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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Numbers 11

 

 

Verses 10-13

DISCOURSE: 150

INORDINATE DESIRE PUNISHED

Numbers 11:10-13. Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent: And the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly: Moses also was displeased. And Moses said unto the Lord, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight, that thou layest the burthen of all this people upon me? Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto me, Carry them in thy bosom, (as a nursing father beareth the sucking child,) unto the land which thou swarest unto their fathers? Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat.

TRULY humiliating are the views which the Scripture gives us of human instability. Who would have thought that the zeal which all the princes of Israel manifested in furnishing the tabernacle [Note: Numbers 7 :.] should so soon vanish? The first journey which they have to perform, fills them all with discontent: it being continued three days without intermission, all complain of the length of the way. Some are signally punished by the Lord, being struck dead by fire: but the survivors, neither awed by the judgments inflicted on others, nor won by the mercy shewn to themselves, soon murmur again for want of variety in their food. At this, Moses is deeply grieved, and God is greatly offended. That the different circumstances may come easily under our review, we shall notice in succession,

I. The sin of Israel—

They were discontented with the food which God had given them—

[They wanted flesh to eat, that they might gratify their palates; and were so vexed for want of it as to “weep in all their tents.” To excuse these inordinate desires, they complained, that they were emaciated by subsisting only on such insipid food as God had provided for them [Note: ver. 6.]. They invidiously compared their state in Egypt with their present state; omitting all which they had suffered there, and magnifying the comforts which they had there enjoyed — — — Thus they misrepresented both their past and present condition, that they might the better conceal their ingratitude, and justify their complaints.]

This was nothing less than a contempt of God himself [Note: ver. 20. “Ye have despised the Lord,” &c.]—

[What had not God done for them? What more could he have done? He had brought them out of Egypt with a high hand; and had overwhelmed their enemies in the Red Sea: he had been their Guide and Protector in all their way: he had given them bread from heaven, and water out of the rock: had revealed unto them his will, and taken them into a peculiar relation to himself above all the people upon the face of the earth; and yet, all that he had done was accounted as nothing, because they wanted flesh to eat. Is it possible to conceive a greater contempt of God than this? — — —]

Such a sin is discontent, in whomsoever it is found—

[There are many things in this world which a discontented mind will pant after or regret. But the indulging of such a disposition is rebellion against the Sovereign Disposer of all events; yea, it is an utter contempt of him. What! is it not sufficient to have God for our Father, Christ for our Saviour, the Spirit for our Comforter, and heaven for our everlasting inheritance, but must we murmur and complain because all temporal circumstances are not to our mind? What signifies any temporal want or loss, when we have such unsearchable riches secured to us? In comparison of such blessings, the greatest of earthly comforts is no more than the dust upon the balance. But this, alas! we are too apt to forget: we are ready, like the Israelites, to overlook all the mercies we enjoy, through an excessive regret of something lost, or an inordinate desire of something unpossessed.]

When we reflect on the exceeding baseness of this conduct, we shall not wonder at,

II. The grief of Moses—

We cannot altogether approve of the manner in which Moses expressed his sorrow—

[He not only complained to God, but in reality complained of God himself. God had appointed him to lead that people to the land of Canaan. This should have been considered by him as a singular honour: but he complained of it as a burthen. Not that he would ever have complained of it, if the people had walked worthy of their high calling: but when they were dissatisfied and rebellious, it seemed to him as if all his labour had been in vain. Had he been their natural father, he would have thought it reasonable enough that he should take the oversight of them: but when he had no other relation to them than that which was common to all, he deemed it a hardship to have so great a charge committed to him; and he begged that God would release him from it by taking away his fife — — — Alas! what is human nature when it comes to be severely tried! — — —]

But from this we learn some very important lessons—

We learn what the ministerial office is—

[God says to a Minister, “Take this people,” and, “as a nursing father carried his sucking child” through the wilderness, where there were no other means for its conveyance, so do you “carry them in your bosom,” bearing with all their frowardness, attending to all their wants, administering to all their necessities, and seeking your happiness in their welfare.” O! what a charge is this! and what grace do they need who have to sustain and execute it! — — — O that all of us resembled Paul [Note: 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8.]! — — —]

We learn also what a Minister’s heaviest affliction is.

[If his people be obedient to their God, great as his difficulties are, he is willing to bear them: his people are “his joy and crown of rejoicing:” “he lives, when they stand fast in the Lord:” “he has no greater joy than to see his children walk in truth.” But when they decline from the ways of God, when they are dissatisfied with his ministrations, and begin to despise the bread of life, because it is plain and unmixed with any thing suited to a carnal appetite, then he is grieved, and wounded in his inmost soul; then life itself becomes a burthen to him, and he is ready to wish for death to put a period to his sorrows. We remember how Paul was grieved by the worldliness and sensuality of some, and by the heretical conduct of others: he could not speak of them without tears [Note: Philippians 3:18-19.]; and he was always like a woman in travail, by reason of his anxiety for their welfare [Note: Galatians 4:19.]. “The care of all the churches” was a heavier burthen to him than all his own perils and dangers, whether by sea or land. “None were weak, but he was weak also;” nor were any offended and turned aside, but “he burned” with an ardent desire to restore them. O that every minister were thus wrapped up in the good of the people committed to his care! “His afflictions might abound; but his consolations should abound” also.]

That which so deeply afflicted Moses, excited, in a very high degree,

III. The displeasure of God—

It is instructive to observe in what manner God manifested his displeasure—

[He granted their wishes, and sent them such abundance of quails, that for many miles round their camp they lay above a yard thick upon the ground. The people with great avidity began to gather them up. For two whole days and a night did they occupy themselves in this work: so he who gathered least among them, gathered ten homers, or eighty bushels. Now they began to revel upon the spoil; but whilst the flesh was in their mouths, even before it was chewed, God smote them with a very great plague, whereof many thousands of them died [Note: ver. 32, 33 with Psalms 78:17-31.] — — — How strongly did God mark their sin in their punishment!]

But we are peculiarly interested in the end for which he thus displayed his indignation—

[He expressly tells us, that it was for our sakes, and to make them ensamples unto us [Note: 1 Corinthians 10:6; 1 Corinthians 10:10-11.]. He designed to teach us “not to lust after evil things, as they lusted.” O that we could learn that lesson, and take warning by them! We are ready to think it a light matter to be dissatisfied with what we have, and to be longing for what we have not: but God has shewn us that he does not account it light: he deems it a contempt of him and of the rich mercies he has vouchsafed unto us; and as such, he will sooner or later visit it with fiery indignation — — —]

Suffer ye then, Brethren, a word of exhortation—

1. Guard against the contagion of bad example—

[It was “the mixed multitude” who first began to murmur [Note: ver. 4. They were Egyptians, who accompanied the Israelites.]; and from them the dissatisfaction spread through all the tents of Israel. Thus did Judas infect all the disciples [Note: Compare Matthew 26:7-9 with John 12:4-6.]. Thus shall we ever find it in the Church: “a little leaven is sufficient to leaven the whole lump.” If there be any one of a carnal, worldly, querulous and contentious spirit, be sure to let him have no influence over your mind. Reject his counsels as poison; and follow none any further than they follow Christ — — —]

2. Cultivate a contented spirit—

[“Be contented with such things as ye have.” It is better to have little with a devout spirit, than abundance, and “leanness of soul withal.” God shewed that it was not from any want of power that he did not feed them every day with flesh; but because he knew that it would be productive of no good to their souls. Think not that it is from any want of love or power that he suffers you to be tried in a variety of ways. He could easily carry you on without any trials, and give you all that the most carnal heart could desire. But trials are the fruits of his love: he desires to instruct you in every part of your duty; that you may “know both how to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.” “Learn then in every thing to be content,” and to say from your hearts in all things, “Not my will, but thine be done.”]

3. Expect from God all that is truly good for you—

[Moses himself staggered at the promise, when God said, that all the people should feed on flesh for a whole month [Note: ver. 21, 22.]: but God said to him, “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short? Thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not [Note: ver. 23.].” His promises to us also are “exceeding great and precious,” both in relation to our bodies and our souls — — — Let us never presume to “limit the Holy One of Israel,” as though any thing which he has promised, were either too great, or too good, for him to give. The trials which he sends us, are often sent on purpose that we may see the exceeding riches of his grace in our deliverance. For temporal things, let us depend entirely on his good providence; and for spiritual things, on his all-sufficient grace. In Christ Jesus there is a fulness of all that we can want; and “out of his fulness we may all receive” from day to day — — —]


Verse 23

DISCOURSE: 151

GOD’S WORD SURE

Numbers 11:23. And the Lord said unto Moses, It the Lord’s hand waxed short? Thou shalt see now whether my word shall come to pass unto thee, or not.

IN reading the history of the Israelites, we cannot fail of being struck with the wonderful display of God’s patience and forbearance towards them. No displays of love and mercy on his part would satisfy them. They were always murmuring, and wishing that they had never come out of Egypt at all. It was a small matter in their eyes that they were supplied with manna from the clouds from day to day: they must have flesh to eat; and so intense was their desire after that gratification, that they actually wept before God, whole families of them, throughout the camp, saying, “Give us flesh, that we may eat [Note: ver. 10, 13, 18.].” Nor was Moses himself blameless in this matter: for though he did not in the least participate with them in their inordinate desire for meat, he questioned God’s power to give them meat: and it was this unbelief of his which brought forth from Jehovah the reproof which we have just read, and which will be the subject of our present discourse.

In this reproof we see,

I. The evil of unbelief—

It is the most common of all evils—

[It pervades the whole human race. It is found in the godly, no less than in the ungodly. Even Abraham, the father of the faithful, was by no means free from it. Repeatedly did he desire his wife to deny her relation to him as a wife, and to call herself his sister, lest persons, captivated with her beauty, should kill him for the sake of obtaining an undisturbed possession of her; thus betraying his fears, that God was either not able to protect him, or not sufficiently interested in his welfare to watch over him. And Moses, on the occasion before us, was evidently under the power of unbelief. Some, indeed, would understand his reply to God as a mere question, and a desire to be informed whether the flesh which he would give should be that of beasts or fishes: but then the answer would have corresponded with it, and would merely have informed him that it was not the flesh of beasts or of fishes that he would supply in such abundance, but the flesh of birds. But Moses’ question was evidently founded on the magnitude of the supply which God had promised. He had declared, that the whole people of Israel, not less than two millions in number, should be supplied with it, “not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but even a whole month, until it should come out at their nostrils, and be loathsome unto them [Note: ver. 19, 20.].” To that, Moses in a way of unbelief, asks, How, when the fighting men alone amounted to six hundred thousand men, should they all be so fed as “to suffice them,” (twice is that idea suggested,) and that “for the space of a whole month?” And God’s answer to him clearly shews, that it was unbelief that was here reproved: “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” Thou hast seen how easily I brought frogs and locusts upon the land of Egypt; and am I less able to supply flesh of any kind that I may see good? “You shall see now (presently) whether my word shall come to pass, or not.”

When we see persons so eminent for the grace of faith as Abraham and Moses, yet ‘giving way to unbelief, we need scarcely adduce any further proof of the universal prevalence of this evil. It exists, indeed, in very different degrees in men, being in some only occasional, whilst in others it is the entire habit of their minds: but there is not a man under the whole heavens who has not reason to mourn over the workings of this corruption, when he is brought into circumstances to call it forth. From other evils many persons may be accounted nearly free: but this works equally in men of every class, and every age.]

It is also the most specious of all evils—

[No one will avow a doubt of God’s power to effect whatsoever he shall please: his pretext will be, that he cannot conceive how God should condescend to shew such extraordinary favour to one so insignificant and worthless as himself. But God himself never puts this construction upon it: he always regards it as a denial of his perfections, and resents it in that view. We have a remarkable instance of this in Ahaz. God told him, by the prophet, to “ask a sign of him, either in the depth or in the height above.” But Ahaz, wishing to hide his unbelief, pretended that this was too great an honour for him, and that therefore he could not presume to ask any such thing: “Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.” But was this construction admitted on God’s part? No: He viewed the evil as it really was, and not as it was glossed over by this self-deluded monarch; and therefore, with just indignation, he replied, by his prophet, “Hear ye now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also [Note: Isaiah 7:10-13.]?” So, whatever we may imagine, a want of entire confidence in God, whatever be the circumstances under which we are placed, will appear in its true colours before God, and be condemned by him as unbelief.]

It is, moreover, the most offensive of all evils—

[There is no grace so highly honoured of God, as faith; nor any evil so reprobated by him, as unbelief. Other evils are acts of rebellion against his authority; but this rises against every one of his perfections. It doubts his wisdom, his power, his goodness, his love, his mercy; yea, it questions even his veracity; and reduces the infinite Jehovah to a level with his own creatures; insomuch that Balaam, when checking the vain hopes of the king of Moab, could find no language more appropriate than this: “God is not a man, that he should lie; or the son of man, that he should repent. Hath he said, and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good [Note: Numbers 23:19.]?” What an indignity he considers it, is plain from his very answer to Moses: “Is the hand of the Lord waxed short? Thou shalt see whether my word shall come to pass or not.” This is no slight rebuke: it is similar to that which he gave to Sarah, when she doubted whether she should ever bear to Abraham the promised child: “Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old? Is any thing too hard for the Lord [Note: Genesis 18:12-13.]?” How Zacharias was reproved for his unbelief in the temple, you well know [Note: Luke 1:20.]. And amongst all the provocations which the Israelites committed in the wilderness, this was the one which God laid most to heart: “How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert! Yea, they turned back, and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel: they remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy [Note: Psalms 78:40-42.].”]

Finally, it is the most fatal of all evils—

[Other evils, if we come to God in the exercise of faith, may be forgiven: but this evil, whilst it is yet dominant in the soul, precludes a possibility of forgiveness; because it keeps us from God, to whom we ought to come; and puts away from us that mercy which he offers to bestow. The whole adult population of Israel perished in the wilderness. What was it that prevented their entrance into Canaan? We are told, “They could not enter in because of unbelief [Note: Hebrews 3:18.].” And what is it which, under the Gospel also, is the great damning sin? it is this: “Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; and he that believeth not, shall be damned [Note: Mark 16:15-16.].”]

Whilst the answer of God to Moses reproves this evil, it points out to us,

II. Its proper antidote—

To prevent its ever gaining an ascendant over us, we should,

1. Reflect on God’s power as already exercised—

[Had Moses only called to mind the wonders which God had already wrought for his people, he would not have “staggered at the promise” that was now given. Nor shall we doubt the certainty of any promise whatever, if we bear in remembrance what God has already done. It is for this end that God himself refers us to all his wonders of creation, providence, and redemption. Of Creation, he speaks thus: “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding [Note: Isaiah 40:27-28.].” So, in reference to his Providence: “Wherefore, when I came, was there no man; when I called, was there none to answer? Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? or have I no power to deliver? Behold, at my rebuke, I dry up the sea; I make the rivers a wilderness; their fish stinketh, because there is no water, and dieth for thirst. I clothe the heavens with blackness, and make sackcloth their covering [Note: Isaiah 50:2-3.].” So also respecting Redemption, St. Paul expressly tells us that God’s particular design, in converting and saving him, was, to shew to all future generations his power to save, and to cut off all occasion for despondency from the whole world: “For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first (in me, the chief of sinners) God might shew forth all long-suffering, for a pattern to them who should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting [Note: 1 Timothy 1:16.].” It is in this view that the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures is of such infinite benefit to the soul: for when we see what God has already done, it is almost impossible to doubt his power to effect whatever in his mercy he has promised to us.]

2. Reflect on his veracity, as unalterably pledged—

[When did God ever violate his engagements? His word has been pledged for many things; and has been questioned of mankind: but when did he abstain from fulfilling it? He said to our first parents in Paradise, “In the day that ye eat of the forbidden tree, ye shall die.” No, says the tempter, “Ye shall not surely die.” But whose word proved true? Satan’s? or the Lord’s? Again, to the antediluvians, God said that he would destroy by water every living creature, except what should be contained in the ark. During the building of the ark, the scoffers were lavish enough of contempt. But did God’s word fail, either in relation to those who were to be saved, or to those who were doomed to perish? The destruction of Sodom, the captivities of Israel and Judah, the sending of the Messiah, the establishment of the Redeemer’s kingdom in the world, furnished plenty of matter for doubt, before they were accomplished: but they all came to pass in their season, according to the word of God. For the captives who were restored to Judea from Babylon, it was said, “that if they would continue there, and be obedient to the king of Babylon, they should be preserved in peace and safety: but that if, through fear of the king of Babylon, they should flee to Egypt for safety, they should all perish [Note: Jeremiah 44:12-14.].” And, when they would not be persuaded to remain there, but would go to sojourn in Egypt, the Lord sent this word to them: “All the remnant of Judah that are gone into the land of Egypt to sojourn there, shall know whose word shall stand, theirs or mine [Note: Jeremiah 44:26-28.].”

But, that we may depart as little as possible from our text, let us see the event of the prediction before us. God sent a wind; and brought such a number of quails, that they fell round about the tents of Israel, and filled the whole country for the space of one hundred and twenty miles in circuit, above a yard deep: so that the whole people occupied about six-and-thirty hours in collecting them; every one, even of those who gathered the least, collecting as much as eighty bushels for his own use [Note: ver. 31, 32.]. Now it was seen “whether God could fulfil his word or not.” It was seen, too, whether they had reason to repent of their inordinate desires or not: for “while the flesh was yet in their mouths, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and smote them with a very great plague [Note: ver. 33 with Psalms 78:26-31.].”

The truth is, that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one jot or tittle of God’s word to fail [Note: Luke 16:17.].” “He cannot lies:” “he cannotlie [Note: Titus 1:2.] he cannot deny himself [Note: 2 Timothy 2:13.].” He could as soon cease to exist, as he could falsify his word in any one particular. And, if we could only bear this in remembrance, we should never give way to unbelief, or doubt the accomplishment of any thing which the Lord God hath spoken.]

Address—

1. Those who doubt the fulfilment of God’s promises—

[Who amongst us is not conscious of great defects in this particular? Who, in trying circumstances, has not found it difficult to cast all his care on God, as caring for him; and has not rather been ready to say with David, “I shall one day perish by the hands of Saul?” Who, whilst he has professed to call God his Father, has been able habitually to walk before him with the same confidence that a child places in his earthly father? Yet this is our duty: and it is a shame to us that we find the performance of it so difficult. But let us remember what a God we have to do with; how “merciful and gracious; and how abundant in goodness and truth:” and let us “never stagger at any of his promises through unbelief; but be strong in faith, giving glory to God.” And if, according to the views of sense, there be no hope, “let us against hope believe in hope;” and rest assured, that “whatever God has promised, he is both able and willing to perform.”]

Those who question the execution of his threatenings—

[Men will dissuade us from regarding, as we ought, the sacred oracles; and will venture to place their own word in opposition to God’s. Your own heart, too, will be apt to suggest, “I shall have peace, though I walk after the imagination of my own evil heart [Note: Deuteronomy 29:19-20.].” But what God said to Moses, he says to us: “Thou shalt know whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not [Note: Ezekiel 24:14.].” Go on; listen to your carnal advisers; let them tell you that there is no need to give yourselves up to God; and that you may be the servants both of God and Mammon at the same time. Go on; and take their word in preference to God’s; and wait to see “whose word shall stand, theirs or his.” But remember, that if, unhappily for you, God’s word shall take place, and that threatening be executed, there will be no room left for repentance: your state will be fixed, and that for ever. Choose ye, then, whom ye will believe, and whom ye will serve: and, if ye be truly wise, shut your ears against the assurances of an ungodly world, and say, in reference to them all, “Let God be true, and every man a liar [Note: Romans 3:4.].”


Verses 27-29

DISCOURSE: 152

JOSHUA’S ENVY REPROVED

Numbers 11:27-29. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them!

EXPERIENCE proves that eminent situations are atttended with manifold anxieties; and that rulers, though envied by their subjects, often feel a weight of care which is burthensome in the extreme. Moses was supported in his office by God himself, who confirmed his authority by many signal and miraculous interpositions: yet even he complained, “I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me [Note: ver. 14.].”

To relieve him from the burthen, God promised, that he would pour out his Spirit upon seventy elders, whom Moses should select, and would qualify them for taking a share in the government. Two of the persons nominated, (being deterred, it should seem, by a sense of their own insufficiency for the office,) stayed in the camp, instead of going up with the others to the tabernacle at the time appointed. God however did not on this account withhold his Spirit from them, but gave it to them in the same manner as to the others: in consequence of which they began to prophesy in the camp. This innovation excited the jealousy of Joshua; who, fearing lest it should weaken the authority of Moses, instantly informed him of it, and desired him to forbid any further exercise of their gifts: but Moses saw through the hidden motives by which he was actuated, and checked the evil which had risen in his heart.

Let us consider,

I. The principle he indulged—

Doubtless, Joshua thought that he was acting under a good impression, and that his zeal was of the purest kind: but Moses traces his conduct to a principle of envy, which needed to be mortified and suppressed. Now envy is,

1. A common principle—

[Few are conscious of it in themselves; but all see the operation of it in their neighbours. There is not any evil in the heart of man more universally prevalent than this. “It is not in vain that the Scripture saith, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy [Note: James 4:5.].” We may see in Cain, in Joseph’s brethren, in Saul, and in all the rulers of the Jewish Church, that this disposition is natural to man [Note: 1 John 3:12; Acts 7:9; 1 Samuel 18:9; Matthew 27:18.]. Infants at the breast have been seen to feel its malignant influence, when another has been permitted to participate what they have deemed their exclusive right. There is no age, no situation, exempt. Even those who possess the most, as well as those who are wholly destitute, are open to its assaults — — —]

2. An active principle—

[Whatever is an object of desire, is also an object of envy: for envy is nothing but a regret that another should possess that which we ourselves would wish to enjoy. Usually indeed the things which persons most envy, are such as are proper to their own age or condition in life; and such as they think themselves in some measure entitled to. Those in whom beauty or strength is highly valued, look not with complacency on one who is reckoned to surpass them: nor do those who desire fame on account of mental qualifications, love to acknowledge the intellectual superiority of others. All are happy to hear their rivals depreciated, and themselves preferred. Nor is it respecting natural endowments only that this principle exerts itself: it shews itself no less in reference to acquired distinctions, of whatever kind. Riches and honours are amongst the objects which most powerfully excite this corrupt feeling: and it is difficult for any one to behold the more rapid advancement of his rival, and not to feel in himself some workings of this malignant disposition.

But this principle operates even where personal considerations appear very feeble and remote. The exaltation of a party, for instance, will call it forth in those who belong to an opposite party. There scarcely ever is a popular election, but the partisans of rival candidates are open to its assaults, as much as the principals themselves. Parties in the Church are no less agitated by this corroding passion, insomuch that they will endeavour to outstrip each other in things to which they have no real inclination, in order by any means to gain an ascendency for their own side. In the days of the Apostles, “some preached Christ of envy and strife;” and there is but too much reason to fear, that many also in this day have no better motive for their benevolent and religious exertions, than the strengthening and increasing of a party in the Church.]

3. A deep-rooted principle—

[One would suppose that religion should presently and entirely extirpate this principle: but it is not so easily rooted out. We find it working in persons who profess to have a zeal for God [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:1-4.]; yea, in persons also of whose piety we cannot doubt. The disciples of John were alarmed for the honour of their master, when they heard that Jesus had more disciples than he [Note: John 3:26.]: and the Apostles themselves forbade a person to persist in the work of casting out devils, because he did not attach himself to them [Note: Mark 9:38.]. This was the very spirit by which Joshua was actuated: he was afraid lest the honour and influence of Moses should be weakened by others rising into popularity around him. Of course, this disposition is not wilfully indulged by any who truly fear God: but it is so rooted in the heart, that all have need to be on their guard against it.]

The hatefulness of such a principle may be seen by,

II. The reproof it met with—

Moses appears truly as a man of God. Behold, in his answer to Joshua,

1. His fidelity—

[He had a peculiar regard for Joshua: but that did not cause him to overlook his faults, much less to countenance him in what was wrong. Young men in general are apt to be led away by their feelings, and not to be sufficiently aware of their own corruptions. This was the case with Joshua: and Moses, like a father, watched over him with care, and reproved him with tenderness. Moses pointed out to him the principle by which he was actuated, and that higher principle by which he ought rather to be governed. It would be well if all religious people were equally on their guard, to check, rather than encourage, the growth of evil. If a person be of our party, and more especially if he be our friend, we are ready to receive his reports, without very strict inquiry, and to accede to his proposals, without sufficient care. Hence one person in a society sometimes diffuses throughout the whole a spirit of strife and contention, when, if the erroneousness of his views had been pointed out at first, the peace of the whole body might have been preserved. Great attention therefore do we recommend to all in this particular. More especially would we remind professing Christians of their duty; “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy brother, and not suffer sin upon him [Note: Leviticus 19:17.].” We should not be contented with a specious suggestion. We should dread the incursion of an evil principle in the Church, as much as we do the introduction of fire in a place filled with combustibles. We should ever remember, that “a little leaven will soon leaven the whole lump.”]

2. His zeal—

[The glory of God was that which was uppermost in the mind of Moses: and if that might but be advanced, he was quite indifferent whether his own honour were eclipsed or not. He well knew, that these two men “could have nothing except it were given them from above [Note: This was John’s answer; Mark 9:39.]; and that if God had conferred on them the gift of prophecy, he would overrule the exercise of it for his own glory. Instead therefore of wishing to repress it in them, he would have been glad if every person in the camp had possessed it. What a noble spirit was this! how worthy of universal imitation! It was precisely thus that St. Paul rejoiced, when “Christ was preached of contention.” He knew the motives of the preachers to be bad; but he knew that God would render their ministrations subservient to the increase of the Redeemer’s kingdom: and therefore, however their conduct might affect his influence, he did, and would, rejoice [Note: Philippians 1:15-18.]. Thus, beloved, should we be glad to see the Redeemer’s interests advanced, whoever be the instruments, and whatever be the means. This consideration should be paramount to every other; and we should say, with John, “Let me, and my party, decrease, so that Christ and his kingdom may but increase [Note: John 3:30.].”]

3. His love—

[Moses had no desire to engross or monopolize the gifts of Heaven. As Paul said to his bitterest persecutors, “I would to God that all who hear me this day were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds [Note: Acts 26:29.],” so did Moses wish all the people of Israel to have the Spirit of the Lord imparted to them, as much as he himself had. The more they were benefited, the more would his happiness be increased. This is that very disposition which St. Paul himself exercised [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:9.], and which he inculcates on us, when he says, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others [Note: Philippians 2:4.].” In fact, this is that principle, which, more than any other, counteracts the baneful influence of envy; “Charity envieth not [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:4.].” Let universal love reign in our hearts, and, instead of envying any of our brethren, we shall be willing rather to “lay down our lives for them [Note: 1 John 3:16.].”]

To improve this subject, we would recommend to you two things;

1. Examine well your own principles—

[Do not hastily conclude that your principles are right, even though you do not know that they are wrong; but search and try your ways, and maintain a godly jealousy over your own hearts. The Apostles themselves, on more occasions than one, “knew not what spirit they were of.” Who amongst us does not see the blindness of others in relation to their principles? Pride, and ostentation, and vanity, and envy, and malice, and a thousand other evils, are visible enough to others, when the persons influenced by them give themselves credit for very different motives. Doubtless, at times, this is the case with all of us. If indeed envy become in any respect a governing principle in our hearts, our religion is altogether vain [Note: James 3:14-16.]. Let us therefore watch our own spirits, and be thankful to any friend, who, like Moses, will “point out to us a more excellent way [Note: 1 Corinthians 12:31.].”]

2. Take diligent heed to the word of God—

[The word of God, if duly attended to, would correct every bad principle in us. It is a two-edged sword, that lays open the inmost recesses of the heart [Note: Hebrews 4:12.]. To that St. Peter directs us, as the means of subduing envy, and every other evil propensity [Note: 1 Peter 2:1-3.]. By the word the Apostles themselves were sanctified; and by that also must we be made clean [Note: John 15:3; John 17:17.]. Meditate then on that day and night: and let it be your earnest prayer, that it may dwell richly in you in all wisdom; and that, being cast into the mould of the Gospel, you may be “changed into the divine image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord.”]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Numbers 11:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/numbers-11.html. 1832.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 11th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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