These things took place as examples to keep us from craving evil things as they did.
I. ISRAEL IN THE WILDERNESS IS AN EXAMPLE OF WARNING.
1. Against murmuring, which, it is to be feared, never appears to many Christians to be of the nature of sin, and. against which accordingly many are not upon their guard. But murmuring is against Divine appointment, and is therefore against God himself.
2. Against sensuality. Into these it was not surprising that Israel should fall, having only just escaped from Egypt, and being surrounded by the licentious heathen. And what more important and necessary than a caution against defiling and destroying the temple of the Holy Ghost?
3. Against rebellion. Israel again and again rebelled against Moses the servant of God, and against Jehovah himself. And Christians need. to be reminded that to violate God's Law, to defy the authority of God's inspired apostles, to resist the Divine message of God's ministers, is treason, and. cannot go unpunished.
4. Against unbelief. This was the sin which lay at the root of the others, as is shown in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It contrasts with that childlike faith which is becoming in the privileged people of the Lord. All such conduct, as we may learn from the Old Testament narrative referred to, is observed, disapproved, and. censured by the omniscient Ruler. It is tempting Christ. We are reminded of the possibility and of the culpability of such sin.
II. ISRAEL IN THE WILDERNESS IS AN EXAMPLE OF ENCOURAGEMENT. If we look at the human side, the lesson is one of warning; but if we regard the Divine side, there we see much to cheer, animate, and inspire us. We remark:
1. Divine guidance. As Israel was led by the pillar of cloud and of fire, so will all who look up and commit their way unto the Lord, experience his directing grace.
2. Divine care, bounty, and goodness. As Israel ate of the manna from heaven and drank of the streams from the rock, so that, when earth failed, heaven interposed, in like manner will the beneficence of God satisfy the wants of all who in necessity and straits call upon him.
3. Divine protection. As Israel's foes were discomfited, as threatening dangers were averted, so shall a way of escape and a door of deliverance be provided for all who trust in a gracious and redeeming God. The arm of flesh may fail, but the arm of Omnipotence shall prove ready and victorious.
4. The final possession of the promises. God led his people to the land he promised to their fathers; not immediately, not by a way they knew, not without difficulties, hardships, contests, yet surely, safely, victoriously. Those who are "on their way to God" may well be animated by such recollections, and by the light they cast upon the position and the hopes of the Christian. Heaven may seem to us "the land which is very far off;" yet faith can bring it near and make it ours even now.
"E'en now by faith I see thee,
Now these things were our examples.
(C. Hodge, D.D.)
Weekly Pulpit.Human nature is the same in every age. The old Israelites differed from us in all those things which we class under the term "civilisation"; but as moral beings they were precisely the same. Like them we are in danger of —
I. LUSTING AFTER EVIL THINGS. Those Israelites should have been contented with what God provided for them; instead, they let appetite master them, and set them thinking of the self-indulgencies of Egypt; thinking begat longing, and longing lusting, and lusting repining, which destroyed trust in God. So they had to be severely punished. Is not hankering after something other than God provides one of the great sins of our times? We want pleasures which we see worldly people have; and we lust after them. But remember what the wilderness life of God's ancient people teaches. We go wrong if we refuse to keep our wishes narrowly within the limits of God's will.
II. IDOLATRY. At first it might seem as if this were no modern peril. But the essential idea of idolatry is putting somebody, or something else, into the place which belongs, of right, to God alone. We can do this without acknowledging any Jupiter or Vishnu. Perhaps we are making pleasure our idol; many make science their idol; it is quite possible to have a family idol. Whatever form it takes it becomes a serious Christian peril.
III. SENSUALITY. The apostle had in mind the act of Balaam, who advised Balak to entice the people by allowing free intercourse with the Moabitish women. And sensuality was one of the chief sins of Corinth. But who can read the revelations of our law courts, and of society life, without feeling the need of this warning.
IV. PRESUMPTION It must always be wrong to put God to the test, as if we doubted Him. We should never risk a doubtful or wrong thing in the hope that it will pass. A man may take advantage of God; presume upon what is his will, without asking Him. "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God." Then we should ever pray, "Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins."
V. MURMURINGS. Troubles and disappointments and failures are Divine testings of our professed trust; and for us to complain and fret and murmur is plainly to show lost submission and lost trust. Happy indeed are they who can trust when they cannot trace. Conclusion:
1. "Abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul."
2. "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation."
We should not lust after evil things as they also lustedI. THE SIN.
1. Incident to humanity.
2. May possibly be excited in God's people.
II. THE CAUTION — lest, etc. — there is need of —
1. Self distrust.
III. THE WARNING. Israel: —
3. Was punished.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)I. ITS PROGRESSIVE. NATURE. First lust, then apostasy and sensuality, lastly obstinate unbelief and murmuring.
II. A CAUTION AGAINST IT — by the example of Israel; admonition; warning.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)I. WHAT ARE ITS ORDINARY FORMS? Lust after evil things (vers. 6-10).
II. WHO ARE LIABLE TO IT?
2. Especially the self-confident.
III. HOW IS IT TO BE OVERCOME?
1. By vigilance, because it is common to man.
2. By trust in God's faithfulness.
3. By dependence on His help.
4. By faithful endurance.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
Neither be ye idolatersI. THE COMMON DISPOSITION IN MAN TO PUT THE NATURAL, the visible, the material, IN THE PLACE OF GOD.
II. THE INSIDIOUS NATURE OF THE REFINED FORMS OF IDOLATRY — as —
3. Excessive earthly attachment.
III. THE SERIOUS EVILS ARISING OUT OF THIS IDOLATROUS SPIRIT.
1. Apostasy from God.
IV. THE AWFUL. WARNING AGAINST IT FURNISHED BY THE EXAMPLE OF ISRAEL.
(J. Lyth, D.D.)
Neither let us tempt Christ as some of them also tempted
I. THE TEMPTING OF GOD BY THE ISRAELITES.
1. The apostle refers to that portion of their history where "the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people." This was in consequence of their discontent. And this discontent was produced by several causes. "The people were much discouraged because of the way." Apparently, too, the miraculous supply of water was suspended; and, besides, the manna had grown distasteful.
2. How could God be tempted by the murmurers? "God cannot be tempted with evil," but discontent with what the Almighty allots a man to do or to bear is provoking God to change His purposes; and what is this if it be not "tempting" Him? And again, when a man questions whether God loves him, he tempts the Lord, seeing that he challenges Him to fresh demonstrations of what He has already abundantly displayed.
3. It was thus that the Israelites "tempted" God. What can be said of their perpetual disposition to murmur and distrust, if not that it virtually accused God of unfaithfulness, and challenged Him to do yet greater things, if He would have His people confide in His protection? We are, perhaps, not accustomed to think of unbelief or murmuring as a tempting of the Lord, and therefore we fail to attach to it a just degree of heinousness. Let us be warned by the fate of the Israelites, to struggle against this, and amid all difficulties hold fast the truth, that God is faithful to His word, and does all things for the best.
II. HOW IN TEMPTING GOD THEY COULD BE SAID TO TEMPT CHRIST. The apostle is speaking of events which occurred long before the Incarnation; and unless you admit Christ's pre-existence as a Person of the Godhead, it will be impossible to offer any satisfactory account of His having been tempted centuries before He appeared upon earth. A parallel passage (Hebrews 11:26) will help us here. We know that since the Fall there has been going forward upon this earth a mighty contest between evil and good. And we cannot well question that, informed as Satan was, immediately after his success over our first parents, that a Man should arise to repair the breach in creation, all his after plans would have reference to this promised Deliverer. He had so far prevailed as to have effected the ruin of this creation, and all that now remained was to prevent its restoration. Hence when he beheld the selection of a family, and perceived the travelling down of the promise from Abraham to his children, he might have learned, that if he would defeat the promised Deliverer, he must overthrow the chosen Israelites. Henceforward, therefore, he fought against Christ, by fighting against them. And if this be correct, then we must conclude that Christ was persecuted in the persecution of Moses, and tempted through the murmuring of the Israelites. He was opposed through Moses His type, both as a prophet and a leader. And in like manner there might be (as there was) great murmuring against Moses; but this murmuring, so far as it was caused by the machinations of Satan for the injury of the Israelites, was nothing less than a murmuring against Christ.
III. HOW WE MAY IMITATE THE SIN OF THE ISRAELITES, AND WHAT DOOM WE MUST EXPECT IF WE DO.
1. The Israelites virtually said that God had not done enough for them — that He must do greater things still, ere they would give Him their confidence, their love; and is not this precisely what you also say to Christ, when you are not to be moved by all the mysteries of His mercy, to the giving heed to the gospel and closing with its proffers? How little had been done for the Israelites by God, in comparison with what has been done by Jesus for us! "How," then, "shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?"
2. Fiery serpents swarmed amongst the murmurers — a very significant punishment. The serpent had been the first tempter, and ever after might be regarded as the emblem of Satan. What, then, was taught, if not that to distrust God is to give one's self up to the power of the evil one? What, moreover, was taught if the occurrence were typical, but that there is no alternative to our rejecting the Saviour but our being a prey to the devil?
(H. Melvill, B.D.)
Neither murmur ye
Family Churchman.The history of Israel in the wilderness is a history of human ingratitude and rebellion; and a history of Divine retribution, graciously tempered by Divine forbearance and mercy. The apostle takes occasion to warn Christians against falling into a snare which proved so fatal to multitudes of the chosen nation.
I. LIFE ABOUNDS IN TEMPTATIONS TO MURMURING.
1. Some such are common to the human lot: e.g., infirmity of body, brevity of life, limitation of mental powers, imperfections of human society.
2. There are others more peculiar and special, e.g., personal sufferings and privations, bereavements, severe toil, uncongenial occupations, calamities, disappointments, trials and persecutions for Christ's sake.
II. THE MURMURING HERE CENSURED CONSISTS IN REBELLIOUS DISSATISFACTION AND COMPLAINTS.
1. The reference is not to a just disapproval of sinful conduct in men. We are not required to acquiesce contentedly in a fatalistic view of human affairs.
2. But we are forbidden to murmur against God, His ways and His will. And not only is discontented language to be repressed; the habit of feeling which thus finds vent is to be checked. Who is there whose conscience does not reproach him for having sinned in this respect?
III. THERE ARE CONSIDERATIONS WHICH SHOULD ACT AS DISSUASIVES AND CORRECTIVES TO MURMURING.
1. The injurious moral effect which a murmuring habit has upon the character of those who give way to its encroachment.
2. The unhappy effect produced upon society by the prevalence of this habit.
3. The dishonour done to God's righteous and beneficent Providence.
4. The example of our Lord Jesus Christ should have great weight with His disciples; He neither complained of His lot of suffering, nor reviled those who wronged Him.
5. The prospect of a speedy and happy issue out of His afflictions should lead the Christian to bear with patience the appointed burden without murmuring or complaint.
(F. Jackson.)Seneca hath his similitude to set out the great evil of murmuring under small afflictions. Suppose, saith he, a man to have a very fair house to dwell in, with very fair orchards and gardens set about with brave tall trees for ornament: what a most unreasonable thing were it in this man to murmur because the wind blows a few leaves off the trees, though they hang full of fruit! If God takes a little, and gives us much, shall we be discontent? — if He takes our son, and gives us His own; if He cause the trees to bring forth the fruit, shall we be angry if the wind blow away the leaves?
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
Now all these things happened unto them for ensamplesI. THE MORAL RELATIONSHIP OF THE AGES. "These things," in Jewish history, "happened unto them for ensamples," or types. The words suggest —
1. That the Jewish history in the wilderness is a mirror of Christian life.(1) In the blessings it records. The Jews in the wilderness —(a) Had special guidance (1 Corinthians 5:1). The cloud means the Shechinah, the symbol of the Divine presence. So long as they followed this, they were safe. This cloud is an "ensample" of the Bible.(b) Were specially initiated. By passing through the sea the Jews were initiated in an especial sense to the guidance of God. There was no going back to Egypt after this. This is an "ensample" of the consecration of Christians.(c) Had special supplies (vers. 3. 4). The manna and water are "ensamples" of the blessings which Christians derive from Christ.(2) In the imperfections it records. These Jews, favoured with so many blessings, were lustful, idolatrous, frivolous, discontented. These imperfections, alas! are too often seen in the Christian Church.(3) In the perils which it records (vers. 8-10). Christians are exposed to the same peril — in danger of offending God.
2. That Jewish history in the wilderness is a monitor of Christian life. "They were written for our admonition." The principles, therefore, embodied in that history are of universal application. They are —(1) The special care which God exercises over those who commit themselves to Him.(2) The tendency of the depraved heart to go wrong.(3) The indissoluble connection between sin and suffering. These principles should be studied. You may find them in every chapter of Providence.
II. THE DIVINE SUPERINTENDENCE OF THE AGES. The words suggest —
1. That God is in the history of all ages. Human history contains no chapter of accidents. God is in all. He originates the good, permits and controls the evil.
2. That God employs one age to benefit another. Whatsoever God does, He does for ever. The events that transpired in Arabia, during forty short years, some thousands of years ago, were to tell on the boundless future. We are very incompetent to judge of His plan. We can neither see the beginning nor the end. This thought should —(1) Restrain us from hasty judgments on Providence. The very things which we consider evils may in the long run prove the greatest blessings. When the whole history of our race is complete, it may appear that all the evils of our world, as compared with the good, are but as one jarring note in an endless anthem of joy, one cloudy hour in the sunshine of ages.(2) Impress us with the seriousness of life. All things are full of God. Christ taught that all the events of His providence are His advents. "Be ye therefore ready," etc.
III. THE GROWING RESPONSIBILITY OF THE AGES. "Upon whom the ends," etc. "Ends of the world " means the gospel dispensation, the last under which men will live on the earth. In this age we have the advantages of the experiences and discoveries of past ages.(1) Through literature. History gives us all the intellectual wealth of the ancient heathen, the chosen people, of the apostles of modern Europe. The intellectual wealth and experience of all past ages meet in this. Consequently our responsibility is great. If it shall be "more tolerable for Sodom than for Chorazin," it will be more tolerable for Chorazin than for modern Europe.(2) Through influence. The mental influence streaming down regularly from sire to son. Conclusion: The subject reminds us —
1. Of the special goodness of God to this age. "The lines are fallen to us in pleasant places," etc. The pious Jews once desired to see what we see; but they did not. The Jews lived under moonlight, cold, etc. The first Christians, under the clear dawn of morning; but it is high noon with us.
2. The necessity for a superior type of excellence. Do you admire the greatest early saints? You ought to be higher, for your advantages are greater. But alas I fear the ages which have raised us in the arts and sciences have not brought us corresponding spiritual good.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
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