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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary
Numbers 21

 

 

Verses 1-35

CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES

Num . King Arad the Canaanite. Rather, "the Canaanite King of Arad." Arad was a royal city of the Canaanites (Jos 12:14), and was situated on a hill called Tell Arad, twenty Roman miles south of Hebron. Of the city nothing remains save some ruins.

Which dwelt in the south. Heb. "in the Negeb." See on Num .

By the way of the spies. דֶּרֶךְ הָאֲתָרִים, an expression of uncertain meaning. Fuerst says that Atharim is the plural of Athar, a place, district; and is the "proper name of a place in the south of Palestine." So also the LXX, A. Clarke, Horsley, Patrick. "But the Chaldee, Samar, and Syr. render it with much greater probability as an appellative noun formed from תּוּר with א prosthet., and synonymous with הַתָּרִים the spies (Num ). The way of the spies was the way through the desert of Zin, which the Israelitish spies had previously taken to Canaan (Num 13:21). The territory of the King of Arad extended to the southern frontier of Canaan, to the desert of Zin, through which the Israelites went from Kadesh to Mount Hor."—Keil and Del.

Num . Hormah. Margin: "utter destruction" (see on Num 14:45). "The seeming inconsistency between Num 21:3, and Jud 1:17, may be relieved by supposing that the vow made at the former period was fulfilled at the latter, and the name (the root of which הָרַם constantly occurs in the sense of, to devote to destruction, or utterly to destroy) given by anticipation."—Dr. H. Hayman, in, Bible Dict. The Canaanites seem to have resumed possession after the departure of the Israelites, and to have restored the ancient name. It was not until the time of the Judges that the vow, which Moses and the Israelites made at this time, was completely executed.

Num . And they journeyed from Mount Hor, &c. The Edomites having refused them a passage through their land, they were compelled to turn their steps towards the Red Sea, and go round the land of Edom. Their way was down the Arabah until they drew near to Akabah (Ezion-Geber, Deu 2:8), then "they turned up one of the Wadys on the left, and so made their way by the back of the mountain of Seir to the land of Moab on the east of the Dead Sea."

The soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way. Travelling in the Arabah was likely to produce discouragement. Mr. Grove thus writes of it: "The surface is dreary and desolate in the extreme. ‘A more frightful desert,' says Dr. Robinson, ‘it had hardly been our lot to behold … loose gravel and stones everywhere furrowed with the beds of torrents … blocks of porphyry brought down by the torrents among which the camels picked their way with great difficulty … a lone shrub of the ghûdah the almost only trace of vegetation.' This was at the ascent from the Wady el-Jeib to the floor of the great valley itself. Further south, near Ain el-Weibeh, it is a rolling gravelly desert with round naked hills of considerable elevation. At Wady Ghurundel it is ‘an expanse of shifting sands, broken by innumerable undulations and low hills,' and ‘countersected by a hundred water-courses'.… Nor is the heat less terrible than the desolation, and all travellers, almost without exception, bear testimony to the difficulties of journeying in a region where the sirocco appears to blow almost without intermission."—Bibl. Dict.

Num . This light bread; i.e., the manna. According to Fuerst, the adjective in the Heb. when applied to food, conveys the idea of contemptible, starving.

Num . Fiery serpents. Heb., lit., burning snakes. The adjective does not point to the bright colour of the snakes, but to the inflammatory effect of their bite. Venomous reptiles of various kinds abound in the neighbourhood (comp. Deu 8:15). The burning snake must not be identified with the "fiery flying serpent" of Isa 14:29; Isa 30:6.

Num . Make thee a fiery serpent; i.e., a serpent of a similar appearance to those which had bitten the people. This similarity of aspect was an essential element of the symbolism.

Upon a pole. Heb., a standard or ensign.

Num . Oboth. In Num 33:41-43, two other stations are mentioned in this part of their journey before Oboth. From Hor they went to Zalmonah, from Zalmonah to Punon, and from Punon to Oboth. The exact site of those places is not very certain. Zalmonah was probably in the Wâdy Ithm, "a low gap in the hills, which turns the eastern range of the Arabah, and through which the Israelites must have passed on their way to Moab. It is still one of the regular roads to Petra, and in ancient times seems to have been the main approach from Elath or Akaba, as it is the only road from the south which enters Petra through the Sîk."—Stanley. Sin. and Pal. Entering the Wâdy Ithm, "the route of the Israelites took a sharp turn, and ran thenceforward in a northeasterly direction." Punon or Phinon, according to Eusebius and Jerome, "was situated between Petra and Zoar." This locality suits the requirements of the history. "Oboth was north of Punon, east of the northern part of Edom, and is pretty certainly the same as the present pilgrim halting-place el-Ahsa."—Speaker's Comm. But really the exact site cannot be determined.

Num . Ije-abarim, in the wilderness which is before Moab, &c. Margin: "Heaps of Abarim." The name is generally interpreted as signifying, "the heaps, or ruins, of the further regions." Keil and Del.: "ruins of the crossings over." "Ije-abarim," says Mr. Grove, "was on the S. E. boundary of the territory of Moab; not on the pasture-downs of the Mishor, the modern Belka, but in the midbar, the waste uncultivated ‘wilderness' on its skirts. No identification of its situation has been attempted, nor has the name been found lingering in the locality, which, however, has yet to be explored. If there is any connexion between the Ije-Abarim and the Har-Abarim, the mountain-range opposite Jericho, then Abarim is doubtless a general appellation for the whole of the highland east of the Dead Sea."—Bibl. Dict.

Num . Valley of Zared. More correctly: "the brook of Zered." Dr. Hayman says, this is "a brook or valley running into the Dead Sea near its S.E. corner, which Dr. Robinson with some probability suggests as identical with the Wady el Ahsy. It lay between Moab and Edom, and is the limit of the proper term of the Israelites' wandering (Deu 2:14)."—Bibl. Dict. Keil and Del., however, suggest that "the Wady el Ahsy must already have been crossed when they came to the border of Moab (Num 21:11). In all probability it was the Wady Kerek, in the upper part of its course, not far from Katrane, on the pilgrim road."

Num . The other side of Arnon, &c. Arnon, the present Wady el Mojeb, is a torrent which rises in the mountains of Arabia, flows through the wilderness, and falls into the Dead Sea. It "formed the boundary between Moab and the Amorites, on the north of Moab, and afterwards between Moab and Israel (Reuben). From Jud 11:18, it would seem to have been also the east border of Moab."—Bibl. Dict. The Israelites could not have crossed the Mojeb itself—"so dreadfully wild and so deep a valley." The encampment of Israel must have been in the upper part of the Arnon and on its southside; apparently opposite to Kedemoth (Deu 2:24; Deu 2:26); and here they effected their passage across.

Num . The book of the wars of Jehovah. "This was probably," says Dean Perowne, "a collection of ballads and songs composed on different occasions by the watch-fires of the camp, and for the most part, though not perhaps exclusively, in commemoration of the victories of the Israelites over their enemies. The title shows us that these were written by men imbued with a deep sense of religion, and who were therefore foremost to acknowledge that not their own prowess, but Jehovah's Right Hand, had given them the victory when they went forth to battle. Hence it was called, not ‘The Book of the Wars of Israel,' but ‘The Book of the Wars of Jehovah.' Possibly this is the book referred to in Exo 17:14, especially as we read (Num 21:16), that when Moses built the altar which he called Jehovah-Nissi (Jehovah is my banner), he exclaimed ‘Jehovah will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.' This expression may have given the name to the book.

"The fragment quoted from this collection is difficult, because the allusions in it are obscure.… ‘Wherefore it is said in the Book of the Wars of Jehovah,

"‘Vaheb in Suphah and the torrent-beds;

Arnon and the slope of the torrent-beds

Which turneth to where Ar lieth,

And which leaneth upon the border of Moab.'"—Bibl. Dict.

Num . The dwelling of Ar, &c. "Ar was on the bank of the Arnon, lower down the stream than where the Israelites crossed. And near the spot where the upper Arnon (Seil Saideh) receives the tributary Nahaliel (Num 21:19), there rises, in the midst of the meadow-land between the two torrents, a hill covered with what are doubtless the ruins of the ancient city. A neighbouring aqueduct testifies to its former importance. The peculiarity of the site points to it as ‘the city that is in the midst of the river' (Jos 13:9; Jos 13:16; cf. Deu 2:36). It had been, perhaps, heretofore the chief city of the Moabites; it now marked the limit of their territory; and it was hither accordingly that the king of Moab went to welcome Balaam (Num 22:36). It was respected by the Israelites (Deu 2:9; Deu 2:29), as being still a frontier city of Moab, although it lay on the northern bank of what was elsewhere the boundary stream; but it had not escaped the ravages of the Amorites in the recent war (Num 21:28)."—Speaker's Comm.

This Ar is not to be identified with Rabbath-Moab, which is still called Rabbah, in the midst of the land of Moab, about midway between Kerek and Wady Mojeb.

Num . Beer; i.e., a well; and is probably the same as Beer-elim, the "well of heroes" (Isa 15:8).

Num . Then Israel sang this song, Spring up, O well, &c. Perowne translates:

"Spring up, O well! sing ye to it:

Well, which the princes dug,

Which the nobles of the people bored

With the sceptre-of-office, with their staves."

Mattanah, the name of the next halting-place, signifies a gift. The site has not been identified with certainty.

Num . Nahaliel; i.e., "torrent of God." Probably corresponded with the Wady Encheileh, "which runs into the Mojeb, the ancient Arnon, a short distance to the east of the place at which the road between Rabbah and Aroer crosses the ravine of the latter river." The name Encheileh is the same as Nahaliel with a slight alteration in its form.

Bamoth is a shorter form of Bamoth-Baal, i.e., the high places of Baal (Num ; Jos 13:17). In the next verse it is spoken of as "Bamoth in the ravine." According to Jos 13:17 it was near to Dibon-Gad and Beth-Baal-Meon.

Num . The country of Moab. The margin is more correct, "the field of Moab." The expression in this place denotes a portion of the tableland having Rabbath-Ammon on the north, and the Arnon on the south. It corresponds with "all the plain from Medeba to Dibon.… and all the plain by Medeba" (Jos 13:9; Jos 13:16).

The top of Pisgah. Margin: Or "the hill." Heb.: "The top, or head, of the Pisgah." "‘The Pisgah,'" says Mr. Grove, "must have been a mountain range or district, the same as, or a part of, that called the mountains of Abarim (comp. Deu , with Num 34:1). It lay on the east of Jordan, contiguous to the field of Moab, and immediately opposite Jericho. The field of Zophim was situated on it, and its highest point or summit—its ‘head'—was the Mount Nebo. If it was a proper name we can only conjecture that it denoted the whole or part of the range of the highlands on the east of the lower Jordan."—Bibl. Dict.

Which looketh toward Jeshimon. Margin: "Towards the wilderness." Keil and Del.: "‘looks across the face of the desert.' Jeshimon, the desert, is the plain of Ghor-el-Belka, i.e., the valley of desolation on the north-eastern border of the Dead Sea."

Num . Amorites, i.e., mountaineers. One of the chief nations of the Canaanites (Gen 10:15-16).

Num . Comp. Num 20:17.

Num . Jahaz. "From the terms of the narrative in Numbers 21 and Deuteronomy 2," says Mr. Grove, "we should expect that Jahaz was in the extreme south part of the territory of Sihon, but yet north of the river Arnon (see Deu 2:24; Deu 2:36; and the words in 31, ‘begin to possess'), and in exactly this position a site named Jazaza is mentioned by Schwarz (227), though by him only. But this does not agree with the statements of Eusebius, who says it was existing in his day between Medeba and δηβούς, by which he probably intends Dibon, which would place Jahaz considerably too far to the north. Like many others relating to the places east of the Dead Sea, this question must await further research."—Bibl. Dict.

Num . Unto Jabbok, now called Wady Zerka, a stream which intersects the mountain range of Gilead, as it was afterwards called (comp. Jos 12:2; Jos 12:5), and falls into the Jordan about 45 miles north of the Arnon.

For the border of the children of Ammon was strong. This was the reason why Sihon had not carried his conquests further and taken the territory of the Ammonites. The reason why the Israelites did not enter the land of the Ammonites is given in Deu .

Num . Heshbon. This city was situated 20 miles due east of the Jordan at the point where it falls into the Dead Sea. The city is now in ruins, which are situated on a low hill, and are more than a mile in circumference. Its modern name is Heshbn.

All the villages thereof. Heb., as in margin: "the daughters," i.e., the smaller towns, which are enumerated in Num ; and Jos 13:15-28. Heshbon, as we see from the next verse, being the capital of Sihon, king of the Amorites.

Num . All his land. "Evidently that to the north of the Arnon alone is intended."—Speaker's Comm.

Num . Dean Perowne speaks of this as "a song of victory, composed after a defeat of the Moabites and the occupation of their territory. It is in a taunting, mocking strain; and is commonly considered to have been written by some Israelitish bard on the occupation of the Amorite territory. Yet the manner in which it is introduced would rather lead to the belief that we have here the translation of an old Amorite ballad.… Then follows a little scrap of Amorite history: ‘For Heshbon is the city of Sihon, king of the Amorites, and he had waged war with the former king of Moab, and had taken from him all his land as far as the Arnon. Wherefore the ballad-singers ( המשׁלים) say:—

"‘Come ye to Heshbon,

Let the city of Sihon be built and established!

For fire went from Heshbon,

A flame out of the stronghold ( קריה)

of Sihon,

Which devoured Ar of Moab,

The lords of the high places of Arnon.

Woe to thee, Moab!

Thou art undone, O people of Chemosh!

He (i.e., Chemosh thy god) hath given up his sons as fugitives,

And his daughters into captivity,

To Sihon, king of the Amorites.

Then we cast them down; Heshbon perished even unto Dibon,

And we laid (it) waste unto Nophah, which (reacheth) unto Medeba.'

If the song is of Hebrew origin, then the former part of it is a biting taunt, ‘Come, ye Amorites, into your city of Heshbon, and build it up again. Ye boasted that ye had burnt it with fire, and driven out its Moabite inhabitants; but now we are come in our turn and have burnt Heshbon, and driven you out as ye once burnt it and drove out its Moabite possessors.'"—Bibl. Dict.

Another interpretation is given in the Speaker's Comm.: "In the first six lines (Num ) the poet imagines for the Amorites a song of exultation for their victories over Moab, and for the consequent glories of Heshbon, their own capital. In the next three lines (Num 21:29), he himself joins in this strain; which now becomes one of half-real, half-ironical compassion for the Moabites, whom their idol, Chemosh, was unable to save. But in the last two lines (Num 21:30), a startling change takes place; and the new and decisive triumph of the poet's own countrymen is abruptly introduced; and the boastings of the Amorites fade utterly away."

Num . Chemosh, i.e., the national deity of the Moabites (Jer 48:7; Jer 48:13; Jer 48:46), and of the Ammonites (Jud 11:24).

Num . Dibon, afterwards called Dibon-Gad, "lay four miles north of the Arnon; and its extensive ruins still bear the name Dhîbân. It was here that the Moabite stone was discovered by the Rev. T. Klein in 1868."—Speaker's Comm.

Nophah "is unknown, unless it be Arneibah, 10 miles to the eastward of Medeba."—Ibid.

Medeba is now called Madeba, and is situated upon the top of a hill, about 4 miles S.E. of Heshbon.

Num . Jaazer or Jazer is probably to be identified with the ruins of es Szir, about 9 miles west of Rabbath-Ammon, and about 12 miles north of Heshbon.

Num . Bashan. "The limits of Bashan are very strictly defined. It extended from the border of Gilead on the south to Mount Hermon on the north (Deu 3:3; Deu 3:10; Deu 3:14; Jos 12:5; Joshua 1. Chron. Num 5:23), and from the Arabah or Jordan valley on the west to Salchah (Sulkhad) and the borders of the Geshurites, and the Maacathites on the east (Jos 12:3-5; Deu 3:10)."—Bibl. Dict.

Edrei. "Now Edhra'âh, vulgarly Der'a; situate on a branch of the Jarmuk. This river is not mentioned in Scripture, but formed the boundary between Gilead and Bashan. The identification of Edrei rests on the frontier position of the site, on the modern name, and on the testimony of Eusebius; but it is only recently that the explorations of Wetzstein (‘Reisebericht,' pp. 47, 8) have disclosed the facts that the original city was subterranean, and that its streets may still be seen running in all directions beneath the present inhabited town, which is built on the ground above."—Speaker's Comm.

THE BENEFIT OF REVERSES

(Num )

These verses suggest:—

I. That reverses are sometimes encountered in the path of duty.

"And when the Canaanite king of Arad, which dwelt in the south, heard tell that Israel came by the way of the spies; then he fought against Israel and took some of them prisoners." An illustration of the opposition and the reverses with which we often meet in the way of duty. With our present characters and in our present circumstances duty is not always easy. In an evil world to tread the path of truth and right must always involve more or less of difficulty and trial. In following the Divine direction we are sure to meet with some "Canaanite king of Arad" and his allies. This is true of—

1. The individual Christian life. We have Canaanites in ourselves, in our carnal appetites and passions, &c. These resist the progress of the soul in holiness. Worthy spiritual attainments or achievements are never made without earnest effort and severe struggle.

2. Christian enterprise. Workers in the cause of Jesus Christ amongst men have to contend against opposition, and sometimes, like Israel at this time, sustain temporary repulse and loss. This is true of Sunday-school teachers, tract distributors, ministers of the Gospel, and Christian missionaries to the heathen both at home and abroad.

II. Reverses encountered in the path of duty arouse the true-hearted to more vigorous effort.

"And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If Thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities." Repulse and loss stirred them up to take resolute measures to obtain a complete victory. That which utterly appals the cowardly, acts as a challenge to the courageous. Where the one cowers in dismay, the other rises into the exertion of conquering strength. To the true-hearted, reverses are a trumpet-call to renewed and more determined effort. In this instance the reverse led Israel to put forth:—

1. Earnest prayer for success. "And Israel vowed a vow unto the Lord," &c. It has been well said that "this spirit would have been intolerable in the people of ‘the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious,' had it not been that Divine justice had resolved to extirpate the awfully filthy and idolatrous nations of Canaan, to give their land to the Israelites among whom His worship was preserved, and to make them the executioners of righteous wrath." The idea of this vow, by which they urged their prayer for victory, seems to be this, that if God would grant their request they would take to themselves no gain or glory from the conquest, but give all the honour to Him. True prayer is an excellent preparation for work or for warfare.

2. Vigorous effort to succeed. That Israel made such an effort is very clearly implied in the brief record.

To these two things united—wise and determined effort, and earnest believing prayer, all things are possible. "Is there one whom difficulties dishearten—who bends to the storm? He will do little. Is there one who will conquer? That kind of man never fails." And this especially when his will is "strong in the Lord." (a)

III. When reverses in the path of duty thus arouse the true-hearted to effort they contribute to their complete triumph.

It was so in this case. "And the Lord hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites," &c.

1. Earnest prayer was answered by God. He inspired them with determination and courage, and so granted their request. True prayer is always heard and answered by Him.

2. Wise and resolute effort achieved success. "They utterly destroyed them and their cities." Thus a slight reverse stirred them up to such efforts as resulted in a complete triumph. (b) Apply this to Christian life and work. (c)

Conclusion.

1. Warning to those who oppose any true and good cause. "Refrain from these men, and let them alone; for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."

2. Encouragement to those who are toiling in good but difficult enterprises. Be not disheartened by difficulties. Let reverses rouse you to more powerful and persistent efforts, and they will thus urge you onward to the achievement of more complete and splendid conquests. (d)

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) It is not ease, but effort—not facility, but difficulty—that makes men. There is, perhaps, no station in life in which difficulties have not to be encountered and overcome before any decided measure of success can be achieved. Those difficulties are, however, our best instructors, as our mistakes often form our best experience. We learn wisdom from failure more than from success we often discover what will do by finding out what will not do; and he who never made a mistake never made a discovery. Horne Tooke used to say of his studies in intellectual philosophy, that he had become all the better acquainted with the country, through having had the good luck sometimes to lose his way. And a distinguished investigator of physical science has left it on record that whenever in the course of his researches he encountered an apparently insuperable obstacle, he generally found himself on the brink of some novel discovery. The very greatest things—great thoughts, discoveries, inventions—have generally been nurtured in hardship, often pondered over in sorrow, and at length established with difficulty.—Samuel Smiles.

(b) It has been said and truly, that it is the defeat that tries the general more than the victory. Washington lost far more battles than he gained; but he succeeded in the end. The Romans, in their most victorious campaigns almost invariably began with defeats. Moreau used to be compared, by his companions, to a drum, which nobody hears of except it be beaten. Wellington's military genius was perfected by encounter with difficulties of, apparently, the most overwhelming character, but which only served to nerve his resolution, and bring out more prominently his great qualities as a man and a general. So the skilful mariner obtains his best experience amidst storms and tempests, which train him to self-reliance, courage, and the highest discipline; and we probably owe to rough seas and wintry nights, the best training of our race of British seamen, who are certainly not surpassed by any in the world.

The battle of life, in by far the greater number of cases, must necessarily be fought up-hill; and to win it without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honour. If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved. Difficulties may intimidate the weak, but they act only as a wholesome stimulus to men of pluck and resolution. All experience of life, indeed, serves to prove that the impediments thrown in the way of human advancement may, for the most part, be overcome by steady good conduct, honest zeal, activity, perseverance, and, above all, by a determined resolution to surmount difficulties, and stand up manfully against misfortune. When Columbus was threatened by the mutineers amongst his crew, he himself, hopeful and unsubdued, bore up against all opposition. "Give me but three days," he said; and before the three days had passed, he trod the shores of the New World.—Ibid.

(c) Need any one be discouraged who has begun to live a Christian life because so often he has failed and fallen into backsliding? Is a true pupil discouraged because so many of his lessons are imperfect, because he has forced holidays which have broken up the impetus of study, if still the purpose to be a student remains with him? Whatever may have been the arguments of the past, let them be forgotten. Try again. There are thousands of Christians who too soon grow discouraged, saying, "I have proved that I was mistaken. I have proved that the root of the matter was not in me. There is no use; I have tried and failed." There is all the use in the world. No man ever fails until death settles the great conflict. Because you have begun and lagged because you have begun and stumbled, because you have begun and gone back a little way, do not give up the whole contest.—H. W. Beecher.

(d) There is nothing but what you can make a way through if you can find something harder to bore with. Look at the Mont Cenis tunnel, made through one of the hardest of known rocks: with a sharp tool, edged with a diamond, they have pierced the heart of the Alps, and made a passage for the commerce of nations. As St. Bernard says: "Is thy work hard? set a harder resolution against it, for there is nothing so hard that it cannot be cut by something harder still." May the Spirit of God work in thee invincible resolution and unconquerable perseverance. Let not the iron break the northern iron and the steel. Under persecutions and difficulties, let God's people resolve on victory, and by faith they shall have it, for according to our faith so shall it be unto us.—C. H. Spurgeon.

A DEADLY PLAGUE AND A DIVINE ANTIDOTE

(Num )

Let us notice—

I. The sin of the people.

They fall once more into the sin of which they had so often been guilty in former times—that of murmuring. "The people spake against God and against Moses," &c. But let us consider—

1. The occasion of their sin.

(1) The circuitous route by which they journeyed. "They journeyed from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to compass the land of Edom." Their direct way would have been through the land of Edom; but the King of Edom opposed this; so they were compelled to travel by this circuitous route, compassing the land of Edom (see notes on Num ).

(2) The trying country over which they journeyed. "The low-lying plain of Arabah on the whole is a terrible desert, with a loose, sandy soil, and drifts of granite and other stones, where terrible sand-storms sometimes arise from the neighbourhood of the Red Sea." "And the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way" (see Explanatory Notes on Num ).

(3) The privations which they encountered on their journey. The Arabah was not likely to furnish them with much food; so they were almost or altogether dependent upon the manna with which they were supplied by God. And it is very probable that there would be a great scarcity of drinkable water. Hence "the people spake against God, and against Moses, Wherefore have ye brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness?" &c.

2. The nature of their sin.

(1) Murmuring. They "spake against God and against Moses." (a)

(2) Unbelief. How sinful was the want of faith which they manifested in speaking of dying in the wilderness, after all they had experienced of the protection and provision of God! (b)

(3) Ingratitude. The goodness of God in supplying their wants is altogether disregarded by them. They speak as though they were utterly destitute: "There is no bread, neither is there any water." (c)

(4) Contempt of Divine blessings. "And our soul loatheth this light bread,"—"a word of excessive scorn; as if they had said, ‘This innutritive, unsubstantial, cheat-stomach stuff.'"—A. Clark. Thus their rebellion was one of great heinousness, involving several sins.

II. The punishment of their sin.

"The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people; and much people of Israel died." The punishment was,

1. Severe. The bite of the serpent poisoned the body of its victim, causing intense and burning pain, and resulting in death. "Much people of Israel died."

2. Just. Their heinous sin called for a severe punishment. "They had unjustly complained for want of water (Num ), to chastise them for which God sends upon them this thirst, which no water would quench. Those that cry without cause have justly cause given them to cry out. They distrustfully concluded that they must ‘die in the wilderness,' and God took them at their word, chose their delusions, and brought their unbelieving fears upon them; many of them did die."—M. Henry.

3. Divine. Their punishment was from God. "The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people." In the Arabah, venomous reptiles abound (comp. Deu ). "Yet we never hear of their being bitten or killed by them till now. From this we infer that they had been marvellously protected hitherto from this as from other dangers of the way; but the protection which they had experienced being now withdrawn, the serpents—in this part of the desert unusually numerous—had their poisonous jaws unbound, and smote them at their will."—Kitto. (d)

III. The penitence of the people.

Let us mark how their penitence was awakened, and developed, and led to their relief.

1. Their punishment led to their penitence. "Therefore the people came to Moses, and said we have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord, and against thee." "When he slew them, then they sought Him; and they returned and inquired early after God." The penitence which is begotten of punishment seldom leads to moral improvement. (e)

2. Their penitence led them to appeal to Moses for help. They said unto him, "Pray unto the Lord for us, that he take away the serpents from us." This request implies,—

(1) Consciousness of their moral unfitness to approach God acceptably.

(2) Faith in the efficacy of intercessory prayer.

(3) The persuasion that intercessory prayer to be efficacious must be offered by the good. Thus their request to Moses to "pray unto the Lord for" them was an undesigned and convincing testimony to the excellence of his character and conduct.

3. In answer to their appeal Moses entreated God on their behalf. "And Moses prayed for the people." He manifested in this the true magnanimity of a godly soul. He blesses them who reviled him, and prays for them who despitefully used him (comp. Mat ). (g)

IV. The Divine antidote for the deadly plague.

"And the Lord said unto Moses, make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole;" &c. (Num ). That this had a typical significance is placed beyond dispute by the words of our Lord to Nicodemus in Joh 3:14-15. This application of the incident we shall endeavour to make hereafter. At present we confine our attention to four facts concerning Heaven's antidote for the deadly bite of the serpents.

1. It was prescribed by God. Man could not stay the dread ravages of these serpents. Their bite was poisonous and deadly. And in answer to the prayer of His servant, Jehovah interposed for the salvation of the people. He directed Moses what to do to arrest the onward march of death. "Jehovah said unto Moses, make thee a fiery serpent," &c. Human salvation from sin is of Divine origin; it is an outcome of infinite wisdom and love.

2. It resembled the poisonous serpents. "Make thee a fiery serpent," &c. The brazen serpent was made to resemble the fiery serpents which had bitten them, but it was without venom and thoroughly harmless. The disease and death came by the serpents, and the healing and life were to come by this serpent. So "God sent his own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin, and for sin" (Rom ). "Since by man came death, by Man came also the resurrection from the dead" (comp. 2Co 5:21; Heb 7:26; 1Pe 2:22-24).

3. Its efficacy was conditional. "It shall come to pass, that everyone that is bitten, when he looketh upon it, shall live." It was not the mere look that saved. The look involved—

(1) Faith in the Divine promise that every one who looked upon the brazen serpent should live. If they questioned and criticised the fitness of the remedy they perished; if they believed the promise and looked to the serpent, they were healed (h).

(2) Obedience to the Divine direction. How simple are these conditions! How universally available! He who looks in faith to Jesus Christ shall be saved from sin. Comp. Isa ; Joh 3:14-15. (i)

4. Its efficacy was infallible. "It came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." Whoever complied with the Divine condition was healed by the Divine power. Whosoever looked lived. And whosoever believeth in Jesus Christ shall not perish, but have eternal life (Joh ; Joh 3:36).

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) For illustrations on Murmuring, see pp. 247, 267.

(b) For illustrations on Unbelief, see p. 252.

(c) Por illustrations on Ingratitude, see pp. 247, 368.

(d) For illustrations on The Punishment of Sin, see pp. 89, 225, 258, 312, 318, 374.

(e) For an illustration on Penitence Begotten of Punishment. see p. 269.

(f) For illustrations on The Power of Prayer, see pp. 183, 225.

(g) The brave only know how to forgive—it is the most refined and generous pitch of virtue that human nature can arrive at. Cowards have done good and kind actions; cowards have even fought, nay, sometimes conquered; but a coward never forgave—it is not his nature.—L. Sterne.

There are some persons that can forgive others, but will never be friends with them any more—an everlasting pique remaining; and they cannot but discover a great shyness, shun them, baulk them, decline them, and think and speak hardly of them on all occasions. But the Divine nature in the regenerate inclines a person to the renewal of friendship; they can easily fall in again, who are regenerate, if there have been breaks, if there have been strifes, if there have been fallings out, they can presently fall in, because they have been so taught by nature—by that nature which is imparted to them in being born of God.—John Howe.

For another illustration on the Forgiving spirit, see p. 317.

(h) As a dim, dazzled eye, that looked on the brazen serpent in the wilderness, was of more avail to a poor Israelite, when stung with a fiery serpent, than any use that could possibly be made of all his other members—little could the swiftness of his feet, strength of his body, nimbleness of hands, volubility of tongue, quickness of ear, or anything else have availed, had there not been an eye to have looked on it—so, without faith, we lie dead in trespasses and sins, and cannot but perish of the mortal stings which Satan hath blistered us withal; so that had we perfect repentance, sound knowledge, and sincere love, not one of them, nor all of them together, could possibly cure us if there were not faith to apprehend Christ for our satisfaction, and a propitiation for all our sins. It is only our faith in Christ—a true faith, though a weak, dim-sighted faith—that looking up to the typified serpent, Christ Jesus, can cure our wounded, sin-sick souls, and make us here to live to God, and hereafter in all happiness with Him.—Paul Bayne.

Sight is the noblest sense; it is quick—we can look from earth to heaven in a moment; it is large—we can see the hemisphere of the heavens at one view; it is sure and certain (in hearing, we may be deceived), and, lastly, it is the most affecting sense. Even so, faith is the quickest, the largest, the most certain, the most affecting grace: like an eagle in the clouds, at one view it sees Christ in heaven, and looks down upon the world; it looks backwards and forwards; it sees things past, present, and to come. Therefore this grace is said (2Co ) to behold things unseen and eternal.—Richard Sibbs.

(i) God did not require of every Israelite, or of any of them that were stung by the fiery serpents, that they should understand or be able to discourse of the nature and qualities of that brass of which the serpent upon the pole was made, or by what art that serpent was formed, or in what manner the sight of it did operate in them for their cure; it was enough that they did believe the institution and precept of God, and that their own cure was assured by it: it was enough if they cost their eyes upon it according to the direction. The understandings of men are of several sizes and elevations, one higher than another: if the condition of this covenant had been a greatness of knowledge, the most acute men had only enjoyed the benefits of it. But it is "faith," which is as easy to be performed by the ignorant and simple, as by the strongest and most towering mind; it is that which is within the compass of every man's understanding. God did not require that every one within the verge of the covenant should be able to discourse of it to the reasons of men; He required not that every man should be a philosopher or an orator, but a believer. What could be more easy than to lift up the eye to the brazen serpent to be cured of a fiery sting? What could be more facile than a glance, which is done without any pain, and in a moment? It is a condition may be performed by the weakest as well as the strongest: could those that were bitten in the most vital part cast up their eyes, though at the last gasp, they would arise to health by the expulsion of the venom.—Charnocks.

ON THE DISCOURAGEMENTS OF PIOUS MEN

(Num )

"And the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way."

The present life is a way; it is not the end of our being: it is not our rest, it is not our abode, but the place of our pilgrimage, a passage to eternity.

I. Point out the discouragements in the way.

1. The way is circuitous. This is suggested by the beginning of this verse: "And they journeyed from Mount Hor," &c.… Thus, souls that are brought to Jesus, in their first ardour overlook trials, and think of nothing but enjoyments; they do not anticipate the fightings and fears that are the portion of God's Israel. After a time, through want of watchfulness and care, the love of their espousals begins to decline, the world regains a degree of influence, the Spirit is grieved, and they fear God has become their enemy; they seem to themselves to go backward, and, indeed, are in danger of doing so, if they neglect to watch and pray; and much time is spent in mourning, retracing and recovering the ground that has been lost.

2. The way is through a wilderness. Moses reminded Israel of this in Deu . A wilderness is distinguished by the absence of necessary sustenance: there was no corn, &c. Thus, this world is a state of great privations; men are often literally straitened with poverty, &c. In a spiritual sense, this world is also a wilderness. It has no natural tendency to nourish the spiritual life: though spiritual blessings are enjoyed in it, the Christian knows they are not the produce of the soil. Again: there is much intricacy in the Christian's pilgrimage. There were no paths in the wilderness: so the Christian often knows not how to explore his path. We must "search the Scriptures," and ask the guidance of the Spirit. "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God," &c.

3. The way lies through a hostile country. The Israelites were obliged to unite the courage of the military with the assiduity of the pilgrim's life; they had to fight as well as travel. And so must we: during our pilgrimage we must gird on "the whole armour of God," &c. There are three great enemies—the flesh, the world, and the devil: these are allied, and combine their efforts for our destruction.

4. The false steps that are taken in the pilgrimage are discouraging. There are so many errors and iniquities for which the Lord chastens His people, though He pardons sin as to its eternal consequences. These chastenings of the Lord often drink up or oppress the spirit, and overwhelm the soul.

5. The total defection of men from the path is a great discouragement to those who still continue in the way. I do not think that all that died in the wilderness were cut off as rebels; indeed it could not be, for Moses and Aaron were of the number: yet they were set forth as types to warn us of the danger of not entering into rest. Here was a shadow of the greater loss of them that "turn back to perdition" (comp. Gal ; 2Pe 2:21). Nothing weakens the confidence of the Christian army more than the failure of those who appeared brave in the day of battle, and conspicuous in the ranks.

6. The length of the way is discouraging. The time occupied by the Israelites from their entering to their leaving the wilderness, was forty years. This was a tedious journey: a type of the journeys of the church militant. The whole of human life, with all its toils and cares, is comprehended in this journey. Now, though human life is short in itself, yet to our limited conception it appears long; especially when passed in suffering and pain. We must hold out unto the end.

II. Direct you to some considerations to remove your discouragements.

1. It is "a right way." Infinite Wisdom has ordained it: and if you reach the end, you will be well repaid for all your toil, and will admire the whole of the pilgrimage; no sorrow will appear to have been too heavy; no path too gloomy. Our sufferings are necessary to wean us from the world and to deliver us from sin.

2. God is with His people in the way. He was with Israel to guide and defend them (comp. Mat ). God is in the world as the great upholder, governor, and benefactor; but He is in the Church by His special grace, as a vital principle, and ever-living friend, to sustain, animate, and influence.

3. There is no other way that leads to heaven. You cannot reconcile the service of sin and the world with the hope of heaven and the enjoyment of everlasting life in that holy state, and in the presence of the holy God. There is no other way to heaven than the way to which the Scriptures of truth direct you.

Go forward, then, Christian; go forward; "forgetting the things that are behind, and reaching forth to those that are before."

If any of you have not yet entered on this way, to such we would affectionately say, "Come thou with us, and we will do thee good," &c.—Robert Hall, A.M.

THE UNDESIGNED TESTIMONY OF THE UNGODLY TO THE PRECIOUSNESS AND POWER OF PIETY

(Num )

Briefly narrate the facts and circumstances.

In their trouble the Israelites come to Moses, confessing their sin, and asking him to intercede for them with God; and in this request of the text we have an illustration of—The striking testimony which the ungodly often bear to the value and importance of piety. It is ever true that vice pays homage to virtue, and that the good ever command the respect and the conscience of the evil. His life condemns theirs; they feel that he is a better and a nobler man than they are. They may hate his religion; but they testify to its value in the esteem in which their consciences hold him. It was so here; the people had been speaking against Moses, and yet they come to him, and ask him to pray for them. They witness to the value of piety.

I. By showing that the want of it is weakness—

The wicked man often swaggers and boasts; but he is an arrant coward in trouble. A guilty "conscience doth make cowards of us all." The people here were in great danger, and they were full of alarm. They felt that they could not pray, and they were afraid to die. They were pitiably weak because they were ungodly, &c.

II. By seeking help from him whom they knew to be "a man of God."

They owned that Moses could help them, though they could not help themselves. They had spoken against Moses, and had treated him badly; yet they expect him to forgive them and to pray for them. Men of the world expect God's people to be better than themselves. Is not this a grand testimony to the value and importance of piety?

III. By confessing that Moses had nothing to fear from God, while they had everything to fear.

They ask him to pray to God for them, they were in dread of God. By this they own that piety is best to approach God; and by seeking help from God through Moses, they confess that their past conduct was wrong. They condemned themselves.

IV. By acknowledging that Moses could get from God what they could not.

Their act testified to their belief that Moses had power with God, and that they had not. It is a grand thing for man to have access to God; for sinful, weak man, to have power with the Almighty! The wicked dreads God; the godly pleads with Him as a child with his father. God hears and answers him; he has power with God. The wicked feels this and seeks his help when he has been brought into distress. There is no treasure for man like piety. All feel this when, as in the text, they are in trouble and in the presence of death.

Thus by their request to Moses the Israelites condemned their own life, and bore striking, though unconscious, testimony to the value of piety and the importance of religion. This has been the testimony of the ungodly in all ages;—e.g., Moses and Pharaoh; Samuel and the people (1Sa ); Herod and John the Baptist. And to-day the ungodly bear striking testimony to the value of piety:—

1. By expecting Christians to be better than themselves. They ought to be so; but the point now is, that worldly men expect them to be so. Why should they be better, unless it be for their piety?

2. By seeking the help of Christians when they are in trouble or in the presence of death. It is religion that they think of then. It is those whom they believe to be God's people that they send for to help them. They send not for old associates in sin; they feel that they cannot help them. But they send for the minister or for some other Christian to pray with them. They thus testify that piety is best for life, and best for death, and best for all. "For their rock is not as our Rock, even our enemies themselves being judges."

Conclusion.

1. Let Christians live so as to command the conscience of the Christless. Let their life commend religion, &c.

2. Let the Christless be true to himself by living up to his convictions. Sad for one to live a life his conscience tells him is wrong. "For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things."—David Lloyd.

A TERRIBLE CALAMITY AND AN EARNEST PRAYER

(Num )

"Pray unto the Lord, that He take away the serpents from us."

In the memorable conversation Christ held with Nicodemus (Joh ), He refers to the circumstance of the Brazen Serpent erected by Moses as a pointed illustration of His own death—as illustrating the method of forgiving sin. He also refers to the grace of the Spirit as the effective method of subduing sin. And the recollection of these important doctrines will be of great service to us in the contemplation of the important history now before us.

I. A terrible calamity; the just consequence of sin.

"The Lord sent fiery serpents," &c. They existed in that part of the wilderness before, but were not permitted to invade the camp. The restraint was taken off now, and they were sent to do the work of death amidst the guilty thousands of the congregation. "Fiery serpents," from their colour and aspect, or from the intense heat of their sting, as though the current of blood were changed into tides of fire in the sufferer's veins.

Why sent? For Israel's sin. What sin? Sin of murmuring; sin of unbelief; sin of rebellion. Seven times Israel murmured and mutinied against Moses; and seven times were they threatened or punished. A discontented man will find or make something to repine at everywhere. Sometimes the way was too long; then no water—or it was bitter; then no bread—or it was light bread. Either way, "The people spake against God, and against Moses."

In Israel's history we see our own. Human nature is not improved, as some wines grow mellow with age, for we find ourselves just as perverse and rebellious as they were. If any change it must be for the worse rather than the better. Our sins are against greater light and greater love; not against the Law only, but the Gospel too; not against Moses, but Christ.

Learn, that sin brings sorrow. Sin flatters like a serpent at the beginning, but stings like one at last (comp. Pro ).

See the resemblance between sin and its punishment. The Israelites had been like serpents to Moses and Aaron, always ready to nip and sting; now God sends serpents among them. "Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire before the Lord;" and they were destroyed by fire. The Jews crucified our Lord; the Romans crucified them in vast numbers. Many an undutiful child has found his parent's wrongs avenged in his own offspring.

The serpents in the camp were very numerous; not here and there one, but in great numbers. Alas, how many evils does sin produce in all the relations and engagements of life! How many serpents follow in the train of sin! They follow you at home and abroad, in the family and in the world, in your lying down and rising up.

There is the serpent of remorse in the conscience—a serpent very difficult to untwine from the folds of the heart. The serpent of discord in the family, when a man's vices follow him home, and he finds the effects of his own misconduct breaking up the peace of home (comp. Pro ). The serpent of treachery among your friendships; for the world shakes from it those whom it cannot trust. The serpent of disgrace and contempt, the consequences of the vices of the character and the violation of integrity and uprightness. "What fruit had ye then in those things?" &c. (Rom 6:21). Then there is the serpent of endless agony and despair in "hell, where their worm dieth not," &c.

II. An earnest resolution and prayer; the result of sanctified affliction.

"Pray unto the Lord, that He take away the serpents from us." Their sufferings led to humiliation, repentance, and prayer. They knew that none but He who sent the affliction could take it away, and, therefore, they did not ask Moses to try what he could do by any process of legislation or human device, but—"Pray unto the Lord," &c. Prayer is your only remedy for the serpent brood of sin. "We have sinned, for," &c. Sanctified affliction leads to this. Examples: Job, Ephraim (Jer ), the prodigal (Luk 15:14 sqq.).

III. A mysterious appointment, the result of Divine grace.

"And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent," &c.

Samuel Thodey.

THE BRAZEN SERPENT A TYPE OF JESUS CHRIST

(Num .)

"A type," says Mr. Steward, "is a fact precedent to some other greater than itself, designed to prepare the way for it, and to be a voucher for it, as preordained and brought to pass by the Divine wisdom and power. It is the shadow of a coming truth projected far before it, showing its figure rather than its substance, its image, not its properties."

The words of our Lord in Joh , are our warrant for regarding the brazen serpent as a type of Himself. In the serpent-bitten Israelites we have an illustration of the condition of sinful men, and in the brazen serpent we have an illustration of the remedy for the sad condition of sinful men. We discover an analogy in:—

I. The malady.

1. In both cases it was communicated. It was communicated to the Israelites by the bite of the serpent. Sin was imparted to man by "that old serpent, which is the devil." It is not native to human nature, but a foul and terrible importation.

2. In both it is painful. The bite of the serpent caused the most distressing pain; the poison burned and tormented the victims. So the venom of sin rankles in human nature; sin causes discord, guilt, dread, anguish; it is an element of torment.

3. In both it is deadly. Great numbers of the Israelites died from its effects. "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." "The wages of sin is death."

4. In both, human remedies are unavailing. It is said that the effects of the bite of the serpents were so rapid that "no remedy for the most virulent poison could, had it even been at hand, have been administered with sufficient rapidity and efficiency to have saved the people." No human means can arrest the deadly progress of the poison of sin, impart spiritual life and health, &c.

It must not be overlooked that the malady and its consequences in the one case were physical and temporal; in the other, spiritual and everlasting. Death would end the one; it is powerless to end the other.

II. The remedy.

In respect of this there is a twofold analogy.

1. The remedy in both cases was of Divine origin. No man could have devised a remedy for human sin and suffering. No angel could have grappled with the disease. In His sovereign grace God originated the method of human salvation.

2. There is an analogy as to the means by which the remedy was effected.

(1) The serpent-bitten Israelites were healed by means of a serpent of similar appearance to those through whose bites they were perishing, but entirely free from venom. We are healed of sin and saved from death, by "God sending His Own Son in the likeness of the flesh of sin, and for sin" (Rom ), yet Himself perfectly free from sin.

(2) The serpent without poison was uplifted to overcome the dire effects of the bite of the poisonous ones; so He who was made "in the likeness of the flesh of sin," "yet without sin," took upon Him the curse of the world by dying upon the cross, that He might thereby destroy death and the curse. "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness; even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;" &c.

III. The appropriation.

The bitten Israelites had to look to the Brazen Serpent, and looking they were saved. The sinner has to believe in Jesus Christ, and believing he is saved. The look of the Israelites is a remarkable illustration of faith. "Look unto Me, and be ye saved," &c. This method of appropriation—

1. Is simple and easy. Look, and be saved. Believe, and live. The little child, and the hoary patriarch; the ignorant plebeian, and the educated philosopher, can and do believe. We are naturally credulous; we often believe too readily. As all can believe, the remedy is within the reach of all. Take heed lest the very simplicity of the appropriation be made by you an occasion of stumbling. (a)

2. Is unmeritorious. The dying Israelite did not merit healing and life by his look to the Brazen Serpent. Our faith cannot merit salvation. Faith excludes the idea of merit. "It is of faith, that it might be by grace." We are "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus."

3. Is indispensable. If the bitten Israelite refused to look to the Brazen Serpent he speedily died, notwithstanding the remedy. So faith is indispensable to salvation (comp. Joh ; Joh 3:26). (b)

IV. The result.

"It came to pass, that if a serpent had bitten any man, when he beheld the serpent of brass, he lived." "Whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." The serpent-bitten Israelites, who looked to the brazen serpent, were saved from physical anguish and death; the sinner who believes in Jesus Christ is saved from spiritual anguish and eternal death. The Israelite, saved for the time, would die soon or late; but the believer in Christ has everlasting and ever-glorious life.

Conclusion.

This world is like the camp of Israel. Sin is doing its terrible work. There is but one method of deliverance. Believe, and be saved. This one method is gloriously available to every one. "Whosoever believeth in Him," &c. Hence, if any one perish, he perishes by his own guilty neglect of the free and glorious remedy.

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) By the term looking, we mean not an examination of the proofs which establish the truth of the Christian religion, although the testimony borne in its favour has been confirmed by wonders and miracles, and divers other effects of Divine power (Heb ). We mean not by the term looking, the study of the Scriptures, although the word of prophecy, which is most sure, bears testimony throughout to Jesus. All this study is commendable and necessary, and far be it from us to dissuade you from a study which is in the present day too much neglected, and without which it is to be feared many will never come to look at Jesus Christ. But still all these labours together are not worth and cannot supersede the look for which we plead, whereas this look alone has often superseded them. No doubt "faith cometh by hearing;" in other words, hearing is the origin of faith, its starting point; but it belongs to the eye to finish the uncompleted wok of hearing. Where, in your opinion, is there a man who has heard much, and read much, but not looked? a man who has carefully examined the proofs of the divinity of Christ, a man who has admitted them, and yet not looked at Christ? a man whom these proofs have convinced, that is to say vanquished, forced to believe, but whose faith, wholly passive, though it receives and yields to the truth, does not embrace it, and become united to it by a proper movement, and to whom, strange to say, the truth at once is and is not? a man who, conducted by his studies to the very foot of the cross, remains there with downcast eyes, never raising them towards the cross, nor towards Him whom it bears, and whose adorable blood is running down this accursed tree? Others have not been able to believe until they lifted their eyes and looked at Christ. Those, I admit, have believed but with a forced faith, on the account of the whole world and not on their own personal account; with a faith which is to them only a yoke and burden; a faith which they support, but which does not support them until, passing beyond this terminated labour, this exhausted spring, they begin to look simply at Jesus. Are we rash in speaking of this look as a condition of true faith, when Jesus Christ Himself has said, "Every one which seeth the Son, and believeth in Him" (i.e., every one who, having seen the Son, hath believed in Him), "hath everlasting life." These words, brethren, decidedly annex life to a look, not indeed to every kind of look, but to an attentive, earnest, prolonged look; a look more simple than that of observation; a look which looks, and does nothing more; a lively, unaffected, childlike look; a look in which the whole soul appears; a look of the heart and not of the intellect; one which does not seek to decompound its object, but receives it into the soul in all its entireness through the eye.—Alex. Vinet, D.D.

(b) The look of faith is saving. You cannot turn a trustful eye to Him and not receive fullest salvation. Did any wounded Israelite look and not live? So no beholding sinner dies.… You never can have health, but from the cross. The rich must look; for riches cannot save. The poor must look; for poverty is no cloak for guilt. The learned must look; for learning can devise no other help. The ignorant must look; for ignorance is not heaven's key. None ever lived without soul-sickness. None regains strength apart from Christ. But His cross stands uplifted high, even as the pole in Israel's camp. And it is not a vain voice which cries, "Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth."—H. Law, D.D.

THE BRAZEN SERPENT OR, THE TERRORS OF EXISTENCE FACED IN FAITH

(Num .)

The story of the Brazen Serpent actually took place, we cannot doubt, as recorded by Moses. The notion of a "myth," which rationalistic interpreters might here suggest, is in this case absolutely inadmissible. For in the subsequent history, many hundreds of years later, we read of King Hezekiah being moved to destroy it, and to grind it to powder, because it had become an object of idolatrous veneration to the Israelites in his day. This fact, however, is not in the least inconsistent with its having been intended by the Divine mind to be also an embodied image or parable of spiritual and eternal truths—as true now in England in this nineteenth century of our era, as in Israel thousands of years ago.

This incident of the Brazen Serpent is recorded in a part of the Sacred Story which we are specially authorized to consider as typical—I mean the story of the journey of the Israelites through the wilderness (see 1Co ). It is therefore probable, at least, that any event recorded in this part of the Sacred History will repay study in that view. And with regard to this particular incident in that journey, it should be noted that our Lord Himself, in His conversation with Nicodemus, selected it out of all history to stand as a symbol of some of the highest mysteries of redemption.

What then is the primary and simplest meaning of the incident? It is a fundamental principle of all sound interpretation of inspired sayings, that all other and deeper lessons which they may be intended or adapted to teach, must have their root in, and take their form and outline from, its primary and original sense. Now it is, I think, clear that the Brazen Serpent was primarily intended simply to represent and vividly picture to the suffering Israelites those terrible and repulsive instruments of God's avenging justice through which He was at that time inflicting suffering upon them for their sins. In the course of their wanderings they were brought into a region of great suffering and want. Under the pressure of their sufferings, they were led to murmur against Moses and Aaron; they looked back with regret and longing to the days when they "sat by the flesh-pots of Egypt." The spiritual degradation and misery of their life at that time, and their condition as slaves in a heathen land, were forgotten; nothing but the fleshly comforts and ease which they enjoyed there, compared with their present sufferings, was remembered. Their high calling and destiny as God's chosen people was overlooked or held cheap. This spirit of mind, like that of him "who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright," and, caring for the present, despised the greater future, would, if it had become habitual, have brought them to destruction and utter alienation from God. A sharp remedy was therefore needed, and was applied by God's judicial providence. Fiery serpents were sent amongst them, from whose bite many of them died. It was in this state of things that Moses was directed to make a Brazen Serpent—that is, an actual image of the serpents from which they were at the time suffering; and to set it up on a pole before their eyes. And he was to teach them that if they contemplated this image in faith, they should be healed. How can we doubt what was the primary meaning of this? Surely it must have been intended simply to teach the great and pregnant truth, that if, when any of the terrors of God set themselves in array against us, we have the courage, instead of turning away our eyes and thoughts from them, to look deliberately at them in faith; to hold them up, as it were, firmly between ourselves and heaven, and to contemplate them as God's appointments, and therefore certainly good under the circumstances, and if used aright; then the sting will be taken from these afflictions, and they will be turned into sources of spiritual blessing. It was a call to face God's terrible dispensation in faith and submission.

It is our duty and our wisdom to do so. To do otherwise, to keep any dark corner of our consciousness unlooked at, is to lay up a store of fears and uncertainties for our weaker moments, and to allow the enemy to lay an ambush against our peace. And even if the terror be one that affects only other men, not ourselves directly, yet when we become aware of it our wisdom and our duty is to face it, holding to the hand of God. Not to do so is selfishness. To suffer in other men's suffering is to have the mind of Christ; and all that is not that is sin. And, besides, unless we do dare to look all terrors in the face, we can never feel safe, even for ourselves. For if we believe in injustice or cruelty in God towards any creature, how can we be sure He will not be unjust to us too, and to those we love?

Job is a great example of such courage in facing stern and mysterious facts in God's providence.… This powerful delineation of the terrible mysteries of evil and of sorrow that met him, clearly shows that he saw them in all their extremest terror—that he felt them in all their acuteness. And yet, nevertheless, he did, in the end, submit in absolute resignation and meekness to God. It was not, then, in blindness or darkness that he did so; but with eyes wide open and a heart keenly sensitive to all. Thus did he hold up his Brazen Serpent to the light; thus did he at last learn in full sight of it to acknowledge the Divine justice and goodness. This alone is true faith. Easy it is in sunny times, while sailing in sunny seas, … to call God, "Father," and believe that He is a Father. But the difficulty is to do so when all things seem against us, or when, though we ourselves are in prosperity, we see others round us in pain, in distress, in agony; to call God Father, as the Divine Man of Sorrows did, while hanging on a cross of torture, or from out of an agony of bloody sweat; when man is felt to be cruel and unjust; when the earth beneath our feet trembles; when the midday sky over our heads is darkened; when God Himself seems to have forsaken us, and we cannot see the reason. To cry then too, "Abba, Father," and believe what we say, is true faith—the only faith that fits the world as it is, and will carry us through life with eyes open.—Canon Lyttelton, M.A., in "Good Words."

UNEVENTFUL STAGES IN THE PILGRIMAGE OF LIFE

(Num .)

These verses yield the following homiletical observations:—

I. That many scenes in the pilgrimage of life are quiet and uneventful.

From their encampment in the Arabah, with its events of intense and painful interest, the Israelites proceed to Oboth, or rather to Zalmonah, then to Punon, and then to Oboth (Num ), then to Ije-abarim, &c. At these places nothing occurs to detain the historian, nothing which calls for record; the life of the people was ordinary and uneventful. So now, the greater portion of the life of the great majority of men is common-place, ordinary, and prosaic. This is a wise and kind arrangement of Providence, for—

1. We are not fitted to bear the strain of continued and deep interest and excitement. Our mental and our emotional natures would both suffer by the undue tension of such excitement. Both brain and heart would soon succumb to the strain. If the bow be always tightly strung it will be injured, and perhaps destroyed.

2. The healthiest minds find pleasure and progress in quiet scenes and duties. Craving for constant excitement is a characteristic of a diseased mind. Restlessness and love of change are indications of mental superficiality and poverty. Active and healthy minds find satisfaction and delight in the ordinary scenes and duties of daily life. (a)

II. That in the quiet and uneventful scenes of life we should follow the Divine directions.

The Israelites did so at this time. They were commanded (Deu ) not to contend with the Moabites in battle, and for this reason they passed along the eastern border of the land of Moab, without entering into that land.

1. The teachings of the Bible and the guidance of the Holy Spirit are given to us for our whole life. The directions of the former and the inspiration of the latter, are for life's ordinary seasons as well as for its epochs and crises. The plan of God covers our entire life. His will is binding upon us at all times, and in all places and circumstances.

2. We can most effectually illustrate the principles and the power of godliness in the ordinary and uneventful scenes of life. The testimony of our life in such seasons is—

(1) More natural than in exciting and critical seasons. On the red-letter days of our life we are specially watchful and wise and diligent, &c.—

(2) More continuous. Seasons of great interest and importance occur but seldom in human lives; they are rare exceptions; as a rule, life is uneventful, prosaic. And consequently the testimony of our life in its ordinary seasons is—

(3) More influential than in its few and exceptional seasons. Hence, the necessity of following the Divine directions at such times, and at all times. (b)

III. That many of the records of the pilgrimage of life are transient.

In "the book of the wars of Jehovah" many interesting records were probably written It was a book which was of a religious spirit. The honour of their victories it ascribed to Jehovah (see Explanatory Notes on this verse). But it is lost. Nought of it remains save one or two brief quotations. "It was not," says Trapp, "any part of the Canon,—for God hath provided, that not one hair of that sacred head is diminished,—but as the chronicles of England, or some famous poem." How many human writings perish! Even good books do not always live. All material things pass away; but the spiritual abides. Books perish; but truth is imperishable. The records which exist only in books are doomed to oblivion, but those which exist in human hearts will live for ever. Books are perishable; souls are immortal. What is written "in fleshy tables of the heart" can never be erased. Let us, therefore, seek to communicate truth unto men, and to inspire men with the passion for the attainment of truth.

IV. That present progress is promoted by the recollection of God's past doings.

We infer this from the use which the Israelites made of "the book of the wars of Jehovah." The quotation from this book is very obscure. Of the first clause Dr. A. Clarke says, "This clause is impenetrably obscure." The passage from the book is "a reference rather than a quotation. Contemporaries who had ‘the Book of the Wars of Jehovah' at hand, could of course supply the context." But supposing the book was what we take it to have been, a collection of odes celebrating the glorious acts of Jehovah for the Israelites; then we are warranted in affirming that they took courage in the present by the consideration of what He had done for them in the past. Former victories inspired them with resolution and hope. (c)

In our pilgrimage let us cultivate this spirit. Let the light which shines from the mercies already received cheer our spirits as we advance to meet the duties and difficulties, the burdens and battles, that lie before us.

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) When we look back over a lengthened series of years, we seldom find that remembrance clings fondly to moments in which the mind has been most agitated, the passions most active, but rather to the intervals in which hour stole on hour with the same quiet tread. The transitory fever of the senses it is only a diseased imagination that ponders over and recalls; the triumphs which flatter our self-esteem look pale and obsolete from the distance of years, as arches of lath and plaster, thrown up in haste for the march of a conqueror, seem frail and tawdry when we see them in after time, spanning the solid thoroughfares with columns already mouldering, and stripped of the banners and the garlands that had clad them in the bravery of an hour.

However varied the course of our life, whatsoever the phases of pleasure and ambition through which it has swept along, still, when in memory we would revive the times that were comparatively the happiest, those times would be found to have been the calmest.

As the body for health needs regularity in habits, and will even reconcile itself to habits not in themselves best fitted for longevity, with less injury to the system than might result from abrupt changes to the training by which athletes attain their vigour—so the mind for health needs a certain clockwork of routine; we like to look forward with a certain tranquil sentiment of security; when we pause from the occupation of to-day, which custom has made dear to us, there is a charm in the mechanical confidence with which we think that the same occupation will be renewed at the same hour to-morrow. And thus monotony itself is a cause and element of happiness which, amidst the shifting tumults of the world, we are apt to ignore. Plutarch, indeed, says truly that "the shoe takes the form of the foot, not the foot the form of the shoe," meaning thereby that "man's life is moulded by the disposition of his soul." But new shoes chafe the feet, new customs the soul. The stoutest pedestrian would flag on a long walk if he put on new shoes at every second mile.

It is with a sentiment of misplaced pity, perhaps of contempt still more irrational, that the busy man, whose existence is loud and noisy, views another who seems to him less to live than to vegetate. The traveller, whirled from capital to capital, stops for a night's lodging at some convent rising lone amidst unfrequented hills. He witnesses the discipline of the monastic life drilled into unvarying forms, day and year portioned out, according to inch scale, by the chimes of the undeviating bell. He re-enters his carriage with a sense of relief; how dreary must be the existence he leaves behind! Why dreary? Because so monotonous. Shallow reasoner! it is the monotony that has reconciled the monk to his cell. Even prisoners, after long years, have grown attached to the sameness of their prison, and have shrunk back from the novelty of freedom when turned loose upon the world. Not that these illustrations constitute a plea for monastery or prison; they but serve to show that monotony, even under circumstances least favourable to the usual elements of happiness, becomes a happiness in itself, growing, as it were, unseen, out of the undisturbed certainty of peculiar customs. As the pleasure the ear finds in rhyme is said to arise from its recurrence at measured periods—from the gratified expectation that at certain intervals certain effects will be repeated—so it is in life: the recurrence of things same or similar, the content in the fulfilment of expectations so familiar and so gentle that we are scarcely conscious that they were formed, have a harmony and a charm, and, where life is enriched by no loftier genius, often make the only difference between its poetry and its prose.—From "Caxtoniana," by Lord Lytton.

(b) Day by day, hour by hour, the work goes on—well or ill—to His praise or to His shame. We must build. We are building. We are very apt sometimes to think that we have done nothing, and that that is the worst of it. That is not the worst of it. The worst of it is that we have done something very poor or very ill. I come home at night, and say, with sad relenting, as the shadows of reflection deepen around me, "I have done nothing at the great building to-day!" O yes, but I have. I have been putting in "the wood, the hay, the stubble," where "the silver and the gold and the precious stones" should have been. I have been piling up fuel for the last fires in my own life. I cannot be a cipher even for one day. I must be a man. Nay, I must be a Christian man, faithful or unfaithful. I must grow, and build, and work, and live in some way. Oh, then, let me see that I live for Christ, that I grow into His image, and that I work a work in the moral construction of my own life which angels will crown and God will bless!—Alex Raleigh, D.D.

(c) The way to enrich life is to keep a retentive memory in the heart. Look over a period of twenty years, and see the all-covering and ever-shining mercy of God! How many special providences have you observed? How many narrow escapes have you experienced? How many difficulties have you surmounted? How often have you found a pool in unexpected places? We should lay up some memory of the Divine triumphs which have gladdened our lives, and fall back upon it for inspiration and courage in the dark and cloudy day. Go into your yesterdays to find God! Search for Him in the paths along which you have come, and if you dare, under the teaching of your own memories, deny His goodness, then betake yourselves to the infamous luxury of distrust and reproach.—Joseph Parker, D.D.

A SONG OF THE PILGRIMAGE

(Num .)

Dean Perowne makes the following remarks concerning this song which Israel sang at Beer:—"The next is a song which was sung on the digging of a well at a spot where they were encamped, and which from this circumstance was called Beêr, or ‘The Well.' It runs as follows:—

"‘Spring up, O well! sing ye to it;

Well, which the princes dug,

Which the nobles of the people bored

With the sceptre-of-office, with their staves.'

This song, first sung at the digging of the well, was afterwards no doubt commonly used by those who came to draw water. The maidens of Israel chanted it to one another, verse by verse, as they toiled at the bucket, and thus beguiled their labour. ‘Spring up, O well!' was the burden or refrain of the song, which would pass from one mouth to another at each fresh coil of the rope, till the full bucket reached the well's mouth. But the peculiar charm of the song lies not only in its antiquity, but in the characteristic touch which so manifestly connects it with the life of the time to which the narrative assigns it. The one point which is dwelt upon is, that the leaders of the people took their part in the work, that they themselves helped to dig the well. In the new generation who were about to enter the Land of Promise, a strong feeling of sympathy between the people and their rulers had sprung up, which augured well for the future, and which left its stamp even on the ballads and songs of the time. This little carol is fresh and lusty with young life; it sparkles like the water of the well whose springing up first occasioned it; it is the expression on the part of those who sung it, of lively confidence in the sympathy and co-operation of their leaders, which, manifested in this one instance, might be relied upon in all emergencies (Ewald, Gesch. , 5)."—Bibl. Dict.

Three homiletic points are suggested by the verses under consideration.

I. The needs of human pilgrimage.

The people at Beer wanted water. They were receiving reminders of their dependence almost constantly. It is so with the pilgrimages of human life to-day. We pass from place to place, but we never cease to be dependent Notice—

1. How indispensable are the things which we need! The Israelites wanted water, a thing which is absolutely essential to human existence. We are dependent upon God for many things, both for the body and for the soul, which are thoroughly necessary to our well-being, and even to our life.

2. How many are the things which we need! Who could write the catalogue of man's necessities? (a)

3. How constant are our needs! We may change our place and our circumstances, but we never change our dependent condition. Both physically and spiritually we are ever drawing from the fountain of Divine blessings. (b)

Our constant dependence should beget constant humility.

II. The Divine provision for the needs of human pilgrimage.

The Divine provision for the Israelites at Beer—

1. Was promised by God. "The Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water." Jehovah anticipated the need of His people. "Thou comest to meet him with the blessings of goodness." God designed and promised the provision before it was asked. How munificent is the provision which He makes for the needs of His creatures!

(1) In material things. The earth and sea bring forth an abundant supply for the needs of all men. "He giveth us richly all things to enjoy." (c)

(2) In spiritual things. "He will abundantly pardon." "Who forgiveth all thine iniquities," &c. (Psa ; Psa 103:8). "God is able to make all grace a bound toward you," &c. (2Co 9:8; 2Co 9:11). "The unsearchable riches of Christ." He "is able to do exceeding abundantly," &c. The fountain of Gospel blessings is inexhaustible, infinite. (d) And, as in the water of Beer, so also in the blessings of salvation, the provision preceded the need. Redemption was not an after-thought of the Divine mind. The cross was set up in eternity. "The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world."

2. Was bestowed in connection with human effort. A well was dug under the direction of Moses, who was himself directed by God, and in this way the Lord fulfilled His promise to give them water. God provides for man by means of man's own efforts. If man would obtain temporal blessings, the Divine rule is that he must work for them. "If any man would not work, neither should he eat" (comp. 1Th ; 2Th 3:8-13). In spiritual things also God blesses man by the use of the means of blessing. If we would enjoy the bounteous provision of the Heavenly Father for the supply of our spiritual needs, we must read, meditate, pray, work, &c.

It is noteworthy that the princes and nobles took a prominent part in the effort to obtain this water (see the remarks of Perowne on this point, quoted above). A glad zeal and a hearty co-operation amongst all ranks seemed to have possessed the people. It is well when the leading people of a community are leaders in excellent service, &c. (e)

3. Enkindled human joy; and this joy was expressed in this song. The music of our pilgrimage which honours God is that of songs, not dirges. Our glad and grateful anthems are acceptable unto Him. (f)

4. Was suitably commemorated. The name of the place was called Ber, the well. We commemorate our Marahs, let us do the same with our Bers. Let us be eager to perpetuate the memory of our mercies.

III. The continuousness of human pilgrimage.

"And from the wilderness they went to Mattanab; and from Mattanah to Nahaliel; and from Nahaliel to Bamoth; and from Bamoth in the valley, that is in the country of Moab, to the top of Pisgah, which looketh toward Jeshimon." Even scenes of refreshment and joy must not detain them. The well which afforded them so much satisfaction and pleasure was not the goal of their pilgrimage. Ber was not Canaan. Onward must they go until they reach the Promised Land. In our life-pilgrimage we may, as it were, halt, but we must not settle in this world. If we attempt to settle here God speedily scuds some messenger crying to us, "Arise ye, and depart; for this is not your rest." "Here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come." (g)

"Onward then, right onward!

This our watchword still,

Till we reach the glory

Of the wondrous hill.

"On through waste and blackness,

O'er this desert road:

On till Salem greets us,

City of our God."

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) Does not one man require in his own experience the whole scheme of Divine redemption? Is it not with this as with the light, the atmosphere, and the whole mechanism of the world? Were there but one man upon the globe, he would as much require the sun, the summer, the harvest, as do the millions who now exist upon it.—Joseph Parker, D.D.

(b) We never wake up in the morning but we want strength for the day, and we never go to bed at night without needing grace to cover the sins of the past. We are needy at all periods of life: when we begin with Christ in our young days we need to be kept from the follies and passions which are so strong in giddy youth; in middle life our needs are greater still, lest the cares of this world should eat as doth a canker; and in old age we are needy still, and need preserving grace to bear us onward to the end. So needy are we that even in lying down to die we need our last bed to be made for us by mercy, and our last hour to be cheered by grace. So needy are we that if Jesus had not prepared a mansion for us in eternity we should have no place to dwell in. We are as full of wants as the sea is full of water. We cannot stay at home and say, "I have much goods laid up for many years," for the wolf is at the door, and we must go out a-begging again. Our clamorous necessities follow us every moment, and dog our heels in every place.—C. H. Spurgeon.

(c) There is not a word on our tongue; there is not a thought in our heart, but to! O Jesus, Son of man, Thou knowest it altogether! And, knowing it, has He left it unprovided for? See what He has done for the recruiting of man's physical strength, and then say if He who can be so careful about restoring the body would leave the recovery of the mind and soul altogether unprovided for. He has answered that every day and eventide. He sends a cooling shadow over the earth, and, as it wraps all things in its darkness, it seems to say, "Rest a while." See how above every weekday He has set that singing, shining Sabbath Day of His, to quiet men, to give them a moment's rest in the great strife and chase of life! If He has made an evening to each day—a sabbath to each week—if He has in many ways shown an interest in men's bones, muscles, nerves, and sinews, has He forgotten the immortal soul? has He made no answer to the cry of the heart when it is weary and sad, when it sighs for release and rest? His whole life is an answer to that enquiry. "Come unto Me," said He, "all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." He meets us, therefore, at every point. He provides for the aching limb, and answers the sigh of the weary heart!—Joseph Parker, D.D.

(d) It is no small task to water one garden, in the heat of the summer time, so that every flower shall be refreshed, and no plant overlooked. How great is the might of Him, who from the salt sea extracts the precious clouds of sweet rain, to fall not only on gardens, but on the pastures of the wilderness, and the wild forest trees, till all nature laughs for joy, the mountains and the hills break forth into singing, and the trees of the field clap their hands! Brethren, it is a great thing to put a cup of cold water to the lips of a disciple; it shall not lose its reward. To refresh the bowels of one of God's saints is no mean thing; but how great is God's goodness, which puts a cup of salvation to every Christian's lips, which waters every plant of His right hand planting, so that every one can have his leaf continually green, and his fruit ever brought forth in due season.—C. H. Spurgeon.

(e) For an illustration on the point see p. 13.

(f) It is always a token of a revival of religion, it is said, when there is a revival of psalmody. When Luther's preaching began to tell upon men, you could hear ploughmen at the plough-tail singing Luther's psalms. Whitfield and Wesley had never done the great work they did if it had not been for Charles Wesley's poetry, and for the singing of such men as Toplady, and Scott, and Newton, and many others of the same class; and even now we mark that since there has been somewhat of a religious revival in our denominations, there are more hymn books than everthere were, and far more attention is paid to Christian psalmody than before. When your heart is full of Christ, you will want to sing. It is a blessed thing to sing at your labour and work, if you are in a place where you can do so; and if the world should laugh at you, you must tell them that you have as good a right to sing the songs that delight your heart as they have to sing any of the songs in which their hearts delight. Praise His name, Christians; be not dumb; sing aloud unto Jesus the Lamb; and if we as Englishmen can sometimes sing our national air, let us as believers have our national hymn, and sing—

"Crown Him, crown Him, Lord of all."

—Ibid.

(g) A father with his little son is journeying overland to California; and when, at night, he pitches his tent in some pleasant valley, the child is charmed with the spot, and begs his father to rear a house and remain there; and he begins to make a little fence about the tent, and digs up the wild-flowers, and plants them within the enclosure. But the father says, "No, my son. Our home is far distant. Let these things go; for to-morrow we must depart." Now, God is taking us, His children, as pilgrims and strangers, homewards; but we desire to build here, and must be often overthrown before we can learn to seek the "city that hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God."—H. W. Beecher.

A stranger is very well known, not perhaps in the great city where there are always thousands of such, but in a country town or on a country road. See him as he enters the village at nightfall; you can see at once he is not of the place. The dust is on his raiment; he is footsore and weary; yet he has no mind to stay—he will be away again before the inhabitants are up. His language is different; his questions are those of one who has but a superficial and momentary interest in the answer that may be given; his very look is the life spelling of the word "onward;" his home, wherever it may be, is not here.—A. Raleigh, D.D.

A SONG AT THE WELLHEAD

(Num )

I. These people required water as we greatly need grace, and there was a promise given concerning the supply.

"The Lord spake unto Moses, Gather the people together, and I will give them water."

1. The supply promised here was a Divine supply. "I will give them water." … The supply of grace that you are to receive in your time of need is a Divine supply. Hence, knowing the attributes of God, you will understand that however much you may require, there will be an all-sufficient supply; however long you may require it, there will be an everlasting supply; at whatever hours you may want it, there will be an available supply.

2. It was a suitable supply. The people were thirsty, and the promise was, "I will give them water." Like a father, God understands His children better than His children understand themselves, and He gives not according to their foolish guesses of what they need, but according to His wise apprehension of what they require.

3. The supply promised was an abundant supply. "I will give them water." It included every child of Israel, every babe that needed it, as well as every strong man that thirsted after it. No child of God shall be left to perish for want of the necessary supplies.

4. It was a sure supply. "I will give them water." We do not go forward on the strength of "ifs," and "buts," and "peradventures;" but we advance confidently, invigorated and inflamed, as to our courage, by "wills" and "shalls." God must un-deify Himself before He can break His promises.

II. Observe, the song.

The children of Israel sing this song, "Spring up, O well; sing ye unto it."

1. This song may be looked upon as the voice of cheerfulness. There was no water, but they were still in good spirits. Cheerfulness in want, cheerfulness upon the bed of pain, cheerfulness under slander, singing, like the nightingale, in the night, praising God when the thorn is in the breast, this is a high Christian attainment, which we should seek after and not be content without.

2. I like, too, the look of these children of Israel, singing to the Lord before the water came, praising Him while they were yet thirsty. Let us pitch a tune and join with them, however low our estate may be.

3. This song was the voice of cheerfulness sustained by faith. They believed the promise, "Gather the people together," &c. They sang the song of expectation. Sing of the mercy yet to come, which your faith can see although as yet you have not received it.

4. This song was no doubt greatly increased in its volume, and more elevated in its tone, when the water did begin to spring. All ye who have received anything of Divine grace, sing ye unto it! Bless God by singing and praising His name while you are receiving His favours.

III. The song was a prayer.

"Spring up, O well," was Faith's way of singing her prayer.

1. This prayer went at once to the work, and sought for that which was required. What was needed? Not a well, but water. Now what we need is not the means of grace, but the grace of the means. You are retired for your private devotions; you have opened the Bible; you begin to read. Now, do not be satisfied with merely reading through a chapter. Words are nothing: the letter killeth. The business of the believer with his Bible open is to pray, "Here is the well: spring up, O well; Lord, give me the meaning and spirit of Thy Word," &c. Or perhaps you are about to kneel down to pray. You want in prayer not the well so much as the springing up of the well. And it is just the same when you go to the ordinances.… And is it not the same when you come to the public assembly? Let our prayer be like the song of the text, direct and to the point. Lord, do not put me off with the husks of ordinances and means of grace; give me Thyself.

2. This prayer was the prayer of faith, like the song. Faith gives wings to our prayers, so that they fly heaven-high; but unbelief clogs and chains our prayers to earth. If you want some well to spring up to supply the needs of yourself and your family, pray in faith; the rock, if needs be, shall flow with rivers of water.

3. It was united prayer. All the people prayed, "Spring up, O well!" The prayer was a unanimous one.

IV. Then they went to work.

"I will give them water," but "the princes digged the well, the nobles of the people digged it," &c.

1. When God intends to bless a people, effort is always esteemed to be honourable. "The princes digged," &c. They were not ashamed of the work. And when God shall bless a church and people, they must all feel that it is a very great honour to do anything in the service of God. Our highest dignity is to be servants of the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. It was effort which was accomplished by very feeble means. They digged the well with their staves—not very first-class tools. But they did as they were told. We must dig as we can. We must use what abilities we have. If you have but one talent, use that one talent.

3. It was effort in God's order. They digged the well "by the direction of the lawgiver." We must not forget in everything we do for God, to go to work in God's way.

4. It was effort made in faith. They digged the well, but as they digged it they felt so certain that the water would come that they sang at the work, "Spring up, O well!" This is the true way to work if we would get a blessing.—C. H. Spurgeon.

THE OVERTHROW OF THE AMORITES OR, THE DEFEAT OF "THE PEOPLE THAT DELIGHT IN WAR."

(Num )

The following points in this portion of the history may be considered with advantage.

I. A reasonable request preferred.

"And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, let me pass," &c. (Num ). The same request was sent by them on a former occasion to the king of Edom (Num 20:17). This request was—

1. Reasonable in itself. "Let me pass through thy land." (On this and the next subdivision see pp. 376, 377.)

2. Enforced by satisfactory assurances. "We will not turn into the fields, or into the vineyards; we will not drink of the waters of the well; we will go along by the king's high way, until we be past thy borders."

II. A hostile refusal returned.

"And Sihon would not suffer Israel to pass through his border: but Sihon gathered all his people together," &c. (Num ). The reasons which led the king of the Amorites to adopt this line of action were probably partly those which led the king of the Edomites to oppose their passing through his country; e.g., fear that they should receive some injury from the Israelites if they granted their request, and envy of their growing power (see pp. 376, 377). On receiving the request Sihon gathered his people together, and marched against Israel. Not content with opposing their march through his territory, "he went out against Israel into the wilderness; and he came to Jahaz, and fought against Israel." He was the aggressor in the war; and his assault was entirely unprovoked. It is an evil thing when kings and their advisers are so eager to make war. (a)

III. An unprovoked assault ending in an unmitigated defeat.

"And Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land," &c. (Num ). If, like one in modern times, Sihon entered upon the conflict "with a light heart," he soon exchanged it for a heavy and bitter heart. The battle was his last. He and all his host were destroyed. "They that take the sword shall perish with the sword." His defeat and destruction were a just retribution for his unprovoked and hasty assault upon Israel. (b)

IV. A great victory obtained by those who had in vain asked for a small favour.

Israel had asked as a favour that they might be allowed to pass through the land of the Amorites, who in reply went out to war against them; "and Israel smote him with the edge of the sword, and possessed his land from Arnon unto Jabbok," &c. Their modest request for permission to pass through the land was brutally refused, and, now having been forced into battle, they take possession of the land as their own. Moderation of request or demand is far more likely to be followed by large attainments than unreasonable requests or extravagant demands. An attitude of bluster and swagger generally leads to defeat and humiliation.

V. A territory which had been obtained by conquest lost by defeat.

"For Heshbon was the city of Sihon, the king of the Amorites, who had fought against the former king of Moab, and taken all his land out of his hand, even unto Arnon." A policy of aggression often leads to enforced retrogression. That which has been obtained by force is often lost by reason of the opposition of a superior force. Righteous and beneficent government is the best security of an empire. (c)

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) But war's a game, which, were their subjects wise,

Kings would not play at. Nations would do well

To extort their truncheons from the puny hands

Of heroes, whose infirm and baby minds

Are gratified with mischief; and who spoil,

Because men suffer it, their toy, the world.

—Cowper.

(b) Moses sent messengers unto Sihon, desiring that he would grant his army a passage, upon what security he should please to require; he promised that he should be no way injured, neither as to that country which Sihon governed, nor as to its inhabitants; and that he would buy his provisions at such a price as should be to their advantage, even though he should desire to sell them their very water. But Sihon refused his offer, and put his army into battle array, and was preparing everything in order to hinder their passing over Arnon.

When Moses saw that the Amorite king was disposed to enter upon hostilities with them, he thought he ought not to bear that insult; and, determining to wean the Hebrews from their indolent temper, and prevent the disorders which arose thence, which had been the occasion of their former sedition (nor indeed were they now thoroughly easy in their minds), he inquired of God, whether he would give him leave to fight? which when he had done, and God also promised him the victory, he was himself very courageous, and ready to proceed to fighting. Accordingly he encouraged the soldiers; and he desired of them that they would take the pleasure of fighting, now God gave them leave so to do. They then upon the receipt of this permission, which they so much longed for, put on their whole armour, and set about the work without delay. But the Amorite king was not now like to himself when the Hebrews were ready to attack him; but both he himself was affrighted at the Hebrews, and his army, which before had showed themselves to be of good courage, were then found to be timorous: so they could not sustain the first onset, nor bear up against the Hebrews, but fled away, as thinking this would afford them a more likely way for their escape than fighting; for they depended upon their cities, which were strong, from which yet they reaped no advantage when they were forced to fly to them; for as soon as the Hebrews saw them giving ground, they immediately pursued them close; and when they had broken their ranks, they greatly terrified them, and some of them broke off from the rest, and ran away to the cities. Now the Hebrews pursued them briskly, and obstinately persevered in the labours they had already undergone; and being very skilful in slinging, and very dexterous in throwing of darts, or anything else of that kind; and a so having nothing but light armour, which made them quick in the pursuit, they overtook their enemies; and for those that were most remote, and could not be overtaken, they reached them by their slings and their bows, so that many were slain; and those that escaped the slaughter were sorely wounded, and these were more distressed with thirst than with any of those that fought against them, for it was the summer season; and when the greatest number of them were brought down to the river out of a desire to drink, as also when others fled away by troops, the Hebrews came round them, and shot at them; so that, what with darts and what with arrows, they made a slaughter of them all. Sihon their king was also slain. So the Hebrews spoiled the dead bodies, and took their prey. The land also which they took was full of abundance of fruits, and the army went all over it without fear, and fed their cattle upon it; and they look the enemies prisoners, for they could no way put a stop to them, since all the fighting men were destroyed. Such was the destruction which overtook the Amorites, who were neither sagacious in counsel, nor courageous in action. Hereupon the Hebrews took possession of their land, which is a country situate between three rivers, and naturally resembling an island: the river Arnon being its southern limit; the river Jabbok determining its northern side, which, running into the Jordan, loses its own name, and takes the other; while Jordan itself runs along by it on its western coast.—Josephus, Ant. Num .

(c) There is one thing too apt to be forgotten, which it much behoves us to remember: in the Colonies, as everywhere else in this world, the vita! point is not who decides, but what is decided on! That measures tending really to the best advantage, temporal and spiritual, of the Colony be adopted, and strenuously put in execution; there lies the grand interest of every good citizen, British and Colonial. Such measures, whosoever have originated and prescribed them, will gradually be sanctioned by all men and gods; and clamours of every kind in reference to them may safely to a great extent be neglected, as clamorous merely, and sure to be transient.—Thomas Carlyle.

LESSONS FROM AN ANCIENT WAR SONG

(Num )

For the interpretation of these verses see Explanatory and Critical Notes.

These verses suggest reflections on—

I. The triumphs of warriors.

1. Their selfishness. "Come ye to Heshbon, let the city of Sihon be built and established." Warriors think only of their own cities and of the interests of their own country and people; to secure these they do not hesitate to outrage the most sacred rights of other peoples. (a)

2. Their destructiveness. "For there is a fire gone out of Heshbon, a flame from the city of Sihon; it hath consumed Ar of Moab." (b)

3. Their cruelty. "It hath consumed the lords of the high places of Arnon." (c).

II. The vanity of idols.

"Woe to thee, Moab! thou art undone, O people of Chemosh! he hath given up his sons as fugitives, and his daughters into captivity, unto Sihon king of the Amorites." Chemosh, the national god of the Moabites, in whom they trusted, failed to deliver them from the power of the Amorites (comp. Psa ; Isa 44:9-20). An illustration of every object in which man reposes his supreme trust, except the Lord God. The idols of our age and country are wealth, power, pleasure, friendship, knowledge, wisdom; excellent things in themselves and in their place; but utterly vain when pursued and trusted as the chief good of man. They cannot deliver in the day of trouble, &c. Only God is worthy of our entire and unlimited confidence.

III. The discomfiture of conquerors.

"We have shot at them; Heshbon is perished even unto Dibon, and we have laid them waste even unto Nophah, which reacheth unto Medeba.… And Moses sent to spy out Jaazer, and they took the villages thereof, and drove out the Amorites that were there." The Amorites had vanquished the Moabites and seized much of their territory; they also went out against Israel; but now Israel has vanquished them and taken their territory. The victor is now vanquished; the spoiler is now spoiled. How often has this been repeated in subsequent times! What a striking illustration we have of it in Napoleon Bonaparte! (d)

IV. The insecurity of earthly possessions.

"Thus Israel dwelt in the land of the Amorites," "Worldly inheritances are continually changing their masters."

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) The spirit of all rulers and nations towards foreign states is partial, unjust Individuals may be disinterested; but nations have no feeling of the tie of brotherhood to their race. A base selfishness is the principle on which the affairs of nations are commonly conducted. A statesman is expected to take advantage of the weaknesses and wants of other countries. How loose a morality governs the intercourse of states! What falsehoods and intrigues are licensed by diplomacy! What nation regards another with true friendship? What nation makes sacrifices to another's good? What nation is as anxious to perform its duties, as to assert its rights? What nation chooses to suffer wrong rather than inflict it? What nation lays down the everlasting law of right, casts itself fearlessly on its principles, and chooses to be poor or to perish rather than to do wrong? Can communities so selfish, so unfriendly, so unprincipled, so unjust, be expected to wage righteous wars? Especially if with this selfishness are joined national prejudices, antipathies, and exasperated passions, what else can be expected in the public policy but inhumanity and crime? An individual, we know, cannot be trusted in his own cause to measure his own claims, to avenge his own wrongs; and the civil magistrate, an impartial umpire, has been substituted as the only means of justice. But nations are even more unfit than individuals to judge in their own cause; more prone to push their rights to excess, and to trample on the rights of others; because nations are crowds, and crowds are unawed by opinion, and more easily inflamed by sympathy into madness. Is there not, then, always a presumption against the justice of war?—W. E. Channing, D.D.

(b) Conceive but for a moment the consternation which the approach of an invading army would impress on the peaceful villagers in this neighbourhood. When you have placed yourselves for an instant in that situation, you will learn to sympathise with those unhappy countries which have sustained the ravages of arms. But how is it possible to give you an idea of these horrors? Here you behold rich harvests, the bounty of Heaven and the reward of industry, consumed in a moment, or trampled under foot, while famine and pestilence follow the steps of desolation. There the cottages of peasants given up to the flames, mothers expiring through fear, not for themselves but their infants; the inhabitants flying with their helpless babes in all directions, miserable fugitives on their native soil! In another pare you witness opulent cities taken by storm; the streets, where no sounds were heard but those of peaceful industry, filled on a sudden with slaughter and blood, resounding with the cries of the pursuing and the pursued; the palaces of nobles demolished, the houses of the rich pillaged, the chastity of virgins and of matrons violated, and every age, sex, and rank, mingled in promiscuous massacre and ruin.—Robert Hall, A.M.

(c) You may see what war is, as you mark tens and hundreds of thousands of men, made after the image of God, rushing together to tear and destroy each other with more than the fury of wild beasts. You may see what it is in the miserable crowds of innocent men, women, and children that are flying from their homes to perish, in too many instances, by famine, and the pestilence which famine breeds. You may see what it is, in devastated fields, where the bounty of Providence had blessed man with abundance, which now lies trampled into the mire, or remains rotting and ungathered, because the tide of war has rolled over the country. You will see what it is, in the bombarded towns, in the sacked and desolate houses, in the burned and battered villages, where a few of the unfortunate inhabitants may be seen prowling like famished wolves amid the ruins of their homes, to see if they can pick some morsel of food to save themselves from starvation. You may see what it is, in the heaps of decaying human corpses that taint the air with corruption, or are eaten by dogs which won't be scared away from their loathsome feast. You may see what it is, in the still sadder spectacle of scores and hundreds of wounded men lying for hours and days where they fell, with no eye to pity and no hand to succour, and sometimes slain in their wounds by men worse than wild beasts, who haunt the battle-field for plunder and spoil. You may hear what war is in the wild cry of vengeance and fury, more terrible than the howl of the wolf or the roar of the lion as he springs on his prey, with which men hurl themselves into deadly strife; in the groans of the wounded, as they lie, mercilessly trampled beneath the feet of their comrades, or the prancing hoofs of horses that rush over them unheeded; in the shrieks of women, rushing with dishevelled hair and eyes starting out of their sockets in the agony of terror, as they dee from outrage worse than death before the face of brutal soldiers, drunk with blood and lust; in the piteous wails of little infants tossed on the points of bayonets, or nailed alive to the doors of their parents houses. This is war. Yes; this is war. It is not the minister of justice; it is not the redresser of wrong; it is not the vindicator of right. To borrow Coleridge's words:—

"War is a monster all with blood defiled,

That from the aged father tears his child:

A murderous fiend, by fiends adored,

Who slays the sire and starves the son,

The husband slays, and from her hoard

Steals what his widow's toil hath won.

Plunders God's world of beauty; rends away

All safety from the night, all comfort from the day."

—Henry Richard.

(d) Where is the man at whose nod nations lately trembled, at whose pleasure kings held their thrones, and whose voice, more desolating than the whirlwind, directed the progress of ravaging armies? A little island now holds this conqueror of the world. No crowd is there to do him homage. His ear is no longer soothed with praise. The glare which power threw around him is vanished. The terror of his name is past. His abject fall has even robbed him of that admiration which is sometimes forced upon us by the stern, proud spirit, which adversity cannot subdue. Contempt and pity are all the tribute he now receives from the world he subdued. If we can suppose that his life of guilt has left him any moral feeling, what anguish must he carry into the silence and solitude to which he is doomed. From the fields of battle which he has strewed with wounded and slain, from the kingdoms and families which he has desolated; the groans of the dying, the curses of the injured, the wailing of the bereaved, must pierce his retreat, and overwhelm him with remorse and agony.—W. E. Channing, D.D.

THE BATTLE OF EDREI, AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE CHRISTIAN CONFLICT

(Num )

We have here an illustration of the following great truths—

I. The Christian has to contend against a most formidable adversary.

"Og the king of Bashan and all his people" were a most powerful enemy to encounter. Many of their "cities were fenced with high walls, gates, and bars." The message of Jehovah unto Moses, "Fear him not," &c., implies that the Israelites were deeply sensible that they were about to encounter a powerful antagonist. In battling against evil the Christian has to do with a mighty foe. Thoughtless persons may speak lightly of the vitality and strength of evil; but no one who has ever earnestly contended with it can do so. See St. Paul's estimate of it (Eph ). And St. Peter's (1Pe 5:8-9). And St. Jude's (Jude 1:3; Jude 1:20-24). The formidableness of the adversary of the Christian may be seen as regards,—

1. Sin in ourselves. The complete victory of the Christian life often involves painful and protracted warfare (comp. 1Co ; 2Co 9:3-5; Heb 12:1-4). (a)

2. Evil in the world. Think of the moral darkness and death in heathen lands; and in our own country, of the criminal classes; of the multitudes who, though not criminal, are irreligious; of the drunkenness, the commercial dishonesty, the social corruptions, the religious formality, &c. Let any one attempt to grapple with any one of these forms of evil, and he will need no argument to convince him that true Christians are battling against a mighty adversary. (b)

II. The Christian in his conflict is inspired with the most encouraging assurance.

"And Jehovah said unto Moses, Fear him not;" &c. It has been well pointed out in the Biblical Museum, that "they were likely to fear, since—

1. They had before them a powerful foe, warlike and well posted;

2. They were weakened by previous battles;

3. They had enemies behind and before them." And we know as a matter of fact that they did fear the encounter. "The giant stature of Og, and the power and bravery of his people, excited a dread which God Himself alleviated by His encouragement to Moses before the battle, and the memory of this victory lingered long in the national memory (Psa ; Psa 136:20)." The encouragement given to Israel illustrates that which is given to Christians in their conflict with evil. Notice—

1. The assurance. "I have delivered him into thy hand, and all his people, and his land." Christians are assured of victory over sin (comp. Joh ; Rom 8:35-39; Rom 16:20; 1Jn 4:4; 1Jn 5:4-5). (c)

2. The example. "Thou shalt do to him as thou didst to Sihon, king of the Amorites," &c. Past victories should inspire us with courage and fortitude in present conflicts (comp. 1Sa ; 2Ti 4:17-18). (d)

3. The exhortation. "Fear him not." Enforced by such an assurance from such a Being, and by so recent and striking an example, this exhortation must have carried with it great power. Christian soldier, "fear not! for they that be with us are more than they that be with them."

III. The Christian in his conflict shall obtain a most complete victory.

"So they smote him, and his sons, and all his people," &c. This illustrates the Christian victory in at least two respects:—

1. The destruction of their enemies. The Christian shall be victorious over evil in himself. He shall be presented "faultless in the presence of His glory with exceeding joy." And the Christian cause shall triumph in the world. "He must reign till he hath put all enemies under His feet." "And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire."

2. Their enrichment by the destruction of their enemies. "And they possessed his land." "All the cattle, and the spoil of the cities, we took a prey to ourselves" (Deu ). So Christians "are more than conquerors through Him that loved" them. The Christian is a gainer by reason of his moral battles; he comes out of the conflict greatly enriched with the most precious spiritual spoils. His wisdom, his strength, his courage, the very noblest qualities of his manhood, are all increased and perfected in the arduous strife with sin.

Christian soldiers, onward bravely to the battle, and quail not in its fiercest strife; for through the Captain of your salvation, a splendid triumph shall be yours. (e)

ILLUSTRATIONS

(a) When men are swimming with the tide, how easy it is! They seem to themselves, oh! how lithe and springy. But let them turn round and attempt to swim back, and they will find that it is quite a different matter. There is many and many a man whose conviction of danger comes with his attempt to turn back on habit.—H. W. Beecher.

(b) A soldier is a practical man, a man who has work to do, and hard, stern work. He may sometimes, when he is at his ease, wear the fineries of war, but when he comes to real warfare he cares little enough for them; the dust and the smoke, and the garments rolled in blood, these are for those who go a soldiering; and swords all hacked, and dented armour, and bruised shields, these are the things that mark the good, the practical soldier. Truely to serve God, really to exhibit Christian graces, fully to achieve a life-work for Christ, actually to win souls, this is to bear fruit worthy of a Christian. A soldier is a man of deeds, and not of words. He has to contend and fight. In war times his life knows little of luxurious ease. In the dead of night perhaps the trumpet sounds to boot and saddle, just at the time when he is most weary, and he must away to the attack just when he world best prefer to take his rest in sleep. The Christian is a soldier in an enemy's country; always needing to stand on his watch-tower, constantly to be contending, though not with flesh and blood, with far worse foes, namely, with spiritual wickednesses in high places.—C. H. Spurgeon.

(c) The fight may seem to hang in the scales to-day, but the conquest is sure to come unto Him whose right it is. He shall gather all the sceptres of kings beneath his arm in one mighty she if, and take their diadems from off their brows, and be Himself crowned with many crowns, for God hath said it, and heaven and earth shall pass away, but every promise of His must and shall be fulfilled. Push on, then, through hosts of enemies, ye warriors of the Cross. Fight up the hill, ye soldiers of Christ, through the smoke and through the dust. Ye may not see your banner just now, neither do ye hear the trumpet that rings out the note of victory, but the mist shall clear away, and you shall gain she summit of the hill, and your foes shall fly before you, and the King Himself shall come, and you shall be rewarded who have continued steadfast in His service.—Ibid.

(d) The desert was to Christ a holy place, after the initial battle; the sight of the old footmarks inspired His depressed heart; the echoes of the victorious quotations became as voices of promise. In the first instance. He was led up of the Spirit to be tempted: often afterwards He was led up of the Spirit into the same wilderness to be comforted. So all through human life; recollection becomes inspiration, and memory speaks to the soul like a prophet of the Lord—Joseph Parker, D.D.

For another illustration on this point, see p. 407.

Sir Francis Drake, being in a dangerous storm in the Thames, was heard to say, "Must I who have escaped the rage of the ocean, be drowned in a ditch!" Will you, experienced saints, who have passed through a world of tribulation, lie down and die of despair, or give up your profession because you are at the present moment passing through some light affliction? Let your past preservation inspire you with courage and constrain you to brave all storms for Jesus' sake.—C. H. Sourgeon.

(e) Soldier of the Cross, the hour is coming when the note of victory shall be proclaimed through out the world. The battlements of the enemy must soon succumb; the swords of the mighty must soon be given up to the Lord of lords. What! soldier of the Cross, in the day of victory, wouldst thou have it said that thou didst turn thy back in the day of battle? Dont thou not wish to have a share in the conflict, that thou mayest have a share in the victory? If thou hast even the hottest part of the battle, wilt thou flinch and fly? Thou shalt have the brightest part of the victory if thou art in the fiercest of the conflict. Wilt thou turn and lose thy laurels? Wilt thou throw down thy sword? Shall it be with thee as when a standard-bearer fainteth? Nay man, up to arms again! for the victory is certain. Though the conflict be severe, I beseech you, on to it again! On, on, ye lionhearted men of God, to the battle once more! for ye shall yet be crowned with immortal glory.—Ibid.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 21:4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/phc/numbers-21.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.

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Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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