Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THEY OUGHT NOT TO BE SUFFERED TO INTERFERE WITH THE CHIEF ENDS AND PRESSING CLAIMS OF DIVINE SERVICE. Gideon hastens after the routed and retreating foe. The sullen apathy of Ephraim, the refusal of Succoth and Penuel to meet the demands of patriotism and humanity, do not turn him aside. When the last blow has been struck and the power of Midian is laid low he will return and mete out to each according to their deserts. This is an illustration of how side issues may often arise, and of the manner in which they are to be dealt with. It is seldom that the difficulties and oppositions of life, however annoying and restraining they may be, can utterly prevent the graver duties or excuse dilatoriness. Frequently the petty nature of the opposition is revealed by steadfast continuance in the path of duty, and solitary resolution. We must do what we can, leaving with others the responsibility for their own conduct. The greatest workers in Christ's vineyard have had to labour and live on amidst misunderstanding, obloquy, and hindrance; but their work has been achieved nevertheless, and its moral effect has been all the greater.
II. WHEN THE PROPER TIME ARRIVES THEY MUST BE DEALT WITH ACCORDING TO THE NATURE AND DEGREE OF THE OPPOSITION. A wise discrimination is needed. Where gentleness will avail, harsh measures are to be avoided. Gideon knew the haughty character of Ephraim, the wound their ambitious spirit had sustained when the leadership was wrested from their hands, and so he exercised forbearance, and was gentle and pacific. Civil war was averted when it might have involved national ruin, and the generous side of Ephraim was appealed to. "A soft answer turneth away wrath." After all, Ephraim had atoned for past misbehaviour by the timely and effective service rendered even in the face of an unexplained misunderstanding. It is wise to credit our opponents with the best motives, and to speak gently and reasonably, abstaining from self-glorification. But where the hindrance had been a national crime and a violation of the first principles of humanity a different course was pursued. Here the functions of the judge were called into exercise. The punishment was stern and exemplary, but carefully meted out. Succoth and Penuel are visited with prompt and terrible recompense. But the princes and elders are punished, as being the chief culprits; the common people, who were helpless, were spared. All heresy and schism, unholiness of life, spiritual opposition, etc., is not to be regarded in the same light. Gentleness may win a brother. A little blame may rest with ourselves. Allowance is to be made for the failings of human nature. But we are to have no fellowship with the profane, the blasphemer, the unbeliever, etc. Difference of opinion may co-exist with real co-operation and fellowship. - M.
forced march. Humanly speaking, it was the real battle. The grandest qualities were called forth, and the greatest results secured. A picture of the Christian life.
I. GOD OFTEN SUFFERS HIS SERVANTS TO ENDURE HARDSHIP IN DOING HIS WILL.
II. THOSE WHO ARE DOING IMPORTANT SERVICE UNDER CIRCUMSTANCES OF HARDSHIP OUGHT TO BE ENCOURAGED AND SUPPORTED.
III. DUTY AND THE HIGH CALLING OF CHRISTIANS OUGHT TO TRIUMPH OVER WEAKNESS, HARDSHIP, AND OPPOSITION.
IV. THE GREATEST RESULTS OFTEN DEPEND UPON PERSISTENCY EVEN AMIDST DISADVANTAGES. - M.
I. FAINTNESS MAY OVERTAKE US WHILE PURSUING THE CHRISTIAN COURSE.
1. Note the characteristics of this faintness. It is
(1) loss of strength, so that we are not able to attain so much nor to progress so fast as we should otherwise do;
(2) a sense of distress, making every movement a pain, and robbing the Christian life of its bright hopefulness and cheerful enthusiasm.
2. Note the existence of this faintness in the pursuit of the Christian course. Though still pursuing the right way, we may experience faintness. It is not the deviation to bye-path meadow alone which brings distress. We may grow weary in well doing (Galatians 6:9). Therefore
(1) let us not be over confident because we are in the right, and
(2) let us not be dismayed at the experience of faintness, as though this were a sign of spiritual defection.
3. Note the causes of this faintness.
(1) These may be observed in the circumstances of life: - in the length of the course; the great difficulty being not to nerve ourselves for a few heroic actions, but to continue pressing on through the long hot day, through the long weary night: - in the speed of the pursuit; life is a race swift and stern, and the difficulty often is to overtake the duties which accumulate so fast that those who, so to say, "take things easily" must always find themselves behindhand:-in the impediments of the way, leading through tangled thickets of prejudice and rotor, and up craggy heights of noble attainments.
(2) The causes of faintness may also be traced to our own habit and condition: such as want of nourishment - the soul which is always working, and does not seek renewed strength in spiritual feeding upon the bread of life, in prayer, in the reading of Scripture, in meditation, in communion with Christ, will surely grow faint; want of rest - there is a spiritual insomnia, a habit of restless activity, which invariably results in faintness. Christ required rest, and called his disciples apart to rest (Mark 6:31).
II. FAINTNESS NEED NOT STAY US IN THE PURSUIT OF THE CHRISTIAN COURSE. Though the troops of Gideon were faint, they still pursued.
1. Faintness is not death. If our strength is slight, this is a good reason for making the best use of it. If faintness reduce our talents to one, we have no excuse to bury that one.
2. God expects our attainments to be no more than proportionate to our strength. He knows our weakness (Psalm 103:14). He is no hard task-master, expecting us to make bricks without straw; so we need not despair of pleasing God because our faintness permits of but slight service.
3. The real source of victory is not our strength, but God's might. When we are most faint, God's strength made perfect in our weakness may be most effective (2 Corinthians 12:9). The little one may chase a thousand, because God is with him. When we are most faint we are least self-confident, and in our humility and helplessness driven to the mighty for strength, so that our faintness may be the means of leading us to the real strength which alone can accomplish great things.
4. Faintness can be overcome. Faintness is not necessarily the precursor of death. It may be but temporary. We may find in God a sure remedy for spiritual faintness, because "they that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength" (Isaiah 40:31).
5. If we are faithfully pressing on in spite of present faintness, we shall be rewarded with future rest and triumph. Gideon's troops were well recompensed for their brave pursuit. The short race of life will end in a haven of rest, in a home of honour. Let us then be brave and true, remembering that in proportion to the weariness of present toil will be the sweetness of future rest (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). - A.
I. GENEROUS BUT MISTAKEN GRATITUDE. It was a natural impulse in the soldiers. But their mistake was twofold -
(1) in exalting man instead of God, and
(2) in seeking to put an end to the theocracy.
The natural mind acts always thus, in the face of the plainest signs of Divine intervention and authority; building itself out from the Unseen by human authorities and institutions. The chain of connection with God is weakened by lengthening it. The plainest commands of God are disobeyed in mistaken self-interest. The human agent is depended upon because the perception of the Divine is weak. Exalting one of themselves was but a species of self-glorification. The motive of Gideon too is misunderstood.
II. DISINTERESTED SERVICE. The honour is refused. If prudence aided the decision, it was chiefly due to unaffected faith and reverence for Jehovah. He may have felt that his "might" and success were solely individual, and due to direct inspiration; and the incapacity and disagreements of his children may have already betrayed themselves. He thereby vindicates his own patriotism and disinterestedness. His humility and magnanimous loyalty to God as only Sovereign for Israel outshine all his exploits.
1. How hard it is for men to believe in the disinterestedness of benefactors!
2. God, who imparts might and inspiration, can also purify the heart from worldly ambitions and weaknesses.
III. DEVOUT RECOGNITION OF DIVINE AID AND AUTHORITY. The ephod is explained and described in Exodus 28. It is the priestly garment, with breastplate attached to it, worn in the sanctuary. The Urim and Thummim were also used in connection with it for oracular consultation. It meant, therefore, a tabernacle and its service wherever it was placed.
1. So far as this was to the honour of God and commemoration of his mercy, it was a pious act.
2. By using the spoils of the people for its construction, a national sacrifice was effected.
3. But by placing it in Ophrah he encouraged schism, gave his own family undue importance, and tempted his countrymen to superstitious practices. - M.
I. THE INCIDENT REGARDED IN RELATION TO THE CONDUCT OF THE MEN OF ISRAEL.
1. These men assumed a power which they did not rightfully possess. They had no authority to revise the constitution, no right to elect a king. The election of Gideon was an act of rebellion against "the Eternal."
2. These men were so dazzled by the splendour of human achievements that they ignored the Divine influence which was the source of them. Gideon's campaign was especially designed to avoid the danger of the people attributing to men what was really the work of God (Judges 7:4). Yet they regarded Gideon as the sole hero, and forgot to glorify God. We are all too ready to recognise the human instrument only, and ignore the Divine power which is the source of all that is good and great. The very richness with which God has endowed a man of genius may tempt us to make this mistake. Yet the more gifted a man is, the more reason have we to attribute his greatness to the Giver of every good and perfect gift.
3. These men were drawn aside from trust in the Unseen to a desire for earthly greatness. The glory of Israel was its government by the unseen King. This implied faith. But the temptation often was to lose this faith and the holy life and simple state it required, and desire a human kingship and the pomp of an earthly court, such as that of the heathen nations. There is always great difficulty in living in the power of the spiritual. Tangible force and visible display tend to allure us from the serene spirituality of life in the unseen.
II. THE INCIDENT REGARDED IN RELATION TO THE CONDUCT OF GIDEON.
1. Gideon proved himself to be an unselfish patriot. True patriotism is incompatible with personal ambition. A nation has no greater enemies than its ambitious men of genius. The worthy statesman is he who aims at his country's good to the neglect of his own aggrandisement.
2. Gideon showed himself strong in resisting the popular wish when he knew this was unwise. We must not mould our character simply in obedience to the dictates of public opinion. The wish of the people is no excuse for doing wrong. There is no more difficult feat than to resist successfully the tHis-taken kindness of those who are seeking to promote a man's own honour and greatness, though in a way which he believes to be wrong.
3. Gideon proved himself firm in fidelity to God. Here lay the secret of his resistance. He had been called from the threshing-floor by God. He held himself throughout to be the servant of God. It is better to be a servant and faithful to God than a king and in rebellion against him.
4. Gideon showed his discernment at once
(1) of the existence and power of the theocracy which his contemporaries appear to have ignored, and
(2) of its suitability for the happy government of his nation.
III. THE INCIDENT REGARDED IN RELATION TO THE THEOCRACY.
1. It is not wise to propose a revolution of government except for great and necessary ends. It is easy to overthrow the present order; it is not so easy to be sure that what we substitute will be better. We cannot calculate on the possible uses to which the new power we create may be appropriated.
2. The best method of government is that which is best suited to the condition of a nation. There Came a time when a human kingship was necessary for Israel. The attempt to force this on before the country was ripe for it only ended in disaster (Judges 9:5).
3. No government can be better than a true theocracy. This must be distinguished from the rule of priests and prophets which is sometimes falsely named a theocracy, although it is as much a human government as the rule of kings and soldiers. Nothing can be better that for a people to be guided by the thought of God to do the will of God. The government of the Church is a theocracy. The Papal assumption is therefore treason to Christ. "One is our Master" (Matthew 23:8). To substitute any human authority for the direct guidance of Christ is to fall back to a lower state, like the conduct of Israel when the people were willing to abandon their Divine King for a human monarch. - A.
I. ORIGINATING IN MOTIVES FOR THE MOST PART NOBLE AND HONOURABLE.
(1) Desirous of a national testimony to God's gracious deliverance, and a commemoration of it to future ages, he
(2) persuades the Israelites to make a national offering, and
(3) increases the means of grace in his own district.
II. REFLECTING THE DEFECTS OF HIS CHARACTER AND BETRAYING ITS LATENT VICE. In his zeal for the religious reformation of Israel he did not sufficiently consider the bearings of the step he had taken. It was a hasty and crude expedient, from which greater experience or sage advice, or, above all, God's Spirit, would have saved him. And therein lay the root of the mischief. He relied on his own wisdom, and forgot to ask God's guidance. In getting to look upon himself as in a special sense the re-introducer of the Jehovah-worship, and the exponent of the mind of Jehovah, he forgot that it was only as he was taught of God that he could be preserved from error. Of all inventions, religious ones are to be most carefully scrutinised. And in the background of this assumption there lay a secret tendency to self-esteem because of his spiritual endowments and character, and the great achievements of the past. Pride because of his own humility - is it not a failing that many have shared? By this mistake he sowed the seeds of grave evils: schism, superstition, hero-worship. But -
III. THE SUBSTANTIAL GOOD DONE WAS NOT WHOLLY DESTROYED, Whilst he lived - a quiet, steadfast, righteous life - the people observed the true worship of Jehovah. His own example was a guide and a deterrent. And when at his death superstition ran riot, and the old licentious idolatry flowed back in an obliterating wave over the land and the institutions of Jehovah's worship, there were some things that could not be destroyed, remaining as germ ideas in the spiritual consciousness of Israel - the immediate obligation of the moral law upon every one, the direct responsibility of every one to God, and faith in the personal help of Jehovah.
(1) God superintends the development of his truth, and
(2) restrains the evil that mingles with the good in men's works. - M.
I. A REWARD AND CONSEQUENCE OF FAITHFUL SERVICE TO JEHOVAH. Long life, quietness, prosperity, honour.
II. KEPT ON THE WHOLE RIGHT, AND MADE A BLESSING BY THE GRACE OF GOD. He had begun well. His youth was a consecrated one; his old age was its true outcome. And yet not by natural virtue, but by the blessing of God.
III. CONTAINING THE GERMS OF NATIONAL EVILS. He was not ever on the heights of spiritual excitement. Perhaps his was a nature that required great difficulties to be surmounted in order to keep it right. At any rate he fails to rise above the laxities of his age, and he enters into connection with the Canaanites. How much too of his after-life could be explained as a living on the memory of a glorious past, and a growing estimation of the part he himself had played. The ephod, the natural son by the Canaanitish woman, the conflicting interests of the many heirs to his influence and renown - these were the occasions of untold evil. - M.
I. AN IMPURE, DEFECTIVE WORSHIP OF THE TRUE GOD PREPARED FOR THE WORSHIP OF FALSE GODS. "False worships make way for false deities."
II. UNDUE MAGNIFYING OF HUMAN IMPORTANCE AT THE EXPENSE OF THE HONOUR DUE TO GOD ALONE, DIVERTED FROM THE WORSHIP OF JEHOVAH, AND SO CUT THE ROOTS OF THE PERSONAL RESPECT IN WHICH HIS SERVANT WAS HELD. True religion is the foundation and safeguard of all the esteem and respect due from one to another. The heavenly Father is the key-stone of the whole house of life. - M.
I. THE PREVALENCE OF THIS CONDUCT. Unnatural and monstrous as it appears in the narrative, it is so common in experience as to be scarcely noticed. It was constantly repeated in the history of Israel (Psalm 78:11, 42). It is prevalent in Christian communities.
1. It is not limited to atheism. The atheist denies the existence of God. The godless man believes that God exists, yet ignores his existence. The atheist is rare. But is there not something pharisaical and hypocritical in the horror with which he is regarded, as though the great multitude of men were far better than he, though so many of them forget the God of whose existence they are champions, and never render him worship or obedience.
2. It is not limited to open irreligion. We must not suppose that all people who do not go to church are utterly godless; but neither can we believe that all who do engage in public acts of worship really acknowledge God in their hearts. It is possible to forget God in the house of God, and to be guilty of base ingratitude while singing his praises.
3. It is not limited to total godlessness. There are those who, like the Jews, have known God, but have since forgotten and neglected him, and those who live nearer to him for a season, but are tempted at times to forsake him.
II. THE CAUSES OF THIS CONDUCT.
1. Sin. The people of Israel went after Baalim, and the result was that they forgat the Lord. We cannot have two supreme gods. Immorality is fatal to religion.
2. Worldly distraction. When no special fall into great sin has been experienced the mind may be drawn aside from Divine things, and so engrossed in business, politics, or the cares and pleasures of life, that no time or energy is left for spiritual thoughts (Matthew 13:22).
3. Unspirituality. Even when there is no great worldly distraction we may sink into a low, unspiritual habit of life, in which the thought of God becomes faint and feeble. It does require some spiritual effort to preserve the memory of God fresh and bright, because
(1) he is invisible, and can only be apprehended in the inner life, and
(2) his action is gentle, and does not rouse our attention by sensational methods (Habakkuk 3:4).
4. Loss of love to God. We remember what we love. Indifference of heart creates negligence of thought.
5. Selfishness. Israel remembered God in the time of need and forgot him in the season of prosperity. Selfishness inclines us to remember God only when we want his aid.
III. THE GUILT OF THIS CONDUCT.
1. It implies disloyalty to the rightful authority of God. If we forget God we forget his will and neglect his service. We are not free to do this, for we are naturally subjects of his supreme sovereignty.
2. It implies indifference to his Fatherly nature. He is our Father, and we are bound to him by ties of nature (Deuteronomy 32:18).
3. It implies an unworthy return for his goodness. Thankfulness is closely associated with thoughtfulness. The unthankful forget; those who do not take the trouble to think fall into gross ingratitude. Ingratitude to God is joined to ingratitude to his servants. The same spirit is seen in both sins. We are not likely to be true to man until we are first true to God. - A.