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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Numbers 21

 

 

Verses 1-4

Discouragements

Numbers 21:4

The people wanted to take a straight course through the land of Edom, and the people of Edom said they should not pass through their provinces—even though Israel promised to "go by the king"s high way," and not to enter the vineyards, and not to take a drop of water out of the wells, or if they did take any water to pay for it. But Edom was resolute. The people, therefore, had "to compass the land of Edom"—to take a roundabout course; and it was so long, so wearisome, so heavy with monotonousness, and altogether so unlike what the other way would have been, that "the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way." Discouragement is a kind of middle feeling; it Isaiah , therefore, all the more difficult to treat. It does not go so far down as cowardice, and has hardly any relation to a sense of triumph or over-sufficiency of strength; but the point of feeling lies between, deepening rather towards the lower than turning itself sunnily towards the higher. When that feeling takes possession of a Prayer of Manasseh , the man may be easily laid down, thrown over, and may readily become the prey of well-nigh incurable dejection. Discouragement is not far from despair. The feeling, then, is: Let us return,—why did we come out at all?—the short way is the way backward: let us undo the journey and return to the origin whence we started. That is a human feeling; that is the feeling of every man at some point in his education. You take up a new language: you say you will certainly master this tongue. But the way13circuitous. For a little while it is bright enough and easy enough, and we think we might take children with us along a way so broad and sunny; suddenly we come to irregularities, exceptions, endless variations and shadings; we confuse moods with tenses, and tenses with moods; we ask for things we do not want, and we name things by names that are all but comical mistakes;—and we say at this point of our progress,—Let us return to the Egypt of our ignorance: this task is too heavy this penalty is a burden;—would we had never started from Egypt, where we could speak what little language we needed quite fluently and could ask in it for more things than we were ever likely to get! The student is discouraged,—yea, much discouraged because of the way. Let him persevere a month or two, or six, or twelve; let him get beyond the middle point and begin the joy of acquisition, and taste the sweetness of liberty, and know the magic of thinking in another tongue than that in which he was born; and nothing can take him back to the Egypt of ignorance, to the captivity of intellectual darkness. What wonder, then, if in learning a language, or science, or any other complicated lesson, we come to a point of discouragement, that there should be kindred discouragements in all upward ways? The right way is uphill. It is easy to go downhill: we think we are not tired in going downhill; yet it is most weary work to climb the steep ascents. But the temples are all on the top of the steep; the heavenly cities are away above the valleys. We have, therefore, to consider one of two things: whether we will succumb to an innate indolence that simply wants to be let alone and to be amused or gratified without expense; or whether we will clear the valleys, leave all the lower levels behind us, and go up with ever-increasing vitality and ever-brightening hope, until there comes into the soul a sense of joy Which can never permit the soul to go back to the places where the fog thickens, where the damps choke, and where there is nothing broad, grand, eternal. But we have to be very careful with the discouraged soul. When the young student feels his eyes moistening because he cannot subdue the unruly irregulars and exceptions, we must not shout at him or speak to him roughly, but tell him that once we were exactly at that very point, and we cried our eyes out for very vexation that these unruly things would not be set in order and would not do just what we wanted them to do; then the little learner, the young soul, remembering that we fought a battle just there, may take heart again, and come up to-morrow with reinvigorated motive and strength. Power is rightly used when it is employed to sustain and inspire the discouraged; it ceases to be power—it becomes a merely exaggerated strength and an unruly despotism—when it is employed to threaten, to distress, and to grieve the soul that is already too much troubled.

There are necessary discouragements. How awful it would be if some men were never discouraged!—they could not bear themselves, and they could not act a beneficent part towards other people. It is well, therefore, for the strongest man occasionally to be set back half-a-day"s travelling and have to begin to-morrow morning at the point where he was yesterday morning. If he could go on with continually enhancing strength, he would become a severe critic of other men, and would himself be turned into the severest discouragement which could be inflicted upon competitors. It is well, therefore, that some supposed bargains should turn out mistakes; it is best that some strokes that were going to cleave the rock right in two should strike the smiter himself that he may tremble under the force of his own blow. Otherwise, who could live with some men? They would be so outblown, so self-flattered; they would be so conscious of their superiority as to fill the whole street in which they lived and the whole city which they plagued by their presence. It is of God that the strongest man should sometimes have to sit down to take his breath. Seeing such a man tired, even but for one hour, poor weak pilgrims may say,—If Hebrews , the man of herculean strength, must pause awhile, it is hardly to be wondered at that we poor weaklings should now and then want to sit down and look round and recover our wasted energy.

We must not forget that a good many discouragements are of a merely physical kind. We do not consider the relation between temperament and religion as we ought to consider it. We are apt to be too abstract and spiritual, and therefore exacting and tyrannous in our judgments of one another. Many a man would have been abreast with the foremost of us to-day but for some physical peculiarity of temperament over which he has no control. His sunny moments are but brief and very few in number; when a ray of light does strike him, he can smile with the merriest and play with the most free-handed; but suddenly the clouds shut, and then he is as blank and cold and fear-driven as ever. We ought to speak gently to such a sufferer. Your inability to pray to a bright heaven arises entirely—if you could see your own physiology—from a little pressure here, and a little congestion there, or some imperfect action yonder; this trouble is not in the soul of you, and it has nothing to do with your standing before God and your citizenship in heaven: it is a physical disturbance, it is a purely temporary affair; and if you can seize that thought, and accept the assurance which it involves, you will pray as gladly into a thick cloud as into a radiant morning, because you will know that the cloud is not in the heavens, it is only a covering before your own disordered vision. These views are needful to a right judgment of life. Sometimes, too, men"s physical strength is utterly exhausted, and therefore their intellectual energy and their spiritual vitality may be by so much impaired. The wheel cannot go on for ever. The strongest giant begins to totter, Hercules asks for a staff, and Samson begs to be allowed to retire awhile, promising to come up as bravely as ever to-morrow, if he can but steep his soul in one short night"s oblivion. Consider, therefore, that you are not necessarily unfaithful, disloyal, unworthy, because, for the moment, you have lost your gift of vision, your faculty of prayer, your priestly standing which men have so often recognised as being full of power—the power of prevailing sweetness; your soul has not gone down, your spirit is not impoverished, but the poor flesh gives in; you have been working too many hours: you thought you would make six days almost into seven, and that is a miracle you cannot perform; you have said you would light the lamp and keep it aflame an hour longer than usual; and the lamp got the better of you. In your very soul"s soul you are just as good as you ever were, and just as true to God and as anxious to serve him and follow all the way of his finger; but your body is being overworked, and you must stop to get the candlestick repaired, or the candle may drop out of it, and there may be a destructive fire in your premises. Examine yourselves, whether the discouragement comes out of some spiritual fault—some inner secret which no eye can see but your own; or whether it is accidental, physical, and therefore transient. Be rational in your inquiry into the origin of your discouragement, and be a wise man in the treatment of the disease.

There are exaggerated discouragements. Some men have a gift of seeing darkness. They do not know that there are two twilights—the twilight of morning, and the twilight of evening; they have only one twilight, and that is the shady precursor of darkness. We have read of a man who always said there was a lion in the way. He had a wonderful eye for seeing lions. Nobody could persuade him that he did not see a ravenous beast within fifty yards of the field he intended to plough—not there only, but absolutely in the street, so that you do not find him half-way to the field, but peering out of his own side-window and beholding a lion in the very middle of the way. That is an awful condition under which to live the day of human life. But that lion is real to him. Why should we say roughly,—There is no lion,—and treat the man as if he were insane? To him, in his diseased condition of mind, there is a lion. We must ply him with reason softly expressed, with sayings without bitterness; we must perform before him the miracle of going through the very lion he thought was in the way; and thus, by stooping to him and accommodating ourselves to him, without roughness or brusqueness, or tyranny of manner and feeling, must bring him round to the persuasion that he must have been mistaken. We read of a man who would not sow because he had been observing the wind. That man still lives. He is sure the wind is in a cold quarter. It is absurd on your part to attempt to prove to him that it is breathing from the warm south-west;—upon you it may be so breathing, if you like to feel it so; but he says,—I know by my own sensations that the wind is breathing from the north-east, and if I go out the seed will be blown into some other man"s field, and my own life will be sacrificed to the cruelty of the wind. So we have men much discouraged by lions that do not exist, by winds that do not blow, by circumstances that are purely imaginary; but we must recognise these facts, and address ourselves to them with the skill of love, as well as with the energy of conviction.

Discouragement does not end in itself. The discouraged man is in a condition to receive any enemy, any temptation, any suggestion that will even for the moment rid him of his intolerable pressure. Through the gate of discouragement the enemy wanders at will. The gate of the mind is not open, the gate of a sacred purpose is not open; every gate of entrance into the mind"s inner life is shut but one,—the gate of discouragement swings back and forward and seems to wave a welcome to any thought that will prey upon the mind and to any enemy that chooses to desolate the heart. Therefore be tender with the discouraged, help them to swallow their tears, tell them that you have had kindred experiences with their own, show them how you were led through that gate out of the bondage into the sweet liberty, and say you will stop with them all night. The discouraged man likes to feel himself in the grip of a strong hand. Some men cannot stop up all the night of discouragement by themselves; but if you would sit up with them, if you would trim the light and feed the fire, and say they might rely upon your presence through one whole night at least, they might get an hour"s rest, and in the morning bless you with revived energy for your solicitude and attendance. If the prophet had bidden thee do some great thing, thou wouldest have done it: the prophet bids thee do some little thing, some act of gentlest patience and love, and to do it as if not doing it—to do it as if by gracious necessity, to do it as if conferring an obligation on thyself. Not the thing done but how done, is often the question which must be determined by the doer.

Discouragements try the quality of men. You cannot tell what some men are when their places of business are thronged from morning until night, and when they are spending the whole of their time in receiving money. You might regard them as really very interesting characters; you might be tempted to think you would like to live with them: they are so radiant, so agreeable, so willing to oblige; they speak so blithely that you suppose you have fallen upon some descendant of the line of angels. That is quite a mistake on your part. If you could come when business is slack, when there are no clients, customers, patrons, or supporters to be seen, you would not know the lovely angels, you would not recognise the persons whom you thought so delightful. Look at the face, how cloudy! Hear the voice, how husky! Observe the action, how impatient! Mark the eye, how furtive and angry! Now you see what the man really is. Adversity tries men. We are in reality what we are under pressure. The year is not all summer; the year has long rains and heavy snows and biting frosts, and the entire year must be taken in if we would make an accurate survey of the whole land. Do not let us deceive ourselves. We have times of a little excitement and triumph and gladness, when people think us kind and amiable and delightful; but we know we are saying within ourselves,—If these people could only see us at other times when we snap like mad dogs, when nothing pleases us, when feathers are hard, when summer is winter, when our best friends are burdens to us, they would not form such judgments of our delightful qualities. The meaning of all this is that the Christian has to show, whatever other men have to do, that Christianity is a religion for night, and winter, and ill-health, and loss, and discouragement; a religion that sits up all night, a religion that does not run away when the dogs of war are let loose, but that comforts, and sustains, and animates under deprivations of the severest kind.

What is the cure of this awful disease of discouragement? Men are not to be laughed out of their discouragements as if they were merely illusory, or as if they were assumed for the purpose of affectation. Let us repeat to ourselves again and again, that discouragement is positive and actual to the man who suffers from it. The very first condition of being able to treat discouragement with real efficiency is to show that we know its nature, that we ourselves have wandered through its darkness, and that we have for the sufferer a most manly and tender sympathy. What is the discouragement? Loss in business? We have all lost in business. Ill-health? We have all suffered from ill-health. Bereavement? Where is there a hand that has not dug a grave? Temptations from hell? Who lives that has not felt the devil"s hot breath upon his soul? We must be one with the discouraged man. Identification is the secret of sympathy, and sympathy spoken tremblingly that realises the meaning of the apparently contradictory words,—"When I am weak, then am I strong."

Then are there no encouragements to be recollected in the time of our dejection? Do the clouds really obliterate the stars, or only conceal them? The discouragements can be numbered,—can the encouragements be reckoned—encouragements of a commercial, educational, social, relative kind,—encouragements in the matter of health or spirits or family delights? Is it rough in the marketplace? Possibly; but how tranquil is it at home!—and what is any marketplace when home is quiet with the peace of heaven? Are there losses and trials? Possibly; but are there no spiritual gains, acquisitions, subtle accretions of moral power, so that a receding earth means an approaching heaven? Do the papers bring you bad news this morning? What about the letters that are lying in your lap—letters from children at school, from children in business, from friends who are giving you thanks for assistance lent years ago? Why, all these letters are like the gathering up of sunbeams. God forbid I should say to you,—Do not write down your discouragements. Take slate enough and pencil enough to put down the whole black list; but God forbid I should forget to say,—Now write on the other side your encouragements, your sources of happiness, your springs of strength, your inspirations, and your hopes; put them down with a firm hand, and you will have to turn the slate over to accommodate the growing list.

The great cure for discouragement is a persuasion of being right. We have really very little to do with mere circumstances; we are not masters of the weather, we cannot control the atmosphere, nor have we any magical wand by which we can do things which are of a supernatural kind. The eternal consolation is in the fact that the purpose is right, the heart is sound, the suppliant means his prayer, the student grasps the truth;—all other changes are atmospheric, climatic, transitory,—damping enough and discouraging enough in the meanwhile, but forgotten to-morrow. The devil has but a short chain, and he cannot add one link to its length. This is eternal life, to know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.—The clouds do not throw down the house: the house is founded upon a rock; think of the rock, not of the falling snow; think of the eternal foundation, and not of the changing clouds. "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his."

Then the chief cure, the master remedy, the sovereign assurance, must be found in the example of Christ. He was much discouraged because of the way. "He marvelled because of their unbelief;" "he did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief;" but when he was come nigh the city, he wept over it, and said: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen doth gather her young under her wings, and ye would not!" They went out against him with swords and staves as against a thief; but for the joy that was set before him he endured the Cross, despising the shame. It is worth waiting a whole winter night to behold the brightness of the coming summer. A little rain, a high wind, a fall of snow, unexpected frost, a little bitterness in the cup;—these things come and go, but we, being in Christ, seek a kingdom which cannot be moved. If we are seeking nothing, then discouragements will prevail; in the absence of definite purpose, distinct assault will have a tremendous effect upon us; but if our eye be single and our whole body be full of light, and if our vision be set upon a given destiny, and that destiny be a city which hath foundations whose Builder and Maker is God, then apostles will shake off the viper into the fire, lions will shake the dewdrops from their manes, sleepers will throw back the garments in which they have been slumbering, and brave men will find in the end more than compensation for the way, and one glimpse of heaven will cast into eternal forgetfulness all the little troubles of earth.

Note

Crossing the Arnon, we reach in succession, Rabbath Moab, still called Rabba, in the midst of a wide plain, where we find more broken cisterns, fallen columns, and ruined heaps, betokening former greatness and importance. Farther on is Kerak, the Biblical Kir-Moab, or Kir-hareseth, on the brow of a hill which juts out from a yet higher range in the form of a peninsula, flanked by stupendous ravines on three sides. It is a position of great strength, as seems intimated by the Scripture references; and it was here that in desperation at the long siege by Jehoram and Jehoshaphat, the King of Moab offered his firstborn son as a sacrifice upon the walls. During the Crusades, Kerak became again famous, and the Crusaders castle still remains. The population of the modern town is between seven and eight thousand, of whom nearly one-third are reckoned as Christians belonging to the Greek Church. Their bishop takes his title from Petra, probably because, when the see was founded in the twelfth century, the place was mistaken for the great "rock city" of ancient Edom.

The journey now assumes a new character; and while more desolate and even dangerous, from the bands of roving Bedawin, has a wonderful interest. For, in Bible language, we have passed from Moab to the confines of Edom. The Dead Sea is left behind, on our right is Mount Seir, a range of hills, averaging two thousand feet in height, on this side chiefly of limestone, swelling gradually upwards from the desert, and crowned by ridges of a reddish sandstone, through which crop up masses of basalt. The mountain wall is broken by deep clefts clothed with every variety of herbage, while on every level terrace, and on all the less precipitous slopes, shrubs and flowers luxuriantly grow. "It is indeed the region," remarks Dr. Robinson, "of which Isaac said to his Song of Solomon , "Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above.""

On the left hand stretches the wilderness in which the last months of Israel"s "wanderings" were passed—the dreary arid waste to which they were driven by the inhospitality of Edom; in which "the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way," the wilderness of the fiery serpents, and still the most dreaded part of the pilgrim"s road to Mecca. It is not, however, necessary for the traveller to descend into this fearful desert. Strongly escorted, and paying due tribute to the Bedawin tribes along his route he may pursue his way in safety, on the skirt of the hills, passing through several large villages beautifully placed upon the heights until he reaches Petra.

—Dr. Green"s Pictures from Bible Lands.

Prayer

Almighty God, thou art always healing men; thou healest all their diseases. Thou knowest our frame; thou rememberest that we are but dust. Thou dost not send affliction willingly upon the children of men, nor grieve them for thine own pleasure; thou dost chasten men for their profit, and thou dost mean affliction to lead to the throne of grace. We would not accept affliction rebelliously, but would endeavour to receive it even thankfully, that, in the long run, we may say,—It was good for me that I was afflicted: before I was afflicted I went astray. Thou dost send punishment upon the evil-doer, and we are called upon to say with our whole heart,—This is a judgment that is righteous. Thou dost pain the wrong-doer; thou dost baffle the evil-minded man; thou dost turn to confusion the council of thine enemies. This is the Lord"s doing; in it we find rest, security, and eternal hope. The wicked shall not prevail against thee; all his bows shall be broken, and his sword shall be turned upon his own heart. The good man shall live before thee because he is good; the gracious soul shall have more grace, and the praying spirit shall be enriched with great replies. This is thy government, thy purpose, thy way in the hearts of men and among the nations of the earth. We accept it; we do not only submit to it, but receive it with open hearts, with thankfulness of spirit, knowing that the Lord reigneth and in the end his throne shall be established and there shall be no rebellion. Thou hast set up a great vision for men to gaze upon: thou hast erected the Cross; upon it we behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world; we hear thy voice saying,—Look unto him, all ye nations of the earth, and be ye saved: believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and ye shall be saved. We look: we behold the amazing scene. We cannot understand the mystery,—we feel its solemnity, we answer its pathos; but the miracle of the righteousness, and the law, and the mercy, and the divine intervention, we cannot understand. Help us to look steadfastly to the Cross; enable us to keep our eyes evermore upon the one Saviour of mankind; may we be found in that posture living, dying, throughout all our days;—then shall our sin have no power over us, and our guilt shall lead us into deeper acquaintance with the mystery of the love of God. We bless thee for the Cross:—God forbid that we should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We find in it all that the soul needs—an answer to a mystery, help in the time of distress, joy in the night of sorrow, balm for every wound. So do we rejoice in the Cross; we will not turn away our eyes from it; it is the Tree of Life, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations. May all eyes be fixed upon it; may all hearts be moved to great expectation; may we know that the Cross is the way to pardon, that the Cross receives the crown, that there can be no peace until there is forgiveness. May forgiveness be granted unto every one of us according to the measure of our sin—yea, and beyond it, that in the abundance of the pardon we may begin to see that sin is swallowed up. Amen.


Verses 5-9

Murmuring Punished

Numbers 21:5-9

About the extreme probability of the whole story of the wandering of Israel there can be no doubt. Nothing occurs out of time in the story, nothing out of place; nothing is in false colour or tone. Looking upon the story from a merely literary point of view, there is not one line of improbability discoverable in it. Not a single decade, much less a century, is anticipated in the speech of the people. They are children always, with children"s whims, faults, desires, amusements, hopes, fears. It is the story of children overgrown, often too much indulged, not knowing the meaning of the thong of chastisement, and not measuring the process by the end. It is a child"s life, shut up within the present day and receiving no glory from the promised land. What was the talk of the children of Israel? It was always about the body—want of food, want of water, fear of death, inconvenience, sudden alarm, and pain of body. It was, therefore, just the talk for the age. There is no soul in it, no immortality, no aspiration after liberties immeasurable as infinity. The whole speech is of the earth, earthy. It never throbs with noble passion; it beats fiercely with the excitement of selfishness, beyond that it never goes into the region of vital and solemn tragedy. Is there any improbability in such a statement? We cannot conceive the improbability because we ourselves too frequently literally repeat the experience. Examine any specimen of modern talk: let it be written down and set before the eye in plain print, like the story of Israel, and say what better is much of it. It is the talk about the body, the weather, the state of business, the income and the outgoing; it is a mean speech about balances and counter-balances, and the politics of the day, and who is to be first, and who will win, and who will lose; the talk is about bullocks in the field, and about balances in the marketplace, and about health at the fireside. Is not much human talk now going on around us about trials and circumstances, want of bread, want of water, want of enlargement of domestic comfort, pining for further fields and larger resources? Where is the altar? Where is the harp? Where is the vision that divides the clouds and pierces beyond them, and sees that this little earth is but a help towards some vaster universe? We do discover it in our case;—did we not, shame would be ours more burning than fire, for then the centuries would have been wasted upon us and we should have neglected the plainest revelations of Providence; but an inquiry into our own methods and experiences, and analysis of our own conversation will show the extreme probability of every line that occurs in the portraiture of the wilderness life of Israel. Where do you find the children of Israel in rapture about the tabernacle? Where is there any noble speech about it? Where the wonder that after becomes religion? Where the solemn amazement that stands next in rank and quality to prayer? The same question might be asked in modern days. If we were careful to take the lowest view of current life, we might establish an analogous case to-day, but we are bound to take in other elements and circumstances which illuminate and colour and enlarge the spectacle and give it some charm and dignity of divinity; still there is enough in ourselves and about us to establish beyond all successful disputation the probability of the story as it is written in the Pentateuch.

The children of Israel complained because their soul loathed the light bread, they wanted change of food. We do not complain perhaps along the same line; but are we quite sure that we have lost the spirit of murmuring, with regard to all the sustenance by which the mysterious human life within us is sustained and nourished? Let it be granted that we have of bread enough and to spare for the body—abundance, even to luxury, so that we never complain: we are thankful for a loaded table: we bless Providence for an abundant supply of all necessaries for the body; but does the speech end there? Is there not one within who requires food and whose hunger must be attended to if death would be averted? Are we all body? Is our little life now dwarfed into the measure of such hunger as can be felt by the flesh? Have we no mind to feed, no soul to nourish, no inner nature to brace and strengthen, to inspire, and to complete in strength and perfectness of moral beauty? If we examine the outer Prayer of Manasseh , he expresses himself in terms of contentment; but what if we subject the inner man to cross-examination? What is the tone of his reply? It is pungent with reproach, it is bitter with complaining; it is the utterance of a dissatisfied and morbid spirit. Who is content with the spiritual food which God has been pleased to supply for the nourishment and culture of the soul? Is there no complaining in the Church? Is there no disposition amongst the spiritual children of Israel to rise and say,—We are tired of this food, or of that? Where is the spirit of genuine contentment—heart and soul satisfaction? If the food is solid, partaking of the nature of scriptural exposition, full of instruction, solid in thought, noble in knowledge, ample in intelligence, demanding attention, constraining the soul to take heed or it will miss the luminous point, then do not many fall away saying that during the week they are so vexed by difficulties and so strained in their attention that on the Sabbath day they have no appetite for such solid provision? If it is light, moving, not with fluency only, but with some glibness from point to point, digging nowhere, building nowhere, flying like an uncertain bird in the air; then is there not complaining from the other side of want of solidity, and depth, and rock-like massiveness? If the teaching is historical, going far back to find out the way of God in the ancient time, then is there not a voice which says,—All that is dead and gone; the ages have had their turn,—they have lived, flourished, died,—why exhume the centuries? And if it be of the nature of current criticism, referring to living men, contemporaneous events, the immediate fever and passion of the time, then is there not a voice saying,—All this we can read during the week; we can keep abreast with this to-morrow; on this one brief day called Sabbath day be nobler, grander, deeper, vaster in intellectual reach, and keener in spiritual perception? Surely an assembly of contentious and unruly guests! There is nothing right. The host"s attention has been stretched to the utmost, and behold the viands are rejected! How few remember that they need not eat the whole of the viands! How few remember that a little here and a little there may be enough to satisfy the hunger of the mind! One line may be a revelation; one little jewelled sentence may be perfectly sufficient; one cry to Heaven in opening or concluding prayer may be equivalent to inspiration. The contented soul will always find enough to be contented with; that soul will say,—This is better than I deserve; I have not earned this by my own strength or wit or industry; this prey has been taken for me by the mighty hunter on the mountains of the Lord, and I will bless the Giver in heaven, and I will bless the provider on earth for venison which the soul may relish. The discontented man never can be satisfied do not attempt to please him; have no connection with or relation to him; ignore him; pass by him and turn away. He hinders all growth, he disturbs all serenity, he is a plague in the feast. We must not, therefore, set ourselves against the children of Israel as if we had come to a larger manhood altogether. It is perfectly certain that we have an abundance of food; we are not confined to the eating of this light bread which caused the soul of Israel to experience a sensation of loathing; we have enough, we say, and to spare, and there is no complaining about earthly abundance. Stop! you must not steal even the meanest heaven. What about your soul"s food? What about the mean whine—There is no food for the soul? What about weariness with the Book? What about the desire to add some other book to it? Who would not rather hear some other publication read than the inspired volume? Who is not best pleased by snatches of verse from some human singer? Who would not suspend the harp of David to listen to some instrument of modern invention? Let these inquiries stand in that impersonal form, and let each take up the interrogation and test himself by it; and may God give sound judgment to all! Did these people desire knowledge? Did they ever gather around their leaders and say,—Give us a brighter revelation from heaven; we feel that we are more than mortal: we are too large lor this wilderness; within us there is a voice which says, Give; but let the donation be knowledge, light, revelation? When did they ever utter large prayer, noble desire, and express the kind of discontent which is pleasing to Heaven—that is to say, discontent with present acquisitions, discontent with intellectual darkness, discontent with the prison of earth, longing for the liberty of heaven? When do we hear that expression now? Who cries out for more Bible—a larger reading of the holy volume? Who would be content to read through one whole book of the inspired volume, taking it in its entirety and enjoying the reading as men might enjoy honey brought from the very garden of heaven? Who would not weary were the leader of public worship to read through the whole of the Epistle to the Romans? What man would stand up and say,—Begin again: no music like it; repeat its rolling thunder, its tender persuasion, its triumphant anthem, its connected and culminating reasoning? Judging ourselves by false standards, we have made great progress; but judging ourselves by the standard of the Sanctuary, who stands? There is none righteous, no, not one. When did the children of Israel pray for likeness to God, expressing, in some indirect way, almost jealousy of Moses that he should have seen more of the divine personality, that he should have been nearer than anyone else the very throne of God? Who called upon him to show how this mortal might put on immortality and this corruptible put on incorruption? If it could not be done at that time of day, it can be done now; and the question is still pertinent—Where is the soul that longs for transfiguration, that desires above all things holiness, likeness to God, the exact reproduction of the divine image, and the very brightness of the eternal glory? It is not enough to long for instruction; instruction may be but a load of knowledge. Knowledge is not enough; it may but puff up. Knowledge has to become Wisdom of Solomon , wisdom become inspiration, and inspiration become almost identification with God—a mysterious ascension of the soul, but not beyond the experience which the divine education contemplates.

The people complained. The complaint was heard. When we complain, we complain against God. It is God"s universe, not man"s. Man did not make a single blade of grass in all the earth"s green crop; man did not light a single jet in all the sky burning with stars. When we complain, therefore, we touch the Head of the house, we lay our finger upon currents which report the pressure to the very Heart of creation. We forget this solemn view of things. We treat life as a mere game of chance; we think it is all of our own handling, or of the handling of other men; whereas written upon the earth and inscribed upon the heaven is this declaration:—"The earth is the Lord"s, and the fulness thereof." To complain is to be atheistic, to murmur is to throw down the altar, to adopt a reproachful tone regarding the necessary education of life is to challenge divine wisdom. The complaint was punished as complaining must always be. Fretfulness always brings its own biting serpent along with it. Charge what improbability you may upon the particular account of serpents in the text—get rid of them if you can from the historical record,—there remains the fact, that the fretful spirit burns itself, the discontented soul creates its own agony, the mind wanting the sweet spirit of contentment stings itself night and day and writhes continually in great suffering. Discontent never brought joy, peevishness never tranquillised the home life, fretfulness in the head of the house, or in any member of the house, creates a disagreeable feeling throughout the whole place. Complaint punishes itself. Every complaint has a corresponding serpent, and the serpent bites still. The people complained of the light food—then God sent them fiery serpents. There is always something worse than we have yet experienced. The children of Israel might have thought the bread was the worst fate that could befall them. To be without water, and to be continually living upon manna—surely there was nothing worse? We cannot exhaust the divine resources of a penal kind. There is always some lower depth, always some keener bite, always some more painful sting, always some hotter hell. Take care how you treat life. Do not imagine that you can complain without being heard, and that you can be heard without punishment immediately following. This is the mystery of life; this is the fact of life. We cannot reason ourselves out of it. Whatever metaphysical universe we may construct, we have to lie down at night in the concrete universe which the almighty God has made and is governing. It is not enough to find fault with marvellous things in the Holy Book, as if they never could have been real in the narrow sense in which we define reality, because, when our peddling criticism has done its utmost, there remains the fact, that complaint means suffering, peevishness means agony, discontent means the failure of every sanctuary of rest and every refuge of confidence. "Go: sin no more," said Christ, "lest a worse thing come upon thee." There is always a worse thing to come. Do not press God; do not challenge the Most High. Do not say,—If there is anything worse than this I cannot imagine it. Things are not limited by our imagination. The chariots of God are twenty thousand, and as for the number of his weapons, no man has been in his armoury to reckon up the sum-total of the weapons. God is a consuming fire. God"s wrath cannot be directed by the futile hand of man. How, then, is the fire to be extinguished? How is the wrath to be turned aside, or to be pacified, or to be brought into the harmonic movement of the universe? To that human riddle there is no human answer. He who sent the serpent must remove it; he who inflicted the punishment must lift his hand, for we cannot turn it aside. So we find God not only the Punisher of Israel but the Saviour of his Church and people in the wilderness. Moses was commanded to make a serpent of brass, to put it upon a pole, to set up the symbol; and whosoever looked towards it, having been bitten of the fiery flying serpent, was healed because he looked. In wrath God remembers mercy: he will not impose severe efforts upon those who have been punished by the fiery flying serpent; he will have but the turned eye, the significant look, the glance that means the soul. His terms are easy; his burden is not heavy; his yoke is not oppressive. The great condition is—Believe, and thou shalt be saved. Look unto him, all ye nations of the earth—the look of the heart—and the answer will be redemption, salvation, pardon, heaven. This is very easy,—and yet it is not so easy as it appears to be. The look must not be merely a glance of distress;—it must be the expectancy of faith, the eager look which means God will give salvation to the eyes that are directed towards him. To adopt a Christian term, this vision means "faith"; to preach a Christian gospel my words must be brought from the Scriptures themselves: "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." How? By reasoning? by argument? by high controversy? by some pitched battle of words? No; but by self-renunciation, and by the look that means prayer, and by the expectation that expresses the trust of the soul. Why preach on this ancient incident? It is not so ancient. Why now refer to a brazen serpent? Because Christ referred to it, because Paul referred to it. The New Testament records the story. Christ believed it, Paul believed it—I will not separate myself from them and create some instance of unbelief or rejection; I will rather say with Paul,—Take care: do not murmur as some of the Israelites murmured in the wilderness and were bitten of fiery flying serpents. I will use the incident as a warning. I would rather say with Christ—"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." If Paul believed it, if Christ applied it, I know enough of them to know that they did not avail themselves of myths, of incidents that never occurred, of imaginary instances. I know enough of their general character and temper and spirit—I know what they did for the benefit of their race and day, and for the benefit of the whole world, to be fully aware that where they adopted a history it would be unwise upon my part to reject it. Let us, therefore, gather around the incident as a solemn warning; and, having been all but overpowered by the awfulness of the example, let us turn in the upward direction, see the descending God, listen to his instructions to his servants, look upon the brazen serpent as a symbol; let us pass from the symbol to the reality—the uplifted Son of God. One look of the soul, and we shall be healed; one expression of deepest trust, and the load of guilt shall be removed; one vision of the meaning of the Cross, and all the pain and shame and death, consequent upon guilt, shall be done away; and we shall know the meaning of Christ"s own words: "I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly."

Prayer

Almighty God, we bless thee for great gospels, wondrous speeches of love, revelations of mercy, mysteries which astound the imagination, and appeals which seek and secure the deepest confidence of the heart. We come to thee, in the name that is above every name, as through a. wide open gate, set open on purpose that we might be admitted to the throne of the heavenly grace, there to sing our Psalm , charged with joy and adoration, and there to breathe our thanksgivings and utter our desires. We love the name of Jesus Christ. We love it most when we are most heart-broken; we cling to it with the greater tenacity when we know that there is no redeeming help in ourselves, and that our salvation is of God and not of man. We bless thee for a sweet gospel that can wait—that will wait, that will come to us in the darkness as if we had not affronted it, and offer again its great offers of mercy and pity, love and help, and will seek to win us to the light and to the truth. We cannot have peace until we have God"s pardon—and is not abundance of pardon succeeded by a peace that passeth all understanding? Is not the blessing equal to thy great speech of love? When thou dost release us, thou dost seal the release with a calm like thine own tranquillity. Regard all worshipping spirits, all up-looking and mightily-praying hosts, and astonish thy Church by the brightness of thy rising, and set upon every believer the stamp of thy personal majesty. Thus shall we be known in our day and generation as not of this world, but always seeking a country out of sight. May we, with sandals upon our feet and staves in our hands, be constantly moving on to the city which hath foundations whose Builder and Maker is God, doing all the work of the present little space with the eager haste which tells how the heart longs to be at home in the fuller liberty and in the larger service. Amen.


Verse 9

"Handfuls of Purpose"

For All Gleaners

"A serpent of brass."Numbers 21:9

Physical objects may be made the medium of spiritual suggestion.—The true use of material objects is to find out their spiritual suggestions.—The sown seed, the growing corn, the fields white unto the harvest, are all instances which may be turned to spiritual advantage.—So may all growth, all life, all beauty, all force.—It is very significant that the word "serpent" should be identified in the Bible with its sublimest remedial activities.—It would seem as if God intended even in this way to humble and punish the tempter who ruined our first parents.—It was the "serpent" that was more subtle than any beast of the field.—In the last book of the New Testament the enemy is referred to as "the great dragon, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world."—Images and relics are to be strictly limited in their use.—Nothing is to stand between the soul and God but the priesthood of Jesus Christ.—Hezekiah "brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brazen serpent that Moses had made."—Why did Hezekiah take this course?—Because the children of Israel had become image-worshippers, and had a superstitious veneration for an institution which had served its purpose and was no longer needed.—The only eternal institution is the work of Jesus Christ himself.—It is nothing less than wickedness to go back to the symbol when the reality is before us.—Men are not at liberty to judge themselves by the commandments when they can adopt the more penetrating criticism of the Beatitudes.—The whole meaning of the serpent of brass was realised in the uplifting of the Son of man.—The proof of this is found in John 3:14, John 3:15.—The uplifting is an action as remarkable as is the name of the serpent.—Jesus Christ referred to it repeatedly, thus: "Even so must the Son of man be lifted up";—again: When ye have lifted up the Son of man." The lifting up is an act equivalent to manifestation; the lifting up is highly symbolic; it means separation, elevation, exposure to the whole world, welcome to all mankind. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil."


Verses 9-35

The Symbolical Serpent

Numbers 21:9

Has not the serpent bitten every man? We come, thus, by our questioning, into larger meanings and ultimate truths. These alphabetic incidents did not terminate in themselves. An alphabet was never created for its own use as a mere set of unrelated and incoherent symbols. He who makes an alphabet makes, in purpose, a library in the language which that alphabet represents. The early people in the Bible lived the alphabet life, the symbolic and significant life; and in after-ages we come to consolidation and consequence, to profound and eternal meanings. The serpent of brass was but a poor invention if it began and ended in itself. By the very necessity of the case it means more than the mere letter expresses. So we return to the opening question,—Is not every man bitten by the serpent? If this were a question to be determined by argument, into what high and fruitless words and controversies we might enter, coming out of them with nothing but sense of tumult and weariness! Every man knows that he has been bitten through and through. The appeal is not to merely grammatical expression and critical definition of letters and words: the solemn appeal is to consciousness—not the consciousness of any one particular moment—it may be, as when the life fritters itself away in some vain frivolity, or is engaged in admiration of some vain symbol or object, or when it is excited by transient controversy, or momentary challenge and appeal of any kind, relating to earthly experience, which can be terminated by temporal adjustments and compensations;—consciousness is not set up within that small excitement. Take the consciousness right through the whole life, and, though we may avoid theological expressions, religious terms, and turn our back upon Biblical symbolism and allusion, yet right away at the core is a throb, a spasm, an accusation, a sense of restlessness which, perhaps, the theologian with the Bible in his hand can better turn into words than can any other man. Your life is not a plain surface, without wound or bruise or mark of cruel tooth; it is a torn thing, crumpled up by great forces, punctured by sharp bodkins, made sore by many a keen stroke. Things will turn themselves upside down. Prayer does not go up like untroubled incense to the sun. Things do get out of place; words will come wrongly both as to time and as to setting; temper will rise; bad blood is fast made in the moral system. What is this? Having heard what men say about it in explanation, we have come to the conclusion that no terms so correctly express our consciousness, so thoroughly satisfy our own sense of reality, so completely fill our capacity of imagination, as the old words which are found in Holy Scripture. We change them or modify them, or perform upon them some magical rearrangement; but they are best let alone. Their very setting seems to be of God; they are not loose jewels to be set haphazard as any man"s fancy may dictate: each is set in its right place by the finger of God. We know this serpent; we have been associated with its history. If we cannot see it, we can see the tooth-mark it has left. We know that we are wounded men. As the poet, then, has well said,—"To know one"s self diseased is half the cure."

There are, as a matter of fact, incurable physical diseases. The doctor looks, and says,—They are beyond my reach. He looks at all his resources, and, shaking his head significantly, he says, I have no weapon with which I can fight successfully this assailant; there is no hope; but a few days may come and go, and then—the last deep sleep. Why, then, may there not be incurable spiritual diseases—that is to say, incurable by any remedy known to men? We have no hesitation in confessing that some physical diseases are incurable, why should we falter over the case of spiritual disease and trouble? Why hesitate to say—We are lost men; there is no health in us; we are dead men before God; the law we cannot answer; conscience we cannot appease; our own small imagination has no poem or dream by which it can cover up this sense of guilt and absolute unworthiness? Why not put our hand upon our mouth and our mouth in the dust, and say,—Unclean; unprofitable; unworthy; undone! That word must be spoken if any better language is ever to be set in the soul as fit speech of a new liberty and a recovered and assured sonship. What word can better express the sense of loss and helplessness than the Bible word "unclean," or "unpardonable," or "unworthy," or "undone"? The soul says—That is the right word; that sacred term is no human invention; it touches with exquisite precision the very meaning I have been toiling to express. So long as we imagine that we can cure ourselves, we shall not look in the right direction for healing. We are not ashamed to go to others for bodily healing, why this reluctance or hesitation to go out of ourselves and beyond ourselves for spiritual healing? No sick man apologises for going to the physician. Do we not sometimes lament the obstinacy of men saying,—They will not take advice; they will persist in their own course; they become the victims of their own ignorance; if they would only call in adequate advice they might be well presently? What is the full meaning of such expressions? We speak that we do not know in all the fulness of its possible meaning and force. That is the complaint of the motherly universe over her child that will try to cure himself: she says,—Poor sufferer! why turn in upon thyself, and waste thy supposed cleverness in attempting to do impossibilities?—the secret of restoration is not in thee: in thee alone is the writing and condemnation of death; life is otherwhere; look for it; I do not say, Go for it, for that might imply impossible effort; but thou canst at least move an eye-lid in the direction of the remedy, thou canst at least turn a languid eye in the direction to which I point; the meaning of that turned eye will be that thou hast given up all thought of saving thyself or finding health where there is none; look! look! look up and be saved! It is a gentle force; it falls into the harmony of our daily experience and action in relation to other things; it has upon its side what controversial force there may be in the fact of harmony, rhythm, sound rational analogy. The reason is not suspended: it is elevated, it is touched with a higher glory, it is summoned to a nobler attestation of its supreme and divine function. "Come now, and let us reason together," saith the Lord. Who is not pleased to say that he has in time of illness taken the very highest advice which the latest science can supply? Is he not somewhat proud of so explaining his position? He has not called in some inferior doctor; or availed himself of cheap advice; he has not turned in the direction of inexperienced wisdom; but has gone with plentiful gold in his hand and knocked at the highest medical prophet"s door, and the prophet has condescended to come down to him and treat him with marked distinction. He decorates his dreary tale by such small and vain allusions as these. Even here we may find some point of suggestion, rather than of analogy. Who calls us? Anyhow, the call is from God, even in the poetry and idealism of the case. This is no infant deity that asks to play with the soul"s malady, and by spiritual vivisection learn something of which he is now ignorant Even in the poetry, in the dream, it is the Eternal God that calls for the wounded men. We are not handed over to inexperience, to mere sympathy or pity on the part of fellow-sufferers; it is the Physician of the universe that asks us to be healed.

Song of Solomon , if in the terms of Scripture we are humbled, crushed, set back with such contempt as holiness may feel for iniquity, yet, on the other side, it is God who calls us to be healed, it is the Eternal who stoops to us, it is the Mother of the universe that cries for the child-earth. If we cannot rise to theological awe, we are bound to respond to poetic harmony and completeness. We go out of ourselves for consolation—why hesitate to go out of ourselves for the greater blessing salvation? We are thankful when some friend who knows the secret of the low tone and the gentle speech, quiet as dew, sweet as honey, calls upon us in the dark time, when the heavy load is crushing the whole strength; we say we will never forget the call; we treasure the words that were spoken; memory says,—I will never forget the sweet prayer, the noble supplication; the holy pleading; it was a visit as of an angel, full-robed, charged with special messages. If we can speak so about consolation in the time of sorrow, bereavement, pain, loss,—if we say we owe the solace to another—why this pitiful reluctance to say salvation is of God? It is no human devising: it is the thought of the Eternal. There is no salvation in the self-destroyed man: his help cometh from the hills of heaven and from the throne of eternity. Are we not dignified—yea, even glorified—by the fact that our salvation is of God and not of man? If we would see what human nature really Isaiah , as to its dignity and grandeur and possible destiny, we must go to the very Book which humbles it with the severest reproaches. God did not send his Son to recover other than his own image: when the Son came, he spoke the native language of the race he came to redeem: he is not ashamed to be called our Brother. The very fact, therefore, that we are not saved by man but by God reveals the value of the nature which God stooped to redeem.

The great thought of all Isaiah , that the cure, as well as the disease, in the case of ancient Israel, came from God. The God who punished was the God who saved. Find an instance in the whole Scripture in which healing or preservation is connected with the name of the enemy of Prayer of Manasseh , Satan—that old serpent, the devil. This is a marvellous thing. If all the Bible writers had lived in the same age and held common consultation as to the structure and form of their book, they might have made a mechanical arrangement which would have secured an artificial symmetry and unity; but they were separated by centuries; they were sundered, in some instances, by thousands of years; in many instances they did not know what would be written or what was written in its completeness;—yet, when all the fragments are brought together, in no case do I find that the devil is ever credited with having attempted really to do man substantial good, to heal him, to help him. The help which the Bible dwells upon, whatever it may be, is uniformly and consistently connected with the divine name. It is God who is mighty to save. He that cometh up from Edom with dyed garments from Bozrah, arrayed in his apparel, is red with his own precious blood.

Suppose we treat all this in the meantime symbolically, poetically,—is there not still a grand moral suggestion arising out of this perfect harmony and absolute unity? and do not the lines so interlace and co-work in all their outgoing as to suggest a noble argument? God only can wound. Injury of a certain kind is said to be inflicted by the devil; but even that is not the permissible tone. In the profoundest sense of the term all punishment for wrong-doing is from God; all trials of our spiritual quality are from God. Can there be evil in the city and the Lord not have done it? In the letter, that is a mystery; in its innermost meanings and most comprehensive bearings and issues it is a fact attested by religious consciousness. The enemy himself is but a permitted disgrace in the universe. Do not let us magnify the devil into co-partnery as to the division of the universe. He—the starry leader of the seven—is but allowed to live—the ages will tell us why. The Lord reigneth: wherefore comfort one another with these words.

What is the New Testament use of the incident recorded in the Book of Numbers? Jesus Christ took up this text, and from it preached himself. "Beginning at Moses"—he could not begin earlier as to the letter—he preached himself. Hear his words:—"As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." Jesus Christ having quoted the passage, we need not hesitate to receive it. If Jesus Christ had passed it by, we might also have turned away from the sacred symbol or have classed it with some obsolete mythologies. Where Jesus Christ rested, we too may sit down. Jesus sat upon the well—would God we could have sat around his feet and looked up into his heaven-shining eyes! Where he lingers, I would gladly stay. He lingers here: he saw in that serpent a worse foe of the human race than ever bit the flesh of man; he saw in that pole, or standard, a cross; he saw in that uplifted serpent of brass the symbol of himself; and said Hebrews ,—"I, if I be lifted up,... will draw all men unto me." We believe in Christ; we are not ashamed to utter his name; we do not adopt all that has been said about it by ignorance, inexperience, and perverted ingenuity; but putting aside all these things, we go straight to him and say each for himself,—"My Lord, and my God!" We come to the uplifted Prayer of Manasseh , we come to the crucified Christ, not to talk, but to look, to pray without words, to begin to speak and to be choked by our own speech. Look unto him and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth. Lord, to whom can we look, but unto thee? We have gone to many, and have only received riddles for replies, enigmas in exchange for mysteries, and contradiction where we begged for peace. Wilt thou take us in? We have come to thee last: we have knocked at every door like cringing beggars, and only because we could not find satisfaction we have come to thee. If we could have eaten bread elsewhere, we would have stayed; but when we asked for bread, they gave us a stone. Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us! If last of all God sent his Song of Solomon , last of all the sinner accepts the Song of Solomon , coming without price in his hand, without defence in his heart, and casts himself in living, loving, hopeful faith upon the Son of God. It may be delusion—it maybe some horrid nightmare; but in the meantime nothing gives such rest, such peace, such sense of union with God. In this faith we live, and in death will test the mystery,

Prayer

Almighty God we cannot live without thee. Thy smile is heaven. To know that thou art looking upon us is a judgment. We can answer it with a good heart, if so be thy Christ be in us, our Saviour and our Priest. We can bear the light when he is with us—yea, a light above the brightness of the sun. He himself is light, and in him is no darkness at all; and if he is in us, and we are in him, behold, in thy light we see light, and we love the light because of its revealing power. Give us more light. We die if we have not light enough. Thou hast made us to live in light and not in darkness. We wither away, as if struck with ice and chilled through and through, if thy light be not in us,—a brightness and a warmth, a continual blessing, an eternal hope. Once we loved darkness rather than light, but now thou hast brought us out of darkness into a marvellous light. All light is marvellous, but thy light most marvellous of all. It shows the reality of things; it finds its way into the soul; it reveals and discloses what is excluded from every other ministry. We, therefore, ask for light, more light, and more still, until the night be driven away and life become one eternal morning. Thou dost comfort us with light; yea, a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun. We seem to be akin to that sun of thine: we claim one another; the heart answers the gospel of light, and we would go. forth and see all the wizardry which thy sun works in the grandness of the field and the beauty of the garden. But thou dost work still more wondrously within us. Thou dost make all things new; old age is driven away; death is taken up, as by a giant"s hand, and abolished by infinite strength: death is swallowed up in victory, and life has become immortality. These are wonderful things to say to a man. Thou hast said them: they are all written in thy book. We do not understand them—nor would we: for what we understand we come at last to contemn. We would live in wonder—in the continual appeal to our noblest imagination; we would live in the certainty that we do not know all things, and never can know them, and that to know God is to be God. Therefore do we stand afar off, without shoe upon our foot or staff in our hand, with bowed head, listening if in the warm wind we may hear at least some one tone that will tell us of wider places, infinite liberties, glorious heavens, days without night. Thou art visiting us constantly with visitations that are meant to be instructive. Thou dost take away the old traveller, so that in the morning we miss the pilgrim who has companied with us these many days—only the staff is left behind, the traveller is gone forward. Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord. Comfort those who arc feeling the chill of death, the encroachment of the graveyard upon their household hearth; speak comfortingly to them, and show them that light is above, that home is on high, that here we have no continuing city, that permanence is beyond the clouds. The Lord make up for losses of this kind in so far as they can be made up, for great vacancies in the heart—the eyes looking with expectancy and beholding nothing, the ear listening for accustomed appeals, and no more appeal addressed to the hearer. We need the Lord"s comfort: some warm word, some gracious speech,—yea, some great trumpet sound, that shall swallow up the mean noises of earth, and rule into harmony and order and sacred and ennobling thought all tumult and fear, all apprehension and pain. Save us from folly! We are prone to it; we like it: we roll it under our tongue as a sweet morsel. We sometimes feel as if we were the children of fools, and were born to be fools greater still. We think the earth is all: the blue sky is an exclusion not an inclusion; to our mean thought, the lights that glitter in it are but points of amber—not flaming gates falling back upon radiant heavens; we gather up things with both hands, and hide them and cover them up so that nobody else may see them, and this we call prosperity; yea, we put our money into bags with holes in them; we sow plentiful seed, and others reap the harvest; we build our tower that is to reach unto heaven, and whilst we are putting on the topstone, builder and building are thrown to the ground. The little child dies, and the old Prayer of Manasseh , business withers, health gives way, the house totters without our being able to find out why; we live in uncertainty; we are walking upon the edge of a precipice; we know not what will happen to-morrow—so near a time as that. God pity us!—for God made us—and send us the messages we need. Revive our hope; establish our confidence; bind us to the infinite meaning of the Cross; there we see with the heart that thy Cross is greater than our sin, that thy grace is infinitely more than our guilt. The Cross is the place of vision. Amen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/numbers-21.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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