For who were the ones who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?
1 Corinthians 10:1-5 instructs us that the Hebrews were baptized unto Moses, and ate spiritual meat and drank spiritual drink, and yet many were overthrown in the wilderness. The first question is (in the Revised Version) - Who were they that did provoke at Meribah and awakened the Divine displeasure? This inquiry is answered by another. Did they not all come out of Egypt, anti while the destroying angel was abroad their families were safe; when the sea opposed their march it was dried up to give them passage, and when the enemies pursued them with rage and breathed out threatenings and slaughter, were they not redeemed? These were they who added the baseness of ingratitude to the sin of unbelief. Another inquiry follows, which is - With whom was he displeased, and was it not with those whose carcasses fell in the wilderness? It is the historic realization of a truth penned many centuries afterwards by St. James, who writes," Lust, when it hath conceived, bringeth forth sin; and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." These unbelievers died under the frown of Jehovah, and left their sad experience as a beacon to warn against sins which provoked the Divine anger and laid them low in the dust of death. The inquiry advances once more, and asks - Who were they who were denied the privilege of entering upon the much-desired inheritance of Canaan? There is an awfulness in the oath which Jehovah takes, that the unbelieving Hebrews should not enter the pleasant land, with its fertile soil, its pastures, its vineyards, its brooks and streams, and the margin of the Mediterranean Sea. There is no secret in the cause of their failure, as there is no secret in the cause of Christian success. They could not enter in because of unbelief, which, while it barred their entrance into Canaan, excludes men from the "inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away." If these sad and awful punishments overtook Israel according to the flesh, then the truth which the author designed to teach is that redemption from sin, condemnation, must, to secure all the fruits and issues of the gospel, be associated with humble and persevering fidelity to our profession of faith in Jesus Christ our Lord. - B.
Borne, when they had heard, did provoke.I. MANY HEAR THE WORD OR VOICE OF GOD TO NO ADVANTAGE, BUT ONLY TO AGGRAVATE THEIR SIN. Their hearing renders their sin provoking unto God, and destructive to their own souls. It is, I confess, a great privilege for men to have the Word preached unto them, and to hear it (Psalm 147:19, 20). But privileges are as men use them. In themselves, they are of worth, and to be prized. But unto us, they are as they are used. Hence the gospel comes unto some "a savour of death unto death" (2 Corinthians 2:16). Yea, Christ Himself, in His whole ministry was a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence to both the houses of Israel, a gin and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Isaiah 8:14; Luke 2:34). And the enjoyment of any part of the means of grace is but a trial.
II. IN THE MOST GENERAL AND VISIBLE APOSTASIES OF THE CHURCH, GOD STILL RESERVES A REMNANT UNTO HIMSELF TO BEAR WITNESS UNTO:HIM AND FOR HIM, BY THEIR FAITH AND OBEDIENCE. This He hath done, and this He will do.
1. To maintain His own kingdom in the world.
2. Should all faith utterly fail in the earth, should all professors provoke God and apostatise from Him, all gracious intercourse between the Holy Spirit and mankind in the world would be at an end.
3. Goal will do this for the work that He hath for some of His in all ages and seasons to do in the world. And this is great and various. He will have some always to conflict with His adversaries and overcome them, and therein give testimony to the power of His grace and truth.
4. God will always have a testimony given to His goodness, grace, and mercy.
5. God will always have a revenue of especial glory out of the world, in and by His worship.
III. GOD LAYS A FEW, OFT-TIMES A VERY FEW, OF HIS SECRET ONES IN THE BALANCE AGAINST THE GREATEST MULTITUDE OF REBELS AND TRANSGRESSORS. They are His portion, His inheritance, His jewels, dear to Him as the apple of His eye, and deservedly preferred unto the greatest heap of chaff and rubbish.
(John Owen, D. D.)
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