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the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Chronicles 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ 1-chronicles-5.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 1 Chronicles 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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1 Chronicles 5:1-10
THE SONS OF REUBEN. The tribe of Reuben is now taken third in order by the compiler, though Reuben was the first of all the sons of Israel. The distinct statements of 1 Chronicles 5:1 and 1 Chronicles 5:2, respecting the degradation of Reuben and his loss of the rights of primogeniture, are not to be understood, however, as mentioned in any way to account for his standing third here. That Judah takes in any genealogy the first place needs no other apology than that contained in this passage, "Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler" (i.e. David, and in him "David's greater Son and Lord"). And that Simeon is taken immediately after Judah was natural enough, both because the second place belonged to him, and because his tribe, in journeying, in settlement, and in acknowledged friendship, was so nearly related to that of Judah. It is as an important historical fact, a lesson and stern memento of crime, that the tale of Reuben is here as elsewhere told. Indeed, in the remarkably exalting language applied to Reuben (Genesis 49:3) by the dying father in those "blessings" of his sons which were so marvellously living with prophecy, that "blessing" see. reed weighted with hard reality, and may really carry this meaning: "O Reuben I though thou art my firstborn, though my might and the beginning of my strength, though the excellency of dignity and the excellency of power," yet, because of thy boiling lust (Genesis 35:22) "thou shall not excel." In that endowing charter of the patriarch's death-bed, the birthright of Reuben is not in so many words given to Joseph and his sons, but what is given to Joseph is so abundant above the lot of all the others, that we find no difficulty in accepting the formal statement of the fact here first found in this passage. The large measure of promise meted to Judah (Genesis 49:8-12) rests, no doubt, upon the title already referred to. There would seem to be also a righteous moral reason in Joseph after all becoming heir to the birthright, inasmuch as he was the eldest child of her who was Israel's real love, and who, but for deception and sharp practice, would have been his first wife. How he remembered her, and with what determined practical consequence, the affecting passage, Genesis 48:1-7, Genesis 48:16, Genesis 48:21, Genesis 48:22, sufficiently reveals; yet comp. Deuteronomy 21:15-17. The meaning of the last clause of Deuteronomy 21:1 is evidently that, though thus Reuben was the natural firstborn, and Joseph had really the birthright, the registration did not proceed in this instance (probably partly for the very reason of the ambiguity) by the order of birthright, but everything yielded to the special call for precedence on the part of Judah (Deuteronomy 21:2).
1 Chronicles 5:3
The four sons of Reuben here given are first enumerated in Genesis 46:9; then in Exodus 6:14; and again in Numbers 26:5-7, where are also found the corresponding chief families of the tribe, the total of their fighting numbers amounting to 43,730, compared with 46,500 at the time of the Sinai census (Numbers 2:11), a diminution due to the plague for the idolatry of Baal-peor (Numbers 25:9).
1 Chronicles 5:4-6
From which of the four sons of Reuben the line came in which Joel would appear, we do not know. Juntas and Tremellius say Hanoch, others Carmi, while the Syriac Version has Carrot vice Joel. It is to be remarked that in Numbers 26:8-10 a line of descent through Pallu is given, but reaching only to the second generation, Beerah in the present list will be only ninth at furthest from Reuben, so that it is evident that it is a very fragmentary genealogy, whether the hiatus be only one, viz. between Reuben's son and Joel, or whether both there and elsewhere also. Of none of the eight persons beginning with Joel and ending with Beerah is anything else known, unless either Shemaiah or Shimei may be identical with the Shema of verse 8, in which case it might be also that the Joel of verse 8 is identical with that of verse 4. In this passage and 1 Chronicles 8:30 Baal appears as the name of a man. In this passage, and in 1 Chronicles 8:26 and 2 Chronicles 28:20, we have a different form in each part of the word, of the Tiglath-pileser of 2 Kings 15:29; 2 Kings 16:7. These slight differences in the position of the radicals, with the introduction or omission of the ,א make as many as four different readings in the Hebrew. Tiglath-pileser, the second Assyrian king who came into conflict with the Israelites, reigned about B.C. 747-727. Gesenius thinks that the former half of the word is the same as Diglath, i.q. Tigris; and that the latter, a root occurring also in the name Nabo-pola-saris, is from an Assyrian verb meaning "to guard." He translates the word as "Lord of the Tigris." The Assyrian reproduction of the name is Tigulti-pal-tsira (Smith's 'Bible Dictionary'), or Tukulti-pal-zara ('Speaker's Commentary,' in loc.). The Captivity is spoken of further in the last verse of this chapter and in 2 Kings 15:27-31. The Septuagint reads 2 Kings 15:4 and 2 Kings 15:5 differently: "The sons of Joel, Semei and Banaea his son; and the sons of Gog the son of Semei," etc; and this in all three editions—Vatican, Alexandrine, and Aldine.
1 Chronicles 5:7, 1 Chronicles 5:8
Of Jeiel, Zechariah, Bela, and Asaz nothing further is known. Shema and Joel may be those of verse 4, as above. The expression, his brethren, i.e. the brethren of Beerah, must be read generally. The intimation, when the genealogy of their generations was reckoned, is probably explained by the contents of verse 17 (of which hereafter). Aroer (עֲרֹעֵר or עְרוֹעֵר); a place east of the Jordan, overhanging the torrent of Arnon, which was a boundary between Moab and the Amorites, and afterwards between Moab and Reuben. There is little doubt that Burckhardt has identified the ruins of Aroer (see Numbers 32:38; Deuteronomy 2:24, Deuteronomy 2:36; Deuteronomy 3:8, Deuteronomy 3:12, Deuteronomy 3:16; Joshua 12:1, Joshua 12:2; Joshua 13:9, Joshua 13:16; Judges 11:13, Judges 11:26, where note transposition of letters in the Hebrew; 2 Kings 10:33). Moab seems to have regained it later (Jeremiah 48:1-47; see interesting arts. "Amen" and "Areer," Smith's' Bible Dictionary'). Nebo and Baal-meon are also mentioned together in Numbers 32:38; and Baal-meon with Moab in Ezekiel 25:9. This Nebo, the town, is distinct from Mount Nebo. It is remarkable that it is not mentioned, unless under one of the "changed" names (Numbers 32:38), in the list of the towns of Reuben (Joshua 13:15-23). Nebo was the name of a heathen deity, known among the Chaldeans (Isaiah 46:1), Babylonians, and Assyrians; and this constituted one reason, if not the reason, for changing its name when it had been affixed to the Moabite city.
1 Chronicles 5:9
Keil and others refer this verse to the people of Bela; yet others apply it to Joel It would seem nearest the facts to apply it to the main subject of the paragraph—Reuben. Gilead (Deuteronomy 3:12-16) had for its boundaries, on the north Bashan, on the south Moab, on the east the Arabian desert. Its situation evidently exposed it to Assyrian invasion and frequent encounter with desert tribes (Joshua 17:1; Numbers 26:29, Numbers 26:30).
1 Chronicles 5:10
Among such conflicts, one with a people descended presumably from Hagar or Ishmael (though 1 Chronicles 27:30, 1 Chronicles 27:31, and Psalms 70:1-5 : Psalms 13:6 are somewhat needlessly interpreted to be opposed to this) is here alluded to. It takes us to the time of Saul, and from that time up to the time of "the Captivity" (1 Chronicles 5:22) the victorious Reubenites, Gadites, and people of the half-tribe Manasseh had the benefit of enlarged domain at their expense: "They dwelt in their steads," after seizing great spoil. It is exceedingly likely that we have the perpetuation of the name Hagarenes in the Agraeei (modern Hejer) of Strabo, 16:767; Pliny, 'Hist. Nat.,' 6:32; Dionysius, 'Perieg.,' 956; Pt. 5:2 (see art. "Hagarenes" in Smith's 'Bible Dictionary').
1 Chronicles 5:11-17
The tribe of Gad is taken next, and occupies but few lines. Gad was born seventh in order of all the sons of Jacob (Genesis 30:9-12), and first of the children of Leah's maid Zilpah. The compiler seems to pass easily on to Gad, from the mere circumstance of the name of the tribe being so constantly linked with that preceding, in the matter of local settlement on the east of Jordan, after the journeyings of the wilderness (Joshua 13:7, Joshua 13:8). The geography in 1 Chronicles 5:11 and 1 Chronicles 5:16 offers very little difficulty. Compared with the time of the first settling of the Gadites (Deuteronomy 3:10-13; Joshua 13:25, Joshua 13:30), it is evident that they had pushed their borders further to the north, trenching somewhat upon the lot of the half-tribe Manasseh, as they also in turn extended their limits northward to Hermon (verse 23). This reconciles Joshua 13:30 with the present passage. Salcah, or (Authorized Version) Salchah (Deuteronomy 3:10; Joshua 13:11), is probably to be identified as the modern Sulkhad, at the extreme eastern point of the plain Hauran, which is bordered by the desert. "In Gilead in Bashan" may be read, with some, as two coordinate places, separating them by a stop; or may point to a time when Bashan included the upper half of Gilead. Sharon, which Keil, quoting Reland, 'Pal. Ill.,' 370, would make the well-known Sharon of Carmel and the Mediterranean, is, though unmentioned elsewhere, probably distinguished sufficiently from it by the absence of the article, which is invariably prefixed to the other. Stanley's suggestion would seem exceedingly apt, that it is one in fact, as one in derivation and meaning, with the Mishor (i.e. "level ]ands," "table-land") of Gilead and Bashan. With this explanation, however, the term "suburbs" does not so well agree. Upon the other side, distant as the well-known Sharon is, a link of connection might be found with it, in that the other Manasseh half-tribe stretched into its plains; and in that case the last word of the verse, תּוֹעְאוֹתָם, might mean (Joshua 17:9) "the outgoings" of the land or regions in question to the "sea"-coast.
1 Chronicles 5:12
The four proper names in this verse are not known in connection with the same persons elsewhere. The Septuagint translates Shaphat as "the scribe," applying the description to the foregoing Jaanai.
1 Chronicles 5:13
And their brethren. This chapter (see 1 Chronicles 5:7) seems to introduce the use of this word, which must be understood generically. The seven persons are nowhere else mentioned.
1 Chronicles 5:14, 1 Chronicles 5:15
These are the children of Abihail; i.e. the seven "brethren" of the preceding verse. A rapid line of descent, or rather of ascent, consisting of ten generations, from Abihail to Guni, here follows. The division between these verses has unfortunately cut in half one name, i.e. Buzaki. The translators of the Septuagint saw that the two verses composed one line of ascent, but instead of piecing "Aki" to "Buz," translated it as" brother." Though this line takes us some way back, we find nowhere else any clue or identification of any of these ten persons. Of the twenty-one persons in all, therefore, named as belonging to the tribe of Gad, nothing else is known; and we have nothing to guide us to connect them with any one rather than another of the original" sons of Gad" (Genesis 46:16; Numbers 16:15-18).
1 Chronicles 5:17
The very form of the language of this verse would indicate that two genealogies are intended. This quite tallies with the fact that there were two chronicles, one for each division of the nation, i.e. "the chronicles of the kings of Judah" (2 Kings 15:6) and "the chronicles of the kings of Israel" (2 Kings 15:11), in which same chapter both Jeroboam (II.) of Israel and Jotham of Judah are spoken of, the latter beginning to reign in Judah some twenty years (the exact chronology is very confused here) after the death of the former. Although presumably it would be an object of closer interest with Israel than with Judah to effect the registration of the Gadite genealogy, yet it was most just that Judah should do so as well. This would both vindicate Judah's own right place and be a happy omen of the continued predominance of her position compared with that of Israel. Independently of the question of effecting the actual registration, however, it is quite possible that, so long as history ran by the side of history. Israel would gather and keep all it could of Judah, and Judah all it could of Israel.
1 Chronicles 5:18-22
These verses appear to be the fuller development of the war in Saul's time, mentioned in 1 Chronicles 5:10—the account apparently there delayed till the genealogy of the tribe of Gad had been given, and which still seems premature till the contents of 1 Chronicles 5:23 and 1 Chronicles 5:24 should have been given.
1 Chronicles 5:19
The name of Nodab we have not elsewhere; but those of Jetur and Nephish are names from the very origin of the tribe of Ishmael (Genesis 25:13-16; 1 Chronicles 1:29-31). It would be possible to consider them here as in apposition with the description, the Hagarites (respecting whom see note on 1 Chronicles 5:10); but they may more probably be regarded as favourite names, still repeated in the descendants of the tribe. The people of Nephish have not made their mark deep on the page of ethnographic history; but the people of Jetur have done so. Their stinted territory appears in the name Ituraea (Luke 3:1). Their people reappear also. Nor is it an unnoticeable contribution to the truth of our history here to put, side by side with the description of the qualities and of the arms and weapons of warfare of the Manassites and their helpers of Reuben and Gad (1 Chronicles 5:18), those of the Ituraeans, their antagonists (Virgil, 'Georg.,' 2:448; Cicero, 'Philippians,' 2:44; Luean, 'Pharsalia,' 7:230; see Smith's 'Bible Dictionary,' 1:905).
1 Chronicles 5:21
Of men; literally, of the soul, i.e. life of men.
1 Chronicles 5:23, 1 Chronicles 5:24
"The half-tribe of Manasseh" is here very briefly treated of. Manasseh and his brother Ephraim stand in the place of Joseph, both the children of Joseph's Egyptian wife, Asenath, and born before the famine. Though Manasseh was the elder, Jacob gave the chief blessing (Genesis 48:10-22) to Ephraim. The Manassites were descended from Manasseh through his son Machir, born of a Syrian concubine. Machir evidently was spes gregis (though apparently not the only son, for see Asriel, or Ashriel, in above references), and is repeatedly mentioned with his son Gilead. It is probable that the division of the tribe was determined partly according to the energy of those who composed it at the time of division—the more warlike being more adapted to the east of Jordan. Nevertheless Machir is distinctly mentioned westward, as well as with Gilead eastward (comp. Judges 5:14-17; Joshua 13:29-31). (For the further prosecution of this part of the subject, see Exposition, 1 Chronicles 7:14-19.)
1 Chronicles 5:23
Baal-hermon, etc. These three names need scarcely be read as different names for exactly the same region, but as designating different sides or heights of what was essentially one and the same well-known mountain district, with which would agree Psa 43:1-5 :6, "Therefore will I remember thee from the land of Jordan and of the Hermonites, from the hill Mizar.' So Deuteronomy 3:8-10 tells us that Hermon was called Sirion by the Sidonians; Shenir, i.q. Senir (שְׂנִיר, exactly the same word in the Hebrew text in all the four places of its occurrence —So Deuteronomy 4:8; Ezekiel 27:5), by the Amorites. And the suggestion of Grove is likely enough, that Baal-hermon was the Phoenician cast of the name. If any point were to be gained by reading the names, however, as intended to cover exactly the same tract, it may be noted
(1) that the Hebrew conjunction will perfectly admit of being translated "even;" and
(2) that the order of the names, going from the foreign to the native Hermon itself, would so far favour it.
1 Chronicles 5:24
Epher; same root with Ophrah (Judges 6:11, Judges 6:15). Of the seven heads of this half-tribe here quoted, no individual mention is made elsewhere. 1 Chronicles 12:19-22 confirms their renown for valour.
1 Chronicles 5:25, 1 Chronicles 5:26
The "transgressors" here described include manifestly not this half-tribe Manasseh alone, but the other tribes of Israel of whom this chapter has treated.
1 Chronicles 5:25
And they went a-whoring (וַיַּזְנוּ); so 2 Chronicles 21:11, 2 Chronicles 21:13. This verb, in one form of its root or another, occurs as many as ninety-seven times in the Pentateuch, Judges, Joshua, Psalms, Proverbs; and prophets, for only twice in Kings and four times in Chronicles, in all the rest of the Old Testament writings.
1 Chronicles 5:26
Pul and Tilgath-pilneser. These two were chosen ministers of God's will, if not ministers of himself. We can identify the date of this punishment which befell the transgressing Israelites east of the Jordan. The visit of the former, in the reign of Menahem (2 Kings 15:15-20), may be interpreted and might have operated as a lesson and a warning. He was bought off with a thousand talents of silver. It seems to be said with significance," So the king of Assyria turned back, and stayed not there in the land." It was in the reign of Pekah, the usurping successor of Menahem's son Pekahiah, that the completer punishment fell, and Tilgath-pilneser effected the captivity spoken of here and in 2 Kings 15:27-29. The name Pul cannot, it would appear, be a pure Assyrian name, and there is reason to think it may be identified with Vul-lush (grandson of the Shalmaneser who warred with Benhadad, etc.), a name found on Assyrian monuments, and belonging to a king who reigned at Calah, B.C. 8004750 (see art. "Pul," Smith's 'Bible Dictionary'). Tilqath-pilneser (see notes on 2 Kings 15:6) was probably the founder of the lower dynasty of Assyria, and first king of the new empire. His first invasion was one chiefly of Israel and Samaria (2 Kings 15:29; Isaiah 9:1). His second was of a much more significant character. Called in to aid Judah under Ahaz against Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Syria in alliance, he both conquered these latter and brought into vassalage Judah itself (2Ki 15:37; 2 Kings 16:9, 2 Kings 16:10; 2 Chronicles 28:6-8; Isaiah 9:1). Halah; Habor Hara; Gozan. This enumeration exceeds that of 2 Kings 17:6 by the addition of Hara, important as helping with consistent witness to the antiquity of the region described. Halah (not the "Calah" of Genesis 10:11) is believed to be identifiable with Chalcitis, its verbal resemblance to which comes out a little more evidently in its Hebrew form (חֲלַח). A trace of it possibly remains in the name of a hill, Gla, on the Khabour, i.q. Habor of this passage, an important tributary of the Euphrates, and not the "Chebar" of Ezekiel. This name Khabour is found in an Assyrian inscription dating upwards of eight centuries before Christ. The mention of Habor in 2 Kings 17:6 and 2 Kings 18:11 is, in the Authorized Version, made to convey the impression of a place "by" the "river of Gozan," instead of being, what the Hebrew says, "the river of Gozan." Here, on the other hand, Gozan is, in the Authorized Version, incorrectly translated as a river itself, instead of the region of a river. It is, according to the testimony of Layard, a remarkably fertile tract, being the Gauzanitis of Ptolemy, and substantially the Mygdonia of Polybius and Strabo. Hara; חָרָה, with little doubt, the same as חָרָן, Haran, or Charran (Genesis 11:31), the ancient adopted home of Abraham, in Padan-aram, in Mesopotamia, on the Belik, a small tributary of the Euphrates. It is the Greek Carrhae of Strabo and Polybius. These four names purport to give us, probably in brief, the information that those of the Captivity here alluded to were divided—some to settle at Halab on one river, some in Hara on another, and the rest in the district called Gauzanitis. The region called Halah and that called Gau-zanitis, however, were both watered by the Khabour, and therefore the insertion of the name Haran where it is inserted occasions some difficulty.
1 Chronicles 5:25.-The end of idolatry.
Notwithstanding the exceeding brevity of style of the genealogical portion of Chronicles, it is not entirely without reflections of a moral and religious kind. Few they certainly are; but, when they do occur, they are of a very pronounced sort. This chapter has spoken of the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and has spanned their history, though with many a gap in it, from the first up to their captivity. This last event approached, is not to be recorded, however, without a previous and very distinct notification of what led to it. These causes, we well know, were the same with all the other tribes who were also taken into captivity, and in other parts of these genealogies corresponding allusion is made to the Captivity in respect of the other tribes as well. But the statements before us, for whatever reason now attached to the above-mentioned two tribes and a half, are emphatic. They invite us to take the opportunity of lingering awhile, and of asking what it is in their twofold shape they contain and suggest. The brevity of the solemn indictment will be helpful to us, and when we have purposely departed awhile from that brevity it will be convenient to return to it again. Up and down the history of these two and a half tribes and of all the other tribes, the mournful facts, the miserable facts, are but too apparent during the successions of many generations. Yet we have the indictment almost formally drawn up (2 Kings 7:7-17), and though but a summary, yet it reads with a fearful fulness and directness. The pointedness and exactness of the counts of the charge are such as to bespeak only too certainly their fidelity to facts. It seems necessary only in briefest outline to rehearse them. "They feared other gods; walked in the statutes of the heathen, and of the kings of Israel, which they had made; did secretly those things not right against the Lord their God; built them high places in all their cities—from the tower of the watchman to the fenced city; set up images and groves in every hill, under every green tree; burnt incense in all the high places as did the heathen; wrought wicked things to provoke the Lord to anger; served idols, whereof the Lord said, 'Ye shall not do this;' would not hear; hardened their necks; rejected his statutes and his covenant with their fathers, and his testimony; followed vanity; became vain; went after the heathen; left all the commandments of the Lord; made molten images, even two calves; worshipped all the host of heaven; served Baal; caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire; used divinations and enchantments; sold themselves to do evil." It is to be observed, then, that this thick succession of allegations of sin laid at the door of a people who might have been so blessed, is what underlies the two concise statements of the text, "They transgressed against the God of their fathers, and went a-whoring after the gods of the people of the had, whom God destroyed before them." And these two statements describe one sin, the name of which is idolatry. We may inquire here —
I. IN WHAT THE SIN OF IDOLATRY CONSISTS. Described briefly, it consists in permitting the creature-sense of dependence, of disposition to follow, of affection, and the creature-duty of service, to become supremely attached to any object lower than the highest. Among all matters of possession and of material acquisition around us, that may be an admirable modesty and a moderation to be imitated which should exhibit a man, not grasping the utmost possible of attainment, not straining for the highest which might possibly be touched. But there are tendencies of affection, of obedience, of practical service, belonging to us as creatures, and which are bound to find their end in God alone, in none beneath him. True nature, the simplest dictates of gratitude, reason itself, when unobstructed, proclaim the inherent right to these to lie in the Creator himself. He is the idolater who in these circumstances leaves the One absolute Highest and Best, in order to lean upon, to waste affection upon, to serve systematically, the lower. Once make this concession, once sacrifice this highest dictate of an intelligent nature, and the heart and life are laid wide open to every distraction, to the incursion of every disorder. The indictment already quoted above is the sufficient commentary, the ample illustration hereof.
II. WHAT IT IS IN HUMAN NATURE WHICH SEEMS IN ALL AGES TO HAVE MADE IT SO READY A VICTIM TO THE SIN OF IDOLATRY. When the nature of the sin of idolatry is barely stated, as a seeming preference for the lower and the insecure and the temporary in comparison of the opposites of these, it seems almost incredible that it should have had, should still have, so wide a sway. It were to have been supposed that men would know and would choose in the long run the best for themselves. One consideration by itself is sufficient to explain this; for idolatry is human nature's protest against living and walking by faith! It is the old battle, the battle also ever new, of sense against faith. And true as it is that faith is not less really a principle of human nature than sense a part of it, the principle has too generally been the party in the conflict compelled to succumb. Men, till they have been divinely renewed, appear always to have found the exercise of faith, in its higher domains, their "strange work." They have not repudiated it in their own human relations; they have testified to the existence of the germ of it in themselves; that germ has not refused to show life and growth in human evil and while it could raise its head at all in earthly atmosphere, but it undoubtedly has seemed smitten and blighted in proportion as the atmosphere offered it has been most pure and nearest heaven. Idolatry evidently fights against faith in two of its highest functions.
1. As that which offers to reveal to an inner eye rather than display to the bodily eye.
2. And as that which whispers ever, "Wait, wait," expectant of a future, possibly even a distant future, in place of seizing the gratification of the present hour. It is against these same things that an unregenerate human nature ever opposes itself. Those vast spheres of life, that tremendous force of life which the bodily eye cannot see, and that power which gives to distance nearness, to the far, far-off future the name of "now," are the aversion of sense, the delights of faith. The Israelites' idolatry in grosser form brings out, from the very first instances in which the charge of it was fixed upon them, these as the plain rather than deep or mysterious causes of it. A more developed world's idolatry, a wiser world's idolatry, a far subtler world's idolatry, needs not to go in quest of any deeper, remoter sources. These are deep enough and too incontestable.
III. WHAT CONSIDERATIONS OF SPECIAL AGGRAVATION ARE INSTANCED HERE.
1. The hosts of the people "transgressed against the God of their fathers." The sin of their idolatry was, therefore, heightened by the fact that it was against:
(1) One long known to them as a nation;
(2) One entitled to their more scrupulous veneration for the houour and the love they owed their own fathers;
(3) One of whom those fathers had oft told them "the wondrous works he had wrought" on their behalf. The history of their own God, which began for them with Abraham, which received so striking an impulse in Joseph, which was the talk of the whole earth from the deliverance from Egypt and the passage of the Red Sea, which glittered again with event and circumstance and miracle in the journeyings of the wilderness, and which shone bright as the noonday sun in the glorious reigns of David and Solomon;—was this a history which could permit them to transgress idolatrously against him who had invested them with all that was greatest and most merciful and fullest of glory?
2. While the people thus forsook their own God and the God of their fathers, for whom, for what was it they thus acted? It was to supersede him
(1) by the very gods of the people of the land, whom they superseded, and of whose land they took possession;
(2) by the very gods of the people whom their own God alone had driven out and had destroyed before them, and from their vengeance had safely preserved them. Privilege, mercy, and warning they flagrantly set at nought. They forfeited, without the pretence of an excuse, exalted place, distinguishing honour. Unprovoked, untempted except of their own evil heart and lusts, they forsook the true God and their true and mighty Friend in order to go with an unholy love, with a self-ruining service, after false gods. Such rebellion was indeed "the sin of witchcraft," such "stubbornness was iniquity and idolatry." And to a people so long led and loved of the Lord, so well fed and securely kept, that rebellion and stubbornness brought what they ever must bring to those who yield to them, the loss of their very highest good, the forfeiting of their grandest privileges, and the dread eclipse of Divine favour and presence.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
1 Chronicles 5:2.-Judah's pre-eminence.
The tribe of Judah holds the first and most prominent place in these genealogies. Reuben was the firstborn, and Joseph had the birthright; but precedence was given to Judah. This was foretold in the remarkable language in which old Jacob, upon his dying bed, spoke of this one of his sons and the tribe of which he was the progenitor.
I. THE TRIBE OF JUDAH TOOK PRECEDENCE OF ALL. When the tribes were numbered under Moses, that of Judah was found to exceed all the others in number. When the Israelites were organized for the war against the Canaanites, Judah was divinely appointed to be the vanguard of the army. A similar precedence is accorded to the tribe of Judah in this Book of Chronicles.
II. FROM THE TRIBE OF JUDAH SPRANG DAVID AND THE ROYAL HOUSE. Of Israel the Lord chose Judah, and of that tribe the family of Jesse, and of that family the youthful David. The great King of Israel and his glorious son shed a splendour upon the national annals. And when the separation of the kingdoms came about, the kingdom of Judah was distinguished in many ways, both civil and religious, above the sister kingdom of Northern Palestine.
III. The greatest distinction and privilege of Judah was this: FROM THIS TRIBE SPRANG THE MESSIAH. Jesus, the Son of David, was a descendant from Judah. This was the true "Lion of the tribe of Judah."
1. Mark the hand of God in family history. Providence raises up one house and sets down another. Families are sometimes selected to fulfil high purposes; and when they are found faithful to their vocation honour is put upon them by him who says, "Them that honour me I will honour."
2. Remember your accountability to God for family advantages. If God has given much, he will require the more.—T.
1 Chronicles 5:18-22.-Victors and vanquished.
The two tribes and a half who occupied the province east of the Jordan were naturally regarded with hostility or jealousy by their Arab neighbours. Conflicts arose, having reference especially to the possession of the rich pasture-lands. In the time of Saul, and apparently under a later king, there was war between the trans-Jordanic tribes and the Hagarites, an Ishmaelitish race. These verses record the war and its result, namely, the defeat of the Hagarites and the possession of the land by the Israelites until the time of the Captivity. Observe —
I. THE INSTRUMENTALITY OF THE VICTORY. The warriors engaged on behalf of Israel were numerous, amounting to forty-four thousand men. They were not only numerous, but valiant, well armed, and trained to fight.
II. THE EXPLANATION OF VICTORY. The chronicler gives this account of the matter: "The war was of God;" "They cried to God in the battle, and he was entreated of them." All strength and valour are from God, and in this respect we are justified in ascribing victory unto him. It is not, however, every just cause that triumphs, and defeat is sometimes the lot of the innocent and those who contend for their rights and liberty. It is a consolation to know that, in any case, what happens is permitted by Providence and is overruled by Providence for good. The King of Sweden, before the great battle of Lutzen, prayed, "Jesus, vouchsafe this day to be my strong Helper, and give me courage to fight for the honour of thy Name!"
III. THE FRUITS OF VICTORY. There were immediate fruits in the vast spoil and booty taken by the conquerors (1 Chronicles 5:21), and abiding fruits in the lands which the tribes won and possessed and inhabited for generations.
1. Trace the hand of God even in human wars.
2. Concerning wars in which both parties profess to fight for justice, let nations accustom themselves deliberately to ask, "Is the war of God?" If men would be guided by the answer to this question, many wars would be checked and prevented, and the blessings of peace would oftener be secured.—T.
1 Chronicles 5:25, 1 Chronicles 5:26.-Judgment and retribution.
History is something more than a mere record of events. Chronicles, strictly speaking, are the materials only of history. But this book contains, again and again, the Divine philosophy of history. It exhibits the action of the moral, the righteous Ruler of Israel and of mankind. In the history of the trans-Jordanic tribes we have an illustration of the working of great principles of Divine government.
I. THE OCCASION AND REASON OF THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE, Surrounded by heathen, they themselves largely lapsed into heathenism. This was all the more discreditable in them because they forsook Jehovah, the God of their fathers, who had done great things for their nation, and because they attached themselves to the worship of the deities of the very people over whom their God had given them victory and rule. Accordingly their conduct is represented as spiritual fornication, or adultery.
II. THE INSTRUMENTS OF THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE. Under Divine providence, Pul was permitted to make war upon the idolatrous tribes and lay them under tribute, and afterwards Tilgath-pilneser was permitted to carry the people away captive into Assyria. God always has instruments to effect his purposes; even the wicked are used by him to chasten and punish the disobedient and rebellious.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE. It would be an interesting subject of inquiry why God thus chastened his chosen people again and again by way of captivity. This we know, that the exile in the East was the means of confirming the Hebrews in their monotheism, and that never again did they lapse into idolatry.
1. As to sin, we are taught that its root, its essence, is in departing from God.
2. As to the Divine government, we are taught that God "will not clear the guilty," and that "the way of transgressors is hard."
3. And we have suggested to us the mercy of God in his provision of reconciliation and acceptance upon repentance, faith, and return to himself.—T.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
1 Chronicles 5:1-17.-The three threads of destiny.
"That is my destiny" is the creed of a foolish fatalism or else the half-hearted excuse of a soul sadly conscious of sin and failure. The full truth respecting a man's or a nation's destiny is that it depends on three factors—circumstance, the Divine will, and character. This is well illustrated here.
I. CIRCUMSTANCE. Mention is made of the birthright (1 Chronicles 5:1). Usually the eldest son enjoyed this, and, with this, dominion and a double share in the division of the estate. Through all the tribes of Israel, for succeeding generations, the authority and the possessions of individual men depended on their birth—whose children they were and whether they were the firstborn or not. In the ease of Joseph's sons (1 Chronicles 5:1), Manasseh and Ephraim had the headship of a most powerful tribe, because they were the sons of the estimable and beloved sons of Joseph. "The sons of Reuben" (verse 3) took their share of honour and estate, whatever may have been left them by their father, etc. So with us in every age and land. What our fortune and future will be, in what society we shall move, what consideration we shall enjoy, etc.,—this depends largely on what men call "the accident of birth," the parentage from which we spring, on the circumstances in which we enter the world and in which we pass our earlier years. Circumstance is one thread of destiny. The fact is a reason why we should not pride ourselves on our good position; also why we should not despise others in positions much lower than our own.
II. THE DIVINE WILL. "Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler" (verse 2). And how came Judah to prevail? Was it not chiefly, if not wholly, by the distinguishing grace of God? He chose David to be the ruler, to be King of Israel, to be the ancestor of the Messiah (see Genesis 49:8; Judges 1:1, Judges 1:2; 1 Chronicles 28:4). Our heritage here is, in part, chosen for us of God (Psalms 47:4). He determines our portion by
(1) the mental faculties and moral dispositions with which he endows us;
(2) the providential openings he provides for us;
(3) the direct Divine promptings with which he inspires us.
And since God has so much to do with our fortunes in this world, we should
(1) be humble in prosperity;
(2) be contented in lowliness;
(3) be submissive in adversity.
III. CHARACTER. Reuben might have had a far more honourable and influential position than he and his posterity enjoyed. Circumstances favoured it; God would have been willing to sanction it. But he forfeited it by his sin (verse 1). His shameful incontinence lowered the level of his fortunes and of those of his children. Had he been a better man he would have held a larger share of prominence and power. Character is a strong thread in the cord of human destiny. What we shall be in the world, to what we shall rise, and what heritage we shall leave to our children,—all this depends in very large part indeed on the character we form in youth;
(7) civility (pleasantness of address), —
these are the constituents of success. When these are absent, life must be a failure; when present, it is almost certain to be a success. But there is one thing not to be overlooked, viz. that we may make sure and must make sure of the destiny of the good and holy—"the heritage of them that fear God's Name." Apart from this, success is short-lived and superficial. With this, temporal misfortunes may be calmly borne, for beyond is an everlasting portion which will make these soon to be forgotten.—C.
1 Chronicles 5:18-26.-Devotion, declension, and doom.
In this brief story we have a painfully characteristic piece of human history—first, spiritual soundness; then consequent prosperity; then laxity and sin; then punishment and disaster. We trace the steps.
I. A COMMENCEMENT IN MORAL AND SPIRITUAL SOUNDNESS. These two tribes and a half were brave and godly men: "valiant men" (1 Chronicles 5:18); godly men also, for they "cried to God in the battle, and they put their trust in him" (1 Chronicles 5:20); and it is clear that they were acting so much under the direction and in the service of Jehovah that it could be said of their struggle "the war was of God" (1 Chronicles 5:22). It is possible that a war of the same kind, a struggle between contending armies, may now be "of God," and that godly soldiers may cry, with genuine and acceptable devotion, for Divine succour. But such engagements are rare. The illustration of this truth is found now in other fields:
(1) in the battle of life;
(2) in the struggle against particular evils, such as drunkenness, impurity, etc.;
(3) in the great missionary campaign. Here are three principal virtues in all moral and spiritual warfare—valour (1 Chronicles 5:18), prayer (1 Chronicles 5:20), and trust in his Word (1 Chronicles 5:20).
II. CONSEQUENT SUCCESS AT THE HAND OF GOD. "They were helped against them, and the Hagarites were delivered into their hand," etc. (1 Chronicles 5:20). Beside the security and joy of victory came possessions (1 Chronicles 5:21) and a home (1 Chronicles 5:22, 1 Chronicles 5:23). Those who, in the battles they fight under God, strive in accordance with his will, manfully, prayerfully, and expectantly, will certainly be rewarded with
(1) the joy of victory,
(2) increase of power and spiritual wealth, and
(3) the approval and reward of the Divine Captain.
Too often—alas for human infirmity!—comes —
III. SPIRITUAL DECLENSION. "They transgressed against the God of their fathers," etc. (1 Chronicles 5:25). Their comfortable prosperity led to free intercourse with ungodly neighbours, and this to laxity of thought and word, and this, ultimately, to defection and rank disobedience. So is it only too often in the history of men, of Churches, of nations. Their early piety leads to an enjoyable prosperity; this leads to intimate association and intercourse with those less devout and pure; and this to contamination and corruption. It is the course which humanity has taken in every dispensation, in every land, in every Church; not necessarily, but with a lamentable frequency. So common is the case that all prosperous piety may well hear a loud voice bidding it Beware! Spiritual declension is unperceived in its beginning; spreads through the soul—through the ranks—with perilous subtlety; grows with gathering rapidity; is increasingly hard to overcome; is fatal in its final issues. It leads to —
IV. A MISERABLE DOOM. It ended, in the case of these Israelites, in defeat and exile—in national destruction (1 Chronicles 5:26). It ends, with us:
1. In utter defeat and failure; so that the purpose of our life, whether individual or collective, is wholly thwarted.
2. In spiritual exile; in disastrous separation from God. He is no longer with us as he once was; he is no longer in us. We live apart from him in a far country.
3. In saddest disappointment. The Master is grieved that his Church (his disciple) has fallen from its (his) high estate; the good and wise grieve over one more deplorable defection.—C.
HOMILIES BY F. WHITFIELD
1 Chronicles 5:1-8.-Reuben.
Reuben was the eldest son of Jacob. The birthright which was his, included dominion and a double portion; both of these were forfeited by sin (see Genesis 49:3, Genesis 49:4) and were transferred to Joseph. But as Joseph's posterity was not mentioned first, the historian explains by saying that the genealogy was not to be reckoned by birthright, as the superior honour and privilege had been previously Conferred on Judah. This tribe had the pre-eminence over all the tribes, not on account of Judah himself, but because Christ, "the chief Ruler" (see 1 Chronicles 5:2), was to come out of it. Reuben's sin comes in here as a parenthesis. God will brand sin wherever he sees it. It is no trifle with him, nor does he ever forget it. Only one thing can blot it out—the blood of the Lamb. We may forget it, but he will make it to Come in as a parenthesis in our own life or in that of our posterity, that we may learn what an evil and bitter thing it is, and that he will not trifle with it. But these fruits of sin, these parentheses, how they come in ages after, marring the brightest escutcheon, hindering our blessing, and tarnishing God's glory! The curse of our crime is handed down through generations, and the innocent child is humiliated and thrown back and its fairest prospects blighted. Again we have Christ brought before us, at the opening of this chapter, in the prominence given to the tribe of Judah. The natural birthright is set aside. It is so always. Nature's order is reversed in the kingdom of God. "The last shall be first, and the first shall be last." This is the law of God's kingdom. Man's rejected is God's chosen. Grace, and not nature, takes the lead. Little did Reuben's posterity judge of the chief reason why he was set aside. Little did Judah's posterity know the chief reason for his pre-eminence. God was putting down one and raising up another with reference to the future manifestation and glory of his dear Son. To human eye this did not appear. Thus was God working behind the scenes, working out the counsels of his own will, and all with a view to the glory of Christ. So it is now. We see the sin of man as in Reuben; we see the counterworking of Satan, crossing, to all human appearance, the purposes of God; but behind all God is working. God is raising up one and putting down another, and all with reference to the advancement of the kingdom and glory of his dear Son. It does not appear so to our short-sighted judgment, but we are no judges of God's ways and thoughts: "His ways are not our ways, nor his thoughts our thoughts." Behind every little event in your daily life God is working. And he is never more really carrying out his purposes of wisdom and grace and love than when those events seem to run counter to this end. Judge of God's ways by the opposite. The more apparently opposed the more really he is there.—W.
1 Chronicles 5:18-24.-Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh: their valour.
We have first a description of the men brought before us. They were "valiant men, men able to bear buckler and sword, and to shoot with bow, and skilful in war." Such are God's children to be at all times. They are not to rest in their Christianity, not to sit down and fold their hands because they are saved. No; they are to "fight the good fight of faith," to "war a good warfare," to "put on the whole armour of God," to be "good soldiers of Jesus Christ." In order to be "good soldiers" they must be "valiant" for the truth; they must be "able" men, endued with the power of the Holy Spirit. They must be men able to bear "buckler and sword, and to shoot with bow, and skilful in war." They must be men trained of God's Holy Spirit, men "able" to use all the spiritual weapons of truth in the armoury of God. They must be "able to shoot with bow"—to send home some pointed arrow of truth to some heart and conscience by word and by deed. They must be "able to bear the sword"—to use the Word of God, the "sword of the Spirit," with power. So that the "sword" and the" bow "may be said to take in the near and the distant—the "sword" the hand-to-hand conflict; the bow the distant weapon, the arrow well aimed. The different aspects of truth, the different ways of using it, the different attitudes which the Christian is to take with regard to the enemy,—these are the points of instruction shadowed forth by this variety of weapon. He is to be taught of God's Spirit, disciplined by prayer, by meditation, by the reading of the Word, by dependence on God, yea, and by his own defeats and failures, his sorrows and sins, so as to be "skilful in war." And observe that this spiritual warfare is to be no mere head-knowledge, no mere talk, no hollow profession. It is a real thing. Mark it here—"they went out to the war;" "they made war;" "they were helped against" the enemy in the war; they conquered in the war (verses 18-20). Here are the four stages of Christian warfare in all its reality—they "went out;" they "made;" they were "helped;" they conquered. And why did they conquer? What was the secret of their victory? Was it their "valour," their "sword," their "bow," their "buckler," their "skill"? Ah, no! All would have been in vain if it had depended on these. "The Hagarites were delivered into their hand,… for they cried to God in the battle." "Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain." "if it had not been the Lord who was on our side, now may Israel say; if it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us: then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us: then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: then the proud waters bad gone over our soul. Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth" (Psalms 124:1-6). Nor were the Reubenites conquerors only. "They took away their cattle; of their camels fifty thousand, and of sheep two hundred and fifty thousand, and of asses two thousand, of men an hundred thousand." What a victory, and what abundance of spoil! Yes; the Lord's battles are always sure things—sure victory and sure spoil. He giveth great victory; he enables us to carry away rich blessings from the spiritual conflict. It is no mere winning with the Christian. It is a glorious warfare and an equally glorious victory. "In all these things," says the apostle, "we are more than conquerors through him that loved us." We do indeed "war a good warfare." There are "Hagarites" all round you and within you. Be "skilful in war:" gird the "buckler," the "bow," and the "sword" of truth close to your souls. "Go out to the war;" "make war." "Cry to God" in the battle. "Put your trust in him." "Your labour in the Lord is not in vain." So shall you be a conqueror; so shall you carry away great spoil; so shall "many fall down slain" by you. Be a "valiant" man; so shall you be "more than conqueror" in everything that is against you. And remember, it is not your battle, but God's. Mark what is said: "There fell down many slain, because the war was of God." Yes; the war is of God. He cannot look upon sin. He has no part in this world. It is all in spirit contrary to him. He would have you not "conformed" to it but "transformed." "This is not your rest. Arise ye, and depart." He has better things in store for you. Everything here is too poor for the King's sons. You are waiting for the gold and the jewels and the crowns of the celestial city. "Arise ye, and depart." This war, this discipline, this struggle with sin, those defeats, those humiliations, those hot scalding tears, those bleeding hearts, those mysteries and baffling enigmas making you cry out, "What does it all mean?"—it is all of God. This warfare is fitting you for the glory. It is making you to know yourself and to know Jesus. It is brightening your crown; it is tuning your golden harp; it is weaving your starlit diadem. Yes; "the war is of God." Oh, if you could only see it! If you could only look at it, just for a moment, from yonder height of glory, how it would all seem right then! If you could only look at it through the tearless eye, up on the height, out of the smoke and din and roar of the battle in the plain, how it would all be right! Yes; "the war is of God." Then war a good warfare. The Captain of your salvation will soon be here to reward you with the crown. "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life." Mark the elements of this great victory: "They cried to God in the battle, and be was entreated of them; because they put their trust in him." "When Moses held up his hand,… Israel prevailed." So here. Not prayer without trust—that is unbelief. Not trust without prayer—that is presumption. Prayer and trust—that is victory.—W.
1 Chronicles 5:25, 1 Chronicles 5:26.-Reuben's fall.
We now come to the fall of the very people who, only a few verses before, had been so conspicuous for prayer and faith and victory. And what was the cause of it? "They went a-whoring after the gods of the people of the land." The world around; the pleasure-seeking, self-seeking world; the attractive, smiling, seducing world;—this drew them aside, this stole their hearts from God. What the Hagarites had failed to do, the "gods of the people of the land" did. Satan conies to God's people in one of two forms—either as a "roaring lion" or as an "angel of light." Where he cannot succeed in one way he will try the other. He came as a "roaring lion" in the form of the "Hagarites," but he failed. He then came as an "angel of light" in the" gods of the people of the land;" thus they fell. It is the same always. Behold it in the case of good King Hezekiah. Satan tried him as a "roaring lion" in the person of Sennacherib and his threatening letter. Hezekiah threw himself on God, and triumphed. Satan next came as an "angel of light" in the form of the "letters and a present from Merodach-baladan, King of Babylon." Hezekiah saw not the hook beneath the gilded bait; thus he fell (Isaiah 39:1). And what is the commentary of the Holy Spirit on this? "Howbeit in the business of the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, who sent unto him to inquire of the wonder that was done in the land, God left him, to try him." Why? Only in mercy and love, "that he might know all that was in his heart" (2Ch 32:1-33 :81). Ah! when God leaves a man, even for a moment, there is no foreseeing to what a depth he will fall. "God left him "—solemn words!—"that he might know all that was in his heart." How little we know what a serpent-coil of evil is hidden in our hearts! "He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool." "Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries," etc. What a filthy stream! Who would trust it? Who would look into it for good? None but the fool. Trust only Jesus. Trust a Saviour's promise, a Saviour's love, a Saviour's power, but never trust your heart. Christian reader, learn the lesson. And where are these people of God seen next? "And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul King of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser King of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river Gozan, unto this day." God will chastise. His people must know the bitterness of their sin. And what strange places the sins of God's people have brought them into! Some have gone back into the world; some are seen walking no more with Jesus; some are buried in different forms of error; some are seen hankering after the world and its vanities with a fervour and anxiety of which the world itself would be ashamed; some are seen with marks and shadows in their Christian character, that have proved and are proving a sad stumbling-block to others. Yes; these are "Halah" and "Habor" and "Hara," into which their great enemy has brought them. They have been "carried away." And what has done it? Let the prophet answer: "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags: and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away." Christian reader, learn the solemn lesson. Know your heart, but only to distrust it. Trust only in Jesus. Abide in him. Only thus can you be safe.—W.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
1 Chronicles 5:1.-Instability.
For the earlier references to Reuben, see Genesis 29:32; Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:3, Genesis 49:4; comp. Genesis 48:15, Genesis 48:22. The joy Leah felt at Reuben's birth was not maintained as his character and disposition unfolded. The weakness of his character is fixed in a sentence by his father, "Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel." Evidently the one act of sin to which Jacob referred in illustration did but seal the impression which Jacob previously had of his firstborn son. This subject may be effectively introduced by a picture of the aged Jacob spending his failing strength in prophetic messages to his children. These were evidently based on paternal observation of their characteristic qualities, but they involve the seer's power to discern how those qualities affect the future developments of each tribe. Compare Moses' prophecy concerning Reuben (Deuteronomy 33:6). The figure of the water (unstable as water) is that of water boiling over, or swelling in flood, or driven up in storm; and includes . sudden passion, violent impulses, lack of self-restraint, as well as uncertainty, unsteadiness. The general lessons to be learned from this recalling of Reuben to mind may be thus set forth.
I. EACH MAN HAS HIS PROVIDENTIAL PLACE. It is by no accident that men have their places in families as firstborn or younger sons, or that they belong to families of particular rank and class. These are all in the Divine arrangement. They fit into the precise endowments and possibilities of the individual, and the Divine method of his testing and culture by trial. Reuben was the firstborn, and in the faithful keeping of that place lay all the noble possibilities of his life. A man may come to occupy other places, and after failure may recover position and influence to some extent; but it should ever be deeply impressed upon us that our highest hopes and best possibilities of service to God and to our race must always depend on our recognizing, keeping, and worthily filling, our providential place.
II. KEEPING THE PROVIDENTIAL PLACE DEPENDS ON CHARACTER, NOT CIRCUMSTANCE. Illustrate that the firstborn of a family often loses his place, and one of the younger members becomes practically the family head, the one on whom all depend. This may occur through such circumstances as the removal of the firstborn to a distance, but more often it is due to failure in the unfolding of character. Time shows that the firstborn cannot be relied on, cannot carry the family burden or help to realize the family hope. So, apart from all the plottings of Jacob, Esau, by reason of failure in character, failed from the family headship; and Reuben proves himself unfitted by his untamed impulsiveness for the place of influence and authority. The birthright is not taken away from a man, but the man loses it himself, or the providential workings shift all the honour and responsibility and dignity of it on to the worthy shoulders. It is largely true that a man wins and keeps what he deserves.
III. THE ONE THING THAT MAKES MEN MISS OPPORTUNITY AND PLACE IS INSTABILITY. They cannot be "steadfast, unmovable." So much of men's failure is not open and manifest wrong. Some of the saddest failures in life are of men who are morally good, but weak; men who cannot reach "patient continuance in well-doing." The Apostle James deals vigorously with this kind of failure, using the illustration of "water" or the "sea-wave' (James 1:6-8). Instability may take a milder form, as "uncertainty," "inability to decide," "wavering;" or an intenser form, as is illustrated in Reuben: then it is "unchecked impulse," "tendency to passion," "failure to restrain one's self by righteous principle." But each form of the evil suffices to lose a man his place. Compare the Evangelist Mark. "Not one great action, not one judge, prophet, or leader, from the tribe of Reuben is ever mentioned in history."
IV. EXACTLY WHAT CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLE DOES FOR MEN IS TO GIVE THEM STRENGTH AND CONTINUANCE. Its work is to give the soul rootage, as it were, in God, so that the growth may be steadily upward and outward. It finds a foundation on which the whole building of character, fitly framed together, may grow into a holy temple. Its message is, "Be ye steadfast, unmovable," etc. (1 Corinthians 15:58); and its models are the heroic martyrs who, strong in God, stand fast, and, having done all, stand.—R.T.
1 Chronicles 5:2.-Birthrights and supremacies.
A significant fact of the early history of the patriarchs is here brought to remembrance. It is one so curious as to carry suggestions and lessons for all the ages, and so is recorded for our instruction. By providential arrangement the tribal birthright was Reuben's; he, however, lost it through his wrongdoing, and his father shifted it from the eldest son of his first with to the eldest son of his second but really his own chosen wife—from Reuben to Joseph. Man's adjustments of the Divine order are not always sealed by God. Jacob's were not in this case. As the years passed on, Judah came to the front, ultimately gained the sovereignty, and from this tribe came the permanent Davidic dynasty. Joseph, represented by the tribe of Ephraim, struggled, age after age, to keep the birthright place, but in vain; and in the conflict of the two tribes we may find illustration of the hopelessness of pressing mere human adjustments against the providential order. Neither the individual nor the community may ever hope to "resist God and prosper." It is ever ill work "running upon the bosses of Jehovah's buckler."
I. MAN CANNOT READJUST THE DIVINE ORDER. Yet that is exactly what we, in our self-will, are ever striving to do. Even when we know what is God's will, we try to get it twisted about so that it may at least seem to conform to our will. This is a very common but very subtle form of Christian error and sin. We know what we wish or want, so we deceive ourselves into the idea that this is what God wishes or wants for us, and fail in that simple openness to Divine lead which is the right spirit to cherish. Scripture illustrations may be found in Rebekah, whose will was to gain the birthright and blessing for her favourite son, so she took the Divine order into her own adjustment, and won those things for him by deceptions which, very properly, brought heavy penalties on her and on him. Or in Balaam, who professed to do exactly what God wished him to do, and yet evidently did what he himself planned to do, forcing from God that fatal "Go." Or in Saul, who could not simply wait God's time and the arrival of his prophet, but, arranging the Divine order according to his own self-will, must himself offer the sacrifice. The forms in which nowadays men take the ordering of their lives into their own hands may be illustrated, and, as a contrast, mention may be made of David, who, though tempted to slay King Saul, would not interfere with the Divine order, though he might easily have seemed to himself to have been only fulfilling the Divine promise. We must wait for God as well as on him.
II. MAN FINDS HIS TRUE GOOD IN FOLLOWING THE DIVINE ORDER. Not in the helplessly passive way of poor aged Eli, but in an active and loyal way, we may say, "It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good." Keble expresses the right state of mind for the child of God, in his picture of the man sanctified by affliction, "wishing, no longer struggling, to be free." The Divine order for our life may differ wholly from the order of our own plannings. It may even seem to flesh and blood painful and humiliating. Still let life unfold, and it proves the way of best blessing for us and for others through us. Let eternity unfold, and we sing through all the ages of the "good way wherein the Lord our God led us." David shows us the attitude to which the Divine order is revealed. "The meek will he guide in judgment, and the meek will he teach his way."
III. FOLLOWING THE DIVINE ORDER MAY LEAD A MAN TO HIGHER THINGS THAN HIS BIRTH PROMISED. Illustrate from Judah, and from cases of men born in the disabilities of poverty, or of the weakness of hereditary disease, who have been led in God's providence to high place, powers, and usefulness. Let us find our faculty and endowment. It is the key to God's purpose in our life; let us develop it. Life will then bring to us its best. Let us but follow on along the line of our Divine endowment, and even the "least may become the first."—R.T.
1 Chronicles 5:18-22.-Man's power and God's power in war.
It was a characteristic feature of Jewish thought, and it was a fitting expression of the theocratic principle, that God was recognized as directly concerned in and related to every event, and in such a way as made him, in a very real and deep sense, the cause of the event. The observation of this peculiarity is necessary to the understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures, and it alone explains some of the Scripture difficulties, especially those which seem to assert that God is the author of evil, that he hardened Pharaoh's heart, sent an evil spirit to Saul, and a lying spirit into the prophets, etc. Still, admitting this general feature, there appears to be an unusual positiveness and strength about the assertions in this passage, that "the war was of God;" that "they cried to God in the battle, and he was entreated of them; because they put their trust in him." Probably the historical reference is to the "great war in the time of Saul between the trans-Jordanic Israelites and the Hagarenes, who then occupied the rich tract north and north-east of Gilead, known as the Hauran at the present day." A study of the map will impress the importance of the subjection of this district to the security of the trans-Jordanic tribes. The Hagarenes were "noted for their thievish habits, and were regarded as savage and warlike." We note, from these verses, that the difficulty of putting rightly together man's working and God's strengthening finds constant and ever-varied illustration in Holy Scripture, coming up to view in very unlikely places. Here the instance is a striking one, because, in the common and less thoughtful estimate of men, war is precisely the thing in which God is not wanted; in which the whole foreground is occupied with man's armies, man's weapons, man's skill, and man's energies, and there is plainly no room for God. The instance is an impressive one, because in such unusual circumstances we are called to learn the lesson of trust, and to see that man only achieves a true success when he is strong in God. Even in his wars man should find the principle working that is so skilfully expressed by the apostle in relation to the personal life: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12, Philippians 2:13; see the form in the Revised Version). The possibility of uniting energy and trust in wartimes may be illustrated in the soldiers of Gustavus Adolphus and of Cromwell.
I. MAN'S OWN WORK IN WAR. It is usually entered upon for reasons of state. The times bring round to some men the spirit of conquest. Nations undertake wars to secure their boundaries, to repress the encroachments of neighbours, etc.; and even in sacred wars, such as the Crusades, the real object is the securing of some human sovereignty, such as was claimed by the pope. War is the great sphere for the exercise of man's trained physical powers. And it is usual for success in war to follow the greatest army and the highest efficiency. So it is of all human things the most intensely human.
II. MAN'S TRUST IN GOD IN WAR. If the object of the war be right, man need never separate God from it. And, to impress this, Scripture shows us God fighting with and by means of armies; even saying distinctly, "the war was of God." We have not to decide the right in historical cases, which demand a fuller basis of judgment and more complete knowledge than we possess; but we must decide the right of any wars which we sanction, and only when assured of the right can we trust God for success.
III. GOD'S WORK THROUGH MAN IN WAR. None can read the story of the race without seeing that God has used war as one of the severer agents in his providential workings for the sum total of good. And no,, man. can read aright' the "signs of his times" without finding God in battle-fields, making the wrath of man praise him." Impress for all right spheres of human life the practical compatibility of trust and toil.—R.T.
1 Chronicles 5:25.-The sin of idolatry and its judgments.
In the Divine wisdom it had been planned that the idolatrous Canaanites should be wholly dispossessed, so that no remnants of the race should exert an evil influence on God's people when settled in their lands. Such a plan distinctly intimates the Divine sense of the peril in which the contact of idolatry would place an unsophisticated people. And such the Israelites were, for though their fathers had known Egyptian idolatry, the race that entered Canaan had been entirely isolated in the desert districts. They failed to carry out fully the Divine plan. Some of the Canaanites were left unconquered through the hurry of the tribes to locate themselves on their allotted lands. Some were left because the people had not faith in God enough to conquer them. And these remnants became a snare and a trap to the simple people, who were easily fascinated by ceremonial and licence. We learn —
I. THE TEMPTATION OF IDOLATRY. From the standpoint of our spiritual Christianity, we sometimes wonder how any one can be attracted by the helpless and often hideous idols of heathen nations, or deceived by the claims of their priests; and yet the appeal of idolatry being to certain marked features of human nature, a little searching might show idolatry, in a skilful disguise, even imperilling our spiritual Christianity, and it is not quite certain that any of us could claim the right to "cast the first stone." To what in man does idolatry make its appeal?
1. To the sensuous element. We want everything brought within the sphere of the senses, and we only consider that we know What the senses can apprehend. So it is ever attractive to man to offer him his God as within the grasp of his senses. He will delude himself into the idea that the sense-form only helps him to realize the spiritual and invisible Being, the great Spirit, but almost inevitably the sense-hold becomes a slavery, and the thing seen is accepted as the reality.
2. To the aesthetic element, or taste, the love of the beautiful. A spiritual and invisible God asks from his creatures a spiritual and invisible worship, with a material expression held within careful limitations. A God within sense-limits only asks sense-service, and man satisfies himself with making it ornate, elaborate, and the perfection of taste, according to the sentiment of the age. Illustrate from refined Greek humanism.
3. To the active element. Idolatry has something for its votaries to do, many prayers to say, pilgrimages to take, sacrifices to bring, etc; good works by which to win favour.
4. To the sensual element. All idolatrous systems are more or less immoral, and give licence to the bodily lusts and passions. The purity of the claims of spiritual religion constitute, for man as he is, one of its chief disabilities. Show how Canaanite idolatry illustrates these, in its influence on the Israelites.
II. THE SIN OF IDOLATRY. Take the case of nations outside the covenant; what may be known of God by them declares him as above his creation, and naturally claiming first and sole allegiance (see St. Paul's speech at Athens, and Romans 1:1-32.). Take the case of the nation within the covenant; a special aggravation is its sin against light and against its own pledge. Idolatry is a rash sin, for it sins against the basis commandment, which requires us to love God first. Its sinful character is sufficiently revealed and declared in its corrupting and debasing influence. It "brings forth death."
III. THE JUDGMENT OF IDOLATRY. This is always spiritual; seen in the deterioration of the nations that serve idols. It is usually also material, and is seen in the mental, moral, and governmental slavery of the nations where idol-gods are sought. Divine judgments often—we can hardly say always—take their character from the sins which they judge. This the idea of Dante's 'Inferno.' Close by pressing St. John's counsel, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols."—R.T.