anxious suspense, whether it may not one day be so with themselves, are no less an offence in the eyes of God.
HOMILIES BY W.F. ADENEY
The cities of the Levites.
The Levites were scattered among the other tribes of Israel, and yet not individually but in clusters, in cities of their own. This arrangement must have had some object:—
I. THE LEVITES WERE SET APART FOR THE SERVICE OF GOD. They were freed from the claims and cares which fell on the other Israelites. They were maintained by the offerings of the people. Those who minister in spiritual things have temporal wants which the people who are benefited by their services should care for. They are not the less men because they are servants of God, and their home comforts should be secured that they may be free for spiritual work.
II. THE LEVITES WERE ABLE TO MINISTER TO THE PEOPLE BY LIVING AMONGST THEM. When it was not their turn to be serving at the temple, the Levites appear to have been engaged in educational work and religious ministrations among the people of their neighbourhood. Church services are useless unless the private lives of men are improved. We must carry the gospel to those who will not come to hear it in the regular place of worship. It is the duty of Christians not to live apart from the world for their own sanctification, but to live in the world for the world's redemption—to be the leaven leavening the whole mass, the light of the world shining into the dark places. Thus the world will be Christianised
(1) by the gospel reaching those who are out of the way of ordinary religious influences;
(2) by example;
(3) by direct personal persuasion.
III. THE LEVITES WERE ABLE TO CULTIVATE THEIR HUMAN SYMPATHIES BY LIVING AMONG THE PEOPLE. The religion of complete separation from the world is unnatural. It destroys some of the finest qualities of human life. Godliness cannot exist without humanity. The man of God is most truly human. Sympathy for human affairs, active pity for the distress of the world, and brotherly kindness are essential to the Christian life. Therefore the best school for the saint is not the hermit's cell, but the marketplace. Complete separation from the world for religious ends developes
(1) morbid subjectivity,
(2) spiritual selfishness,
IV. THE LEVITES WERE ABLE TO CULTIVATE THEIR SPIRITUALITY BY MUTUAL INTERCOURSE. They lived in cities together; though in the midst of the tribes of Israel. Christians should unite in Church fellowship. Solitary mission work is difficult and painful. Christian society secures
(1) mutual sympathy,
(2) wholesome emulation.
The Church should be a home for the Christian. It is bad to be always in worldly society.—W.F.A.
I. WE MAY ASSURE OURSELVES OF GOD'S FAITHFULNESS BY A CONSIDERATION OF THE GROUNDS ON WHICH IT RESTS.
(1) The unchangeableness of God. This is seen
(a) in nature—in changeless laws, as of light and gravitation, and in geological uniformity;
(b) in revelation, the development of which is like that of a tree retaining unity of life and growing according to fixed principles.
(2) The omniscience of God. Men cannot foresee
(a) the novel circumstances under which they will be required to redeem their word, and
(b) the breadth of the issues to which their promises may lead them.
When God promises He knows
(a) all future circumstances to which His word may apply, and
(b) all that is involved in the pledge He gives.
(3) The omnipotence of God. We may promise help, and fail in the hour of need from inability to render it. This is seen in business engagements, national treaties, pledges of friendship, etc. God has all the sources of the universe at His command.
II. WE MAY ILLUSTRATE GOD'S FAITHFULNESS BY A REVIEW OF THE INSTANCES IN WHICH IT HAS BEEN PROVED TO US.
(1) In history; e.g; the return of the seasons and the production of the fruits of the earth, according to the promise to Noah (Genesis 8:22); the possession of Canaan promised from the time of Abraham (Genesis 12:7); the return from the captivity promised in the law (Deuteronomy 30:3); the advent of Christ (Isaiah 11:1), and the enjoyment of Christian blessings (Matthew 11:28-30).
(2) In personal experience; e.g; deliverance from sin, comfort in sorrow, watches guidance in perplexity, strength for duty. Andrew Fuller says, "He that Providence will not lack a Providence to watch."
III. WE MAY STRENGTHEN OUR BELIEF IN GOD'S FAITHFULNESS BY AN EXAMINATION OF APPARENT EXCEPTIONS. These may often be explained by noting important circumstances.
(1) Time of fulflment. God does not always fulfil his promise immediately, or when we expect. He will do so in His own time, at the right time, in the fulness of time.
(2) Mode of fulfilment. The promise is not always fulfilled in the way we expect, because (a) we misinterpret God's word, and (b) God is educating us by illusions 'which cover greater truths than we can at first receive.
(3) Conditions of fulfilment. God's promises are conditional on our faith and conduct. His covenant is sure so long as we keep our side of it. He is faithful to us if we are true to Him. We often fail to receive a promised blessing because we neglect to carry out the conditions God has attached to it.
IV. WE MAY APPLY THE PRINCIPLE OF GOD'S FAITHFULNESS TO OUR OWN EXPERIENCE BY NOTING THE REGIONS OVER WHICH IT EXTENDS.
(1) It extends to all God's promises—the threats of chastisement as well as the assurances of mercy.
(2) It extends to all time. God's promises are as fresh now as when he first uttered them.
(3) The fruits of it are enduring. The people "possessed the land and dwelt in it."
(4) The realisation of it is perfect. "All came to pass."—W.F.A.
HOMILIES BY E. DE PRESSENSE
The portion of the tribe of Levi.
There might seem at first something strange in the withholding from the tribe of Levi its share among the cities of Canaan, divided by lot among the other tribes. There were, however, as we shall see, substantial reasons why the tribe of Levi should not be treated like the other tribes in the apportionment of the land of Canaan. IT HAD ITS OWN PECULIAR WORK TO WHICH IT WAS TO BE ENTIRELY CONSECRATED. Set apart for the service of the altar, it was not to be distracted by other interests. The sacrifices of the Lord were its inheritance. On the other hand, as it must have means of subsistence, every tribe was to set apart from its own lot that which was needful for the sacrifices and service of God. These temporal conditions of the tribe of Levi in the land of Canaan give us a very fair idea of the priesthood of the old covenant, and we shall be able to derive from their consideration several principles applicable to the priesthood of the new covenant.
(1) The fact that the tribe of Levi was to have no portion of its own, shows that it is not the will of God that His service should be mixed up with temporal and material interests.
(2) It is made incumbent on the whole nation to provide for the maintenance of the Levites. This is a sacred duty which cannot be neglected without prejudice to the service of God. In fulfilling this duty, the people associate themselves with the priesthood. The Levites, whom they maintain, are their representatives. The eleven tribes have their delegate in the twelfth. This truth was impressed on the minds of the children of Israel by the offering by which they had to redeem the first born of their male children. Thus even under the old covenant, the great idea of the universal priesthood was implicitly recognised. Now all Israel is a nation of priests, for, as says St. Peter, in Christ "we are made kings and priests unto God" (1 Peter 2:9). Still the Church has its ministers; but these are not a clerical class apart; they are but the representatives of the people; or rather, they do but devote themselves specially to that which is at the same time the duty of every Christian. In fulfilling this ministry, they are called, as was the tribe of Levi, to renounce all earthly ambition, and not to attempt in any way to make holy things the handle for securing their own material advantage. Freely they have received, freely they are to give; or they will come under the condemnation of Simon Magus. It is for the Church to maintain these her servants by voluntary gifts. This duty was urged by the apostles. Let him who is taught communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things" (Galatians 6:6).
(3) The Church has become altogether a race of priests. As a Church she has no right to secular dominion. When the papacy pretended that temporal power was a condition of safety for the Catholic Church, it ignored the laws concerning the priesthood, both under the old covenant and the new. Whenever a Church seeks to reign after the manner of temporal sovereigns, she becomes guilty of the same rebellion, and forgets the great words of her Divine Founder: "My kingdom is not of this world" (Joh 18:1-40 :86).—E. DE P.
HOMILIES BY R. GLOVER
The established Church of Israel.
These words project before us essentially the Church establishment of ancient Israel. It is quite true that the Old Testament priesthood in its functions differed in very many most essential points from the clergy of any modern Church. Their function was ritual rather than instruction. Their office came, not by fitness, choice, or ordination, but by birth and training. Throughout its history, from its earliest institution, when it was named "The Host," down to the days of the Maccabees, the priestly was one of the most warlike of all the tribes. According to Dr. Stanley ('Jewish Church,' vol. 2; Lecture on Jewish Priesthood), the employment of the Levites in the temple service was that of the butcher rather than of the theologian. And though distributed in every tribe, there was no attempt to secure that distribution of the Levites in every city, which would have been essential if their work had partaken in any great degree of the educational character marking that of the Christian ministry. Still they were a religious order. Chiefly serving in the temple at Jerusalem, they had yet some instruction work to do in their provincial homes. To them belonged the duty of "preserving, transcribing, and interpreting the law." They were the magistrates also who applied it (Deuteronomy 17:9-12; Deuteronomy 31:9, Deuteronomy 31:12, Deuteronomy 31:26). Though only a portion of their time occupied in attendance on the temple, and thus left free to pursue other labours, yet their service was recognised by a national provision. Roughly one-twelfth of the population, Levi had as its share the tithes of the produce realised by the other eleven tribes. It had no land, excepting a little suburban pasture land, given it; but forty-eight cities situate in all the tribes were given them for their dwelling. And while the priesthood never had the glory belonging to the line of prophets, it yet rendered splendid service to the land. It was a bond of unity between the various tribes. It linked them to God, it gave persistence to the national history, was the most enduring part of the most enduring people that the earth has seen; gave some of the finest psalmists, e.g; Heman and Asaph; produced grand prophets, e.g; Samuel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and probably Isaiah, Joel, Micah, Habakkuk, and others; statesmen, like Ezra; patriots, like the Maccabees. While the Ten Tribes today are lost, in the frequency of the names Cohen and Levy you see the grand persistence of the tribe and the stamp of God's approval of at least much of its service. In all this ordering of the Levitical institutions, and the provision made for the support of the tribe, we have a conspicuous example of a Church Establishment. As such consider it—
I. As an illustration of RELIGIOUSNESS OF MAN. How strange is the universality of religious provision in the world! Egypt had its caste of priests; large provision was made in Greek and Roman societies for religious service; India has its caste of Brahmins; China has its Buddhist priests and monks; Israel has here its sacred tribe. Whatever else such a provision may import, it certainly involves a wonderful testimony to the force of the religious principle in man. Man cannot be utterly secular. The mystery around him, conscience within him, all aspirations of the heart, make him grope after God. However vague the creed and limited the law, every nation from the beginning has been religious. Israel's Church establishment illustrates this fact.
II. This example suggests that IN ALL THINGS A NATION OUGHT TO ACT RELIGIOUSLY. The writer questions the expediency, on grounds hereafter to be noticed, of a Church establishment in England today. He, at the same time, would equally protest against the opposite extreme, which would deny to a State any right to recognise the truth of God, God's claims, or the spiritual nature of man in its legislature. It is desirable that at once our national policy and law should in all points harmonise with those highest teachings of morals which we find in the word of God. If all do not agree in their views on these points, then, as in all other cases, the majority should have the power of carrying out their opinions, while the minority should have perfect freedom individually to hold and to propagate theirs. Recognising God and His claims, the policy and taws of a land would be more elevated in their tone. Is the question one of war, our English parliament should ask, What would God have us do? and should do it. On such questions as Sunday trading, the demoralising traffic in strong drink, religious education, or laws of marriage, the State could not without grave harm omit religious considerations from its grounds of action; on the contrary, it ought to place them in the forefront, and in all such questions adopt as its course that which, in its judgment, most accords with the will of God, and most furthers the spiritual as well as temporal benefit of man. If it believes God's will to be revealed in the Bible, it should appeal to and boldly follow the teaching laid down there. No desire to keep sacred things from irreverent handling should be permitted to divorce legislation from religion. No undue regard for sensibilities of a minority should keep the majority from acting according to its highest views, so long as the freedom of the minority is unimpaired. Without religion government degenerates into a thing of police and sanitation; and is apt to become mean in its tone, reckless in its principles, and adverse to the nation's real good.
III. EVERY PATRIOT SHOULD SEEK FOR HIS COUNTRY THE DIFFUSION OF TRUE RELIGION. In what way this is to be done is a grave question. But if we aim at the right end, probably not much harm results from endeavouring to reach it in various ways. In Moses' time God ruled that the best way was a Church establishment. Expedient then, it seems to the writer inexpedient (not unlawful) now. He mentions a few out of many grounds.
(1) Christianity, as being a more spiritual system, is much less dependent on external support than Judaism was.
(2) There the order of precedence was Church before State; the whole nation being a theocracy, the law of Moses the statute book. While this was the order, the Church was free to carry out its mission in allegiance to God. In almost every modern union of Church and State the Church has had to purchase State support by a serious sacrifice of its spiritual self government and freedom of action.
(3) There is an absence of the harmonious, united feeling which alone makes a national Church a possibility.
(4) The wealth of the nation, and its religious interest, are so great that it can easily provide for the effective maintenance of all Christian activities, without needing anything beyond the freewill offerings of the people. On such grounds it is suggested that a Church establishment is today inexpedient. But, if a national provision of religious ordinance is inexpedient, a provision of religious ordinance throughout the land should be made in some other way; and it behoves every lover of his God and of his country to consecrate wealth and give labour to secure in every community a house of God, and to put within reach of all the preaching of the gospel of Christ. A church of Christ in every village, training children, consecrating youth, supporting manhood, glorifying age, the home of gentle charities, a quiet resting place, where all learn to love each other beneath the smile of God, is a provision on which God would smile, and by which man would be highly blessed; and feeling this, every true patriot will take every means and make every sacrifice to secure that something, thus answering to a tribe of Levi, shall in our land diffuse the immeasurable advantages of religious truth and united worship. Let all strive to establish, by the consecration of their gifts and labours, the Church of Christ more firmly in our native land.—G.
The record of God's faithfulness.
A beautiful little word, recording a nation's experience, and one adopted as the correct statement of the experience of multitudes that none can number! Look at it, and observe first—
I. GOD SPEAKS GOOD THINGS TO THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL. "Good things," i.e; "of its future: exceeding great and precious promises—words on which He causes us to hope." Man lives not in the present only. The past clings to him; the future presses on him. Especially this future—near and further! Our bliss comes chiefly from its hopes, our sorrows from its fears. With the present it is easy to deal; its form is fixed, and we can determine at once how to meet it. But the future is filled with "maybes" so indefinite and changeful in their form that we cannot settle how to meet or what to do with them. In the case of Israel, God covered all this darkness with His good words of hope. He would go before them; they should be brought to a land flowing with milk and honey; no enemy should stand before them; vineyards they had not planted, cities they had not built, should be theirs. They should find an earthly dwelling place singularly suited for their habitation: fertile for their sustenance, secure for their safety, central for the diffusion of their truth. So God speaks to all His Israel. To every one some promise is given. Even His prodigal children have some promise to cheer them. His sun of promise rises on the evil and on the good; but on the good it sheds its richest warmth. There are great words given to us. Providential mercies are promised; support of the Spirit of all grace is assured us: the Voice behind saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it:" and that temptation s shall not overpower, nor inward weakness destroy us; that we shall be more than conquerors through Him that loved us; that death itself shall be a ministering angel, wrestling with us, but blessing us at "break of day;" that there will be an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom, a perfected likeness to our Lord, an occupation before the throne, in which all our power will find delight and all our capacities be filled with satisfaction. These are the pledges given us. It is well to realise how vast they are, how worthy of the generosity of the infinite God. Be not dismayed, there is no sorrow whose consolation is not pledged in some word of promise, and no perplexity the solution of which is not tendered in some other. Marvel not that the words seem too vast to belong to us. The dimensions of mercy are Divine. Put against every thought of fear these words of comfort and of hope. We are sad and fearful chiefly because we forget them. God speaks good things unto Israel. Observe secondly—
II. IT SEEMED IMPOSSIBLE THAT THESE WORDS SHOULD NOT FAIL. When Moses brought them, the people "believed not for anguish of splint and cruel bondage." How could such promises be redeemed? They, a nation of slaves, whose spirit was ground out of them; their oppressor having a standing army, strong in cavalry? Impossibilities multiplied as they advanced. By the route they took they found themselves hemmed in by ranges of hills on either hand, sea in front, foe behind them. How could they reach the other side? There were desert difficulties, or rather impossibilities, as to water and food. How could they possibly dispossess the Canaanitish nations, all of them stronger than themselves—these peoples of Gilead in their fortresses, impregnable by nature, and rendered still more so by consummate art and by the marvellous vigour of the inhabitants? Without artillery of any kind, how could it be deemed a possibility to reduce the fenced cities of the Canaanites? How was Jordan to be crossed, with its deep ravine and swift stream that made it one of the strongest lines of defence that any nation ever had? Ten out of the twelve spies—all of them of course chosen for their courage—declared the task an utter impossibility. And it is worth our while to mark this, for there is a sort of family likeness running through all God's promises; and almost all have this look of impossibility about them. I suppose all spies are apt to feel that the promises God has made to us cannot possibly be fulfilled. One battling with doubts deems continuance in saintly living impossible, though God promises grace sufficient. One battling with strong proneness to sin feels it impossible that a feeble seed of grace should survive and conquer forces so much stronger than itself. The promise of usefulness resulting from our labour seems impossible of fulfilment, so does the promise of answers to our prayers. The promise of some survival of death and of our fragile spirit weathering all storms, and reaching a perfect home, seems impossible to be fulfilled. It is well to mark exactly the force of the favourite promises. They are not poor probabilities. They are the grand impossibilities of life. The supernatural enters into all our hopes. They cannot be realised unless God troubles Himself about them. We must not try and eke out faith with the consideration of natural probabilities. The natural probabilities are all against any one of the grander promises being fulfilled. But thirdly observe—
III. ALL THE PROMISES WERE FULFILLED. "All came to pass." There failed not ought of any good thing the Lord had spoken. The sea was crossed; the desert had its food and water; Bashan was subdued; Jordan crossed; the whole land possessed. And all this took place easily, without any hitch whatever, so long as Israel was willing simply to go on. And from then till now the experience of the Church of Christ has, on a large scale and with invariable uniformity, been, that however impossible the fulfilment of God's promises might seem, they have all been realised exceeding abundantly above all asked or thought. God is the same today as yesterday: not further from us in heart, not feebler in powers. His anointing is not exhausted; He is still fresh to do what He has promised. And if we faithfully follow on in the way in which He leads us, there will not fail ought of the good that God hath spoken to us.—G.
HOMILIES BY S.R. ALDRIDGE
The Privileges of the Jewish Church
Last among the tribes to know the particular inheritance assigned to them came the Levites, since they were not to occupy a distinct territory, but certain selected cities in each district. By this arrangement each tribe recognised the duty of providing for the support of the service of God, and had religious instructors abiding within its borders. The sacred historian having finished his narrative of the partition of the land, deems it a fitting opportunity to bear witness to the fact that God had proved equal to His word. He had brought His people into their possession, and they were busily engaged in arranging their habitations, tilling the soil and other occupations of landed proprietors. The Israelitish dispensation was typical, foreshadowing the dispensation of the fulness of times, of which theirs was but a dim anticipation, an emblem and a shadow. As mind is superior to matter, and spiritual are preferable to bodily satisfactions, as righteousness is more important than wealth, and elevation of soul more desirable than prowess in war, so do the advantages of which believers in Christ are partakers immeasurably outweigh all that was the portion of the Israelites in their brightest period.
I. AN ENUMERATION OF PRIVILEGES.
(1) Mention is made of the inheritance, the land which they now possessed, and wherein they dwelt. Hope was at last fruition. Buoyed up in their journeys by the thought of the "land flowing with milk and honey," they had crossed the Jordan and planted their feet on the soil that was to be theirs. When a man realises his sonship to God, the whole earth becomes his. For him the trees unfold their leaves and the birds sing. He takes fresh interest in the world of nature, it is his Father's garden. But our thoughts centre chiefly in those mercies bought for the Church by Christ at such enormous cost. Forgiveness, justification, adoption, sanctification, whole acres of fruitful soil that yield sustenance to the soul, yea, spiritual luxuries, if only we be diligent. Our inheritance is not to be enjoyed without appropriating effort. The word of God is the register of our estate. The territory expands by viewing, "'tis a broad land of wealth unknown." The higher we ascend on the hill of meditation, the better shall we behold our property, stretching far and wide, up to heaven and away to eternity. The ground furnishes all manner of fruit; the graces of the Spirit are many. The believer enters into the kingdom of God, an empire larger than that of Charlemagne and he is made richer than Croesus. Angels are his attendants.
(2) Rest is spoken of, rest from wanderings. There may be some of vagabondish tendencies to whom incessant travelling, with the variety it affords, is pleasing, but a nomadic life is neither desired by the majority nor healthful for them. Forty years in the wilderness did not reconcile the Israelites to the continual shifting of the camp. Perhaps no more piteous nor clamorous cry is heard today than the demand for rest. The rush of life is everywhere bewailed. Turmoil and bustle may delight for a season, but soon pall upon the taste and tire the faculties. A gospel intended for men must be capable of meeting the legitimate demands of every age. And the gospel of Jesus Christ claims to give rest to the weary. Not that the Christian is summoned to a position requiring no vigilance nor exercise of his talents. To superficial observers, the disciples who embraced the offer of Jesus may have appeared to lead an extremely unquiet life, now tossing on the waves at their Master's command, then journeying on foot through hamlets and towns, and finally proclaiming the truth in the midst of foes and persecutors. But rest is not idleness, carnal ease. The Israelites had still their proper work to do. But they were not tormented by the constant need to transport themselves, their wives, and children, and their baggage, to a different residence. The Christian has obtained peace of conscience, rest of soul, by reposing in Christ for security.
(3) The text speaks of victory, or rest from conflict. The inhabitants of Canaan had been defeated in several pitched battles. Many were slain, and others remained scattered in small groups through the land. The period of warfare necessary to acquire possession was at an end. "There stood not a man of all their enemies before them," etc. And victory is another blessing which God grants the believer. Satan has been driven from the citadel, and the rightful king installed. Sin staggers under a mortal wound. The contest may be long and sharp. The agonised soul cries, "What must I do?" Hopes and fears struggle for the mastery, passions fierce rend the breast, the thunders of Sinai roll, temptations darken the sky. But the radiance of the cross, the glory of the risen Saviour, the brightness of the ascension cloud, these dissipate the gloom, and the believer shouts, Victory! Victory! "Thanks be to God which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." Henceforth the character of the fight is changed. The enemy may not be completely extirpated; he may be left to prove the Christian, who has only to be true to his Lord, and the country shall be reduced to entire subjection. All the equipment, guidance, and succour requisite are provided; he may go from strength to strength, and if not triumphant, the blame is attributable to himself alone.
II. SOME GENERAL OBSERVATIONS upon the text.
(1) The Author of our blessings must be held in constant remembrance. Four times in three verses is the name of the Lord repeated. Herein lies the distinction between morality and religion. We are but heathen, if we speak of warring against evil, expelling selfishness, and slaying vice without acknowledging the impulse derived from on high. We are not Christians unless we ascribe the merit of the victory to the Lord, "Thou hast redeemed us by Thy blood."
(2) Blessings are all the sweeter from contrast with previous trials. Poverty teaches thankfulness for riches, labour enhances subsequent rest. It is the lame man healed that leaps and runs in the joy of his new found powers. Angels can never know the delight of exclaiming, "Whereas I was blind, now I see." In this way will God recompense the afflicted. The pained in body will be overjoyed to experience ease. The desolate will understand the comfort of sympathy and association with like-minded saints. These vagrant Israelites, harassed by perpetual marching and warfare, estimated highly the privilege of a restful settlement. And to any struggling with difficulty, we say, "Hereafter it shall delight thee to remember these thy labours." The veteran soldier will talk with honest pride of his wounds, and the traveller of his fatigues.
(3) Reminded of two truths that are like sunbeams in the word of God. The Lord is mindful of His oath, and able to redeem it to the very letter. "There hath not failed ought of any good thing all came to pass." How often the Israelites murmured because of the length of the way, were tempted to think the promised land a delusive mirage, that it was better to return to Egypt with its certain bondage, but also certain leeks and bread. The report of giants afield overwhelmed them with dismay. They would not look at the stars in the sky, the power of God and His covenant faithfulness. Now, in a class at school, what the teacher says to one is intended for the information of all. And what the Almighty has done to one individual or nation is for the instruction, refreshment, consolation of all. Unbelief is ever ready to lodge suspicion in our breasts. "Hath God forgotten to be gracious?" The holiest men have known seasons of despondency. Shut up in the ark they believe they are safe, but the floods are all around, and the tame of release is long in coming. If tempted to doubt the execution of God's plans, we must rise above the crowd, and from the tower behold the growth and grand proportions of the city. Withdraw a little, and try to obtain a comprehensive glance at history past and present, and your faith will be confirmed in the accomplishment of the Almighty purposes concerning mankind Order will be educed out of fancied confusion. The building of your faith cannot fall. Seize its pillars and test their strength, the pledged word and omnipotence of God, and all your fright will vanish.
(4) It is ever seasonable to record with gratitude the fulfilment of God's promises. If we only acted upon this statement in proportion to our consciousness of its truth, there would oftener issue from our complaining lips a burst of thanksgiving. The declaration of the text was reiterated by Joshua in his solemn charge to the people (Joshua 23:14), and a similar testimony was borne by Solomon at the dedication of the temple (1 Kings 8:56). What monuments were constructed and institutions established in order to commemorate the faithfulness of Jehovah! And we to whom "the fulness of the time" is come, could surely tune our harps to louder, nobler anthems, by reason of the more excellent gifts poured upon us from the treasury of Infinite Love, in accordance with His prophecies. "Praise our God all ye people!" His glory and our welfare concur in demanding this tribute of gratitude.
THIS SUBJECT RAISES OUR THOUGHT TO HEAVEN, as the place to which perfect rest and enjoyment of our inheritance are reserved. We have here "the spirit of promise as the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of our purchased possession." This is the morning twilight, that the noon; this the portico, that, the inner palace; this the foretaste, that the banquet; this the type, that the reality. Here "we groan being burdened," there we have the house eternal, the body that is the out-flashing glory of the spirit. Here we slake our thirst and appease our hunger, and soon we crave again; there "they hunger no more, neither thirst any more," for the Lamb doth feed them, and lead them to living fountains of water. Here we revive under the physician's touch, and fall ill again; there the inhabitants never have to say, "I am sick."—A.
HOMILIES BY J. WAITE
This cannot mean that the Divine plan in reference to Israel's possession of the land was now in all respects completely fulfilled. The Canaanite still dwelt in certain parts of it, and was never really cast out. But in the main the work was done. The country, as a whole, was subdued, and the invaders no longer had any formidable opposition to contend with. Moreover, God's part in the work was fully accomplished. Whatever partial failure there may have been was due to Israel's faithlesssness and weakness. There was no failure in God. He had been inflexibly true to His purpose. His word had not been broken. "There failed not ought," etc. The absolute fidelity of God to His purposes and promises is our theme. Let us take a broad view of it.
I. THE GENERAL CONSTITUTION AND ORDER OF THE UNIVERSE ILLUSTRATES THE DIVINE FAITHFULNESS. The universe of being is but an embodiment of the thought of God. A Divine purpose governs every part of it. His laws are not only expressions of His will, but are of the nature of pledges and promises, and no law is ever frustrated, no promise ever broken. They partake of the eternal steadfastness of His essential Being. "They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness."
(1) It is so in the material realm. Physical laws are simply the impress of the eternal mind on matter and the method by which that Mind sees fit to mould and govern it. The "course of nature" is but a continual unfolding of the steadfast thought and purpose of God. The world passed through many structural changes before it was trodden by the foot of man, and has passed through many since, but the laws that govern it have been the same from the beginning. Ages pass before those laws are discovered, but they existed of old. Great liberty of action is given to man within the natural order, but he cannot change it in one iota. It is a rock against which the waves of his self will and vain ambition only dash themselves in pieces—so beneficent and yet so terrible in its inflexibility; rewarding his trust, yet rebuking his presumption; inflicting on his ignorance and feebleness so severe a penalty, and yet guarding and befriending it. Our place in this great system of things is that of learners. Our highest science and skill are but a feeble answer to its truth and certainty. Life proceeds on the principle of trust in the constancy of nature, which is but another name for the faithfulness of God.
(2) It is so in the moral sphere. The material order is but the shadow and reflection of the moral. Moral laws belong to a world not of shadows and appearances, but of substantial and enduring reality. "The things that are seen are temporal," etc. If there is fixity in the principles that govern the outer, how much more in those that govern the inner, life of man. Our earthly existence is a restless ebb and flow of circumstance and feeling. No two human histories, no two social situations, events, experiences, are alike. And yet there is "nothing new under the sun." "That which hath been is now" etc. (Ecclesiastes 3:15). As the kaleidoscope, out of a few simple shapes and colours, presents ever-changing forms of beauty to the eye, so does the revolution of our days and years embody in an endless variety of forms the primary principles and laws that govern our moral life. Those laws partake of the nature of the Lawgiver. They change not, "raft not," because He is "without variableness," etc. Whether as regards the threatening of evil or the promise of good, all infallibly "come to pass." Conceive it in a single case to be otherwise, and the whole moral system of things is involved in utter confusion and hopeless ruin.
II. THE SPHERE OF FULFILLED PROPHECY ILLUSTRATES IT. Prophecy, as at once an inspiration and a revelation, is essentially supernatural, Divine. As regards its predictive element, it is as a passing gleam of light from the Infinite Intelligence, to which all things, past, present, and future, are alike "naked and opened." The prophet, as a seer, is one for whom God's own hand has for a moment lifted the veil of the future. Every really prophetic word is thus a Divine pledge, and its fulfilment is the redemption of that pledge. Biblical revelations from the beginning breathe the spirit of prophecy, and biblical history is rich in the verification of it. What is the whole career of Israel—its national existence, its captivities and deliverances, the advent of Messiah and His glorious kingdom, the after destiny of the Hebrew people—but the translation of prophecy into history? Thus does age after age present some new testimony to the truth and faithfulness of God. Dispensations change, the generations come and go, but His purposes move on steadily to their accomplishment. "Not one faileth." Heaven and earth may pass away, but His word shall not pass away.
III. THE COVENANT OF GRACE ILLUSTRATES IT. In this the covenant made with Abraham found its consummation (Genesis 22:18). David died in the calm, glad faith of it. "Yet hath He made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure etc. (2 Samuel 23:5). Having its birth in the depths of a past eternity, being no mere after thought, it was manifested "in the fulness of time" in Him "in whom all the promises of God are yea and amen." His blood is the seal of the everlasting covenant. In Him God "performed the mercy promised to the fathers," and "the word that He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets since the world began." And as all foregoing ages foreshadowed it, so do the after ages give ever accumulating witness to its truth and certainty. Every earnest Christian life—every reward of obedient faith, every answered prayer, every new victory over death—confirms it. Our fathers trusted in it and were not put to shame. They passed peacefully away with its language on their lips, and the hope of immortality it enkindled in their hearts. We ourselves are learning more and more daily how worthy it is of our trust. And we know that when the tale of our changeful life is told, and we also shall have passed away, our children will enter into the inheritance of blessing with the "long interest" of added years: "heirs together with us of the grace" it reveals.
"The words of God's extensive love
From age to age endure;
The angel of the covenant proves
And seals the blessing sure."
"All flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away; but the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Peter 1:24, 1 Peter 1:25).—W.
HOMILIES BY E. DE PRESSENSE
Fulfillment of God's Promises
"The Lord is not a man that He should lie, or the Son of Man that He should repent." His promises are "yea and amen." This is the great truth brought home to us by the beautiful conclusion of the partition of the land of Canaan. "The Lord gave to Israel all the land which He sware to give unto their fathers. There failed not ought of any good thing which the Lord had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass" (verses 48, 45). Heaven and earth may pass away, but the word of the Lord must stand.
(1) His word cannot return to Him void; for it is always instinct with vital power. "In the beginning was the Word; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God." God spoke, and a world sprang into being. Every word of prophecy has been fulfilled in the history of our race. His promises in like manner can never be empty words—they must have an answering reality.
(2) He is the God of truth, ever faithful to Himself.
(3) He is the God of love, and His love cannot belie itself.
(4) He is the God of eternal ages. To Him there is no interval between the promise and its fulfilment; it is to our apprehension only that the promise tarries. The new Israel may say, like Israel of old, "Not one good word has failed of all that He has spoken." The covenant of grace is a new land of promise. In it the Church has found a settled abiding place: it has overcome its adversaries and shall go on conquering and to conquer. So also shall it be with the third great land of promise, the heavenly Canaan. Upon this inheritance shall the redeemed at last enter singing, with a new meaning, this old song of triumph: "The Lord hath given us rest round about, according to all that He sware unto our fathers" (Joshua 21:44).—E. DE P.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Joshua 21". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30