1 Kings 20:11
And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girds on his harness boast himself as he that puts it off.
I. AS TO THE JUSTICE AND RECTITUDE OF OUR PLANS. It may give us with effect this plain teaching: that we ought to undertake nothing on our own responsibility which we cannot justify and defend. This great Syrian king is engaged in a wrong thing. He has no right to be here at the gates of Samaria — no more right than a man would have to thunder at his neighbour's door, and demand his neighbour's property. It may sometimes, for a wider good, be right to subdue a nation by force, and to annex it or absorb it. But this is not to be done simply at the prompting of ambition or tyrannical self-will. Reason sufficient must be given for it. An old author says, commenting on this passage, "Thus a great dog worrieth a less, only because he is bigger and stronger"; this, however, is hardly just to the great dog, which very seldom, in point of fact, does worry the less without considerable provocation. The point for us as individuals is: that rectitude should lie at the basis of all our express undertakings. There are many things in which we must act, but with greatly qualified and modified responsibility; and some of the finest questions in our moral life, and the most difficult of clear settlement, arise in connection with joint action. The servant is not the keeper of the master's conscience, although, of course, he is bound to keep his own, and never do what would be to him a wrong thing. The single member of a company, or government, or society, cannot be expected to charge himself with more than his own share of the joint responsibility, and must yield to the will or the majority for the accomplishments of common ends, or must withdraw. If each individual will must rule in everything, there could be no joint action. But all this makes it the more needful that in those matters in which our responsibility is sole, the things which we ourselves expressly initiate, control, or conduct, rightness should be the foundation and the prevailing element. We ought to be able to say concerning our schemes, plans, or endeavours: "This thing is the fruit of my thought, and I can justify it. This thing I have initiated, and I mean, if God will, to finish it, for it is right. This is the fulfilment of my heart's desire, and I am thankful for it." Live so, and you will not ever be in Ben-hadad's evil ease.
II. A SPIRIT OF MODESTY, AND SELF-DISTRUST, AND FEAR. If at all times it be right and becoming in us to clothe ourselves with humility, surely that robe is particularly seemly at the beginning of our undertakings! We are dependent creatures, and when we are beginning what will require from us a great amount of strength, it is meet that we should look towards the Fountain-head of all the strengths. The mere "harness" of life is heavy to many a one. It is not always an easy matter to keep going on even from day to day — watching and waiting, and working by turns! Up at the hour, after a restful or a sleepless night! Ready at call during all the day! decisive in judgment at the opportune moment: Patient and disappointment or delays: And then to be ready to-morrow — and to-morrow — to go through the same strain of service! "Time and chance happeneth to all men." Life is full of cross-currents, and cross-roads, and cross-purposes; the unexpected is often that which comes. The looked-for is that which is delayed; and the right thing is broken to pieces; and the wrong thing holds on its way!
III. But this kind of reflection may easily be pushed too far, so as to PARALYSE THE VERY NERVES OF ACTION IN A MAN, and hinder him, in fact, from ever girding on harness at all. Looking too much on the chances and uncertainties of life, one may come to the conclusion — and especially if he be of an unambitious, or indolent, or selfish habit — "Well, it hardly seems worth while to gird on the harness at all in anything that we can help. If all things happen alike to all — if chance is mistress of practical life — if capricious elements may control, direct, or thwart the purposes we form, and the plans we seek to effectuate — then we had better do nothing, or as little as we may — just enough to get quietly and not ignobly through. To sail right over the sea of life and battle with the storms may be a good thing to those who desire it — to those who are fitted for it. But if one can go coasting to the same destination, always taking the harbours and sheltered places when the storms arise, that will be better. At least, it will be better for us." No, no; this will not do. This is to restrict and degrade life, or at least to keep it from rising; and it has been made to rise. Gird on "the harness." Have something on hand worth doing; it is not to be believed that you can find nothing calling for and justifying your exertion. If it is not more, it will be less; and less may be done with so much zest and vigour, that it will seem more, and will really be more. Let us ask now if it be possible for any one to come to this modest, self-distrustful, resigned, and yet resolute state of mind about temporal things, about worldly chances, and fortunes, and family cares, who does not look at all beyond these things, and above them, to a higher world of duty and faith? No, it is not possible. Unless we have regard to the higher things we cannot walk steadily among the lower. Vessels larger and smaller are every day leaving England for east and west, north and south. Would you say to the captain of one of these: "Now, you must attend to your own business. Do not trouble yourself with things too high for you — with magnetic poles, and heavenly bodies-look simply to your ship and get her quick to port"? Yes, but how could he, without chart or compass, or sight of sun or star? The higher always rules the lower; the most stupid, mechanical people in the world cannot do the commonest work, without trusting, although perhaps quite unconsciously and ignorantly, to the great certainties of the heavens, to the things which are stable as the throne of God.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.