Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
1. The presence of royal wisdom in:
(1) Securing the safety of his kingdom by a sufficient militia without sustaining a burdensome standing army. One month's practice in the year would suffice to maintain their soldierly qualities without seriously interfering with their civil pursuits (ver. 1).
(2) Adopting the system of promotion by merit. In the list of captains (vers. 2-15) we meet with names of men that had distinguished themselves by their courage and capacity, and who had "earned their promotion." Favouritism is a ruinous policy, and fatal to kings and ministers.
(3) Limiting his own personal requirements to a moderate demand. David lived as became such a king as he was, but he did not indulge in a costly and oppressive "civil list" (see vers. 25-31).
2. The presence of personal kindness. Although David acted, most wisely, on the principle that the highest pests should be reserved for the most capable men and those who "deserved well of their country," yet he did not neglect his own kindred in the hour of his opportunity. We find, amongst others of the foremost men, the names of his relatives, Asahel (ver. 7); Jonathan, his uncle (ver. 32); Joab (ver. 34).
3. The presence of royal folly. We are reminded here of the grievous error, the disastrous departure from rectitude, when, notwithstanding the wise counsel and somewhat strenuous opposition of Joab, he insisted on numbering the people (vers. 23, 24). Regarding the folly of the king, we learn -
I. THAT HUMAN NATURE, EVEN AT ITS BEST, BEARS THE STAIN OF IMPERFECTION. Devout and humble as David was, prosperous and beneficent as was his reign, he yet fell, more than once, into sin; and on this occasion (of the numbering) he involved the nation in a terrible calamity. He resembled all other good men of every age. Human excellency is a beautiful but a blemished thing; it has admirable qualities, but is never without defects; it halts somewhere. Therefore:
1. Let us conclude that there is certain to be something in ourselves which needs to be corrected; we also, though we possess the mens conscia recti, have faults which others see and which they regret to see in us.
2. Let us not be hasty in estimating the character of others; if we judge men by the first thing we see in them, it may be that we shall apprise them by the one pardonable fault behind, which, unrecognized by us, hide a hundred virtues. We should not like to be judged by the first action our neighbours chanced to witness in us.
3. Let us make all kindly allowance for men when we know them; and placing their many solid graces against their few superficial failings, let us not withhold our esteem, or our confidence, or our affection. Regarding David's kindness, we learn -
II. THAT WE DO WELL TO USE OUR OWN ELEVATION TO SERVE OUR KINDRED. Nepotism is a crime as well as a sin, but, when other things are equal and when opportunity offers, we should surely remember those whom, by the ties of affinity, God commends to our kindness, and those whom, by profession of friendship in earlier and humbler days, we promised to assist. And in view of the king's wisdom, we may learn -
III. THAT GOODNESS AND WISDOM TOGETHER ARE A SOURCE OF INCALCULABLE BENEFIT. David without his devoutness would have been nothing to his country or his kind; without his wisdom he would have been little more. Piety and prudence together are a power for God and man. - C.
I. WHEN THIS PROMISE WAS GIVEN. It was given at the very commencement of Israel's life; it was given to Abraham, the father of the faithful. The Lord showed Abraham the stars of heaven, and assured him that so numerous should be his seed.
II. HOW THIS PROMISE WAS REGARDED. It was not likely that an assurance so inspiriting, so glorious, should be forgotten; it was embodied in national tradition; it was enshrined in sacred literature; it was fitted to dignify their conception of their calling as a people; and it was a rebuke to their national pride. As on the occasion referred to in the text, it was designed to lead them to place their hopes, not so much in their own strength or fortune, as in the purpose and the promises of the God of Israel, the God of all the nations of the earth.
III. IN WHAT WAY THIS PROMISE WAS, AND IS YET TO BE, FULFILLED. Under Solomon the nation of Israel reached its highest pitch of fame and power. But it is pleasant and encouraging to believe that the promise recorded in the text will be fulfilled in a deeper sense than that which appears on the surface. There is a true Israel, composed of all who, sharing Abraham's faith, are Abraham's spiritual children. These are destined to be numerous as the sands of the desert, as the leaves of the forest, as the dew-drops of the morning, as the stars of heaven. This is a kingdom whose subjects shall ever multiply, whose glory shall know no limit and no end. - T.
wilful in the matter, but that God kept his very wilfulness under some limitations and restraints. David was kept from taking a complete census, because he felt it irreverent to attempt to count what God was understood to have promised should be countless. David's own heart, as well as Divine judgments, brought to him the conviction of his wilfulness and sin. Apply to modern phases of religious life and religious work. In both we are so keen to observe, and so anxious to reckon up and boast of, the results of our work. The individual Christian wants to count and value the steps of his personal spiritual growth; and the Christian worker, in his varied spheres, despairs if he cannot show the actual fruitage of his toil, thinking there will be no harvest from his seeding if his own hand does not bind the sheaves. Much may be said, and much may be said severely, of the almost mania that possesses some Churches for "numbering the people," and counting up the net gains of Christian work. In both spheres God's promises should check this desire to count.
I. APPLY TO PERSONAL RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE. God has promised to "bring us off more than conquerors;" to "perfect that which concerns us;" to give us "more grace;" to ensure us "all sufficiency in all good things;" and to be "with us always;" so there is no need for constantly testing our own spiritual state, and trying to gain assurance by counting the steps upward which we may have made. Our best help is the
(1) faith that daily keeps "looking off" unto Jesus;
(2) the prayer that keeps us mindful of, and ever pleading, the promises; and
(3) the "work" for Christ which so thoroughly absorbs us that we have no time to think about our own feelings.
II. APPLY TO CHRISTIAN LABOURS IN THE CHURCH AND IN THE WORLD. God has promised abundant fruitage as the result of faithful Christian toil: a wondrous harvest-home, and not one sheaf missing. It is enough. Why should we trouble about results, and count up converts? Let them be as many as ever God wills, and let us be satisfied with the joy of our working, and the smile of our Master which surely rests upon us in the doing. Still, as in the older days of David, there is grave reason to fear that numbering results tends to nourish human pride and conceit, and sets men upon boasting of the "great Babylon which they have builded." The most essential quality of Christian work is the meekness of self-forgetfulness, that will be wholly amazed if, one wondrous day, God should point to sheaves safe in his garner, and say, "These were gathered in by thee." True and humble hearts learn to leave all the "numbering" work to God, and to the great revealing day. - R.T.
I. THE PRODUCE OF THE EARTH IS FROM THE LORD. There are here enumerated the stores of corn, the vineyards and the oliveyards, the flocks, the camels, and the herds which largely constituted David's wealth. "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof."
II. THE GIFTS OF GOD'S BOUNTY ARE TO BE RECEIVED WITH GRATITUDE. The Creator has made all things for man's use and comfort. "He hath put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, all beasts of the field." To him daily thanks are due.
III. THE GIFTS OF GOD ARE TO BE ENJOYED WITH TEMPERANCE AND SOBRIETY. When the creature is abused, the Creator is dishonoured; but a just and temperate use of material wealth is improving to man and honourable to God.
IV. THE POSSESSOR OF MATERIAL WEALTH SHOULD CONSECRATE ALL TO THE GIVER. Christians especially, who are "not their own," are bound to regard and to use all their property as God's. So used, it will not minister to pride, but will become a means of grace. In this certainly David has set us an example worthy of imitation. - T.
responsibility of it than with the advantage and privilege of it. We easily take up with two imperfect notions.
1. We say that riches are tokens of Divine favour. But this may not be assumed as a universal fact. Riches may be a token of Divine wrath and judgment, and the very agency of a man's punishment. And riches may be a sign of God's anxiety about our moral state, and the need for subjecting us to some severe moral testing. To some natures no more searching test could be found than the trust of prosperity and wealth.
2. Or we say that riches are the rewards of virtue, and assume that men must be acceptable to God because they are rich, and that others must be out of acceptance, seeing that they are poor. But then we must face the difficulty which the Psalmist Asaph felt so bitterly (Psalm 73.) - the wicked are often the rich, and the righteous are among the down-trodden poor. It is evident that no general rule will fit all cases, and that, in wise Divine orderings, wealth and poverty are arranged for the highest good of the individual and the permanent good of the whole. Did we know all, we should never envy those to whom God entrusts the riches. Neither of these conceptions is sufficiently true to be accepted without due consideration of certain other and important representations, such as
(1) that riches may be Divine judgments;
(2) that riches may be Divine trials;
(3) that riches always are Divine trusts, of which due account will presently be required. Then attention needs to be directed to three things in relation to our riches:
(1) The wise care of them, as not ours, but God's;
(2) the faithful use of them, as not given to us for our sake, but for the sake of others, whom we may bless by means of them; and
(3) the watchful culture of the soul's life while in the enjoyment of them, seeing that the precise peril of them is that they tend to nourish a self-confidence which is fatally injurious to the soul's health and life. Illustrate from the parable of the farmer who was getting over-rich, and had no storehouses large enough for his harvests, but who was not rich toward God. And see the counsels given to the rich by the Apostle James. - R.T.