Then the men of Ephraim assembled and crossed the Jordan to Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, "Why have you crossed over to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We will burn your house down with you inside!"
I. THEIR GOOD DEEDS ARE THEMSELVES AN OFFENCE. This has its root and ground in the incapacity of the natural mind to perceive and appreciate spiritual motives; but it seldom takes the form of direct, simple objection to the good deed. Other forms of excuse for opposition are easily discovered.
1. The spirit in which they are wrought is misunderstood or misinterpreted. The key to our judgments of others is in ourselves. If then we are evil, our judgments will be perverted. All through the history of God's Church this influence is apparent, from the old ill-natured query, '"Does Job serve God for nought?" to the culminating wickedness described in the gospel: "The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not .... He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (John 1:5, 10, 11). "To the pure, all things are pure," and vice versa.
2. They present an unwelcome contrast to the conduct of others. Every good deed is as a light which brings to view things of like kind, and inspires similar behaviour; but also reveals the hideousness and hatefulness of the ordinary life of man. This is an offence against the amour propre of the sinner, and therefore unpardonable; it is also an exposure of hypocrisy, and sadly inconvenient. It makes the heart of good men ache to see this, and to cry, "When will goodness not be the exception, but the rule?"
3. The honor they acquire for their authors is coveted. To minds not actuated by the spirit of goodness, the only thing that can be desired in good works is the outward fame and advantage they bring. The exclusion from this is keenly resented. Hundreds are eager to share the crown of the righteous who are far from breathing his spirit or emulating his example.
II. HOW HARD IS IT FOR EVEN GOOD MEN TO UNDERSTAND THIS! Jephthah argues his case, and asks, "Wherefore are ye come up unto me this day, to fight against me?" The law of Moses promised temporal advantages to those who fulfilled it. Occasionally these were not enjoyed, and there was a consequent perplexity. But we are not to suppose that this wonder and mental trouble were confined to that dispensation; they are deeply human characteristics. Our Saviour himself experienced them when he asked, "Many good works have I showed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? (John 10:32); and again, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me" (Matthew 26:55). The key to this mystery is furnished by the beatitude of the persecuted for righteousness' sake (Matthew 5:11, 12), and realised in the spirit of Christ's sacrifice. - M.
Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee?
I. THERE ARE PEOPLE STILL WHO THINK NOTHING CAN BE DONE WITHOUT THEM. We find these people everywhere — not a few of them at home. Ask that busy, bustling housewife to take her children out into the country for a day; or ask her to attend church on a Sunday morning; or ask her to give a few hours to visiting among the sick and the poor and the sorrowful, what will she say? "How can I leave my house? Who will attend to my affairs? If I were out of that house a few days it would all go to ruin." That woman has grown daughters who could and would gladly see to things if she would only let them. But she goes on in her foolish whim that nothing can be done without her. And I verily believe that not a few would rather have nothing done at all if they could not do it. In business, too, the same thing occurs. There are men who are slaves to their business. Neither their sons nor their confidential men, who would suffer any loss rather than neglect the governor's interest, can be trusted. They must see to it, or it won't be done. Some day God puts such a man on his back. He is away six months with a serious illness. His sons, who have not been thought capable hitherto, have responsibility thrown upon them, and rise to the position. The man is humbled, shamed, or it may be, delighted to find that the business has done better with the infusion of the new blood than it did with the old. The Church of Christ, unfortunately, is afflicted with a large number of men who think nothing can be done without them. There are men who would rather the battle should be lost than others win it — who would almost wish that evil should remain rather than others have the honour of removing it. But what does it matter who gains the victory if it be gained? God can accomplish His purposes without any of us. Look over the pages of history, and you will find that workers fall, but the work goes on.
II. THERE ARE SOME WHO, THOUGH THEY CAN'T STOP THE WORK, TRY TO PREJUDICE THE WORKERS. The men of the text said in effect, "And who are you? You are fugitives, mongrels, not of pure blood. What business have the likes of you to think you can fight the foes of Israel? It is monstrous, and we won't have it." The same thing goes on to-day. There are men who seem to think they have said something clever and settling when they say that the popular useful man was not born in a palace. "Who's he?" is their cry. "Why, don't you know that he was a collier, and worked in a coal pit? His father died in a cottage. His mother was the daughter of a man who drove a horse and cart, and never had five pounds in his life." And what of that? Is it not honest to get coal? Better be a collier and dig coal in the service of man, and thus the service of God, than be a loafer, an idler, a consumer, a drone. Some of the noblest of God's servants have come from among the poor, and the obscure, and the unknown. Our Lord Himself was a toiler, and the Son of toilers, and has for ever consecrated and blessed all honest necessary human labour. So I say to you all, toil on, pray on, fight on, win victories for God. Beat back the enemies of Israel; and if the Ephraimites, lacking courage and genius themselves, despise you, let them.
III. THERE ARE SOME WHO CAN'T OR WON'T DO MUCH THEMSELVES, BUT HATE, AND SCORN, AND TRY TO PERSECUTE THOSE WHO DO. "We will burn thine house upon thee." Alas! This has often found expression in the bitterness of party strife and religious bigotry. Unable to silence men whose lips God had touched as with live coals from His own altar, and whose hearts had felt the power of the living God, they have erected their stakes, piled their faggots, and lit their fires, in which the saints of God, the excellent of the earth, have stood till their flesh was shrivelled and their bones cindered. "We will burn thine house upon thee with fire," said these men; but they found themselves unable to do it. Some men are hard to kill, and some houses bad to burn. Many a tyrant has found this out. "We will burn thine house upon thee." It does not seem to have occurred to these cowardly Ephraimites that men who burn other people's houses sometimes burn themselves. It is dangerous to play with edged tools. It is not safe to toy with fire. It may become the instrument of your own torture, the weapon of your own destruction. "They that take the sword shall perish with the sword," said Jesus Christ; and there is for us no higher authority. Some men who are fond of using fire do no harm except to themselves. Whilst it is in some sense only right and just that this should be so, there are cases in which we are sorry for the opposers. Well had it been for these Ephraimites had they shared in the universal rejoicing. Well had it been for them if they had learned wisdom, and ceased from opposition. Their wicked and senseless opposition brought ruin upon themselves. In sheer self-defence the victor turned the sword upon them. Alas for them! Forty and two thousand of them that day left their dead bodies upon the plains as victims of their folly, and in illustration of our saying that the wicked often injure themselves. And this is true with the Lord Jesus and His gospel. Some men oppose it, reject it, mutilate it, burn it. All such injure themselves. They can never hurt the truth. It will live. They cannot stop the power of Jesus Christ to save men. The waves of the ocean dash against the granite rock, but the rock does not move. But what of the waves? Broken, they roll back in spray to the ocean out of which they came. "Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder."
(C. Leach, D. D.)
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