1 Chronicles 24
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1 Chronicles 24, 25
In these chapters we have brought before us a catalogue of the Aaronites, or priests, who were divided into twenty-four classes, corresponding to the sons of Eleazar and Ithamar, and appointed to perform the service in succession as determined by lot, prominent notice being given to the heads of these twenty-four classes; and a list of the fathers' houses of the other descendants of Levi, in the order of succession, also settled by lot. In ch. 25. we see the list of twenty-four orders of musicians in the order determined by lot. The lot was a direct appeal to God, and by it all cases were decided. It is for this reason that all chance games are wrong, and should never be encouraged by the Christian. It is brining down a holy ordinance to a profane level, and is, without doubt, a breach of the third commandment. The expression "prophesied," which occurs in 1 Chronicles 25:2, 3, is used in its deeper signification of singing and playing to the praise of God, in the power of the Spirit of God. In 1 Chronicles 25:5 Heman is called "the seer of the king in the words of God," because along with his gift of song he was endowed with the prophetic gift, and thus made known to the king revelations of God. The expression "to lift up the horn" in this verse also needs explanation. The Levites did not blow horns. It was not one of the instruments of worship. The hiring up of the horn signifies invariably to heighten or show forth the power of any one. This is the meaning of the word in this passage. And the words "to lift up the horn" must be connected with the words that follow, thus: "To give Heman's race power for the praise of God God gave to Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. We also learn, in 1 Chronicles 25:7, that there were those who were "instructed," and were "cunning" or skilful in the songs of the Lord. From these passages we may learn that families, and especially large families like Heman's, are God's gifts for the purpose of being used in his service. And secondly, that in all praise and singing, whilst we are never to forget the apostolic injunction, "Singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord," we are to "sing with the understanding also," and that it is to be of the very best kind; and that with it all there must be that without which it will be empty sound - singing in the Holy Ghost, as they did who are named in the second and third verses of ch. 25. Thus "teachers" and "scholars" (ver. 8) will fill their divinely appointed places to the glory of God. - W.

This verse is parenthetical; we may let it suggest to us some valuable principles.

I. THAT SIN REAPPEARS IN ITS EFFECTS, BOTH IN LIFE AND IN HISTORY. After the full statement of the sin committed by these young men (Leviticus 10.), and the allusion made to it in the Book of Numbers (Numbers 3:4), we might have supposed that we had heard the last of it in the sacred narrative. But here it comes up again; once more we are reminded how Aaron's sons provoked the Lord, and brought down his displeasure. So now are there sins against God and crimes against men which history will not let alone; it records them on its page, and, further on, it writes them down again, that the attention of another generation may be called thereto. Some iniquities there are which are of such significance that no writer of his country's story will leave them out of his record. But this is as pathetically true of individual life. Too often it happens that men cannot shake themselves free from the sins of earlier days. They think they have done with them, but some way further on they present themselves again, and look them in the face. How many a man is called upon to say, again and again, as the miserable effects of past sin come up to reproach, or to enfeeble, or to baulk him, "Ah! that that word had been left unspoken, that deed undone, that habit unformed, that course unchosen!" If such is sin in its resurgent powers,

(1) what a compensatory fact we have in the truth that it may be wholly forgiven by the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, so that it does not continue to interpose between our souls and his Divine favour! and

(2) how wise to bring our life at its very commencement under the law of holiness, so that those sins may be avoided which would, if incurred, dog our steps and haunt our spirits!

II. THAT SIN INVERTS THE NATURAL ORDER OF THINGS IN THE LIFE OF MAN. So far as the word can be used appropriately in such a case, we may say that it is the natural thing for the sons to close the eyes of their father (see Genesis 46:4), to carry him to the grave, to cherish his memory, to follow his last directions. There is something strikingly unnatural when it has to be written that "they died before their father." But it is the constant consequence of sin. Sin is the great overturning, confusing, inverting power in the world; putting that before which should be behind, and that below which should be above, disordering and disarranging everything in the world which God made beautiful and blessed. Illustrations abound in every sphere of human activity.

III. THAT SIN CUTS OFF THE GOOD WHICH IT IS IN GOD'S THOUGHT TO GIVE US. These young men died, and "had no children." In the common course of providence they would have had the deep, full joy of parents, and their children and descendants would have carried down their lineage to the distant future. But that one "presumptuous sin" cut all this off. In how many ways does human guilt shut the hand of beneficence, impoverishing itself and all whom it can affect!

IV. THAT IT IS WISE TO BE PREPARED FOR EARLY DEATH OR FOR LONELY AGE. These words may be written of those who are not sinful but unfortunate. In the families of the holy and the faithful it is often the painful record - the young men, the young women, "die before their parents." No one who is wise will risk anything on the assurance of continued life. Youth in all its vigour may be but a step or two distant from the grave. Strong manhood, rejoicing motherhood, may be about to enter on a life of clouded loneliness. Be ready for early death, and for the long dark shadow of bereavement. - C.

The narrative of Nadab and Abihu which is here recalled is given in Leviticus 10:1-5. The wording of the verse is taken from Numbers 3:4. It is a story which we find it difficult to understand. Probably its explanation depends on an intimate acquaintance with the Jewish system, and the sentiments prevailing in those earlier times. Nadab and Abihu had been honoured with special privileges (see Exodus 24:1, 9, 10); by reason of this they may have become unduly exalted, and have been tempted by spiritual pride to imagine that they were not bound by ordinary rules in the discharge of the duties of the priest's office. Kitto gives a brief but sufficient sketch of the incident. "Among the priestly services was that of offering the precious incense upon the golden altar within the tabernacle, at the very time that the daily sacrifice was being consumed upon the brazen altar in the court without. At the time the ritual service had been inaugurated, the fire of the great altar was kindled from heaven; and it was made an ordinance that this holy fire should always be kept up and preserved, and that this, and this alone, was to be used in all the sacred services. The priests who offered incense had, therefore, to fill their censers with fire from the great altar when they went into the tabernacle to burn incense. It was in this matter that Nadab and Abihu sinned. Treating this ordinance as of no importance, thinking to themselves that common fire would burn their incense quite as well as the other; or, perhaps, as there is reason to fear, having been led into a mistake, or neglect, by inebriety, they filled their censers with 'strange fire,' unhallowed fire, not from the altar, and ventured to bring it into the tabernacle? Permanent instruction may be drawn from this incident by regarding wilfulness as the very essence of these men's sin. When there was a distinct, definite, and well-known Divine command, it pleased them to act on the dictate of their own feeling. In view of that full loyalty to Christ, and daily waiting upon him for guidance and direction, which are necessary features of the Christian life, wilfulness is as perilous and as wicked in the modern dispensation as in the older. In setting forth this evil and its fatal influence, consider -

I. WILFULNESS AS A DISPOSITION OF CHARACTER. It is the bias left on humanity from our first father's fall. We see the signs of human depravity mainly in this - that men's wills are set against God's will, and have to be subdued to his obedience. This is true of man as an individual, and equally true of men when acting together in society or in the nation. But there are different degrees of wilfulness, and in some the self-will is a master-passion. Some measures of wilfulness in the common affairs of life ensure energy and mastery of circumstance; but it is wholly out of place in the religious spheres, where energy must depend on the spirit of service to Christ.

II. WILFULNESS FINDING EXPRESSION IN ACTS. Illustrate from King Saul in his later and worse moods, or from Judas Iscariot, who, with views of his own, came to betray his very Lord. The apostle warns us concerning those who "will be rich, and so fall into temptation and a snare." Wilfulness expressed in acts brings us at once under Divine notice, because it then affects the comfort and well-being of others.

III. WILFULNESS CORRUPTING THE WHOLE RELIGIOUS LIFE. It puts a wrong tone upon all the relations, and spoils the whole life by possessing it with the spirit of self. God the Spirit cannot rule the life, and self rule at the same time; and if it be self that really rules, then we are "dead while we live." Practically dead, because none of the "means of grace" can prove the soul's nourishment when wilfulness rules.

IV. WILFULNESS BRINGING US UNDER DIVINE JUDGMENTS. Illustrated in the case of Nadab and Abihu. Where wilfulness is but growing, Divine chastisements come for correction. Where wilfulness has gained full mastery, there must be Divine judgments, such as utterly crush down the pride. Exactly what Christianity proposes is the "conversion of self-will," and the bestowment of the spirit that worships, and follows wholly, the "sweet will" of God. - R.T.

As the Lord God of Israel had commanded him. These words may be said to constitute the key-note of the whole Law (Exodus 39:42; Leviticus 27:34; Numbers 36:13; Deuteronomy 34:9). Just as Israel should pay heed to this commandment of Jehovah, so it would flourish and rejoice; in proportion as it should depart from these commandments, so it would fail and be distressed. Everything hung on a loyal obedience to the Divine will. There were three forms of obedience then, and there is the same number now. We look at both.


1. Minute conformity to positive precept. Everything, to the smallest particular, was to be "after the pattern" (Exodus 25:9, 40; Numbers 8:4). In the celebration of the sacrifices, the priests were to be studious to follow the exact directions given in the "command-merit of the Lord," and any deviation, though but slight and apparently immaterial in itself, would vitiate everything that was done.

2. Application of broad principles. It was hopeless to anticipate every possible breach of such laws as, "Thou shall not defraud thy neighbour;" "Thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself." An interpretation and application of such commandments as these must have been left largely to the individual conscience.

3. Inquiry of the Lord to know his will, and so to do it. This was the case, like that recorded in this chapter, whenever the mind of God was taken by means of the lot (vers. 5, 6). A direct appeal was then made to him for his direction, and, thus gained, it was followed.

II. THE FORMS OF OBEDIENCE TO WHICH OUR LORD IS SUMMONING US. They correspond to the preceding, yet differ ha some respects from them.

1. Christ has left us but few positive enactments. We seldom meet with any minute prescriptions regulating behaviour in our New Testament. Days, forms, and methods of devotion and service are left to our conscience and judgment. But there are some interdictions and requirements which still exist, and which bind us to the obedience of conformity to statute.

2. Christ requires of us that we make constant application of the broad principles he has taught us. He has said to us, "Love me: Follow me: Care for my friends and little ones: Walk in love, in humility, in purity: Do good and communicate," etc.; and he leaves it to those who bear his Name to apply and illustrate these his general commandments, in all the details of their individual, family, Church, national life. The man or the Church that does not try to find out the will of Christ from his life and his words, and to do that will when thus discovered, is "not worthy of him," is no true friend of his (John 15:14).

3. Christ desires us to be continually seeking his will from his own Divine Spirit. He has promised to come to us, to dwell with us and within us, to instruct and inspire us by the communications of the Spirit of God. We are thus to learn his will, and, when thus directed, are to do what is right and pleasing in his sight. So far is the life of Christian obedience from being one that is merely formal and mechanical. In Christ Jesus the statutes are few; the application of heavenly principles is our daily duty; the inquiry of the Lord to know what he would have us do is our high privilege and our abiding obligation. - C.

David found it necessary to make alterations and adaptations when he reconstituted the worship for the new tabernacle and the anticipated temple, but in all his adaptations he anxiously preserved the Mosaic principles and the Mosaic order; thereby giving an important example of the spirit and the manner in which modern adjustments of permanent principles should be made. We must accept the fact of the changeableness of human life, thought, and forms of relationship and society. Age differs from age. A succeeding age will often strive to realize a contrast with the age preceding; it will prefer what it disliked, and put in the front what it had set in the background. We must take care that the changes are set under wise limitations, and the first of these is the fair and adequate representation, in the new scenes, of the old and permanent social, or moral, or religious principles. Some persons love change for change's sake; and such persons often put the best things in peril, and prevent the noblest schemes for human well-being from gaining an adequate trial. Others resist change as if it were wholly wrong and injurious; and such persons help to keep the yokes pressing on men's necks long after it is manifest how the neck has become galled and painful. And many persons fail to take "change" at the hopeful time, and so they lose all the finest opportunities that life brings. These diversities of relation to necessary change may be illustrated in relation to human customs, to political history, to ecclesiastical order, and to Church doctrine. We are instructed not to "meddle with those who are given to change;" but we have a very proper admiration for such a man as the Apostle St. Paul, who, with far-seeing wisdom, discerned how Judaism was passing into the broader spiritual Christianity, and put himself forward as a leader in the change. Another fact requires attention. All forms for the expression of principles tend to exhaust their capacity for expressing truth. Like vessels, or pipes, that get encrusted with use, they have to be taken away, and replaced by other and larger forms. All we have to care for, from the most conservative standpoint, is that the old life shall flow into and through the new forms, and that the new form shall be fully adequate to convey the great flow of the old life. We may even plead that, in view of the ever-varying wants of men, we should be ready to adopt new forms and modes in the religious life and service. Illustration may be taken from the attitude advisable towards such schemes as that of the Salvation Army, or modern mission halls and revivals. David lived in one of the so-called "periods of transition," and it is very interesting to mark how he led the change that was demanded, but carefully toned it with due reference to the rules and order which had been divinely given. We may more fully illustrate from practices and order of worship, customs of religious life, and Church doctrine, one necessary condition of change that may be regarded as wise and healthy - the old rule, or principle, must find adequate expression in the new form. The form is bad if it dwarfs, or hides, or misrepresents, or attenuates the principle. The body must worthily and sufficiently express the man. If it be so that men ever gain a larger and fuller grasp of any principle or truth, they are following a genuine inspiration when they seek a larger form in which to give it expression. And this condition, duly observed, guarantees the safety of what is called "modern religious thought." This subject may be used to quiet the minds of those who fear the many and apparently extensive changes in the expression of religious truth in our times. We may be sure that God will watch jealously over his truth; and will have, in every age, godly men who will "earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints." - R.T.

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