Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying…
Just that! How we have modernised and complicated and destroyed prayer! "The children of Israel asked the Lord." How simple, how direct, how sensible, how likely to succeed! The altar may have lost its power: no atheist has pulled down the altar, no outsider has taken away one stone from the holy pile; the suppliants may have torn down their own altar. We will modernise and invent and enlarge and embroider the simplicity that would have saved us. "The children of Israel asked the Lord," whispered to Him, hailed Him, arrested His condescending attention by some sign of necessity. They whispered to the Lord, they told Him plainly the condition in which they were placed, and brought the whole need under His attention; they wanted leadership and captaincy and guidance, and they said, "Who shall do this?" The method has not been changed; Jesus Christ added nothing to this old method. Said He, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." "If any man lack wisdom, let him ask." We have changed all that; we now are in danger of approaching the Lord as if He were an infinite Shah, and must needs be approached with long words and logical sequence. Speaking to God elevates the mind; prayer, however brief and however tremulous, takes the suppliant up to a higher level than he has ever scaled before. The whole idea of religion is intellectually elevating; no man can be truly religious and meanly little; to touch the Divine garment even at its edge is to rise to a new stature and to breathe a new air. I repeat, therefore, that asking God, talking to God, communing with God, elevates the mind. It is the spiritual exercise that elevates the soul; the words themselves may be poor, they may be ungrammatical, they may be uttered in a very halting and stumbling tone, but the exercise, spiritually understood, rightly interpreted, lifts the soul world on world a thousand worlds higher than can ever be occupied by a mere denizen of this world of dust. We cannot look God in the face without catching something of the brightness of His smile. Do they take knowledge of us that we have been with the literature of the day, with the journals of the morning, with the gossip of the time? or do they take knowledge of us that we have just come from the altar, that we have just seen the King, that we have not a moment ago been closeted with Christ, having shut the door, and do we come out of the presence-chamber new born, newly ordained, just crowned with the approbation of the Divine love? Talking to God, asking God, laying the whole case before God, sometimes laying it before Him without words, sometimes simply looking into His face, sometimes letting our throbbing, aching misery look into the infinite peace of the Divine tranquillity, will lift a man to a new status and clothe him with a new influence and enrich him with an abiding benediction. Let your misery seek the face of the King. Do not keep anything from God; yon know perfectly well that you cannot keep anything from His omniscience; that is not the meaning of the exhortation; the meaning rather is, tell God everything as if He had never heard it; go and tell Jesus. Do not ask the man who never prayed to tell you what he thinks of prayer. People are tempted to make a great mistake in that matter. They are going to hear an agnostic lecture on the subject of prayer! A prayerless man cannot lecture on that theme. Sooner ask a dead man to tell you his candid opinion of Beethoven than ask a prayerless man to tell you what he thinks of prayer. Ask the man who never was an inch from his own fireside what he thinks of the climate of the North Pole or the South. Consult saintly souls about the value of prayer. "The children of Israel asked the Lord." They did not dictate to Him. Prayer is not dictation; prayer is not always even suggestion, and when prayer is suggestion it is offered with halting breath and with a most reverent faith, lest a suggestion should be not only a sophism but an expression of selfishness. Ask God about everything; you undervalue life if you think there is anything beneath His attention; the very smallest thing that concerns you concerns Him; He has told us so in many a beauteous parable. Saith He, "A sparrow cannot fall to the ground without My notice." Observe, the people in question were "the children of Israel." Character is implied; character is not only implied, it is recognised and held up as a lesson. They belong to a praying host, to a covenanted ancestry, they were involved in the baptism of an oath. Do not imagine that a man can leap out of atheism and begin to pray for some selfish purpose, and have his answer on the spot. Character determines prayer; the simple heart suggests the right petition; the sincere spirit, praying at the Cross and in the name of Christ, can alone pray with lasting and ennobling effect. In this respect there is something in heredity, there is something in the covenant, something in the eternal decree. We stand the last members up to this moment of a great ancestry of prayer.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass, that the children of Israel asked the LORD, saying, Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first, to fight against them?