Thursday, June 1st, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ numbers-11.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 11". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Numbers 11:1. “And when the people complained,” etc. Margin: “the people were, as it were, complainers.” Speaker’s Comm.: “And the people were as those that complain of evil in the ears of the Lord.”
Fire of Jehovah: “a fire sent by Jehovah, but not proceeding directly from Him, or bursting forth from the cloud, as in Leviticus 10:2. Whether it was kindled through a flash of lightning, or in some other such way, cannot be more exactly determined.”—Keil and Del.
And consumed in the uttermost parts of the camp. The words supplied by the translators of the A.V. are unnecessary. Keil and Del.: “And ate at the end of the camp.” The fire did not proceed far into the camp.
Numbers 11:3. Taberah, i.e., burning or place of burning. Not the name of a station; but the local name given to that part of the camp where the fire broke out. The station was called Kibroth-Hattaavah, because of the more dreadful judgment which the people incurred by their renewed murmurings.
Numbers 11:4. The mixt multitude. Heb., Hasaphsuph, “a number of people gathered together from all quarters: rabble.”—Fuerst. “The word resembles our ‘riff-raff,’ and denotes a mob of people scraped together.”—Speaker’s Comm. See Exodus 12:38. “The words ‘they wept again’ point back to the former complaints of the people respecting the absence of flesh in the desert of Sin (Exodus 16:2 sqq.), although there is nothing said about their weeping there. By the flesh which they missed, we are not to understand either the fish which they expressly mention in the following verse (as in Leviticus 11:11), or merely oxen, sheep, and goats; but the word בָּשָׂר signifies flesh generally, as being a better kind of food than the bread-like manna.”—Keil and Del.
Numbers 11:5. We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely. Instead of “freely,” Keil and Del. translate, “for nothing.” Fish were so abundant in the Nile and neighbouring waters that they could be purchased at very low prices.
The cucumbers of Egypt are abundant and distinguished for softness and sweet flavour.
The melons: By the Hebrew word abatichim, we are probably to understand both melons and water-melons. They are largely cultivated in Egypt, and are sold so cheaply that they are used both by rich and poor, and much appreciated for their refreshing juice. The water-melon is said to “serve the Egyptians for meat, drink, and physic.”
The leeks were from the earliest times a very favourite vegetable with the Egyptians, as both a nourishing and savoury food.
The onions from time immemorial have been a favourite article of food amongst the Egyptians. They flourish greatly in Egypt, are mild and pleasant in flavour, and are unsurpassed as to their quality.
Garlick, an important, article of food amongst Egyptian workmen. All these things were refreshing and pleasant, and were plentiful and cheap in Egypt.
Numbers 11:6. There is nought at all, etc. “Heb., ‘Nought at all have we except that our eyes are unto this manna;’ i.e., ‘Nought else have we to expect beside this manna.’ Cf. on the phrase, ‘to have the eyes towards,’ Psalms 25:15.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 11:7-9. On the manna see Exodus 16:0. The description of it seems to be inserted parenthetically in this place to show the unreasonableness of the people in murmuring because of it.
Numbers 11:10. Weep throughout their families; the week prevailed amongst the entire people.
Every man in the door of his tent; the weeping was unconcealed and open.
Numbers 11:17. I will take of the spirit which is upon thee. “Render rather separate from the spirit, etc.; i.e., they shall have their portion in the same Divine gift which thou hast.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 11:25. The Lord came down in a cloud; i.e., the cloud of the Divine presence, which soared on high above the Tabernacle, came down to the door of it. (Comp. Numbers 12:5; Exodus 33:9.)
They prophesied, does not mean that they foretold future events, but that inspired by the Holy Spirit, in an exalted state of mind, they poured forth the praise of God or declared His will.
And did not cease, is incorrect. It should be, and did not add; i.e., they prophesied at this time only. This sign was given as a proof that God had called them to assist Moses, and had given them authority in their office.
Numbers 11:26. Eldad and Medad were enrolled amongst the seventy, but for some reason they remained in the camp, and did not come to the Tabernacle.
Numbers 11:31. A wind from the Lord, i.e., an extraordinary wind, not the effect of a natural cause. The wind was from the south-east (Psalms 78:26).
Quails. The common quails. “The whole description answers to the well-known habits of these birds, and the Arabic name for them is even now Salwa. In the spring they migrate northwards from Africa, and living low, especially when wearied, are taken or come to ground in immense multitudes.”—Alford.
As it were two cubits high upon, etc. The LXX, the Vulgate, and Josephus, explain this as referring to the height at which the quails flew above the ground, in their exhausted condition from their long flight. Vulg.: Vola-bant in aere duobus cubitibus altitudine super terram. But that this interpretation is correct is very questionable: “for נָטַשּׁ עַל הַמַּחֲנֶה does not mean to cause to fly or spread out over the camp, but to throw over or upon the camp. The words cannot therefore be understood in any other way than in Psalms 78:27-28, viz., that the wind threw them about over the camp, so that they fell upon the ground a day’s journey on either side of it, and that in such numbers that they lay, of course not for the whole distance mentioned, but in places about the camp, as much as two cubits deep.”—Keil and Del.
Numbers 11:32. Ten homers. The homer was ten ephahs. But there is considerable uncertainty as to the absolute capacity of these measures. The Speaker’s Comm. says, “The homer must have been something above five-and-a-half bushels.”
And they spread them all abroad, etc., for the purpose of drying them, as the Egyptians are said to dry both quails and fish (see Herod. ii. 77).
Numbers 11:33. The Lord smote the people, etc. “The plague with which God smote the people is to be regarded, as are miracles in many other cases, as a Divine interference enhancing a preexisting cause. The surfeit in which the people indulged, of itself disposed them to sickness. God’s wrath, visiting the gluttonous through their gluttony, aggravated natural consequences into a supernatural visitation.”—Speaker’s Comm.
Numbers 11:34. Kibroth-Hattaavah; i.e., the graves of lust, or graves of greediness. “From there being no change of spot mentioned between it and Taberah in Numbers 11:3, it is probably like the latter about three days’ journey from Sinai (Numbers 10:33.); and from the sea being twice mentioned in the course of the narrative (Numbers 11:22; Numbers 11:31), a maritime proximity may perhaps be inferred. If the conjecture of Hudhera as a site for Hazeroth be adopted, then the ‘graves of lust’ may be perhaps within a day’s journey thence in the direction of Sinai, and would lie within fifteen miles of the Gulf of Akabah.”—Smith’s Dict. of the Bible.
Numbers 11:35. Hazeroth. The word means simply the enclosures. But “topographically it is a village; generally a Bedouin village, such as are formed of tent-cloths, spread over stone walls.”—Stanley, S. and P. Fuerst gives its meaning in this place as hamlets. The difficulty of identifying the locality is increased by the fact that the names of many places are compounded with חָצֵר Perhaps Hazeroth is identical with Hudhera, which lies about eighteen hours’ distance from Sinai on the road to the Akabah (see Stanley, S. and P., pp. 81, 82). Keil and Del. say concerning Kibroth—Hattaavah and Hazeroth: “The situation of these two places of encampment is altogether unknown.”
TABERAH AND ITS TEACHINGS
In this brief record of the sin of Israel and the judgment of God at Taberah, the following points claim consideration.
I. Man sinning against the goodness of God.
“And the people complained,” etc. Or, “And the people were as those that complain of evil in the ears of the Lord.” No particular ground or reason of complaint is mentioned by the historian. It is probable that they murmured because of the privations of the march through the wilderness. Or it may have been, as Matthew Henry suggests, “that those who complained did not all agree in the cause. Some perhaps complained that they were removed from Mount Sinai, where they had been at rest so long; others that they did not remove sooner; some complained of the weather, others of the ways; some perhaps thought three days journey was too long a march, others thought it not long enough, because it did not bring them into Canaan.” In so doing they sinned against the great goodness of God. He had emancipated them from a miserable bondage by marvellous and mighty deeds; He had given to them most excellent laws; He was graciously supplying their wants, guiding their movements and guarding their interests; and He had promised them a glorious land as their inheritance. Fervent thanksgiving should have engaged their hearts and voices, and not mean murmuring. Their complaining was a sin against the great kindness of the Lord. Base was their ingratitude. Amidst present inconveniences we are all too prone to overlook past and present mercies, and to complain as though we were receiving ill-treatment at the hands of the Lord. This is a great evil; it comprises ingratitude, unbelief, rebellion against God. (a)
II. God recognising the sin of man.
“And the Lord heard, and his anger was kindled,” &c.
1. He knew the sin. They “complained in the ears of the Lord.” “And the Lord heard.” There is 10 voice of man that escapes His ear. Every cry of blasphemy, every murmur of unbelief, every matter of rebellion against Him every whisper of evil conspiracy, is distinctly audible to Him. Words and thoughts, deeds and purposes, are all known to Him.
2. He was angry because of the sin. “And His anger was kindled.” To the Lord sin is the abominable thing which He hates. His anger burns like an intense and unquenchable fire against sin.
3. He manifested His anger because of the sin. “And the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed in the uttermost parts of the camp.” Or, “So that fire of Jehovah burned against them, and ate at the end of the camp.”
(1.) The manifestation of His anger was unmistakeable. In whatsoever way the fire was kindled, there was no doubt in the minds of the people as to its being an expression of the wrath of God because of their sin. Their appeal to Moses is evidence of this. God has not left us in any uncertainty as to His hatred of evil. The stern penalties which are annexed to transgression, and the clear testimony of history as to the connexion of sin with suffering, loss, and ruin, are conclusive on the matter.
(2.) The manifestation of his anger was restrained. The fire of Jehovah burnt only in “the end of the camp.” In wrath He remembered mercy.
III. Suffering men seeking the intercession of the good.
“And the people cried unto Moses.”
1. This is very common. It was common with the Israelites. “When He slew them, then they sought Him; and they returned and enquired early after God.” “Those that slight God’s friends when they are in prosperity would be glad to make them their friends when they are in distress. ‘Father Abraham, send Lazarus.’ ”
2. This is sometimes very mean. It was so with the Israelites in the wilderness. They were painfully, terribly prone to the most shameful rebellion; and then when the consequences of their sin came upon them, like base slaves, they hastened to entreat Moses to intercede with God for them. Pharaoh is a notable example of this mean spirit and conduct (see Exodus 8:8; Exodus 9:27-35; Exodus 10:16-17).
“When men in health against physicians rail. They should consider that their nerves may fail;
Nay, when the world can nothing more produce,
The priest, the insulted priest, may have his use.” Crabbe.
IV. The intercession of the good resulting in blessing to men.
“And when Moses prayed unto the Lord, the fire was quenched.” See hero—
1. The great mercy of God. “Thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive, and plenteous in mercy,” etc. “He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth Him of the evil.”
2. The great efficacy of prayer. In answer to the prayer of Moses the fire of Jehovah was quenched. Comp. James 5:16-18. Tennyson says beautifully—
“Prayer, A breath that fleets beyond this iron world And touches Him that made it.” (b)
3. The distinguishing power of a good man to benefit his race. We may approach God in prayer on behalf of others. The power of intercession with God is the greatest power conferred on the good man; and by its exercise he may confer the richest blessings upon mankind. Comp. Genesis 18:23-33; Job 8:20; Hebrews 7:25. (c)
V. The employment of a transient judgment as a permanent warning.
“And he called the name of the place Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burnt among them.” The new name was a memorial of the sin and shame of the people, and of the judgment and mercy of the Lord; it has been a monitor to all succeeding ages, uttering its solemn warning against sin, and especially against the sin of ungratefully and unbelievingly complaining against the arrangements of God. Comp. 1 Corinthians 10:10-11.
Let us heed the warning, and shun the sin.
(a) I think we are too ready with complaint
In this fair world of God’s. Had we no hope,
Indeed beyond the zenith and the slope
Of you grey bank of sky, we might grow faint
To muse upon eternity’s constraint
Round our aspirant souls. But since the scope
Must widen early, is it well to droop
For a few days consumed in loss and taint?
O pusillanimous heart! be comforted,
And, like a cheerful traveller, take the road,
Singing beside the hedge. What if the bread
Be bitter in thine inn, and thou unshod
To meet the flints?—At least it may be said,
“Because the way is short, I thank Thee,
Elizabeth B. Browning,
As it frequently happens that many persons in easy circumstances, or who have many comfortable things, are notwithstanding very discontented; it would be well for some friend thus to reason with them: “Have you ever compared your situation with those who hardly ever see the sun, but live confined in tin mines, stone quarries, and coal-pits? Before you think yourself miserable, walk through the wards of an hospital; think of the galley slave, and the day labourer; reflect upon the condition of many large, poor families who have continued distress or sickness. Many are often witnesses to scenes even more wretched than these, where to poverty, cold, and nakedness, are added the languors of lingering and loathsome diseases and the torments of excruciating pain.” Now let those who are miserable among many mercies, return as it were from these sad scenes to their closets, gratefully acknowledge the goodness of God in exempting them from so many real ills, which so many labour under, and instead of spending their hours brooding over their own imaginary evils, let them be continually cheerful happy, and thankful.—Gleanings.
(b) What has prayer done? According to it history as given in this Book, it has conquered the elements, it has healed the diseased, it has put armies to flight, it has restored life, it has sent back the angel of death when he has shown his face in the dwelling, it has brought down angels, and it has changed the hearts of men, even hearts the most stubborn. Prayer! It does move the fingers which create, and which have created, and doubtless still creates. Prayer! It does move the hand, as is often said, which moves the world.—Samuel Martin.
(c) O priceless grace! if thou, O believer, knowest how to ask by faith, thou mayest hand out to thy brethren wealth more precious than the gold of Ophir; for intercession is the key to the ivory palaces wherein are contained the boundless treasures of God. Saints in intercession reach a place where angels cannot stand. Those holy beings rejoice over penitent sinners, but we do not read of their being admitted as suppliants for the saints. Yet we, imperfect as we are, have this favour, we are permitted to open our mouth before the Lord for the sick and for the tried, for the troubled and for the downcast, with the assurance that whatsoever we shall ask in prayer believing we shall receive.—C. H. Spurgeon.
Our power to help and bless each other is, primarily and pre-eminently, the power of prayer. We can aid each other by gifts of our worldly goods; we can aid each other by words of instruction, correction and consolation; we can help each other by the influence of good example, and by services so numerous and various that it is almost impossible to classify and describe them; but above all these ministrations is the intercession of a true Christian. Prayer, brethren, directs and impels to other services of love. Prayer secures the efficiency and success of all other ministrations, while prayer is independent of time, independent of place, independent of temporal circumstances, independent of a man’s bodily condition, and independent of a man’s worldly estate. Prayer, too, appeals to the fountain of good, and to the Father of mercies; and if God be true (and let God be true, and every man a liar) it fills the channel of blessing sometimes even to overflowing. Let Christians say to each other, “Brother, whatever you withold from me, deny me not your prayers; whatever you may give to me, crown all your gifts by your prayers.”—Samuel Martin.
THE SUPREMACY OF THE SENSES OVER THE SOUL
This portion of the history of Israel is clearly stated by Krummacher in a passage given in the Illustrations. (a)
Four preliminary remarks are suggested:
First: There is in unrenewed human nature an amazing and saddening proneness to sin. The fire of Jehovah, which had burnt amongst them as a judgment because of former sin, was scarcely quenched when they broke out afresh into sin. Only a very little time previously they were in their distress crying to Moses for mercy, and now they are again crying in rebellion against God. “No sooner is one murmuring ended,” says Babington, “but another begins. Obsta principiis, Stay beginnings, for then is sin weakest, and may best be snubbed and overcome. Let it enter in at the door, and get a little footing it will foil us, and we shall hardly get it out again. First will enter a bare cogitation, then a vehement imagination, after that a wicked delectation, and lastly a killing and damning consent, if God recover us not.”
Second: The cries for mercy which are made under the pressure of suffering are seldom followed by reformation of life. While the fire was consuming them they cried earnestly to Moses; but as soon as the fire was extinguished they returned to the sins which kindled it. Vows begotten of pain are generally ignored in ease and health. (b)
Third: We may be associated with the people oft God without possessing a godly spirit.
“The mixed multitute,” with whom the lusting and murmuring commenced, were not Israelites, but had joined themselves to them when they left Egypt, probably from selfish motives. They were utterly destitute of the true Israelitish spirit. Membership in the visible Church of Christ, and union with His true and spiritual Church, are by no means identical. Mere outward profession is spiritually worthless: nay, it is a lying semblance. Religious profession is valuable only as it is joined with holiness of heart and life. Comp. Romans 2:28-29; Romans 9:6-8; Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:9; Titus 1:16.
Fourth: Sin is terribly contagious. The sin in this case began with the mixed multitude, but it speedily spread to the children of Israel. One evil character corrupts another. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” “Observe,” says Trapp, “the danger of ill company. To converse with the ungodly, and not to learn their manners, is marvellously rare and difficult. A man may pass through Ethiopia unchanged; but he cannot dwell there and not be discoloured.” Wherefore, shun the society of the wicked. (c)
But it appears to us that the most conspicuous feature in this sad scene is the Supremacy of the Senses over the Soul. Let us glance at the characteristics of this supremacy which are here exhibited:
I. Unsatisfied Cravings.
“And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting.” Margin, as in Heb., “lusted a lust.” They were not satisfied with the provision which God had made for them. Where animal appetites are supreme, satisfaction is unattainable. Man will ever remain restless and unsatisfied until his animal appetites are controlled by spiritual principles. The senses must be governed by the soul, the lower nature by the higher, before man can find satisfaction and rest. While the senses are supreme in man they are never satisfied; soon as one lust is gratified, another grows clamorous for gratification. “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.” “All the labour of man is for his mouth, and yet the appetite is not filled.”
II. Humiliating effeminacy.
“And the children of Israel wept again.”
Tears are of various kinds, and of these kinds many are beautiful and blessed.
“Tears! what are tears? The babe weeps in its cot,
The mother singing; at her marriage bell
The bride weeps; and before the oracle
Of high-faned hills, the poet hath forgot
That moisture on his cheeks. Commend the grace,
Mourners who weep! Albeit, as some have done,
To grope, tear-blinded, in a desert-place,
And touch but tombs—look up! These tears will run
Soon, in long rivers, down the lifted face,
And leave the vision clear for stars and sun.”
Elizabeth B. Browning.
But who shall commend these tears the children of Israel in the desert? Men and women generally weeping openly, because they could not obtain the particular kind of food which they desired! Weeping openly for cucumbers, melons, etc.! Pitiable spectacle! Such tears will never clear the vision for either stars or sun. Tears are revealers of character. Here they surely indicate the most deplorable weakness and waywardness of soul. We have spoken of “men and women weeping.” The expression is inaccurate; for this weeping host was composed of those who were men and women in body only, in soul they were pusillanimous children. A host of weeping weaklings and cowards! The supremacy of the senses in man is destructive of strength and heroism of spirit. Patience under privations, persistence in duty despite of difficulty, calm endurance of present suffering for the attainment of great good in the future—these are incompatible with the sovereignty of man’s lower nature. Such sovereignty is destructive of the noblest attributes of manhood. (d)
III. Daring unbelief.
“And said, who shall give us flesh to eat?” Cowards in the face of any difficulty or privation, yet they have the hardihood wickedly to challenge the ability of God. Thus the poet Asaph describes their conduct, “They tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust. Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Behold, He smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can He give bread also? can He provide flesh for His people?” Their unbelief was the more inexcusable, the more guilty, because of the illustrious displays of the power of God which they had witnessed; and not of His power only, but also of His goodness to them. The supremacy of the senses tends to close the eye of the soul to the great verities of the spiritual universe, destroys the power of the soul for grasping those verities, leads to the conviction that the things which are apprehensible by the senses are the only real, trustworthy things. Carnality of mind tends directly first to the prostration and then to the destruction of the faith-faculty.
IV. Deplorable degradation.
“We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt freely,” etc. Their degradation appears,—
1. In what they remembered. “The fish, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks,” etc. To what a dreadful depth must human nature have fallen or sunk when its most vivid and treasured memories are of savoury dainties for the gratification of the palate! How inexpressibly mournful when to any one the meat is more than the life!
2. In what they forgot. The unspeakable degradation of their slavery in Egypt appears to be forgotten by them. The servitude at the brick-kilns, the severe oppressions of their cruel taskmasters, the intolerable insult and injury of slavery, are all lost sight of now that the gratification of their carnal appetite is denied them. Freedom seemed a poor thing in their eyes to be purchased at the cost of the denial of their senses. Alas, how sad is all this! But far more sad is it that this is a picture of what is widely prevalent in our own land and age. Education, books, music, religion, and even manhood, are regarded by immense numbers as utterly inferior to the animal pleasures of eating and drinking. The soul is engulfed in the stomach.
V. Decided Contempt of Divine Blessings.
“But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.” Moses describes the nature, form, and taste of the manna, and the mode of its preparation, to show the unreasonableness of the people in despising it. The manna was
(1) Wholesome for health;
(2) Pleasant to the palate;
(3) Abundant in quantity; and
(4) Free of cost. “But the sweet bread of heaven wanted ‘the sharp and sour, which are required to give a stimulating flavour to the food of man, on account of his sinful, restless desires, and the incessant changes of his earthly life.’ In this respect the manna resembled the spiritual food supplied by the Word of God, of which the sinful heart of man may also speedily become weary, and turn to the more piquant productions of the spirit of the world.” When the senses are supreme, spiritual and divine things are rejected, while carnal and earthly things are eagerly pursued and heartily cherished.
“The mind of the flesh is death; but the mind of the spirit is life and peace.” Submit not to the rule of the senses and passions of your nature. Let your spirit be the sovereign of your fleshly nature, and let God be supreme in your spirit. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”
(a) The people were now in a waste-howling wilderness. Nothing presented itself in the way of food, but that which descended from heaven, which lasted only for a day, and they had water only by a miracle from the rock that followed them. The eye was tired of resting upon the horrible uniformity of the boundless waste around it, which produced only here and there a solitary thorn or brier. Not a trace of any previous traveller. No pleasing sound delighted the ear. No turtledove cooed its melancholy note, no lark soared warbling aloft, as if to point the way to the repenting mind. Nothing but an occasional howl was heard. Sometimes a solitary pelican sounded its harsh and grating note, or the roar of hungry lions and the growls of bloodthirsty tigers and hyenas struck the ear from a distance, and excited a feeling of horror. The Israelites had been accustomed to something very different. In the pleasant land of Goshen the case had been otherwise—fruitfulness and pleasing scenery, fields, gardens, and meadows, rivers, and pools, abounded everywhere. Unhappily, they began to draw comparisons, and by these, an evil or a good is either made greater or less. If a great good is compared with one still greater, it loses in our estimation; and so it is with an evil. If we reflect that it might be much worse, it becomes more tolerable. Bat when the evil is compared with the opposite good, it becomes more grievous, even as black laid upon white appears still blacker. In hell, the rich glutton thought a drop of water a good blessing, who previously would not have esteemed the most costly wine as much. If the sight of the misery of Lazarus had contributed to increase his enjoyment when on earth, by comparing his own health and ease with it—so the sight of the glory he enjoyed in heaven must have increased his torment.
The children of Israel also drew a comparison. In the burning desert, they call to mind the cooling encumbers, and the juicy, pleasant, and well-flavoured water-melons. The thought of these things, it must be confessed, may well make the mouth water whilst traversing the burning sand. The Egyptian fish came also unfortunately to mind, as well as the savoury leeks, onions, and garlic. There they had them for nought—here nothing of the kind was to be had, even for its weight in gold.
Let us not be unjust towards them, but confess that the temptation was not a small one to flesh and blood. In one respect there was nothing sinful in the idea that they would gladly now have gathered up the melons which perhaps in Egypt they had trampled under foot, and have considered the fish as a dainty which there they disregarded. But this became sin to them, because they desired them in an inordinate, violent manner, and out of, nay, even in opposition to, the Divine order. What did they not lose sight of in doing so? Was not Canaan promised them, where they should have these things in abundance? Should they therefore refuse to wait a little longer, since in the course of a few days or weeks they might arrive there, seeing that they were travelling towards it, and had already accomplished more than half the distance—not considering that they were the people from whom was to come salvation, and out of whom a seed should rise up, in whom all the nations of the earth should be blessed—not considering that what they endured and were deprived of, would be to their own advantage, and that of the whole world—not reflecting that they were really not in want of any thing necessary. Did God, His guidance, His promise, and His will appear to them of so little value; and melons, onions, and garlic all to them? Was everything forgotten which had been done to them and for them? How disgustingly does their gloomy, earthly and carnal-mindedness manifest itself! They imagine themselves in extreme misery.—G. D. Krummacher.
(b) How often do we find such whom God hath beleaguered with an affliction, or planted His battery against by a disease, whom He seemed to have marked out for death, make covenants and promises for a future reformation, and of putting away their sin; whom yet, when He withdraws His terrors, and puts up His arrows, those ties do no more bind than the withes did Samson; but they arise, and go out, and do as at other times. While their backs smart under the rod, and they sit on the brink of the grave, their spirits stoop, their passions are broken, and the heat of them assuaged; their thoughts are humbled to sobriety. Then to be liberal of promises is an easy bounty; but when the storm is over, and they return to their former freedom and delight, in sensible converses, then are they restrained in performance, and rescind former engagements. The sighs of their sick bed, which they turned into penitent groans, are now vanished into air, and forgotten; the sad reflections on their former vanities, the serious recollection of their ways which they were reduced to, when the flesh sat uneasy upon them, and dwelt in sorrow, are now as little thought upon as the dolorous accents of their grief. When they are newly come out of the furnace, while the smell of fire is yet on them, they are scrupulous and tender. But it is as those who come out of a hot stove, that shrink from cold at first, but by degrees are brought to their former hardiness of temper. If the soul be not changed, though there may for a while some religious colour appear in the man’s face, he will at last return to his former habit.—Spiritual Bee.
(c) Sin is like the bale of goods which came from the east to this city in the olden time, which brought the pest in it. Probably it was but a small bale, but yet it contained in it the deaths of hundreds of the inhabitants of London. In those days one piece of rag carried the infection into a whole town. So, if you permit one sin or false doctrine in a church knowingly and wittingly, none can tell the extent to which that evil may ultimately go. The church, therefore, is to be purged of practical and doctrinal evil as diligently as possible. That sour and corrupting thing which God abhors must be purged out, and it is to be the business of the Christian minister and of all his fellow-helpers, to keep the church free from it. C. H. Spurgeon.
(d) The most terrible Scourges with which the east is afflicted in the way of disease are the fruits of gross living—eating as well as drinking—perhaps the first most. Men in those climates cannot bear it; students cannot in this. To keep a clear eye, a firm hand, a steady brain were more to Daniel than pleasures of the palate. I venture to say that no man has ever greatly distinguished himself whose body was not in firm control. It is not enough to follow nature and never be excessive; nature wants curbing, and unless young men take their bodies in hand, and compel them sometimes to abstain, and obey the mastery of the will, it is impossible to keep the body in due subjection, and make it the eager and rapid handmaid of the soul. Fasts are good things in youth, simply as a moral discipline; as a man training for a race abstains from all which might imperil his hope of a prize. The Romanists abuse them to superstitious ends, and the peril of doing so is great; therefore the Protestant churches, wisely, I think, leave them alone. But you must master the body; you must make its limbs to move to the music of temperance and chastity; and there are times when pulse and water will be the fittest nourishment, and leave the spirit free for aspiration, and the mind clear and strong for work.—J. Baldwin Brown.
I. Observe what they ought to have remembered:
1. What they had suffered.
2. What God had done for them.
3. What He then was doing.
4. What He had promised to do.
II. Observe what they chiefly dwelt upon:
1. Creature comforts, not spiritual deprivations.
2. Personal satisfaction, not national freedom.
III. Observe the effects of this partial memory of the past:
1. It led to discontent.
2. It resulted in Divine anger.
3. It prolonged their stay in the wilderness.—Biblical Museum.
THE MANNA AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE DIVINE PROVISION FOR THE SPIRITUAL NEEDS OF MAN
The subject of the Manna has been treated at length in The Hom. Comm. on Exodus 16:0.
This paragraph is introduced parenthetically to show the unreasonableness of the people in murmuring and speaking contemptuously of the Manna. The historian speaks of it as being like coriander seed. “The coriander seed is that of the coriandrum sativum, cultivated in England for confectionery, and wild in Egypt and Palestine. The seed is globular, grayish-coloured, and hollow, the surface marked with fine stripes. It has a pleasant spicy flavour.”—Alford. The colour of the manna is said to be “as the colour of bdellium.” בְּדֹלַח, which is translated bdellium, has been variously interpreted. The theory of Bochart, which is adopted by Gesenius and seems to us the most probable, is that it signifies pearls, which are found in great abundance on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Fuerst also gives this as the meaning in this place—“pearl, with the shining of which the grains of manna were compared, Numbers 11:7.”
But it is our purpose to regard the gift of the manna as an illustration of the Provision which God has made for the spiritual needs of our race in Jesus Christ. We have warrant for so regarding it in the Scriptures of the New Testament, John 6:31-58; 1 Corinthians 10:3-4. We discover the following points of analogy:
I. Both are of Divine Origin.
It seems to us utterly unreasonable to question the miraculous nature of the supply of manna. As Dr Kitto remarks, “If any human infatuation could surprise a thoughtful and observant mind—and especially if any folly of those who deem themselves wiser than their Bible could astonish—it might excite strong wonder to see grave and reverend men set forth the strange proposition that two or three millions of people were fed from day to day, during forty years,” with the gum of the tamarisk tree. “A very small quantity—and that only at a particular time of the year, which is not the time when the manna first fell—is now afforded by all the trees of the Sinai peninsula; and it would be safe to say, that if all the trees of this kind then on now growing in the world had been assembled in this part of Arabia Petrea, and had covered it wholly, they would not have yielded a tithe of the quantity of gum required for the subsistence of so vast a multitude.” (a)
And all spiritual provision for man’s needs proceeds from God. The idea, the agencies, and the means of human salvation are all of Divine origin. All inspiring and strengthening influences are from above. “The bread of God is He which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life,” etc. (b)
II. Both are unmerited Gifts.
Just before the first bestowal of the manna the people were guilty of the most grievous murmurings and rebellion against God (Exodus 16:1-12); they could not therefore advance the slightest pretence of meriting any good from Him. The blessings of Divine grace also are entirely owing to the free favour of our heavenly Father. Man merited nothing but pain and punishment from God. Rebels against His authority, we had forfeited all claim to His favour “But God commendeth His love towards us,” etc. (Romans 5:8; Romans 5:20). “For by grace are ye saved,” etc. Ephesians 2:8; 1 John 4:9-10. (c)
III. Both are wholesome.
The manna, which they despised, “was highly nutritive and wholesome food, as nearly as possible analogous to what forms the staff of life, be it rice or corn, to the present inhabitants of the desert, who rarely taste meat or vegetables, and are but too happy if they can get enough of their customary food.” The provisions of Divine grace for our spiritual needs are compared in the Scriptures to those great essentials of life and health, bread and water. Comp. John 4:13-14; John 6:35; John 6:50-51. Spiritual life and health are unattainable save through the provisions of the Gospel. Only Jesus Christ can satisfy the cravings of the immortal soul of man. His salvation is new life to the spiritually dead, health to the sin-sick soul, strength to the morally weak.
IV. Both are pleasant.
The manna was very agreeable to the palate. “Eaten as gathered, it tasted like cakes made of meal and honey (Exodus 16:31); but when dressed, it acquired the taste of fresh oil, a flavour highly agreeable to the Israelites” (Numbers 11:8). The provisions of Christianity are pleasant as well as wholesome. One of the favourite images of the prophets to set forth the blessings of the Gospel age is that of a great and bounteous festival (Song of Solomon 5:1; Isaiah 25:6; Isaiah 65:13-14). Our Lord also uses the same figure for the same purpose (Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:15-24). God in the Gospel provides a delightful feast of spiritual experiences, exercises, and services—a feast of peace, hope, love, joy, service, fellowship, worship.
V. Both are Abundant.
There was no scarcity of manna. For forty years the Lord caused it to fall with unfailing regularity, so that there was an omer (i.e. nearly three English quarts) for every person in the vast host every day. The supplies of Christianity are abundant. Like the air and the light, they are inexhaustible. They are like a river deep and broad, which is fed by perennial springs. “The unsearchable riches of Christ.” “God is able to make all grace abound toward you,” etc.
VI. Both are Free.
All the Israelites might avail themselves of the manna; no restriction was placed upon them in this respect. Gloriously free are the blessings of salvation. “Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money,” etc. “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son,” etc. “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely.” “Let him that is athirst come. And whosover will, let him take the water of life freely.” (d)
VII. Both require personal Appropriation.
The Israelites were required to gather the manna in the early morning; they then prepared it for eating by grinding or pounding it, and baking it in cakes. The blessings of the Divine Gospel will profit us nothing unless we personally appropriate them. We must believe the Christ of the Gospel (John 3:36; John 6:47-58); we must meditate upon the teachings of the Gospel; we must practise the precepts of the Gospel; we must live the Gospel, if we would enjoy the rich provisions which it contains for our spiritual needs. Without this personal appropriation we shall perish even in the midst of the banquet-house of Christ, and in presence of the choicest, most abundant, and freest provisions of the grace of the heavenly King. (e)
1. Take heed that ye despise not the spiritual provisions of the Divine grace.
2. Gratefully and gladly accept these provisions. (f)
(a) The natural products of the Arabian deserts and other Oriental regions, which bear the name of manna, have not the qualities or uses ascribed to the manna of Scripture. They are all condiments or medicines rather than food, stimulating or purgative rather than nutritious; they are produced only three or four months in the year, from May to August, and not all the year round; they come only in small quantities, never affording anything like 15,000,000 of pounds a-week, which must have been requisite for the subsistence of the whole Israelitish camp, since each man had an omer (or three English quarts) a day, and that for forty years; they can be kept for a long time, and do not become useless in a day or two; they are just as liable to deteriorate on the Sabbath as an any other day; nor does a double quantity fall on the day proceding the Sabbath; nor would natural products cease at once and for ever, as the manna is represented as ceasing in the book of Joshua. The manna of Scripture we therefore regard as wholly miraculous, and not in any respect a product of nature.—C. E. Stowe, D.D.
(b) If it would be marvellous to see one river leap up from the earth full-grown, what would it be to gaze upon a vast spring from which all the rivers of the earth should at once come bubbling up, a thousand of them born at a birth! What a vision would it be! Who can conceive it? And yet the love of God is that fountain from which all the rivers of mercy which have ever gladdened our race—all the rivers of grace in time and of glory hereafter—take their rise. My soul, stand thou at that sacred fountain-head, and adore and magnify for ever and ever “God, even our Father, who hath loved us.”—C. H. Spurgeon.
(c) The love which God has for us, did not, does not, spring from moral excellence in us; and still less does its depth and breadth answer to the loveableness of our dispositions. No man can ponder for a moment the facts in our case without being obliged to say that God loves man, not so much from the adaptation of human nature and disposition to produce love, as from a Divine nature that overflows from the necessity of its own richness and fulness. The reasons must needs be in God, and not in us.—H. W. Beecher.
(d) I walked over a long sandy road one day, when the weather was sultry, and the heat, far beyond our common experience in this country, was almost tropical; I saw a little stream of cool water, and being parched with thirst I stooped down and drank. Do you think I asked anybody’s leave, or enquired whether I might drink or not? I did not know who it belonged to, and I did not care. There it was, and I felt if it was there it was enough for me. I was thirsty, and there was the water. I noticed after I had drank that there were two poor tramps came along, and they went down and drank too. I did not find anybody marching them off to prison. There was the stream. The stream being there, and the thirsty men being there, the supply was suited to their need, and they promptly partook of it. How strange it is that when God has provided the Gospel, and men want it, they should require somebody to call out to them, ‘Ho! ho! ho!” and then they will not come after all. Oh! if they were a little more thirsty, if they did but know their need more, if they were convinced more of their sin, then they would scarcely want an invitation, but the mere fact of a supply would be sufficient for them and they would come and drink, and satisfy the burning thirst within.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(e) What a wonderful deal is made of faith in God’s Book! We are justified by faith and not by works.… There is nothing arbitrary in this. It is not an arbitrary appointment of God that man should be justified and receive all blessedness when he believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. It arises from the nature of things. I should like to give you an illustration of this. There are many beautiful trees in yonder park; take one of them. Now, in order to grow and bring forth fruit, the tree must have its roots in the earth, and its branches spread out to the air and the sun. It is no arbitrary appointment. It arises from the nature of the tree and earth. It cannot be otherwise. Would man be blessed? Then he must be united to Christ. He must believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. He must appropriate Christ Now, in one respect I almost tire of saying, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Such words as, Come to Christ, and Come to Jesus have been used in such a poor, meaningless, parrot-like way that they have almost been spoiled. But there is deep meaning, brethren, in coming to Christ. It is the passing through a cloud of doubts, fears, sins, right up to Him, and not only as the poor woman did, taking hold of the hem of His garment, but taking hold on Him and saying, “Lord, I perish; do Thou save me.” And mark: the moment I am united to Christ, the moment I am in Him, all good is possible to my nature. There is no limitation but the limitation of my powers. All the blessedness possible to man is mine the moment I am united to Him.—Thomas Jones.
(f) Come then quickly. All is in vain if you do not come. See, the Gospel feast is spread, and the springs of life are all open; and Jesus stands in view of all the world, and cries that all the world may hear, and names no man by name and yet names every man that lives, each and all being contained in His invitation when He says, “If ANY man thirst, let him come to Me and drink.” “Any man.” Why that is you! That is you! He waits for you. He has happiness for you; He has righteousness for you, and love untold for you, and life, life evermore, for you. And what have you for Him? What have you to give Him? Surely now, at length, a willing heart—surely now an open trusting hand. Have you not had enough of life without Him? Will you attempt the wilderness once more, and perhaps perish of thirst? Will you go again to hew out a broken cistern, or a cistern that will be broken some time or other, and, perhaps, one day be found dead by its side? Are you so in love with misery? Is the covenant with death so dear? Come, thirsty soul and drink. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come;’ and let him that heareth say, ‘Come;’ and let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will let him come and take of the water of life freely.”—Alex. Raleigh, D.D.
THE BURDENS OF LEADERSHIP
Sorely was Moses tried by the unbelief, the cowardice, the complainings, and the rebellions of the Israelites. Pre-eminent was he for patience and meekness, yet there were times when the strain and burden of the perverse people that he was called to lead were too great for his endurance. Such a time was that with which we are now dealing. (a)
This impassioned appeal to God suggests—
I. That the position of Leader or Governor of men is a very trying one.
1. Because of the responsible nature of the duties of leadership. The guidance and direction of a large number of men, even under the most favourable circumstances, involve a great weight of responsibility. And the government of a large number of men, even when the governor is most able and the governed most reasonable, is a thing of enormous difficulty.
2. Because of the interest which the true leader lakes in his charge. The true leader, like Moses, is so deeply interested in those over whom he is placed as to be afflicted in all their affictions; their privations and sufferings sorely pain him; their meannesses and sins cause him to blush with shame, or to weep in penitence. A great interest involves, almost invariably, a great burden.
3. Because of the intractableness of men. It was this which made the burden of Moses so heavy and grievous to bear at this time. “Antoninus the Emperor said often, Imperium oceanum esse malorum, that to be a governor of others is to be plunged into an ocean of miseries. Pope Adrian caused to be engraven upon his own tomb, Felix si non imperitasset. Melancthon said, the three sorest labours of all were Docentis, imperantis, parturientis, the labours of ministers, magistrates, and of travailing women.… Crowns have their cares; high seats are uneasy; many a cumber attends honour. Beatus ille qui procul negotiis.—John Trapp.
II. The true leader of men must often be painfully conscious of his insufficiency.
Moses felt it at this time and cried to the Lord, “I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me.” The difficult demands of changing circumstances and situations, the perplexing problems which arise in questions of government, the perverse dispositions and practices of men, these and other things at times, give rise to such demands upon the personal powers of leaders of men as to fill and almost prostrate them with a sense of their insufficiency. Christian ministers have felt this, and cried, “Who is sufficient for these things?” Kings have felt it, and exclaimed:—“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.”
Statesmen have felt it, &c.
III. The ablest and holiest leaders of men sometimes fail under the burdens of their position.
Moses was unquestionably one of the most distinguished of men—distinguished for mental power, and for elevation, strength, and holiness of character; but that he erred at this time is very clearly manifest from his appeal to the Lord. He erred—
1. In exaggerating the extent of his responsibility. It appears that when the discontent of the people became deep and clamorous, God did not at once interpose, “but withdrew with His help, and let the whole storm of the infuriated people burst upon him.” This accounts for the language of Numbers 11:11-15. But it was an exaggeration to say that “the burden of all this people” was cast upon him alone. The Lord was constantly assisting him both by direction and by all-sufficient help. When our anxieties and cares obtain the mastery of our faith and patience, they at once assume most exaggerated dimensions and gravity.
2. In overlooking the history of God’s dealings with them, and the promises which He had made to them. For a time Moses seems to forget the glorious deeds of the high Hand and the outstretched Arm which had brought them forth out of Egypt, the marvellous and mighty works at the Red Sea, the miracles of the quails and the manna at Sin, and that of the water from the rock at Rephidim. He forgot the gracious and all-inclusive promise, “My Presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” What Moses did, we are all more or less prone to do when life’s burdens press severely and its sorrows are most sore.
3. In passionately appealing to God for deliverance or death. “And if Thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray Thee out of hand,” etc. “This is the language of the discontent of despair,” says Keil and Del., “which differs from the murmuring of unbelief, in the fact that it is addressed to God, for the purpose of entreating help and deliverance from Him; whereas unbelief complains of the ways of God, but while complaining of its troubles, does not pray to the Lord its God … There was good ground for his complaint. The burden of the office laid upon the shoulders of Moses was really too heavy for one man; and even the discontent which broke out in the complaint was nothing more than an outpouring of zeal for the office assigned him by God, under the burden of which his strength would eventually break down, unless he received some support. He was not tired of the office, but would stake his life for it if God did not relieve him in some way, as office and life were really one in him. Jehovah therefore relieved him in the distress of which he complained, without blaming the words of His servant, which bordered on despair.” Still it appears to us that Moses was presumptuous in presenting to the Lord the alternative that He would either deliver him or kill him, and that he was impatient and passionate in his appeal to the Lord. But if even he failed under the heavy burden, how terribly complete and unutterably mournful would our failure have been had we been subjected to such a trial!
1. Great honours involve great obligations.
2. A man may fail even in the strongest point of his character. Moses was pre-eminently meek, yet here he is petulant, etc. Therefore, “Watch thou in all things,” etc.
3. It is the duty of men not to increase, but if possible to lessen the difficulties and trials of leadership.
(a) Up to the hour of his mysterious departure, he devoted himself to his people with an earnestness and an energy which no combination of words can express. For their sakes he gave up his own will, while in the fulfilling of the Infinite Will he made the most costly sacrifices, and suffered the severest penalties. His very first act on behalf of his oppressed nation was misunderstood and misinterpreted, and drove him into solitude and exile. Scarcely had the ambassador of Heaven, with the Divine credentials of his mission in his hands, left the presence of Pharaoh, where he had asserted the rights of his people to spiritual freedom and privilege, than they assailed him with the most bitter invective, and accused him of aggravating the evils under which they were doomed to suffer. Only a few hours had run their round since he had finished those stupendous deeds of might and mercy, which had resulted in setting them free—he had but just sundered the link of the chain which chafed and fettered their inmost soul, when the mere sight of the Egyptians following them in their flight, led them to chide their illustrious leader by charging him with subjecting them to a worse calamity than bondage, and to protest even that they would rather have found a grave in Egypt than fall into the hand of the enemy; and this in direct opposition to the assurance given them from on high, that their deliverance was part of the plan and purpose of Him who is of one mind, and to whose powers and resources there is no limit. No sooner had they passed through the Red Sea, whose waters they had seen to part and stand as a wall of adamant on either hand, in whose depth they had beheld the horse and the rider sink as a stone to the bottom, and on whose hither bank they had given voice and volume to their joy in a song of triumph and gratitude, than they murmured and repined, because the water which was offered to them in their thirst was neither so sweet nor so living as the current of the Nile, or as Goshen’s springs and streams. Scarcely had the bitter been extracted from the waters of Marah; scarcely had they amid the solitude and the scantiness of the desert found themselves free to enjoy their rest and quiet—their recreation and refreshment—when their thoughts went back to Egypt, and their soul lusted after its provisions. Hence on reaching the wilderness of Sin, which lay between Elim and Sinai, and finding that they could not indulge their sensuous appetites as they did before their emancipation, they lost sight for the moment of the higher good involved in their deliverance, and charged Moses with the fixed design of bringing them into the wilderness to compass their death by hanger. How crushing to his big and generous heart must have been their complaint—“Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh-pots, and when we did eat bread to the full”! Was it their dream that life is made up of bodily ease and fleshly indulgence? Had they no faith in the matchless Power which had so often travelled forth on their behalf, and whose mighty deeds had all been in their favour? Or were they resolved to break the heart of the Man who, in the spirit of the most self-denying love and devotedness, was prepared to give up all that he had—not excepting life itself—for their wider freedom and higher good?—Robert Ferguson, LL.D.
(b) If Moses is ever to be held as one of the greatest man of olden times, and of all times, then it must be confessed that no man ever paid a heavier penalty for his greatness. Never did human being stand so completely solitary and alone; never ware motives and actions so misconstrued or misunderstood; never were noble and generous deeds so requited; never were charges and criminations so unfounded; never were labour and suffering so depreciated; never was heart so afflicted, or life so embittered, or death so isolated; and all this in the prosecution of an object which involved a nation’s freedom and a world’s weal. Though his soul was filled with one of Heaven’s sublimest purposes, his heart was all but broken by the ingratitude and rebellion—the selfishness and the sensuousness of those whose cause he bad made his own. So continued was the crucifixion of thought and feeling to which he was subject—such was the total immolation of self to which he was called, that his life was more than a martyr’s death. His mental anguish threw all physical suffering into the distance, and the outward privation was as nothing in comparison with the inward affliction. But under the crushing pressure of all that was laid upon him, he still stood erect—manly in his attitude and heroic in his mion.—Ibid.
It is a gallant thing to fight with the free and the brave in defence of our country, our shrines, our hearthstones, and our fathers’ sepulchres—action animates and prevents the spirit drooping; companions in arms, though they be few, invite us on: we fling fear, doubt, irresolution to the winds—and death is indifferent to us, for we know that glory decks the hero’s bier if it does not bind his brow But to bear witness!—
To bear witness! what a world of meaning is hidden in these few words: how many of the grandest elements of human nature it requires to mould a character like this. Every man values the honest hearty good word of his neighbours; and there are associations gathered round the heart of each of us which it is impossible to efface. To be estranged from those we have lived with and loved from infancy—to pass from under the shadow of the faith that has fostered us—to look upon old sights, old haunts, familiar scenes, and find they are but fiends to mock us with a memory of what once was—to see contempt and scorn assume the place where love was wont to reign—to know that the affections we prized more than life are changed to wormwood—to watch our tried and trusted friends deliberately range themselves in the foemen’s ranks—to have the harrowing conviction burned in upon the soul that we must go on now alone—go along the path we have chosen, and forego all the pleasures on which we counted to render existence endurable—these, these things try the temper and the tone of spirit—these constitute a frightful and a fiery ordeal at which human nature shudders. And yet all this must frequently be undergone for the cause of truth. The alternative is a terrible one and many waver; but such have not the elements of real greatness in them, the qualities which constitute one who must bear witness. The world has its laws and customs, its usages and ordinances, and woe to the man who sets himself in opposition to these. The world has its idols, its creed, its rule of faith—woe to the man who rises and declares its worship blasphemy—its creed a falsehood—its rule of faith a damnable delusion. Woe! truly; but unutterable woe would it be if these men did not rise up ever and anon, to smite the lazy blood into the cheeks of humanity; to exorcise the demon that directs the rabid multitude; to breathe a holier feeling through a land defaced by blood and crime. They are the pioneers of freedom, the vanguard of the hosts of truth. And their fate is to be reviled and ridiculed blasphemed and buffeted—tortured body and soul with all the ingenuity of cruelty Well, so it is, and so it will be; they have counted the cost; their death-smile is the calm of conquest; and—
“They flee far
To a sunnier strand;
And follow Love’s folding star
To the evening land.”—J. W. Letter, D.D.
THE SUFFERINGS OF THE GOOD IN THE PATH OF DUTY
“And Moses said unto the Lord, Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy servant?”
Keil and Del. translate, “Why hast Thou done evil to Thy servant?”
We propose to look at the afflictions of godly men in the path of duty—
I. As a Fact.
1. Good men suffer afflictions. Our text is the utterance of a distinguished servant of the Most High. “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds”; he was a man of extraordinary abilities, and of extraordinary excellence—wise, meek, courageous, prayerful, self-denying, &c. One would have thought that such a man would have been unmolested by suffering, and free from affliction. But our thinking would have been erroneous; for out of sharp suffering Moses is here appealing to God. God’s servants suffer. Job, David, Asaph, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, the Sisters of Bethany, the Apostles of Jesus Christ, were all sufferers; some of them very severe sufferers. The Lord Christ, the Supreme Servant of God, was the Supreme Sufferer.
2. Good men suffer afflictions in the path of duty. It does not seem strange when the storm pursues and overtakes a disobedient prophet trying to escape from duty (Jonah 1:0.); but it does seem strange that it should overtake the disciples of our Lord while they are engaged in carrying out His commands (Mark 4:35-39). So the afflictions of Moses arose in the fulfilment of the duty which God had appointed him. The same is true of Jeremiah, John the Baptist, the Apostles of Jesus Christ and a great host of others in subsequent times. It is pre-eminently true of our Divine Lord. It is true of very many in our own age.
II. As a Problem.
“Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy servant?” This inquiry implies—
1. A difficulty. Moses could not understand why the Lord had called him to a risk, involving so much annoyance and pain. He is the servant of the Lord, engaged in the work of the Lord, and that a most arduous work; yet he is crossed, opposed, reviled, and the affliction is allowed by God, un-relieved by God, indeed, for a time God appears not to heed either his sorely tried servant, or the rebellious and provoking people, over whom He had placed him. The painful obstructions which impede the course of the good, and the heavy burdens which oppress them, and the bitter enemies which assail them, and which are allowed by God, even while they tread the path of duty, are a source of sore perplexity to their mind and sharp pain to their heart. It is supremely difficult, in the time of trial, to discover how these things can be under the rule of a wise and kind and holy Being.
2. Faith in the power of God to remove the difficulty. “Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy servant?” “Why hast Thou done evil to Thy servant?” Clearly Moses believed that there were sufficient reasons for the sore trials which he met with while fulfilling his vocation; that these reasons were known unto the Lord; and that the revelation of them would relieve his perplexed brain and his troubled heart. When the tried servants of God appeal to Him as Moses did, we may regard their appeals as expressions of faith in Him, and as precursors of relief and rest from Him.
III. Offer some Hints towards the Solution of the Problem.
The afflictions of the good in the path of duty, under the blessing of God, tend—
1. To test their faith. “Character,” says Dr. Huntington “depends on inward strength. But this strength has two conditions: it is increased only by being put forth, and it is tested only by some resistance. So, if the spiritual force, or character, in you is to be strong, it must be measured against some competition. It must enter into conflict with an antagonist. It must stand in comparison with something formidable enough to be a standard of its power.… Suffering, then, in some of its forms, must be introduced, the appointed minister, the great assayist, to put the genuineness of faith to the proof, and purify it of its dross.” (a)
2. To promote their perfection. “As the Perfect One reached His perfectness through suffering,” says Dr. Ferguson, “so it was with His servant. It was through the fire and the flame that the law of separation and refinement acted on the whole nature, and gave to it higher worth and glory. Trial ripened his manly spirit, and made it patient to endure.
‘Useless and badly-tempered is the steel
If it refuse to bend; but the goodly blade—
The true Toledo—circleth on itself
He had learned to suffer as well as to do; and but for suffering, and his character, could never have reached that matchless height and perfection which belong to it.” Comp. Acts 14:22; Romans 5:3-5; James 1:2-4; James 1:12. (b)
3. To enhance their joy hereafter. Comp. Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 8:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. (c)
4. To promote the good of the race. In fulfilling the Divine calling, which caused him so much trial and suffering, Moses carried forward the purposes of God, and conferred unspeakable benefits on our race. By the travail and sorrow of the good, God is saving humanity from its sins and miseries. The Christian is called to “know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings”; to suffer vicariously with Him, that others may be benefited and blessed. In the privilege of this high fellowship, the sharpest sufferings become sacred and exalting services. (d)
1. Severe afflictions in the path of duty are in full accord with the character of God.
2. Such sufferings are quite compatible with the favour of God towards us. Comp. Hebrews 12:5-11.
3. When severe suffering leads to sore perplexity, let us seek help of God. Comp. Psalms 73:16-17.
(a) Some time ago I heard a party of friends singing the same piece of music. For a while their voices blended very sweetly, and I, not being able to offer a scientific criticism upon the performance, thought that they were all about equal. But presently they came to a passage of very high notes, very lofty music: and in that moment they all ceased but one, and that one voice went aloft alone, and thrilled me by the perfectness of its ease! If they had stopped before that, I should have said, “I give you common applause; one is as good as another, and I thank you all.” But there was a time of trial, and in that time of trial the masterly voice rose where other voices could not follow it. It is so in the greater concerns and trials of life. For days together we seem to be tolerably equal, but there come special hours, critical trials, and in those moments—which are condensed lifetimes—we show the stuff we are made of and the capacity we represent. It is then that the religious man—if deeply and truly intelligent and earnest—shows himself a man.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(b) Tribulations are treasures; and if we were wise, we should reckon our afflictions among our rarest jewels. The cavern of sorrow are mines of diamonds. Our earthly possessions may be silver, but temporal trials are, to the saints, invariably gold. We may grow in grace through what we enjoy, but we probably make the greatest progress through what we suffer. Soft gales may be pleasant for heaven-bound vessels, but rough winds are better. The calm is our way, but God hath His way in the whirlwind, and He rides on the wings of the wind. Saints gain more by their losses than by their profits. Health cometh out of their sicknesses, and wealth floweth out of their poverties.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(c) The contrast between suffering on earth and its fruits in heaven, is wonderful. They ought to be kept constantly together, so that the darkness of the one shall be interpreted by the light of the other; that we shall not feel that sorrows have ended their course when aching ceases; that we shall not for a moment be left to believe that all the fruit of suffering is that which we pluck hitherward. We should know that sufferings produce their final results only after we are disembodied, and stand on the heavenly plain in the glorious fellowship of the redeemed. Then it will be made known to us that these and all of them came out of great tribulation, and washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, by the maintenance of their faith, by their endeavours to live according to God’s commandments, by undergoing pain, and self-denial, and hardness as good soldiers; by accepting providential afflictions, by cleansing their dispositions and purifying their hearts, by suffering death itself. The marvellous economy of earthly suffering, rightly understood, is an economy of cleansing and beautifying. It is a lustration, and is preliminary to a state of glorification.—H. W. Beecher.
(d) We see no good done in this world that somebody does not suffer. There can be no education of children without there is somebody to suffer for them. A child with no mother or with no nurse, the mother having been taken away, or worse yet, with a mother or nurse that is heartless and inhuman, grows up so much less than a human being as it lacks the training which its helplessness demands. And if a child is sweet, and pure, and aspiring, and noble, somebody must have practised self-denial, or suffered for it; somebody must have agonised to save the child from agony; somebody’s conscience must have been crucified that the child’s conscience might be saved from the thorn. And wretched is the child that has had nobody to suffer for it, to think for it, to feel for it, to live for it—for substituted life is the law of the development of life. My soul is the yeast of my children’s souls; and I mix my being into theirs, and theirs are raised and brought to vitality by it. And if there is to be a Bible that is true to life, there must be somewhere in that Bible a recognition of the Christian principle of vicarious suffering, the suffering of one for another. For it is in nature, it is in the household, it is in the Church, and it is in the whole realm of benevolence outside of the Church. And when we find the Bible teaching it, everybody says, “It ought to teach it, it is but the echo of fact”.—Ibid.
THE ANSWER OF GOD TO THE APPEALS OF MEN
In these verses we have—
I. The Lord’s Answer to the Appeal of his much-tried Servant.
“And the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men,” &c. (Numbers 11:16-17). The Lord here arranges to lighten the burden of which Moses had complained as too heavy for him, by appointing seventy elders who should bear the burden of the people with him. Notice—
1. The number of these assistants. “Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel.” The number seventy probably has a backward reference to the number of persons that went down into Egypt (Genesis 46:26-27). The same number of elders were called to accompany Moses to Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:1); but their calling seems to have been for that one occasion only, while these were called to permanent service. This number was continued in the Sanhedrim, or great council of the Jews. And our Lord probably had reference to it when He appointed seventy disciples, and sent them forth as assistants to the apostles. But the point for us to seize concerning this number is, that it would afford adequate relief to Moses; the answer of the Lord to his appeal was sufficient and satisfactory.
2. The selection of these assistants. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom thou knowest to be,” &c. The choice of the seventy was assigned to Moses. The people being so unstable and wayward were not fit to be entrusted with the choice. Moses was to select persons who were elders not merely in respect of years, but also in ability and character, and influence with the people for good. If Moses made the selection himself, he would have no ground for complaint afterwards.
3. The qualification imparted to these assistants. “And I will come down and talk with thee there: and I will take of the spirit which is upon thee,” &c. This does not imply any diminution of the Divine grace and power to Moses. Unto them was to be granted a measure of the spirit which had been given in such great fulness to him; truth, wisdom, courage, piety, power, were to be bestowed upon them to fit them for their duties and responsibilities. “We do not find that Moses was less fit for government than he was before: rather his gifts were derived to others, as one candle lighteth another, and yet the light is not diminished.” God never calls any one to the discharge of any duty without granting him ability for the same. When we are clear as to the Divine call we may be confident as to the Divine qualification.
Such was God’s gracious answer to the appeal of Moses. That appeal was somewhat imperfect and faulty; it was impetuous, and, to a certain extent, expressive of discontent and passion; but it was the utterance of a true and noble spirit, of one whose zeal in the work assigned him by God was most ardent, and who was sublimely forgetful of self in his solicitude for the glory of God. So the Lord answers him by granting him relief.
II. The Lord’s Answer to the Appeal of His Perverse People.
“And say thou unto the people, Sanctify yourselves against to-morrow,” &c. This answer—
1. Recognises the sinful character of their appeal. “Ye have wept in the ears of the Lord, saying,” &c. “Tears, of what sort soever, have a voice in them (Psalms 39:12), as blood hath (Genesis 4:10).” Their sin is manifest
(1) In the lowness of their supreme desire. “Who shall give us flesh to eat?” Their highest and most eager longing was for the gratification of their animal appetites.
(2) In their depreciation of the Divine blessings. “It was well with us in Egypt.… Why came we forth out of Egypt?” Their emancipation from slavery with its cruelty and unutterable degradation, the provisions with which they were so bounteously supplied, the glorious inheritance which was promised to them, these things they disparaged as unworthy of comparison with the dainties of Egypt which they had sacrificed They preferred cucumbers to freedom, &c.
(3) In their contempt of the Divine Presence. “Ye have despised the Lord which is among you.” The unbelief expressed in the enquiry, “Who will give us flesh to eat?” was a despising of the Lord. It was a questioning, if not a denial, of His power, and that after the extraordinary displays of His power which they had witnessed. God marks the feelings which find utterance in our cries to Him, or to His servants.
2. Demands preparation for the granting of their appeal. “Sanctify yourselves against to-morrow, and ye shall eat flesh.” Keil and Del. explain “sanctify yourselves:” “to prepare themselves by purifications for the revelation of the glory of God in the miraculous gift of flesh.” The interpretation of Fuerst is in substantial agreement with this. They had sinned grievously against God; and now they, must prepare themselves by ablutions and by humbling of themselves, for the extraordinary manifestation of the Divine power.
3. Promises the most abundant bestowment of that which they had so passionately and sinfully desired. “The Lord will give you flesh, and ye shall eat. Ye shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; but even a month of days,” &c. Inordinately they had craved flesh; generally and openly they had wept for it; and God determines to bestow it upon them in super-abundance. Their clamorous demand shall be granted; and the granting of it shall be their punishment. “He gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.” No punishment can be more terrible than to grant the desires of a soul in which carnal appetites are supreme. Let our desires be subject in all things to the wise and gracious will of God. (a)
Conclusion. Mark well—
1. The disgusting nature of the sins of gluttony and drunkenness.
2. The necessity of firmly controlling carnal desires. Even those animal appetites which are lawful must be kept subordinate to higher things.
3. The necessity of submissiveness in prayer.
“We, ignorant of ourselves
Beg often our own harms, which the wise powers,
Deny us for our good; so find we profit,
By losing of our prayers.”—Shakespeare.
Let us pray in the spirit of Him who in His most intense agony said, “Nevertheless, not My will, but Thine, be done.”
(a) Mr. Edmund Calamy relates, in his Life, that some persons of the name of Mart, in whose family he resided for some time, had a son who discovered the most wicked and impious disposition. When confined in prison, he wrote letters professing penitence; but as soon as he had an opportunity he returned to his former sins.
This young man had been the darling of both his father and mother; and the latter had set her affections upon him to so great a degree that when she saw him a monster of wickedness, she became deranged, and attempted to destroy herself, which she at length effected, So far from being suitably impressed with this awful event, her son now proceeded to greater lengths in wickedness. At length he professed to be sorry for his depraved course, and applied to the Rev. Samuel Pomfret to intercede for him with his father. He was made ready for sea, but, unhappily, became connected with a gang of villains, and, on the very night before he was to set sail, he robbed Mr. Pomfret, was pursued, tried, and condemned to die.
On the Sabbath preceding the Wednesday on which he was condemned to die, his father entreated Dr. Calamy to accompany him that evening to his cell in Newgate, to converse with his unhappy son, and to give his opinion as to the propriety of seeking to obtain his pardon. The doctor went, and found him in a very awful state of mind, resenting different things which he conceived his father had done wrong, and saying that be might obtain a pardon for him, if he would but part with some of his money. In vain did the doctor expostulate with him on the improper feelings he manifested, and entreat him to humble himself before God on account of his sins, as the only way of engaging his friends to obtain for him a reprieve. His reply was, “Sir, I scorn anything of that nature; and would rather die with my company.” The doctor reasoned with him on the existence of a hereafter, charged him with the death of his mother, taxed him with the murder of some persons abroad, whose blood he had actually shed, and showed him the heavy punishment he must endure in an eternal world, unless he turned to God, repeated of his sins, and prayed for pardon through the atonement of the Lord Jesus. He admitted the truth of all these things, but was filled with trifling unconcern. He frankly said that he had no hope of being better in his character, and that, on the contrary, he was satisfied he should grow worse. The next morning he was visited by Dr. Jekyl, who asked him whether, during the whole time he had been confined in Newgate, he had once bowed his knees to the great God, making it his earnest request to Him to give him a sense of his sins, and to create in him a tender heart; he admitted that he had not, nor did he think it of any use. He was promised that if he would agree to pray morning and evening for the grace of God an effort should be made with every probability of success, for a reprieve, and subsequently a pardon. But he would make no engagement, and was hung on the day appointed.
On the day of his execution, the father of this unhappy young man told Dr. Calamy that when the culprit was a very young child, he was exceedingly ill with a fever, and that both his wife and himself, thinking their lives were bound up in the life of the child, were exceedingly importunate with God in prayer that his life might be spared. A pious mother expostulated with him on the vehemence he manifested, and said she dreaded the consequence of his praying in such a way, and that it became him to leave the matter to an infinitely wise God. At length the father said, “Let him prove what he will, so he is but spared, I shall be satisfied.” The old man added, “This I now see to have been my folly. For, through the just hand of God, I have lived to see this wretched son of mine a heart-breaking cross to them that loved him with the greatest tenderness, a disgrace to my whole family, and likely to bring my grey hairs with sorrow to my grave. I read my sin very distinctly in my punishment; but must own that God is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works.”—R. Arvine, A.M.
It is of great importance that we should entreat the Spirit of God to enable us to pray as we ought. It is quite possible to ask for what may appear to us good things, but which, if we had them, would prove evil. Rachel, indulging a petulant disposition, said, “Give me children, or I die;” her desire was granted, and as the result, she died.
The late Mr. Kilpin, of Exeter, writes, “I knew a case in which the minister, praying over a child, apparently dying, said: ‘If it be Thy will, spare—’ The poor mother’s soul yearning for her beloved, exclaimed: ‘It must be His will! I cannot bear ifs.’ The minister stopped. To the surprise of many the child recovered; and the mother, after almost suffering martyrdom by him while a stripling, lived to see him hanged before be was two-and-twenty! Oh, it is good to say, ‘Not my will, but Thine be done.’ ”—Ibid.
THE UNBELIEF OF GOOD MEN, AND ITS DIVINE ANTIDOTE
This incident in the history leads us to consider—
I. The proneness of even the best of men to unbelief.
When we think of the character of Moses, and the experiences of his past life, it seems almost incredible that he should “stagger at the promise of God through unbelief.” He was one of the great heroes of faith (Hebrews 11:24-28); he had witnessed the most marvellous manifestations of the Divine power; he had himself been the instrument of some of its most extraordinary achievements; yet for a little time his faith in the promise and power of God fails. The error of Moses consisted in his arraying the conclusions of human reason against the promise of God. (a) To his judgment the thing promised seemed impossible. Moses considered
(1) The number to be supplied. “And Moses said, The people among whom I am are six hundred thousand footmen.” The whole population could not have been less than two millions, and was probably more numerous.
(2) The time for which the supply was to be continued. “And Thou hast said, I will give them flesh, that they may eat a whole month.”
(3) The inadequacy of their resources. “Shall the flocks and the herds be slain for them to suffice them? or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, to suffice them?” Of the flocks and herds some were needed for the sacrifices, and some would be required when they settled in the Promised Land. The result of the consideration of the case by Moses was, that he could not see how the promise could be fufilled; and not seeing this, he failed to believe the promise. Even the most distinguished servants of the Lord amongst men have their infirmities. (b) “We need not to labour too curiously,” says Attersoll, “to clear the faithful of the remnants of sin and other infirmities, forasmuch as he and other the best of God’s servants have their failings in faith and obedience, as we see in the examples of Abraham, Lot, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, David, Peter, Thomas, Zacharias, and which of them not? (2 Chronicles 15:17; 2 Chronicles 16:12; Romans 7:17-19) because we know in part, and we prophesy in part; we are yet in our journey, and walk in our way, and run in a race, we are not yet attained to our journey’s end, we have not yet obtained the crown. Again, we proceed all from an unclean fountain (Job 14:4). There is a combat remaining in us between the flesh and the Spirit (Romans 7:23; Galatians 5:17), and these are contrary the one to the other, and can never be reconciled.” Two inferences should be heeded:—
1. The most eminent saints continually need the grace of God. “Hold Thou me up, and I shall be safe,” is an appropriate aspiration for even the holiest of men. And this, too, “Lord, increase our faith.”
2. It behaves us to be slow to censure men. We should rather take heed to ourselves, that we fail not.
“Search thine own heart. What paineth thee
In others, in thyself may be;
All dust is frail, all flesh is weak;
Be thou the true man thou dost seek.”
II. The Divine Antidote for unbelief in the good.
1. Consideration of the past deeds of the Lord. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” What He has done is an example of what, under similar circumstances and conditions, we may expect Him to do again “The power that is unlimited can never be diminished.” Faith argues from the past to the present and the future. David did so, with the grandest results (1 Samuel 17:34-37; Psalms 63:7). So also did Paul (2 Corinthians 1:8-10; 2 Timothy 4:17-18). (c)
2. Consideration of the unchangeableness of the Lord “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” “With whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” He is “the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.” “Thou art the same, and Thy years shall have no end.” “I am the Lord, I change not.” The consideration of the immutability of God should inspire confidence in His promises.
3. Consideration of the faithfulness of God. “Thou shalt see now whether My word shall come to pass unto thee or not.” “God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.” Here, then, in the consideration of these great themes is Heaven’s antidote for the proneness to unbelief in godly men.
The subject suggests the inspiring fact that history is an argument for faith in God of ever-increasing power. Incalculably greater to-day than when it was addressed to Moses is the force of the Divine demand, “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” as a rebuke of unbelief and an encouragement of faith.
(a) I like to reason; I like to search out results from causes; but it is sweet also, in the midst of the turmoils and troubles of life, to rest in faith in God. It is sweet to be able to say, “I do not care for to-morrow. I do not fear what shall befall me. I will trust in God.” To understand the philosophy of a Divine command, where I can, affords me satisfaction; bat where a command comes from such an authority, and with such variety of illustration in nature, I do not care whether I understand the philosophy of it or not. My soul is hungry for it, and I accept it because my God has given it. I trust and rest in God simply because He has said, “You may, and you must.” That is ground enough.—H. W. Beecher.
(b) All these four reflective men are in some way unbelievers. Nathanael cultivates inward piety, but he cannot believe that the holy heaven and the common world shall ever be one, as if angels came and went between them. Matthew earnestly desires, and promotes as be can, the rule of justice among men; but he cannot believe that the law of Truth will ever be the law of outward religions and political society. Philip is a student of the Scriptures, and can see much of the God of Israel in them and in the world, but not enough anywhere; and he cannot believe that God will show Himself to man so as thoroughly to content the pious as the world seems to satisfy the worldly. Thomas has chosen the “better part;” he is determined to know the truth and not to trust to deceits. He, for one, will examine the pretensions and the evidences of things. He has examined, and is quite convinced that Jesus has no mere pretensions. Jesus, at least, is a real man, if there be no other and never should be. And yet Thomas cannot believe that “the way.” Jesus takes is a safe successful way. Excellent men these four! reflective men; yet all in some degree, each in his own manner, unbelievers!—Thomas T. Lynch.
(c) Is God all-mighty? Then have no fears about the realization of His promises. Oftentimes it is difficult to see how certain promises are to be realized. We have nothing to do with that whatever. God keeps our hands off His promises quite as surely as He keeps them off His stars, and if He won’t let us intermeddle with His planets, and do our little scrubbing and burnishing upon those great lights, He will not ask us to have anything to do with the outworking and realization of His promises. He asks that their fulfilment be left to Him, and afterwards he will challenge our own life as the witness, and answer, and confirmation of all that is gracious and all that is sure in the outworking of His words of promise.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
THE GLORIOUS RIGHT HAND OF THE LORD
For Introduction see the Illustrations. (a)
I shall try to mention some four or five cases in which men act as if they really believed that God’s hand had waxed short.
I. With regard to the Church as a whole, how often is it true that she so behaveth herself as if she had a question in her mind as to whether the Lord’s hand had waxed short?
She believes that the Divine hand was once mighty enough to bring in three thousand in one day by the simple preaching of Peter. She believes that her God was with her in olden times so mightily that her poor illiterate preachers were more than a match for the scholars of Socrates and Solon, and were able to overturn the gods of the heathen, though they had both poetry and philosophy to be their bulwarks. She believes all this, and yet how often doth she act as though the Gospel had become effete and outworn, and the Spirit of God had been utterly withdrawn from her!… The doubts, the fears, the calculations, the policies, the judicious advices of too many Christians prove my point, that often the Church acts as if she thought the Lord’s hand were waxed short. O Zion! get thee up! Come thou forth in simple confidence in His promise, and thou shalt see whether He will not do according to His Word.
II. When believers doubt their God with regard to Providence, the question might well be asked of them, “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?”
Some have had many losses and crosses in their business. Instead of getting forward, they are going back, and perhaps even bankruptcy stares them in the face. Or possibly, being hard-working men, they may have been long out of employment, and nothing seems to be before their eyes but the starvation of themselves and their little ones. It is hard to bear this … But dost thou doubt, O believer, as to whether God will fulfil His promise, wherein He said, “His place of defence”? &c. (Isaiah 33:16). Wouldst thou question the advice of thy Master: “Therefore take no thought”? &c. (Matthew 6:25-32). When not a sparrow falls to the ground without your Father, and the very hairs of your head are all numbered, yet you must mistrust and doubt Him! (b)
III. This question might be very naturally suggested when a man who has faith in Christ is exercised with doubts and fears with regard to his own final perseverance or his own present acceptance in Christ.
Doubt not, I pray you; believe your God, and you shall prosper. The joy of the Lord is our strength, not the melancholy of our hearts.
IV. “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” is a question which I may well ask of any who are convinced of sin, but are afraid to trust their souls now, at this very hour, in the hand of a loving saviour.
“Oh, He cannot save me, I am so guilty, so callous! Could I repent as I ought, could I but feel as I ought, then He could save me; but I am naked, and poor, and miserable. I have grieved away His Spirit; I have sinned against light and knowledge—against mercy—against constant grace received. He cannot save me.” “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” Did He not save the chief of sinners, Saul of Tarsus? Why, then, can he not save you? Is it not written, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth us from all sin?” Has that blood lost its efficacy? Wouldst thou add to thy sin? Then doubt Christ’s power to save thee. But wouldst thou be saved? Then dare, in the teeth of all thy sins, to trust my Master.
“He is able,
He is willing: doubt no more.”
He is able, for He is God. He is willing, for He that died for us cannot be unwilling. Christ did not make any exception; He said, “Him that cometh,” and that means any “him” in all the world who comes. Come, then, I pray thee: trust Him, &c.
V. You say, do you, that God will not avenge your sins upon you, that ye may go on in your iniquities, and yet meet with no punishment; that ye may reject Christ, and do it safely; trample on His blood, and yet God is so calm, that His anger will never flame forth against you? Well, soul, “thou shalt see whether His word shall come to pass or not.” But let me tell thee His hand is not waxed short; He is as strong to punish as when He bade the floods cover the earth; as powerful to avenge as when He rained hail out of heaven upon the cities of the plain. Thou shalt see whether He will keep His word or not.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(a) It is a singular thing that such a question as this should ever be asked at all: “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” If we look anywhere and everywhere, apart from the conduct of man, there is nothing to suggest the suspicion. Look at God’s creation! Is there anything there which would make you say, “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” What pillar of the heavens hath begun to reel? What curtain of the sky hath been rent or moth-eaten? Have the foundations of the earth begun to start? Do they not abide as the Lord hath settled them? Hath the sun grown dim with age? or have the starry lamps flickered or gone out in darkness? Are there signs of decay to-day upon the face of God’s creation? Have not howling tempests, the yawning ocean, and death-bearing hurricanes, asserted but yesterday their undiminished might? Say, is not the green earth as full of vitality, as ready to yield us harvests now, as it ever hath been? Do the showers fall less frequently? Hath the sun ceased to warm? Are there any signs and tokens that God’s creation is tottering to its decay? No, journey where you will, you will see God is potent upon the face of the earth, and in the very bowels of the globe, as He was when He first said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” There is nothing which would tempt us to the surmise or the suspicion that the Lord’s hand hath waxed short. And look ye too in Providence; is there aught there that would suggest the question? Are not His prophecies still fulfilled? Doth He not cause all things to work together for good? Do the cattle on a thousand hills low out to Him for hunger? Do you meet with the skeletons of birds that have fallen to the ground from famine? Doth He neglect to give to the fish their food, or do the sea-monsters die? Doth not God still open His hand and supply the want of every living thing? Is He less bounteous today than He was in the time of Adam? Is not His cornucopia still as full? Doth He not still scatter mercies with both His hands right lavishly? Are there any tokens in Providence any more than in Nature, that God’s arm hath waxed short? And look ye too in the matter of Grace: is there any token in the work of grace that God’s power is failing? Are not sinners still saved? Are not profligates still reclaimed? Are not drunkards still uplifted from their sties to sit upon the throne with princes? Are not harlots as truly reclaimed as were those in the days of Christ? Is not the Word of God still quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword? Which of His arrows hath been blunted? Where have ye seen the sword of the Lord snapped in twain? When hath God assayed to melt a heart and failed in the attempt? Which of His people has found the riches of His grace drained dry? Which of His children has had to mourn that the unsearchable riches of Christ had failed to supply his need? In Grace, as well as in Providence and Nature, the unanimous verdict is that God is still Almighty, that He doeth as He wills, and fulfilleth all His promises and His counsels. How is it, then, that such a question as this ever came from the lips of God Himself? Who suggested it? What suggested it? What could there have been that should lead Him or any of His creatures to say, “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” We answer, there is but one creature that God has made that ever doubts Him.… It was left for man, the most favoured of all creatures, to mistrust his God.—C. H. Spurgeon.
(b) And now, O true believer, what sayest thou to this picture? In the cold, cold winter, when the snows have fallen thick on every tree, and the ground is hard and crisp, ye have sometimes seen the charitable man open wide the window of his house, and scatter crumbs along the white snow, and ye have seen the birds come from all the trees around, and there they ate and were satisfied. A slanderer who lives next door tells you that that man starves his children. Do you believe him? Feed the sparrows and neglect the offspring of his loins—give crumbs to birds, and not feed his sons and daughters? You feel instinctively that the kind heart which remembers the fowls of heaven must yet more remember his own offspring. But what sayest thou to this picture concerning thyself? Thy God heareth the young ravens when they cry, and giveth liberally to all the creatures that His hands hath made, and will He forget His sons and His daughters—His people bought with blood, His own peculiar heritage? No; dare to believe Him now. His hand has not waxed short. Dare to trust Him now.—Ibid.
THE QUESTION CONCERNING THE LORD’S HAND
“Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” Let us apply this question—
I. To the Subject of Creative Manifestations.
We are in the midst of a marvellous universe. Full of the wisdom and power of God. Now, some suppose Creation was finished, as related in Genesis. But that relates to this world only. Creation glorifies God. He can continue to create, &c. He may do so for His own glory. Myriads of worlds may rise in magnificent succession. Worlds now get old, may decay, and fall into ruin; and He may supply their place. As in the revivifications of the seasons. New harvests, new forms, &c.
II. To Divine Providences for His Church and People.
1. The Preservation of His Church. Its extension, prosperity, glory.
2. The destruction to the enemies of the Church. In the past He did it. Egypt, Babylon, &c.
3. The good of His individual servants. He can keep, deliver, bless. However dark, &c. Overrule; turn crosses into blessings, &c.
III. To the Salvation of the most guilty and obstinate sinners.
1. Cannot His hand reach them in the lowest pit of guilt?
2. Break the heart of the flinty rock?
3. Humble and save the proudest and worst? Manasseh, the thief, Saul, the Corinthians. We need despair of none.
IV. To the fulfilment of the Divine prophecies and promises.
1. The glory of the Lord filling the earth. Psalms 72:17-19.
2. The spread of universal holiness.
3. Universal worship. Psalms 67:0.
4. The salvation of the world to Christ. Philippians 2:9-11. The world filled with righteousness, peace, and blessedness. The discouragements may be great and numerous; but the text answers them all.
1. The text should lead us to Divine reliance. Trust in the Lord, &c. This will cheer and strengthen us.
2. To joyous hope. No need of doubts and fears.
3. To more earnest effort.
4. To profound humility. God’s hand alone can do His work.—Jabez Burns, D.D.
HELPFUL THOUGHTS FOR THE LORD’S SERVANTS
This section of the history presents several topics on which we may meditate with advantage:
I. The Obedience of Moses, an example for the Lord’s Servants.
“And Moses went out, and told the people,” &c. (Numbers 11:24). Very recently Moses had doubted the word of the Lord, and questioned His ability to fulfil His promises; but now he obeys His commands, trusting in Him to fulfil His promises. Doubt is not the normal state of a good man, but an exceptional thing in his life. It is ours, not to question the Lord concerning the reason of His commands, or the way in which He will fulfil His promises; but trusting His promises, we should obey His commands. Faith and duty are ours; reasons and results are God’s.
II. The Bestowment of the Spirit upon the seventy Elders, Encouragement for the Lord’s Servants.
“And the Lord came down in a cloud, and spake unto him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and gave unto the seventy elders.” Notice:—
1. The Lord’s care of His servants. By granting to him the aid of these elders, He relieves Moses of the oppression of the burden of which he had complained. When the duties and responsibilities of His servants become too heavy, He lightens them either by diminishing their burdens, or by increasing their strength. He is a gracious Master, &c.
2. The Lord’s qualification of His servants. When the elders were assembled about the tabernacle, the cloud of the Divine Presence, which had soared on high above it, came down, and the Lord spake unto Moses, and gave of His Spirit to the seventy elders (See notes on Numbers 11:17). Those whom God calls to duty He also qualifies for it.
3. The Lord’s authentication of His servants. “And it came to pass, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, and did not add. But there remained two,” &c. Under the impulse and inspiration of the Spirit of God they spoke to the people with such “admirable clearness and fulness, and readiness, and aptness of expression,” and wisdom, that all who heard them were convinced that God was with them. By this sign the Lord accredited them to their office; this was their credential to the people, the Divine warrant for the exercise of their calling. God still authenticates His servants. In the holiness of their lives, in their qualifications for their work, and in the usefulness of their work, we mark the Divine credentials of the servants of the Lord.
III. The error of Joshua, Admonition to the Lord’s Servants.
Two of the persons who were called to the eldership did not go up to the tabernacle, but remained in the camp; and the Spirit came upon them there, and they prophesied. This caused some excitement, and a boy went and told the matter to Moses. “And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them.” The prophesying of Eldad and Medad seemed to him an irregular and unauthorised thing. They were not in the company of the others; they had not received the gift through the mediation of Moses; and Joshua fears that if they are not restrained, the honour and authority of Moses will be diminished. So he proposes to Moses to prohibit it. I discover no sufficient reason for supposing that Joshua was jealous of this prophesying on his own account. He was rather jealous for the honour of Moses, as the disciples of John the Baptist were for the honour of their Master (John 3:26). Still the counsel of Joshua was unwise and rash. Let us take warning from his mistake. The Spirit of God is not limited by our poor notions and narrow parties. The streams of Divine influence are much too plenteous to be confined in the strait and shallow channels which we have scooped out for them. The true way of regarding new and seemingly irregular manifestations of religious feeling and effort is indicated by Jesus Christ in Mark 9:38-40, and by the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:14-18. (a)
IV. The Magnanimity of Moses, an Example for the Lord’s Servants.
“And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake? would God that,” &c. So far from being displeased with Eldad and Medad, Moses, who sought not his own honour, but the glory of God, rejoiced in the gifts bestowed upon them, and “gave expressions to the large-hearted wish, that the whole people of the Lord might prophesy. And most assuredly there can be no such thing now, under the grace of the New Testament, which works at large and unconstrained, as a confining of the Spirit of the Lord to this or to that place, to the communion of this or of that party. The Spirit bloweth where He listeth; where is the man who will or can hinder Him? Whenever devils are cast out there is the Spirit of God (Matthew 12:27-28); wherever the name of Jesus is confessed, the confessor of that name is accepted before God whether he stand in our roll or not.”—Stier. (b)
(a) I do dislike narrow churches, I do dislike little, little self-enclosing, self-subsisting clubs of so-called Christian professors. I find nothing narrow in Christianity. I find Christianity the broadest system, either of religion or of thought, or of philanthropy, that I can find in the world. If there are persons that wrap their sectarian garments about them, and say, “We are the people of God, and there is no other people that belong to Him,” then are they liars, and the truth is not in them. Little people that live in a nutshell, which they mistake for the universe, that have their own little Bethel, and their own little hymn book, and their own little sectarian movements, and their own little heaven, I do not know anything about them, except that, having heard about them, I do not wish to prosecute inquiry further. If there are such people-no, I would alter that grammar, and say if there be such people, hoping that their existence is quite contingent and future—if there be such people they know nothing about the Divine, catholic, universal liberty of Jesus Christ’s teaching. I trust that we all belong to the Broad Church, that we hail a brother, whatever be the temporary name by which he is known in ecclesiastical life; and that we allow heart to speak to heart, and know something of the intercourse of brotherly unity in Christ Jesus.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(b) If ever you can say a good word of a fellow-minister, I charge it upon your honour to say it, and if you cannot speak a good word you need not speak a bad one. Don’t set up your own style of preaching as the standard by which to try the preaching of all other men. Try (hard lesson!) to be thankful for another man’s success. When you can heartily thank God for another minister’s prosperity (and that minister in your own neighbourhood), you will have taken an eminent position in the temple of Christian magnanimity. It is easy to thank God for the success of a man who is fifty miles distant from your own ministerial orbit; but to give thanks for the success of a man who preaches within an hour’s walk of your own pulpit, that is what I mean by magnanimity. Men who do not profess Christianity, are not expected to conform to its requirements, but surely its expounders and defenders should merge their little selfishness in the all-absorbing importance of winning the world back to filial love and reverent loyalty,—Ibid.
The truth is, that it is natural to all of us to envy the growing reputation of others; and to be jealous where it seems likely to trench upon our own. We may speak very justly of the littleness of mind which is displayed by the envious and the jealous; nevertheless, this littleness of mind belongs naturally to most, if not all of us. And he wins a fine triumph, or displays great command over himself, who can be content with inferiority, provided the cause of God and truth be advanced. Now, this is precisely the case in which both Moses and John showed greatness of soul. And though it be one in which we have most reason to look for a forgetfulness of self, experience shows that the expectation is but too often disappointed. In other cases we can hardly wonder that men should be mortified by the superiority of their rivals; that is, look with dislike and bitterness on those who eclipse them in the respects in which they most wish to shine. The courtier, for example, who has long sought to stand high in the favour of his sovereign; and who perceives that a younger candidate, who has just entered the field, is fast outstripping him, so that the probability is that he will soon be widely distanced,—we cannot marvel if he regard the youthful competitor with irritated feelings in place of generously rejoicing in his rapid success. It would be a very fine instance of magnanimity if this courtier were to cede gracefully the place to his rival, and offer him, with marks of sincerity which could not be mistaken, his congratulations on having passed him in the race. But we could not look for such magnanimity. The occasion, if we may venture to say so, scarcely warrants it; the whole business is of so worldly, so ignoble a character, that the high principles of religion can scarcely be supposed to be brought into exercise; yet the loftiness of spirit is such as that these principles alone can be considered adequate to produce or effect. The case, however, is widely different when it is in the service of God, and not of an earthly king, that the two men engage. Here by the very nature of the service, the grand thing aimed at is the glory of God and not personal distinction or aggrandisement; and there is, therefore, ground for expecting that if God’s glory be promoted, there will be gladness of heart in all Christians, whoever the agent who has been specially honoured. But, alas! for the infirmity of human nature; there is room for questioning that even Christians can be jealous of each other, and feel it a sore trial when they are distanced and eclipsed in being instrumental in promoting Christianity. I can imagine to myself a missionary settlement, where a devoted servant of God has striven many years with idolatry, but has made but little way in winning heathens to the faith. Here and there he can point to a convert from superstition, but, for the most part, he seems to have laboured in vain; and is forced to exclaim with the prophet, “Who hath believed our report, and to whom hath the arm of the Lord been revealed?” And then there arrives in that missionary settlement, another and a younger preacher of truth, and God has endowed him with higher powers, and honours him with greater success, so that there is a rapid demolition of the whole system of heathenism—savages renouncing by hordes ancestral superstitions; forming themselves into peaceful communities, and embracing, with delight, the Religion of Jesus Christ. It is very easy to say that the elder missionary ought to feel nothing but exultation and thankfulness, as he witnesses the glorious results which follows the labours of youth. The object that he had nearest his heart was the conversion of Pagans; what should he do but rejoice in the accomplishment of his object, though effected through the instrumentality of another? And we do not say that the elder missionary would have other feelings than those which he is bound by his profession to entertain; nevertheless, there will have been a great deal to try that missionary, and we can hardly doubt—for as much as his having been a Christian will not have destroyed his being a man—that his breast must have been the scene of no inconsiderable struggle; that there must have been earnest prayer, and earnest resistance to natural feelings, ere he could bring himself to survey, with composure, the distinguished honours which God is putting on another. We are far enough from regarding it as a matter of course, that a veteran in the missionary work would feel contented and pleased at seeing that work which had gone on so slowly with himself, progress with amazing rapidity when undertaken by a younger labourer; on the contrary, arguing from the known tendencies of our nature, we assume that he must have had a hard battle with himself before he could really rejoice in the sudden advance of Christianity; and we should regard him as having won, through the assistance of Divine grace, a noble victory over some of the strongest cravings of the heart when he frankly bid the stripling God speed! and rejoiced as he saw the idols fall prostrate before him.
Here you have very nearly the case of Moses and John.—Henry Melville, B.D.
“And Moses said unto him, Enviest thou for my sake?”
To envy is “to grieve at another’s good; to fret or hate another on account of his superiority.” Envy “is an affection,” says Attersoll, “compounded of sorrow and malice. For such persons are malicious, always repining and grudging at the gifts of God bestowed upon others, and as it were look asquint at them, as Genesis 26:12-14; Genesis 26:27; Genesis 30:1; Genesis 31:1; Mark 9:38; John 3:26-27.”
“Envy,” says Jeremy Collier, “is an ill-natured vice, and is made up of meanness and malice. It wishes the force of goodness to be strained, and the measure of happiness abated. It laments over prosperity, and sickens at the sight of health. It oftentimes wants spirit as well as good nature.” (a)
Concerning this vice we call attention to three facts:—
I. It is sadly common.
It is almost invariably present and active in mean souls; and it has been discovered in souls which in other respects were noble. Here it is in Joshua, a man of brave and beautiful character. True, he was not envious on his own account; but he was for the sake of his master. Great men are not free from littlenesses. Strong men are generally weak in some point. Good men, on earth, are not without their imperfections, and are liable to fall into sin. Even excellencies, if not properly regulated, like Joshua’s zeal for the honour of Moses, may lead to error and sin. Wherefore it behoves us to be on our guard against envy. Endeavour to rejoice in the prosperity of others, &c. (b)
II. It is extremely foolish.
“Envy,” says Attersoll, “is a very torment to the envious, who envying at others, do plague and punish themselves. For as envy hurteth not him at all that is envied, so the envious man carrieth about within his own bosom an inward and home-bred tormentor that never suffereth him to be quiet. Such a monster is spite and envy, that if he see, or hear, or think another to have more or as much, to go beyond him or be equal unto him, it is a quotidian, nay, a continual fever without any intermission, it paineth him day and night (Psalms 112:9-10).” “Every other sin,” says Burton, “hath some pleasure annexed to it, or will admit of some excuse; but envy wants both: we should strive against it, for if indulged in, it will be to us a foretaste of hell upon earth.” “Envy,” says Solomon, “is the rottenness of the bones.” (c)
III. It is heinously sinful.
The sin of Joshua, in envying for Moses’ sake, because of the exercise of the prophetic gift by Eldad and Medad, is seen in that—
1. The gift was bestowed by God. He bestoweth His gifts as it pleaseth Him; and to envy those who receive them is to call into question His wisdom or righteousness in bestowing them. Comp. Matthew 20:15. Many of the things which excite envy in our day are gifts of God.
2. The gift was for the benefit of all the people. The eldership of Eldad and Medad was for the good of all Israel, and by this gift of prophecy the Lord accredited them to their office in the eyes of the people. The spiritual gifts of every Christian are for the advantage of the entire Church. How sinful then to envy them their possession!
3. Joshua’s envy was a violation of the law of brotherly kindness. To envy is always to outrage Christian charity. “Charity envieth not.” Mark the evil features of this vice as it is pourtrayed by Socrates: “An envious man waxeth lean with the fatness of his neighbours. Envy is the daughter of pride, the author of murder and revenge, the beginner of secret sedition, and the perpetual tormentor of virtue. Envy is the filthy slime of the soul; a venom, a poison, or quicksilver which consumeth the flesh, and drieth up the marrow of the bones.” How much more loathsome should it appear to us, who should view it in the light of the teaching and spirit of Jesus Christ!
1. Cultivate Christian contentment.
2. “Follow after charity.”
3. Rejoice in the gifts of God in whomsoever we discover them.
(a) In some unlucky dispositions, there is such an envious kind of pride, that they cannot endure that any but themselves should be set forth for excellent; so when they hear one justly praised, they will either seek to discount his virtues, or, if they be like a clear night, eminent, they will stab him with a but of detraction, as if there were something yet so foul, as did obnubilate even his brightest glory. Thus when their tongue cannot justly condemn him, they will leave him in suspected ill, by silence. Surely, if we considered detraction to be bred of envy, nested only in deficient minds, we should find that the applauding of virtue would win us far more honour than the seeking slyly to disparage it. That would show we loved what we commended, while this tells the world we grudge at what we want in ourselves.—Feltham.
We shall find it in Cain, the proto-murderer, who slew his brother at the instigation of envy. We shall find it in the dark and gloomy and revengeful spirit of Saul, who, under the influence of envy, plotted for years the slaughter of David. We shall find it in the King of Israel, when he pined for the vineyard of Naboth, and shed his blood to gain it. Yea, it was envy that perpetrated that most atrocious crime ever planned in hell or executed on earth, on which the sun refused to look, and at which Nature gave signs of abhorrence by the rending of the rocks: I mean the crucifixion of Christ; for the evangelist tells us, that for envy, the Jews delivered our Lord.—J. A. James.
(b) Envy is a weed that grows in all soils and climates, and is no loss luxuriant in the country than in the court; is not confined to any rank of men or extent of fortune, but rages in the breasts of all degrees, Alexander was not prouder than Diogenes; and it may be, if we would endeavour to surprise it in its most gaudy dress and attire, and in the exercise of its full empire and tyranny, we should find it in schoolmasters and scholars or in some country lady, or the knight, her husband; all which ranks of people more despise their neighbours than all the degrees of honour in which courts abound; and it rages as much in a sordid affected dress as in all the silks and embroideries which the excess of the age and the folly of youth delight to be adorned with. Since then it keeps all sorts of company, and wriggles itself into the liking of the most contrary natures and dispositions, and yet carries so much poison and venom with it, that it alienates the affections from heaven, and raises rebellion against God Himself; it is worth our utmost care to watch it in all its disguises and approaches, that we may discover it on its first entrance, and dislodge it before it procures a shelter or retiring place to lodge and conceal itself.—Lord Clarendon.
(c) Of all antagonists most charity I find in envious men for they do Sooner hurt themselves than hurt or me or Him that raised me up. An envious man is Made of thoughts; to ruminate much doth melt.
The brain, and make the heart grow lean, Such men.
As these, that in opposing, waste their proper Strength; that sacrifice themselves in silly Hope to batches us; save revenge a labour; And die to make experiment of wrath.
Sir. W. Davenant.
KIBROTH-HATTAAVAH: STRIKING ILLUSTRATIONS OF SOLEMN TRUTHS
In these verses we have illustrations of several important truths—
I. The Sovereignty of God.
“And there went forth a wind from the Lord, and brought quails,” &c. This wind does not appear to have been an ordinary one, the simple effect of a natural cause. It was Divinely ordered for this special purpose. In this great quantity of quails, bestowed in accordance with the promise of the Lord, the Divine Hand is equally manifest. The wind and the quails are both illustrations of the power and dominion of the Lord. His sovereignty is universal. The mightiest and the meannest of creatures are subject unto Him. This fact should minister,—
1. Encouragement to those who trust Him. He can never want means or instruments to help them; He can make all things to promote their interests. He can use the ravens as the dispensers of His bounty, as He did for Elijah, &c.
2. Warning to those who rebel against Him. He can marshall all ranks of creatures, and all the forces of nature against you, if it please Him so to do. “Hast thou an arm like God?” “Who may stand in Thy sight when once Thou art angry?” “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,” &c.
II. The eagerness with which men toil in the pursuit of temporal and material good.
“And the people stood up all that day, and all night,” &c. (Numbers 11:32). See with what zeal and diligence they gather and preserve the quails. They forego their ordinary sleep and rest, &c. It is an illustration of the way in which men pursue pleasure, and scheme and toil for money, &c. Tens of thousands to-day are as eager in the pursuit of the perishable things of earth and time as the Israelites were in gathering quails. And like the Israelites, many are laboriously accumulating what they will never live to enjoy. Death shall cut them down in the midst of their possessions, just as they are composing themselves to take their “ease, eat, drink, and be merry.” How great is the contrast between the eagerness with which men pursue these earthly and temporal things and their luke-warmness and indolence as to the things which are eternal and divine! “Labour not for the meat which perisheth,” &c. (John 6:27); “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth,” &c. (Matthew 6:19-21.) (a)
III. The gratification of the desires of men resulting in their ruin.
“And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed,” &c. (Numbers 11:33). Their passionate lust was gratified, and the gratification killed them.
“Heaven is most just, and of our pleasant vices
Makes instruments to scourge us.”
The thing we have eagerly coveted often proves when attained—
1. Unsatisfactory in possession. The realization is a painful contrast to the anticipation; it disappoints us, it saddens us, &c. (b)
2. The occasion of spiritual loss and harm. Gratified appetites often lead to crushed aspirations; carnal luxuries to spiritual famine; temporal riches to eternal destitution, &c. (c)
IV. A sin, which on its first commission was mercifully passed over, if repeated may call forth the judgment of God.
They had murmured aforetime, and the Lord gave them quails, and did not punish them (Exodus 16:2-13). But now, after additional proofs of His power and goodness, they murmur again and more wickedly, and He sends them quails and smites them in anger. Persistence in wickedness must lead to perdition. (Proverbs 28:14; Proverbs 29:1). “Relapses are desperate, where the sickness itself is not.”
V. The sins and punishments of one generation should be remembered as a warning to future generations.
“And he called the name of that place Kibroth-Hattaavah; because there they buried the people that lusted.” So Moses endeavours to perpetuate, as a warning to others, the memory of their sin, and the judgment of God which it called forth. Comp. 1 Corinthians 10:5-6.
(a) Oh, what tears have strong men shed in this city, tears which fell not outside the cheek, these had been harmless; but they dropped within the soul, to scald and sear it with ever-abiding melancholy! That which cheered and comforted them, the gain of wealth, has gone, and the busy merchants have been ready for the lunatic asylum or for suicide. How these golden bellows will cease to blow when men come to die! Ah, how little will wealth stimulate the joys of the last moment! Fool, thou hast only bought thyself a marble tomb, and what is that to thy poor dust and ashes? Thou art now to leave all thou hast; thou art as the partridge that sitteth on the eggs, but hatcheth them not; thy joys are all for another, and not for thee. Oh, how often do men that have been happy enough in the accumulation of riches, die in utter misery, with all their gold and silver about them, because their bellows of avaricious acquisition have been burned by their very success, and the flame of hope and ambition has hopelessly died out!—C. H. Spurgeon.
(b) Persons in the midst of pleasure know more of its emptiness than any minister who preaches of the worthlessness of this world. The votaries of pleasure are the least satisfied with it. He who inveighs against immoralities and vices has not half so strong a conviction of their rottenness as they who commit them. No man has such a sense of the mischief and misery of intemperance as the very drunkard himself, when for a moment he staggers back from his bowl and has one of those lucid intervals in which his better nature returns, and he is led to loathe himself as other men loathe him. No man knows how heavy care is, and how weak human strength is under it, so well as the elect children of sorrow. No man ever counts riches at their true value, as measured by the other world, so truly as business men who have been the most industrious, the most avaricious, the most greedy, and are after all the most unsatisfied.—H. W. Beecher.
(c) Upon such a wretched creature, who in life thought nothing of death, nothing of God, nothing of man, and who took God’s treasures and prosperities as pirates take jewels and coin, to hide them in the cave of his own selfishness—upon such a one there was an eye beaming steadily down, and, unheard by him, a voice went forth in heaven, which should ere long put all his arrogance and selfishness to shame. For, while men were calling him rich, and making him honourable; while his relations flattered him, and his dependents fawned upon him; while men stood out of his path, and turned to look back admiringly after him, and to say to the stranger newly come to town, “Knowest thou who that is? That is the great and wealthy Mr. Fat-soul!”—amid all these congratulations, and admirations, and human praises, there were others looking at him, and expressing opinions about him not quite so complimentary. For God and holy angels looked down upon his gross abundance, upon his fat and dozing ease, and upon his arrogant self-congratulations; and God calmly said to this man, who stood so large, who was so prospered, and who very likely was the topmost man of the whole circle in which he moved, “Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee.”—Ibid.
KIBROTH-HATTAAVAH: THE GRAVES OF LUST
We will stand by those graves, and listen to their teachings: they may save us from standing by the graves of the idols of our own hearts. I shall endeavour to illustrate this subject by dwelling on three principles.
I. There are perpetual resurrections of easily besetting sins.
This lusting was no novelty in their experience; it was the besetting temptation of the desert, and the besetting sin of their hearts. But they ought to have viewed the first rising of its ghastly shape with horror; there were graves enough in the path from Egypt, to remind them of its deadly work. God had been at great pains to teach them the lesson of dependence, that “man doth not live by bread alone,” &c. (Exodus 14:10-16; Exodus 16:1-5; Exodus 17:1-7). And now with firmer assurance than ever that God was in the midst of them, to bring them into the place which He had prepared, they resumed their march through the unknown desert paths. The tabernacle, the ark, the order of the camp, the pillar of cloud and flame, were all among them, the pledge of His presence. But all in vain. They must have flesh, or they would give up the enterprise, and die in despair. And they had flesh; they were fed, were crammed with it to nauseation, and with it “God sent leanness into their souls.” I dwell on two points of large importance for the understanding of this history.
1. The side from which the temptation came to them (Numbers 11:4-6). This mixed multitude corresponds to the troop of disorderly passions and appetites with which we suffer ourselves to march through the desert of life. The mixed multitude was but loosely attached to them. They were a loose, coarse, common company, with nothing to dignify, elevate, inspire. No wonder they fainted, murmured, lusted; and thought flesh for to-day was better than Canaan to-morrow, and heaven beyond. The question was not one of sustenance. Enough for appetite was there; enough for all the uses of life, guaranteed by God; “but they wept again, saying, who shall give us flesh to eat;” &c. Lust was strong in them, the love of the satisfaction of the bodily appetites for the sake of the momentary pleasure they bring. And appetite runs swiftly into lust in every one of us; each act of indulgence opens a fresh mouth which craves to be fed. The moment you take pleasure in the indulgence of appetite beyond the use for which it was ordained by God, you take an element into your life which will humble it, and drag its glory in the dust. It is the grand battle of life, to teach lust the limits of Divine law.
2. The special season when the easily-besetting sin rose up and again made them its slave. Look at this orderly and gallant host. They had been baptised as God’s soldiers by the splendours of the Mount of the Law. Full of Divine joy, zeal, courage, hope, they set forward, &c. “Scant fare, hard marching, fierce battles, but exhilarate us. The flesh-pots, the melons, the garlic, they belong to the days of our bondage; we are free men now, and their power to tempt us is gone.” And so many a gallant young spirit, having heard the trumpet call of the Gospel, and joined the glorious company of the soldiers of the Cross, feels in the first pride of strength and flush of joy, that the flesh is so bruised, as to be broken and crushed for ever. But dread the hour when the glow begins to die down; when the practical burdens, pains, trials, which you still meet with, prove to you that the Divine life on earth is no paradise regained; when you find your strength barely equal to the demands made upon it, and see stretching on through long years a path of struggle, denial and mortification of the flesh, the end of which is not yet in sight. Beware of your best moments, as well as of your worst; or rather the moments which succeed the best. They are the most perilous of all. Just when the consciousness of triumph seems to permit and justify disarmament for a moment, the subtle foe with whom you have to deal will steal in on you, and win a treacherous victory. Never relax the strain. Never allow temptation within arm’s length. Never believe that the devil is asleep; that a besetting sin is eradicated, &c. “Lay aside every weight,” &c.
II. There comes a point in the history of the indulgence of besetting sins, when God ceases to strive with us and for us against them, and lets them have their way.
1. God has great patience with the weaknesses and sins of the flesh. But it is a dreadful mistake to suppose that therefore He thinks lightly of them. He regards them as sins that must be conquered, and no matter by what sharp discipline, extirpated and killed.
2. Hence all the severer discipline by which the Lord seeks to purge them, the various agencies by which He fights with us and for us against their tyrannous power. What is life but one long discipline of God for the cleansing of the flesh? Are not the after-pains of departed sensual joys among its chief stings and thorns? God has made a sure link of connexion between such sins and their penalties. The body itself is made the index of its indulgence, &c. Does He not give us the bread of heaven, that He may waken within us a taste for purer pleasures, and lead us out of the coils of the fleshly tempters, by giving us the food of a Diviner life? It is only when a man will not enter into his Father’s counsel in this; will not suffer the higher tastes to develope themselves, and the higher appetites to indulge their craving with the bread of God; will grovel when God gives him wings to soar; will clamour for flesh when the bread of God is in his very hand: it is only then, when the evil becomes deadly, that God stays His hand, withdraws His guardian angel, and leaves the will to itself.
3. Let alone by God. “Ephraim is joined to his idols, let him alone!” is to any mind among the most awful sentences in the word of God. It is very wonderful to see how often, if a man is bent on an end which is not God’s end, God gives it him, and it becomes his curse. God does not curse; He leaves us to ourselves; that is curse enough, and from that curse, what arm can save us? We will have it, and we shall have it.
III. The end of that way is, inevitably and speedily, a grave.
The grave of lust is one of the most awful of the inscriptions on the headstones of the great cemetery, the world. The words in Psalms 106:13-15, cast much light on this passage. There the lust is spoken of as the grave of the soul. And I believe that it is the common form of God’s judgment. Where He buries one in the wilderness, He suffers a thousand to bury themselves in their lust. It is the inevitable end of all wanton self-indulgence; either a sharp judgment, or that slow pining of soul which makes the body its grave. Where are the graves? I need only look on that sensual face, that bloated form, that dull and glassy eye, that brazen brow, to tell.… How many have learnt now to laugh at emotions which once had a holy beauty in their sight; to fence skilfully with appeals which once would have thrilled to the very core of their hearts; to grasp at advantages which once they would have passed with a scornful anathema, and to clutch at the gold which was once the glad instrument of diffusing benefits around! Yes! there are graves enough around us—graves of passion, graves of self-will, graves of lust.
Beware! young men; young women, beware! The grave-diggers began their work far back in those wretched histories. The first step was the really fatal one: the first flying, in sorrow and heart-ache, to any refuge but God. Beware! Each act of indulgence makes the grave wider and deeper, where the whole breadth of God-like faculty will at length lie buried; and it fixes in the brain a memory which will one day turn tyrant, and be the dread avenger of a murdered hope.—J. Baldwin Brown, B.A.
THE GRAVES OF LUST
The circumstances leading to the fact of the text are full of instruction to us. The mischief originated with “the mixed multitude.” These were the rabble that had followed the Israelites out of Egypt; who having seen what God had done for His people in Egypt, thought it was a good chance to better themselves by so doing. They soon found out the mistake they had made, and began to murmur and to excite the people to discontent. Their connection with the history suggests—
1. That those who join themselves to God’s Church from worldly motives are ever disappointed.
2. That such characters ever do harm to the Church.
The events which gave rise to the text show how easily God can provide for our necessities, and punish us for our sins! To Moses it seemed impossible to feed this vast multitude with flesh. God said, “I will do it for a month, until they are surfeited with it.” How easily He keeps His promise! It is never a difficult matter to Him to help us. Let us trust Him. How easily He can punish! The very blessing, owing to their conduct, became their curse. They were wayward, and God let them have their own way, than which no greater curse can befall man. God can punish by plenty as well as by scarcity. What people have lusted after often becomes their torment.
I. It is the tendency of lust to shorten life and to bring men to an untimely grave.
The word lust in the Bible has, for the most part, its general meaning of inordinate desire—man’s corrupt nature ruling instead of being ruled, and held in check. The finger of God has written on all gluttony, intemperance, debauchery—“This is the pathway to the grave.” There is nothing exceptional in the death of these Israelites. There is no fact better attested than this, that all living for the animal in man destroys the body as well as the soul. When intellect becomes the slave of passion, and man is ruled by his lusts, he transgresses the laws of health, undermines his constitution, and soon sinks into the grave. Our animal desires are good servants; but, when they gain the mastery, they are fearful tyrants, loading the conscience with guilt and the body with disease, ruining life, and making eternity a hell. The Romans, it is said, held their funerals at the Gate of Venus, to teach that lust shortens life. The pleasures of sin are dearly bought. There are pleasures in sin, which have great attraction to our sinful nature. Folly’s house, as Solomon tells us, is full of forbidden sweets; there is the pleasure of the sensualist, the vanities of the giddy and the gay, and the fatal cup which has such deadly hold on our land; they are there to attract, and they do attract corrupt hearts; but over the portal is written—“The dead are there—her guests are in the depths of hell.”
II. Let us record some of our feelings as we contemplate “the graves of lust.”
These graves made a deep impression on the mind of Moses, as we see from his giving the name to the encampment. It was, indeed, a sad, sad funeral, &c. The grave ever suggests sober thoughts. But all by the grave is not sad. Gospel light paints the rainbow of hope in our tears, as we place there the dead in Christ, with the assurance that we shall be re-united in the “home over there.” But graves like these of the text—how sad! As we stand by them there are two feelings prominent—
1. The one is of intense pity, that man should be so foolish as to live in sin when he knew how it would end; that life should be so wasted, and opportunities lost, &c.
2. The other is of awful solemnity. He is gone! but whither? He has given up the ghost; but where is he? He is somewhere, &c. We cannot but think of his future.
“Wrapp’d in a Christless shroud,
He sleeps the Christless sleep;
Above him, the eternal cloud,
Beneath, the fiery deep.
Laid in a Christless tomb,
There, bound with felon-chain,
He waits the terror of his doom,
The judgment and the pain.
O Christless shroud, how cold!
How dark, O Christless tomb!
O grief that never can grow old!
O endless, hopeless doom!
O Christless sleep, how sad!
What waking shalt thou know?
For thee no star, no dawning glad,
Only the lasting woe!
To rocks and hills in vain
Shall be the sinner’s call;
O day of wrath and death and pain,
The lost soul’s funeral!
O Christless soul, awake
Ere thy last sleep begin!
O Christ, the sleeper’s slumbers break,
Burst Thou the bands of sin.”
Thank God, this is possible now. While we are on earth we may obtain salvation, &c.
Let us all—
1. Ascertain whether or no we are on the way to this grave.
2. Resolve through the help of God that we will not be there.
Seek Jesus Christ. He, and He only, can rescue us from the power, the curse, and the consequences of sin.—David Lloyd.