Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses in which to dwell,
I. WEALTH IS DANGEROUS WITHOUT THE PREVIOUS TRAINING OF ADVERSITY. Those who, cradled in the lap of luxury, have never known struggle and difficulty are rarely persons of meek, humble, chastened dispositions. As rarely are those whose schemes have been so uniformly prosperous as to give color to the thought, "My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth." The former class lack moral fiber, are seldom competent to grapple with the problems of earnest life, shrink from action, and consequently fall an easy prey to the temptations of their wealth. The others are bold, daring, self-sufficient, and superior to religious considerations. They waive God aside from their plans and schemes - "I do not need that hypothesis" - and refuse to worship, honor, pray to, or serve him. Adversity, to a certain extent, tends to correct these faults. It teaches humility and dependence, proves the heart, and forms it to habits which enable it to use wealth rightly.
II. WEALTH IS DANGEROUS, EVEN WITH THE TRAINING OF ADVERSITY, UNLESS THE LESSONS OF ADVERSITY HAVE BEEN IMPROVED. Adversity, unhappily, does not always produce in men's hearts the salutary effects which philosophy assigns to it. It may harden instead of softening and subduing. Multitudes pass through it and are none the better. They are unyielding, unsubmissive, impenitent. They grow bitter in spirit, and accuse the God of heaven. In such a case the return of prosperity, or the gift of it, is no blessing. The heart gets haughtier than ever, and God is defied (Obadiah 1:3, 4). It is a serious question for a nation to put to itself, after passing through a period of adversity, Is it morally the better for its sufferings? For, if not, the revival of prosperity will mean but the revival of the old follies, extravagances, and inflations - the very things which formerly led God to turn his frown upon it.
III. THERE IS A DANGER, WHEN WEALTH COMES, OF THE LESSONS LEARNED IN ADVERSITY BEING AGAIN FORGOTTEN. This is the peculiar danger apprehended in the text. Wealth has so subtle and ensnaring an influence, it draws the affections so stealthily away from God, that no temptation is to be compared with it in point of insidiousness. A threefold danger:
1. Undue elation of heart.
2. Forgetfulness of God.
3. A spirit of self-sufficiency and self-glorification.
The preventive lies in the cultivation of a thankful spirit (ver. 10), and in the recollection that the power to get wealth is not of ourselves, but from God (ver. 18). This is the root-error in the matter - stopping at second causes, putting nature and nature's laws, or our own wisdom, energy, and forethought, in place of him without whom we could not think a thought, move a muscle, or carry through to completion one of our purposes. Best preventive of all is the laying up of treasure in heaven; for, "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:19-22). - J.O.
Beware that thou forget not the Lord.
I. MOSES DOES NOT DENY THAT WEALTH IS A GOOD THING. He takes for granted that they will grow rich; but he warns them that their riches, like all other earthly things, may be a curse or a blessing to them. Nay, that they are not good in them. selves, but mere tools which may be used for good or for evil.
II. AND HEREIN HE SHOWS HIS KNOWLEDGE OF THE HUMAN HEART; for it is a certain fact that whenever any nation has prospered, then they have, as Moses warned the Jews, forgotten the Lord their God, and said, "My power and the might of my hand hath gotten me this wealth." And it is true, also, that whenever any nation has begun to say that, they have fallen into confusion and misery, and sometimes into utter ruin, till they repented and remembered the Lord their God, and found out that the strength of a nation did not consist in riches, but in virtue. For it is He that giveth the power to get wealth. He gives it in two ways. First, God gives the raw material; secondly, He gives the wit to use it. This, then, was what Moses commanded — to remember that they owed all to God. What they had, they had of God's free gift. What they were, they were by God's free grace. Therefore they were not to boast of themselves, their numbers, their wealth, their armies, their fair and fertile land. They were to make their boast of God and of God's goodness. This they were to remember, because it was true. And this we are to remember, because it is more or less true of us. God has made of us a great nation; God has discovered to us the immense riches of this land. It is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves.
III. YOU WILL SEE THAT MOSES WARNS THEM THAT IF THEY FORGOT GOD THE LORD, WHO BROUGHT THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT, THEY WOULD GO AFTER OTHER GODS. He cannot part the two things. If they forget that God brought them out of Egypt, they will turn to idolatry, and so end in ruin. And so shall we. If we forget that God is the living God, who brought our forefathers into this land, who has revealed to us the wealth of it step by step as we needed it, who is helping and blessing us now, every day, and all the year round — then we shall begin worshipping other gods, worshipping the so-called laws of nature, instead of God who made the laws, and so honouring the creature above the Creator; or else we shall worship the pomps and vanities of this world — pride and power, money and pleasure — and say in our hearts, "These are our only gods which can help us, these must we obey." Which if we do, this land of England will come to ruin and shame, as surely as did the land of Israel in old time.
(C. Kingsley, M. A.)
1. Because He has commanded that we should not forget them (Deuteronomy 4:9).
2. Because forgetfulness is a sign of contempt.
3. It is the peculiarity of singular carelessness.
4. It springs from unbelief.
5. It is the greatest mark of ingratitude.
(Thos. le Blanc.)
Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness
1. A time of political stir and agitation, when great questions are being discussed and settled, is in many ways much better than a time of apathy and stagnation. If it calls out some of the fiercer passions of our nature, it calls out also the nobler qualities. It helps to make the political atmosphere, if more stormy, yet less liable to become venal, corrupt, and impure. A recent traveller in America, an observer of much acuteness, has remarked upon the gravity, the seriousness, the seeming melancholy of the American character. Can it be matter of surprise that it should be so? Could a nation pass through a tremendous crisis like that of the still recent civil war without bearing the mark of it upon its brow for many a long year afterwards? Is it the dream of a visionary or of an enthusiast to hope that the critical times through which our own beloved country is passing may leave a permanent impress for good upon the national character?
2. But this view of the gain which may accrue to all true manliness of character, through the demand at present made upon it, requires to be extended and modified by an additional consideration. We must not forget that what we want is not a heathen, but a Christian manliness. And this involves higher qualities, such as gentleness, considerateness, courtesy, sympathy, as well as the sterner stuff of truth and courage and endurance. England's great need at the present day is of wise counsels and of gentle hands, to heal the wounds of society, to interpret the various sections and classes to each other, and to unite them together, so that all may seek the common good and feel that they are all members of one commonwealth. Those wounds of society are deep and many. Pauperism, drunkenness, crime, ignorance, vice, misery; who can reflect on these giant evils, these horrible sores, of our social state, without feeling that the triumph of a party is not worth a moment's thought compared with the removal of such evils and the cure of such diseases?
3. If I were to look for a motto, which I might take it upon me to recommend to all those who are in any way engaged or interested in politics, I should select that noble Christian rule which St. Peter gives us, "Honour all men." No three words that I know of cut more decisively at the root, whether of the false Toryism which delights in patronising and domineering, or of the false Liberalism which hates all that is above itself and longs to pull it down to its own level, but has no wish to raise what is below, and whose ruling spring is not a genuine human sympathy, but pure selfishness and scorn. Yes, "honour all men"; not the few only who are above us, but the many who are below us. The grounds of this noble Christian motto lie deep in the Gospel of Christ. That common human nature, which Christ Himself, the Son of God, has condescended to wear, cannot but be a sacred thing in the eyes of all His followers. But more than this, it stands in such close fundamental connection with Him, and He with it, that in honouring it we are in fact honouring Him.
4. In sober truth and earnest, the responsibility which attaches to every citizen, even the humblest, of our common country at a time like this, is a heavy one, and might well avail to call out all the dignity, honour, and manliness that are in each, though too often, it may be, latent there. Each contributes something by word, by influence, by sympathy, to present tendencies. Each contributes some drop, as it were, to the mighty tide, which is bearing us onwards into the future. Each is therefore helping now to determine what that future shall be; our own future, our children's future, our country's future. Act neither from fear nor favour. Act as in the sight of God, looking to Him to purify our motives, to inspire us with wisdom and courage, to make us tolerant, too, and conciliatory, as well as steadfast and resolute. Then we shall be blessed ourselves, and our country will be blessed also.
5. Lastly, let it never be forgotten by us that, come what may, God's kingdom is over all.
(Canon D. J. Vaughan.)
I. THE PAST. The time which immediately followed the rescue of Israel from Egypt was undoubtedly one of the grandest epochs in the history of that people. With one voice they sang that magnificent song, the most ancient and one of the finest monuments of that noblest of all poetry — Hebrew poetry (Exodus 15). But alas! how short-lived was this enthusiasm! Deliverance was followed by protracted trial. Instead of the gates of Canaan open to receive them, the Israelites found only a great and terrible wilderness through which God led them, against their will, towards the ultimate good He had in view for them. Is not this an image of ourselves? Who is there that has not felt similar emotions to those experienced by the Israelites on the morrow of the passage of the Red Sea? On the high road to the promised land, with the foretaste of eternal life in our hearts, in the fervour of our first love, in the outburst of our gratitude, we gladly exclaim with Simeon: "Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace." And it is from the very depths of our heart that, as we take our first step towards the fatherland, we renew the engagement of the Israelites of old, and promise that, "All the Lord hath spoken we will do." But the descent from these sublime heights soon commences. To what may our experience at such times be compared? You have seen, after a dark night, the sun begin its daily course in more than ordinary radiance, the sky is a glowing canopy of gold and purple, the earth revels in floods of light;...then, by degrees, this brightness dims; clouds, at first almost imperceptible, thicken and condense in the atmosphere; the sky becomes overcast, and the horizon is dull and cold; the rain begins to fall, thin, uninterrupted, penetrating, and the heart grows heavy and chill. Such, in most cases, is the long day of human life after the transient dawn which announces or precedes conversion, and from the depths of your soul do you not call this a great and terrible wilderness? Have you never murmured or asked yourself the question: "Wherefore this long journey through this barren land?"
II. THE PRESENT. "The Lord thy God hath led thee." What memories were these words calculated to awaken in the mind of the Israelites? If God ever manifested the providence of Omnipotence in a striking manner upon earth, it certainly was during the wanderings of His people through the desert. And though the Divine providence that leads us on in our turn be not miraculous, as during the journey of the Hebrews, it is, however, none the less real and marvellous. That which the people of God witnessed by the eye of the body may yet be manifest to the eye of faith. The mercies of former days are pledges of those we are permitted to expect in the present. But wherefore this wilderness? Why not immediate peace, triumph, and glory? Hear the answer of Him whose every act tends to an excellent end: "That He might humble thee, to prove thee." The purpose of the Lord was to bring the will of His people into subjection, to train them to obedience, to sanctify them in the highest and noblest sense of the word. And everything down to the minutest details was chosen, ordained, calculated with a view to the ultimate result. Thus it is with us. We are placed, here below, in presence of a maturity to be attained; and no fruit can ripen unless it has felt the burning rays of the sun. We are being educated, and there can be no thorough education without stern discipline. We are going towards a promised land, but the path to it lies through a valley of tears. Between this conception, which is that of faith and a blind fatalism, the very thought of which is bewildering, there is no middle course. It is good for us to be tried. If we knew naught of "the sufferings of this present time," should we know "the weight of glory which shall be revealed to usward" which they are meant to bring forth? Let us beware, however, lest by our folly we add to our measure of affliction, and thus constrain the Lord to humble and chasten us beyond His own purpose.
III. THE FUTURE. "To do thee good at thy latter end." The constant end of God is good. Faith reveals to us and the Scriptures declare that "all things work together for good," etc. Even upon earth, whoever remembers all the way which the Lord his God hath led him, finds at the end of each trial a mature fruit, "the peaceable fruit of righteousness," to be received ultimately. And what shall it be when the fashion of this world hath passed away, and all the ends of the Lord with a view to the final good of His saints shall be manifested? These forty years of pilgrimage through the wilderness were a sore trial for Israel. But how glorious was the day when at length they reached the end, and obtained the reward of so much toil and suffering! Who, then, remembered the weariness of the road save to praise Jehovah, who had led them to so goodly an inheritance? For us also there shall be a crossing of Jordan and an entrance into the heavenly Canaan, of which the earthly was but a feeble type. We, too, shall have our day of triumph, a day when the sun, which marks the stages of our journey, shall set amid the shadows of a last eventide, to rise again for us radiant and cloudless for evermore. God's purpose is to do us good at our latter end! Forward, then, in peace and hope! Soon all things shall become new! Faith today; sight tomorrow! Weariness now; rest by and by! Here the desert; beyond the promised land! Forward! Excelsior!
(Frank Coulin, D. D.)
I. First of all, we learn from the scorpion — THE LESSON OF THE HIDDEN POWER OF VENOM. Venomous thoughts are thoughts of malice, and spite, and malignity; that is why we always want to kill a viper, or a snake, or a black spider, because we know that it is filled with venom, or poison, or some noxious material, which will give us pain or perhaps cause our death. A venomous writer is one who is malignant and mischievous. A venomous neighbour is one who is spiteful, and has evil designs upon us. We don't know how it is that we have this evil within us; but it is very evident that in some way venom is within us, just as truly as it is within the poisonous scorpion. Let us beware of this hidden power of venom within us, for the poison as "of asps" is indeed under our lips.
II. The second lesson we learn from the scorpion is — THE LESSON OF THE POISONING POWER OF SIN. The following illustrates what we mean. In the chemical laboratories of our colleges there are many experiments made which show us the wonderful power of a single drop of poison. A great bottle of colourless water will become a thick and clouded white in an instant by the addition of a single drop of the prepared chemical; and one drop of poison, such as strychnia, will paralyse in an instant a living being, such as the goldfish, turtles, and tadpoles which we see in a vase of water. But none of these poisons is so powerful as the poison of sin (James 1:15). I was reading, some time ago, a story which shows us the poisoning power of sin. A man who wished to buy a handsome ring went into a jeweller's in Paris. The jeweller showed him a very ancient gold ring, remarkably fine, and curious on this account, that on the inside of it were two little lion's claws. The buyer, while looking at the others, was playing with this. At last he purchased another, and went away. But he had scarcely reached home, when first his hand, then his side, then his whole body became numb and without feeling, as if he had a stroke of palsy; and it grew worse and worse, till the physician, who came in haste, thought him dying. "You must have somehow taken poison," he said. The sick man protested that he had not. At length someone remembered this ring; and it was then discovered to be what used to be called a death ring, and which was often employed in those wicked Italian States three or four hundred years ago. If a man hated another, and desired to murder him, he would present him with one of them. In the inside was a drop of deadly poison, and a very small hole out of which it would not make its way except when squeezed. When the poor man was wearing it, the murderer would come and shake his hand violently, the lion's claw would give his finger a little scratch, and in a few hours he was a dead man.
III. The third, and last, lesson that we learn from the scorpion is — THE LESSON OF THE MISERY OF SPITEFULNESS. There is nothing in life so miserable and contemptible as the spirit of spitefulness; that is, the spirit of envy at another's success. There is something spiteful and venomous about the bite of an insect or reptile: a bite from a mosquito, a spider, or a snake will always make us think of the spitefulness of the creature that has bitten us.
(R. Newton, D. D.)
Who fed thee in the wilderness with manna
(D. F. Jarman, M. A.)
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