Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE CONSECRATION OF MUSIC AND SONG TO GOD. All man's talents, gifts, and endowments can be devoted to the service of God. Man has no power - poetical, artistic, musical, dramatic, or practical - in the use of which he cannot or may not serve God. Very strange was the notion once entertained that instrumental music was not becoming to God's worship. And even yet there is a strange limitation to particular instruments, which alone are regarded as appropriate. We need to see more clearly that every gift has its Divine sphere of service.
II. THE CONSECRATION OF MUSIC AND SONG TO MAN. Especially to man's artistic culture, and to man's pleasant and healthy recreation. The gifted in this direction are human benefactors. But we need to secure consecration to the highest and best interests of man. The gifted should never pander to low tastes, or help to degrade their fellows.
III. THE CONSECRATION OF MUSIC AND SONG TO THE SERVICE OF GOD THROUGH THE SERVICE OF MAN. This should be the high aim of all the gifted. In the use of their gifts so to serve their fellow men, as that God should be glorified through their ministry. - R.T.
required; and it would have to be done, whether men could recognize its suitability or not, whether men found it pleasant or not. There is authority in relation to religious observances; some persons more readily recognize and respond to that authority than others; but all pious persons find somewhere and in something an ultimate basis of appeal. For some it is the inspired Scriptures, for some it is the witness of the universal Church, and for some it is the requirement of some duly authorized teacher. There has always been discussion as to the proper centre of authority in religion, and the universal Church is divided into sections by the variety of opinion on this subject.
I. AUTHORITY IN RELIGION MUST SATISFY MAN CONCERNING THE TRUTH. So many men always nave been, and some always must be, incompetent to decide perplexing doctrinal or ethical questions for themselves. Some are unduly biassed by education; some have neither mental powers nor leisure time for carrying on the necessary studies. In every department of truth, most men take their opinions on the authority of others; and it is even more necessary, in regard to the higher truths of religion, that men should have their standards and their guides. True, we have the Bible; but men like Anselm, Augustine, Calvin, and Wesley, with the great teachers of later days, have been authorities in religious truth to thousands.
II. AUTHORITY IN RELIGION MUST LIMIT MAN'S VAGARIES. The speculative faculty leads men, in these times, to wander in all sorts of unknown regions; and produces a restlessness and uncertainty which are seriously imperilling faith. Perhaps we read men's books too much, and God's book too little. Happy they who can rest in the "truths most surely believed among us," because they are declared with an authority which they can recognize.
III. AUTHORITY IN RELIGION MUST ENFORCE MAN'S DUTIES. Social life has changed the conception of what is becoming to a Christian. We want guidance in the modern endeavour to live The Christian life. Self-indulgence weakens our will, and we want the help of distinct requirements in ordering our religious habits. But yielding to authority must be kept within healthy limitations, and preserve personal independence and responsibility. - R.T.
I. THE UNKNOWN VOICE OF GOD. Illustrate by the direct speaking of God from Sinai, which so alarmed the people. All close communications of God with men, whether by vision or voice, are humbling, surprising, and overwhelming. Unknown, in the sense of being unfamiliar; and unknown because unexpected. God communicates in the language of men, since he desires to be understood; but his will is usually revealed through human agencies.
II. THE UNKNOWN LANGUAGE OF EGYPT. This may be shown to have made part of the burden and trouble of Israel, from which God so graciously delivered them. It was the laud of the stranger, and the different language spoken by the inhabitants constantly reminded Israel of its bondage and its hope.
III. THE "UNKNOWN" DECLARATION OF PHARAOH. His saying, "I know not." His declaring that Jehovah was to him unknown. His language about "not knowing" the God of the Hebrews. God took notice of the boastful speech; for the declaration that he did not know really meant that he did not care, and so he must be made to know, by seeing and feeling the judgments which Jehovah executeth. It is necessary to remember that Eastern poetical figures are often far fetched, and very difficult to trace. - R.T.
i.e. the dark thunderclouds, from behind which God spoke to the Israelites. Some writers find a reference to the pillar of cloud and fire, in which God appeared for the guiding of Israel's journey. But there is no special reason for calling the pillar of cloud a "thundercloud." The poet is, in a very general way, reviewing the Divine dealings with Israel; and here the troubles connected with the time at Sinai are clearly referred to. The "hiding place of thunder" is surely the "thick darkness where God was" (Exodus 20:21) when the Law was given from the "smoking mountain," amid "thunderings and lightnings." The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews rhetorically contrasts the revelations from Sinai and from Zion (Hebrews 12:18-24). His description of the revelation given from Sinai may help us to understand this poetical figure, "the secret place of thunder." "Ye are not come unto a mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard in,reared that the words should not be spoken to them any more." Thunder, then, may be taken, poetically, as the characteristic of the Old Testament dispensation. We must keep in mind two things:
(1) the intensity of the thundernoise in mountain districts; and
(2) the peculiar Eastern sentiments about thunder. In illustration of (1), Dr. Stewart gives the following experience of a thunderstorm at Mount Sinai. "Every ball; as it burst, with the roar of a cannon, seemed to awaken a series of distinct echoes on every side;... they swept like a whirlwind among the higher mountains, becoming faint as some mighty peak intervened, and bursting with undiminished volume through some yawning cleft, till the very ground trembled with the concussion ... It seemed as if the mountains of the whole peninsula were answering one another in a chorus of the deepest bass. Ever and anon a flash of lightning dispelled the pitchy darkness, and lit up the mount as if it had been day; then, after the interval of a few seconds, came the peal of thunder, bursting like a shell, to scatter its echoes to the four quarters of the heavens, and overpowering for a moment the loud howlings of the wind." In illustration of (2), the fear produced by thunderings now may be shown, though superstitious ideas are checked by some measures of scientific knowledge. The fear of thunder is shared by the animals in the fields. Thunder, then, is the fitting illustration of the old dispensation; but unsuitable to the new dispensation. It fits the old because it impresses on man the sense of mystery; it gives man an idea of force; and it fills man's mind with fear.
I. THUNDER BRINGS A SENSE OF MYSTERY. In those days, how it comes was not known. Always, when it comes is not known. It was, and it still is, something over which men can only wonder. Show that this character is preserved in the God of the Old Testament. He hides himself. "Clouds and darkness are round about him." His voice is to man but as the inarticulate thunder. In some ages of the world, and in some Conditions of the race, mystery in God is the best education; it awakens the spiritual faculties in child ages, as it does in children.
II. THUNDER GIVES MAN AN IDEA OF FORCE. When he hears it, man feels there is something wholly beyond his control. And force must be felt by the Israelites to lie behind law. He who gives the Law must be felt able to enforce its sanctions. Joubert tells us that the absolute rule of moral training is "force till right is ready." The thunderings and lightnings of Sinai impressed the force of the Divine authority.
III. THUNDER FILLS MEN'S MINDS WITH FEAR. If fear is not the highest motive inspiring obedience, it is the necessary motive for many people, and the first motive for all. Fear is not lost, as the inspiration of obedience, in Christianity, it is only glorified in love. "Perfect love casteth out fear." Storm and tempest clear the atmosphere, and prepare for the warmth and quickening of the steady sunshine; and so the thunder of the Old Testament prepares for the life giving sunshine of the New. - R.T.
Deuteronomy 5. "In ver. 9 the keynote of the revelation of the Law from Sinai is struck; the fundamental command which opens the Decalogue demanded fidelity to Jehovah, and forbade idol worship as the sin of sins." The claim of Jehovah on the Israelites needs to be precisely described. God, as El, was very generally, perhaps universally, known. But men went wrong, in relation to him, when they began to make representations of him. Then two things happened:
(1) different representations became fixed to different localities and countries; and
(2) the representations came to be worshipped, rather than the spiritual Being whom they represented. Israel was selected, as a nation, to preserve for the world the imperilled primary truth of the unity and spirituality of God. So two things are firmly asserted as the basis of God's revelation of his will to Israel
I. GOD IS THE ONE GOD OF THE WHOLE EARTH. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is one Lord." "The God of the whole earth shall he be called." There are no such things as "strange gods." An idol is a "nothing," a "vanity." God is God alone. See the importance of this for Israel. Looking on the nations around them, they might imagine that the gods of the nations were doing better for them than Jehovah was doing for his people, and so they might be tempted to join service to these strange gods with service to Jehovah. So they must learn that God was really the God of all nations; the one and only true God. In view of our work among the heathen, we still must hold fast this primary and fundamental truth - there is but one God; and he is as truly the God of the heathen as of the civilized and the Christianized.
II. GOD IS THE ONE OBJECT OF HUMAN WORSHIP. Man must worship. He feels dependent. He must look out of himself for some one on whom to lean. He must be sure that be on whom he leans is absolutely trustworthy. There never can be more than one absolutely trustworthy Being. If right ideas be attached to God, we must feel that there can only be one God. He must be the perfect realization of our highest conceptions; and therefore our admiration and our dependence will unite to make him the sole Object of worship. He who knows God wants to worship no other. - R.T.
"Thou art coming to a King, Large petitions with thee bring; For his grace and power are such, None can ever ask too much." The psalmist had probably often noticed how the young birds open their mouths wide for the food which they know the parent bird will give them, and for which, therefore, they wait with such eager expectancy. And he points to this familiar fact, and bids his countrymen in like manner expect blessing from God, for God will not disappoint them. Now, on this subject, note - I. THAT THERE ARE SOME WHO NEVER OPEN THEIR MOUTHS AT ALL. They do not believe in prayer, they count it so much waste breath, and affirm that it avails no more than the piteous cry of the hare when she knows that the hounds are upon her. They urge that all things are governed by fixed law, and no desire of ours, however fervent, can make the slightest alteration. Or else, they say that if what we ask for be right for God to give, he will give it without our prayer; that if it be not right, then, as certainly, he will not give it: he knows our need without our telling him. But we have one short reply to all this, and we say to all such disbelievers in prayer - Have you ever really prayed? Myriads of believing souls there are who with one voice will affirm, "I sought the Lord, and he heard me;" and we prefer to believe these who know that God heareth prayer, rather than you who have never really prayed. II. THERE ARE OTHERS WHO OPEN THEIR MOUTHS, BUT NOT "WIDE," as we are here bidden to do. They pray, but they do not expect much to come from it. In words they ask for great things, but they do not really believe they will have them. Our Lord's command to us is, "When ye pray, believe that ye receive" (Mark 11:24). Now, in regard to temporal blessings, it may be that we cannot have confident expectation that we shall have the precise favour we ask for; but we ought to have such expectation that that which is really best for us God will certainly give. But in regard to spiritual blessings, such as deliverance from sin, for which, in words, we so constantly pray, we ought to expect the very blessing itself. "The blood of Jesus Christ... cleanseth from all sin;" there is, therefore, absolute warrant for expecting such cleansing; and we need not think, though practically we do, that the blunder of a little lad known to the writer, is really the truth. In repeating the General Confession, when he came to the words, "and there is no health in us," he substituted for them, "and there is no help for it." And that is what so many practically think. They remember their own grievous past, they know the force of long evil habit, and their own wretched weakness, and they see the persistence of evil and sin everywhere, even in the good; and they come to the sorrowful conclusion that "there is no help for it" this side the grave. They have no real expectation of deliverance, and, therefore, they do not get it. And yet people go on perpetually asking for it. The reason of their not having is that they will not open their mouths wide, and so God cannot fill them with his blessing. But - III. NONE EVER WILL, UNLESS THE CONDITIONS OF SUCH EXPECTATION BE FULFILLED. There must be: 1. A mouth to open; that is, power to believe. Now, we all have that, and use it every day about other things. 2. Need of God's blessing. Unquestionably there is that. 3. Sense of this need. Consciousness of it, and distress because of it. Hunger after God's blessing. 4. Will to believe. Trust is more a matter of the will than of the reason. "I will trust, and not be afraid." Refuse to doubt, resolve to believe. - S.C.
I. THAT THERE ARE SOME WHO NEVER OPEN THEIR MOUTHS AT ALL. They do not believe in prayer, they count it so much waste breath, and affirm that it avails no more than the piteous cry of the hare when she knows that the hounds are upon her. They urge that all things are governed by fixed law, and no desire of ours, however fervent, can make the slightest alteration. Or else, they say that if what we ask for be right for God to give, he will give it without our prayer; that if it be not right, then, as certainly, he will not give it: he knows our need without our telling him. But we have one short reply to all this, and we say to all such disbelievers in prayer - Have you ever really prayed? Myriads of believing souls there are who with one voice will affirm, "I sought the Lord, and he heard me;" and we prefer to believe these who know that God heareth prayer, rather than you who have never really prayed.
II. THERE ARE OTHERS WHO OPEN THEIR MOUTHS, BUT NOT "WIDE," as we are here bidden to do. They pray, but they do not expect much to come from it. In words they ask for great things, but they do not really believe they will have them. Our Lord's command to us is, "When ye pray, believe that ye receive" (Mark 11:24). Now, in regard to temporal blessings, it may be that we cannot have confident expectation that we shall have the precise favour we ask for; but we ought to have such expectation that that which is really best for us God will certainly give. But in regard to spiritual blessings, such as deliverance from sin, for which, in words, we so constantly pray, we ought to expect the very blessing itself. "The blood of Jesus Christ... cleanseth from all sin;" there is, therefore, absolute warrant for expecting such cleansing; and we need not think, though practically we do, that the blunder of a little lad known to the writer, is really the truth. In repeating the General Confession, when he came to the words, "and there is no health in us," he substituted for them, "and there is no help for it." And that is what so many practically think. They remember their own grievous past, they know the force of long evil habit, and their own wretched weakness, and they see the persistence of evil and sin everywhere, even in the good; and they come to the sorrowful conclusion that "there is no help for it" this side the grave. They have no real expectation of deliverance, and, therefore, they do not get it. And yet people go on perpetually asking for it. The reason of their not having is that they will not open their mouths wide, and so God cannot fill them with his blessing. But -
III. NONE EVER WILL, UNLESS THE CONDITIONS OF SUCH EXPECTATION BE FULFILLED. There must be:
1. A mouth to open; that is, power to believe. Now, we all have that, and use it every day about other things.
2. Need of God's blessing. Unquestionably there is that.
3. Sense of this need. Consciousness of it, and distress because of it. Hunger after God's blessing.
4. Will to believe. Trust is more a matter of the will than of the reason. "I will trust, and not be afraid." Refuse to doubt, resolve to believe. - S.C.
I. SUFFICIENCY IN GOD FOR ISRAEL'S KNOWN NEEDS. These concerned
(1) daily supply;
(2) wise guidance;
(3) efficient defence;
(4) patient bearing with infirmities;
(5) provision for social relations and national requirements.
So we can never think of any want we have that is beyond God's supply.
II. SUFFICIENCY IN GOD FOR ISRAEL'S UNKNOWN NEEDS. For our real needs are not those we find out for ourselves. Those are our superficial needs, and often not even real needs. It introduces a surprise of grace to say there is the supply in God of all the needs of which he knows and we do not. Often it is God's supplying us that brings the consciousness of the need. Flow good that God's grace is not limited by our knowledge!
III. SUFFICIENCY IN GOD IS ASSOCIATED WITH GOOD WILL. That gets expression in gracious and satisfying assurances and promises. - R.T.
I. THE CONDITION CONTEMPLATED. It meant:
1. No longer held back from sin. "Their own hearts' lust" was to lead them now.
2. No longer urged to goodness.
3. The Spirit no longer striving with them.
4. Divine chastisements abandoned. (Cf. Isaiah 1:5.) See the history of Israel for proof of all this. And it is true still, when a soul is "given up" by God - when even his resources seem exhausted.
II. ITS TERRIBLE CONSEQUENCES,
1. They are often naturally visible. A God-forsaken people, Church, soul, can be readily recognized. Disaster, defeat, shame, weakness, death, - these are some of the outward signs.
2. They are felt within. (See the history of Saul, 1 Samuel 28:6.) Ah! the inward misery of the soul given up of God.
III. THE INVARIABLE CAUSE. (Hosea 4:17; and see text.)
1. They would not hearken to God's voice. Neither by his messengers, nor through conscience, nor in providence.
2. They would have none of God. They cared neither for his favour nor for his frown.
did not hearken, but that Israel would not hearken. God goes in behind the acts of disobedience, and is concerned with the spirit of wilfulness which found expression in the acts. The judgment of God upon them brings to view the special feature of their sin. "So I gave them up to the obduracy of their heart, that they should walk in their own counsels" (ver. 12).
I. SELF-WILL AS THE SIN INTO WHICH MEN FELL. Self-will is the perverted use of free will. Free will could be self-will if man were an independent creature. Free will must not be self-will, because man is a dependent creature. Free will became self-will, because man allowed himself to be guided by what seemed "pleasant to the eyes and good for food," rather than by what he knew to be the will of him on whom he depended. Serving himself is the essence of sin for one who has been made dependent - in every way dependent upon God. What we have to counteract is the delusion that man is an independent being, and therefore may "follow the devices and desires of his own heart." Illustrate from Daniel 5:28.
II. SELF-WILL AS THE SIN FROM WHICH MEN ARE DELIVERED. There are penalties into which men have brought themselves by their self will, and from these they need to be delivered. But it would be no effective redemption that dealt only with penalties. Deliverance from self-willedness, in a dependent creature, can only be effected by making him on whom he depends so infinitely attractive that he wins full trust and obedience. And this is accomplished by God's manifestation of himself to men in the Person, life, and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.
III. SELF-WILL AS THE SIN INTO WHICH THE REDEEMED ARE IN DANGER OF FALLING BACK. Illustrate from the Israelites, as redeemed unto the service of Jehovah, from Egypt. Bring out
(1) the open ways, and
(2) the subtle ways, in which nowadays Christians may be tempted to the self-trust which breaks them away from their dependence on God. - R.T.
I. IT TELLS OF A PUNISHMENT WHICH SEEMS NO PUNISHMENT AT ALL. Those who rebelled so grievously against God were allowed to do just as they liked, to have their own way as they pleased.
1. Now, our text does tell of punishment. It is not a statement of indifference On the part of God, or of failure, but of his holy displeasure.
2. And it is a punishment of which we have many instances. As when Israel lusted after flesh (Psalm 78:30). And when they would have a king, and God gave them Saul (1 Samuel 12.; Hosea 13.). The history of Balaam. Ephraim joined to his idols. The devils asking and being allowed to enter the swine at Gadara. "Not this man, but Barabbas!" and they had their way. The prodigal would go into the far country. And there are many other illustrations beside.
3. God is slow to resort to it. He tries all other means first.
4. It convinces when none other will. Men are forced to believe, then, that God was right and they wrong.
5. But it seems the reverse of punishment. For the Law of God was to Israel a yoke which galled and fretted and chafed them incessantly. Its "thou shalt not" met them at every turn of their lives. Now, this punishment seemed to be deliverance from the yoke and licence to do as they pleased. Where was the punishment in that?
6. And men think the same still. For to them the service of God is so much restraint, religion a tight torturing ligature, which holds them back from what they chooses and binds them down to what they would never choose. And undoubtedly religion is a restraint and a bond. We are never to conceal this fact, and the really religious have no desire to. But men generally do not like it at all, and are glad to be rid of it.
II. BUT IT IS A PUNISHMENT SO TERRIBLE THAT NONE CAN BE MORE SO. To be given up to our own hearts' lust is God's most awful doom.
1. What would such so called liberty be in other regions? Suppose the stars, instead of obeying their Creator's laws, were each to wander at its own will? Where would music be it the laws of harmony were not obeyed? What home would that be where there was no law? Or state, where anarchy prevailed?
2. And so in regard to the soul. Man is made for God, and, as St. Augustine says, "Nostrum cor inquietum est donec requiescat in te." It must be so. See the varied and appalling judgments of which the Bible tells - the Deluge; Sodom; the destruction of Pharaoh, etc. What are they all but the natural results of determined sin? Better any punishment - even hell itself - than that God should leave us alone, or give us up, as told of here.
CONCLUSION. Are you suffering under the hand of God now? Then assuredly he has not left you alone. Turn to him. Are you at ease in sin? Then "Awake, thou that sleepest!" You have need to. Are you serving God? Then let all men know that his service is perfect freedom, the delight of your soul. - S.C.
I. WHAT GOD WAS PREPARED TO DO FOR THEM.
1. Subdue their enemies.
2. Discomfit their adversaries.
3. Conversions should have been numerous.
4. Eternal life should have been theirs.
5. And fulness of joy.
And in reference to men now: God waits to be gracious and to do all for them that corresponds to the blessings told of here.
II. BUT NONE OF THIS CAME TO PASS; ONLY THE VERY OPPOSITE. In their character, conduct, and condition, things went from bad to worse. Enemies not subdued; their adversaries became stronger; sin rampant; their days few and evil; want and misery in their dwellings.
III. HOW SUCH RESULT CAME ABOUT.
1. It was not God's will. Cf. the tears of Christ over Jerusalem. "How often would I have gathered thee," etc.!
2. But it was Israel's own fault. (Vers. 11, 12.) Thus it ever is.
IV. THE SORROW OF IT ALL. God dishonoured; the Holy Spirit grieved; their children and their neighbours led astray; themselves given up of God; and all this need not have been. Dread the doom of such. - S.C.
I. GOD'S JOY IN THE BLESSING OF HIS PEOPLE. Their temporal blessing, when the state of their minds and hearts makes his giving temporal blessings the highest moral and spiritual good to them. It is not merely that God "gives us all things richly to enjoy;" it is that he loves to give; he finds his joy in giving. Illustrate from the provisions made for Israel.
II. GOD'S SORROW BECAUSE OF THE RESTRAINT OF HIS BLESSINGS. Sometimes he cannot give temporal blessings, because the state of mind and heart of his people would turn them into moral and spiritual curses. See in the case of Israel; how vain, self-confident, and proud Israel would surely have become, if, taking no notice of its character, its wilfulness, and murmuring, and rebellion, God had showered all conceivable good on the nation! It is the grief of love that it must restrain its gifts lest they should be misused.
APPLICATION. If we lack good things that we desire, and think we need, let us never explain the lack by the Divine unwillingness to bless, or by any vague notions of Divine "sovereignty." God would give these things to us if, in view of our best interests, he could. He is to be thought of as grieved that he cannot. And the thought of his grief should incite us to get rid of the hindrance that is on our side. To the trustful, humble, obedient soul God's richest benedictions may safely come. - R.T.
I. GOD HAS SPOKEN AND REVEALED TO MAN THE WAY OF LIFE. God's ways are the ways of life.
1. God's way is the way of law. Physical and moral and spiritual. "Whatsoever a man soweth," etc.; "To him that hath shall be given," etc.
2. God's way is the way of love.
3. God's way is the way of faith. So that through it he dispenses pardon, strength, and comfort.
II. THE SIN OF MAN IS INCONSIDERATION OF GOD'S WAYS. This leads to:
1. A neglect of the Divine rule of life. An inconsiderate man is a man without understanding, a man without a steadfast purpose, given over to pleasure and selfishness.
2. A forfeiture of the Divine help against our difficulties. An inconsiderate man cannot accept or use the Divine help.
III. GOD'S LAMENT OVER THIS INCONSIDERATION.
1. It hindered him from a benevolent exercise of his power on their behalf. "I gave them up to the stubbornness of their heart:" that was all God could do for them.
2. They are defeated by their enemies in the battle of life. It is only by God's help we can conquer in the great struggle we have to maintain.
3. God could not nourish them with heavenly food. (Deuteronomy 32:13.) The finest of the wheat and honey out of the rock. Like the prodigal, they lived upon the husks. - S.