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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 26". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ numbers-26.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Numbers 26". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES
Numbers 26:1. The plague. See Numbers 25:9.
Numbers 26:4. Take the sum of the people. These words are supplied in the A. V. to fill up an ellipsis; and it seems to us that they are correctly supplied. Or the verse might be read thus: “From twenty years old and upward” (shall ye take the number of the children of Israel) “as the Lord commanded,” &c.
Numbers 26:1-4. See pp. 3–7; 10, 11.
Numbers 26:9-11. See pp. 289–312.
Numbers 26:12-14. The tribe of Simeon shows the greatest decrease, as compared with the number taken at Sinai. Then the tribe numbered 59, 300; now it numbers only 22, 200; which is a decrease of 37, 100. Zimri, who was so disgracefully conspicuous in the recent and terrible transgressions, was a prince of this tribe (Numbers 25:14). It is probable that his pernicious example was largely followed in the tribe, and consequently that many perished by the plague; hence, the great decrease.
Numbers 26:51. The total number of adult male Israelites, exclusive of Levites, was 601,730; being a decrease of 1,820 from the number taken at Sinai 38 years before. But had it not been for the recent plague, there would have been an increase of more than 22,000.
This chapter does not offer many homiletical suggestions; and some of those which it does offer we have noticed in the numbering of the people at Sinai; our treatment of it will, therefore, be necessarily brief.
THE DIVINE COMMAND AND DIRECTIONS FOR NUMBERING THE PEOPLE
On this subject little need be added to what was said concerning the numbering in the desert of Sinai (see pp. 3–7, Philippians 3:10, Philippians 3:11). The chief differences in the two censuses refer—
i. To the place in which the census was taken. That was “in the wilderness of Sinai;” with the Promised Land far away; this was “in the plains of Moab, by Jordan, near Jericho.” Now their wanderings are over; the land of their destiny and their desire was clearly in view, &c.
ii. To the time at which the census was taken. Thirty-eight years have elapsed since the last was taken. During those years many thousands have found their graves in the desert; an entire generation has passed away; a truer and braver generation has arisen. During those years in several very important respects the history of the nation had been arrested by reason of the sins of the generation which died in the wilderness.
iii. To the design with which the census was taken. Several of the purposes which the former numbering served (see pp. 5, 6) would be served by this also. But in addition to those this was intended—
(1) as a preparation for the war against Midian, which the Lord had commanded;
(2) as a preparation for the conquest of Canaan; and
(3) as a preparation for a wise and equitable division of that land amongst the tribes and families of Israel. For the accomplishment of the last-named object this census was absolutely necessary.
THE APPARENT INSIGNIFICANCE AND THE REAL IMPORTANCE OF HUMAN LIFE
These uninteresting verses suggest—
I. The apparent insignificance of human life.
How dull are the details, and how wearisome the repetitions of this chapter! What a number of obscure names of unknown persons it contains! Most of them were without doubt very ordinary, commonplace-people; few were remarkable for intellectual activity or power; many were mean in soul; some were selfish and cowardly; others were base and wicked. Scarcely half a dozen persons can we find mentioned here who were brave or brilliant, noble or noteworthy, great or gifted. As a rule human life, as it appears here, is an ordinary and apparently insignificant thing. And this is a fair representation of human life in our own age and country. In the great majority of instances human lives seem obscure, insignificant, mean; in many instances they seem wicked and worthless. (a)
II. The real importance of human life.
This will appear if we consider that—
1. Every man has his own individuality of being and circumstances. No two souls are exactly alike; neither do the circumstances of any two persons correspond in every respect. How interesting does the poorest and dullest life become when we realise that, at least in some respects, it is a unique thing in the universe. (b)
2. Every man has his own possibilities. In the most unpromising life great possibilities slumber. “There is a spirit in man; and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” As a spiritual being every man is capable of eternal progress and blessedness, or of endless loss and ruin. (c)
3. Every man has his own influence. There is no life in the universe which does not affect others for good or for evil. “You cannot live,” as Bushnell says, “without exerting influence. The doors of your soul are open on others, and theirs on you. You inhabit a house which is well-nigh transparent; and what you are within, you are ever showing yourself to be without, by signs that have no ambiguous expression. If you had the seeds of a pestilence in your body, you would not have a more active contagion than you have in your tempers, tastes, and principles. Simply to be in this world, whatever you are, is to exert an influence—an influence, too, compared with which mere language and persuasion are feeble.” (d)
4. Every man has his own accountability. The man who has but one talent, is as certainly responsible for the use of that one, as the man of five talents is for the use of his five (Matthew 25:14-30). “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ; that every one,” &c. “Every one of us shall give account of himself to God.”
5. Every man is an object of deep interest to God. To Him nothing is mean, nothing unimportant. He taught His apostles that they “should not call any man common or unclean.” He knows what human nature is, and He has evinced the deepest and tenderest concern for its well-being. The poorest and obscurest human life—
(1) was created by Him. “Have we not all one Father? hath not one God created us?” “God hath made of one blood all nations of men,” &c.
(2) Is sustained by Him. “He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things.… In Him we live, and move, and have our being.”
(3) Was redeemed by Him. Christ “died for all” (2 Corinthians 5:15). “That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.” No creature is too insignificant for the Divine interest, or too obscure for the Divine regard; and His interest and regard attest the importance of every one to whom they are extended. Mark the deep and gracious interest which our Lord manifested in the timid and long-afflicted woman who “touched the hem of His garment” (Mark 5:25-34), and in little children (Matthew 19:13-15), and in the woman of Samaria (John 4:4-42), and in many others who would commonly be deemed unimportant, insignificant, and of little worth. (e)
Let us learn never to slight even the lowliest and obscurest of our fellow-creatures. Let us respect human nature, as such, because it is a Divine creation; because it is Divinely redeemed, and because it was the medium of the supreme manifestation of God (comp. Philippians 2:5-9). (f)
“Honour all men.”
(a) You must have already noticed that this chapter is as true as any chapter in human history, especially as it shows so clearly what we ourselves have found out, that the most of people are extremely uninteresting. They are names and nothing more. They are producers and consumers, tenants and taxpayers, and that is all; they are without wit, music, piquancy, enterprise, or keenness of sympathy. They listen to your best anecdotes, and say, “m”; they hear of Livingstone with a shudder; they suppose there must be a great noise at Niagara. Such people were Seth and Enos, Mahalaleel and Jared; respectable, quiet, plodding; said “Good night” to one another regularly, and remarked briefly upon the weather, and died. Just what many now-a-days seem to do. Put down on paper everything that has passed between you and some people, and you will find how very little paper is needed. Now I want to show you that such people are often unjustly estimated, and to remind you that if all stars were of the same size the sky would look very odd, much like a vast chess-board with circles instead of squares.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(b) We are all men, and yet no two men are alike. In every history you find the great man and the little man; the poetic dreamer and the prosaic clown; the daring adventurer and the self-regarding coward; the child of genius and the creature of darkness; yet all claim to be men, and all may theoretically acknowledge the same God and Redeemer. These are facts with which we have to deal, whether we open the Bible or not, whether we acknowledge a system of Divine Providence or not, whether we are atheists or saints.—Ibid.
(c) Even the worst man has the seal of God upon him somewhere. We must not forget that man is man, whatever be his creed or his status, and that his very manhood should be the guarantee of some excellence. The men of the world and the men of the Church are God’s; the barren rock is His, as is the glowing garden of the sunniest summer; the worm crawling on the outermost edge of life, and the angel shining above the stars, are both under the care of God. Do not, then, speak of one man as if he were created by the devil, and another as if descended from heaven. Let us even in the worst expect to find some broken ray of former glory, as in the best we shall find some evil which makes us mourn that he is not better still.—Ibid.
(d) For illustrations on this point see pp. 485, 486.
(e) The play and interplay of everything that is within man, and the products of this play and interplay, are all before the mind of God. And He contemplates man, not merely as a creature that is subject to the laws of gravity, of light, of hunger and thirst, and to the wants that the body begets; but as a creature that carries within him a soul-force that is prolific, vastly productive, and full of little unregarded points of history. God sees and sympathises with all the things that relate to the welfare of man; though they be infinitesimal, though they be fugitive, and though they be unthought of even by the subject of them. There is nothing that can transpire, which has any connection with the moral benefit of His creatures, that God is indifferent to.—H. W. Beecher.
(f) Thy Maker has become like thyself. Is that too strong a word to use? He without whom was not anything made that was made, is that same Word which tabernacled among us and was made flesh, made flesh in such a way that He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. O manhood, was there ever such news as this for thee! Poor manhood, thou weak worm of the dust, far lower than the angels, lift up thy head, and be not afraid! Poor manhood, born in weakness, living in toil, covered with sweat, and dying at last to be eaten by the worms, be not thou abashed, even in the presence of seraphs, for next to God is man, and not even an archangel can come in between; nay, not next to God, there is scarcely that to be said, for Jesus, who is God, is man also; Jesus Christ, eternally God, was born, and lived and died as we also do.—C. H. Spurgeon.
THE INTERESTING HIDDEN IN THE COMMONPLACE
I. Here is the commonplace.
The forty-seven verses before us are prosaic and dull reading. They tell us that the sons of Reuben were Hanoch, Pallu, Hezron, and Carmi; they give us similar details concerning the other sons of Jacob; they tell us that the families of the respective tribes numbered so many, and so many; and they further inform us that certain persons died. And in this long list of names there are very few that have any history connected with them to awaken our interest; and so it certainly seems a monotonous and tedious chapter. But in this respect it resembles human life in all ages and countries. How commonplace, and even humdrum, is the life of by far the greater part of mankind! how uneventful, ordinary, &c. (a)
II. Here is the interesting in the commonplace.
If we look into this chapter carefully we shall discover certain words which are suggestive of deep and tender interests. Sons is a word of frequent occurrence, so also is the word children; we also read of daughters (Numbers 26:33), and of a daughter (Numbers 26:46). A profound human interest attaches to words like these. They imply other words of an interest equally deep and sacred; e.g., father, mother. Unspeakable and unfathomable solicitudes were awakened in the parents’ hearts by each child named in this chapter or included in this census. What hopes and fears, what desires and prayers, what wealth of holiest love, gathered round the infancy and childhood of every one of the “six hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty” who were “able to go to war in Israel!” The humblest, dullest, most commonplace life has its relations. The least regarded person in all the thousands of Israel was “somebody’s bairn.”
We also read of death (Numbers 26:19); most of the names which are here recorded belonged to men who were gathered to their fathers; from the time of the twelve sons of Jacob here mentioned to the time of this census in the plains of Moab, many thousands of Israelites had died, of all ranks and of all ages. Reflection upon these facts awakens a mournful interest in the mind. Some had died in infancy, beauteous buds of rich promise, leaving bereaved parents to mourn in pain and sore disappointment. And some had died in young and vigorous manhood, workers smitten down just as they were setting resolutely to work; they passed away leaving many a gentle maiden desolate and heart-stricken. And others had died in life’s prime, leaving widows and orphans to mourn their irreparable loss. Loving mothers, too, had heard the home-call, and must needs resign their dear children to the care of other hearts and the tendance of other hands.
Again, frequent mention is made in this chapter of the family and of families; and these words are suggestive of pure and beautiful associations. Family life involves and promotes mutual affection, and forbearance, and helpfulness; it enshrines and fosters some of the holiest experiences and exercises of which human nature is capable.
Thus in this commonplace census-record we discover themes of profound and perennial interest.
III. The importance of the commonplace.
Impatience of the ordinary and the prosaic is an evidence of an unsound judgment and an unhealthy moral life.
1. Most of life’s duties are commonplace. The duties of our trade or profession, and the duties of our family and social relations, are, for the most part, unromantic, monotonous, and, many would say, dull. Yet, how important it is that these duties be faithfully fulfilled! (b)
2. The greater number of persons are commonplace. Persons characterised by extraordinary endowments, or brilliant abilities, or other marked distinctions, are very rare. The great majority of mankind are plain, prosaic people. (c)
3. The greater part of life is commonplace. To say that extraordinary scenes, circumstances, and deeds are very exceptional, is a manifest truism; and yet many persons, in whom the craving for the exciting and the sensational is deep and frequent, need to be reminded of the truism. If the ordinary and common-place be sound and true, all will be well; but if these be corrupt and false, all will be ill. (d)
Be it ours to give the charm of poetry to prosaic duties, by doing them heartily; and to ennoble our commonplace lives, by living them faithfully and holily. (e)
(a) For an illustration on this point, see p. 496.
(b) The best part of human history is never written at all. Family life, patient service, quiet endurance, the training of children, the resistance of temptation—these things are never mentioned by the historian. The man who burns down an abbey or a minster is immortalised in history; the poor house-wife who makes a pound go as far as thirty shillings, and pinches herself that she may give her boy a quarter’s more schooling, is not known even to have lived. Guy Fawkes is known all over the world; but your honest father, who has given you a good example and a good training, is hardly known six doors away from his own residence. If we remember these things we shall mitigate the contempt with which we are apt to speak of so-called nobodies. Because we admire brilliance we need not despise usefulness. When your little child is ill, he needs kindness more than genius, and it will be of small service to him if his mother is good at epigrams, but bad at wringing out a wet cloth for his burning brow.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
(c) It is wonderful how oddly and whimsically fame is gained: Methuselah is famed because he was the oldest man, and Sampson because he was the strongest man; another is known because he can walk upon a tight rope, and another because he can swim across a channel. If it were in my power to preach the most splendid sermon ever uttered by mortal lips, not a newspaper in the world would take the slightest notice of it; but if I put up an umbrella in the pulpit or tore the pulpit Bible in two, many a paragraph would report the eccentricity. A splendid sermon would be thought of as interesting only to the few, but an act of folly would be regarded as of universal interest. Thus it is (though it may not seem so) that things get into history. Robertson, of Brighton, was hardly known in his own town during his life-time, whereas another clergyman in Brighton dressed himself in a coat of many colours, and made quite a figure in the principal newspapers. Any man living can have a world-wide notoriety to-morrow, can have his name telegraphed throughout the whole range of civilisation, and be the subject of editorial comment throughout Christendom. Shoot any member of the royal family, and see if this be not so. Everybody knows that Methuselah lived nine hundred and sixty-nine years, but nobody knows that but for you two orphan boys would never have had a chance in life. No preacher has a really world-wide name, known in slums and garrets, backwoods, steamboats, thoroughfares and palaces, who did not in some way get it through “contemptible speech.”—Ibid.
(d) The circumstances which have most influence upon the happiness of mankind, the changes of manners and morals, the transition of communities from poverty to wealth, from knowledge to ignorance, from ferocity to humanity—these are, for the most part, noiseless revolutions. Their progress is rarely indicated by what historians are pleased to call important events. They are not achieved by armies, or enacted by senates. They are sanctioned by no treaties, and recorded in no archives. They are carried on in every school, in every church, behind ten thousand counters, at ten thousand firesides. The upper current of society presents no certain criterion by which we can judge of the direction in which the under-current flows. We read of defeats and victories, but we know that nations may be miserable amidst victories and prosperous amidst defeats. We read of the fall of wise ministers and of the rise of profligate favourites. But we must remember how small a proportion the good or evil affected by a single statesman can bear, to the good or evil of a great social system.—Lord Macaulay.
(e) The hour will be dark in which we pine for things romantic at the expense of a quiet and deep life. Christianity teaches us that no child is to be despised, no work is to be considered mean, and that suffering may have all the honour of service. Woe to us when we can live only on stimulants! When the house is accounted dull, when only sensational books can be endured, when music and drama and painted show are essential to our happiness, life has gone down to a low ebb and death is at the door. Let us do our quiet work as if we were preparing for kings, and watch attentively at the door, for the next comer may be the Lord Himself.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
THE DISTINGUISHED RISING OUT OF THE COMMONPLACE
“Famous in the congregation.”
There are several persons mentioned in this chapter to whom these words may be applied; some of them being famous for their gifts and virtues, and others, alas! for their failings and vices. Here are—
I. Distinguished rebels.
“This Dathan and Abiram, famous in the congregation, strove against Moses,” &c. (Numbers 26:9-10, and Numbers 16:1-35; and see pp. 289–301, 305–307, 311, 312). Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were notorious by reason of—
1. Their sin, which comprised envy, rebellion, presumption, and profanity.
2. Their punishment. Korah was consumed by fire from Jehovah (see p. 290), and the earth opened and swallowed up Dathan and Abiram.
Let us regard these prominent sinners as beacons, and shun the sins which ruined them.
II. Distinguished profaners of sacred ordinances.
“Nadab and Abihu died, when they offered,” &c. (Numbers 26:61; Leviticus 10:1-11; and see pp. 45, 46).
1. Their sin.
2. Their punishment. (On both these points see pp. 45, 46.) These profane persons also should be regarded as beacons. Shun profanity; be reverent.
III. Distinguished leaders and rulers.
“Moses and Aaron” (Numbers 26:64), “Moses and Eleazar the priest” (Numbers 26:63). Here are three persons honourably distinguished; and Moses especially so.
Moses was famous for—
1. His great abilities and attainments. He was eminently gifted and learned. “Moses was learned,” &c. (Acts 7:22).
2. His saintly character. Very remarkable is the testimony to this in Numbers 12:3-8. See pp. 219–220. (a) Aaron also was a good man (see pp. 385, 386), and so was Eleazar.
3. His great mission. Under the Lord God Moses was the emancipator, the leader, the law-giver, and the ruler of Israel. Aaron, too, had rendered signal and invaluable services to the people. And Eleazar was a useful man.
4. His extensive influence. Perhaps no man in any age of the world’s history has exercised a more extensive influence than Moses, both as regards time and space. (b)
These honourably distinguished men let us look up to as examples, and imitate their excellencies.
IV. Distinguished heroes.
“Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and Joshua the son of Nun” (Numbers 26:65). These men were “famous in the congregation” by reason of—
1. Their faith in God. See Numbers 13:30; Numbers 14:8-9; and pp. 237, 238.
2. Their courage in duty. See pp. 247, 248.
3 Their faithfulness to God. Striking testimony is borne concerning Caleb in this respect in Numbers 14:24 (and see pp. 260–262). And “Joshua’s life has been noted as one of the very few which are recorded in history with some fulness of detail, yet without any stain upon them.”
4. Their eminent services. Caleb, as one of the spies and as a brave man, and Joshua as a spy, as a general, and as the successor of Moses, rendered illustrious and priceless service to the nation.
5. Their honourable destiny. Of all those who were numbered at Sinai, from twenty years old and upwards, Joshua and Caleb were the only ones who were permitted to enter and possess the Promised Land (Numbers 26:64-65). This was the reward of their faithfulness, &c.
In them also we have examples worthy of imitation in many respects.
1. Mere distinction is not a thing to be coveted. The character of the distinction is a question of vital importance. (c)
2. Men may rise to the highest distinctions from the common ranks of their fellow men. With the exception of the education which Moses received, none of these illustrious men had any advantages of birth, training, or social status; but the reverse. (d)
3. The highest spiritual distinctions may be attained by every man through Jesus Christ. By the grace of God eminent goodness is possible to each of us. We may be “made kings and priests unto God” by Jesus Christ. (e)
4. The supreme importance of personal character and conduct. We are making our reputation now. A destiny of glory or of shame we are day by day preparing ourselves for.
(a) To do a good thing or a great thing occasionally is not enough to constitute true nobility of character. At the basis of all such character there must be some diviner elements, and just as those elements are allowed to predominate within do they lend grandeur to all that we do. Just as Jesus taught His disciples that the childlike disposition was essential to their having a place in the kingdom, so the Great Man must think nothing of his own sacrifices, but do everything in the spirit of perfect self-oblivion, This condition of soul is inseparable from those profounder virtues whose moral force can be determined only by their moral fitness, and which shed the truest glory on every form of human greatness.
Such virtues shone brightly in the man Moses, in whose character we lack no attribute—no excellence. It was the rich and rare combination of these higher qualities which gave strength and completeness to his whole man. Had he been less virtuous he would have been less illustrious. His graces gave lustre and glory to his actions. Pure in the last and lowest recess of his heart, he left the impression of his moral perfection on all that he did. If it be the virtuous soul that truly lives—lives “though the whole world turn to coal,” and burn to ashes, then what must have been the force and the fulness of Moses’s virtue! It was purged from all that is sickly and sentimental, and had in it a strength and a robustness indicative of the man.—Robert Ferguson, LL.D.
(b) His is indeed a noble character that lives through all time; though formed and built up within the limits of an earthly life, it suffers not from the waste of years; and after the sweep of ages multiplied by ages it retains its integrity and glory, and like some first and fixed star, shines with undiminished light and lustre. It is, in a certain sense, true that all character is deathless—that it is something which survives all the changes and the dissolutions of this lower world, and is destined to come out as an abiding and immutable reality in the future; but they are the few whose principles and whose doings can be recommended as a deeper study, or whose life can be held up as a model for universal imitation. They must be men of rare composition, and in whom meet all the higher and the richer qualities of both the mind and the heart. Theirs must be a sublime consecration to the common good, and they must have no other idea of life than to fulfil the purposes of Heaven and to add to the sum of human happiness. They must not pass their days in any dreamy, visionary sentimentalism; but watching the course of events, must brace themselves up for corresponding action. Catching the inspiration of a higher world, they must be heroic for God and for truth. Here Moses stands first and most conspicuous. In no man did the force of principle reach a higher ascendancy, and in no man can we discover a truer majesty of character. From the very first the conduct of his people had been such as might hate ruffled the most placid bosom, and provoked the meekest spirit, but he was pacific when he might have been militant, patient when he might have been indignant, and even heart-loving when he might have invoked the wrath of Heaven on their heads. His was a noble heart: one purer or truer never beat within a human breast. Noble by nature, he was nobler still in the height and the force of his virtue. Not only is his name hewn out on Time as on a rock, but he “stands on Time as on a pedestal,” with the eyes of all nations fixed upon him, and with the people of every land offering to him the incense of a loftier praise. His is a name greater than that of the Pharaohs, and a monument his which will outlive the years of the pyramids.—Ibid.
(c) For an illustration on this point, see p. 498. (c)
(d) More true greatness comes from the cottage than the palace. Socrates worked with his father as a statuary; and with chisel in hand had learned to touch the stone into a figure, ere he knew how to reason with philosophers in the schools. Luther came up from the dark deep mines at Mansfield to be the head and the leader of a movement only second in importance to the introduction of Christianity. Richardson, in the humble capacity of a printer’s apprentice, was wont to buy his own candle, that his master might not be defrauded and steal an hour from sleep to improve his mind and lay the foundation for future literary fame. The author of Lorenzo de Medici, surrounded by the dry dust of a lawyer’s office, and with nothing more than the rudiments of a common education, rose to the highest eminence; while Morrison, the Chinese scholar and missionary, laboured at the trade of a last and boot-maker, and kept his lamp from being blown out by so placing a volume of Matthew Henry’s Commentary, as at once to guard the flame, and make it easy for him to lay up its contents in his mind and memory. Genius and greatness are the property of no one class. Heaven bestows His gifts according to His own will, but that will is supremely gracious to every order and every rank. While a Moses is taken from the court of Pharaoh, an Elisha is found following the plough: there is a David tending sheep, as well as a Daniel mingling with princes. If Milton is qualified to be the secretary of the Protector of England, at a crisis in England’s history, Bunyan is Divinely taught to be the guide and the counsellor of his race on their way to glory.—Ibid.
(e) The child-spirit is true greatness. “Whoso abaseth himself shall be exalted.” “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” “Pigmies are pigmies still, though perched on Alps, and pyramids are pyramids in vales.” A man may be great in grace. By the very necessity of the case all outward distinctions must become less and less, but spiritual attributes endure as long as the being of the soul—Joseph Parker, D.D.
It seems to me
’Tis only noble to be good.
Kind hearts are more than coronets,
And simple faith than Norman blood.
RULES FOR THE DISTRIBUTION OF THE PROMISED LAND
In these directions concerning the division of the land, two rules are laid down:—
i. The extent of each inheritance must be in proportion to the number of persons in each tribe and family. “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Unto these the land shall be divided for an inheritance according to the number of names,” &c. (Numbers 26:52-54). Note, the entire equitableness of this rule, and see in it an illustration of all God’s dealings with men in this respect. “The works of His hands are verity and judgment,” &c. (Psalms 111:7-8). “Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.”
ii. The situation of each inheritance must be determined by lot. “Notwithstanding the land shall be divided by lot,” &c. (Numbers 26:55-56). It seems that first, lots were to be drawn for the determination of the general situation of the territory of each tribe, and then these territories were to be divided according to the number of persons in the respective tribes and families. Note, the wisdom of this arrangement. It would tend—
(1) to prevent dissatisfaction, jealousies, and strife;
(2) to inspire in each tribe the persuasion that their inheritance was appointed them by God Himself. The result of the lot was regarded by most nations as determined by God (comp. Proverbs 16:33; Proverbs 18:18). So its use was appointed in this case that the Israelites “might rest in that division no less than if it had been done by the immediate voice of God from heaven.”
We may further consider these arrangements as an illustration of—
I. The sovereignty of God in bestowing His gifts.
1. The manifestation of this sovereignty. It is exhibited
(1) in His appointment of the rules for the division of the land; and
(2) in His determination of the locality of the territory of each tribe. (a)
2. The righteousness of His sovereignty. The rules which He gave to Moses for this important business were conspicuously equitable. (b)
II. The truth that in the arrangements of God provision is made for all His creatures.
By the commands here given to Moses adequate provision is made for every family of Israel. In the order of creation He provided for the supply of human needs before He created man. He makes constant provision for beasts, birds, and all the inferior orders of creation (Psalms 104:27-28; Psalms 145:15-16; Psalms 147:9); and shall He not much more regard man and his needs? And as a matter of fact, in return for man’s labour, the earth bringsforth an abundant supply for the necessities of all men. (c)
Our subject presents to us—
1. A reason for contentment. Since God appoints our lot, let us be content with it, and make the best of it. “My times are in Thy hand.” “He shall choose our inheritance for us.” (d)
2. A reason for thankfulness. Let God’s provision for us awaken our gratitude to Him. “Bless the Lord, O my soul,” &c. (Psalms 103:1-5).
(a) His sovereignty is manifest in the bestowing much wealth and honour upon some, and not vouchsafing it to the more industrious labours and attempts of others. Some are abased, and others are elevated; some are enriched, and others impoverished; some scarce feel any cross, and others scarce feel any comfort in their whole lives; some sweat and toil, and what they labour for runs out of their reach; others sit still, and what they wish for falls into their lap. One of the same clay hath a diadem to beautify his head, and another wants a covering to protect him from the weather. One hath a stately palace to lodge in, and another is scarce master of a cottage where to lay his head. A sceptre is put into one man’s hand, and a spade into another’s; a rich purple garnisheth one man’s body, while another wraps himself in dunghill rags. The poverty of some, and the wealth of others, is an effect of the Divine sovereignty, whence God is said to be the Maker of the poor as well as the rich (Proverbs 22:2), not only of their persons, but of their conditions. The earth and the fulness thereof in His propriety; and He hath as much a right as Joseph had to bestow changes of raiment upon what Benjamins He please.—Charnocke.
(b) This dominion, though it be absolute, is not tyrannical, but it is managed by the rules of wisdom, righteousness, and goodness. If His throne be in the heavens, it is pure and good; because the heavens are the purest parts of the creation, and influence by their goodness the lower earth, Since He is His own rule, and His nature is infinitely wise, holy, and righteous, He cannot do a thing but what is unquestionably agreeable with wisdom justice, and purity. In all the exercises of His sovereign right, He is never unattended with those perfections of his nature. Might not God by his absolute power have pardoned men’s guilt, and thrown the invading sin out of His creatures? but in regard of His truth pawned in His threatening, and in regard of His justice, which demanded satisfaction, He would not. Might not God by His absolute sovereignty admit a man into His friendship, without giving him any grace? but in regard of the incongruity of such an act to His wisdom and holiness, He will not. May He not by His absolute power refuse to accept a man that desires to please Him, and reject a purely innocent creature? but in regard of His goodness and righteousness, He will not. Though innocence be amiable in its own nature, yet it is not necessary in regard of God’s sovereignty, that He should love it; but in regard of His goodness it is necessary, and He will never do otherwise. As God never acts to the utmost of His power, so He never exerts the utmost of His sovereignty; because it would be inconsistent with those other properties which render Him perfectly adorable to the creature.—Ibid.
(c) For illustrations on this point, see p. 202.
(d) Are you labouring in a village, and does it ever enter into your head that you would like to labour in London? You had better not, you had better not entertain that notion; it hath driven some men almost crazy, and it is a very perilous thing to play with—a notion of that kind, that a man is adapted to metropolitan life when probably he is adapted to nothing of the sort. “To fill up the sphere we have” should be our duty and our joy. “It is only a nutshell.” Well, then, it will take less filling. “It is only a little village.” Well, then, you will make your work the more manifest and the more speedy. I do not say that every man is to abide just where he is. Nothing of the kind; but whilst he is there, he is bound by every consideration that can stir a true man’s heart and strength, to make the very best of his position.—Joseph Parker, D.D.
For another illustration on this point, see p. 166.
THE NUMBERING OF THE LEVITES
On this subject, comp. Numbers 3:14-22; and see pp. 53–55.
On Numbers 26:61 comp. Leviticus 10:1-11; and see pp. 45, 46.
On Numbers 26:62, the last clause, compare Numbers 18:20; and see pp. 339–347.
AFFLICTION: ITS TRIALS AND CONSOLATIONS
These words refer to one of the most interesting of the narratives of the Old Testament. It is contained in the tenth chap. of Leviticus.…
Alas for Aaron, the father of these young men! His was a bitter portion—to see his sons on whom he had just looked with delight, as set apart for the most honourable of offices, stretched suddenly at his feet! Not only slain; but slain under circumstances so appalling. They fell not merely in consequence of sin, but whilst in the very act of its commission, without a moment for repentance; so that hope, always ready in such cases to fasten even on straws, could scarcely have found place in Aaron’s breast. Could Aaron feel too deeply, or lament too bitterly the slaughter of his children? Alas! for Aaron, he has more to do than to bear the grievous trial! He must bear it without a sigh, without a tear, as though he felt it not; but sternly acquiesced in the righteousness of the visitation. For no sooner had Nadab and Abihu fallen than Moses delivered the message from God to Aaron—“I will be sanctified in them that come nigh Me; and before all the people I will be glorified.” This was nothing but to announce authoritatively to the afflicted father that his sons had died for their sin; and must have added to the anguish which came climbing up for vent. But the message, moreover, required submission. And Aaron exhibited this submission: “Aaron held his peace.”
But, surely, he may weep! Surely he and his surviving children may obtain at least that relief which sorrow finds in the being expressed. No! even this is denied him. It would be inconsistent with the sanctity of the priestly office that those who bear it should display any grief at occurrences by which that sanctity has been defended and demonstrated. “And Moses said unto Aaron, and unto Eleazar and Ithamar, his sons, Uncover not your heads, neither rend your clothes; lest ye die, and lest wrath come upon all the people.” Others, as Moses went on to say, may bewail the dead; but not those who had loved them best, and must feel their loss most. Indeed, it were not easy to exaggerate the greatness of the trial thus allotted to Aaron. It is a beautiful thing in the Christian religion that it is so constructed with a due regard to our natural sensibilities that it neither supposes us stoics, nor seeks to make us such; not demanding of us that we should not sorrow, but only that we should not sorrow even as those who have no hope. Indeed, tears are nature’s relief—nature’s balm; and, through a mysterious power, they ease the pain by which they are produced. We have cause, then, to be thankful, not only for the consolation which the Gospel offers so abundantly to the mourning, but for the power and the privilege of weeping. And when ye feel how much of love there is, not only in the chastisement which causes the tears, but in the allowance to shed them, then you may estimate the heaviness of the trial which Aaron had to bear, and you will look at once with commiseration and admiration on the high priest of Israel, as he bends by his dead children, and yet obeys to the letter the rigid command which prevented him showing any of the ordinary indications of grief.
It appears clear, from the remainder of the history, that Aaron, though he suppressed the signs of sorrow, was disquieted at heart, and so overpowered and overcome as scarcely to be master of his actions.… Not only was Aaron forbidden to mourn; it was required of him that he should proceed with the business of a complicated ritual—that ritual, of the peril of swerving from which had just been given so tremendous a proof. No wonder, then, if, in his agitation and perplexity, the high priest omit on so trying a day certain prescribed forms, or make mistakes in the performance of his office. This seems to have been exactly what took place. A goat had been offered as a sin-offering, and, according to the Levitical law, the flesh of the sin offering ought to be eaten by the priest in the holy place. When, however, Moses came to inquire, he found the goat had been burnt without the tabernacle, in place of being eaten according to the law. Then Moses expostulated; fearing, in all likelihood, that this act of disobedience would produce a repetition of the awful scene of the morning. “Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin-offering in the holy place? Ye should, indeed, have eaten it in the holy place as I commanded.” And then Aaron, though not immediately addressed, but knowing that the blame was with him, if with any—Aaron took on himself to reply. And we do not think that, in the whole range of Scripture, there are more plaintive or more pathetic words than his reply. He begins by stating that there had on the whole been due attention to the services of the ministry. “Behold this day have they offered their sin-offering and their burnt-offering before the Lord.” … He felt, notwithstanding what had been duly done, that there had been a departure from the law, and that it became him to say something to account for it, or to excuse it. But must he enlarge on his affliction, and, by dwelling on its greatness, seek to extenuate his omission? He could not do this. His heart was overflowing; and, if he had once given vent to his feelings, he would have been completely unmanned, and thus would have transgressed the commandment, which forbad his showing grief. He, therefore, trusted himself to give only, as it were, a hint of his sufferings, believing that an affectionate brother could not need more. He only said, “Such things have befallen me!” Oh! what a vast amount of suppressed anguish, of hidden, but agonised feeling, seems gathered into these few syllables, uttered, we may believe, with an almost choked voice—“Such things have befallen me.” And then he just ventures a doubt, which would seem to show that he had not acted altogether through inadvertency, but partly from a feeling that he was not in a fit temper to partake of the sacrifice—“If I had eaten the sin-offering to-day, should it have been accepted in the sight of the Lord?” Moses has nothing to say against this touching reply from his brother. It seems to have satisfied him. And forasmuch as we must regard him as guided through the whole transaction by the immediate direction of God, we may consider that the answer of Aaron was such as found acceptance with the Almighty himself. Moses was the instrument in making known the Divine will; and he was “content”—that is the expression in Scripture.
Now, it is upon this CONTENTMENT of Moses, considered as expressive of the approval of God, that we design to ground the remainder of our discourse.
The case with which we are presented is simply this, There is a man who is suffering beneath the oppression of extraordinary affliction. His grief causes him to neglect some portion of religious duty, or incapacitates him, as he imagines, for its discharge. Undoubtedly he is to blame; but God, who knoweth our frailty, remembering we are but dust, accepts in excuse the greatness of his sorrow; and restrains the vengeance which the fault might have otherwise provoked.
Let us separate the case from its original circumstances; and let us see whether we may not expect, whenever there is a similar case, that there will be a similar acceptance of the severity of sorrow in excuse for some failure of duty.… Grief tends to unfit us for religious duties, while it makes more essential their unwearied discharge. We can never have greater need to study the Bible, never greater to offer petitions to God, than when visited with trouble; and yet it is often more than commonly hard, when trouble is upon us, to fix attention on Scripture, or be instant in prayer. The Christian will, on that very account, write bitter things against himself, and aggravate his suffering by self-reproach and condemnation.
It not unfrequently happens that cases such as this fall within the observation of the minister. He visits an individual, perhaps the mother of a family, from whom there has been suddenly snatched away an object of deep love. He finds her scarcely able to exert any control over her feelings. She can do little but weep and utter complaints to show the anguish of her soul. And it is no part of the Christian minister’s office to upbraid the mourner, as though it were not lawful to sorrow thus bitterly. He will rather show by his expressions of sympathy that he is fully sensible of the greatness of her affliction, and will mingle his tears with hers in just tribute to the dead. But then it will be his endeavour to impress on the sufferer the duties of affliction, urge to the striving to be resigned to God’s will, and to the finding consolation in God’s Word. And this will bring out fresh complaint; the sufferer will lament that she cannot pray; that the heart seems turned to stone, so that when she has most need of religion, she has become altogether incapacitated for its duties. What should bind her to her Maker seems only to estrange her more from Him. Indeed, this would be a perplexing case for the minister, if he were not warranted in replying, that great grief, by its very nature, stupefies the mind, and that God is too gracious to impute to His children omissions or failures which such grief may occasion. He may say to the sufferer that she is not to try her religion by what it is when stunned by the blow; and that her Creator, who can accurately distinguish between wilful neglect, and that produced by the bewilderment of an overwrought spirit, will assuredly not be extreme in marking what he knows anguish has kept her from performing. He will never be warranted in telling an offender that he might safely neglect religious duties; but when he finds that affliction has caused certain duties to be neglected, and that the neglect was one of the things which pressed on the conscience, he is warranted, we believe, in referring to the contentment of Moses, when he had heard Aaron’s answer, and endeavouring so to soothe the agitated parent. And this does not less hold good under circumstances of sickness. It is beyond all dispute, that bodily pain is a most engrossing thing; so that whilst it is being endured, the soul, in general, can do little more than sympathise with its suffering tenement. Even the righteous, when dread sickness is on them, feel disabled for spiritual exercises, though conscious that they were never more in need of communion with God. Accordingly, one continually hears complaints from pious persons, as disease bears them down, that they cannot fix their minds as they desire on heavenly things; that they cannot pray with fervency, much less rejoice in tribulation. The just way of dealing with these persons, seems to be that of requiring them to take their difficulties into account when they would estimate their spiritual condition. They do utterly wrong in judging of what they are on a sick bed, by what they do on a sick bed, and feel, as they toss to and fro, that they cannot find rest. I never ask how a Christian died; but how a Christian lived.
We have a few words to say on another supposition—namely, that it was not through inadvertence, but rather through design, as feeling himself but ill-prepared to eat the sin-offering, that Aaron did not exactly conform to the prescriptions of the law. If you consider the words which Aaron uses—“And if I had eaten the sin-offering to-day, should it have been accepted in the sight of the Lord?” you may judge that Aaron had probably imagined that it would be better for him to burn the sin-offering, though contrary to law, than to eat it with heaviness of heart. There was perhaps a feeling in him that he was not in a fit temper to partake of the sacrifice. And if this were the case, we must gather from the contentment which Moses expressed—not perhaps that he acquiesced in the reasons which Aaron alleged—but that even a mistake, when caused by a reverential fear of the mysteries of religion, will be looked upon compassionately by God, who reads the heart.
Now we would imitate Moses in this particular, and not deal harshly with those who, from the same reason as Aaron, neglected to feed on the sin-offering, in and through the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. It may be true that the majority of those who absent themselves from the sacrament, absent themselves in contempt of so awful a mystery, or in assumed respect for, which is but a cloak for determination not to separate from the world. But there are some who are tremblingly alive to the sacredness of the ordinance; who would receive it if they dared, but who are withheld by a consciousness of their sinfulness, a sinfulness which they deplore and long to remove. This was Aaron’s case, and God forbid that this should be harshly dealt with! They are under a mistake; but their mistake is in one sense only an excellence. We would teach them that their feeling of unfitness constitutes their fitness for the sacrament or “means of grace,” which is not for those (if such there are) who have no sins to struggle with and lament. We would thus not upbraid them with their mistake, but endeavour to show that it was only to be proved in order to its being corrected. We do not suppose that Moses would have been “content,” had he found on successive days that the sin-offering had not been eaten. He had said enough to show that Aaron was wrong; but whilst abstaining from reproving for the past, he undoubtedly expected that he would obey the law for the future. It is the same with those whom an habitual sense of unworthiness has withheld from the sacrament. They may plead their excuse whilst they have not been duly taught what the sacrament requires from its recipients; but it partakes of the nature of sin, if they continue absent when they know that a feeling of unworthiness is the very thing required.—H. Melville, B.D.
THE FAITHFULNESS OF GOD
In these verses we have a triple illustration of the Divine faithfulness:—
I. The faithfulness of God to His threatenings.
“These are they that were numbered,” &c. (Numbers 26:63-65). The judgment which God pronounced thirty-eight years previous He has now completely fulfilled (comp. Numbers 14:11-39; and see pp. 250–252, 257, 258, 263, 265). (a)
1. The immense number of the condemned does not avail for the escape of any one of them. Sentence was passed upon upwards of six hundred thousand men; “and there was not left a man of them.” “Though hand join in hand,” &c. (Proverbs 11:21).
2. The lapse of time before the complete execution of the sentence does not avail for the escape of any one. Thirty-eight years passed away before the judgment pronounced was fully carried out; but ultimately not one upon whom it was passed escaped. “Because sentence against an evil work is not,” &c. (Ecclesiastes 8:11; 2 Peter 3:3-10). (b)
II. The faithfulness of God to His purposes.
Though God completely out off that rebellious generation; yet for the carrying out of His own plans He raised up another and far superior generation (comp. Numbers 14:12; Numbers 14:31; and see pp. 251, 264). (c)
III. The faithfulness of God to His promises.
He promised to spare Caleb and Joshua, and to bring them unto the Promised Land (chap Numbers 14:23; Numbers 14:30); and He spared them, and in due season brought them into that land (see pp. 258, 264). (d)
Here is encouragement to trust Him.
The great lesson of the subject is a solemn warning against unbelief. This warning is urgently enforced in Hebrews 3:7 to Hebrews 4:2. Let us give earnest heed unto it, so that at last we may enter into the perfect and heavenly rest.
(a) For illustrations on this point, see pp. 225, 374.
(b) God says, “To-day I will work a wonder in your eyes; ye shall see marvellous things; I will beat down the proud throne and the great mountain.” He says that, and then leaves us there. And a thousand years go by; the proud throne is still there, and the great mountain rears its shoulders through a thousand summers and a thousand winters. Men say, “The word has been forgotten.” But the word is there. It is a factor in human history, and is working, and will work. It may be in ten thousand years the word comes up, and the men of the day say to one another, “All this is done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet,”—Joseph Parker, D.D.
For another illustration on this point, see p. 312.
(c) It is necessary to our conception of an infinitely perfect Being, that we admit an eternal purpose regarding all that He has done or said. The idea of experiments undertaken and abandoned is, so far as He is concerned, utterly untenable. So is that of a change of purpose. “He is of one mind.” He has purposed all He does, and He does or will do all He has purposed. Whether He create a world, or redeem a man, it is in pursuance of His eternal will that it should be so.—W. Leask, D.D.
(d) If He enters into engagements, promises, and covenants, He acts with perfect freedom. These are acts of grace to which He is under no compulsion; and they can never, therefore, be reluctant engagements which He would wish to violate, because they flow from a ceaseless and changeless inclination to bestow benefits, and a delight in the exercise of goodness. They can never be made in haste or unadvisedly; for the whole case of His creatures to the end of time is before Him, and no circumstances can arise which to Him are new or unforeseen. He cannot want the power to fulfil His promises, because He is omnipotent; He cannot promise beyond His ability to make good, because His fulness is infinite; finally, “He cannot deny Himself,” because He is “not a man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent;” and thus every promise which He has made is guaranteed, as well by His natural attributes of wisdom, power, and sufficiency, as by His perfect moral rectitude.—Richard Watson.
Every promise is built upon four pillars:—God’s justice or holiness, which will not suffer Him to deceive; His grace or goodness, which will not suffer Him to forget; His truth, which will not suffer Him to change; and His power, which makes Him able to accomplish.—H. G. Salter.
For additional illustrations on God’s faithfulness, see p. 460.