The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
So they brought the ark of God, and set it in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it: and they offered burnt sacrifices and peace offerings before God.David's Thanksgiving
1 Chronicles 16
THROUGHOUT the Old Testament we are continually reminded of the conjunction of the Old and the New. This conjunction is set forth most distinctly in this verse. The ark of God represented that which was historical, and the tent which David had pitched for it represented the work of the current day. David did not make the ark; he only made the tent which it glorified. This indeed is all that we can do for any of the great revelations of God at this late period of history. We receive the Bible, we do not invent it or re-edit it; it is ours, however, to build a tent for its reception; that is to say, a sanctuary or a church in which it is to be publicly read to the people. We made the church, we did not make the Bible. We must be careful, therefore, how we interfere with that which we did not create. We are at liberty to reconstruct our churches, but no man may add to the Word of Life or take away one line from its sacred integrity. It is not humbling to us that we have to receive some gifts and simply conserve them. The greatness of the gift destroys the possibility of humiliation. Where the gift is small, and unworthy of our progressive nature, there may indeed be some degree of humiliation connected with its continuance; but where the gift is, so to say, of the very nature of God himself, his highest thoughts, his supreme concern, then the custody of such a gift invests the custodian with eternal honour. The danger is lest we should merge the quality of the one possession with the quality of the other, thus imagining that the ark is only upon a level with the tent, or that the tent is of equal value with the ark itself. When will men learn to distinguish between things that differ and between things of relative importance in the kingdom of Christ? The ark consecrated whatever building it entered into, and so the Bible consecrates every edifice in which it is reverently read. "Our earthly house of this tabernacle" is a phrase which relates to all institutions and ceremonies of intermediate or secondary value, and all such institutions and ceremonies are to be regarded as subservient to the revelation of the ark of God, or in our case the revelation of the cross of Christ, which takes the place of the ancient ark, as representing the conjunction of law and mercy in the atonement made for sin by the Son of God. David "pitched" the tent, but he only "brought the ark;" David's solicitude for holy things was none the less that he did not create or build the ark itself: he did what lay within his power with a cheerful heart and an industrious hand, and therein lay all the honour of his useful ministry. One thing more however was done, namely, the offering of burnt sacrifices and peace offerings before God. Such sacrifices and offerings derived the whole of their value from the presence of the ark. In this respect the ark performed the office of mediation. So in the Christian Church to-day all offerings, sacrifices, and acts of adoration, are utterly valueless except as they are offered at the cross and sanctified by the spiritual meaning of Christ's offering.
"And when David had made an end of offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord. And he dealt to every one of Israel, both man and woman, to every one a loaf of bread, and a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine" (1Chronicles 16:2-3).
Here again is a service having a distinctly twofold relation,—the one upward towards God, and the other downward towards the people. David could not have blessed the people if he had not first offered the burnt offerings and the peace offerings commanded by the law. What is this whole office but another way of stating the two cardinal commandments—Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself? David's first and long lingering look was towards God, in his majesty and holiness and condescension: then, having, so to say, identified himself with the living God, David turned towards the people and pronounced a priestly benediction upon them. The people were blessed in the name of the Lord; that is to say, the benediction was intensely religious; humanity was baptised in the divine name, and glorified by that name, and united indissolubly in that name. Looked at amongst themselves men appear to be separated and dissociated one from another, each having his individual characteristic and each asserting his personal claim. The human race is thus an endless series of jealous and angry rivalries. Something is needed to bring the whole into vital relations part with part, and that something is "the name of the Lord." This was the designation given to the uniting force in the old dispensation; in the Christian economy the uniting energy is found in the Son of man. Apart from the mediation and rule of Jesus Christ men must live in perpetual conflict, misunderstanding one another, and urging upon one another unrighteous and unreasonable claims. The reconciliation of all human interests is in the Son of God. Where Jesus Christ reigns in the heart every concession is made to his authority; men ask one another what Christ would have them do, and they concur in sweet consent to seek his will and to abide by it, knowing that however much personal relations may be changed as to attitude and value, in the end it will be shown that Jesus Christ knew what was in man, and knew also what was best for every man to be and to do. Even if this were only a sentimental energy, it is full of beneficence in reference to all human relations: it checks ambition, it subdues selfishness, it enables the man to magnify the virtues of others, and it creates in the soul that sweet courtesy and brotherhood without which trustful and helpful life is impossible.
Not only did David bless the people in the name of the Lord, but dealt to every one of Israel, both man and woman, some outward and visible sign of goodwill and fellowship; he dealt to every one a loaf of bread—a round cake—a good piece of flesh, and a flagon of wine,—rather, a raisin-cake, or mass of dried grapes. Soul and body are cared for in the Church. However high the enthusiasm, however ecstatic the joy, Jesus Christ never neglected what was practically needful in the case of every man. This is what the Church should do at all times. Its worship should be supreme, a very rapture of gladness; then it should be a benediction pronounced upon the people; and then it should be a gift of what is needful for the body as well as for the soul. All the wants of men should be supplied in the Church and by the Church. We are too much afraid of the word "secular" when we speak of religious relations and fellowships. We say that bread and flesh and wine belong to the market and not to the sanctuary. In a very narrow sense that may be true, but in the widest sense the Church should be the inclusive institution. It would seem that this principle was recognised by Jesus Christ when he said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things"—bread and flesh and wine— "shall be added unto you." All the tenderest memories of the heart should cluster around the Church. Men should be able to say, It was at the Church I found reconciliation with God, peace with my fellow-men, a blessing fitted for the heart in all its faculties and aspirations, contentment of mind—all blessings indeed for the body, all healthy and helpful enjoyments and recreations needed for the relaxation of the mind, and the retuning of its powers to resume the higher music of life. When did Jesus Christ ever send any one away from the Church to get a want supplied by some other minister? He had everything in his own hand, and he opened that hand without stint or grudging, that the whole hunger of mankind might be satisfied.
After appointing certain Levites to minister before the Lord, and to record, and to thank and praise the Lord God of Israel; after appointing Asaph the chief and others to follow him in the service of music, with psalteries and with harps, with a sound of cymbals, and with trumpets, David himself delivered a psalm to thank the Lord, calling upon Asaph and his brethren to set that psalm to music. Viewed as an ancient song the psalm is full of gracious suggestion. It calls upon the people to "give thanks unto the Lord." The exercise of gratitude has an ennobling and a purifying effect upon the heart which practises it. David repeatedly insists upon the offering of thanks unto the Lord. This is not sentimental religion, it is religion founded upon reason, and suiting itself to the fitness of things. To receive benefits without returning thanks for them is to depress the mind from the elevation which is possible to it, and take away from the mind what may be called its wings, on which it flies back to the All-giving God, that he may be blessed for the blessings he has bestowed. David will have this expression of gratitude rendered in song—"Sing unto him, sing psalms unto him." This is the highest form of worship. Not only judgment, conscience, will, affection, but imagination and music are pressed into this holy service. What mouth can speak words of evil after it has been filled with religious song? Would not the attempt to send forth from the same mouth praise and cursing convict any man of an irony amounting to falsehood? With which of them should the mouth be credited, with the praise or with the curse? In which was the real man expressed? Happy he who can answer that his whole soul is uttered in religious music and aspiration, and that when any other word escapes his lips it is but an occasional break or flaw in the steady outgoing and uprising of his soul towards heaven.
The whole song which David indited was founded upon history—"Give thanks unto the Lord, make known his deeds among the people," and again, "Remember his marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his mouth." When men are called upon to praise God from a historical standpoint, their song may indeed be loud and sweet, for all the facts of history come to suggest the sentiment and to ennoble the music. The worshippers are not praising a God who is in the clouds, far off and unseen; he is one whose judgments are in all the earth, whose proofs of existence and government are to be found in the heart of every man who takes part in singing his praise. Nor will the psalmist have the covenant forgotten. When great miracles and wonders are wrought in the sight of all the people, he traces these tokens back to the covenant which God made, and the word which he commanded to a thousand generations. Nothing occurs in the history of providence which surprises the psalmist in such a degree as to suspend his recollection of the ancient covenant. Whatever occurs, occurs as a comment upon the divine word. Nowhere does he say that anything new has been spoken, but everywhere he shows that some new illustration is being constantly given of the strength and goodness of the covenant of God. Hear how he speaks—"Be ye mindful always of his covenant; the word which he commanded to a thousand generations; even of the covenant which he made with Abraham, and of his oath unto Isaac; and hath confirmed the same to Jacob for a law, and to Israel for an everlasting covenant." Thus, what we found in the first verse is repeated in the psalm. In the highest music true and simple history is never forgotten; whatever flowers of poetry or song may blossom in the psalmist's garden, he always finds underneath them the solid rocks of divine covenant and providence. He is not forgetful of the fact that there were times when the covenant seemed to be set aside, and when God's people were in a state of chaos, and were almost at the mercy of those who despised them—"When they went from nation to nation, and from one kingdom to another people; he suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm." Through all the undulation of circumstances there ran the unchangeable line of promise. We are not to look at our circumstances and suppose that the divine purpose is as mutable as themselves, always coming, always going, often disappointing the heart, and throwing down the pride of man into confusion and shame. In life we find what we have found in the first verse of this chapter—a conjunction of the divine and the human, the immutable and the changeable, the covenantal and the circumstantial. What is it that has changed? In no case is the change to be found in the covenant of God, but always in the conduct of the people and their outward relations to one another, and to the peoples round about. Wherever good men wander they are still God's anointed, and are still reckoned among his prophets; though they be homeless wanderers in the desert, they do not lose their divine election, or any of the honour which that election implies; though the Son of man had not where to lay his head, he was still the Son of man. When we turn away our eyes from our circumstances to the divine covenant we shall find rest and peace,—yea, a double assurance, an infinite comfort and security. We do not trust for our illumination to lights which men have kindled, but to those luminous orbs which lie beyond the touch of the hands of men. "My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth: he will not suffer thy foot to be moved." So great was the religious joy of David, that he would have all nations and kindreds and peoples and tongues unite in the psalm of adoration. Even for this universal praise he assigns a reason, that reason being the greatness of the Lord. David does not call the people to worship One whose greatness was unattested, but to worship him who reigns over all the earth, a gracious Sovereign, a loving Father, whose mercy endureth for ever. It is indeed this word that gives the song all its nobleness and value—" his mercy endureth for ever." All men may not be able to appreciate power or glory, but who cannot respond to the appeal of mercy, compassion, pity; love? The answer of the people showed that there was something in the song which touched every instinct—"And all the people said Amen, and praised the Lord." Some songs at once establish their claim to universal confidence. They come to us as if we had heard them in some other world; they have not to make their way into our affection and regard, instantly they attach themselves to the memory and awaken within us all our noblest powers; we feel indeed as if we must take part in them, as if to withhold our voices from the utterance of such songs were to deny the heart some gracious and inviolable right. Herein lies the great appeal of Jesus Christ. His gospel is not a lesson to be learned in a foreign tongue, a doctrine to be represented by dreams which are strange to our minds and to our senses; it is rather a gospel which needs only to be spoken in order to find its echo throughout our whole nature: it is the gospel we need; it is the very word we have been waiting for; it fulfils our expectation; it fills the heart to overflow.
Now the song is ended, the work of detailed religion began. David "left before the ark of the covenant of the Lord Asaph and his brethren, to minister before the ark continually, as every day's work required" (1Chronicles 16:37). So it is in our own religious life. There are days of high festival and thrilling song, when the whole life seems to be given up to the joy of music; then there comes the time when we must descend from rapture to daily toil, to detailed and critical service, to all the minor industries which are at once a test of character and a blessing to those who are interested in their discharge. Every day has its work. We must see to it that there are no arrears in our Christian service. He who leaves over from one day to another what he ought to have done on the first will find his life crowded and confused. Discipline is the very soul of religion. We do not grow in grace by fits and starts, by doing two days' work in one, or by showing our great skill and energy in the discharge of arrears; we grow little by little, line by line, almost imperceptibly, and only at the end do we see how minute has been the process, how detailed the whole exercise through which the mind has passed. David himself had his detailed work to attend to; we read in the forty-third verse, "David returned to bless his house." We cannot always live in public; it is true that we have tent-work to do, temple-work, sanctuary-work, great public and philanthropic appeals to respond to, but when all that which is external or public has been done, every man must bless his own home, make his own children glad, make his own hearthstone as bright as he possibly can, and fill his own house with music and gladness. The danger of the day probably is that men may live too much in public; that they may care more for the platform than for the hearthstone, and be rather anxious to take part in the loud trumpeting of the sanctuary than in the quiet and loving household. This ought ye to have done, and not to have left the other undone. We are not called upon to give up either the public or the private, but to find a way of uniting them, and making the one balance the other in discipline, in service, and in gladness.