Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Psalm 68:6). By thus ordering human life he has provided for the maximum of happiness and of spiritual well-being. We are reminded of -
I. ITS VARIOUS RELATIONSHIPS. Here we have husband and wife, father and mother, son and daughter, brother and sister. How excellent is God's loving-kindness in thus binding our hearts and lives together in such happy and sacred bonds, refining our souls and multiplying our joys!
II. ITS VARIOUS DISPOSITIONS. In some cases we have parents and children complete; in others, parents without children at all (ver. 30); in others, daughters without sons; in others, sons without daughters; in another case a child born alter its father's death (ver. 24); in another a servant elevated to a son-in-law (ver. 35). What almost endless varieties there are in the circumstances and relations in which our family life is found!
III. ITS PRICELESS ADVANTAGE TO OUR RACE.
1. It is the guardian of a nation's purity; the morals of a people are high or low as it respects or disregards the family bond.
2. It shields young life from the perils by which it would otherwise be corrupted.
3. It calls forth from maturity the best virtues which manhood and womanhood can show. We are thus led to -
IV. THE DISCIPLINE IT PROVIDES FOR EACH STAGE OF LIFE.
1. In childhood it nurtures obedience, submission.
2. In youth, industry, concession.
3. In young manhood, hardihood; in young womanhood, delicacy of feeling.
4. In maturity, patience, self-command, unselfishness, mutual concession, intercessory prayer.
V. ITS BEARING ON HUMAN PIETY. We could not have known and trusted and loved God as our heavenly Father, but for human parentage; we could not have learned how to cultivate the right spirit for reception into and acceptance within the kingdom, but for human childhood (Matthew 18:2); we could not have known how best to regard our fellows and feel toward them, but for human brotherhood (Matthew 23:8). - C.
badness revealed to us in the process. We do not really know Esau as we know Jacob. The accounts that have reached us concerning him only deal with what appears to be attractive and good, and we see very few indications of the badness which his complete story might bring to light. Jacob is set before us as a man under immediate Divine training, and something like the accomplishment of one great stage of the Divine purpose is indicated in the bestowment of the new name, Israel. The meaning of the two names Jacob - the supplanter, Israel - the prince of God, should be given; and the circumstances connected with the affixing of each name should be recalled. They serve to note the marked features of the two distinct portions of Jacob's life.
I. JACOB'S FIRST NAME - THE SUPPLANTER. This declares the infirmity of his natural disposition. It is clear, from the record given in Genesis, that he began life under very serious disabilities, heavily weighted. The doctrine of heredity finds forcible illustration. He inherited his mother's disposition - a tendency to scheme, to outwit others, to take advantage of them, to trip them up, to get one's own good even at the expense of other people's loss; the planning, bargaining, keen-dealing spirit. This inherited evil disposition so influences him that he "entraps his brother, he deceives his father, he makes a bargain even in his prayer; in his dealings with Laban, in his meeting with Esau, he still calculates and contrives; he distrusts his neigh-hours... he repels, even in his lesser traits, the free confidence that we cannot withhold from the patriarchs of the elder generation." What he might have become but for the grace of God is well indicated in Dean Stanley's description of the ordinary Arab sheikh: "In every respect, except that which most concerns us, the likeness is complete between the Bedouin chief of the present day and the Bedouin chief who came from Chaldaea nearly four thousand years ago. The more we see the outward conformity of Abraham and his immediate descendants to the godless, grasping, foulmouthed Arabs of the modern desert, nay, even their fellowship in the infirmities of their common state and country, the more we shall recognize the force of the religious faith which has raised them from that low estate to be the heroes and saints of their people." To add to Jacob's natural disabilities, he was the favourite child of his mother, and, for long years, was placed under her influence and the persuasion of her mischievous example. This tended to remove the sense of evil from his scheming and deceiving ways. And circumstances seemed to favour him; his brother's hunger and his father's blindness seemed to be providential openings for carrying out his mother's plan for securing the birthright and the blessing. So often we deceive ourselves with the idea that Providence helps us to do what we, in our mere wilfulness, intend to do. All we can say of Jacob, under his first name, is that there is force of character, if only it can be toned aright; and there is an interest in religious things, a religious thoughtfulness, which gives promise of a true and noble life when he has passed through a long period of trial and sorrow and discipline. With all his infirmities, and with that sad absence of simplicity and uprightness in him, there is yet the making of the good man. And so, even in these first stages, his story carries lessons of hopefulness to those who feel deeply the natural infirmity of their characters, or have to do with the training of young people who are heavily weighted with inherited infirmities.
II. JACOB'S SECOND NAME - THE PRINCE OF GOD. This declares the possible triumph of Divine grace over natural infirmity. We must connect it, not with the incident of meeting Esau only, but with Jacob's whole life. It seals the Divine training, and affirms Jacob's conversion from the self-willed and self-seeking spirit. "Jacob has gone through a long training and chastening from the God of his fathers, to whose care and guidance he had given himself (at Bethel); he suffers heavily, but he learns from that he suffered." Trace the stages of the Divine dealing. The force of the scene of Mahanaim in completing the Divine work is suggestively given by F. W. Robertson: "His name was changed from Jacob to Israel, because himself was an altered man. Hitherto there had been something subtle in his character - a certain cunning and craft - a want of breadth, as if he had no firm footing upon reality. Jacob was tender and devout and grateful for God's pardon, and only half honest still. But this half-insincere man is brought into contact with the awful God, and his subtlety falls from him - he becomes real at once. No longer Jacob - the supplanter, but Israel - the prince of God... a larger, more unselfish name - a larger and more unselfish man - honest and true at last." This, then, becomes the great and searching question for us all: not, "What are we in our inherited tendencies and natural dispositions?" but, "What are we now, and what are we becoming, in all holy triumph over inward infirmities and outward foes, through yielding ourselves fully to the leadings and teachings and sanctifyings of Divine grace? And such were some of you, but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." ? R.T.
Er. The account in Genesis (Genesis 38:7) is as brief as that given in the Chronicles. Yet it sets clearly before us a case of early death, probably a sudden and violent death, and it declares to us that, in this particular instance, the death, and the manner of the death, were immediate judgments on personal transgression. There is a strong tendency to assume individual sin as the cause of calamities and so-called accidents, but our Lord taught us that we cannot always, or necessarily, trace such a connection. It may be so, but it may not be so; and we, in Christian charity, had better leave the discovery of the connection in God's own hands (see Luke 13:1-5). Still, we should be ready to learn the lessons which God may design to teach us, when he is pleased to give us illustrative cases in his Word. Oftentimes we find the Divine recognition and judgment of social and national sins illustrated. The old divine bids us remember that "God can only punish nations, as such, in this world; he can punish individuals in this world and the next." Israel is, as a nation, the subject of frequent Divine judgments, and Israel is bidden observe how Divine judgments fall on the guilty nations around her. But as this feature of the Divine dealings is set forth so prominently and so constantly, there is some danger of our assuming that Divine judgments, as executed here on earth, do not concern the individual; and that God may be said directly to govern the race, but not the man. Such a delusion would tend to nourish human wilfulness and pride, and still more completely separate men from God; and, therefore, we have men's personal sins, and the immediate Divine judgment on those sins, impressively narrated.
I. ER'S SIN WAS SOME PERSONAL ACT OF WRONG-DOING. Exactly what it was we are not told, but we know the ways in which men nowadays transgress God's laws and insult the Divine honour. There are acts of wilful disobedience and rebellion, acts of bodily self-indulgence, and acts of violence and cruelty toward others. We have to see that this evil of Er's was distinctly personal. He did not merely share in the errors, or follies, or sins of his age, in a blind and heedless way; he made wicked ways for himself, and wrought evil in his own wilfulness. Therefore the Divine observation rested upon him as a man who strove to set himself against God.
II. ER'S SIN REVEALED A HOPELESSLY CORRUPTED NATURE. It was such a fruitage as could only come out of a corrupt tree. Distinguish between the one sin into which man may be tempted; even the good man may be "drawn aside and enticed," "overtaken in a fault;" and the continuing in sin, which indicates the love for it, and the deteriorating influence it has exerted on mind and heart. A time may come for the man (as Er), or for the nation (as Sodom), when remedial agencies cease to be of avail, and then they can but be "cut down." Illustrate from Pharaoh, with the hardened heart, from King Saul, and from the expression used in Hosea (Hosea 4:17), "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone."
III. ER'S SIN BROUGHT UPON HIMSELF DIVINE JUDGMENT. This is briefly but forcibly intimated in the words, "and he slew him." His early and sudden and violent death, was no disease and no accident. It was direct Divine judgment. God deals with the individual exactly as with the hopelessly corrupted world and the utterly degraded Sodom. Life on earth is forfeited it' it is so shamefully abused. Discuss the question how far we may recognize calamities reaching individuals as Divine judgment on their personal transgressions. In every age there are open and notorious cases, e.g. Ananias and Sapphira. We may say that it is quite possible for any accident to be a judgment; but it may be a judgment on a bad system, and the sufferer may not be the direct cause. Impress God's constant inspection of individual conduct and character. - R.T.
I. Achan was A TRANSGRESSOR. In transgression much is involved: e.g. Law. A line must be drawn in order that it may be passed over. A commandment must be given before it can be violated. In the case of Achan, the law was published with authority. Covetousness. Before there can be sin there must be lust. Desires are divinely implanted, and evil does not lie in their existence, but in their unlawful gratification. Temptation. There must be some circumstance without eliciting and fostering the desire within. Men often blame the temptation, but unreasonably, for the evil is in themselves, not in the innocent and often unconscious occasion of their transgression. Yielding of the will when tempted. Without this, all that goes before is harmless; it is here that the harm begins. If temptation is resisted, virtue is strengthened and character is improved; if the will succumb, moral deterioration ensues. The latter was the ease with Achan. Hiding of sin. This will often follow upon transgression. There is a hope that it may be concealed from men, perhaps even from God. Conscience of sin. This is divinely appointed, to lead the sinner to repentance and reformation. Yet it may prove, if it fail in this mission, a scourge to chastise, awakening remorse and fear.
II. Achan was A TROUBLER. The trouble which follows upon sin is not confined to the sinner. In the case before us all Israel was punished because of one man's sin. Such is the constitution of society, that this is often seen, the chastisement of many for the transgression of one. Trouble may lead to inquiry, and inquiry to discovery. This happened in Achan's case by supernatural agency; but the same happens every day by means which appear natural. Discovery may lead to confession, and confession may be followed by punishment. So it was with Achan. And there are cases where there seem to be no means of avoiding the consequences of transgression. Yet the sinner must remember that we have been assured that "if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Trouble may be followed by Divine acceptance and favour. There seems something harsh in Joshua's language to Achan, "Why hast thou troubled us? The Lord shall trouble thee this day." Yet, when the transgressor was removed and the transgression was put away from Israel, the Lord received his people again into his favour.
1. Before transgression, "Be sure your sin will find you out."
2. After transgression, the trouble that comes upon the sinner is sent in mercy.
3. Confession and repentance, and faith in Christ, are necessary in order to reconciliation and acceptance. - T.
Achar is but a modernized form of the familiar Achan (Joshua 7:25). The story of this man is given so fully in the early records, and is here so definitely recalled, that we may be sure some important and permanent lessons were taught by it, and it may be still for "our instruction, on whom the ends of the world are come." The narrative should be fully detailed. Bring out that Achan's sin was at once self-will, disobedience, covetousness, and sacrilege. Explain that the one condition of Divine blessing for Israel was entire and unquestioning loyalty to the Divine will. And there is no other condition of blessing now. That will might oppose seemingly right feelings; and this brings us the more subtle and anxious testings of our loyalty, e.g. Abraham's offering Isaac. That will would necessarily oppose all covetous feeling. The man who wants to get for self will ever find it hard to accept God's will and way for him. But the covetous man who is a member of a community not only brings trouble on himself, but on others who may be related to him.
I. THIS SINNER'S SIN. Set out its public character, in view of Joshua's public proclamation. Show its aggravations, as committed directly against the known will of God.
II. THIS SINNER'S SIN BROUGHT TROUBLE ON HIMSELF. As sin always must do. Here the sorrow of feeling himself to be the cause of national disaster; the penalty of his own forfeited life; and the misery of knowing that his family must suffer for his sin, and his very name be blotted out of the national records. As is ever the case with the covetous, Achan might glory over what he had gained, until it could be revealed to him what he had lost; then the gain could only appear to be utterly worthless and hopelessly ruinous, a millstone hung round his neck to drown him in the sea. Compare what Judas Iscariot gained - thirty pieces of silver; and what he lost - life and hope and Christ, - his all. But the point which is specially called up to our remembrance is that -
III. THIS SINNER'S SIN BROUGHT TROUBLE ON OTHERS. SO he is known as the "troubler of Israel." Set out the trouble that came upon Israel. They were grievously smitten before their foes. Also the trouble that came upon Joshua. He was humbled in the dust, filled with fears, and driven to God in agonizing intercessions. But even more terribly Achan's sin brought trouble upon his own family, just as the drunkard and the licentious and the dishonest now drag down into their ruin those they profess to love. "Not Achan alone is called forth to death, but all his family, all his substance. The actor alone does not smart with sacrilege; all that concerns him is enwrapped in the judgment. God's first revenges are so much the more fearful because they must be exemplary." On the penalty of a man's wrong-doing covering and including those related to him, Archbishop Whitgift has this figure: "The eagle that stole a coal from the altar thereby set her nest on fire, which consumed both her young eagles and herself that stole it." We recognize that, if men are linked together in family and social life, it is well that, in God's providence, they should bear one another's burdens, share one another's disabilities, and suffer one another's woes. In such a case as Achan's we have but God doing, by direct command, what he is always doing in the orderings of Divine providence. No man's sin can ever stand alone - it must involve others in its consequences; and in this its hatefulness is revealed and a due fear of it is wrought in our minds. We should not so much hesitate to sin if we could ensure the limitation of the consequences to ourselves. But our sin must make us troublers. Even if the sin be forgiven, the issues must still go on. Then what a sublime idea we may gain of the redemption which God proposes I It deals with us for forgiveness and cleansing, but it also goes on after all the issues of human sin, and will not rest until the whole world is fully delivered, recovered, and saved. - R.T.
goel, or avenger; of confirming covenants by the gift of a shoe; and of conducting matters of business in the open space within the city gates. Fully explain the Eastern law of the goel. We may find illustrated in the conduct of Boaz -
I. THE CONSIDERATENESS OF THE TRUE GENTLEMAN. See his gentle and considerate treatment of the poor gleaner, and his gentle dealing with her when she claimed his protection. The essence of the Christian gentleman is considerateness for the feelings and wishes of others, and a gentle way of doing all things, even hard and painful things. Find beautiful illustrations in the tender considerateness of the Lord Jesus Christ; and compare Paul's address to the elders at Miletus, and the tone of the Epistle to the Philippians.
II. THE RESPONSIVENESS TO ANOTHER'S TRUST. It is always the mark of the good man that he loves to be trusted, and readily responds to trust. So Boaz did when Ruth put herself under his protection. The Lord Jesus always looked for faith - trust; and opened his best treasures for the opened, trusting heart.
III. THE LOYALTY TO THE SENSE OF DUTY. Shown in his taking up Ruth's case at once, and earnestly, and making himself liable for all that was involved in the vindication of her rights. Then work out how Divine benedictions ever follow right character and conduct. Ruth and Boaz both get their reward. The "right" may not always disclose its issues at once. They often seem painfully delayed, but, if we follow on, right is sure to lead to practical blessing. Right never yet led wrong; and good never yet finally issued in evil. - R.T.
genius of a person is to be traced to his father or to his mother. In the earlier Scriptures the mother's name and character are seldom given (exceptions may be found in the cases of Sarah, Rebekah, and Hannah); but in the time of the later kings the mother's name is preserved with care. The importance of hereditary connections may concern both the intellectual forces of the mind and the moral qualities making up the character. There is the heritage of goodness as well as of greatness; and, therefore, St. Paul thanks God that Timothy stands in the third generation of marked faith and piety (2 Timothy 1:5). Almost nothing is known of the mother of David, and the absence of information has led to strange conjecture; Dean Stanley curiously suggesting that she may have been previously a wife or concubine of one Nahash, possibly an Ammonite king, who under some circumstances not detailed became a second wife of Jesse, and by him the mother of David. All that the narrative suggests is that David was much younger than his brothers, and the child of Jesse's old age. He is introduced to us as conversing with Samuel on the occasion of the anointing of David (1 Samuel 16.); as caring for the wants of his children while they were away from homo in the army of Saul (1 Samuel 17.); and as the object of David's special care when the personal enmity of Saul put his relatives, as well as David himself, in peril (1 Samuel 22:3, 4). The incident in which the personal character of Jesse is most fully indicated is that of sending David with a present to his sons in the army; and this suggests that he was a thoughtful and affectionate father, and permits us to trace something of David's remarkable family affection to his paternity. He may therefore serve to introduce the subject of paternal relationships and duties, and the rewards which those may find in the career and virtue of their children who have not been themselves remarkable for anything save for being good fathers. The Divine recognition of faithfulness in this precise office and relation is indicated in God's commendation of Abraham (Genesis 18:19), "For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord."
I. FATHERLY LOVE FINDS FITTING EXPRESSION IN WISE RULE AND RESTRAINTS. Jesse seems to have had such authority. His sons, though of full age, promptly come and go at his bidding. He appears to have had his household fully under control, appointing each member his place and work. The well-being of families depends on the firmness of the father's rule. The first conceptions of right, and of the duties of submission and obedience, happily come to us associated with our reverence for, and affection for, our father. And worthy fulfilment, in this respect, of the paternal duties carries to our children worthy ideas of the righteousness and love of "our Father who is in heaven."
II. FATHERLY LOVE CAN MAKE HIGH SACRIFICES. Illustrated in Jesse's sending his sons to the army in the time of national peril. How much he felt their danger is seen in his anxiety to know of their welfare while on the battle-field. Such sacrifices have often been required of parents in times of national danger, and similar sacrifices in quieter spheres, especially in devoting sons to missionary work. Show that to the true parent such sacrifices are made with mingled feelings of joy and sorrow.
III. FATHERLY LOVE FINDS ITS REWARD IN THE CHILDREN'S CARE; as Jesse's life was saved by David when Saul's enmity put the family in peril. Loving children have no greater joy than that of caring for and tending their aged parents who have toiled and suffered so much and so long for them. See our Lord's care of his mother from his cross. - R.T.
Bezaleel, see Exodus 31:2; Exodus 35:30; Exodus 36:1, 2; Exodus 37:1.) Explain the precise endowment of this man and his companion, and the assertion of his call by God, who specially "filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship." It has been said that "their work was to be only that of handicraftsmen. Everything that they had to do was prescribed in strict and precise detail. There was to be no exercise for their original powers of invention nor for their taste." But this appears to be a needless limitation of their mission, especially as we are told that they were called to "devise cunning works, to work in gold," etc.; and, however minute patterns of artistic work may be, even this worthy carrying out makes demand on artistic faculty and taste. We are rather disposed to give Bezaleel credit for designing much of the ornamentation, and elaborating the details of a general sketch furnished by Moses. It is curious to note that, in a mistaken apprehension of the commandment (Exodus 20:4), the Jews would not cultivate either the arts of painting or sculpture. This may have been a safeguard to them under the temptations of surrounding idolatry, but it seriously limited their culture as a nation, and possibly made their idolatrous love of images and aesthetic worship the more intense when once the barriers were broken down. The Divine call and endowments of Bezaleel are the Divine protest against the neglect of those artistic faculties which are an essential part of man's composite nature, as God has been pleased to create it. These faculties have their own place, their right place; and it is at the peril of an imperfect and one-sided culture that we, on the one hand, neglect them, and, on the other hand, push them into an exaggerated place.
I. THE MISSION OF THE ARTS IN HUMAN LIFE. Take illustrations from the arts of painting, sculpture, music, and poetry, and show how they bear on the refinement of human life. Each holds out an ideal standard of purity and beauty, and seeking for absolute grace of form materially aids in securing real goodness and purity and truth. Illustrate by the influence of works of art in our homes as aids to the culture of family life. They also bear directly upon the pleasure of human life. For most of us the days must be spent in dull, grinding toil, which wears out the brightness and romance of our spirits. Our real world is bard and depressing. It is of the utmost concern to us that we may pass into an ideal world created by the imagination, and find pleasure in its winsome and joyous scenes. The arts take us into another world, and bring to the earth-toilers the pleasures of a paradise. Evidently true of music and poetry, really true of all.
II. THE MISSION OF THE ARTS IN RELIGIOUS LIFE. Strangely in this sphere we still dread their influence. Yet the decorations of even the tabernacle and temple reproach us, and much more David's elaborate efforts to secure the "beautiful" and the "pleasing" in the temple-worship. Explain that the arts serve in religion the one great end of keeping the ideal and the ideally perfect ever before us, and so they become a perpetual uplifting inspiration, surrounding us ever with the symbols and the suggestions of the Divine and eternal. They are for us the "figures of the true."
III. THE NECESSARY LIMITATION OF THE ARTISTIC IN THE HIGHER AND RELIGIOUS SPHERES. The creations of art must never be sought for themselves, or they become virtual idols. They may only be symbols of realities, and handmaids to truths. As a practical conclusion, it may be shown that a man is not responsible for other gifts than those with which he is personally entrusted, but he is bound to be fully loyal to God in the use of those he has. Sooner or later in life, every man who wants to be faithful will discover his faculty and find his sphere. - R.T.
Numbers 32:41; Deuteronomy 3:14; Joshua 13:30. From the repeated mention of him we may assume that he was a remarkable man for military genius, and was in so large a degree successful in his warlike enterprises as to stand out before the ages as a prominent example of the warlike endowment, and its place in the Divine purposes. The brief notice of this man suggests for our consideration - The consecration to God of the military talent. We cannot accept fully the facts of human history without recognizing the Divine gift of the genius of the warrior. Different views are held on the righteousness of war. From the Christian standpoint all offensive war must be at once and entirely condemned, but defensive war - and aid to those called to defensive war - appears to be fully consistent with Christian principles. Still, we shall unfeignedly rejoice when the principle of arbitration can be universally adopted, and the "nations learn war no more." It is, even in its best forms, a terrible human scourge and evil. But, whatever our view of it may be, history keeps her testimony, and declares that, in the long story of our race, war has been one of the important agencies used by God, and overruled by him, to the accomplishment of his gracious ends; and that he has, again and again, raised up men who had "war' for their life-mission, and the military endowment as their precise trust. There have been the Joshuas, the Davids, the Maccabees, the Marlboroughs, and the Wellingtons, etc. Times and circumstances have made war the only possible agency for the punishing of wrong and the deliverance and confirmation of the right. Still, we should distinctly observe that warfare is the creation of man's lust of power and dominion, his ambition to be supreme; and that the "God of peace" does but - if we may so say - fit, temporarily, into the circumstances thus created, until he can get fully established his kingdom of righteousness in which war will be unknown.
I. THE DISTINCTIVE MILITARY GIFT. It is the gift of command over other men finding one particular mode of expression. This is the essence of it, but it is combined with the constructive faculty, the power of organization, courage, bodily skill, quickness of invention, etc. - all, it may be pointed out, endowments which may find other spheres than battle-fields. Illustrate by the devotion of F. W. Robertson's soldierly gifts to the service of the Church, and by the gift of ruling men found in the heads of large mills and factories.
II. THE LOYALTY THAT GUIDES THE USE OF THE MILITARY GIFTS. It is characteristic of the soldier that he is loyal to his king, and this loyalty finds expression in instant and unquestioning obedience. So the soldier among us is a plea urging us to maintain similar relations to our Lord, who is the "King of kings." So far as we can see, it would be a loss to the moral health of a nation if the example of soldierly loyalty and obedience were removed. St. Paul was essentially a loyal soldier. When a command came from his Lord, he tells us, "Immediately we conferred not with flesh and blood."
III. THE WITNESS TO VIRTUE AND DUTY THAT IS MADE BY MILITARY MEN. Lord Nelson's words embody the witness all soldiers make. We must work for, suffer for, and, if need be, die for, duty. "England expects that every man will do his duty. And in this time-serving, self-seeking, money-getting age we cannot afford to lose any agency which renders public witness to the fact that there is something nobler than even life - it is duty. If it could be so that, in the world of the future, the military genius was no longer needed, still even a world at peace would need the story of the heroic ages, and its witness to the dignity of endurance, obedience, promptitude, sacrifice for a high idea, and above all to the paramount claims of duty. - R.T.
I. Observe the OCCUPATION of the scribes. It was to study and to expound the sacred books of the nation, to read these writings in public, and to write - probably to write copies of the Law, and commentaries upon its letter and spirit. The civil and sacred Law were alike their theme. All legal and religious documents were entrusted to their care.
II. Remark the PROFESSIONAL POSITION Of the scribes. The text speaks of "the families of the scribes." Occupations have a tendency to transmit themselves from father to son. Hereditary pursuits are observable in all communities. Traditions and habits are thus maintained and perpetuated. These learned Hebrew families seem to have dwelt in certain fixed places, forming, it may be, colleges of studious, scholarly, literary men.
III. Notice the GROWTH AND PROGRESS AND HISTORY Of the scribes. As a class they date from the close of the Captivity; and from that time onward they appear to have exercised great and growing influence over the national life and religion. In the time of our Saviour they were evidently a very important class of the community. In their two grades - the lower, the interpreters of the classic Hebrew into the colloquial Aramaic; the higher, the doctors learned in the Pentateuch - they supplied to Israel much of the intellectual and moral element in the national life. Jesus admitted the excellence of their work when he denominated his ministers "scribes instructed unto the kingdom of heaven;" he pointed out their defects when he required of his followers a higher righteousness than theirs. And the Evangelists contrast the professional formalism of the Jewish scholars with the freshness and authority of the Great and Divine Teacher.
1. A literary profession may be of great service to the cause of religion. Ignorance is a foe to truth. Christianity will be the more appreciated the more it is studied, the more the light of cultivated intellects is brought to bear upon it.
2. A profession devoted to the advancement of religious learning is not without its perils. There is danger lest the form displace the substance, and the letter the spirit. True and fervent piety alone can correct these tendencies and avert these perils. - T.
Genesis 15:19. They were a nomadic tribe, and their principal seat seems to have been the rocky tracts in the south and south-west of Palestine, near the Amalekites (see Numbers 24:21, 22). Jethro was a Kenite. Jael was wife of Heber the Kenite. Saul spared them in his expedition against the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:6). David maintained friendly relations with them (1 Samuel 30:29). The house of the Rechabites belonged to this tribe. The friendly feeling between the two tribes, based on the conduct of the Kenites at the time of the Exodus (Exodus 18:10-19; Numbers 10:29-32), led to their intermixture and almost amalgamation with the Israelites - Kenite families not only dwelling among them, but being actually regarded as of one blood. Their semi-monastic austerity is their chief feature. They preserved their nomadic life and customs even when dwelling in the midst of the cities of Israel. Dean Stanley thus pictures a colony of them, that of Heber, the husband of Jael: "Between Hazor, the capital of Jabin, and Kedesh-Naphtali, birthplace of Barak - each within a day's journey of the other - lies, raised high above the plain of Merom, amongst the hills of Naphtali, a green plain. This plain is still and was then studded with massive terehinths. Underneath the spreading branches of one of them there dwelt, unlike the inhabitants of the surrounding villages, a settlement of Bedouins, living, as if in the desert, with their tents pitched and their camels and asses around them, whence the spot had acquired the name of 'The Terebiuth,' or 'Oak,' of the 'Unloading of Tents.'" It is from this peculiarity of the Kenites that we learn their mission.
I. THEIR NOMADIC LIFE REMINDED ISRAEL OF GOD'S MERCIES. For they had once been what the Kenites then were - a mere tribe or aggregation of tribes. But God had, in a most glorious and gracious way, made them a nation, and given them a land. Such a reminder brought home to them the claims of Jehovah, and should have renewed their devotion and allegiance to him. Compare the witness made by the hermits in the times of the early Church.
II. THEIR STRICT OBEDIENCE TO RULE REPROACHED ISRAEL FOR THE NEGLECT OF THE COVENANT. They were loyal to the customs and rules of their founder, whatever disabilities such loyalty might seem to entail. Illustrate by the story of testing the Rechabites with the offer of wine, given in Jeremiah 35. Impress that we need still the witness of virtue and excellence in those who are not with us; who are among us, but not of our party. And in this we may see some good in the association together in one nation of differing religious sects. Each may teach the others some valuable lessons, and find effective expression of some essential virtue. Our Lord, in his teachings, even ventured to draw lessons from the quick-witted example of the bad man. We may learn something of God and duty from all those with whom we are brought into even casual contact. - R.T.