So the LORD sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the appointed time, and of the people from Dan to Beersheba, seventy thousand men died.
2 Samuel 12:31; 1 Chronicles 20:3), how fearfully cruel were conquerors in war in those days, what an awful scourge to his subjects would be the ravages of a victorious invading army. He also doubtless dreaded the disgrace and permanent damage to the kingdom which would be thus wrought, and the dishonour, in the view of the heathen, which would be cast on the Name of Jehovah its God (see Joshua 7:8, 9). Taking the words wider application, they express what will be the natural preference of good men.
I. GROUNDS OF THE PREFERENCE HERE EXPRESSED.
1. The great mercy of God and the unmercifulness, or limited mercy, of men.
2. The righteousness of God and the unrighteousness of men. We can never be sure that in a particular case righteousness will guide human proceedings; we know that the Divine are always thus guided. Many men are utterly regardless of what is right where their own interests, inclinations, or passions are concerned; and even the best men are liable to fail in respect to pure and constant regard for rectitude.
3. The knowledge and wisdom of God, and the ignorance and folly of men. Much of the misconduct and untrustworthiness of men springs from ignorance and folly. When they mean well, they often do ill through not knowing the actual state of the affairs with which they are called to deal, not taking the trouble, perhaps, to ascertain it; or, when they know it, not understanding how to treat it. But the Divine knowledge and wisdom are perfect.
4. The power of God and the weakness of men. Men are often incapable of doing the good they know, and even strongly desire to do; and their weakness often causes them to do mischief while endeavouring to do good. God is Almighty to effect what his wisdom, mercy, and rectitude prompt.
5. The relation of God to good men. Their Father, their covenant God. The certainty that he will honour those that honour him, and turn all things, including his own chastisement of them, to their good, and ultimately bring them to eternal glory. The preference will be strong in proportion to the actual contrast between the men with whom we have to do and God. There are some men who are so God like that we should not be averse to falling into their hands in a considerable variety of circumstances. It would be to a limited extent like falling into the hands of God.
II. CASES IN WHICH THE PREFERENCE WOULD BE EXERCISED.
1. The endurance of suffering. As in the text. It is better to suffer from disease than from human violence. The suffering will be easier to bear, more likely to profit, less likely to excite resentment and other evil passions. The infliction will be more tempered with mercy, and promote in a greater degree the ends of mercy.
2. Judgment of character and actions. To be judged by God is preferable to being judged by men. Men are often fond of passing judgment, but for the most part very incapable. They commonly judge ignorantly, or from prejudice, and therefore unjustly. They are apt to be wrong alike in their favourable and unfavourable opinions of others. When condemned by them, it is well if we can appeal with confidence to the judgment of God, which is always just.
3. Forgiveness. Men forgive reluctantly, in a limited measure, with reserves; and soon grow weary of pardoning the same offender. To pardon "seven times," much more "seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:21, 22), seems to them an impossibility. Indeed, repeated offences, as they appear incompatible with real repentance, may justify hesitation to pardon repeatedly, since the state of the offender's heart cannot be known. But God, who knows the heart, discerns where it is true, notwithstanding frequent falls; and, pitying human weakness, forgives many times a day. And his pardons are full and complete. Add that forgiveness from men does not ensure forgiveness from God, and that having the latter we can, if need be, dispense with the former. There is then abundant reason why, in the matter of pardon, we should prefer to have to do with God rather than men.
4. Spiritual guidance and help. God has appointed that men should instruct and aid their fellow men in matters of religion and morals. But those who offer themselves as spiritual guides are fallible, and they differ widely on important points. It is then encouraging and assuring that Divine guidance and help are available. By the devout study of God's holy Word, and earnest prayer for the Holy Spirit, whose aid is promised to those who seek it (Luke 11:13), all may obtain such heavenly wisdom and strength as shall ensure them against serious error and failure. And after listening to the conflicting statements of human teachers, and their denunciation of those who decline their counsel, a religious inquirer may in many instances wisely turn from them to God, saying, "Let me fall into the hand of the Lord rather than of man." In conclusion:
1. It is a great comfort to sincere Christians to know that they are ever in the hand of the Lord. When they seem to be most left to the will of arbitrary, unjust, and cruel men, God is over all, controlling, overruling, sanctifying, compelling their most malignant foes to promote their real and lasting good. He will rectify and compensate for all the injustice and injury which he permits men to inflict upon them.
2. Impenitent sinners might well prefer to fall into the hands of men rather than of God. The limited knowledge and power of men, as well as their feeble hatred of sin, would be in their favour; at the worst, they can only "kill the body." But God abhors sin with a perfect hatred, knows fully the guilt of each sinner, and "hath power to cast into hell" (Luke 12:4, 5). "Who knoweth the power of thine anger?" (Psalm 90:11). - G.W.
1. In this lesson we have, first, an account of the judgment: "So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel; and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men." Here is judgment following repentance and confession. There are some sins which, though truly repented of and forgiven, still bring retributive consequences from which the transgressor cannot escape in this life. He must wear them as brands of condemnation set upon sin by Divine justice for his own and others' good. These consequences, while they come in just retribution, are also sent in mercy as God's barriers against the progress of sin. It is here affirmed that the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel. Plagues and pestilence have various national and physical causes. But it is equally plain that they are connected with the sins and follies of men. They are the penalties of violated law. In other words, they have a place in the righteous government of God, and so come to execute His will. Here the pestilence is attributed, instrumentally, to angelic agency.
So the Lord sent a pestilence.
Monday Club Sermons.It was time of peace and prosperity in Israel. King David's rule had been blessed, and the people dwelt in safety. In the midst of this happy quiet, David was moved to order a numbering of the people.
I. SIN OVERTAKEN BY JUDGMENT. What was the sin? Outwardly it was in the numbering already referred to. But what wrong could there be in taking a census? It is now found to be useful. It had before been done in Israel, and with Divine approval. The wrong could not have been in the census itself. The real sin, then, like all sin, was in the heart; and plainly its root was pride and vain-glory. King and people forgot their dependence upon God, and the allegiance due to him. The pestilence struck directly at the pride of people and ruler. It crippled their power. It thwarted military ambition. It smote that of which they were ready to boast into feebleness and death. Are we, of these later ages, to look upon like visitations, as of fire or famine or war or pestilence as judgments for sin, or corrections for moral transgression? Never are we to be in haste, or too confident, in interpreting Divine Providence. But when we are told that devouring flames consuming great cities, famine depopulating broad lands, and pestilence which walketh in darkness, and destruction which wasteth at noonday, mean wiser building, better agriculture, more careful drainage — just this and nothing more, at least nothing moral or spiritual — we are sure that one great part of the Divine purpose has been overlooked. Doubtless God does mean that the lower lessons should be learned. He does mean to correct neglect of maxims of prudence. He does so order His laws and dealings as to make us studious, watchful, and faithful in all that pertains to physical life.
II. JUDGMENT DEEPENING REPENTANCE. Our Saviour has taught us that the angels shall be God's ministers in the final judgment (Matthew 13:41.) Here we find that they are His messengers in present ills. It was as one of these had reached Jerusalem, and had outstretched his hand for its destruction, that tie became visible to the king. What true humility, what deep repentance is here! There is no syllable of complaint that the Divine stroke is too heavy. There is no word of personal justification; no shielding of self under another's fault. The sin was not all his; but he saw only his own. "My sin, my transgression!" Such was the language of his crushed, repentant heart. Such is the language of true repentance always — when its work is deep and thorough.
III. REPENTANCE MET BY MERCY. "The Lord repented Him of the evil." The words are startling, as applied to God. And yet they need not be obscure. Note three things with respect to this mercy: —
1. It followed upon the deepened repentance.
2. It came in connection with expiation.
3. Then it did not straightway remove all the consequences of the sin; but, as we may believe, did convert them into means of disciplinary good.One thing only is required from us as the condition of restored Divine favour. That is trusting repentance.
IV. A TRUSTFUL RECONSECRATION. Observe the prompt and cheerful obedience which now marked the king's conduct. No sooner did the Divine message reach him than he "went up as the Lord commanded" (v. 19). Nor did he find the way closed before him. Clearly the Lord, as He is wont to do with contrite souls, had gone before to prepare it. Observe, the Lord is now "the Lord my God!" Here is nearness, trust, love. There is no longer distance or aversion; but such peace as assured pardon always brings. Men who have had great deliverances felt to be from God have always delighted to make them occasions of fresh consecration. With all the more of humble, swelling joy will this be done when the deliverance is from what is seen to be the effect of personal sin — mercy arresting deserved judgment. In his description of the distress of Harold, the last of England's Saxon kings, on account of his false oath, the novelist, Bulwer, has said: "There are sometimes seasons in the life of man when darkness wraps the conscience as sudden night wraps the traveller in the desert, and the angel of the past with a flaming sword closes on him the gates of the future. Then faith flashes on him with a light from the cloud; then he clings to prayer as a drowning wretch to a plank; then that mysterious recognition of atonement smooths the frown on the past, and removes the flaming sword from the future. He who hath never known in himself, nor marked in another, such strange crises in human fate, cannot judge of the strength and weakness it bestows; but till he can so judge, the spiritual part of all history is to him a blank scroll — a sealed volume." There would seem to be many of whom this is true.Is there now any one of us to whom any part of the truth brought to view in this Scripture has not some application?
1. Searching our own hearts, we should surely find some form of sin there — perhaps the very spirit which provoked the displeasure of God against Israel.
2. In His patience God may not as yet have made His displeasure felt by us in pains and ills seen to be traceable to it; and yet He may have sent sorrow, loss, hardships, intended to bring us to Himself; it is certain that He has faithfully forewarned us that for every unpardoned sin He will at some time bring us to judgment.
3. To escape in the evil day no way is offered, none is to be found, save the old way of humble, trusting repentance.
4. For those who thus come the door of His heart is wide open; expiation has already been provided; pardon will be instant and complete; and, while to life's end many painful effects of sin may remain, these, in their case, will be changed to means of good, to chastisements whereby He wilt perfect us in His own image and for His everlasting kingdom.
5. The proof of our repentance and trust and acceptance will appear in prompt obedience, childlike thought of God as our God, and a heart ready, nay, eager to serve in any, however costly, service He may appoint.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
2. This lesson furnishes an example of true penitence. Here is a case of genuine repentance which is accepted with God. David's confession was not extorted from him by the pressure of the Divine judgment. Before it came he saw his sin, and said unto the Lord, "I have sinned greatly in that I have done." Divine judgments are often, indeed, instrumental in arousing men to see the enormity of their guilt. They are used as goads to prick a dull and sleeping conscience. But true penitence is not the result of fear. It springs from seeing the hatefulness and wickedness of sin as done against the wisdom, justice, holiness and love of God. Sin is folly, and brings ruin to the transgressor, but its chief enormity lies in the fact that it is done against a God of holiness and love. So true confession is confession to God.
3. This lesson also shows us how saving mercy was obtained for Israel. The judgment of God was righteously destroying the people, and His mercy, though free, sovereign and ready to save, could not ignore His righteousness. There must be a way opened for its manifestation if Jerusalem is saved. This is secured through the Divine appointment. David is directed by Gad, a prophet of the Lord, to build an altar unto the Lord, that the plague might be stayed from the people. It was not by David's tears of penitence and confession of sin that the plague was stayed. In like manner, not our tears or prayers or confessions, but the blood of Christ shed for us, furnishes the only ground for the removal of the sentence of death which the broken law of God has passed upon us. He was made sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
4. This passage presents another feature of spiritual life worthy of attention. It is the spirit of generosity and unselfishness manifested by David in fulfilling the command of God. Here was royal liberality; and it is set down to his everlasting honour in the Word of God that he gave "like a king." He stands before us as a noble representative of those large-hearted, generous men who are ever ready, when the occasion demands, to sacrifice their private interests for the public good. And never did David make a better investment of his means than when he bought Araunah's threshing-floor. It was the building-lot for the temple which for a thousand years prefigured Christ, and so became a fountain of blessing to the nations. Money invested in such a cause is not lost, but laid up in store for the life to come.
(S. D. Niccolls, D. D.)
( M. Henry..)
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