Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. CIRCUMSTANCE. Mention is made of the birthright (ver. 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 (ver. 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" (ver. 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" (ver. 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, 2; 1 Chronicles 28:4). Our heritage here is, in part, chosen for us of God (Psalm 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 (ver. 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.
Genesis 49:3, 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 ver. 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.
Genesis 29:32; Genesis 35:22; Genesis 49:3, 4; comp. 48:15, 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.
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.
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.
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 (ver. 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.
I. A COMMENCEMENT IN MORAL AND SPIRITUAL SOUNDNESS. These two tribes and a half were brave and godly men: "valiant men" (ver. 18); godly men also, for they "cried to God in the battle, and they put their trust in him" (ver. 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" (ver. 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 (ver. 18), prayer (ver. 20), and trust in his Word (ver. 20).
II. CONSEQUENT SUCCESS AT THE HAND OF GOD. "They were helped against them, and the Hagarites were delivered into their hand," etc. (ver. 20). Beside the security and joy of victory came possessions (ver. 21) and a home (vers. 22, 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. (ver. 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 (ver. 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.
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 (vers. 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" (Psalm 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.
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, 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.
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.
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" (2 Chronicles 32:81). 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.
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.). 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.