The people complained.
I. A dissatisfied spirit causes displeasure to the Lord.
1. This we might infer from our own feelings, when dependents, children, servants, or receivers of alms are always grumbling. We grow weary of them, and angry with them.
2. In the case of men towards God it is much worse for them to murmur, since they deserve no good at His hands, but the reverse (Lamentations 3:29; Psalms 103:10).
3. In that case also it is a reflection upon the Lord’s goodness, wisdom, truth, and power.
4. The evil lusting which attends the complaining proves its injurious character. We are ready for anything when we quarrel with God (1 Corinthians 10:5-12).
5. God thinks so ill of it that His wrath burns, and chastisement is not long withheld. To set an imaginary value upon that which we have not--
II. A dissatisfied spirit finds no pleasure for itself even when its wish is fulfilled. The Israelites had flesh in superabundance in answer to their foolish prayers, but--
1. It was attended with leanness of soul (Psalms 106:15).
2. It brought satiety (Numbers 11:20).
3. It caused death (Psalms 78:31).
4. It thus led to mourning on all sides.
III. A dissatisfied spirit snows that the mind needs regulating. Grace would put our desires in order, and keep our thoughts and affections in their proper places, thus--
1. Content with such things as we have (Hebrews 13:5).
2. Towards other things moderate in desire (Proverbs 30:8).
3. Concerning earthly things which may be lacking, fully resigned (Matthew 26:39).
4. First, and most eagerly, desiring God (Psalms 42:2).
5. Next coveting earnestly the best gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31)
6. Following ever in love the more excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31). (C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. Those who are merely hangers-on to a Church are usually the beginners of mischief among its members. So in the community, the men who have no stake in its welfare are always the most dangerous element of the population. They have nothing to lose in any event, and it is just possible that, in the confusion, they may gain a little. Thus they are always ready for either riot or emeute. The “mixed multitude” in our cities represents what others call the dangerous classes; and in proportion as their existence is ignored by the respectable portion of the people, and nothing is done for their education or elevation, the danger is aggravated.
2. Murmuring is invariably one-sided. These discontented Egyptians and Israelites did nothing but look back on Egypt; and even when they did that, they saw only the lights, and not the shadows. Again, in their depreciation of their present lot, they were equally one-sided. They could see in it nothing but the one fact that they had no flesh to eat. They took no notice of the manna, save to despise it; they said nothing of the water which God had provided for them; they never spoke of the daily miracle that their clothes waxed not old; they made no reference to the constance guidance and presence of Jehovah with them. Now this was flagrantly unjust; and yet in condemning that it is to be feared that we are passing judgment upon ourselves, for if we were fully to reckon up both sides of the account would there ever be any murmuring among us at all?
3. God is always considerate of His faithful servants. See how tender He was to Moses here. He saw that he needed human sympathy and support, as well as Divine, and therefore He hastened to provide him with a cordon of kindred spirits, who might act as a breakwater, and keep the waves of trouble and discontent that rose in the camp from dashing upon him. One cannot read of this without being impressed by the tenderness of God; and it is a suggestive fact that on almost every occasion on which we are told of His judgment falling upon sinners, we have in the near vicinity some manifestation of gentleness to His friends.
4. The truly great man is never envious of others. Here is a lesson for all, and especially for ministers of the gospel. How hard it is to rejoice in the excellence of another, especially if he be in the same line with ourselves l And yet the disparagement of the gifts of another is really an indication of our consciousness of the weakness of our own. The highest and the hardest cliff to climb on the mountain of holiness is humility.
5. We can set no limits to the resources of God (Numbers 11:23).
6. It is not good for us to get everything we desire (Psalms 105:15). Prayers horn out of murmuring are always dangerous. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Sin and prayer
I. A sadly common sin. Murmuring. Discontent is the spirit of this wicked world.
II. A terribly solemn fact. God recognises and retributes sin.
III. A general social tendency. The wicked ever seek the good in their terror and distress.
IV. A striking result of prayer. The breath of Moses’ prayer extinguished the flame. (Homilist.)
Complaining of providence punished
The people complained--and the Lord set fire to them! That seems rough judgment, for what is man’s speech as set against the Divine fire? Who can defend the procedure? Who can so subordinate his reason and his sense of right as to commend the justice of this tremendous punishment? So they might say who begin their Bible reading at the eleventh chapter of Numbers. Read the Book of Exodus, notably the fourteenth and following chapters up to the time of the giving of the law, and you will find complaint following complaint; and what was the Divine answer in that succession of reproaches? Was there fire? Did the Lord shake down the clouds upon the people and utterly overwhelm them with tokens of indignation? No. The Lord is full of tenderness and compassion--yea, infinite in piteousness and love is He; but there is a point when His Spirit can no longer strive with us, and when He must displace the persuasions of love by the anger and the judgment of fire. But this is not the whole case. The people were not complaining only. The word complaint may he so construed as to have everything taken out of it except the feeblest protest and the feeblest utterance of some personal desire. But this is not the historical meaning of the word complaint as it is found here. What happened between the instances we have quoted and the instance which is immediately before us? Until that question is answered the whole case is not before the mind for opinion or criticism. What, then, had taken place? The most momentous of all incidents. God had said through Moses to the people of Israel--Will you obey the law? And they stood to their feet, as it were, and answered in one unanimous voice--We will. So the people were wedded to their Lord at that great mountain altar: words of fealty and kinship and Godhood had been exchanged, and now these people that had oft complained and had then promised obedience, and had then sworn that they would have none other gods beside Jehovah, complained--went back to their evil ways; and the Lord, who takes out His sword last and only calls upon His fire in extremity, smote them--burned them. And this will He do to us if we trifle with our oaths, if we practise bad faith towards the altar, if we are guilty of malfeasance in the very sanctuary of God. Were the people content with complaining? They passed from complaining to lusting, saying, “Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish which we did eat in Egypt,” &c. There is a philosophy here. You cannot stop short with complaining. Wickedness never plays a negative game. The man who first complains will next erect his appetite as a hostile force against the will of God. A marvellous thing is this, to recollect our lives through the medium of our appetites, to have old relishes return to the mouth, to have the palate stimulated by remembered sensations. The devil has many ways into the soul. The recollection of evil may prompt a desire for its repetition. (J. Parker, D. D.)
1. Israel had many impediments in their march to the Land of Promise, not only from without (Pharaoh pursuing, Amalek intercepting, &c.), but also from within, among themselves by their manifold murmurings (1 Peter 4:18).
2. God writes our sin upon our punishment. These murmurers here sinned against the “fiery law” (Deuteronomy 33:2); therefore were they punished by fire out of the pillar of fire from whence the fiery law was given and published. Their perdition is our caution (1 Corinthians 10:5; 1 Corinthians 10:11).
3. Evil company is infectious and catching as the plague (1 Corinthians 15:33).
4. Wherever there is sinning again on man’s part, there will be punishing again on God’s part (John 5:14). Here Israel sinned again with a double sin--
5. The people’s profane deploring their penury (when they had little cause to do so, while fed with the food of angels) doth not only make God angry with them (Numbers 11:10), but also putteth meek Moses into a pang of passion and impatience (Numbers 11:11-15).
6. The Divine remedy to all this human malady; both as to Moses’ impatience, and as to Israel’s intemperance.
The sin of complaining
Observe that it does not say that the people “murmured,” but “complained,” or, as it is in the margin, “were as it were complainers”; by which it is evidently meant that there was a feeling in their minds of scarcely expressed dissatisfaction. There was no sudden outbreak of murmuring, but the whispers and looks of discontent. There is no special mention of any particular reason for it. It does not say that their manna failed, or that any hostile army was arrayed against them. Doubtless the journeying was always wearisome, and on its fatigues they suffered their minds to dwell, forgetful of all the mercies vouchsafed them, and “complained.” Now, we must all feel that right-down murmuring is very sinful, and in its worst forms most Christians overcome it; but not so complaining, for this seems to many to be scarcely wrong, and it often grows on them so gradually that they are seldom conscious of it. The causes of complaint are manifold. Little difficulties in our circumstances--little acts of selfishness in our neighbours; but complaining is most of all a danger with persons who have weak health--for weakness of body often produces depression of spirits--and this is the soil in which a complaining spirit takes deepest root. Then, too, it often grows into a habit; a tinge of discontent settles on the countenance, and the voice assumes a tone of complaint. And though this, like most habits soon becomes unconscious, yet it is not the less mischievous on that account. It is mischievous to our own souls, for it damps the work of the Spirit of God in our hearts, and enfeebles the spiritual life. It is mischievous in its effects upon others; for when Christians complain it gives the world altogether wrong impressions of the strength and consolation which the love of Christ affords, and it frequently generates the same spirit; one complains, and another, having the same or other causes of complaint, sees no reason why he should not complain too. And this was probably its history in Israel. It is scarcely likely that all began to complain at the same moment. Doubtless there were some who set the sad example, and then the hearts of all being predisposed, it spread like an epidemic. We should settle it well in our hearts that complaining, no less than murmuring, is a fruit of the flesh. David complained in Psalms 77:3, “I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed”; but he soon felt that the root of the evil was in himself. “This,” he adds (verse 10), “is my infirmity.” But no part of Scripture proves more strikingly than the events at Taberah, how displeasing to God, and how dangerous in its results, a complaining spirit is. The punishment which followed, and which gave the name to the place, proves the first point. Patient and long-suffering as God ever was with Israel, we are told (Numbers 11:1) that “His anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp.” The severity of the punishment shows that this was no little sin, encompassed as they were with mercy, and guided by Jehovah Himself through the wilderness. It was no less dangerous in its result, for the subsequent history shows how “complaining” ripened into “murmuring,” and murmuring was at last the cause of Israel’s final fall. Let us endeavour, then, to watch against a “complaining spirit.” In heavy and stunning afflictions we glorify God, when, like Aaron, we are enabled to “hold our peace.” Like David, we can say, “I was dumb, and opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it”; or, as in Psalms 131:2. Still more if we can, through grace, rise to the elevation of the afflicted Job, and say, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord”; or, if anything, to the still higher elevation of the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:11-13). In the lesser and more ordinary trials of daily life, its difficulties and its duties, we glorify Him by Christian Cheerfulness; and how can we maintain this spirit but by tracing the hand of a Father in them all, carrying them all to God in prayer, and, most of all, by looking above present things to the “everlasting covenant ordered in all things and sure”? For the things which are seen, our difficulties and our trials, are temporal; but the things which are not seen, our strength and our crown, are eternal. (G. Wagner.)
We would think that beggar intolerably impudent, that coming to our doors to ask an alms, and when we have bestowed on him some bracken bread and meat, yet (like those impudent persons the Psalmist speaks of, that grudge and grumble if they be not satisfied, if they have not their own will, and their own fill) he should not hold himself contented, unless he might have one of our best dishes from the table. But this is the case of very many amongst us. We come all as so many beggars to God’s mercy-seat, and God gives us abundance of many good things, as life, liberty, health of body, &c., yet we cannot be quiet, nor think ourselves well, unless we be clothed in purple, and fare deliciously every day as such and such do, not considering in the meantime many that are below us, and above us too, wanting those things which we comfortably enjoy. (J. Spencer.)
There are many persons who receive favours and criticise them. They make it a ground and reason of fault-finding; as in the case of the man who found a Spanish coin worth eighteen and three-quarter cents, and turned it over in his hand and said, “Well, that is just my luck. If it had been anybody else that found it, it would have been a twenty-five cent piece.” He had no thanks for what it was, but grumbled because it was not more. So it is with many men in the world. They are perpetually analysing and criticising the kindnesses that are done to them. They are not right in measure, or kind, or method; they are not right somehow; and they shut off the sense of obligation and refuse to be grateful. (H. W. Beecher.)
Murmuring against God
Murmuring is a quarrelling with God, and inveighing against Him (Numbers 21:5). The murmurer saith interpretatively that God hath not dealt well with him, and that he hath deserved better from Him. The murmurer chargeth God with folly. This is the language, or rather blasphemy, of a murmuring spirit: God might have been a wiser and a better God. The murmurer is a mutineer. The Israelites are called in the same text “murmurers” and “rebels” (Numbers 17:10); and is not rebellion as the sin of witchcraft? (1 Samuel 15:23). Thou that art a murmurer art in the account of God as a witch, a sorcerer, as one that deals with the devil. This is a sin of the first magnitude. Murmuring often ends in cursing: Micah’s mother fell to cursing when the talents of silver were taken away ( 17:2). So doth the murmurer when a part of his estate is taken away. Our murmuring is the devil’s music; this is that sin which God cannot bear (chap. 14:27). It is a sin which whets the sword against a people; it is a land-destroying sin (1 Corinthians 10:10). (T. Watson.)
Finding fault with God
God hath much ado with us. Either we lack health, or quietness, or children, or wealth, or company, or ourselves in all these. It is a wonder the Israelites found not fault with the want of sauce to their quails, or with their old clothes, or their solitary way. Nature is moderate in her desires; but conceit is insatiable. (Bp. Hall.)
Losing temper with God
Losing our temper with God is a more common thing in the spiritual life than many suppose. (F. W. Faber.)
Murmuring hurts not God, but wounds us
I have read of Caesar, that, having prepared a great feast for his nobles and friends, it fell out that the day appointed was so extremely foul that nothing could be done to the honour of their meeting; whereupon he was so displeased and enraged that he commanded all them that had bows to shoot up their arrows at Jupiter, their chief god, as in defiance of him for that rainy weather; which, when they did, their arrows fell short of heaven, and fell upon their own heads, so that many of them were very sorely wounded. So all our mutterings and murmurings, which are so many arrows shot at God Himself, will return upon our own pates, or hearts; they reach not Him, but they will hit us; they hurt not Him, but they will wound us; therefore it is better to be mute than to murmur; it is dangerous to contend with one who is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). (Thomas Brooks.)
The fire of the Lord burnt among them.
The worst fire
Nothing but mercies had come upon the back of their complainings before. They had had water, and they had had bread; but now the Lord would send them fire. It should be the fire of the Lord, holy fire; yet not as that, which, descending from heaven upon the altar, burnt continually before the Lord in His temple, acceptable in sacrifice; but a consuming fire; the burning of His wrath. It is bad to “be saved so as by fire,” to have all consumed, but ourselves, to be burnt out of house and home; yet far worse is it to be burnt out of the world. Still this might be the way to heaven for some, carried thither as in a chariot of fire. We know it was the way, the common way that martyrs went. The fire was kindled by their enemies; but it was not as the burning of Taberah; there was no ingredient of the wrath of the Almighty in the flame: but “one like unto the Son of Man” was there, to make it as the purest vestment of the soul, the involving element of love. Oh, there is a fire worse than all others, the burning of the Lord, a fire that descends to the bottomless pit, and the smoke of which has been seen. Behold it kindling in the camp of Israel. It had indignation in it; it was a consuming fire, lighted up in the righteous displeasure of heaven, its fuel the bodies of transgressors themselves. “Tile people complained.” What then? “It displeased the Lord; and His anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and consumed them in the uttermost parts of the camp.” There was no flying from it, it was a city in flames from its utmost extremities. Who can run from the presence of the Lord? How affecting this? It may be conceived, kindled by lightning from the cloud that had guided them, darting in angry form, and with the voice of the Almighty, in thunders impatient to be gone. Who can stand before the indignation of the Lord? who can abide His anger when the gathering storm of His displeasure breaks forth? His favour, what man that regards his life would not entreat? His wrath, what man that fears His power would not deprecate? He is to us, as what we are to Him--sinners or saints. This judgment had in it everything awful--cut off from all share in the promises, slain by the power that had kept them alive, and left heaps of wrath in the very way to life. (W. Seaton.)
The mixt multitude.
The mixed multitude
If Israel, according to its calling, be regarded as a type of the new man, then this “mixed multitude,” a remnant of Egypt, and influenced still by its spirit, will be a type of the old man in the believer But we may take another view of Israel, and say that it is typical of those who walk, not after the flesh, but after the Spirit--the true members of Christ’s body, the living branches of the true vine; and then, corresponding with this, the “ mixed multitude” will be a type of those who accompany the true Israel now, without being partakers of the Divine nature, and walking in the Spirit--the dead branches in the vine. History shows that the Church on earth has ever been made up of these two elements; and prophetic parables show that such will be its constitution until Jesus comes. The Word of God everywhere encourages the living members of Christ’s body, by patience, and gentleness, and unwearied zeal, to win those who have only a name to live. But it forbids them to take into their own hands the awful work of separation between the wheat and the tares, a work which the Searcher of hearts reserves to Himself alone. So that it need cause us no surprise, as it did the Donatists of old, and still does to some, that there is, and always will be, a “mixed multitude” associated with the true Israel. But though we are absolutely forbidden to cast out the element from the Church, this passage of Scripture may well impress us with the danger arising from it, and show how watchful we ought to be. Even if the Church were made up of true Christians only, there would be much evil in it, for the simple reason that there is so much sin in every heart. Many temptations may come to you even from those who are really Christ’s, and who are engaged, through grace, in crucifying the affections and lusts of the flesh; but others will come to you, as they did to Israel of old, from the “mixed multitude”; and what dangers in particular? Party spirit, we cannot fail to see, is one; but, oh, there is a greater and more subtle danger still--worldliness, conformity to the course of this world; and with it, forgetfulness of the high and holy calling wherewith we are called, and the adoption of a low standard of holiness. Our only safety is to set the perfect example of our Lord Jesus Christ before us; to ask ourselves again and again throughout the day, “How would Christ act if He were in my place?” to crucify through the Spirit the root of worldliness within, and to watch all the avenues by which it can enter the heart from without. Only in this way can our own standard be elevated; only in this way avoid Israel’s sin, that of being carried away by the worldly spirit which originated in the “mixed multitude” which sojourned with them. (G. Wagner.)
Who shall give us flesh to eat?--
See the wantonness and delicacy of sinful flesh, it must have this, it must have that to pamper and feed it in pleasure. What may be had is loathed, and what cannot be had, that is longed for, and nothing more than that. But very wisely doth the heathen Aristotle advise all men to look upon pleasures when they go, not when they come; for when they come with their faces towards us, they deceive us with a fair flattering show, but when they go and turn their backs, then cometh repentance, woe, and grief, not a little, many times. Just as the Spirit of God saith by the mouth of Solomon, “Even in laughing the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness”; that is, the allurement unto sin seemeth sweet, but the end thereof is destruction. Wanton pleasure is like the fire or flame of the candle, which shining bright delighteth a child, but when he hath put his finger into it, then it burneth, and the child crieth. By little and little groweth grief, but in the end it killeth, so stealingly pleasure creepeth upon us, but in the end overthroweth all love of virtue. Wilt thou live in a right fashion? Who would not? Then if virtue only can grant this to thee, stout and strong, tend this and omit pleasures. For they that will well defend a city, do not only watch what foes be without, but as warily they observe that there be no traitors within. So men and women that love virtue, they look to the gates, which are the outward senses, and they look within, to the inward affections, lest by the one, as by wickets, evil enter, lest by the other, as by torches lighted, fires and flames do follow. The epicure said to himself, “Eat, drink, play, for there is no pleasure after death.” But well doth the poet before mentioned in an epistle tax him, saying, “Thou hast played enough, thou hast eaten enough and drank, it is time for thee now to go hence.” As if he had said, “Part thou must in time with all thy pleasures and be gone, therefore think of it ere it be too late.” Sardanapalus is said to have caused to be written on his grave to this effect: “What I did eat that I had, and what I left, that I lost.” Which Cicero justly reprehendeth, saying, “What else should a man hath written upon an ex his grave? Pleasure infecteth and poisoneth all our senses, being a trim but a deceiving harlot; deceiving us by her voice, by her look, and by her attire, that is, every way.” How many hath gluttony and the belly, how many hath filthy lust destroyed! (Bp. Babington.)
There is nothing at all, beside this manna.
The manna despised
I. The complaining of the Israelites in this case was very reprehensible, as it manifested a state of aggravated neglect of the peculiar circumstances in which the despised manna was provided for them. Their soul had been dying away for want of it, were we to believe their complaint, and now their soul was dying away when it was possessed. The manna seemed everything when they first beheld it strewn all around the camp, and now it was as nothing at all in their eyes. Nevertheless, it was of such value in the eyes of God, that a pot of it was kept in the ark of the covenant as a memorial of His kindness in providing it for the rebels. The children He feeds may forget the token of His goodness, but He does not forget the emanations of His bounty, or reckon anything small in the blessings He confers.
II. The complaining of the Israelites in this care was all the more sinful, inasmuch as the manna so despised was both sufficient and agreeable food--was all that they stood in need of in their journey, and more than they deserved.
III. The complaining of the Israelites was all the more sinful, inasmuch as the manna they so despised was provided for them without cost or labour. And it is for a like reason that all despising of the bread of life will be accounted the greater transgression, for it is freely offered--without money and without price. No one is required to pay anything for it in silver or in gold--in bodily labour or mental suffering, or in any gift of worldly substance. No equivalent is looked for it in any sacrifice whatever that man can make.
IV. The complaining of the Israelites was the more aggravated, as it involved a very sinful disregard of the miraculous manner in which the manna was daily supplied for their use. Alas! multitudes are as blind to the wonderful character of the spiritual or “hidden manna,” as were the Jeers in the instance here recorded, as to the manna provided for them. All the more that the miraculous character of the wonderful provision God has made for the salvation of the soul is overlooked or despised, all the more of blind infatuation and sin are involved. It cannot be safe to speak slightingly of an interposition, in providing for the life of immortal souls, into which, it is said, “the angels desire to look.” (J. Allan.)
Speaking against God
These verses represent things sadly unhinged and out of order in Israel. Both the people and the prince uneasy.
I. Here is the people fretting and speaking against God himself (as it is interpreted, Psalms 78:19), notwithstanding His glorious appearances both to them and for them.
1. Observe who were the criminals.
2. What was the crime? They lusted and murmured. Though they were newly corrected for this sin, and many of them overthrown for it, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and the smell of the fire was still in their nostrils, yet they returned to it (Proverbs 27:22). We should not indulge ourselves in any desire which we cannot in faith turn into prayer, as we cannot, when we ask meat for our lust (Psalms 78:18). For this sin the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly against them; which is written for our admonition, that we should not lust after evil things, as they lusted (1 Corinthians 10:10). Flesh is good food, and may lawfully be eaten; yet they are said to lust after evil things. What is lawful in itself becomes evil to us when it is what God doth not allot to us, and yet we eagerly desire it.
II. Moses himself, though so meek and good a man, is uneasy upon this occasion. Moses also was displeased. Now--
1. It must be confessed that the provocation was very great.
2. Yet Moses expressed himself otherwise than became him upon this provocation, and came short of his duty both to God and Israel in these expostulations.
(a) Moses is directed to nominate the persons (Numbers 11:16). The people were too hot, and heady, and tumultuous, to be entrusted with the election. Moses must please himself in the choice, that he may not afterwards complain.
(b) God promiseth to qualify them. If they were not found fit for the employ, they should be made fit, else they might prove more a hindrance than a help to Moses (Numbers 11:17). Though Moses had talked too boldly with God, yet God doth not therefore break off communion with him; He bears a great deal with us, and we must with one another. “I will come down (saith God) and talk with thee, when thou art more calm and composed; and I will take of the same spirit of wisdom, and piety, and courage that is upon thee, and put it upon them.” Not that Moses had the less of the spirit for their sharing, nor that they were hereby made equal with him. Moses was still a nonsuch (Deuteronomy 34:10). But they were clothed with a spirit of government proportionable to their place, and with a spirit of prophecy to evidence their Divine call to it, the government being a theocracy.
1. Those whom God employs in any service He qualifies for it; and those that are not in some measure qualified cannot think themselves duly called.
2. All good qualifications are from God; every perfect gift is from the Father of lights. Even the humour of the discontented people shall be gratified too, that every mouth may be stopped. They are bid to sanctify themselves (Numbers 11:18), i.e., to put themselves into a posture to receive such a proof of God’s power as should be a token both of mercy and judgment. “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel” (Amos 4:12).
(a) The vanity of all the delights of sense; they will cloy, but not satisfy. Spiritual pleasures are the contrary. As the world passes away, so do the lusts of it (1 John 2:17). What was greedily coveted, in a little time comes to be nauseated.
(b) What brutish sins (and worse than brutish) gluttony and drunkenness are. They put a force upon nature, and make that the sickness of the body which should be its health; they are sins that are their own punishments, and yet not the worst that attend them.
(c) What a righteous thing it is with God to make that loathsome to men which they have inordinately lusted after. God could make them despise flesh as much as they had despised manna.
(a) That God’s hand is not short. His power cannot be restrained in the exerting of itself by anything but His own will; with Him nothing is impossible. That hand is not short which measures the waters, metes out the heavens (Isaiah 40:12), and grasps the winds (Proverbs 30:4).
(b) That it is not waxed short. He is as strong as ever He was; fainteth not, neither is weary. And this is sufficient to silence all our distrusts, when means fail us. Is anything too bard for the Lord? God here brings Moses to this first principle; sets him back in his lesson to learn the ancient name of God, the Lord God Almighty; and put the proof upon the issue, “Thou shalt see whether My word shall come to pass or not.” This magnifies God’s word above all His name, that His works never came short of it. If He speaks, it is done. (Matthew Henry, D. D.)
Grumbling over spiritual food
The ancient Jews were, by no means, the only people who grumbled at the provision set before them. The Bread of Life, provided in the various ordinances of the gospel, for the strengthening of our souls, is not always received with thankfulness. Whatever rank we may choose to assign to preaching, among the other agencies for good, none can deny that it has its place, and an important one; and, yet, how many who listen to it, actuated by the complaining spirit of God’s ancient people, presumptuously exclaim, “Our soul loatheth this light bread!” The manner of God’s servant, and the message which he delivers, are both brought to the test of the most unsparing criticism. Imagine a prisoner, condemned to die, awaiting the day of his execution, when the door of the cell opens, and the governor’s deputy appears, bringing a pardon for him. The prisoner is overjoyed at this, but, instead of availing himself of the permission to depart, he stops to criticise the manner in which the deputy has discharged his duty. “Why did not the governor send a man of more ability?” he impatiently asks. “How can he expect me to listen to a message delivered in tones so harsh and discordant?” Has this pardoned criminal any just appreciation of the favour shown him? Very humble men, so far as worldly wisdom is concerned, often accomplish more, in teaching people “the good and the right way,” than those who are learned in the schools. One who had been listening to the preaching of such a servant of God, asked, in surprise, “How is it that he always has something new to tell us?” The answer was, “Why, he lives so near the gates of heaven, that he hears a great many things which we who remain afar off know nothing about!” It is not the musical sound of the bell which assembles the large flocks of pigeons at noonday in the square of Old St. Mark’s in Venice, but the liberal scattering of food. The complaint of the text is most often made with reference to what is called “doctrine preaching,” and even those who enjoy sermons of another sort are ready to say, when matters of this kind are dwelt upon, “Our soul loatheth this light bread.” God’s truth, in the hands of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:17), is the great instrument for the world’s sanctification. It is obvious, however, that this truth must take the shape of definite doctrine, and be expressed in becoming language, before it can accomplish this purpose. The Church and her ministers deal fairly with you; but are you dealing fairly with yourselves? You listen to preaching; but is it with the sincere desire that you may grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour? (J. N. Norton, D. D.)
Vehement longings wrongly indulged
But may not a good child of God, either in sickness or in health, lust for some meat more than another without offending God? Yes, indeed, for it is not the thing but the manner here that so much offended God; not the lusting, say again, but the fashion and circumstances of it. To wit, their presumptous crossing the Lord’s will when He appointed them manna from heaven to be their meat, for what He would they would not, and this was not fit. Again, this was not coldly done of them, but with heat and vehemency, giving as it were the reins to their lust, let God think what He would. Here was ingratitude for the Lord’s gracious care of them, and most ungrateful speeches. Here was preferring onions and leeks and garlic, and such mean meats before the Lord’s bounty and mercy from heaven, feeding them as never people were fed, with such other circumstances of very sinful and ill-behaviour. This is that offended God, which if we make use of we shall do well; for surely, though not altogether in like sort, yet much after this fashion, it is to be feared we provoke the Lord. Such meat as God sendeth us, being far better than we deserve, we cannot eat, but prefer that which is far worse before it, not without some proud and unthankful check to God’s gracious providence and mercy for us and to us, giving us that which thousands as dearly bought with His Son’s blood as we, and serving more than we, do want. And this not in any weakness of nature acknowledging gratefully the goodness of God set before us, but in very wantonness and delicacy, not once seeing or thinking of the bounty of God in giving us that we have. This if we do, it cannot be excused, but must needs be to God very displeasing, and to us very dangerous. Besides meat, how do many in other things tempt the Lord; as if God in mercy and most gracious care of them that they may be saved, and kept from the infections of this world, have given them a learned and painful pastor, that spendeth the Sabbath in holy exercises of his ministry, forenoon and afternoon, with the elders, with the children and servants. How doth this dislike many, and how lust they for worse things, breaking out in wicked speech: Oh, that we might have piping and dancing, quaffings and drinkings, church-ales and wakes, and such like as other parishes have! “We are cloyed with this manna, give us mirth and let them have manna that like it,” &c. Do you not shrink to think what will be the end of this murmuring, and the punishment of this lusting? Certainly it is fearful, and I pray God Christian people may have the feeling of it before it be too late. (Bp. Babington.)
Grievances regarded more than mercies
When we enjoy good things, we look at the grievances which are mingled with the good, and forget the good; which when it is gone then we remember. The Israelites could remember their onions and garlic and forget their slavery. So because manna was present, they despised manna, and that upon one inconvenience it had; it was ordinary with them. (R. Sibbes.)
Murmuring a waste of time
Oh, the precious time that is buried in the grave of murmuring! When the murmurer should be praying, he is murmuring against the Lord; when he should be hearing, he is murmuring against Divine providences; when he should be reading, he is murmuring against instruments; and in these and a thousand other ways do murmurers expend their precious time which some would redeem with a world. (T. Brooks.)
Wherefore hast Thou afflicted Thy servant?
The sufferings of the good in the path of duty
I. Look at the afflictions of godly men in the path of duty as a fact.
1. Good men suffer afflictions.
2. Good men suffer affliction in the path of duty.
II. Look at the afflictions of godly men in the path of duty as a problem.
1. A difficulty. Moses felt it.
2. Faith in the power of God to remove the difficulty.
III. Offer some hints towards the solution of the problem. The afflictions of the good in the path of duty, under the blessing of God, tend.
1. To test their faith. “Character,” says Dr. Huntington, “ depends on inward strength. But this strength has two conditions; it is increased only by being put forth, and it is tested only by some resistance. So, if the spiritual force or character in you is to be strong, it must be measured against some competition. It must enter into conflict with an antagonist. It must stand in comparison with something formidable enough to be a standard of its power Suffering, then, in some of its forms, must be introduced--the appointed minister, the great essayist--to put the genuineness of faith to the proof and purify it of its dross.”
2. To promote their perfection. “As the Perfect One reached His perfectness through suffering,” says Dr. Ferguson, “so it was with His servant. It was through the fire and the flame that the law of separation and refinement acted on the whole nature, and gave to it higher worth and glory. Trial ripened his manly spirit and made it patient to endure.”
3. To enhance their joy hereafter (cf. Matthew 5:10-12; Romans 8:17-18; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18; Revelation 7:14-17).
4. To promote the good of the race. The Christian is called to “know the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings”--to suffer vicariously with Him that others may be saved and blessed. In the privilege of this high fellowship the sharpest sufferings become sacred and exalting services.
1. Severe afflictions in the path of duty are in full accord with the character of God.
2. Such sufferings are quite compatible with the favour of God towards us (cf. Hebrews 12:5-11)
3. When severe suffering leads to sore perplexity let us seek help of God (cf. Psalms 73:16-17)
. (W. Jones.)
The burdens of leadership
I. That the position of leader or governor of men is a very trying one.
1. Because of the responsible nature of the duties of leadership.
2. Because of the interest which the true leader takes in his charge.
3. Because of the intractableness of men.
II. The true leader of men must often be painfully conscious of his insufficiency.
III. The ablest and holiest leaders of men sometimes fail under the burdens of their position. Conclusion:
1. Great honours involve great obligations.
2. A man may fail even in the strongest point of his character. Moses was pre-eminently meek, yet here he is petulant, &c. Therefore, “Watch thou in all things,” &c.
3. It is the duty of men not to increase, but if possible to lessen the difficulties and trials of leadership. (W. Jones.)
Seeing afflictions from God’s standpoin:
Christian friend, did you ever take your stand beside your God, and see what there is to be seen? Do so; and it may be that, in your deprivations and disappointments, you will behold a wonderful and beautiful arrangement by which you can glorify God far better than by the gratification of your own selfish and earth-bound desires. Never were the Israelites better off than when they had just enough manna for the day, and not a morsel over; and it may be you are richer and happier in your present condition than you could have been in any other. See if it be not so! “I thank God!” said one, “that I lost my all; for it has led me up into many blessed experiences with my God which I never knew while I was held down by the golden chain of worldly possessions. Then my affections were set on things on the earth, but now they rise to heaven.” If you see things from God’s standpoint your black trouble will appear fringed with brightness, relieving the monotonous darkness upon which you have fixed your steady gaze far too long already. Look at your prolonged affliction from this point of view, and you will discern secret fingers carving the delicate “lily work” which shall adorn you in the upper sanctuary, when you become a pillar in the temple of your God. It may be by the very method so distasteful to you, the cherubim of adoring reverence are being woven into the texture of your being. Yes, do see what there is to be seen, for in every dispensation there is the hand of a Divine purpose, full of love, and wisdom, and grace. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Afflictions may be full of mercies
In one of the German picture galleries is a painting called “Cloudland.” It hangs at the end of a long gallery, and, at first sight, It looks like a huge, repulsive daub of confused colour, without form or comeliness. As you walk toward it the picture begins to take shape. It proves to be a mass of exquisite little cherub faces, like those at the head of the canvas in Raphael’s “Madonna San Sisto.” If you come close to the picture you see only an innumerable company of little angels and cherubims. How often the soul that is frightened by trials sees nothing but a confused and repulsive mass of broken expectations and crushed hopes I But if that soul, instead of fleeing away into unbelief and despair, would only draw up near to God, it would soon discover that the cloud was full of angels Of mercy. In one cherub face it would see, “Whom I love, I chasten.” Another angel would say, “All things work together for good to them that love God.” (T. L. Cuyler.)
Affliction preferable to sin
Here are two guests come to my door; both of them ask to have a lodging with me. The one is called Affliction; he has a very grave voice, and a very heavy hand, and he looks at me with fierce eyes. The other is called Sin, and he is very soft-spoken, and very fair, and his words are softer than butter. Let me scan their faces, let me examine them as to their character, I must not be deceived by appearances. I will ask my two friends who would lodge with me, to open their hands. When my friend Affliction, with some little difficulty opens his hand, I find that, rough as it is, he carries a jewel inside it, and that he meant to leave that jewel at my house. But as for my soft-spoken friend Sin, when I force him to show me what that is which he hides in his sleeve, I find that it is a dagger with which he would have stabbed me. What shall I do, then, if I am wise? Why, I should be very glad if they would both be good enough to go and stop somewhere else, but if I must entertain one of the two, I would shut my door in the face of smooth-spoken Sin, and say to the rougher and uglier visitor, Affliction, “Come and stop with me, for may be God sent you as a messenger of mercy to my soul.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Gather unto Me seventy men of the elders.
The answer of God to the appeals of men
I. The Lord’s answer to the appeal of his much-tried servant.
1. The number of the assistants.
2. Their selection.
3. The qualification imparted to them.
II. The Lord’s answer to the appeal of his perverse people.
1. Recognises the sinful character of their appeal.
2. Demands preparation for the granting of their appeal.
3. Promises the most abundant bestowment of that which they had so passionately and sinfully desired.
Conclusion: Mark well--
1. The disgusting nature of the sins of gluttony and drunkenness.
2. The necessity of firmly controlling carnal desires. Even those animal appetites which are lawful must be kept subordinate to higher things.
3. The necessity of submissiveness in prayer. (W. Jones.)
The seventy elders
I. The calling of the seventy elders is an instance of the organising action of the spirit of God.
1. A new want needed a remedy.
2. The remedy supplied.
3. The remedy for the want extraordinary.
4. The remedy had its counterpart in--
II. The holy spirit still carries on the same work.
1. The Church has new needs. She must pray as Moses prayed, and realising the presence of the Holy Ghost, set herself to meet these new demands on her energies, in scattered hamlet and crowded alley, where Christ Himself would come.
2. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets!” Each Christian is a Spirit-bearer. Is he conscious of this dignity and responsibility? Each has his special gifts. (W. Walters, M. A.)
Helpers for Moses
A gracious God and most sweet Father is moved with the complaint and grief of His servant, pitying him and yielding presently helpers to bear this burden with him that he may have more comfort. Who would not joy in so sweet a judge, no sooner hearing but helping His servant oppressed with a froward charge. Be we faithful then in our places ever, and if we be too weak for them some way or other the Lord will help. These seventy men He will have furnished with His Spirit, never placing any to do a duty to whom He giveth not some measure of ability to do the same. But when it is said He will take off the Spirit which is upon Moses and put upon them, we may not think that He lessened His grace to Moses; but the meaning is, I will give to them of the same Spirit a portion, whereof I have distributed to him so great a measure; thine I will not diminish, and yet they shall have what shall be fit. (Bp. Babington.)
Dainties for the people
O sweet God! Moses He will comfort by adding helpers unto him, and the people also He will satisfy in giving them flesh which they so lusted for, and that not ordinary flesh, nor gross meat, but quails, which to this day are accounted dainties. And not for a meal or two, or a day or two, but a whole month together, &c. How showeth this the truth of that Psalm which after in his time was made (Psalms 1:1-6.). Nay, how showeth this that whatsoever He will, that can He do both in heaven and earth; and therefore blessed is the man that putteth his trust in Him. Remember what you read in the holy gospel (Matthew 6:25). What dearth so great, what penury so pinching, wherein the Lord cannot help us either ordinarily or extraordinarily? Can He thus glut His great host with dainty quails, and cannot He send you and yours bread? Fear not, but cleave unto Him fast, and even past hope if the case should be such, yet under hope believe all the Scriptures, and that He will never leave you succourless that openeth His hand and filleth all things with plenteousness. Only consider that many ways He ever exerciseth the faith of His children and their patience, whose duty is to bear with contentment what He sendeth, praying to Him to remember mercy, and to lay no more upon us than we are able to bear, as He hath promised, use such means as you can by just and honest labour or otherwise; and be assured, in goodness He will step in when He seeth time. (Bp. Babington.)
Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?
God’s challenge to the faith and co-operation of His people
I. These words have special reference to a divinely-revealed purpose which staggers human reason.
1. Let us look at this purpose. “God hath sent His Son into the world,. . . that the world through Him might be saved.”
2. The difficulties in the way of this gracious purpose, which excite men’s fears. There is the inveterate carnality of the human heart, the stubborn resistance of the human will to the Divine; there is the stolid indifference,of great masses in Christian lands to the practical duties and claims of religion; and the growing scepticism of the day regarding the verities of the gospel. Consider also the prevalence of idolatrous systems and heathen superstitions among great masses of mankind. Take also the subtle rationalism and keen-witted infidelity which prevail in civilised and semi-Christianised countries. It requires strong faith in a man to calmly survey this formidable host of evil in the world and then take his stand by the side of Christ, confident that His cause will triumph.
II. We have in these words an assertion of divine power which warrants human confidence. God’s purpose is a promise. He stakes His character on the fulfilment of His Word.
1. He cannot forget.
2. He cannot fail through insincerity.
3. He cannot fail through inadequate power to perform.
III. In these words we have God’s challenge to the earnest faith, prayer, and co-operation of his people.
1. The true attitude of the Christian labourer or the Church is to stand, with one hand of believing prayer taking hold of God, and the other hand of loving labour taking hold of fallen man, that the fallen may be raised, and the lost saved.
2. When we are ready for a blessing, God will not fail to bestow it. (John Innocent.)
The glorious right hand of God
I. With regard to the church as a whole, how often is it true that she so behaveth herself as if she had a question in her mind as to whether the Lord’s hand had waxed short? The mass of us would be afraid to go out trusting in God to supply our needs. We should need first that everything should be prepared for us, and that the way should be paved; but we are not ready to leap as champions upon the wall of the citadel, leading the forlorn hope and planting the standard where it never stood before. No, we can follow in the track of others. We have few Careys and few Knibbs, few men who can go first and foremost saying, “This is God’s cause; Jehovah is the only God, and in the name of the Eternal let the idols be abolished.” Oh, for more anointed ones to preach the gospel believing in its intrinsic might, assured that where it is preached faithfully, the Spirit of God is never absent! O Zion! get thee up, get thee up! Count no more thy hosts, for their strength is thy weakness; measure no longer thy wealth, for thy wealth has often been thy poverty, and thy poverty thy wealth; think not of the learning or the eloquence of thy ministers and missionaries, for full often these things do but stand in the way of the Eternal God. But come thou forth in simple confidence in His promise, and thou shalt see whether He will not do according to His Word.
II. When believers doubt their God with regard to providence, the question might well be asked of them, “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” I do not doubt that I am speaking to some who have had many losses and crosses in their business. Instead of getting forward they are going back, and perhaps even bankruptcy stares them in the face. Or possibly, being hard-working men, they may have been long out of employment, and nothing seems now to be before their eyes but the starvation of themselves and their little ones. It is hard to bear this. But dost thou doubt, O believer, dost thou doubt as to whether God will fulfil His promise wherein He said, “His place of defence shall be the munitions of rocks; bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure”? Thy God heareth the young ravens when they cry, and giveth liberally to all the creatures that His hands hath made, and will He forget His sons and His daughters--His people bought with blood, His own peculiar heritage? No; dare to believe Him now. His hand has not waxed short. Please not Satan, and vex not thyself by indulging any more those hard thoughts of Him. Say, “My Father, Thou wilt hear my cry; Thou wilt supply all my needs”; and according to thy faith, so shall it be done unto thee.
III. There is a third way by which this question might be very naturally suggested, and that is when a man who has faith in christ is exercised with doubts and fears with regard to his own final perseverance or his own present acceptance in Christ.
IV. This is a question which I may well ask of any here present who are convinced of sin, but are afraid to trust their souls now, at this very hour, in the hand of a loving Saviour. “Oh, He cannot save me, I am so guilty, so callous! Could I repent as I ought, could I but feel as I ought, then He could save me; but I am naked and poor and miserable. How can He clothe, enrich, and bless me? I am cast out from His presence. I have grieved away His Spirit; I have sinned against light and knowledge--against mercy--against constant grace received. He cannot save me.” “And the Lord said unto Moses, Is the Lord’s hand waxed short? thou shalt see now whether My word shall come to pass unto thee or not.” Did He not save the chief of sinners, Saul of Tarsus? Why, then, can He not save you? Is it not written, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son, cleanseth us from all sin”? Has that blood lost its efficacy?
V. And you say, do you, that God will not avenge your sins upon you, that ye may go on in your iniquities and yet meet with no punishment; that ye may reject Christ and do it safely. Well, soul,” thou shalt see whether His word shall come to pass or not.” But let me tell thee His hand is not waxed short; He is as strong to punish as when He bade the floods cover the earth; as powerful to avenge as when He rained hail out of heaven upon the cities of the plain. He is to-day as mighty to overtake and punish His enemies as when He sent the angel through the midst of Egypt, or afterwards smote the hosts of Sennacherib. Thou shalt see whether He will keep His word or not. Go on in the neglect of His great salvation; go to thy dying bed, and buoy thyself up with the false hope that there is no hereafter; but, sinner, thou shalt see; thou shalt see. This point in dispute shall not long be a matter of question to be cavilled at on the one side, and to be taught with tears on the other. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A strange question
It is a singular thing that such a question as this should ever be asked at all: “Has the Lord’s hand waxed short?” If we look anywhere and everywhere, apart from the conduct of man, there is nothing to suggest the suspicion.
1. Look to God’s creation! Is there anything there which would make you say, “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” What pillar of the heavens hath begun to reel? What curtain of the sky hath been rent or moth-eaten? Have the foundations of the earth begun to start? Hath the sun grown dim with age? or have the starry lamps flickered or gone out in darkness? Are there signs of decay to-day upon the face of God’s creation? Have not howling tempests, the yawning ocean, and death-bearing hurricanes, asserted but yesterday their undiminished might? Say, is not the green earth as full of vitality, as ready to yield us harvests now, as it ever hath been? Do the showers fall less frequently? No; journey where you will, you will see God as potent upon the face of the earth, and in the very bowels of the globe, as He was when He first said, “Let there be light and there was light.” There is nothing which would tempt us to the surmise or the suspicion that the Lord’s hand hath waxed short.
2. And look ye too in providence; is there aught there that would suggest the question? Are not His prophecies still fulfilled? Does He not cause all things to work together for good? Do the cattle on a thousand hills low out to Him for hunger? Do you meet with the skeletons of birds that have fallen to the ground from famine? Doth He neglect to give to the fish their food, or do the sea-monsters die? Doth not God still open His hand and supply the want of every living thing? Is He less bounteous to-day than He was in the time of Adam? Is not the cornucopia still as full? Doth He not still scatter mercies with both His hands right lavishly? Are there any tokens in providence any more than in nature, that God’s arm hath waxed short?
3. And look ye too in the matter of grace; is there any token in She work of grace that God’s power is failing? Are not sinners still saved? Are not profligates still reclaimed? Are not drunkards still uplifted from their sties to sit upon the throne with princes? Is not the Word of God still quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword? Where have ye seen the sword of the Lord snapped in twain? When hath God assayed to melt a h-art and failed in the attempt? Which of His people has found the riches of His grace drained dry? Which of His children has had to mourn that the unsearchable riches of Christ had failed to supply his need? How is it, then, that such a question as this ever came from the lips of God Himself? What could there have been that should lead Him or any of His creatures to say, “Is the Lord’s hand waxed short?” We answer, there is but one creature that God has made that ever doubts Him. The little sparrows doubt not: though they have no barn nor field, yet they sweetly sing at night as they go to their roosts, though they know not where to-morrow’s meal shall be found. The very cattle trust Him; and even in days of drought, ye have seen them when they pant for thirst, how they expect the water; how the very first token of it makes them show in their very animal frame, by some dumb language, that they felt that God would not leave them to perish. The angels never doubt Him, nor the devils either: devils believe and tremble. But it was left for man, the most favoured of all creatures, to mistrust his God. This high, this black, this infamous sin of doubting the power and faithfulness of Jehovah, was reserved for the fallen race of rebellious Adam; and we alone, out of all the beings that God has ever fashioned, dishonour Him by unbelief and tarnish His honour by mistrust. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
No failure of Tower with God
Amongst all the gods of the heathen Jupiter was in the greatest esteem, as the father and king of gods and was called Jupiter, quasi juvans pater, a helping father, yet (as the poets feign) be wept when he could not set Sarpedon at liberty; such was the imbecility and impotency of this master-god of the heathen. But the hand of our God is never shortened that it cannot help, He is ever able to relieve us, always ready to deliver us. Amongst all the gods there is none like unto Him, none can do like unto His works, He is God Omnipotent. (J. Spencer.)
Eldad and Medad do prophesy.
Eldad and Medad
Eldad and Medad seem instances of unlicensed preaching and prophesying; and this, at a time of scanty knowledge and rare spiritual illumination, was not without its dangers. So thought Joshua, and, jealous for Moses’ supremacy, besought him to rebuke them. But the great prophet, wholly wanting in the thought of self, rebuked Joshua instead. “Enviest thou,” he said, “for my sake?” and then added, in words of noble hyperbole, “Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets!”
I. The first thought that occurs to us in reading this scene is the good, felt by the greatest, of zeal and enthusiasm. And the second is, how to discover it, how to encourage it in God’s service. But then comes the further question, Have these men the prophet’s capacity? Have they that primary want, the prophet’s faith? Have they fire, perseverance, and courage?
1. The prophet’s faith. Take away from the prophet this faith in the living God, speaking to him, teaching him, encouraging him, in the midst of life’s sorrows and temptations, and he is nothing. Give him that belief, and his confidence, his courage is unshaken.
2. There is the prophet’s belief in the moral order underlying the established order of things, as the only safe and sure foundation on which peace and prosperity in a nation can be built.
II. The prophetic message, however varied its tone, however startling its communication, is always in substance, as of old, the same: “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
III. Would that the people of the Lord were all prophets! Would that we had all more of the fire of enthusiasm, leading us to go forth and act, and learn in acting, not waiting till we have solved all doubts or perfected some scheme of action!
IV. Zeal may often make mistakes, but it is better than no zeal. Truth is not merely correctness, accuracy, the absence of error, nor even the knowledge of the laws of nature. It is also the recognition of the moral and spiritual bases of life, and the desire to promote and teach these among men. (A. G. Butler, D. D.)
Noble to the core
I do not agree with those who think that there was any diminution of the spirit that rested upon Moses. It is very difficult to speak of the subdivision of spirit. You cannot draw it off from one man to others, as you draw off water. The whole Spirit of God is in each man, waiting to fill him to the uttermost of his capacity. It seems to me, therefore, that nothing more is intended than to affirm that the seventy were “clothed upon” with the same kind of spiritual force as that which rested upon Moses. For sixty-eight of them the power of utterance was only spasmodic and temporary. “They prophesied, but they did so no more.” Emblems are they of those who, beneath some special influence like that which cast Saul down among the prophets, suddenly break out into speech and act, and give promises not destined to be fulfilled. Two, however, of the selected number, who, for some reason, had remained in the camp, suddenly became conscious of their reception of that same spirit, and they, too, broke out into prophecy and appeared to have continued to do so. Instantly a young man, jealous for the honour of Moses, carried to him the startling tidings, “Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp”; and as he heard the announcement Joshua, equally chivalrous, exclaimed, “My lord Moses, forbid them!” eliciting the magnificent answer, “Art thou jealous for my sake? Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets--that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” It was as if he said, “Do you think that I alone am the channel through which the Divine influences can pour? Do you suppose that the supplies in the being of God are so meagre, that He must stint what He gives through me, when He gives through others? If it should please Him to create new stars, must He rob the sun of its light to give them brilliance? Is the gratification of a mean motive of vanity a matter of any moment to me, who have gazed on the face of God? Besides, what am I, or what is my position, amongst this people, compared with the benefit which would accrue to them, and the glory which would redound to God, if He did for each of them all that He has done for me?” This is the spirit of true magnanimity. A spirit of self aggrandisement is set on retaining its exclusive position as the sole depository of the Divine blessing, and this has the certain effect of forfeiting it, so that fresh supplies cease to pass through. There is no test more searching than this. Am I as eager for God’s kingdom to come through others as through myself? And yet, in so far as we fall short of that position, do we not betray the earthly ingredients which have mingled, and mingle still, in our holy service? (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Young men are ordinarily rash in judging others
The doctrine from hence is that young men are ordinarily rash in judging others, yea, more rash than elder men, and consequently more apt to judge amiss, and to give evil counsel and sentence of such things as are well done. Such were Rehoboam’s green heads; they gave green counsel, and such as cost him the loss of the greatest part of his kingdom (1 Kings 12:8; 1 Kings 12:13-14). The reasons are plain. First, age and years bring experience and ripeness of judgment and so wisdom. Youth is as green timber; age as that which is seasoned (Job 32:7). Again, their affections being hotter and stronger are more inconstant and unbridled, realty to run into extremities, as untamed heifers not used to the yoke. Lastly, they put far from them the evil day; they think themselves privileged by their age, and make account they have time enough hereafter to enter into better courses. The uses:
1. This teacheth us not to rest in the judgment, nor to follow the counsel of young men, except they have old men’s gifts and graces in them. For touching gifts, it is true which Elihu testifieth (Job 32:9).
2. Let young men suffer their elders to speak before them, especially in censuring things that are strange.
3. Seeing rashness and unadvisedness are specially incident to youth, let them learn to season their years with the Word of God, let them make it their meditation, whereby they may repress such hot and hasty and headstrong passions. (W. Attersoll.)
Enviest thou for my sake?--
The increase of the Redeemer’s kingdom
Moses had no share in the narrow feelings which Joshua had displayed, feelings of envy and jealous. He had no wish to engross the distinctions of Israel, but, on the contrary, he would have greatly rejoiced had all the congregation been richly endowed from above, though he himself might have ceased to have been conspicuous in Israel. We consider that the lawgiver Moses, when so finely reproving Joshua for envying for his sake, is worthy of being admired and earnestly imitated; for that, in thus showing himself above all littleness of mind and contempt of this world, so that God might be magnified and His cause advanced, he reached a point of moral heroism--aye, far loftier than that at which he stood when, in the exercise of superhuman power, he bade darkness cover the land of Egypt, or the waters of the Red Sea divide before Israel. We are not bound to expatiate at any length on the magnanimity thus displayed by Moses. We have adopted the instance in order to show you how direct a parallel may be found in the history of the forerunner of our Lord, John the Baptist. So soon as the Saviour entered on the ministry, the great office of John was at an end. John still continued to baptize, and thus prepare men for the disclosures of that fuller revelation with which Christ was charged. In this way the ministry of our Lord and that of His forerunner were for a while discharged together; though, inasmuch as Christ wrought miracles, and John did not, there was quickly, as might be expected, more attendance on the preaching of the Redeemer than on that of the Baptist. Now, this appears exactly the point when in truth John’s disciples, who, like Joshua, were jealous of the honour of their Master, thought Jesus intrenching upon his province. But, however galling it might be to his followers thus to see their master neglected, to John himself it was matter of great gladness that He whom he had heralded was thus drawing all men towards Him. And the Baptist takes occasion to assure his disciples that what had moved their jealousy and displeasure was but the beginning--the first display of a growing spirit to which no bounds could be set. They were not to imagine that there could be any alteration in the relative positions of Jesus and John; nor that John would ever take that part of which, in strange forgetfulness of his own sayings, they seemed to wish to come to pass. On the contrary, he wished them distinctly to understand that, being only of earth--a mere man like one of themselves--he must decline in importance, and at length shrink altogether into insignificance. Whereas Christ, as coming from above, and therefore being above all--possessing a Divine nature as well as a human, and consequently liable to no decay--would go on discharging His high office, enlarging His sway according to the prediction of Isaiah, “To the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom.” And all this gradual fading away of himself, and this continued exaltation of Christ, the Baptist gathers into one powerful and comprehensive sentence, saying of our blessed Lord, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” And now consider more distinctly how character was here put to the proof; or in what respects either Moses or John deserve imitation. The truth is, that it is natural to all of us to envy the growing reputation of others; and to be jealous where it seems likely to trench upon our own. The courtier, for example, who has long sought to stand high in the favour of his sovereign; and who perceives that a younger candidate, who has just entered the field, is fast outstripping him, so that the probability is that he will soon be widely distanced; we cannot marvel if he regard the youthful competitor with irritated feelings in place of generously rejoicing in his rapid success. It would be a very fine instance of magnanimity if this courtier were to cede gracefully the place to his rival, and offer him, with marks of sincerity which could not be mistaken, his congratulations on having passed him in the race. But we could not look for such magnanimity. The case, however, is widely different when it is in the service of God, and not of an earthly king, that the two men engage. Here by the very nature of the service, the grand thing aimed at is the glory of God and not personal aggrandisement; and there is therefore ground for expecting that if God’s glory be promoted, there will be gladness of heart in all Christians, whoever the agent who has been specially honoured. But, alas! for the infirmity of human nature; there is no room for questioning that even Christians can be jealous of each other, and feel it a sore trial when they are distanced and eclipsed in being instrumental in promoting Christianity. We are far enough from regarding it as a matter of course, that a veteran in the missionary work would feel contented and pleased at seeing that work which had gone on so slowly with himself, progress with amazing rapidity when undertaken by a younger labourer; on the contrary, arguing from the known tendencies of our nature, we assume that he must have had a hard battle with himself before he could really rejoice in the sudden advance of Christianity; and we should regard him as having won, through the assistance of Divine grace, a noble victory over some of the strongest cravings of the heart when he frankly bade the stripling, God speed! and rejoiced as he saw the idols fall prostrate before him. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
All God’s people must beware of envy
Envy is an affection compounded of sorrow and malice. For such persons are malicious, always repining and grudging at the gifts of God bestowed upon others, and, as it were, look asquint at them (as Genesis 26:12-14; Genesis 26:27; Genesis 30:1; Genesis 31:1; Mark 9:38; John 3:26-27).
1. Because it is a fruit of the flesh (Galatians 5:21), as carnal grief and hatred are, of which it is compounded: for it maketh men repine at the prosperity of others, and that which is worst of all, to hate the persons that have those gifts. This appeareth in the Pharisees (Matthew 27:18).
2. God bestoweth His gifts where He will, and to whom He will, and in what measure He will (Matthew 20:15).
3. It procureth the wrath of God, and is never left without punishment, as appeareth in the next chapter, where Miriam, the sister of Moses, is stricken with the leprosy, because she envied the gifts of Moses; God showing thereby how greatly He detested this sin.
4. Whatsoever is bestowed upon any member, is bestowed upon the whole body (1 Corinthians 12:1-31.). Whatsoever is given to any part, is giving for the benefit of the whole Church: why, then, should we envy any, seeing we have our portion in it?
5. It is a devilish vice; it is worse than fleshly, and yet if it were no more, it were sufficient to make us to detest it: and it transformeth us into the image of Satan, who envied the happiness of our first parents in the garden (Genesis 3:5). So Cain was of that evil one (1 John 3:12), and envied his brother, because God accepted him and his sacrifice (Genesis 4:5).
6. It crosseth and controlleth the wisdom of God in the distribution of His gifts and graces, as if God had done them wrong and been too good to others: we can challenge nothing as due to ourselves, but whatsoever we have we have it freely: howbeit, the envious like not His administration, but dislike that others should enjoy that which they want.
7. It is against the rule of charity which rejoiceth at the good of others (1 Corinthians 13:1-13.), and is ready to bestow and communicate good things where is want of them. So, then, where envy is, there charity is not; and where charity is, there envy is not.
1. This teacheth us that all are subject to this evil, even they that are godly, and in a great measure sanctified, are apt to envy at others excelling in the graces of God. The best things are subject to be abused through our corruption.
2. It serveth to reprove many malicious persons: some envy others temporal blessings: others envy them the grace of God. If they have more knowledge than themselves they cannot abide them, but speak all manner of evil against them. Hence it is that Solomon opposeth envy and the fear of God as things that cannot possibly stand together (Proverbs 23:17), and in another place a sound heart and envy (Proverbs 14:30).
3. Let us use all holy and sanctified means to prevent it, or to purge it away if it has seized upon us. Store of charity and humility tempered together will make a notable defence and preservative against this malady. (W. Attersoll.)
Moses wondered that Joshua should be so excited about this matter. He correctly estimated the young man’s temper; he said, This is envy: why this envy, Joshua? is it for my sake that thou art making a grievous miscalculation of my spirit? do not be envious on my account. Contrast the spirit of Moses with the spirit of Joshua. From the greater expect more. Thus is the quality of men revealed. Our judgments are ourselves put into words. Not that this was necessarily what might be termed the most wicked jealousy or envy. There is a kind of envy that may be regarded as almost chivalrous. That may be the most dangerous envy of all. Let us get at the root of this matter. Moses certainly delivered himself from all imputations of the kind, for instead of wanting the prophecy to be confined to himself he would have it multiplied over the whole host of the people of God. Great men do not want to be great at the expense of others. The text, though an inquiry, is as much a revelation of the quality of Moses as it is of the quality of Joshua. The most dangerous envy is often envy by proxy. Two men are at deadly feud; circumstances arise which lead to explanation; explanation leads to adjustment; adjustment soon becomes hearty reconciliation; the two principals are satisfied. But what is all this tumult in the air? what all this petty criticism? The two principals are satisfied, but there are others that are fighting the battle over again, and professedly in the name of one of the reconciled men or the other. This is folly. We should rather anticipate reconciliation and make the most of it than say, through wickedness of heart, Though you may be satisfied, we are not, and we mean to continue the battle. That may be high temper, but it is the temper of the devil. Along the same line of illustration we come upon over-zeal. The Jehua rose up a million thick on the road. What are they doing? Converting men by force. They are going to stand this no longer; if men will not go to church, then they shall go to gaol; if men will not obey spontaneously, they shall obey coercively; they shall have no longer any parleying with the enemy. The only compulsion that is as everlasting as it is beneficent is the compulsion of persuasion. “Knowing the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” Herein is the dignity and herein is the assured duration of the kingdom of Christ; it is a kingdom of light and love and truth and reason. Love is the everlasting--and I will add, is the invincible--law. What was Joshua’s motive? Was he afraid that other men would rise and be as lofty as Moses? That was not the view which Moses himself took of the occasion. Moses was not afraid of competition. Moses proved his right to the leadership by the nobleness of his spirit. Would God that this proof of Divine election attended all our policy! No man can pull you down but yourself. Moses knew that what was lacking in appreciation of himself would be made up in proportion as the people themselves became prophets. The more the people prophesied the more they would appreciate Moses. They would know what he had to bear; what occasional torment of soul. Have pity upon one another; believe, and be kind, and hope; let the devil do all the bad work, you get to your knees and to the work of brotherly sympathy and help. Moses saw what Joshua did not discern. Moses saw that it is part of the prophet’s function to make other people prophets. Great men are not sent to create little men. Wherever there is a great prophet there will be a prophetic church; the whole level of life and thought will be elevated. Not that the leader can always command this kind of evidence and credential. It may come after his death. Some men have to die that they may be known. Great men are inspirations, not discouragements. That is the difference between real greatness and factitious greatness. Where there is real greatness it acts as an inspiration, as a welcome; there is a benign and generous hospitality about it. Real greatness can condescend without appearing to stoop; real greatness can be humble without being oppressive to those to whom it bows itself; real greatness encourages rising power just as the sun encourages every flower in the garden. The Church of Christ is not afraid of rival institutions. The Church says, “Enviest thou for my sake?”--nothing can put me down; I am founded by Christ, saith the Church, I am built upon a rock; the gates of hell cannot prevail against me--“Enviest thou for my sake?”--cease thine envying, it is wasted energy. We are building up all kinds of rival institutions, and yet the Church rises above them all. Let the Church have time and opportunity to utter her gospel and declare herself; and let her be faithful to her own charter, and all will be well. Truth always wins, and wins often at once; not in the palpable and vulgar way called winning, but by a subtle, profound, mysterious, eternal way that asks ages by which to justify its certainty and its completeness. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets.
The prophet’s work
The prophets were not mainly foretellers of future events, but interpreters and forthtellers of God’s will; not minute historical soothsayers, but essentially patriots, statesmen, moral teacher,, chosen vessels of spiritual revelation. In each of their duties they were great. As statesmen they were intensely practical, gloriously fearless; seeing that there was no distinction between national and individual morality; recognising that what is morally wrong can never be politically right. As patriots they were men of the people; pleading against oppression, robbery, and wrong; braving the anger of corrupted multitudes; reproving the crimes of guilty kings. As spiritual teachers they fostered in Israel the conviction of their lofty destiny by upholding the majesty of God’s law, by preserving the authority of His worship, by pointing to the revelation of His Son. In each of these functions they have an eternal value for the human race. Every reformation has been effected by following in the path which they trod as pioneers. The Hebrew prophets were marked by three great characteristics--Heroic Faith, Unswerving Hope, and Absolute Belief in Righteousness.
1. I shall name their heroic faith. “All men have not faith.” They either openly deny and disbelieve, or more often saying they believe act as though they did not. They are cowed by the power of wickedness, or tempted by its seductions. If they begin to make an effort for good, they fling up the contest as soon as they find that it will compromise their interests. Most often they will brave no danger, expose no falsehood, stand up against no wrong; they will spread their sails to every veering breeze; they will swim with the stream; they will look on success and popularity as the ends of living and the tests of truth. Not so the prophets. They will not be deceived by the vain shows of the world, nor seduced by its bribes, nor blunt the edge of their moral sense with its manifold conventions. Terror will not daunt, nor flattery lure them. Through lives of loss and persecution they will go on with an intense and quiet perseverance, which no success will cause them to relax, and no reverse subdue. They will devote every energy and possession to the cause of God, and the service of the most helpless of mankind.
2. They saw beyond. Over and around them towered the colossal kingdoms of the heathen. The giant forms of empires around them were but on their way to ruin, because they were not founded on righteousness. Kings, priests and mobs might be against them; they were but vain and idle men (Jeremiah 1:17-19). And if they had the faith which looked beyond the little grandeurs of men, they also had the hope which looked beyond their sorrows, and this hope spread outwards in ever-widening circles. Amid the apostacy of Israel they always prophesied that Israel should not be utterly destroyed. And this hope was concentrated in their greatest and most unfaltering prophecy of an Anointed Deliverer, a coming Saviour for all mankind: a Man who should be “a hiding-place from the wind; and a covert from the tempest; the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”
3. The third great characteristic of the Hebrew prophets is their sense that the very end and aim of all religion is simply righteousness: that there is an abysmal difference between a mere correct worship and a living faith. Such was the spirit of the prophets. Let us conclude by considering the way in which we too, in our measure, are called to share in their spirit, and to continue their work.
God calls all His people to be prophets
As of old, He calls His Gideon from the threshing-floor, and His Amos from the sycamore fruit; His Moses from the flocks; His Matthew from the receipt of custom; His John from the priestly family; His Peter from the fishing-net, and His Paul from the rabbi’s school; so now He calls us from the farm and from the merchandise, from the shop and from the office, from the profession and from the trade, from the priest’s pulpit and from the servants’ hall. He calls us in boyhood, He calls us in manhood, He calls us in old age. In His sight there is not an inch-high difference between the stage on which the prince and the stage on which the pauper plays his part. Both alike are called, and called only to be good men and true, brave and faithful. Both have a like mission, and both alike shall, if they do Christ’s work, receive His hundred-fold reward. The boy at school who will not join in the bad language of his companions; the soldier in the barracks who will kneel down and pray, though all his comrades jeer; the tradesman who will hold out against a dishonest custom of his guild the tenant who in the teeth of his interests will give his vote at the dictates of conscience; the Churchman who for truth’s sake will try to break the tyrannous fetters of false opinion; the philanthropist who will bear the unscrupulous taunts of the base, because he denounces a nation’s guilt--these, too, have in them something of the prophet. They help to save the world from corruption and society from spiritual death. This was the example that Christ set us all. That man is most a prophet of Christ who loves Him best. And he loves Him best who keeps His commandments. His commandments were but two: Love God; Love one another. (Archdeacon Farrar.)
Monopoly and freedom in religious teaching
I. A protest against monopoly in religious teaching.
1. The prevalence of this monopoly.
2. The causes of this monopoly.
3. The iniquity of this monopoly. What arrogancy! Is not one mind as near the fountain of knowledge, the source of inspiration, as another?
II. An authority for freedom in religious teaching.
1. All the Lord’s people ought to be teachers. The possession of superior knowledge implies the obligation to disseminate it.
2. All the Lord’s people might be teachers. All that is wanted is “that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them”; and this Spirit is free alike to all. (Homilist.)
The Spirit given to all
“Would God,” was the longing of Moses, “that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” His desire was fulfilled at Pentecost, and is realised now. Every believer possesses the Holy Spirit, not for his own spiritual life only, but to be a witness for Christ, as were the hundred and twenty at Pentecost. Equally does the charge to publish the glad tidings, and the promise of adequate power come to every one, according to that closing command of inspiration, “Let him that heareth say, Come!” Nay, more, the tongue of fire, the gift of utterance in its fitting measure, is always bestowed upon the kindled heart. Every one who seeks humbly and prayerfully to be a witness for Christ, in the home, in the ways of toil, in the spheres of infer-course, in the house of prayer, by the printed page, with the lips, and by the life, every such faithful disciple of the living Master shall receive His promised gift, the Pentecostal power of the Holy Ghost! (J. G. Butler, D. D.)
In different forms and in different degrees that noble wish was fulfilled. The acts of the hero, the songs of the poet, the skill of the artificer, Samson’s strength, the music of David, the architecture of Bezaleel and Solomon, are all ascribed to the inspiration of the Divine Spirit. It was not a holy tribe, but holy men of every tribe, that spake as they were moved, carried to and fro out of themselves, by the Spirit of God. The prophets, of whom this might be said, in the strictest sense, were confined to no family or caste, station, or sex. They rose, indeed, above their countrymen; their words were to their countrymen, in a peculiar sense, the words of God. But they were to be found everywhere. Like the springs of their own land, there was no hill or valley where the prophetic gift might not be expected to break forth. Miriam and Deborah, no less than Moses and Barak; in Judah and in Ephraim, no less than in Levi; in Tekoah and Gilead, and, as the climax of all, in Nazareth, no less than in Shiloh and Jerusalem, God’s present counsel might be looked for. By this constant attitude of expectation, if one may so call it, the ears of the whole nation were kept open for the intimations of the Divine Ruler, under whom they lived. None knew beforehand who would be called . . . In the dead of night, as to Samuel; in the ploughing of the field, as Elisha: in the gathering of the sycamore figs, as to Amos; the call might come . . . Moses was but the beginning; he was not, he could not be the end. (Dean Stanley.)
They gathered the quails.
I. Israel’s complaint.
1. Its object was food.
2. Its nature was intense. “Fell a lusting.”
3. It was general.
4. It was accompanied with tears. A faint, weary, disappointed people. Tears, chiefly, of discontent.
5. It was associated with the retrospections of memory. “We remember,” &c. (Numbers 11:5). They should also have remembered some other things of that past. Their bondage, &c.
6. It made present things distasteful. “There is nothing at all.” There was a time when they did not call the manna nothing. Longing for what we have not tends to cause disparagement of things possessed.
II. Moses’ perplexity. Great popular leaders have often been perplexed by the unreasonable clamours of their followers. Have often been urged farther than their greater prudence and wisdom would have chosen. People have often damaged their own cause by exorbitant demands.
1. Moses displeased at the position in which he found himself. “My wretchedness “ (Numbers 11:15). His faith faltered (Numbers 11:11-12). Especially displeased with the people (Numbers 11:10).
2. In his perplexity cried to the Lord. A good example. God “ a present help in trouble.”
3. He acknowledges his own weakness (Numbers 11:21-22). He could not feed the people. It would be suicidal to kill the flocks and herds, even if they were enough. Needed for sacrifice; and the religious well-being of the people of most importance.
4. He receives comfort, and direction (Numbers 11:23).
III. God’s providence. Nature is His storehouse, in which He has garnered food for man and beast. He made all living things. Endowed them with habits and instincts. Made the quails. Ordained their migratory habits. Made and ruled the winds. When the quails came, the wind was ready. It fulfilled the word of God. The wonderful flight of birds. The scene in the camp. What was sent so abundantly seems to have been thanklessly received. Divine anger went with the gift. Many of the people died. Learn--
1. To pray for the blessing of contentment.
2. To seek the moderation of our desires.
3. To pray for grateful hearts.
4. To acknowledge the hand of God in the supply of our wants.
5. To be chiefly anxious for the supply of spiritual need. (J. C. Gray.)
The graves of lust
I. There are perpetual resurrections of easily besetting sins.
1. The side from which the temptation came to them (Numbers 11:4-6). This mixed multitude corresponds precisely to the troop of disorderly passions and appetites, with which we suffer ourselves to march through the desert of life. Passions, desires, ever mad for indulgence, and reckless, scornful of Divine law.
2. The special season when the easily besetting sin rose up and again made them its slave. It is a fact which all close students of human character must have observed, that there is a back-water of temptation, if I may so speak, which is more deadly than its direct assaults. You may fight hard against a temptation, and fight victoriously. You may beat it off, and then, when, weary with the conflict, you suffer the strain of vigilance to relax, it shall steal in and easily master the citadel, which lately it spent all its force in vain to win. Beware of your best moments, as well as of your worst; or rather the moments which succeed the best. They are the most perilous of all.
II. There comes a point in the history of the indulgence of besetting sins, when god ceases to strive with us and for us against them, and lets them. Have their way.
1. God has great patience with the weaknesses and sins of the flesh. But it is a dreadful mistake to suppose that therefore He thinks lightly of them. He regards them as sins that must be conquered, and, no matter by what sharp discipline, extirpated and killed. He knows that, if tolerated, they become the most deadly of spiritual evils, and rot body and spirit together in hell.
2. Hence all the severer discipline by which the Lord seeks to purge them, the various agencies by which He fights with us and for us against their tyrannous power. What is life but one long discipline of God for the cleansing of the flesh? Are not the after-pains of departed sensual joys among its chief stings and thorns?
3. Left alone by God. God does not curse us; He leaves us to ourselves; that is curse enough, and from that curse what arm can save us! We will have it, and we shall have it. We leap through all the barriers which He has raised around us to limit us, yea, though they be rings of blazing fire, we will through them and indulge our lust; and in a moment He sweeps them all out of our path--perhaps roses spring to beguile, where flames so lately blazed to warn.
III. The end of that way is, inevitably and speedily, a grave. The grave of lust is one of the most awful of the inscriptions on the headstones of the great cemetery, the world. In how many do we now search in vain for fruits whose flowers once bloomed there; for generous emotions, swift responses to the appeals of sorrow, unselfish ministries, and stern integrity? How many have learnt now to laugh at emotions which once had a holy beauty in their sight; to fence skilfully with appeals which once would have thrilled to the very core of their hearts; to grasp at advantages which once they would have passed with a scornful anathema, and to clutch at the gold which was once the glad instrument of diffusing benefits around! Yes! there are graves enough around us--graves of passion, graves of self-will, graves of lust. Beware, young men; young women, beware! Beware! for the dead things buried in these graves will not lie quiet; they stir and start, and ever and anon come forth in their ghastly shrouds and scare you at your feasts. No ghosts so sure to haunt their graves as the ghosts of immolated faculties and violated vows. The memories which haunt the worn-out worldling’s bed of impotence or lust are the true avengers of Heaven. The brain loses power to repel them, but retains power to fashion them. Once it could drive away thoughts and memories; now it can only retain them, and fix them in a horrid permanent session on their thrones. (J. B. Brown, B. A.)
The Israelites’ sin and punishment
I. Their sin many consider a trifle. Certainly it was not of that character which the judgment inflicted on them would lead us to anticipate. We read here of no enormous transgression, or daring violation of God’s law. All they were guilty of, was a strong desire for something which God had not given them. “Something evil,” you will say perhaps, but not so; it was one of the most harmless things they could have desired. The Lord had provided them with manna for their support; they were weary of manna and wanted flesh. “The children of Israel,” we read, “wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?”
1. You see, then, the nature of the sin we have before us. It is a sin of the heart--coveting, desiring; and that not slightly, but very eagerly, with the full bent of the mind. It is not spiritual idolatry, though it is like it. That is making too much of what we have; this is making too much of what we want.
2. Look at the cause or spring of Israel’s sin. Their desire for flesh was a desire springing up amidst abundance. It had its origin, not in their necessities, but m their vile affections, their own unsubdued, carnal minds.
3. Observe next the occasion of Israel’s sin. Oh, dread the mixed multitude. Stand in fear of worldly-minded professors of Christ’s gospel. They will teach you to lust for the things you now despise. They will drive, if not the fear, yet the peace of God from your hearts, and all they will give you in exchange for it will be a craving, aching soul, a share in their own restlessness and discontent.
4. Mark the effect of their sin, its immediate effect, I mean, on their own minds. It made them completely wretched. The truth is, the mind of man cannot long bear a strong and unchecked desire. It must be gratified or have a prospect of being gratified, or it consumes the soul. Perhaps we may say, this is one main ingredient in the misery of hell--a longing, and a longing, and a longing still, for something that can be never had.
5. Notice one thing more in this craving of the Israelites--its sinfulness or guilt. Wherein, then, did its sinfulness lie? In the twentieth verse, God tells us. He pronounces it a contempt of Himself. Moses is commanded to go to the weeping people, and say to them, “Ye have despised the Lord which is among you.” And how had they despised Him?
In three respects.
1. They had low thoughts of His power. “Who,” they asked, “shall give us flesh to eat?” Who can give it?
2. And their conduct involved in it a making light of His goodness. They had evidently lost sight at this time of all He had done for them, or if not so, they lightly esteemed what He had done.
3. And then there was also here a despising of God’s authority.
II. Look at the conduct of them insulted God towards them in consequence of their sin.
1. He granted their desire. We are told again and again that it displeased Him, that His anger was kindled greatly against the people on account of it; but how does He show His displeasure? He begins with giving them the very thing they wish for; He works a miracle to give it them; He gives it them to the utmost extent of their desires, and beyond them. But what was God really doing all this while? He was only vindicating His aspersed honour.
2. The Lord took vengeance on these Israelites, and this in a fearful manner and at a very remarkable time. It is often the will of God to make our sin our punishment. We eagerly crave something; He gives us what we crave, and when we have it, He either takes away from us all our delight in it, and so bitterly disappoints us, or else He causes it to prove to us a source of misery. (C. Bradley, M. A.)
The judgments of God sometimes come very suddenly
In the midst of their lusts and pleasures, behold how God’s judgments come upon them. They had feasted a long time, and had glutted themselves with their flesh; now their sweet meat had sour sauce. The doctrine arising from hence is this, that the judgments of God do oftentimes fail upon men and women very suddenly before they be aware, when they least of all think or imagine of the day of wrath (Job 20:5-7; Job 21:17; Psalms 73:19; Isaiah 30:13; Exodus 12:29; Daniel 5:30; Luke 12:20). The destruction of the wicked shall come as a whirlwind (Amos 1:14).
1. This is plain, because they have through God’s long-suffering increased the number, weight, and measure of their sins, and thereby compel the Lord to bring His judgments suddenly upon them.
2. God respecteth herein the benefit of others toward whom He hath not used as yet so long patience, to the end that they, seeing others fall into sudden destruction, may learn thereby not to abuse His patience, lest they also be suddenly destroyed (Daniel 5:22).
The uses follow.
1. See from hence the happy estate of all such as think of the day of their reckoning betimes, and prepare their garments that they be not taken naked. Such are out of danger, and have no cause to fear wrath and judgment.
2. It serveth to teach us that we should not envy at the peace and prosperity of the wicked, neither fret at the flourishing estate of the ungodly that live in their sins, for howsoever they be for a time forborne, yet thereby they are the more hardened in their sins, till a far greater judgment come upon them. Therefore envy not at them though they grow great, for suddenly shall the judgments of God tulle hold upon them, and arrest them as guilty of death, and then they shall perish speedily; so that there is no reason to grieve or grudge at their prosperity.
3. From hence ariseth comfort to the faithful.
4. It is our duty to watch and attend with all care for the time of judgment. (W. Attersoll.)
The graves of lust
I. It is the tendency of lust to shorten life and to bring men to an untimely grave. Our animal desires are good servants; but, when they gain the mastery, they are fearful tyrants, loading the conscience with guilt and the body with disease, ruining life, and making eternity a hell. The Romans, it is said, held their funerals at the Gate of Venus, to teach that lust shortens life. The pleasures of sin are dearly bought.
II. Let us record some of our feelings as we contemplate “the graves of lust.”
1. The one is of intense pity, that man should be so foolish as to live in sin when he knew how it would end; that life should be so wasted, and opportunities lost, &c.
2. The other is of awful solemnity. He is gone; but whither? He has given up the ghost; but where is he?
Let us all--
1. Ascertain whether or no we are on the way to this grave.
2. Resolve through the help of God that we will not be there. Seek Jesus Christ. He, and He only, can rescue us from the power, the curse, and the consequences of sin. (David Lloyd.)
What we inordinately desire, if we obtain it, we have reason to fear that it will be some way or other a grief and cross to us. God sufficed them first, and then plagued them.
1. To save the reputation of His own power, that it might not be said, He had cut them off because He was not able to suffice them. And--
2. To show us the meaning of the prosperity of sinners; it is their preparation for ruin. They are fed as an ox for the slaughter. (Matthew Hearty, D. D.)
Graves of desire
The last thing that most people would desire is a grave, and yet how often does desire conduct to death! We will notice several manifestations of irregular and destructive desire, and, in conclusion, show how desire may be directed and chastened.
I. There is unseasonable desire. The desire of the people for flesh was not unnatural, not illegal in itself, but it was unseasonable. This is a common fault of ours, to desire legitimate things in times and places which are not convenient.
1. There is the impatience of youth. The course of life with many in these times reminds us of the days when we were lads, and when in the early morning we went a distance to school, taking our dinner with us; then appetite was keen, and it was no unusual thing to devour our dinner on the way to school, starving for the rest of the day. It is thus with thousands of infatuated ones a little later on; in the greediness of their heart they devour and waste their portion in the morning of life, and then starve through the long tedious day, or else go down to a premature grave. I say to my young brethren, wait, rein in your desires, move slowly, and every joy of life shall be yours in turn. “Haste is of the devil,” is a saying in the East popularly ascribed to Mahomet himself. We may accept the saying in the matter before us; let youth be moderate, deliberate, avoiding all feverishness, drawing slowly on the resources of life.
2. There is the eagerness, of manhood. We should do little in life without intensity, but there are times when we may with advantage take in sail, and give ourselves time for rest and reflection. It is certainly unseasonable to bring our business life in any shape into the Lord’s Day. It is also unseasonable to allow worldly cares and ambitions to invade those spaces which are so necessary for our domestic and intellectual life. God grants us spaces for rest and thought in the home, in the chamber; and it is exhaustive, indeed, when our overweening worldliness excludes the possibilities of solitary and social life. Some men fill their annual holidays with anxieties until they are no holidays at all. And there are days of personal affliction, of domestic sorrows, of national calamity, when it is our solemn duty to pause in the race for riches and think of life’s larger meaning.
3. There is the greed of age. Old men often come to the grave sooner than they need because they will not let the world go. They cling to ambition, although it wastes their strength and peace; they cling to business, they are pushing, grasping, hoarding as ever, although such application fast saps a life already tottering; they cling to pleasure, they will still wear the wreath of roses on their white hair, although to them it is the most fatal wreath of all.
II. There is immoderate desire. We may pursue a right object with inordinate appetite. The Israelites were not content with the simple, pearly, wholesome food God gave them--they wanted something more piquant. They got what they wanted--and a grave. In all generations how many fall the same way.
1. There is the immoderateness of our literature. We must feast on the romantic, the sensational, the morbid, the exaggerated. Out of this excess of imaginative literature come great evils. The reading public live in a world of fancy, sentiment, passion; and this feverish unreality in the hours of retirement gives birth to much of that practical immoderation which is the curse of our age. I do not say abandon this literature of romance; but I do say restrain and chasten your imagination, for be sure this habit of wild dreaming is at the root of much of that general intemperance of life which hurries many to the grave.
2. There is the immoderation of our style of living. A writer was finding fault the other day with the present style of gardening. He complained that we have rooted up the old fragrant flowers--lavender, pinks, marigolds, mignonette, and gone in for crude patches of red and blue and yellow; that we have swept away sweet shrubs and bits of lawn for the sake of violet ribbon-borders and vulgar carpet-bedding. But does not our Italian gardening largely reflect our social life? Are we not often found renouncing sweet, simple methods of living for a showy, ostentatious style which brings with it little joy?
3. There is the immoderateness of our appetite. Thousands are digging their grave with their teeth, and scooping it out with their glass.
4. There is the immoderateness of business. Immoderation in other directions often drives men to unnatural eagerness in business. In haste to be rich they pierce themselves through with many sorrows.
III. There is illegal desire. Fixing our eye on forbidden things and lusting after them. How beautiful they seem, how desirable! and yet they eat as doth a canker. They lead to a premature grave. “The wicked do not live out half their days.” They lead to a dishonoured grave (Ecclesiastes 8:10). They lead to a hopeless grave. Such awake to shame and everlasting contempt. Do not hide it from yourselves for an hour that death is the price of touching forbidden things. Are you tempted by unlawful pleasure? see the skeleton behind the flowers. By unlawful gain? see the field of blood behind the pieces of silver. By unlawful greatness? see the shroud wrapped up in the purple. By unlawful indulgence? see that at the devil’s banquet the sexton is head waiter. Lust when it hath conceived bringeth forth sin, and sin when it is finished will have finished you. This is the dismal eternal order; and no secrecy, no strength, no skill on your part can disturb the programme or avert the penalty. Wherein, then, lies our safety? In reducing all desire to a minimum? Some of our sceptical writers counsel this but it is not the philosophy of Christianity. The infinity of desire is a grand characteristic of our nature which it is no part of our duty to destroy. Christianity leaves intact our boundless desire, whilst it teaches us moderation in all worldly things. It does this by fixing our attention on our inner life. It assures us that the deep, final satisfaction is not in our senses, but in our spirit; that we find the full and ultimate delight of life as our inner self grows in truth anal goodness and love. It does this by fixing our hope on the heavenly life. The pilgrim is not likely to be too deeply engrossed about the tent curtains, tent pegs, tent cords. Think much of that greater life, and you shall not think overmuch about things which perish in the using. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The true nursing-father
It was but three days’ march from Sinai, and the people encamped on a site which was ever memorable in their history, as recalling one of the gravest, saddest scenes in the experiences of the wilderness journey. We are only, however, now concerned in the incident so far as it affects the character of Moses.
I. The test beneath which Moses broke down, But in the case of Moses there was surely an outbreak of impatience which was hardly justifiable. He loved the people, but his love was not strong enough to sustain the terrific test to which it was exposed. He pitied them, but beneath the scorching sun of their repeated provocations that pity dried up like waters which are absorbed in the desert heat.
II. The parallel in Christian experience.
1. We also have need to beware of the influence of “the mixed multitude.” Had it not been for these, Israel had walked with God, and been satisfied with His provision on their behalf. It was from them that the discontent proceeded. There are many professing Christians who have the form of godliness, but deny its power, and who pass freely in and out among the children of God. It is among these that we may expect to hear complaints that religion is dry and irksome, or rapturous descriptions of the food of Egypt, or special pleadings that there should be a mingling of the delights of the Egyptian world, which should have been left behind for ever, with the manna which God lays on the dew of the desert floor. Their influence is all the stronger in that they appeal to tendencies within us, which are so susceptible to their call.
2. We must distinguish between appetite and lust. The appetites have been implanted within us to maintain the machinery of life. If it were not for their action, we should neglect food and rest and exercise, and many other things necessary to our well-being. But in us all appetite is apt to run up into lust. In other words, we seek satisfaction, not for the necessary supply of our physical needs, but for the momentary pleasure which accompanies the gratification of appetite itself. Our motive is not the obtaining of some lawful and necessary end, but the titillation of taste and sense. Appetite has, therefore, to be curbed with a strong hand, lest it become inordinate passion, for the moment we take pleasure in the indulgence of appetite for its own sake, and apart from the legitimate end for which it was intended by the Almighty, we begin to tread a path that leads swiftly down to the bottomless pit.
3. Let us guard against the resurrection of easily besetting sins. We say to ourselves that certain forms of sin have died down within us, anal will never trouble us more. We have grown out of them. But at that very moment the ghastly shape of that temptation is at hand, to assert perhaps even more than its olden force. You can never be sure of yourself. The suggestion that a certain form of temptation can have no further power over you is of the devil, and should excite you to greater watchfulness. Inordinate desire, murmuring and mistrust, are linked in the closest association. When one of these enters the window of the heart, it goes round to open the door to the other two. Oh, how often have we grieved our heavenly Father! Have we not had days of provocation and temptation in the wilderness?
III. The contrast between the servant and the father. Moses repudiated the office of the nursing-father. He could not sustain its responsibilities. But his failure only serves to bring out into distincter relief a touching conception of the Fatherhood of God. Forty years afterwards, as the aged lawgiver, at the foot of Pisgah, was summing up the results of his experience, he said, “Thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bare his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came unto this place” (Deuteronomy 1:31; Isaiah 63:9; Acts 13:18, R.V. marg.). Moses’ patience gave out in a twelvemonth, God’s lasted till His work was done, and the people were safely deposited in the land of promise. If only the true story of our lives were written, it would be the most astounding record of God’s forbearing and pitying love. Truly, “He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.” But let us beware: there comes a time in the history of besetting sin when God ceases to strive against it. He gave them the quails they asked, flesh to the full. You may be mad for gold, and gold may pour in; mad for pleasure, and the golden barges wait to waft you on the swelling current; mad for applause, and it is yours till you are surfeited. God does not curse you, He leaves you to yourself, and that is curse enough. It is best to let our Father choose. His choice as to route and manna and length of daily journey must be the best. And when our yearnings are in opposition to His wise provision, let us quench them and yield our will about them. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
In what a solemn manner does this teach us the danger of uncontrolled desires! We have often thought what a beautiful prayer that is, “Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel” (Psalms 20:4), when offered for one whose heart is subdued, and whose desires are concentrated on the fulfilment of God’s promises. But would it not be an awful prayer for one whose heart is full of unhallowed desires, who longs, like Israel of old, only for earthly things? Oh, we should take heed what we desire, and for what we pray. You may ask for some earthly gift--it may be worldly prosperity, it may be wealth, or it may be for some other gift--some far higher, but still earthly gift--and because you are very intent upon it, God may give it you: and then the fulfilment of that desire may become a most terrible snare to you. The gift, whatsoever it be, may become your idol, may let down your affections to earth; and thus, whilst your prayers have been granted, God has sent leanness withal into your soul. Oh, it is exalted mercy, that God does not grant all our desires--that He so often sets aside some desires, and greatly disappoints others. We are prone to fret at this, but it is a part of a merciful plan, whereby He would bring us to rest in Himself. Oh, then, through grace, I will turn away from earth, with all its treasures, and from the creature, whatever its attractions be. I will turn to Jesus. In Him I cannot be disappointed. His love is altogether pure, altogether satisfying. (G. Wagner.)
The punishment of a gratified desire
Among the passengers on the St. Louis express was a woman very much overdressed, accompanied by a bright looking nurse-girl and a self-willed, tyrannical boy of about three years. The boy aroused the indignation of the passengers by his continued shrieks and kicks and, screams, and his viciousness towards the patient nurse. He tore her bonnet, scratched her hands, and finally spat in her face, without a word of remonstrance from the mother. Whenever the nurse manifested any firmness, the mother chided her sharply. Presently, the mother composed herself for a nap; and about the time the boy had slapped the nurse for the fiftieth time, a wasp came sailing in, and flew on the window of the nurse’s seat. The boy at once tried to catch it. The nurse caught his hand, and said coaxingly, “Harry mustn’t touch. Wasp will bite Harry.” Harry screamed savagely, and began to kick and pound the nurse. The mother, without opening her eyes or lifting her head, cried out sharply, “Why will you tease that child so, Mary? Let him have what he wants at once.” “But, ma’am, its a--” “Let him have it, I say.” Thus encouraged, Harry clutched at the wasp and caught it. The scream that followed brought tears of joy to the passengers’ eyes. The mother woke again. “Mary,” she cried, “let him have it!” Mary turned in her seat, and said confusedly, “He’s got it, ma’am!” (S. S. Times.)
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Numbers 11". The Biblical Illustrator. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34