Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE SCOPE OF MEMORY. "All the way which the Lord thy God hath led thee."
1. Remember thy needs - how many, how various, how urgent. Our hourly dependence upon material substance for food, and upon a Power beyond and above ourselves, ought to make us profoundly humble. Is there an occupant of this globe so full of need of many sorts as man?
2. Remember thy special perils. Every man has his particular dangers, as the Hebrews had in the desert - perils arising from outward circumstance, moral temptations, evil powers, personal defects and infirmities, distinctive vocation.
3. Remember God's suitable supplies. Their needs in the desert were unique and unprecedented; yet God was prepared for every emergency. It was open to him either to diminish the need, or else to institute new methods of supply. What if the sandy soil refused to yield a harvest? He can distil a harvest from the dewy air. What if flax be wanting as a material from which to fabricate raiment! He can stay, by a volition, the progress of decay and wear. What though the journeys tend to injure and blister the feet? He can make the skin durable as iron and brass. There shall be special blessing for special need. Every man's history is more or less special. Every point of our past history teems with footprints of God. Placed under the microscope of pious memory, every atom yields surprising lessons, sparkling truths.
II. THE MORAL USES OF MEMORY. They may be summed up under one head, viz. to perceive that God was in every event - that every word of God is a force for giving life.
1. A calm review of the past discovers the moral purpose God has kept in view. As when a man stands in the midst of complicated machinery, he is deafened by the roar, and bewildered by the manifold movements, that he cannot detect the definite end which that machine serves. To gum that knowledge, he must move away, and take in by one glance the effect of the whole. So, amid the whirl and excitement of passing events, we do not discern the definite purpose God has in view. We must get a bird's-eye view kern a new elevation. To reduce the pride of man's heart, to persuade him that God rules, are laudable purposes of Divine leadings.
2. The remembrance of the past exhibits the fatherly disciplines of God. Mingled tenderness and severity is conspicuous in God's dealings. We can see now that we had the sunshine of his favor when we kept the pathway of obedience, and that as often as we became wayward, the rod of his indignation fell. We can see now the likeness between God's treatment of us, and our fatherly treatment of our children. Faithful discipline is better every way than foolish fondness.
3. Memory revealed to them the fact that God was making in their life a great experiment. The vicissitudes and hardships and surprising deliverances in the wilderness were now seen to be tests, by which God would discover whether the people were worthy of Canaan, competent to be the depository of his truth. The object was to prove them, whether they could be entrusted with this Divine mission. So, every man's life is God's experiment. The question to be solved in each of our lives is this," Are we worthy a place in God's eternal kingdom?" Every effort is made by God to make this experiment successful.
4. A review of the past serves to show that man has a nobler life than that of the body. The main purpose why the Hebrews had been fed for forty years on manna was this, viz. to demonstrate that our well-being is not dependent on material things. Man lives not by bread, but by the Divine word. Even bread itself is a product of God's word. All the processes of mastication, digestion, assimilation, are the effects of Divine command. Our entire life is nourished by the word of God. Practical obedience is to the soul's life what digestion is to the life of the body. "My meat and drink is to do the will of my Father in heaven."
III. THE BENEFICENT EFFECTS OF A MEMORY DEVOUTLY EXERCISED. If we remember "all the way" - its subtle and intricate windings, and the faithful leadership of our Guide; if we appreciate the vital value of "every word" of Jehovah; we shall resolve henceforth to keep "all his commandments."
1. Remembrance will excite gratitude. Our gratitude is largely deficient, because we do not consider and reflect. if memory will fulfill her office well in supplying fuel for the altar of the heart, the flame of love will burn with a more constant glow.
2. Remembrance of Divine favors will convince us that God's interests and ours are identical. It is the natural effect of sin to persuade us that God is our enemy. We say, "Depart from us." But, when with unbiased mind we ponder the proofs of God's kindness, we yield to the evidence that he is a true Friend. Experience teaches us that it is our interest to obey.
3. Remembrance of past favors aids the operations of conscience. The conscience becomes hard before it becomes blind. Whatever keeps alive feeling in the conscience benefits the whole man. If there be light and life in a man's conscience, he will resolutely say, "I must not sin. I will fear God and keep his commandments."
4. Vivid remembrance of God's past goodness is a vigorous incentive to obedience. A sense of obligation for the past cannot fully express itself, except in acts of hearty obedience. When we realize fully that our every step has been under God's guidance, that every good thing has come from our Father's hand, and that every word of his is empowered to give us joyous life, - then are we constrained to say, "All that the Lord commandeth us will we do." - D.
I. THE WAY OF SALVATION IS ONE ALSO OF HUMILIATION'. This is, indeed, God's plan, "to hide pride from us." The way of salvation through Christ is humiliating. We are proved by it and made to see what is in our heart.
II. AT THE SAME TIME, IT IS A WAY OF MARVELLOUS MERCY. For God supplies our wants and sustains us in a truly marvelous way, like the Israelites in the wilderness. Thus -
1. The manna was to teach them dependence on his word. It was given when they were hungry and despairing; it was given daily; its only guarantee of continuance was God's promise; - all was, therefore, to keep them depending upon his sure word. And life's discipline brings us to the same persuasion that man must live upon the promise proceeding out of the mouth of God (cf. Matthew 4:4). Our Savior vanquished Satan's insinuation that he must use his miraculous power or perish, by resolving to continue trusting in God.
2. The raiment did not wax old, to strengthen still further their trust. It was a wonderful arrangement which allowed them forty years' wear in the wilderness out of the same garments. It must have been good clothing from Egyptian looms. But after starting there it remained, resisting the tooth of time. Each Israelite had evidence on his person of a particular providence.
3. Neither did the pilgrims become footsore. Their feet did not swell. They were made equal to their journey. The wilderness was not too rough for them. Their freedom from bodily inconvenience must have been a great source of satisfaction and comfort to them. In a similar way does God supply all our need and fit us for our pilgrimage.
III. GOD'S CHASTISEMENTS ARE PATERNAL. So was it with Israel in the wilderness. They suffered at the hands of God, but it was what wayward children might expect from a faithful parent. So is it with ourselves (cf. Psalm 103:13; Hebrews 12:1-14). Pain becomes blessed when we know that love sent it for a gracious purpose. We are all in the hands of a Father in heaven. He deals with us according to his infinite wisdom and love. Let us make more of the lessons of this wilderness journey than ever, and go on in the strength of God towards the everlasting home, profiting by his chastisements on the way. - R.M.E.
Matthew 4:4). Every believer will find the same in seasons of adversity.
I. ADVERSITY A DIVINE ORDINANCE. (Ver. 2.)
1. Divinely sent. "The Lord thy God led thee" (cf. Matthew 4:1). Jesus led of the Spirit into the wilderness. Adversity may come through natural laws, as the necessary result of sin or folly; even so it is of God's ordinance - the punitive expression of his will. But adversity is not necessarily punitive. The best man living may be led into straits of affliction, of which his own actions are not in the least the causes (Job 1., 2.). It is God who has "led" him thither for some purpose of his own.
2. The duration of which is divinely determined: "these forty years." God marks for us the term of our probations. Jesus was "forty days" without bread (Matthew 4:2).
II. THE GRACIOUS USES OF ADVERSITY. That of the Israelites was designed:
1. To humble them. It aimed at destroying the spirit of self-dependence, out of which comes pride and haughtiness (vers. 17, 18). It made them feel how absolutely they depended for everything upon God - taught them how at every step they hung upon his will.
2. To teach them reliance. Faith is reliance on a Divine Power working for us and in us. "What shall we eat? What shall we drink? Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" Faith cannot tell, but it waits God's time and God's way of providing, confident that in his own way he will provide. This was Christ's attitude in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4).
3. To test obedience. Adversity acts as a test of the disposition. The end of God's discipline is to bring to light hidden lines of character, and to advance life to a crisis. It threes us to moral determination. Will we obey God or will we not? The younger generation of Israel, whatever their faults, showed by their conduct then and thereafter (Joshua 24:31) that the discipline of the wilderness had not been without good results.
III. GOD IS WITH US IN ADVERSITY. Though bread failed, God fed them with manna (ver. 3). Their every want was supplied. Jesus teaches us to trust the Father for the supply of all our needs (Matthew 3:25, 34). His own trust, vindicated in the refusal to make stones into bread, was rewarded by angels ministering unto him (Matthew 4:11). He "ate angels food" (Psalm 78:25). Our wants are not supplied by miracle, but by providence, which is all-sufficient to provide for us in every ordinary case. - J.O.
I. TO SEE GOD IN SECONDARY CAUSES. The Word of God is as truly the creative and nourishing principle in ordinary bread as it was in the extraordinary supply of manna. It is not bread, as something subsisting independently, but bread as the product of Divine power, and as possessing properties which the Word of God imparts to it and upholds in it, which is the staff of life and the object of our prayers (Matthew 6:11).
II. TO BELIEVE IN GOD ACTING ABOVE NATURE AS WELL AS IN IT. If God wills life to be sustained, he can sustain it in other ways than by bread. He is not tied up to one set of means. He can act, if it pleases him, independently of means altogether, the creative word being sufficient to sustain. This is the direct meaning of the text, and a part of the significance of Christ's answer to the tempter (Matthew 4:4).
III. TO RECOGNIZE IN MAN THE EXISTENCE OF A HIGHER LIFE THAN THE PHYSICAL. The physical is not the highest in us. We do not live by bread alone. A higher life is found in depending on God's Word, in obeying it, and in abiding by it, whatever the immediate consequences. The lower life may need to be given up that the higher may be saved (Matthew 16:25). - J.O.
I. CHASTISEMENT IS A NECESSITY OF OUR MORAL NATURE. He is no wise parent who spares the rod when the good of the child requires that chastisement be administered. Gentler methods failing, the undutiful son ought to be chastised, he deserves it. He needs the discipline. It acts wholesomely upon him, awakening conscience, begetting respect for paternal authority, deterring from evil, leading probably to penitence and submission.
II. CHASTISEMENT IS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF GOD'S TREATMENT OF HIS CHILDREN. His chastisements proceed from love (Hebrews 12:6). They are wisely meted out, and are always for our profit (Hebrews 12:10). God can bear to punish. He will not allow our faults to slip. He will make us feel when we do wrong, hedging up our way, and laying stripes upon us. God's children have the comfort of knowing that they are thus in a Father's hand, and that in all they suffer they are being chastened by unerring love and wisdom.
III. CHASTISEMENT IS A PART OF GOD'S DISCIPLINE OF US FOR WHICH WE SHOULD BE GRATEFUL. Not murmuring, but submitting to it. Without this chastisement:
1. How forgetful of God would we soon become!
2. How haughty and self-willed!
3. How dilatory in duty! - J.O.
I. A NOTABLE INSTANCE OF DIVINE MUNIFICENCE.
1. The heritage of Israel was a "good land." Both climate and soil were suited to every variety of natural production. The fruits of the North, and the fruits of the Tropics, might alike find a home there. Untold ages had passed, during which God had been slowly preparing that land for Israel, and storing it with elements of fertility, and wealth of minerals.
2. Others had been employed to bring the virgin soil under culture. The harder and more unprofitable toil bad been accomplished. The house of Israel was already well furnished, as when a bridegroom brings home his bride.
3. There was every variety of provision. This betokened thoughtful foresight and tender affection. No needed good had been overlooked. The beneficent Creator had furnished, not only the necessaries of life, but every luxury. Whatever could please the palate, or gratify a taste, or invigorate the health, was there. These were pictures of heavenly good; for as yet the people could not appreciate the imperishable treasures of the spirit-land.
4. This inheritance was unpurchased and unreserved. It made them, body and soul, debtors to God. Had they preferred to purchase it with money, they had naught of their own; they could not create the medium of barter. They had not obtained it by the merit of obedience. They were the recipients of distinguished favor - pensioners on the Divine bounty. If it be said that they obtained the land by right of conquest, it must be counter-said that the Lord had given them victory. The battle was the Lord's. Herein God designed to conquer their proud spirits by the generosity of his love.
5. This inheritance was not the final end. God had ulterior purposes of good yet beyond, towards the realization of which this was a stepping-stone. His next design was to "establish his covenant with them." At present, they were reaping the fruit of their fathers' faith. This was a reward for Abraham's piety. If they should prove faithful, they too should be promoted to higher things. Canaan was not a home, but a school-house.
II. THE PASSAGE CONTAINS VALUABLE COUNSEL. The counsels of clear-eyed, venerable wisdom are more precious than pearls.
1. The counsel prescribes grateful recollection. Having received such measureless kindness, it would be the rankest villany to forget the Giver. Over the sunken rock of ingratitude a triple beacon stands: "Beware!" Give this murderous reef ample sea-room. Here many a gallant ship has gone to pieces.
2. The counsel directs suitable requital. "Thou shalt bless the Lord thy God!" But can man confer any blessing on his Maker? Can we add to God's wealth or enjoyment? In a sense we can. Dispositions are accepted as deeds. If we are not willing to give to God all we have, our hearts are base. We can bring him the wealth of our love. We can bring him the music of our praise. We can bring him the devotion of our lives. Does his voice whisper to us from heaven, "It is well that it is in thine heart?" Does he smell the sweet savor of our sacrifice?
3. The counsel includes practical obedience. Obedience, if genuine, will be complete. It will embrace every known command. If we observe some commandments, and consciously neglect others, this is not obedience; we are merely doing our own will. Whether we perceive the reason of the command or not, we shall honor it as oar Lord's will - as our Lord himself. No matter what compliance costs, we will give it. Ours not to reason why. True obedience is hearty, complete, perpetual.
III. THIS PASSAGE INDICATES IMMINENT PERILS.
1. Wealth often leads to fleshly indulgence. With abundance in our possession, it is easier to indulge the appetites than to deny them. Yet the higher life can only be developed at the expense of the lower. "Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom."
2. Wealth breeds self-sufficient pride. It serves to weaken our sense of dependence upon God. When from our visible stores every felt need can be supplied, we are prone to forget the unseen Giver. Most men may well thank God that the temptations of wealth dwell not under their roofs. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" In the hot-bed of riches, the flower of sweet humility does not thrive.
3. Wealth loses sight of its own origin. It has a short memory for obligations. The millionaire soon forgets the days of poverty and struggle - forgets the Friend who succored him in his extremity - kicks away the ladder by which he rose. Riches naturally encumber and stifle the flame of religious feeling.
4. Riches beget in us false confidence. Like Nebuchadnezzar, we say, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built?" We find a delicious pleasure in hearing our own skill and sagacity praised. The tide of natural feeling sets strongly towards self-trust.
5. Riches tend towards idolatry. In the days of poverty we did not object to be accounted singular; but in the time of wealth we aspire to do as others do. It is arduous to have to think for one's self, to rely upon one's own judgments, to pursue a course which men will ridicule. If others bow clown to their own net, or rear a popular idol, we too must bow down and worship it. Wealth has given us prominence, set us on high, and we must not risk our new reputation. It is easier to drift with the stream than to stem it.
6. Justice, with her balances and sword, is always nigh. No man can defraud God. If the Amorites were thrust out from the land because they had become flagrant idolaters, so also shall the Israelites if they become votaries of idols. As the Hebrews conquered the Canaanites, so did the Assyrians vanquish the Hebrews. One law shall prevail for all. If we have not been overwhelmed in one disaster, we may be overtaken suddenly by another minister of justice. Sin shall bear its own proper fruit. Every nation and every individual shall "go to his own place." From the summit of earthly magnificence to the lowest pit of misery, there is often a single step. "I saw," says Bunyan, "that there was a way to hell, even from the gate of the celestial city." "Be not highminded, but fear." Riches make a slippery descent to ruin. - D.
I. A LAND OF GREAT NATURAL ADVANTAGES - a wealthy possession. Wood, water, metals, a fertile soil, good pasturage, honey in the clefts of the rocks, etc. (Deuteronomy 11:11, 12; Deuteronomy 33:13-16, 19, 25). Dr. Dykes remarks on it as uniting, as no other does, the two indispensable conditions of central position and yet of isolation, and points out that few regions offer so few temptations to corrupt the simplicity of their inhabitants, or better facilities for the defense of their liberties ('Abraham,' Deuteronomy 3.). A yet richer inheritance awaits the Christian, who is brought through the fire and water of tribulation to "a wealthy place" (Psalm 66:12; 2 Corinthians 4:17, 18; Hebrews 11:16; 1 Peter 1:4).
II. A LAND OF GREAT OUTWARD PLEASANTNESS - a beautiful possession. The speaker dwells in captivating detail on the features of its beauty - its hills and valleys, gushing with springs and cleft with innumerable water-courses; picturesque in its scenery, richly cultivated, diversified in its natural productions; blending with its agricultural and pastoral beauties the graces of the vine-clad slope, of the olive garden, of orchards of luscious fruits. A type of the fairer land beyond - the Canaan of the skies.
III. A LAND OF EXHAUSTLESS PLENTY - a satisfying possession. "Eat bread without scarceness," etc. (ver. 9). God was not ashamed to be called their God, having provided for them so rich a possession. Yet how poor were its satisfactions as compared with those which await believers (Revelation 21:4)! The land was given them in fulfillment of promise; for the possession of it God had been preparing them in the wilderness; and the sharpness of the desert experience made the rest and delights of it sweeter when they came. "Trials make the promise sweet;" etc. - J.O.
I. THERE IS A VERY GREAT TENDENCY TO FORGET GOD AMID THE ORDER OF NATURE. It is supposed God has nothing to do, because we get our supplies through steady "second causes." But God claims recognition when he blesses us through ordinary channels as well as when he blesses us through extraordinary. The natural order is either due to God or arranged itself. We have not credulity sufficient for the latter hypothesis, and must accept the former.
II. WHEN GOD ASKS US TO BE FELLOW-WORKERS WITH HIM, IT IS NOT TO BE ENGROSSED WITH OUR WORK AND TO IGNORE HIS. In the wilderness God fed them out of his own hand, so to speak. But in Canaan he directed them to work for their daily bread. They were raised from being "spoon-fed" to be "fellow-workers." The temptation in Canaan gas to think that their own hand and power had produced the wealth. It is the same still. From being fellow-workers with God, men, by mere forget fullness, pass into the delusion of being sole workers. Life is workable, they think, without God. Atheism is the principle underlying such a life.
III. THIS UNHOLY INDEPENDENCE OF SPIRIT IS THE SURE PRELUDE OF NATIONAL DECAY. It is not national "self-reliance" which serves a state, but national reliance upon God in the use of the means he has appointed. Nations that think they can get on alone are left at length to do so, and God-deserted they perish. The Canaanites were illustrating this in their own case. They should be a warning to Israel. Living without God in the world, depending on themselves, they were about to be removed violently from their ancestral scats. It was so afterwards with Israel. They were as a nation effaced from the land where they had been placed in probation. The captivity of the ten tribes was terrible, and so was that of Judah and Benjamin. It is this which nations must still guard against. God will not be ignored. If nations attempt it, they only efface themselves. Dying dynasties and scattered nations proclaim the existence and retribution of God.
IV. HOW NEEDFUL, THEN, TO RECOGNIZE GOD'S HAND IN ALL THINGS! The procession of nature - all that is beautiful in second causes, has come from him. The "First Cause" may surely be allowed to work through "second causes" without forfeiting his right to recognition and thanksgiving. Our times are largely atheistic, because our little knowledge of second causes affords such fussy occupation to us, that we have not taste or time to see the First Cause behind all and using all for his glory. - R.M.E.
I. WEALTH IS DANGEROUS WITHOUT THE PREVIOUS TRAINING OF ADVERSITY. Those who, cradled in the lap of luxury, have never known struggle and difficulty are rarely persons of meek, humble, chastened dispositions. As rarely are those whose schemes have been so uniformly prosperous as to give color to the thought, "My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth." The former class lack moral fiber, are seldom competent to grapple with the problems of earnest life, shrink from action, and consequently fall an easy prey to the temptations of their wealth. The others are bold, daring, self-sufficient, and superior to religious considerations. They waive God aside from their plans and schemes - "I do not need that hypothesis" - and refuse to worship, honor, pray to, or serve him. Adversity, to a certain extent, tends to correct these faults. It teaches humility and dependence, proves the heart, and forms it to habits which enable it to use wealth rightly.
II. WEALTH IS DANGEROUS, EVEN WITH THE TRAINING OF ADVERSITY, UNLESS THE LESSONS OF ADVERSITY HAVE BEEN IMPROVED. Adversity, unhappily, does not always produce in men's hearts the salutary effects which philosophy assigns to it. It may harden instead of softening and subduing. Multitudes pass through it and are none the better. They are unyielding, unsubmissive, impenitent. They grow bitter in spirit, and accuse the God of heaven. In such a case the return of prosperity, or the gift of it, is no blessing. The heart gets haughtier than ever, and God is defied (Obadiah 1:3, 4). It is a serious question for a nation to put to itself, after passing through a period of adversity, Is it morally the better for its sufferings? For, if not, the revival of prosperity will mean but the revival of the old follies, extravagances, and inflations - the very things which formerly led God to turn his frown upon it.
III. THERE IS A DANGER, WHEN WEALTH COMES, OF THE LESSONS LEARNED IN ADVERSITY BEING AGAIN FORGOTTEN. This is the peculiar danger apprehended in the text. Wealth has so subtle and ensnaring an influence, it draws the affections so stealthily away from God, that no temptation is to be compared with it in point of insidiousness. A threefold danger:
1. Undue elation of heart.
2. Forgetfulness of God.
3. A spirit of self-sufficiency and self-glorification.
The preventive lies in the cultivation of a thankful spirit (ver. 10), and in the recollection that the power to get wealth is not of ourselves, but from God (ver. 18). This is the root-error in the matter - stopping at second causes, putting nature and nature's laws, or our own wisdom, energy, and forethought, in place of him without whom we could not think a thought, move a muscle, or carry through to completion one of our purposes. Best preventive of all is the laying up of treasure in heaven; for, "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:19-22). - J.O.
I. A THANKFUL SPIRIT CONSERVES THE BLESSINGS OF THE FAST. It goes back on God's dealings with it. It keeps alive the memory of his goodness. It delights in counting over the blessings it has received (Psalm 40:5). In it the fountain of gratitude can never get frozen up, for the springs are daily flowing from a warm heart (Psalm 103:1-4).
II. A THANKFUL SPIRIT ENABLES US TO USE ARIGHT THE BLESSINGS OF THE PRESENT. It guards against sinful elation, against proud self-sufficiency. It keeps us from forgetting whence our blessings flow. By a sense of God's goodness daily renewing itself, it makes the heart kind and sympathetic, sensitive to the wants and woes of others. The spirit is softened and sweetened. Under adversity, it conduces to resignation and cheerfulness.
III. A THANKFUL SPIRIT HELPS US TO PRAY FOR BLESSINGS IN THE FUTURE. Hence the rule that prayer is to be accompanied with thanksgivings (Ephesians 5:20; Colossians 3:15; Philippians 4:6). Thanksgiving strengthens faith, gives encouragement, enables us to pray with due submission to God's will, prepares us for the reception of the blessings that we seek. Without thankfulness for past mercies, it is impossible to pray aright for future ones. - J.O.
I. GOD'S DISCIPLINE OF US IS NOT WITHOUT ITS END. No man even, whose action has any meaning in it, but has an end in what he does. It may be alleged that God's action has regard to men only in the mass; that in that view of it his action has an end; but that a special purpose is not traceable in his dealings with individuals. The truer philosophy sees purpose everywhere. The individual soul is of interest to God. He deems it worthy of being an end in itself. Though subordinately to the general good, he shapes his providence with a view to its individual well-being (Matthew 10:29-31). For -
II. GOD'S DISCIPLINE OF US IS MEANT TO TURN TO OUR ULTIMATE ADVANTAGE. "To do thee good at thy latter end." The immediate object of God's discipline is to form character; to create and develop love, trust, and obedience; to uproot evil dispositions; to break down self-will and self-dependence. The ultimate end of it is the service and blessedness of heaven. There may be some service which God is preparing us for on earth, some possession he wishes to give us, some trust he is about to repose in us. But heaven is the goal of all (2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:10-13; Revelation 7:13-17).
III. THE END OF GOD'S DISCIPLINE OF US WILL NOT RE FULLY SEEN TILL THE GOAL IS REACHED. Till then our duty is to do present work, and improve by present training. - J.O.