For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound.—Not only has each instrument its own sound, but in each instrument there is a distinction of notes. If a trumpet does not clearly sound the advance when it is intended, or the retreat when it is meant, the trumpet is useless, the soldiers not knowing what to do.
Who shall prepare himself ... - The apostle selects a single instance of what was indicated by the trumpet, as an illustration of what he meant. The idea is, that foreign tongues spoken in their assembly would be just as useless in regard to their duty, their comfort, and edification, as would be the sound of a trumpet when it gave one of the usual and intelligible sounds by which it was known what the soldiers were required to do. Just as we would say, that the mere beating on a drum would he useless, unless some tune was played by which it was known that the soldiers were summoned to the parade, to advance, or to retreat.
uncertain sound—having no definite meaning: whereas it ought to be so marked that one succession of notes on the trumpet should summon the soldiers to attack; another, to retreat; another, to some other evolution.
who shall prepare himself to the battle? the allusion is to the custom of many nations, Jews and others, who, when about to engage in war, made use of musical instruments, particularly the trumpet, to gather the soldiers together, prepare them for the battle, give them notice of it, and animate them to it (y); the sound of the trumpet was the alarm of war; see Jeremiah 4:5. And particularly the allusion may be to the two silver trumpets, ordered by God to Moses for the Jews, which were to be made of a whole piece, and to be used for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps, and to blow an alarm with when they went to war against the enemy, Numbers 10:1 and were a lively emblem of the Gospel, whose use is to gather souls to Christ, to direct saints in their journeying, and to prepare and animate them for battle, with their spiritual enemies; and of which use it is, when it gives a certain and even sound, as it does when clearly and rightly blown; and that is, the sound of love, grace, and mercy, to the sons of men, through a bleeding Saviour; salvation alone by a crucified Jesus, peace and pardon by his blood, justification by his righteousness, and atonement by his sacrifice; when it is blown aright, it blows a blast on all the goodliness of man, it magnifies the grace of God, exalts the person of Christ, debases the creature, shows its impurity, imperfection, and inability; and expresses the nature, use, and necessity of efficacious grace; and puts believers on doing good works for necessary uses, but not for life, righteousness, and salvation; and so its sound is equal, even, and certain: and when it is so, it is a means of gathering souls to Christ, the standard bearer and ensign of the people; and of engaging them to enlist themselves as volunteers in his service; and of animating them to fight under his banner the battles of the Lord of hosts: but if this trumpet gives an uncertain sound, as it does when grace and works are blended together in the business of salvation; and faith or works put in the room of, or joined with the righteousness of Christ in justification; when particular election and general redemption, or the salvability of all men, are put together; the covenant of grace represented as conditional, and preparations for grace, and offers of grace, and days of grace talked of, that may be past and lost; then who can prepare himself for the battle? persons must be thrown into, and left in the utmost uncertainty and confusion: when this is the case, they know not what side to take on, but halt between two opinions; they know not what that faith is they are to fight and earnestly contend for; they are not able to discern an enemy from a friend; they have no heart to fight and endure hardness, as good soldiers of Christ; nor can they promise themselves, or be assured of victory, which the certain sound of the Gospel gives them.For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)1 Corinthians 14:8. Confirmation of the negative implied in πῶς γνωσθήσεται κ.τ.λ., by another yet stronger example: for also in the case of, etc. The emphasis is upon σάλπιγξ, a trumpet, the simple sounds of which are assuredly far more easily intelligible as regards their meaning and design than those of flute and cither.
ἄδηλον] unclear, uncertain, qui dignosci nequeat, Beza. “Unius tubae cantus alius ad alia vocat milites,” Bengel. Comp. φωνάς τινας ἀσήμους, Lucian, Alex. 13.
φωνήν] comp. Il. xviii. 219.
εἰς πόλεμον] to battle, Hom. Il. i. 177, iv. 891; Pind. Ol. xii. 5; Plato, Phaed. p. 66 C; Sir 37:5; Sir 40:6; 1Ma 2:41. The signal of attack was given with the trumpet. See Wetstein and Valckenaer in loc.; Rosenmüller, Morgenl. VI. p. 110.1 Corinthians 14:8. To the pipe and harp, adornments of peace, P. adds for further illustration (καὶ γάρ) the warlike trumpet. This ruder instrument furnishes a stronger example: varied signals can be given by its simple note, provided there is an understanding between trumpeter and hearers; “unius tubæ cantus alius ad alia vocat milites” (Bg). Without such agreement, or with a wavering, indistinct sound, the loudest blast utters nothing to purpose: “For if the trumpet also gives an uncertain voice, who will prepare for battle?” How disastrous, at the critical moment, to doubt whether the trumpet sounds Advance or Retreat!
 Bengel’s Gnomon Novi Testamenti.8. For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound] An indistinct sound, that which conveys no clear impression to the mind. The muster, the charge, the rally, the retreat, are each indicated by a definite order of musical intervals upon the trumpet, or they would be useless for the purpose of calling soldiers together. So words are useless to mankind unless they represent things.1 Corinthians 14:8. Γὰρ, for) This serves the purpose of a gradation; for the higher confirms the lower step.—ἄδηλον, uncertain) One sound of a single trumpet summons soldiers to one class of duties, another sound to another class of duties.Verse 8. - If the trumpet give an uncertain sound. A spiritual exhortation should be like the "blowing of a trumpet in Zion;" but if, as in "the tongue," the trumpet only gave forth an unintelligible blare, its sounds were useless.
Properly, a war-trumpet.
Rev., much better, voice, preserving the distinction between the mere sound of the trumpet and the modulated notes. The case might be illustrated by the bugle calls or points by which military commands are issued, as distinguished from the mere blare of the trumpet.
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