Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. NOT FOR WANT OF DISPOSITION TO PRAISE. If the things had still remained which people had been in the habit of praising, they would have gone on praising. But the God of righteousness takes them away, and then there is necessary silence. Instead of praise there is humiliation, astonishment at a change so complete, but no insight into the hollowness and instability of that which had been praised. If it had all come back again, it would have been praised as much as ever. Thus we see -
II. A THING MAY BE PRAISED WITHOUT BEING PRAISEWORTHY. This can easily be understood from the experience of many who once praised things to which they are now indifferent, which they may even utterly condemn. Why this change? It may be to some extent from change in the things, but it more frequently comes from growth and increase of light and the reception of higher principles. We have ever to be on ore: guard against what is merely popular. Not in a cynical way, as if we grudged any one success, but recollecting what power belongs to fashion and to the love of pleasure. Let our effort be to discern, measure, and profit by intrinsic excellence.
III. THINGS NOT PRAISEWORTHY MAY GET THE HIGHEST PRAISE. Mere cleverness and astuteness, the exercise of power irrespective of ends, visible and material success on a large scale, - these attract the laudations of inconsiderate men. This is just what we may expect. If things the most praiseworthy, fullest of virtue and blessing, are yet neglected by the eyes of those who have opportunity to see them, then it is little wonder that the things most approved by the common multitude are those which God has branded as utterly bad. What changes need to be effected in human judgments, that we may be willing to burn what we adored and adore what we would have burned!
IV. GOD GIVES FRESH TOPICS OF PRAISE IF THERE BE A DISPOSITION TO CONSIDER THEM. Those whose tongues had been full of the praises of Moab needed not to be silent. The very overthrow of Moab would be a signal for praise and congratulation among the good. When the unhallowed praises of men are silenced by destruction of the things they praised, then angels begin to sing. And they who praise low, earthly things may have their thoughts introduced to heavenly ones, and then they will discover what man was made to praise. How the words that are exaggerated and altogether disproportioned when applied to the works of men, have in them an exquisite fitness when we speak of the works of God or of Christ, or of men properly engaged in Christian service! - Y.
1. Barren. No rich, strength-sustaining fruit does the heath bear. A mere hard berry. The camel and the ass may browse thereupon, but it is no food for man. "Can men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" And thus barren of good is the sinner.
2. Unlovely. There is no form nor beauty about the heath; a stunted, misshapen shrub. Its wood can be used for no manufacture. It is fit only to be burned. And when our eyes are opened to see things as they are, sin and the sinner will appear in all moral unloveliness; all present outward charm gone, and only their evil deformity seen.
3. Alone. Surrounded by drear expanse of sand; no companion trees to form it into a grove or a verdant mass of plant life. And so will the sinner be one day. Christ goes with the believer down the dark valley, but the sinner goes forth alone. He stands at the bar of God with no advocate. None of all his old companions can redeem his soul or give to God a ransom for him. Alone; helpless.
4. The gracious influences of Heaven do him no good. The dew and the rain, the sun's warmth, come upon it; but it remains the unlovely, solitary, barren thing it ever was. So the impenitent man is visited by the influences of Heaven, the pleading of the Spirit, the varied means of grace; but they avail him not.
5. Soon to perish. The driving sand, the scorching heat, the browsing camel, the encampment fire, all threaten its life, and by one or other of them it soon perishes. And they who are like to it are never safe. "How are they destroyed as in a moment!" Conclusion. But the godly are not so. "He shall be like a tree planted by," etc. (Psalm 1.). - C.
I. THE CAPTURE WAS THEIR OWN FAULT. Not all capture is so. There may be a going into durance for conscience' sake; there may be the necessary surrender to superior strength; the captured one may be the victim for a time to the unscrupulous selfishness of others. We must be careful not to draw rash conclusions from suffering to sin; for therein we may be adding suffering to suffering. As a rule, when suffering comes from sin, the sufferer is not left without a witness in his own heart. But inasmuch as it is a whole people that is here suffering nationally, there needs to be a distinct mention of why they are suffering. We are also reminded how important it is to make the distinction between what comes through our own fault and what comes through other causes.
II. WRONG OBJECTS OF TRUST ALWAYS INVOLVE SOME DISASTER, It is but the form that differs; the real, essential mischief is always there. God mentions here the best things a man can have outside of God himself. There is his own worth, that into which he puts his energy, skill, and experience; where also he profits by the work of those who have gone before him. There are also the pleasures of life, all that a man, in his best judgment, reckons to be best. Moab would reckon among its pleasures its men of war, its chosen young men, its accumulation of wealth. But all these things, solid and extensive as they look, give no guarantee of abiding security and prosperity. They may, by the very falsehood of appearances, become the ministers of ruin. The case is as if a plant should seek root in its own substance, as if a man should try to maintain physical life from his own body. And to trust other people is an even more precarious ground of support than we find in ourselves. For in ourselves there is at all events the element of self-interest to help us. No doubt, by the work and the pleasures here mentioned, there is a reference to the idol worshipped in Moab, which indeed is mentioned in the same verse. We can hardly understand the feeling ourselves, but great must have been the confidence of Moab in its god; and this, of course, amounted to nothing else than its own imagination of deity. Be we may be trusting in an apparent connection with God, in forms of religion, in works that look as if they were meant for God's glory and for our good. But nothing is of any use as a ground of confidence unless it has a living connection with the Infinite and the Eternal. - Y.
I. THE WORK OF THE LORD IS OF VARIED KINDS. Here it has reference to the vengeance to be taken on Moab, and denounces a curse on that soldier who failed to do his duty in the most thorough and terrible manner. No pity, no motive of any kind, was to lead them to spare the doomed nation. But whilst such dread work may be at times the work of the Lord, the expression more commonly points to that which is spiritual, and tends to man's highest good. In the apostolic Epistles we have constant reference to the work of the Lord in this happier sense.
II. BUT THERE IS PERIL, WHATEVER THE WORK BE, OF DOING IT DECEITFULLY. Now, the work of the Lord is done deceitfully:
1. When it is not done thoroughly. When we shirk our work; do no more than we can help; get away from it as fast as we can. And how much of the "work" is thus done! Alas that it should be so! Evidently counted a drudgery rather than a delight. Do we not all know that there is danger of our thus working?
2. When it is not done sincerely. How varied and how questionable often the motive which leads men to engage in the work of the Lord! - custom, ostentation, fear of reproach, sting of conscience, hope of gain, fashion, etc. These and such as these may crowd out the only right and sincere motive - the love of Christ. All others make us more or less hypocrites, and can find no acceptance of the Lord in the great day. But is there no peril from such motives? We know there is.
3. When it is not done earnestly. When our heart is not in our work. When it is laid hold of not, as it should be, "with both hands earnestly," but, as it were, with one of the fingers. Some thus work; others as with one hand; others, indeed, with both hands, but slowly, loosely, not earnestly. "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." Only such as obey that Word are sincere workers.
4. When it is done hypocritically. In the days of sore persecution there was but little peril of this; but when and where religion goes, as it is. said, in silver slippers, there is real peril of men taking up with the Lord's work in order to further, not the work of the Lord, but their own poor worldly well being. What they do is all a pretence, a kind of deception. God keep us all therefrom! For note -
III. THE SEVERITY WITH WHICH THE LORD LOOKS UPON HIS WORK DONE DECEITFULLY. "Cursed be he," etc. (ver. 10). Now, wherefore this severity?
1. It is an insult to God. It is as good as saying to him that his work does not deserve true labour; that it is of so little importance that anything will do for it - the parings of your time, your energy, your thought, your means, your strength. What could be a greater affront to God?
2. The work is so great and urgent that it is traitorous thus to engage in it. What do we say of the watchman sleeping at his post (cf. Ezekiel 33.)? of all who betray their trust or neglect it?
3. Such deceitfulness is contagious. How many a young servant of Christ is checked and chilled by the evil influence of professed servants of Christ like himself, but older, less fervent, and who are guilty of that which is here denounced! Such demoralize many in the army of the Lord.
4. It renders the work itself far more difficult. For the world sees clearly and judges keenly those who say they do the work of the Lord. They know what that work is, what it professes to aim at, what the interests involved in it. But they who do that work deceitfully cause men to laugh at all such work, to disbelieve all its claims, and to decline more stoutly than ever to surrender their hearts to it.
5. Such deceivers harden their own hearts, and steep themselves in a fatal slumber, from which there is no waking. Never has Satan a firmer hold on a man than when he can get him to do the work of the Lord deceitfully. The man is fully persuaded that he is all right, and dies with a lie in his right hand, and is not undeceived till, to his awful amazement, he hears the Lord say to him and to all such, "I never knew you; depart from me." That thus it may not be with us, note -
IV. OUR SAFEGUARDS AGAINST SUCH SIN.
1. Solemn recollection and pondering of God's severe anger against it.
2. And chiefly by continually seeking and Cherishing in your hearts that love of Christ which the Holy Spirit creates and maintains there, and which alone, but ever, makes all our work sincere, acceptable, effectual, and true. - C.
I. THE ENTRUSTING OF JEHOVAH'S WORK TO THE HANDS OF MEN. Here is a great work of judgment, and Jehovah effects such works either through operations of his own or through agents to whom he makes the awful duty evident. What he has done himself is sufficiently illustrated in many terrible visitations recorded in the Old Testament; nor is there entire absence of such a record in the New. But men have also been called to visit upon others their iniquity in a solemn and thorough way. That men have made the command of God a pretext for the greatest cruelties, and for indiscriminate slaughter on an extensive scale, does not in the least alter the fact that such commands have been given - given out of the greatest wisdom and with the best results. Every nation reckons that the temporal life of its subjects is at its disposal; they must be ready to serve with life or in death, as may be required. And shall not the God of all the earth dispose of temporal life according as his all-comprehending wisdom sees may be best for the whole world and for all ages?
II. THE TEMPTATIONS TO DO THIS WORK DECEITFULLY. Not, perhaps, with an intention to deceive, but with sophistical evasions, with attempts to make something less than completeness seem complete. Such an act was that of Saul when he went out with a stern command ringing in his ears - the command of one proved to be a prophet, that he should utterly slay the Amalekites. He seemed to have reason in the pleas he urged for the imperfect execution of the command. And so it may often be. There looks to be needless severity, needless waste. Oftentimes there is an amount of suffering, suffering even of the innocent, which takes all will and vigour out of the arm that should strike God's blow. Besides, it needs to be always borne in mind that the Word of God requiring severity and suffering is only a part of God's work. We shrink from it through mere sensitiveness to pain, But there is another large sphere of work where there is plain benefit, where we have to make no one suffer, where we are contributors to something positive. The husbandman is not forever plucking up weeds; his main work is to sow good seed and reap it. "Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully" is a word that has its correspondence in Paul's ejaculation, "Woe is me if! preach not the gospel." Jesus put his servants through an exacting discipline, a self-revealing one, in order that they might do his work thoroughly, uprooting all evil, getting down to proper foundations, making no compromises, ready for all persecutions. They who, after preparation and warning and putting their hands to the work, yet do that work with slack hands, cannot wonder if God should in due time make manifest his anger with them for their heedlessness.. - Y.
I. WORLDLY PROSPERITY IS OFTEN VERY GREAT AND UNINTERRUPTED.
1. Frequently remarked. Heathen nations, whose very backwardness and barbarism have isolated them from the disturbing stream of the world's life; and empires that seem to be based upon irreligion and wrong, and that are nevertheless in the van of civilization. The men who make the colossal fortunes of modern times are not, as a rule, distinguished for their religious virtues. Sins that immediately destroy some are committed with impunity by others. Many of the most ancient and lucrative vested interests of the world are owned by persons without moral character, and are prostituted to the basest purposes.
2. The moral perplexity of this. When wealth and influence almost phenomenally great are thus acquired and used, they cannot fail to trouble the minds of good men. The difficulties of a moral and religious life are so great that such a spectacle tempts and saddens. Israel had been afflicted from her youth (Psalm 129:1-3), whilst Moab was at ease. David was envious when he saw the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 73:3).
II. SINNERS ARE THEREBY CONFIRMED IN THEIR EVIL HABITS AND BELIEFS. The material wealth and secular position of Moab were doubtless greatly advanced by this long security, and a kind of prestige attached to him amongst neighbouring nations. His customs gradually acquired a fixed and immovable authority. The national character, with all its inherent vices, developed a strong individuality: "His taste remained in him, and his scent is not changed." One trait of this character, for which Moab was notorious and intolerable, was his pride (ver. 29). His attachment to idolatry was also intense; his inhabitants were the "people of Chemosh" (ver. 46). To add to the cup of his transgression, he "magnified himself against the Lord" (ver. 42.). All this is in strict analogy with what may be observed anywhere under similar circumstances. National pride grows with impunity and conquest; and prejudice strengthens itself in the apparent success of its policy of life and the blessing that seems to attach to its religious observances. Israel was a derision to Moab (ver. 27).
III. BUT THEIR POSITION IS INSECURE, AND DESTRUCTION, THOUGH DELAYED, WILL BE THE MORE CERTAIN AND COMPLETE. The uncertainty of worldly prosperity is represented frequently and under many figures in Holy Writ. It is "that which moth and rust corrupt, and thieves steal;" it "takes to itself wings and flies away;" the whole life of which it is the material embodiment, is "even as a vapour, which appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away" (James 4:14). Here the metaphor is that of a tilted vessel. There will come a day when the cup of a nation's or individual's iniquity will be full; then will they be as Sodom and Gomorrah, whose cry was great and their sin very grievous (Genesis 19:20). It is just this confidence, born of long impunity, that becomes intolerable to God and provokes his wrath. The rich fool (Luke 12:16-21). - M.
2 Kings 3:21. Some two centuries and a half had rolled away since that dread day, and in that interval Moab regained all, and more than all, of its former prosperity. For the land was beautiful and rich in the extreme. Its pastures were covered over with sheep and its valleys with corn. The very name "Moab" is thought to mean the land of desire, that is, the desirable land. Now, during these long periods, the description here given is applicable. They had enjoyed much ease, and the natural evils engendered by their cruel idolatrous system had become more fixed and settled; "their scent had not changed." The truth, therefore, which is here taught is that prolonged and abundant ease, however coveted by men, is full of peril to their higher nature, and tends continually to the deterioration of character and the hardening of the habit of evil. Now, we note that -
I. GOD IS EVER TEACHING US THIS TRUTH.
1. In his Word. Cf. Psalm 55:19, "Because they have no changes," etc. Cf. also Hebrews 12., where the writer urges the acceptance of the Divine chastisements on the ground that no child of God is without them. "For what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" And as we go over the roll of names of patriarchs, prophets, apostles, saints, and above all the Son of God - not one was without chastisement. Of Christ it is said, "The chastisement of our peace was upon him" (Isaiah 53.). And so in the history of the chosen people. How they were moved from vessel to vessel! What changes and adversities, what agitation and tossing about by wars, rebellions, invasions, captivities, etc., they had to endure! And so of the history of the Church! What a checkered and often tumultuous and much tried career was allotted to her! All these illustrations from God's Word, showing the determination of God that his people should not suffer the peril of overmuch ease and become as Moab, and as they who because they have no changes, therefore, etc.
2. By analogy. God suffers nothing to be without change. Even the rocks and hills, the solid globe, all have experienced, and do and will experience, change. The seasons alternate in their orderly change. Storm and tempest cleanse the air which, as in the Swiss valleys, would otherwise become stagnant. The great sea one prophet describes as "the troubled sea," because it can never be quiet. And yet more is this refusal of ease and quiet, this law of change, seen in all forms of life.
(1) In vegetable life. "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die," etc. And it springs up, "First the blade, then the ear, then," etc. All the varied and ever acting processes of change in the whole plant world are in proof.
(2) In animal life. Change is ever proceeding there. Even when we are asleep the work still goes on. For it to be otherwise is dissolution and death.
(3) In mental life. Not to have that aroused, stirred by the study of fresh truth and the readjustment of old, would be to condemn to feebleness and semi-idiocy.
(4) In social life.
"The old order changeth, giving place to new .... (5) In ecclesiastical life. What was the Reformation but the tempest storm that rushed through the valleys of the Church life of that day, where the air had become stagnant and so corrupt and poisonous that men could not breathe it and live? But the wild storm came and the air was made pure, not in the reformed lands alone, though there chiefly, but in those also that cling to the old faith. Such corruption and abominableness as characterized the ante-Reformation Church were not again possible. (6) In political life. Where that is healthy, overmuch ease is not possible. It has not been so with us. It has in the empires of the East, China, etc., and see the result. (7) In moral life. Virtue must be tried, there must be conflict and struggle if it is to continue and grow more truly itself. Hence, as in all other forms of life, we should conclude that the moral law would hold good in the spiritual life. And that this is so we learn also: 3. By experience. We do not glide into heaven. We are not translated, whilst in a trance, out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. But the often severe spiritual conflicts of repentance and confession and striving against sin. "Yea, we must fight if we would win." And God's providence without us as well as his Spirit within is ever forbidding our being at ease continually. Sorrows and losses, temptations and trials, changes and adversities, - they are ever "moving us from vessel to vessel." God forces on us "changes," lest we fear not his Name. II. BUT WHY IS ALL THIS? Because in our nature there are rooted evils which can only be got rid of by the action of this law of change. Such evils are: 1. Self-will. You have seen a mountain stream come brawling along over its stony bed. But on it goes, heeding not until, right in mid-stream, there is a huge rock. Down comes the stream full tilt against it, as if it were saying, "Just you get out of my way." But that is precisely the thing the rock does not do, and so the stream comes right against it. And then what a fuss, and a froth, and a foam there arises! but the rook does not move, and after a moment you will see the stream gliding softly, smoothly, quietly round the rock, and going more gently on its way. That is one of the ten thousand natural parables with which the world is full. That stream of our self-will, determined to go its own way, rushes on its course. The rock of God's law of change and adversity and trial stands in its way and will not move, and the stream of self-will is broken against it, as God intended it should be. Only by this law can this evil be cured. 2. Pride. Trial forces men to call on God. 3. Unbelief. This law of trouble and change shatters the materialism and atheism of the present day. They break down, and the soul in the day of its trouble calls upon God. 4. Selfishness. Ease fosters this, as it fosters all those other evils named. But trial, adversity, teach men to be "touched with the feeling" of their brethren's infirmities. 5. Love of the world; and 6. Indolence. These which ease fosters, God's law of change does much to cure. III. HOW, THEN, SHOULD WE BEAR OURSELVES TOWARDS THIS LAW OF CHASTENING CHANGE? Cf. Hebrews 12., which teaches: 1. That we do not despise it. By denying it, or by defying it. Some do this and persevere in the sins which it was designed to amend. 2. That we do not "faint" under it. We are not to give up in despair, letting the hands hang down and the knees totter and become feeble. But we are to take this law as a spur and lash and ask, "Wherefore dost thou contend with me?" and see to it that we amend. But: 3. Submit ourselves unto God. "Shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father," etc.? Let his will be ours; let his way our way. "He always wins who sides with thee;
(5) In ecclesiastical life. What was the Reformation but the tempest storm that rushed through the valleys of the Church life of that day, where the air had become stagnant and so corrupt and poisonous that men could not breathe it and live? But the wild storm came and the air was made pure, not in the reformed lands alone, though there chiefly, but in those also that cling to the old faith. Such corruption and abominableness as characterized the ante-Reformation Church were not again possible.
(6) In political life. Where that is healthy, overmuch ease is not possible. It has not been so with us. It has in the empires of the East, China, etc., and see the result.
(7) In moral life. Virtue must be tried, there must be conflict and struggle if it is to continue and grow more truly itself. Hence, as in all other forms of life, we should conclude that the moral law would hold good in the spiritual life. And that this is so we learn also:
3. By experience. We do not glide into heaven. We are not translated, whilst in a trance, out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God. But the often severe spiritual conflicts of repentance and confession and striving against sin. "Yea, we must fight if we would win." And God's providence without us as well as his Spirit within is ever forbidding our being at ease continually. Sorrows and losses, temptations and trials, changes and adversities, - they are ever "moving us from vessel to vessel." God forces on us "changes," lest we fear not his Name.
II. BUT WHY IS ALL THIS? Because in our nature there are rooted evils which can only be got rid of by the action of this law of change. Such evils are:
1. Self-will. You have seen a mountain stream come brawling along over its stony bed. But on it goes, heeding not until, right in mid-stream, there is a huge rock. Down comes the stream full tilt against it, as if it were saying, "Just you get out of my way." But that is precisely the thing the rock does not do, and so the stream comes right against it. And then what a fuss, and a froth, and a foam there arises! but the rook does not move, and after a moment you will see the stream gliding softly, smoothly, quietly round the rock, and going more gently on its way. That is one of the ten thousand natural parables with which the world is full. That stream of our self-will, determined to go its own way, rushes on its course. The rock of God's law of change and adversity and trial stands in its way and will not move, and the stream of self-will is broken against it, as God intended it should be. Only by this law can this evil be cured.
2. Pride. Trial forces men to call on God.
3. Unbelief. This law of trouble and change shatters the materialism and atheism of the present day. They break down, and the soul in the day of its trouble calls upon God.
4. Selfishness. Ease fosters this, as it fosters all those other evils named. But trial, adversity, teach men to be "touched with the feeling" of their brethren's infirmities.
5. Love of the world; and
6. Indolence. These which ease fosters, God's law of change does much to cure.
III. HOW, THEN, SHOULD WE BEAR OURSELVES TOWARDS THIS LAW OF CHASTENING CHANGE? Cf. Hebrews 12., which teaches:
1. That we do not despise it. By denying it, or by defying it. Some do this and persevere in the sins which it was designed to amend.
2. That we do not "faint" under it. We are not to give up in despair, letting the hands hang down and the knees totter and become feeble. But we are to take this law as a spur and lash and ask, "Wherefore dost thou contend with me?" and see to it that we amend. But:
3. Submit ourselves unto God. "Shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father," etc.? Let his will be ours; let his way our way.
"He always wins who sides with thee;
I. THE POSSIBILITIES OF LIFE. "Moab hath settled on his lees." Moab is, therefore, compared to wine. There are sour grapes with which nothing can be done; but there are also grapes of splendid natural quality, that have had the best culture of the vineyard and have come to all due ripeness. That which is to become perfect wine starts from a fruit of which much is expected. The wine producer knows that his wine will be according to his grapes. Now, from Moab much was expected; this truth being involved in the very comparison to wine. There was something that had in it the making of an exquisite taste and an exquisite scent.
II. HOW THE POSSIBILITIES ARE MISSED. There is the chance of ease, enjoyment, and self-indulgence, and this chance is ignobly accepted. Of some men the character is tried by difficulties and repeated discouragements; the strength and worth that lie deep in them are manifested by their perseverance. Other men are tried by the absence of difficulties. They are born to a competency. As children they have whatever money can provide for in the way of instruction and pleasure. Everything external to them is made as easy as it can be made. Many voices, near to them every day and all day long, say, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years: take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." Everything depends on the way the young man, placed in such circumstances, looks.
III. THE RESULT OF NEGLECTED DISCIPLINE. Possessions give opportunities of service, opportunities denied to many, who see the needs of others, have the will to meet them, and lack the power. Is it not a righteous thing that God should deal severely with those whose circumstances give them the means and the time for doing great good, and yet who fill their lives with selfish pleasure? Such lives will come out at last in pitiable contrast with what they might have been. To change the figure: "If the salt have lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? henceforth it is good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden under foot of men." Note how the vessels that should have been used toward the perfection of the wine, and the bottles that should have held them, become at last useless. If we will not use our opportunities for God's purpose, God will secure, in due time, that we should not use them for our own. - Y.
I. THE TRUE CAUSES OF HUMAN SUCCESS OR FAILURE, HAPPINESS OR MISERY, ARE OF A MORAL OR SPIRITUAL KIND. We do not know the exact nature of the Chemosh worship of Moab, but it is evident that, like other idolatries, it favoured materialism and the gratification of passion (ver. 7). The idol was the centre and representative of the whole life of the people.
1. Material circumstances are in themselves indifferent towards the achievement of national or individual greatness, but trust in material circumstances is an invariable precursor of ruin. It is the virtues that are the true bulwarks of a people. "If all the historians who record the ultimate extinction of nations were inspired of God to give the true reasons of their fall, we should often meet this testimony: 'Perished of national pride, producing contempt of God and of fundamental morality'" (Cowles); Proverbs 14:34.
2. The chief object of desire to any one is his ruler and destiny. The god is the embodiment of all the sentiments and passions associated with its worship; the leading desire attracts towards itself and assimilates all others. It gradually but inevitably becomes his god. His whole life will henceforth take its complexion and direction from it. He conceives it to be the best and to be able to secure for him all that is desirable. From this we see:
(1) The peril of idolatry. Pandering to the worst and most selfish passions, it blinds and infatuates its votaries and leads them eventually to their ruin.
(2) Their importance of a true worship. It cultures the nature according to its essential principles, and secures the supremacy of the moral and spiritual. And all true guidance, help, and comfort are afforded in answer to believing prayer. - M.
Deuteronomy 32:10; Zechariah 2:8). Now, why is this? The case supposed of the father who, though he chastens his own son, is yet angry if another touch him, may help us to answer this question.
1. The child is under no obligation to the stranger. The father has right to claim all obedience from his child; not so another.
2. The child is not beloved by a stranger. Anger and revenge can alone impel the stranger to do the child harm. But these are the last motives, are never the motives, of the chastisements the father inflicts.
3. The child is unknown to the stranger or but little known. Such a one, therefore, even if he be not actuated by evil motives, cannot possibly deal wisely with one of whom and whose character, circumstances, and needs he is ignorant.
4. The child will get no good from chastisement by a stranger. A father's chastisement, because of the father's love, cannot but have a mighty moral influence upon the child for his good. "What son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" But what good could come, or ever did come, to Israel and Judah from the cruelties inflicted upon them by such. people as the Moabites, and of which the prophet here tells?
5. The child will very likely be dealt cruelly and injuriously with by a stranger. A father will chasten for his child's profit; wisdom and love will guide him. True, the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, "We have had fathers of our flesh who verily chastened us after their own pleasure." But we trust that his experience was a limited one, and that there were, and yet more that there are, but few lathers who "for their own pleasure" would chastise their children.
6. And the child, with all its guilt - in the case of the Lord's children - deserves to suffer less than they who have presumed to punish him. Israel and Judah were guilty without doubt; but were Moab and Ammon, Babylon and the rest, less guilty? Had they nothing to answer for? Had they not far more? And so, whilst the sin of a child of God is sin indeed, yet it does not make him so heinous, so black, so repulsive, as the persistent, high-handed, never-repented-of sin of the godless, the profane, and the unbeliever. To see one who is chargeable with great sin punishing one whose sin is comparatively trivial; the man who had incurred the debt of ten thousand talents taking by the throat him whose debt was but a hundred pence; - that is evidently a monstrous thing.
7. But chief of all, because God's people are God's children in Christ. We are identified with the well beloved Son. "Members of his body, his flesh and his bones, one with him." It is so, but it is not so with those who have never yielded themselves to God. Such surrender, which is faith, vitalizes the connection between us and God, and he becomes our Father, in a sense that he never was before. Conclusion. All history demonstrates the truth now insisted on, that "he that toucheth you," etc. Let us thank God that he will suffer none to chasten us but himself. Seek that such chastisement may be no longer necessary. Strive to do good to all, "especially to them that are of the household of faith," and tremble to do them harm. "Whosoever offendeth one of these little ones," said our Lord, "it were better for him that a millstone," etc. - C.
I. THAT IT IS VERY HATEFUL IN THE SIGHT OF GOD. See here, in this verse, with what varied names it is branded. Evil names, all of them. And turn to the many utterances in Scripture concerning this same sin, and the condemnation of God upon it will be yet more clearly seen. "There never was a saint yet that grew proud of his fine feathers, but what the Lord plucked them out by and by; there never yet was an angel that had pride in his heart, but he lost his wings, and fell into Gehenna, as Satan and those fallen angels did; and there shall never be a saint who indulges self-conceit and pride and self-confidence, but the Lord will spoil his glories, and trample his honours in the mire, and make him cry out yet again, 'Lord, have mercy upon me!' less than the least of all saints, and the 'very chief of sinners.' The first Adam was for self-exaltation, and to be as gods; the second bids us be as he was, 'meek and lowly in heart.'"
II. ITS SIGNS AND TOKENS. Sometimes it is so concealed and masked that only a very intimate acquaintance with the man enables you to detect it; and sometimes the man himself may be unaware how proud he is, and may deem himself a very Moses for meekness, when he is just the reverse. But at other times it may be discerned in the countenance. There is "a proud look." The face is the dial plate of the character, "the expression" of what lies silent in the mind. Conduct yet more betrays it. Note how a man acts towards those whom he deems superior or inferior to himself; he will fawn upon the former, and be disdainful towards the latter. He will "mind high things," but will not "condescend to them that are of low estate." Who does not know pride's hateful ways, and has not had to suffer from them; and also, alas! has made others suffer from them at one time or another? But note -
III. SOME OF ITS OCCASIONS AND EXCITEMENTS.
1. Birth is one of them; as if a man chose his own father and mother. Men pride themselves that they come of a certain family, that they are "well born." "We are Abraham's children;" what a multitude of sorrows did that notion originate! They who pride themselves on those who were their ancestors in generations gone by are, as one has quaintly said,." like those useful vegetables of which we are wont to eat - the best part of them is underground."
2. Physical strength. "It always seems to me to be a very insane thing for a man to glory in his animal force, for there can be no merit in it. In the strength of those brawny limbs of theirs and those powerful muscles, some vaunt themselves abundantly. Though 'the Lord taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man,' yet some count it a very wonderful thing that they can outrun or outleap their fellows. O athlete, though thou be strong as Samson or swift as Asahel, what hast thou that thou hast not received? Hadst thou been born with a tendency to consumption, or with some other hereditary weakness, couldst thou have prevented it? And now that thou art strong, art thou to be praised for that, any more than a horse or a steam engine?" (Spurgeon).
3. Beauty. What a fount of pride this is!
4. And talent - of intellect, power of application, artistic taste, and the like.
5. Acquirements. "I have noticed of self-made men," says one, "that they generally have great respect for their Maker." And he who has acquired wealth is in sore peril of the pride which it is apt to beget. Position, influence, high office, and the like, - these, too, are acquirements won, it may be, by diligent toil, yet, when won, may do a man much harm by generating an unhallowed pride. And even God's grace to a man in giving him a name and a place amongst sincerely religious men, even this may be an occasion of pride. Our best works may be made fuel to the fire of pride. "The demon of pride was born with us, and it will not die one hour before us. It is so woven into the very warp and woof of our nature that, till we are wrapt in our winding sheet, we shall never be completely rid of it."
IV. SOME OF ITS MANY EVILS. They are such as these:
1. It leads to the forgetting of God. "What hast thou that thou hast not received?" (1 Corinthians 9:7). "Is not this great Babylon that I have built?" so spake the God-forgetting and therefore the God-forsaken Nebuchadnezzar" (Daniel 4:30).
2. It sets but little value upon God. God dwindles in the proud man's esteem, whilst to himself he himself ever grows greater. The reverse of John the Baptist's thought is his. John said, "He must increase, but I must decrease." The proud man changes the place of the "he" and the "I."
3. It makes a man despise his fellows. He looks down upon them, and therefore is unjust to them.
4. It leads him to make bad use of what gifts he has. He is so taken up with admiration of the machinery that he fails to apply it to those ends which it was designed to serve.
5. It is the prelude not seldom to some great fall. "Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
6. It makes a man content with the inferior, when, instead of so admiring what he has, he should be aspiring after what is higher and better still. It is said of an artist that, when he had painted a picture which satisfied himself, he threw away his brushes; for now, he said, "I never shall go beyond this." And so he who is self-satisfied will never rise to a higher degree.
7. It dishonours Christ and his cause. A proud Christian helps the devil, for he makes men hate Christianity and all belonging to it.
V. SALUTARY SUGGESTIONS FOR ITS CURE.
1. How entirely all our gifts are gifts! Much as we may think of ourselves on account of them, we are excelled by very many. If we have many gifts, that does but mean much and solemn responsibility. How ill it would fare with us were we to be called now to account for the use we have made of our gifts in the past! How but for the mercy of God in Christ, the most gifted is but a poor lost sinner, cast out from the presence of God forever! - C.
I. NOT BROKEN BY ACCIDENT. A vessel broken by accident would not have furnished the proper figure. Lives that are as real serviceable vessels in the hand of God never do get broken by accident. Earthen vessels though they often be, there is a providence and a watchfulness which preserves them till their work is done. They are kept through days of persecution; they are restored from sickness; they live on into a good old age, while men apparently stronger and of greater physical resource are stricken down. And when there seems sometimes a premature and unaccountable breaking, yet it is really to be regarded in another light, namely, as a change to higher and fuller service.
II. NOT BROKEN BY CAPRICE. That which is not broken accidentally must have been broken purposely. And if purposely, either with a reason or through mere recklessness. Men too often destroy things in a reckless, thoughtless way, from the first unconsidered impulse that comes into the mind. It is an action in which is expressed, by a sort of bravado, the sentiment that a man may do what he likes with his own. But God would ever have us feel that, though he has made the world and all that therein is, his disposition of these works is regulated by fixed laws, and our disposition of things under our control should be regulated in the same way. Never let it be said of us that we have destroyed or injured anything without sufficient reason. We should not even pull a flower to pieces through mere thoughtlessness, mere vacuity of mind.
III. BROKEN FOR A SUFFICIENT REASON. Moab is a vessel in which there is no pleasure. It is of no real use to God. Whether we shall be vessels of use to God or not depends upon whether we put ourselves as clay into his hands as Potter. Moab was a nation which had loved to shape its own life, to hew its own designs. And just in proportion as it persevered in this path did it become useless to God. Appearance is only a small thing. The first consideration is use. The commonest earthenware pitcher, if without a flaw, is worth more than a cracked golden pitcher that will hold no water - worth more, that is, as a pitcher. Gold is a rare, glittering, fascinating thing compared with common earth, but after all it is the common earth out of which vessels are made for daily use. The real value of a human life depends upon what God gets out of it. - Y.
I. THERE ARE TEMPORARY EVASIONS OF DOOM. As there are great varieties of wickedness, so there is also great variety in the consequences of it. Sometimes the visitation is sudden, quick, and terrible, as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira. But oftener men go on sinning with no bad consequences to themselves, so far as appearance goes. They do not lose health; they do not seem to lose reputation; there are no checks in their success; and perhaps they even furnish an example whereby worldly wisdom hangs its maxim that it is not well to be too particular. The frequent prosperity of the wicked is indeed a fact not at all concealed or qualified in the Scriptures. A man of the world takes his own worldly way to keep peril at a distance, and he seems to fall into no pit, no snare. Let all this be allowed. Nothing is gained by trying to make out that the wicked have no advantages. It was an old-world legend that some men sold themselves to the devil, and that his protection secured to them their wonderful immunities and prosperity.
II. THERE IS NO WAY OF ESCAPE PROM DANGER SAVE GOD'S WAY. All that is gained is in the way of postponement. Wicked men travel in a narrowing path, and at last are shut up to face the judgments of God. The moment of what seems to them complete success is quickly followed by the moment of complete collapse. We have the crowning illustration of this in the death of Jesus. His enemies seemed to have succeeded. All their efforts to bring his death about had been wonderfully favoured. And what could they do but be jubilant when he was actually dead? The death of Jesus, however, was really a condition for the utter downfall of these enemies. The grave of Jesus, so to speak, was the snare in which spiritual evil was finally taken and overcome. It is one of the triumphs of faith to be well assured in our own hearts that there is no ultimate escape for wickedness. God has his own wise reasons in tolerating wicked men for a long time, and the evil they do to others is not so great in reality as it is in appearance. They cannot inflict more than outward suffering and inconvenience on God's people. Indeed, the mischief they mean to do can be wonderfully transmuted to good. - Y.