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Expositions of Holy Scripture by Alexander Maclaren

Part 11 out of 12

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We may take the words in that aspect, first, as containing God's
pledge that these outward gifts shall come in unbroken continuity.
And have they not so come to us all, for all these long years? Has
there ever been a gap left yawning? has there ever been a break in
the chain of mercies and supplies? has it not rather been that 'one
post ran to meet another,' that before one of the messengers had
unladed all his budget, another's arrival has antiquated and put
aside his store? True, we are often brought very low; there may not
be much in the barn but sweepings, and a few stray grains scattered
over the floor. We may have but a handful of meal in the barrel, and
be ready to dress it 'that we may eat it, and die.' But it never
really comes to that. The new ever comes before the old is all eaten
up; or if it be delayed even beyond that time, it comes before the
hunger reaches inanition. It may be good that we should have to
trust Him, even when the storehouse is empty; it may be good for us
to know something of want, but that discipline comes seldom, and is
never carried very far. For the most part He anticipates wants by
gifts, and His good gifts overlap each other in our outward lives as
slates on a roof, or scales on a fish.

We wonder at the smooth working of the machinery for feeding a great
city; and how, day by day, the provisions come at the right time,
and are parted out among hundreds of thousands of homes. But we
seldom think of the punctual love, the perfect knowledge, the
profound wisdom which cares for us all, and is always in time with
its gifts. It was that quality of punctuality extended over a whole
universe which seemed so wonderful to the Psalmist: 'The eyes of all
wait upon Thee, and Thou givest them their meat in due season.'
God's machinery for distribution is perfect, and its very
perfection, with the constancy of the resulting blessings, robs Him
of His praise, and hinders our gratitude. By assiduity He loses

'Things grown common lose their dear delight.' 'If in His gifts and
benefits He were more sparing and close-handed,' said Luther, 'we
should learn to be thankful.' But let us learn it by the continuity
of our joys, that we may not need to be taught it by their
interruption; and let us still all tremulous anticipation of
possible failure or certain loss by the happy confidence which we
have a right to cherish, that His mercies will meet our needs,
continuous as they are, and be strung so close together on the poor
thread of our lives that no gap will be discernible in the jewelled

May we not apply that same thought of the unbroken continuity of
God's gifts to the higher region of our spiritual experience? His
supplies of wisdom, love, joy, peace, power, to our souls are always
enough and more than enough for our wants. If ever men complain of
languishing vitality in their religious emotions, or of a stinted
supply of food for their truest self, it is their own fault, not
His. He means that there should be no parentheses of famine in our
Christian life. It is not His doing if times of torpor alternate
with seasons of quick energy and joyful fullness of life. So far as
He is concerned the flow is uninterrupted, and if it come to us in
jets and spurts as from an intermittent well, it is because our own
fault has put some obstacle to choke the channel and dam out His
Spirit from our spirits. We cannot too firmly hold, or too
profoundly feel, that an unbroken continuity of supplies of His
grace--unbroken and bright as a sunbeam reaching in one golden shaft
all the way from the sun to the earth--is His purpose concerning us.
Here, in this highest region, the thought of our text is most
absolutely true; for He who gives is ever pouring forth His own self
for us to take, and there is no limit to our reception but our
capacity and our desire; nor any reason for a moment's break in our
possession of love, righteousness, peace, but our withdrawal of our
souls from beneath the Niagara of His grace. As long as we keep our
poor vessels below that constant downpour they will be full. It is
all our own blame if they are empty. Why should Christian people
have these dismal times of deadness, these parentheses of paralysis?
as if their growth must be like that of a tree with its alternations
of winter sleep and summer waking? In regard to outward blessings we
are, as it were, put upon rations, and 'that He gives' us we
'gather.' There He sometimes does, in love and wisdom, put us on
very short allowance, and even now and then causes 'the fields to
yield no meat.' But never is it so in the higher region. There He
puts the key of the storehouse into our own hands, and we may take
as much as we will, and have as much as we take. There the bread of
God is given for evermore, and He wills that in uninterrupted
abundance 'the meek shall eat and be satisfied.'

The source is full to overflowing, and there are no limits to the
supply. The only limit is our capacity, which again is largely
determined by our desire. So after all His gifts there is more yet
unreceived to possess. After all His Self-revelation there is more
yet unspoken to declare. Great as is the goodness which He has
'wrought before the sons of men for them that trust in Him,' there
are far greater treasures of goodness 'laid up' in the deep mines of
God 'for them that fear Him.' Bars of uncoined treasure and ingots
of massy gold lie in His storehouses, to be put into circulation as
soon as we need, and can use, them. Hence we have the right to look
for an endless increase in our possession of God; and from the
consideration of an Infinite Spirit that imparts Himself, and of
finite but indefinitely expansible spirits that receive, the
certainty arises of an endless life for us of growing glory; a
heaven of ceaseless advance, where in constant alternation desire
shall widen capacity, and capacity increase fruition, and fruition
lead in, not satiety, but quickened appetite and deeper longing.

But we may also see in this text the prescription of a duty as well
as the announcement of a promise. There is direction here as to our
manner of receiving God's gifts, as well as large assurance as to
His manner of bestowing them. It is His to substitute the new for
the old. It is ours gladly to accept the exchange, a task not always
easy or pleasant.

No doubt there is a natural love of change deep in us all, but that
is held in check by its opposite, and all poetry and human life
itself are full of the sadness born of mutation. Our Lord laid bare
a deep tendency, when He said, 'No man having tasted old wine,
straightway desireth new; because he saith the old is better.' We
cling to what is familiar, in the very furniture of our houses; and
yet we are ever being forced to accept what is strange and new, and,
like some fresh article in a room, is out of harmony with the well-
worn things that we have seen standing in their corners for years.
It takes some time for the raw look to wear off, and for us to 'get
used to it,' as we say. So is it, though often for deeper reasons,
in far more important things. A man, for instance, has been engaged
in some kind of business for years, and at last God shows him, by
clear indications, that he must turn to something else. How slow he
is to see it, how reluctant to do it! How he cleaves to the 'old
store'! How he shrinks from clearing out the barn, to bring in the
new! Or a household has been going on for many days unbroken, and at
last a time comes when some of its members have to pass out into new
circumstances; a son to push his way in the world, a daughter to
brighten another fireside. It is hard for the parents to enter fully
into the high hopes of their children, and to accept the new
condition, without many vain longings for the old days that can
never come back any more. So, all through our lives, wisdom and
faith say, 'Bring forth the old because of the new.' Accept
cheerfully the law of constant change under which God's love has set
us. Do not let the pleasant bonds of habit tie down your hearts so
tightly to the familiar possessions that you shrink from the
introduction of fresh elements. Be sure that the new comes from the
same loving hand which sent the old in its season, and that change
is meant to be progress. Do not confine yourselves within any mill-
horse round of associations and occupations. Front the vicissitudes
of life, not merely with brave patience, but with happy confidence,
for they all come from Him whose love is older than your oldest
blessings, and whose mercies, new every morning, express themselves
afresh through every change. Welcome the new, treasure the old, and
in both see the purpose of that loving Father who, Himself
unchanged, changeth all things, and

'... fulfils Himself in many ways,
Lest one good custom should corrupt the world.'

In higher matters than these our text may give us counsel as to our
duty. 'God hath more light yet to break forth from His holy word.'
We are bound to welcome new truth, so soon as to our apprehensions
it has made good its title, and not to refuse it lodgment in our
minds because it needs the displacement of their old contents. In
the regions of our knowledge and of our Christian life, most
chiefly, are we under solemn obligations to 'bring forth the old
store because of the new'; if we would not be unfaithful to God's
great educational process that goes on through all our lives. It is
often difficult to adjust the relations of our last lesson with our
previous possessions. There is always a temptation to make too much
of a new truth, and to fancy that it will produce more change in our
whole mental furniture than it really will do. No man is less likely
to come to the knowledge of the truth than he who is always deep in
love with some new thought, 'the Cynthia of the minute,' and ever
ready to barter 'old lamps for new ones.' But all these things
admitted, still it remains true that we are here to learn, that our
education is to go on all our days, and that here on earth it can
only be carried out by our parting with the old store, which may
have become musty by long lying in the granaries, to make room for
the new, just gathered in the ripened field. The great central
truths of God in Christ are to be kept for ever; but we shall come
to grasp them in their fullness only by joyfully welcoming every
fresh access of clearer light which falls upon them; and gladly
laying aside our inadequate thoughts of God's permanent revelation
of Himself in Jesus Christ, to house and garner in heart and spirit
the fuller knowledge which it may please Him to impart.

So the law for life is thankful enjoyment of the old store, and
openness of mind and freedom of heart which permit its unreluctant
surrender when newer harvests ripen. And the highest form of the
promise of our text will be when we pass into another world, and its
rich abundance is poured out into our laps. Blessed are they who can
willingly put away the familiar blessings of earth, and stretch out,
willingly emptied, expectant hands to meet the 'new store' of


'I am the Lord your God, which brought you forth out of
the land of Egypt, that ye should not be their bondmen;
and I have broken the bands of your yoke, and made you
go upright.'--LEV. xxvi. 13.

The history of Israel is a parable and a prophecy as well as a

The great central word of the New Testament has been drawn from it,
viz. 'redemption,' _i.e._ a buying out of bondage.

The Hebrew slaves in Egypt were 'delivered.' The deliverance made
them a nation. God acquired them for Himself, and they became His

The great truths of the gospel are all there.

Henceforth the fact of their deliverance became the basis of all His
appeals to them; the ground of His law; the reason for their
obedience. In the previous context it has shaped the institution of
slavery. Here it is the foundation of a general exhortation to
obedience. The emphatic picture of the men stooping beneath the
yoke, and then straightening themselves up, erect, illustrates the
joyful freedom which Christ gives. That freedom is our subject.

I. Jesus gives freedom from the slavery of sin.

Freedom consists in power to follow unhindered the law of our being.
So sin is slavery because it is contrary to that law.

When Jesus promised freedom through the truth, the Jews indignantly
spurned the offer with the proud boast, which the presence of a
Roman garrison in Jerusalem should have made to stick in their
throats: 'We were never in bondage to any man.' A like hardy
shutting of eyes to plain facts characterises the attitude of
multitudes to the Christian view of man's condition. Jesus answered
the Jews by the deep saying: 'He that committeth sin is the servant
of sin.' A man fancies himself showing off his freedom by throwing
off the restraints of morality or law, and by 'doing as he likes,'
but he is really showing his servitude. Self-will looks like
liberty, but it is serfdom. The libertine is a slave. That slavery
under sin takes two forms. The man who sins is a slave to the power
of sin. Will and conscience are meant to guide and impel us, and we
never sin without first coercing or silencing them and subjecting
them to the upstart tyranny of desires and senses which should obey
and not command. The 'beggars' are on horseback, and the 'princes'
walking. There is a servile revolt, and we know what horrors
accompany that.

But that slavery under sin is shown also by the terrible force with
which any sin, if once committed, appeals to the doer to repeat it.
It is not only in regard to sensual sins that the awful insistence
of habit grips the doer, and makes it the rarest thing that evil
once done is done only once.

But he who sins is also a slave to the guilt of sin. True, that
sense of guilt is for the most part and in most men dormant, but the
snake is but hibernating, and often wakes and stings at most
unexpected moments. 'The deceitfulness of sin' lies to the sinner,
so that for the most part he 'wipes his mouth, saying I have done no
harm,' but some chance incident may at any time, and certainly
something will at some time, dissipate the illusion, as a stray
sunbeam might scatter a wisp of mist and show startled eyes the grim
fact that had always been there. And even while not consciously
felt, guilt hampers the soul's insight into divine realities, clips
its wings so that it cannot soar, paralyses its efforts after noble
aims, and inclines it to ignoble grovelling as far away from
thoughts of God and goodness as may be.

Christ makes the man bound and tied by the cords of his sins lift
himself up and stand erect. By His death He brings forgiveness which
removes guilt and the consciousness of it. By His inbreathed life He
gives a new nature akin to His own, and brings into force a new
motive, even transforming love, which is stronger than the death
with which sin has cursed its doers. 'The law of the Spirit of Life
in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.'

II. Jesus gives freedom from a slavish relation to God.

Apart from Him, God, if recognised at all, is for the most part
thought of as 'austere, reaping where He did not sow,' and His
commandments as grievous. Men may sullenly recognise that they
cannot resist, but they do not submit. They may obey in act, but
there is no obedience in their wills, nor any cheerfulness in their
hearts. The elder brother in the parable could say, 'Neither
transgressed I at any time thy commandment,' but his service had
been joyless, and he never remembered having received gifts that
made him 'merry with his friends.'

But from all such slavish, and therefore worthless, obedience, and
all such reluctant, and therefore unreal, submission, Jesus
liberates those who believe on Him and abide in His word. He
declares God as our loving Father, and through Him we have authority
to become sons of God. He 'sends forth the Spirit of His Son into
our hearts,' and that makes us to be no more slaves but sons. Sullen
obedience becomes glad choice, and it is the inmost desire, and the
deepest delight, of the loving child to do always the things that
please the loving Father. 'I ought' and 'I will' coalesce, and so
there is no slavery, but perfect freedom, in recognising and bowing
to the great 'I must' which sweetly rules the life.

III. Christ gives deliverance from servility to men.

We need not touch on the historical connection, plain as that is,
between modern conceptions of individual freedom and the influence
of Christ's teaching. Modern democracy is rooted in Christ, though
it is often unaware of its genesis, and blindly attacks the force to
which it owes its existence.

Because all men are redeemed by Christ, because by that redemption
all stand in the same relation to Him, because all have equal access
to Him, and are taught and guided by His Spirit, because 'we must
all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ,' therefore class
prerogatives and subject classes fade away, and there is 'neither
bond nor free,' but 'all are one in Christ Jesus.'

But there are other ways in which men tyrannise over men and in
which Christ's redemption sets us free.

There is the undue authority of favourite teachers and examples.

There is the tyranny of public opinion.

There is undue regard to human approbation.

There is the sway of priestcraft.

How does Christianity deliver from these? It makes Christ's law our
unconditional duty. It makes His approbation our highest joy. It
gives legitimate scope to the instinct of loyalty, submission, and
imitation, and of subjection to authority. It reduces to
insignificance men's judgment, and all their loud voices to a babble
of nothings. 'With me it is a very small matter to be judged of
man's judgment.' It brings the soul into direct communion with God,
and sweeps away all intermediaries.

'Not for that we have dominion over your faith but are helpers of
your joy; for by faith ye stand.'

So personal independence and individuality of character are the
result of Christianity. 'I have made you go upright.

IV. Christ gives us freedom from the power of circumstances.

Most men are made by these. We need not here enter on questions of
the influence of their environment on all men's development.

But Christ gives us--

_(a)_ A great aim for our lives high above these.

_(b)_ A foothold in Him outside of them. We are not the slaves
of our circumstances, but their masters.

_(c)_ The power to utilise them.

So Christians are 'free' in all senses of the word.

The great Act of Emancipation has been passed for us all. Only
Christ has rule over us, and we have our perfect freedom in His
service. We have been sitting in the prison-house, and He has come
and declared 'The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me to proclaim liberty
to the captives.'



'All that enter in to perform the service, to do the
work in the tabernacle.'
NUM. iv. 23.

These words occur in the series of regulations as to the functions
of the Levites in the Tabernacle worship. The words 'to perform the
service' are, as the margin tells us, literally, to 'war the
warfare.' Although it may be difficult to say why such very prosaic
and homely work as carrying the materials of the Tabernacle and the
sacrificial vessels was designated by such a term, the underlying
suggestion is what I desire to fix upon now--viz., that work for
God, of whatever kind it be, which Christian people are bound to do,
and which is mainly service for men for God's sake, will never be
rightly done until we understand that it is a _warfare_, as
well as a work.

The phrase on which I am commenting occurs again and again in the
regulations as to the Levitical service, and is applied, not only as
in my text to those who were told off to bear the burdens on the
march, but also to the whole body of Levites, who did the inferior
services in connection with the ritual worship. They were not, as it
would appear, sacrificing priests, but they belonged to the same
tribe as these, and they had sacred functions to discharge. So we
come to this principle, that Christian service is to be looked at as

Now, that is a principle which ought to be applied to all
Christians. For there is no such thing as designating a portion of
Christ's Church to service which others have not to perform. The
distinction of 'priest' and 'layman' existed in the Old Testament;
it does not exist under the New Covenant, and there is no obligation
upon any one Christian man to devote himself for Christ's sake to
Christ's service and man's help (which is Christ's service), that
does not lie equally upon all Christian people. The function is the
same for all; the methods of discharging it may be widely different.
Within the limits of the priestly tribe there may still be those
whose office it is to carry the vessels, and those whose office it
is to act more especially as ministering priests; but they are all
'of the tribe of Levi.' We, if we are Christian people at all, are
all bound to do this work of 'the tabernacle,' and war this warfare.

It is important that we Christian people should elevate our thoughts
of our duties in the world to the height of this great metaphor. The
metaphor of the Christian life as being a 'warfare' is familiar
enough, but that is not exactly the point which I wish to dwell upon
now. When we speak about 'fighting the good fight of faith,' we
generally mean our wrestle and struggle with our own evils and with
the things that hinder us from developing a Christlike character,
and 'growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ.' But it is another sort of warfare about which I am
now speaking, the warfare which every Christian man has to wage who
flings himself into the work of diminishing the world's miseries and
sins, and tries to make people better, and happier because they are
better. That is a fight, and will always be so, if it is rightly

I. Think of the foes.

Speaking generally, society is constituted upon a non-Christian
basis. We talk about 'Christian' nations. There is not one on the
face of the earth. There is not a nation whose institutions and
maxims and politics and the practices of its individual members are
ruled and moulded predominantly by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So
every man that has come into personal touch with that Lord, and has
felt that His commandments are the supreme authority in his own
individual life, when he goes out into society, comes full tilt
against a whole host of things that are in pronounced antagonism, or
in real though unacknowledged contradiction, to the principles by
which a Christian has to live for himself, and to commend to his
brethren. So we have to fight. There are two things to be done--the
imparting of good which will increase the sum of the world's
happiness, and the destruction of evil, which will subtract some of
the world's sorrows. The latter is always a conflict, for there are
arrayed in defence of the evil vested interests, and the influence
of habit, and the lowered vitality and sensitiveness of conscience
which has come from breathing the polluted atmosphere which evil has
vitiated. So that if we set ourselves, in humble, quiet, out-and-out
dependence on Jesus Christ and submission to His will, to lead other
people to submit to His will, there is nothing in the world more
certain than that we shall find against us, starting up, as it were,
out of the mist and taking form suddenly, a whole host of enemies.
So we Christian men, as individuals, as members of a community and
able to bring some influence to bear upon the conscience of society,
have to fight against popular social evils, and to war for
righteousness' sake.

There is another foe. There is nothing that men dislike more than
being lifted up into a clearer atmosphere and made to see truths
which they do not see or care for. When we first become Christians
we are all hot to go and teach and preach; and we fancy that we have
only to stand up, with a Bible in our hand, and read two or three
texts, and our fellows will grasp them as gladly as we have done.
But soon we find out that it is not so easy to draw men to Christ as
we thought it would be. We have to fight against gravitation and
unwillingness, when we would lift a poor brother into the liberty
and the light that we are in. We have to struggle with the men that
we are trying to help. We have to war, in order to bring 'the peace
of God which passes understanding' into their hearts.

But the worst of all our foes, in doing Christian service, is our
own miserable selves, with our laziness, and our vanity, and our
wondering what A, B, and C will think about us, and the mingling of
impure motives with nobler ones, and our being angry with people
because they are so insensible, not so much to Christ's love as to
our words and pleadings. Unless we can purge all that devil's leaven
out of ourselves, we have little chance of working 'the work of the
tabernacle,' or warring the warfare of God. Ah! brethren, to do
anything for this world of unbelief and sin, of which we ourselves
are part, is a struggle. And I know of no work that needs more
continual putting a firm heel upon self, in all its subtle
manifestations, than the various forms of Christian service. Not
only we preachers, but Sunday-school teachers, mothers in their
nurseries, teaching their children, and all of us, if we are trying
to do anything for men, for Christ's sake, must feel, if we are
honest with ourselves and about our work, that the first condition
of success in it is to fight down self, and that only then, being
emptied of ourselves, are we ready to be filled with the Spirit, by
which we are made mighty to pull down the strongholds of sin.

II. The weapons of this warfare.

There are two great passages in the New Testament, both of which
deal with the Christian life under this metaphor of warfare. One of
these is the detailed description of the Christian armour in the
Epistle to the Ephesians. There we have described the equipment for
that phase of the fight of the Christian life which has to do mainly
with the perfecting of the individual character. But somewhat
different is the armour which is to be worn, when the Christian man
goes out into the world to labour and to wage war there for Jesus
Christ. We may turn, then, rather to the other of the two passages
in question for the descriptions of the equipment, armour, and
weapons of the Christian in his warfare for the spread of truth and
goodness in the world. The passage to which I refer is in 2 Cor. vi.
What are the weapons that Paul specifies in that place? I venture to
alter their order, because he seems to have put them down just as
they came into his mind, and we can put some kind of logical
sequence into them. 'By the Word of God'--that is the first one. 'By
the Holy Ghost,' which is otherwise given as 'by the power of God,'
is the next. Get your minds and hearts filled with the truth of the
Gospel, and dwell in fellowship with God, baptized with His Holy
Spirit; and then you will be clothed 'as with a vesture down to your
heels' with the power of God. These are the divine side, the weapons
given us from above--'the Word of God' which is 'the sword of the
Spirit,' and the indwelling Holy Ghost manifesting Himself in power.
Then follow a series of human qualities which, though they are 'the
fruit of the Spirit,' are yet not produced in us without our own co-
operation. We have to forge and sharpen these weapons, though the
fire in which they are forged is from above, and the metal of which
they are made is given from heaven, like meteoric iron. These are
'kindness, long-suffering, love unfeigned.' We have to dismiss from
our minds the ordinary characteristics of warfare in thinking of
that which Christians are to wage. Like the old Knights Templars, we
must carry a sword which has a cross for its hilt, and must be clad
in gentleness, and long-suffering, and unfeigned love. 'The wrath of
men worketh not the righteousness of God.' You cannot bully people
into Christianity, you cannot scold them into goodness. There must
be sweetness in order to attract, and he imperfectly echoes the
music of the voice that came from 'the lips into which grace was
poured,' whose words are harsh and rough, and who preaches the
Gospel as if he were thundering damnation into people's ears.

Brethren, whatever be our warfare against sin, we must never lose
our tempers. Harsh words break no bones indeed, but neither do they
break hearts. A character like Jesus Christ--that is the victorious
weapon. Let a man go and live in the world with these weapons that I
have been naming, the truth of God in his heart, the Holy Spirit in
his spirit, the power that comes therefrom animating his deadness
and strengthening his weakness, and himself an emblem and an
embodiment of the redeeming love of Christ--and though he spoke no
word he would be sure to preach Christ; and though he struck no blow
he would be a formidable antagonist to the hosts of evil, and the
icebergs of sin and godlessness would run down into water before his
silent and omnipotent shining. These are the weapons.

III. Note the temper, or disposition, of the Christian warrior-

Courage goes without saying. If a man expects to be beaten, and to
do nothing by his Christian witness but clear his conscience, he
deserves nothing else than what he will get--viz. that his
expectation will be fulfilled and he _will_ do nothing else
_but_ clear his conscience, and that imperfectly. That is why
so many preachers and Sunday-school teachers never see any
conversions in their congregation or classes--because they do not
expect any; because they go to their work without the enthusiastic
boldness which would give power to their utterances.

I suppose concentration, too, goes without saying. When a man is on
the battlefield with the swords whirling about his head, and the
bayonets an inch from his breast, he does not go dreaming of scenes
a hundred miles off, or think anything else than the one thing, how
to keep a whole skin and wound an enemy. If Christian men will do
their work in the dawdling, half-interested, and half-indifferent
way in which so many of us promenade through our Christian service
as if it was a review and not a fight, they are not likely to bring
back many trophies of victory. You must put your whole selves into
the battle. I said we must subdue ourselves ere we begin to fight.
That is no contradiction to what I am saying now, for, as we all
know, there is a distinction between the two selves in us--the self-
centred self, which is to be crucified, and the God-centred self,
which is to be nourished. You must put your whole selves into the

There must, too, be discipline. One difference between a mob and an
army is that the mob has as many wills as there are heads in it, and
the army has only one will, that of the commander. He says to one
man 'Go!' and he goes, and gets shot; and to another one 'Come!' and
he comes; and to a third one 'Do this!' and, no matter what it is,
straightway he goes and does it. So if we are soldiers we have to
take orders from headquarters, and to be sure that we pay no
attention to any other commands. Suppose a man is set at a certain
post by his captain, and a corporal comes and says, 'You go and do
this other thing; never mind your post, I will look after that,' to
obey that is mutiny. If Jesus Christ tells you to do anything, and
any others say 'Do not do it just yet!' neglect them, and obey Him.
If your own heart says, 'Stop a little while and try something other
and easier before you tackle that task,' be sure of the Captain's
voice, and then, whatever happens, obey, and obey at once. Warfare
is a diabolical thing, but there is a divine beauty in one aspect of

Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do--

even if it mean 'to die.' Thus let us wage warfare.

IV. The Relieving Guard.

This metaphor of warfare is used in the Book of Job, in a passage
where our English Version does not show it. So I venture to
substitute the right translation for the one in the Authorised
Version, 'All the days of my warfare will I wait till my change
comes.' The guard will be relieved some day, and the private that
has been tramping up and down in the dark or the snow, perhaps
within rifle's length of the enemy, will shoulder his gun and go
into the comfortable guardhouse, and hang up his knapsack, and fling
off his dirty boots, and sit down by the fire, and make himself
comfortable. There is a 'heavenly manner of relieving guard.' Soon
it will be the end of the sentry's time, and then, as one of those
that had done a good day's work, and a long one, said with a sigh of
relief, 'I have fought a good fight.' Henceforth the helmet is put
off, which is 'the hope of salvation,' and the crown is put on,
which is salvation in its fullness. 'All the days of my warfare will
I wait'--till my Captain relieves the guard.


'So it was alway: the cloud covered [the tabernacle] by
day, and the appearance of fire by night.'--Num. ix. 16.

The children of Israel in the wilderness, surrounded by miracle, had
nothing which we do not possess. They had some things in an inferior
form; their sustenance came by manna, ours comes by God's blessing
on our daily work, which is better. Their guidance came by this
supernatural pillar; ours comes by the reality of which that pillar
was nothing but a picture. And so, instead of fancying that men thus
led were in advance of us, we should learn that these, the
supernatural manifestations, visible and palpable, of God's presence
and guidance were the beggarly elements: 'God having provided some
better thing for us that they without us should not be made

With this explanation of the relation between the miracle and symbol
of the Old, and the reality and standing miracle of the New,
Covenants, let us look at the eternal truths, which are set before
us in a transitory form, in this cloud by day and fiery pillar by

I. Note, first, the double form of the guiding pillar.

The fire was the centre, the cloud was wrapped around it. The former
was the symbol, making visible to a generation who had to be taught
through their senses, the inaccessible holiness and flashing
brightness and purity of the divine nature; the latter tempered and
veiled the too great brightness for feeble eyes.

The same double element is found in all God's manifestations of
Himself to men. In every form of revelation are present both the
heart and core of light, which no eye can look upon, and the
merciful veil which, because it veils, unveils; because it hides,
reveals; makes visible because it conceals; and shows God because it
is 'the hiding of His power.' So, through all the history of His
dealings with men, there has ever been what is called in Scripture
language the 'face,' or the 'name of God'; the aspect of the divine
nature on which the eye can look; and manifested through it, there
has always been the depth and inaccessible abyss of that Infinite
Being. We have to be thankful that in the cloud is the fire, and
that round the fire is the cloud. For only so can our eyes behold
and our hands grasp the else invisible and remote central Sun of the
universe. God hides to make better known the glories of His
character. His revelation is the flashing of the uncreated and
intolerable light of His infinite Being through the encircling
clouds of human conceptions and words, or of deeds which each show
forth, in forms fitted to our apprehension, some fragment of His
lustre. After all revelation, He remains unrevealed. After ages of
showing forth His glory, He is still 'the King invisible, whom no
man hath seen at any time nor can see.' The revelation which He
makes of Himself is 'truth and is no lie.' The recognition of the
presence in it of both the fire and the cloud does not cast any
doubt on the reality of our imperfect knowledge, or of the authentic
participation in the nature of the central light, of the sparkles of
it which reach us. We know with a real knowledge what we know of
Him. What He shows us is Himself, though not His whole self.

This double aspect of all possible revelation of God, which was
symbolised in comparatively gross external form in the pillar that
led Israel on its march, and lay stretched out and quiescent, a
guarding covering above the Tabernacle when the weary march was
still, recurs all through the history of Old Testament revelation by
type and prophecy and ceremony, in which the encompassing cloud was
comparatively dense, and the light which pierced it relatively
faint. It reappears in both elements in Christ, but combined in new
proportions, so as that 'the veil, that is to say, His flesh,' is
thinned to transparency and all aglow with the indwelling lustre of
manifest Deity. So a light, set in some fair alabaster vase, shines
through its translucent walls, bringing out every delicate tint and
meandering vein of colour, while itself diffused and softened by the
enwrapping medium which it beautifies by passing through its purity.
Both are made visible and attractive to dull eyes by the
conjunction. 'He that hath seen Christ hath seen the Father,' and he
that hath seen the Father in Christ hath seen the man Christ, as
none see Him who are blind to the incarnate deity which illuminates
the manhood in which it dwells.

But we have to note also the varying appearance of the pillar
according to need. There was a double change in the pillar according
to the hour, and according as the congregation was on the march or
encamped. By day it was a cloud, by night it glowed in the darkness.
On the march it moved before them, an upright pillar, as gathered
together for energetic movement; when the camp rested it 'returned
to the many thousands of Israel' and lay quietly stretched above the
Tabernacle like one of the long-drawn, motionless clouds above the
setting summer sun, glowing through all its substance with
unflashing radiance reflected from unseen light, and 'on all the
glory' (shrined in the Holy Place beneath) was 'a defence.'

Both these changes of aspect symbolise for us the reality of the
Protean capacity of change according to our ever-varying needs,
which for our blessing we may find in that ever-changing,
unchanging, divine Presence which will be our companion, if we will.

It was not only by a natural process that, as daylight declined,
what had seemed but a column of smoke in the fervid desert sunlight,
brightened into a column of fire, blazing amid the clear stars. But
we may well believe in an actual admeasurement of the degree of
light, correspondent to the darkness and to the need for certitude
and cheering sense of God's protection, which the defenceless camp
would feel as they lay down to rest.

When the deceitful brightness of earth glistens and dazzles around
us, our vision of Him may be 'a cloudy screen to temper the
deceitful ray'; and when 'there stoops on our path, in storm and
shade, the frequent night,' as earth grows darker, and life becomes
greyer and more sombre, and verges to its eventide, the pillar
blazes brighter before the weeping eye, and draws nearer to the
lonely heart. We have a God who manifests Himself in the pillar of
cloud by day, and in flaming fire by night.

II. Note the guidance of the pillar.

When it lifts the camp marches; when it glides down and lies
motionless the march is stopped, and the tents are pitched. The main
point which is dwelt upon in this description of the God-guided
pilgrimage of the wandering people is the absolute uncertainty in
which they were kept as to the duration of their encampment, and as
to the time and circumstances of their march. Sometimes the cloud
tarried upon the Tabernacle many days; sometimes for a night only;
sometimes it lifted in the night. 'Whether it was by day or by night
that the cloud was taken up, they journeyed. Or whether it were two
days, or a month, or a year that the cloud tarried upon the
Tabernacle, remaining thereon, the children of Israel abode in their
tents, and journeyed not: but when it was taken up they journeyed.'
So never, from moment to moment, did they know when the moving cloud
might settle, or the resting cloud might soar. Therefore, absolute
uncertainty as to the next stage was visibly represented before them
by that hovering guide which determined everything, and concerning
whose next movement they knew absolutely nothing.

Is not that all true about us? We have no guiding cloud like this.
So much the better. Have we not a more real guide? God guides us by
circumstances, God guides us by His word, God guides us by His
Spirit, speaking through our common-sense and in our understandings,
and, most of all, God guides us by that dear Son of His, in whom is
the fire and round whom is the cloud. And perhaps we may even
suppose that our Lord implies some allusion to this very symbol in
His own great words, 'I am the Light of the world. He that followeth
Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.'
For the conception of 'following' the light seems to make it plain
that our Lord's image is not that of the sun in the heavens, or any
such supernal light, but that of some light which comes near enough
to a man to move before him, and behind which he can march. So, I
think, that Christ Himself laid His hand upon this ancient symbol,
and in these great words said in effect, 'I am that which it only
shadowed and foretold.' At all events, whether in them He was
pointing to our text or no, we must feel that He is the reality
which was expressed by this outward symbol. And no man who can say,
'Jesus Christ is the Captain of my salvation, and after His pattern
I march; at the pointing of His guiding finger I move; and in His
footsteps, He being my helper, I try to tread,' need feel or fancy
that any possible pillar, floating before the dullest eye, was a
better, surer, or diviner guide than he possesses. They whom Christ
guides want none other for leader, pattern, counsellor, companion,
reward. This Christ is our Christ 'for ever and ever, He will be our
guide even unto death' and beyond it. The pillar that we follow,
which will glow with the ruddy flame of love in the darkest hours of
life--blessed be His name!--will glide in front of us through the
'valley of the shadow of death,' brightest then when the murky
midnight is blackest. Nor will the pillar which guides us cease to
blaze, as did the guide of the desert march, when Jordan has been
crossed. It will still move before us on paths of continuous and
ever-increasing approach to infinite perfection. They who here
follow Christ afar off and with faltering steps shall there 'follow
the Lamb whithersoever He goeth.'

In like manner, the same absolute uncertainty which was intended to
keep the Israelites (though it failed often to do so) in the
attitude of constant dependence, is the condition in which we all
have to live, though we mask it from ourselves. That we do not know
what lies before us is a commonplace. The same long tracts of
monotonous continuance in the same place and doing the same duties
befall us that befell these men. Years pass, and the pillar spreads
itself out, a defence above the unmoving sanctuary. And then, all in
a flash, when we are least thinking of change, it gathers itself
together, is a pillar again, shoots upwards, and moves forwards; and
it is for us to go after it. And so our lives are shuttlecocked
between uniform sameness which may become mechanical monotony, and
agitation by change which may make us lose our hold of fixed
principles and calm faith, unless we recognise that the continuance
and the change are alike the will of the guiding God, whose will is
signified by the stationary or moving pillar.

III. That leads me to the last thing that I would note--viz. the
docile following of the Guide.

In the context, the writer does not seem to be able to get away from
the thought that whatever the pillar indicated, immediate prompt
obedience followed. He says so over and over and over again. 'As
long as the cloud abode they rested, and when the cloud tarried long
they journeyed not'; and 'when the cloud was a few days on the
Tabernacle they abode'; and 'according to the commandment they
journeyed'; and 'when the cloud abode until the morning they
journeyed'; and 'whether it were two days, or a month, or a year
that the cloud tarried they journeyed not, but abode in their
tents.' So, after he has reiterated the thing half a dozen times or
more, he finishes by putting it all again in one verse, as the last
impression which he would leave from the whole narrative--'at the
commandment of the Lord they rested in their tents, and at the
commandment of the Lord they journeyed.' Obedience was prompt;
whensoever and for whatsoever the signal was given, the men were
ready. In the night, after they had had their tents pitched for a
long period, when only the watchers' eyes were open, the pillar
lifts, and in an instant the alarm is given, and all the camp is in
a bustle. That is what we have to set before us as the type of our
lives. We are to be as ready for every indication of God's will as
they were. The peace and blessedness of our lives largely depend on
our being eager to obey, and therefore quick to perceive, the
slightest sign of motion in the resting, or of rest in the moving,
pillar which regulates our march and our encamping.

What do we need in order to cultivate and keep such a disposition?
We need perpetual watchfulness lest the pillar should lift
unnoticed. When Nelson was second in command at Copenhagen, the
admiral in command of the fleet hoisted the signal for recall, and
Nelson put his telescope to his blind eye and said, 'I do not see
it.' That is very like what we are tempted to do. When the signal
for unpleasant duties that we would gladly get out of is hoisted, we
are very apt to put the telescope to the blind eye, and pretend to
ourselves that we do not see the fluttering flags. We need still
more to keep our wills in absolute suspense, if His will has not
declared itself. Do not let us be in a hurry to run before God. When
the Israelites were crossing the Jordan, they were told to leave a
great space between themselves and the guiding ark, that they might
know how to go, because they had 'not passed that way heretofore.'
Impatient hurrying at God's heels is apt to lead us astray. Let Him
get well in front, that you may be quite sure which way He desires
you to go, before you go. And if you are not sure which way He
desires you to go, be sure that He does not at that moment desire
you to go anywhere.

We need to hold the present with a slack hand, so as to be ready to
fold our tents and take to the road, if God will. We must not reckon
on continuance, nor strike our roots so deep that it needs a
hurricane to remove us. To those who set their gaze on Christ, no
present, from which He wishes them to remove, can be so good for
them as the new conditions into which He would have them pass. It is
hard to leave the spot, though it be in the desert, where we have so
long encamped that it has come to feel like home. We may look with
regret on the circle of black ashes on the sand where our little
fire glinted cheerily, and our feet may ache, and our hearts ache
more, as we begin our tramp once again, but we must set ourselves to
meet the God-appointed change cheerfully, in the confidence that
nothing will be left behind which it is not good to lose, nor
anything met which does not bring a blessing, however its first
aspect may be harsh or sad.

We need, too, to cultivate the habit of prompt obedience. It is
usually reluctance which puts the drag on. Slow obedience is often
the germ of incipient disobedience. In matters of prudence and of
intellect, second thoughts are better than first, and third
thoughts, which often come back to first ones, better than second;
but in matters of duty, first thoughts are generally best. They are
the instinctive response of conscience to the voice of God, while
second thoughts are too often the objections of disinclination, or
sloth, or cowardice. It is easiest to do our duty when we are at
first sure of it. It then comes with an impelling power which
carries us over obstacles as on the crest of a wave, while
hesitation and delay leave us stranded in shoal water. If we would
follow the pillar, we must follow it at once.

A heart that waits and watches for God's direction, that uses
common-sense as well as faith to unravel small and great
perplexities, and is willing to sit loose to the present, however
pleasant, in order that it may not miss the indications which say,
'Arise, this is not your rest,' fulfils the conditions on which, if
we keep them, we may be sure that He will guide us by the right way,
and bring us at last to 'the city of habitation.'


'And Moses said unto Hobab ... Come thou with us, and
we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good
concerning Israel.'--NUM. x. 29.

There is some doubt with regard to the identity of this Hobab.
Probably he was a man of about the same age as Moses, his brother-
in-law, and a son of Jethro, a wily Kenite, a Bedouin Arab. Moses
begs him to join himself to his motley company, and to be to him in
the wilderness 'instead of eyes.' What did Moses want a man for,
when he had the cloud? What do we want common-sense for, when we
have God's Spirit? What do we want experience and counsel for, when
we have divine guidance promised to us? The two things work in
together. The cloud led the march, but it was very well to have a
man that knew all about the oases and the wells, the situation of
which was known only to the desert-born tribes, and who could teach
the helpless slaves from Goshen the secrets of camp life. So Moses
pressed Hobab to change his position, to break with his past, and to
launch himself into an altogether new and untried sort of life.

And what does he plead with him as the reason? 'We will do thee
good, for the Lord hath spoken good concerning Israel.' Probably
Hobab looked rather shy at the security, for I suppose he was no
worshipper of Jehovah, and he said, 'No; I had rather go home to my
own people and my own kindred and my father's house where I fit in,
and keep to my own ways, and have something a little more definite
to lay hold of than your promise, or the promise of your Jehovah
that lies behind it. These are not solid, and I am going back to my
tribe.' But Moses pressed and he at last consented, and the
following verses suggest that the arrangement was made
satisfactorily, and that the journeyings began prosperously. In the
Book of Judges we find traces of the presence of Hobab's descendants
as incorporated among the people of Israel. One of them came to be
somebody, the Jael who struck the tent-peg through the temples of
the sleeping Sisera, for she is called 'the wife of Heber the
_Kenite_.' Probably, then, in some sense Hobab must have become
a worshipper of Jehovah, and have cast in his lot with his brother-
in-law and his people. I do not set Hobab up as a shining example.
We do not know much about his religion. But it seems to me that this
little glimpse into a long-forgotten and unimportant life may teach
us two or three things about the venture of faith, the life of
faith, and the reward of faith.

I. The venture of faith.

I have already said that Hobab had nothing in the world to trust to
except Moses' word, and Moses' report of God's Word. 'We will do you
good; God has said that He will do good to us, and you shall have
your share in it.' It was a grave thing, and, in many circumstances,
would have been a supremely foolish thing, credulous to the verge of
insanity, to risk all upon the mere promise of one in Moses'
position, who had so little in his own power with which to fulfil
the promise; and who referred him to an unseen divinity, somewhere
or other; and so drew bills upon heaven and futurity, and did not
feel himself at all bound to pay them when they fell due, unless God
should give him the cash to do it with. But Hobab took the plunge,
he ventured all upon these two promises--Moses' word, and God's word
that underlay it.

Now that is just what we have to do. For, after all talking about
reasons for belief, and evidences of religion, and all the rest of
it, it all comes to this at last--will you risk everything on Jesus
Christ's bare word? There are plenty of reasons for doing so, but
what I wish to bring out is this, that the living heart and root of
true Christianity is neither more nor less than the absolute and
utter reliance upon nothing else but Christ, and therefore on His
word. He did not even condescend to give reasons for that reliance,
for His most solemn assurance was just this, 'Verily, verily, I say
unto you.' That is as much as to say, 'If you do not see in Me,
without any more argument, reason enough for believing Me, you do
not see Me at all.'

Christ did not argue--He asserted, and in default of all other
proof, if I might venture to say so, He put His own personality into
the scales and said, 'There, that will outweigh everything.' So no
wonder that 'they were astonished at His doctrine,'--not so much at
the substance of it as at the tone of it, 'for He taught them
_with authority_.'

But what right had He to teach them with authority? What right has
He to present Himself there in front of us and proclaim, 'I say unto
you, and there is an end of it'? The heart and essence of Christian
faith is doing, in a far sublimer fashion, precisely what this wild
Arab did, when he uprooted himself from the conditions in which his
life had grown up, and flung himself into an unknown future, on bare
trust in a bare word. Jesus Christ asks us to do the same by Him.
Whether His word comes to us revealing, or commanding, or promising,
it is absolute, and, for His true followers, ends all controversy,
all hesitation, all reluctance. When He commands it is ours to obey
and live. And when He promises it is for us to twine all the
tendrils of our expectations round that faithful word, and by faith
to make 'the anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast.' The venture of
faith takes a _word_ for the most solid thing in the universe,
and the Incarnate Word of God for the basis of all our hope, the
authority for all our conduct, 'the Master-light of all our seeing.'

II. Hobab suggests to us, secondly--

The sort of life that follows the venture of faith. The hindrances
to his joining Moses were plainly put by himself. He said in effect,
'I will not come; I will depart to mine own land and to my kindred.
Why should I attach myself to a horde of strangers, and go wandering
about the desert for the rest of my life, looking out for
encampments for them, when I can return to where I have been all my
days; and be surrounded by the familiar atmosphere of friends and
relatives?' But he bethought himself that there was a nobler life to
live than that, and because he was stirred by the impulse of
reliance on Moses and his promise, and perhaps by some germ of
reliance on Moses' God, he finally said, 'The die is cast. I choose
my side. I will break with the past. I turn my back on kindred and
home. Here I draw a broad line across the page, and begin over again
in an altogether new kind of life. I identify myself with these
wanderers; sharing their fortunes, hoping to share their prosperity,
and taking their God for my God.' He had perhaps not been a nomad
before, for there still are permanent settlements as well as nomad
encampments in Arabia, as there were in those days, and he and his
relatives, from the few facts that we know of them, seem to have had
a fixed home, with a very narrow zone of wandering round it. So
Hobab, an old man probably, if he was anything like the age of his
connection by marriage, Moses, who was eighty at this time, makes up
his mind to begin a new career.

Now that is what we have to do. If we have faith in Christ and His
promise, we shall not say, 'I am going back to my kindred and to my
home.' We shall be prepared to accept the conditions of a wanderer's
life. We shall recognise and feel, far more than we ever have done,
that we are indeed 'pilgrims and sojourners' here. Dear Christian
friends, we have no business to call ourselves Christ's men, unless
the very characteristic of our lives is that we are drawn ever
forward by the prospect of future good, and unless that future is a
great deal more solid and more operative upon us, and tells more on
our lives, than this intrusive, solid-seeming present that thrusts
itself between us and our true home. That is a sure saying. The
Christian obligation to live a life of detachment, even while
diligent in duty, is not to be brushed aside as pulpit rhetoric and
exaggeration, but it is the plainest teaching of the New Testament.
I wish it was a little more exemplified in the daily life of the
people who call themselves Christians.

If I am not living for the unseen and the future, what right have I
to say that I am Christ's at all? If the shadows are more than the
substance to me; if this condensed vapour and fog that we call
reality has not been to our apprehension thinned away into the
unsubstantial mist that it is, what have the principles of
Christianity done for us, and what worth is Christ's word to us? If
I believe Him, the world is--I do not say, as the sentimental poet
put it, 'but a fleeting show, for man's illusion given';--but as
Paul puts it, a glass which may either reveal or obscure the
realities beyond; and according as we look at, or look through, 'the
things seen and temporal,' do we see, or miss, 'the things unseen
and eternal.' So, then, the life of faith has for its essential
characteristic--because it is a life of reliance on Christ's bare
word--that future good is consciously its supreme aim. That will
detach us, as it did Hobab, from home and kindred, and make us feel
that we are 'pilgrims and sojourners.'

III. Lastly, our story suggests to us--

The rewards of faith.

'Come with us,' says Moses; 'we are journeying unto the place of
which the Lord said, I will give it you. Come thou with us, and we
will do thee what goodness the Lord shall do unto us.' He went, and
neither he nor Moses ever saw the land, or at least never set their
feet on it. Moses saw it from Pisgah, but probably Hobab did not
even get so much as that.

So he had all his tramping through the wilderness, and all his work,
for nothing, had he? Had he not better have gone back to Midian, and
made use of the present reality, than followed a will-of-the-wisp
that led him into a bog, if he got none of the good that he set out
expecting to get? Then, did he make a mistake? Would he have been a
wiser man if he had stuck to his first refusal? Surely not. It seems
to me that the very fact of this great promise being given to this
old--dare I call Hobab a 'saint'?--to this old saint, and never
being fulfilled at all in this world, compels us to believe that
there was some gleam of hope, and of certainty, of a future life,
even in these earliest days of dim and partial revelation.

To me it is very illuminative, and very beautiful, that the dying
Jacob bursts in his song into a sudden exclamation, 'I have waited
for Thy salvation, O Lord!' It is as if he had felt that all his
life long he had been looking for what had never come, and that it
could not be that God was going to let him go down to the grave and
never grasp the good that he had been waiting for all his days. We
may apply substantially the same thoughts to Hobab, and to all his
like, and may turn them to our own use, and argue that the
imperfections of the consequences of our faith here on earth are
themselves evidences of a future, where all that Christ has said
shall be more than fulfilled, and no man will be able to say, 'Thou
didst send me out, deluding me with promises which have all gone to
water and have failed.'

Hobab dying there in the desert had made the right choice, and if we
will trust ourselves to Christ and His faithful word, and, trusting
to Him, will feel that we are detached from the present and that it
is but as the shadow of a cloud, whatever there may be wanting in
the results of our faith here on earth, there will be nothing
wanting in its results at the last. Hobab did not regret his
venture, and no man ever ventures his faith on Christ and is
disappointed. 'He that believeth shall not be confounded.'


'And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that
Moses said, Rise up, Lord, and let Thine enemies be
scattered; and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee.
36. And when it rested, he said, Return, O Lord, unto
the many thousands of Israel.'--Num. x. 35, 36.

The picture suggested by this text is a very striking and vivid one.
We see the bustle of the morning's breaking up of the encampment of
Israel. The pillar of cloud, which had lain diffused and motionless
over the Tabernacle, gathers itself together into an upright shaft,
and moves, a dark blot against the glittering blue sky, the sunshine
masking its central fire, to the front of the encampment. Then the
priests take up the ark, the symbol of the divine Presence, and fall
into place behind the guiding pillar. Then come the stir of the
ordering of the ranks, and a moment's pause, during which the leader
lifts his voice--'Rise, Lord, and let Thine enemies be scattered,
and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee.' Then, with braced
resolve and confident hearts, the tribes set forward on the day's

Long after those desert days a psalmist laid hold of the old prayer
and offered it, as not antiquated yet by the thousand years that had
intervened. 'Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered,'
prayed one of the later psalmists; 'let them that hate Him flee
before Him.' We, too, in circumstances so different, may take up the
immortal though ancient words, on which no dimming rust of antiquity
has encrusted itself, and may, at the beginnings and the endings of
all our efforts and of each of our days, and at the beginning and
ending of life itself, offer this old prayer--the prayer which asked
for a divine presence in the incipiency of our efforts, and the
prayer which asked for a divine presence in the completion of our
work and in the rest that remaineth.

I. So, then, if we put these two petitions together, I think we
shall see in them first, a pattern of that realisation of, and
aspiration after, the divine Presence, which ought to fill all our

'Rise, Lord, let Thine enemies be scattered.'

But was not that moving pillar the token that God had risen? And was
not the psalmist who reiterated Moses' prayer asking for what had
been done before he asked it? Was not the ark the symbol of the
divine Presence, and was not its movement after the pillar a pledge
to the whole host of Israel that the petition which they were
offering, through their leader's lips, was granted ere it was
offered? Yes. And yet the present God would not manifest His
Presence except in response to the desire of His servants; and just
because the ark was the symbol, and that moving column was the
guarantee of God's being with the host as their defence, therefore
there rose up with confidence this prayer, 'Rise, Lord, and let
Thine enemies be scattered.'

That twofold attitude, the realisation of, and therefore the
aspiration after, the divine gifts, which are given before they are
desired, but are not appropriated and brought into operation in our
lives unless they are desired, is precisely the paradox of the
Christian life. Having, we long for, and longing, we have, and
because we possess God we pray, 'Oh! that we might possess Thee.'
The more we long, the more we receive. But unless He gave Himself in
anticipation of our longing, there would be neither longing nor
reception. Only on condition of our desiring to have Him does He
flow into our lives, victorious and strength-giving, and the more we
experience that omnipotent might and calming, guiding nearness, the
more assuredly we shall long for it.

Let us then, dear brethren, blend these two things together, for
indeed they are inseparable one from the other, and there can be no
real experience in any depth of the one of them without the other.
Blessed be God! there need be no long interval of waiting between
sowing the seed of supplication and reaping the harvest of fruition.
That process of growth and reaping goes on with instantaneous
rapidity. 'Before they call I will answer,' for pillar and ark were
there ere Moses opened his lips; and 'while they are yet speaking I
will hear,' for, in response to the cry, the host moved
triumphantly, guarded through the wilderness. So it may be, and
ought to be, with each of us.

In like manner, coupling these two petitions together, and taking
them as unitedly covering the whole field of life in their great
antitheses of work and rest, effort and accomplishment, beginning
and ending, morning and evening, we may say that here is an example,
to be appropriated in our own lives, of that continuous longing and
realisation which will encircle all life as with a golden ring, and
make every part of it uniform and blessed. To begin, continue, and
end with God is the secret of joyful beginning, of patient
continuance, and of triumphant ending. There is no reason in heaven,
though there are hosts of excuses on earth, why there should not be,
in the case of each of us, an absolutely continuous and
uninterrupted sense of being with God. O brethren! that is a stage
of Christian experience high above the one on which most of us
stand. But that is our fault, and not the necessity of our
condition. Let us lay this to heart, that it is possible to have the
pillar always guiding our march, and possible to have it stretching,
calm and motionless, over all our hours of rest.

II. Now, if, turning from the lessons to be drawn from these two
petitions, taken in conjunction, we look at them separately, we may
say that we have here an example of the spirit in which we should
set ourselves, day by day, and at each new epoch and beginning, be
it greater or smaller, to every task.

There are truths that underlie that first prayer, 'Rise up, Lord,
and let Thine enemies be scattered,' which are of perennial
validity, and apply to us as truly as to these warriors of God in
the wilderness long centuries ago. The first of them is that the
divine Presence is the source of all energy, and of successful
endeavour after, and accomplishment of, any duty. The second of them
is that that presence is, as I have been saying, granted, in its
operative power, only on condition of its being sought. And the
third of them is that I have a right to identify my enemies with
God's only on condition that I have made His cause mine. When Moses
prayed, 'Let Thine enemies be scattered,' he meant by these the
hostile nomad tribes that might ring Israel round, and come down
like a sandstorm upon them at any moment. What right had he to
suppose that the people whose lances and swords threatened the
motley host that he was leading through the wilderness were God's
enemies? Only this right, that his host had consented to be God's
soldiers, and that they having thus made His enemies theirs, He, on
His part, was sure to make their enemies His. We are often tempted
to identify our foes with God's, without having taken the
preliminary step of having so yielded ourselves to be His servants
and instruments for carrying forward His will, as that our own wills
have become a vanishing quantity, or rather have been ennobled and
greatened in proportion as they have been moulded in submission to
His. We must take God's cause for ours, in all the various aspects
of that phrase. And that means, first of all, that we make our own
perfecting into the likeness of Jesus Christ the main aim of our own
lives and efforts. It means, further, the putting ourselves bravely
and manfully on the side of right and truth and justice, in all
their forms. Above all, it means that we give ourselves to be God's
instruments in carrying on His great purposes for the salvation of
the world through Jesus Christ. If we do these things, whatever
obstacles may arise in our paths, we may be sure that these are
God's antagonists, because they are antagonists to God's work in and
by us.

Only in so far as they are such, can you pray, 'Let them flee before
Thee!' Many of the things that we call our enemies come to us
disguised, and are mistaken by our superficial sight, and we do not
know that they are friends. 'All things work together for good to
them that love God.' And, when we desire His Presence, the
hindrances to doing His will--which are the only real enemies that
we have to fight--will melt away before His power, 'as wax melteth'
before the ardours of the fire; and, for the rest, the distresses,
the difficulties, the sorrows, and all the other things that we so
often think are our foes, we shall find out to have been our
friends. Make God's cause yours, and He will make your cause His.

That applies to the great things of life, and to the little things.
I begin my day's work some morning, perhaps wearied, perhaps annoyed
with a multiplicity of trifles which seem too small to bring great
principles to bear upon them. But do you not think there would be a
strange change wrought in the petty annoyances of every day, and in
the small trifles of which all our lives, of whatever texture they
are, must largely be composed, if we began each day and each task
with that old prayer, 'Rise, Lord, and let Thine enemies be
scattered'? Do you not think there would come a quiet into our
hearts, and a victorious peace to which we are too much strangers?
If we carried the assurance that there is One that fights for us,
into the trifles as well as into the sore struggles of our lives, we
should have peace and victory. Most of us will not have many large
occasions of trial and conflict in our career; and, if God's
fighting for us is not available in regard to the small annoyances
of home and daily life, I know not for what it is available. 'Many
littles make a mickle,' and there are more deaths in skirmishes than
in the field of a pitched battle. More Christian people lose their
hold of God, their sense of His presence, and are beaten
accordingly, by reason of the little enemies that come down on them,
like a cloud of gnats in a summer evening, than are defeated by the
shock of a great assault or a great temptation, which calls out
their strength, and sends them to their knees to ask for help from

So we may learn from this prayer the spirit of expectance of victory
which is not presumption, and of consecration, which alone will
enable us to pass through life victorious. 'Be of good cheer,' said
the Master, as if in answer to this prayer in its Christian form--'I
have overcome the world.' We turn to the helmed and sworded Figure
that stands mysteriously beside us whilst we are all unaware of His
coming, and the swift question that Joshua put rises to our lips,
'Art Thou for us or for our adversaries?' The reply comes, 'Nay! but
as Captain of the Lord's host am I come up.' That is Christ's answer
to the prayer, 'Rise, Lord, let Thine enemies be scattered.'

III. Lastly, we have here a pattern of the temper for hours of

'When the ark rested, he said, "Return, O Lord, unto the many
thousands of Israel."' As I said at the beginning of these remarks,
the pillar of cloud seems to have taken two forms, braced together
upright when it moved, diffused and stretched as a shelter and a
covering over the host of Israel when it and they were at rest. In
like manner, that divine Presence is Protean in its forms, and takes
all shapes, according to the moment's necessities of the Christian
trusting heart. When we are to brace ourselves for the march it
condenses itself into an upright and moving guide. When we lay
ourselves down with relaxed muscles for repose, it softly expands
itself and 'covers our head' in the hours of rest, 'as in the day of

Ah! brother, we have more need of God in times of repose than in
times of effort. It is harder to realise His Presence in the brief
hours of relaxation than even in the many hours of strenuous toil.
Every one who goes for a holiday knows that. You have only to look
at the sort of amusements that most people fly to when they have not
anything to do, to see that there is quite as much, if not more,
peril to communion of soul with God in times when the whole nature
is somewhat relaxed, and the strings are loosened, like those of a
violin screwed down a turn or two of the peg, than there is in times
of work.

So let us take special care of our hours of repose, and be quite
sure that they are so spent as that we can ask when the day's work
is done, and we have come to slippered ease, in preparation for
nightly rest, 'Return, O Lord, unto Thy waiting servant.' Work
without God unfits for rest with Him. Rest without God unfits for
work for Him.

We may take these two petitions as tests of the allowableness of any
occupation, or of any relaxation. Dare I ask Him to come with me
into that field of work? If I dare not, it is no place for me. Dare
I ask Him to come with me into this other chamber of rest? If I dare
not, I had better never cross its threshold. Take these two prayers,
and where you cannot pray them, do not risk yourself.

But the highest form of the contrast between the two waits still to
be realised. For life as a whole is a fight, and beyond it there is
the 'rest that remaineth,' where there will be not merely God's
'return unto the thousands of Israel,' but the realisation of His
fuller presence, and of deeper rest, which shall be wondrously
associated with more intense work, though in that work there will be
no conflict. The two petitions will flow together then, for whilst
we labour we shall rest; and whilst we rest we shall labour,
according to the great sayings, 'they rest from their labours,' and
yet 'they rest not day nor night.'


'I am not able to bear all this people alone, because
it is too heavy for me.'
NUM. xi. 14.

Detail the circumstances.

The leader speaks the truth in his despondency. He is pressed with
the feeling of his incapacity for his work. We may take his words
here as teaching us what men need in him who is to be their guide,
and how impossible it is to find what they need in mere men.

I. What men need in their guide.

These Israelites were wandering in the wilderness; they were without
natural supplies for their daily necessities; they had a long hard
journey before them, an unknown road, at the terminus of which was a
land where they should rest. We have precisely the same necessities
as those which Moses despairingly said that they had.

Like them, we wander hungry, and need a Leader who can satisfy our
desires and evermore give us bread for our souls even more than for
our bodies. We need One to whom we can 'weep,' as the Israelites did
to Moses, and not weep in vain. We need One who can do for us what
Moses felt that the Israelites needed, and that he could not give
them, when he almost indignantly put to God the despairing question,
'Can I carry them in my bosom as a nursing father beareth the
sucking child?' Our weakness, our ignorance, our heart-hunger, cry
out for One who can 'bear all this people alone.' who in his single
Self has resources of strength, wisdom, and sufficiency to meet not
only the wants of one soul but those of the world. For He who can
satisfy the poorest single soul must be able to satisfy all men.

II. The impossibility of finding this in men.

Moses' experience here is that of all leaders and great men. He is
overwhelmed with the work; feels his own utter impotence; has
himself to be strengthened; loathes his work; longs for release from
it. See how he confesses

His human dependence.
His incapacity to do and be what is needed.
His impatience with the people.
His longing to be rid of it all.

That is a true picture of the experience of the best of men--a true
picture of the limitations of the noblest leaders.

But it is not only the leaders who confess their inadequacy, but the
followers feel it, for even the most enthusiastic of them come
sooner or later to find that their Oracle had not learned all
wisdom, nor was fit to be taken as sole guide, much less as sole
defence or satisfaction. He who looks to find all that he needs in
men must take many men to find it, and no multiplicity of men will
bring him what he seeks. The Milky Way is no substitute for the sun.
Our hearts cry out for One great light, for One spacious home.
Endless strings of pearls do not reach the preciousness of One pearl
of price.

III. The failures of human leaders prophesy the true Leader.

Moses was prophetic of Christ by his failures as by his successes.
He could not do what the people clamoured to have done, and what he
in the mood of despair in which the text shows him, sadly owned that
he could not. In that very confession he becomes an unconscious
prophet. For that he should have so vividly set forth the
qualifications of a leader of men, as defined by the people's cries,
and should have so bitterly felt his incapacity to supply them, is a
witness, if there is a God at all, that somewhere the needed Ideal
will be realised in 'a Leader and Commander of the people,' God-sent
and 'worthy of more glory than Moses.'

The best service that all human leaders, helpers or lovers, can do
us, is to confess their own insufficiency, and to point us to Jesus.

All that men need is found in Him and in Him alone. All that men
have failed, and must always fail, to be, He is. Those eyes are
blessed that 'see no man any more save Jesus only.' We need One who
can satisfy our desires and fill our hungry souls, and Jesus speaks
a promise, confirmed by the experience of all who have tested it
when He declares: 'He that cometh unto Me shall never hunger.' We
need One who will dry our tears, and Jesus, when He says 'Weep not,'
wipes them away and stanches their sources, giving 'the oil of joy
for mourning.' We need One who can hold us up in our journey, and
minister strength to fainting hearts and vigour to weary feet, and
Jesus 'strengthens us with might in the inner man.' We need One who
will bring us to the promised land of rest, and Jesus brings many
sons to glory, and wills that they be 'with Him where He is.' So let
us turn away from the multiplicity of human insufficiencies to Him
who is our one only help and hope, because He is all-sufficient and


'And Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, and
said unto them, Get you up this way southward, and go
up into the mountain; 18. And see the land, what it is;
and the people that dwelleth therein, whether they be
strong or weak, few or many; 19. And what the land is
that they dwell in, whether it be good or bad; and what
cities they be that they dwell in, whether in tents, or
in strong holds; 20. And what the land is, whether it
be fat or lean, whether there be wood therein, or not.
And be ye of good courage, and bring of the fruit of the
land. Now the time was the time of the firstripe grapes.
21. So they went up, and searched the land from the
wilderness of Zin unto Rehob, as men come to Hamath.
22. And they ascended by the south, and came unto Hebron;
where Ahiman, Sheshai, and Talmai, the children of Anak,
were. (Now Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in
Egypt.) 23. And they came unto the brook of Eshcol, and
cut down from thence a branch with one cluster of grapes,
and they bare it between two upon staff; and they brought
of the pomegranates, and of the figs. 24. The place was
called the brook Eshcol, because of the cluster of grapes
which the children of Israel cut down from thence. 25. And
they returned from searching of the land after forty days.
26. And they went and came to Moses, and to Aaron, and to
all the congregation of the children of Israel, unto the
wilderness of Paran, to Kadesh; and brought back word
unto them, and unto all the congregation, and shewed them
the fruit of the land. 27. And they told him, and said,
We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely
it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit
of it. 28. Nevertheless the people be strong that dwell
in the land, and the cities are walled, and very great:
and, moreover, we saw the children of Anak there. 29.
The Amalekites dwell in the land of the south; and the
Hittites, and the Jebusites, and the Amorites, dwell
in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea,
and by the coast of Jordan. 30. And Caleb stilled the
people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once,
and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.
31. But the men that went up with him said, We be not
able to go up against the people; for they are stronger
than we. 32. And they brought up an evil report of the
land which they had searched unto the children of Israel,
saying, The land, through which we have gone to search
it, is a land that eateth up the inhabitants thereof;
and all the people that we saw in it are men of a great
stature. 33. And there we saw the giants, the sons of
Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own
sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.'
--NUM. xiii. 17-33.

We stand here on the edge of the Promised Land. The discussion of
the true site of Kadesh need not concern us now. Wherever it was,
the wanderers had the end of their desert journey within sight; one
bold push forward, and their feet would tread on their inheritance.
But, as is so often the case, courage oozed out at the decisive
moment, and cowardice, disguised as prudence, called for 'further
information,'--that cuckoo-cry of the faint-hearted. There are
three steps in this narrative: the despatch of the explorers, their
expedition, and the two reports brought back.

I. We have the despatch and instructions of the explorers. A
comparison with Deuteronomy i. shows that the project of sending the
spies originated in the people's terror at the near prospect of the
fighting which they had known to be impending ever since they left
Egypt. Faith finds that nearness diminishes dangers, but sense sees
them grow as they approach. The people answered Moses' brave words
summoning them to the struggle with this feeble petition for an
investigation. They did not honestly say that they were alarmed, but
defined the scope of the exploring party's mission as simply to
'bring us word again of the way by which we must go up, and the
cities into which we shall come.' Had they not the pillar blazing
there above them to tell them that? The request was not fathomed in
its true faithlessness by Moses, who thought it reasonable and
yielded. So far Deuteronomy goes; but this narrative puts another
colour on the mission, representing it as the consequence of God's
command. The most eager discoverer of discrepancies in the component
parts of the Pentateuch need not press this one into his service,
for both sides may be true: the one representing the human
feebleness which originated the wish; the other, the divine
compliance with the desire, in order to disclose the unbelief which
unfitted the people for the impending struggle, and to educate them
by letting them have their foolish way, and taste its bitter
results. Putting the two accounts together, we get, not a
contradiction, but a complete view, which teaches a large truth as
to God's dealings; namely, that He often lovingly lets us have our
own way to show us by the issues that His is better, and that
daring, which is obedience, is the true prudence.

The instructions given to the explorers turn on two points: the
eligibility of the country for settlement, and the military strength
of its inhabitants. They alternate in a very graphic way from the
one of these to the other, beginning, in verse 18, with the land,
and immediately going on to the numbers and power of the
inhabitants; then harking back again, in verse 19, to the fertility
of the land, and passing again to the capacity of the cities to
resist attack; and finishing up, in verse 20, with the land once
more, both arable and forest. The same double thought colours the
parting exhortation to 'be bold,' and to 'bring of the produce of
the land.' Now the people knew already both points which the spies
were despatched to find out. Over and over again, in Egypt, in the
march, and at Sinai, they had been told that the land was 'flowing
with milk and honey,' and had been assured of its conquest. What
more did they want? Nothing, if they had believed God. Nothing, if
they had been all saints,--which they were not. Their fears were
very natural. A great deal might be said in favour of their wish to
have accurate information. But it is a bad sign when faith, or
rather unbelief, sends out sense to be its scout, and when we think
to verify God's words by men's confirmation. Not to believe Him
unless a jury of twelve of ourselves says the same thing, is surely
much the same as not believing Him at all; for it is not He, but
they, whom we believe after all.

There is no need to be too hard on the people. They were a mob of
slaves, whose manhood had been eaten out by four centuries of
sluggish comfort, and latterly crushed by oppression. So far as we
know, Abraham's midnight surprise of the Eastern kings was the
solitary bit of fighting in the national history thus far; and it is
not wonderful that, with such a past, they should have shrunk from
the prospect of bloodshed, and caught at any excuse for delay at
least, even if not for escape. 'We have all of us one human heart,'
and these cowards were no monsters, but average men, who did very
much what average men, professing to be Christians, do every day,
and for doing get praised for prudence by other average professing
Christians. How many of us, when brought right up to some task
involving difficulty or danger, but unmistakably laid on us by God,
shelter our distrustful fears under the fair pretext of 'knowing a
little more about it first,' and shake wise heads over rashness
which takes God at His word, and thinks that it knows enough when it
knows what He wills?

II. We have the exploration (verses 21-25). The account of it is
arranged on a plan common in the Old Testament narratives, the
observation of which would, in many places, remove difficulties
which have led to extraordinary hypotheses. Verse 21 gives a general
summary of what is then taken up, and told in more detail. It
indicates the completeness of the exploration by giving its extreme
southern and northern points, the desert of Zin being probably the
present depression called the Arabah, and 'Rehob as men come to
Hamath' being probably near the northern Dan, on the way to Hamath,
which lay in the valley between the Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon.
The account then begins over again, and tells how the spies went up
into 'the South.' The Revised Version has done wisely in printing
this word with a capital, and thereby showing that it is not merely
the name of a cardinal point, but of a district. It literally means
'the dry,' and is applied to the arid stretch of land between the
more cultivated southern parts of Canaan and the northern portion of
the desert which runs down to Sinai. It is a great chalky plateau,
and might almost be called a steppe or prairie. Passing through
this, the explorers next would come to Hebron, the first town of
importance, beside which Abraham had lived, and where the graves of
their ancestors were. But they were in no mood for remembering such
old stories. Living Anaks were much more real to them than dead
patriarchs. So the only thing mentioned, besides the antiquity of
the city, is the presence in it of these giants. They were probably
the relics of the aboriginal inhabitants, and some strain of their
blood survived till late days. They seem to have expelled the
Hittites, who held Mamre, or Hebron, in Abraham's time. Their name
is said to mean 'long-necked,' and the three names in our lesson are
probably tribal, and not personal, names. The whole march northward
and back again comes in between verses 22 and 23; for Eshcol was
close to Hebron, and the spies would not encumber themselves with
the bunch of grapes on their northward march. The details of the
exploration are given more fully in the spies' report, which shows
that they had gone up north from Hebron, through the hills, and
possibly came back by the valley of the Jordan. At any rate, they
made good speed, and must have done some bold and hard marching, to
cover the ground out and back in six weeks. So they returned with
their pomegranates and figs, and a great bunch of the grapes for
which the valley identified with Eshcol is still famous, swinging on
a pole,--the easiest way of carrying it without injury.

III. We have next the two reports. The explorers are received in a
full assembly of the people, and begin their story with an object-
lesson, producing the great grape cluster and the other spoils. But
while honesty compelled the acknowledgment of the fertility of the
land, cowardice slurred that over as lightly as might be, and went
on to dilate on the terrors of the giants and the strength of the
cities, and the crowded population that held every corner of the
country. Truly, the eye sees what it brings with it. They really had
gone to look for dangers, and of course they found them. Whatever
Moses might lay down in his instructions, they had been sent by the
people to bring back reasons for not attempting the conquest, and so
they curtly and coldly admit the fertility of the soil, and fling
down the fruit for inspection as undeniably grown there, but they
tell their real mind with a great 'nevertheless.' Their report is,
no doubt, quite accurate. The cities were, no doubt, some of them
walled, and to eyes accustomed to the desert, very great; and there
were, no doubt, Anaks at Hebron, at any rate, and the 'spies' had
got the names of the various races and their territories correctly.
As to these, we need only notice that the Hittites were an outlying
branch of the great nation, which recent research has discovered, as
we might say, the importance and extent of which we scarcely yet
know; that the Jebusites held Jerusalem till David's time; that the
'Amorites,' or 'Highlanders,' occupied the central block of
mountainous country in conjunction with the two preceding tribes;
and that the 'Canaanites,' or 'Lowlanders,' held the lowlands east
and west of that hilly nucleus, namely, the deep gorge of the
Jordan, and the strip of maritime plain. A very accurate report may
be very one-sided. The spies were not the last people who, being
sent out to bring home facts, managed to convey very decided
opinions without expressing any. A grudging and short admission to
begin with, the force of which is immediately broken by sombre and
minute painting of difficulty and danger, is more powerful as a
deterrent than any dissuasive. It sounds such an unbiassed appeal to
common-sense, as if the reporter said, 'There are the facts; we
leave you to draw the conclusions.' An 'unvarnished account of the
real state of the case,' in which there is not a single misstatement
nor exaggeration, may be utterly false by reason of wrong
perspective and omission, and, however true, is sure to act as a
shower-bath to courage, if it is unaccompanied with a word of cheer.
To begin a perilous enterprise without fairly facing its risks and
difficulties is folly. To look at _them_ only is no less folly,
and is the sure precursor of defeat. But when on the one side is
God's command, and on the other such doleful discouragements, they
are more than folly, they are sin.

It is bracing to turn from the creeping prudence which leaves God
out of the account, to the cheery ring of Caleb's sturdy confidence.
His was 'a minority report,' signed by only two of the 'Commission.'
These two had seen all that the others had, but everything depends
on the eyes which look. The others had measured themselves against
the trained soldiers and giants, and were in despair. These two
measured Amalekites and Anaks against God, and were jubilant. They
do not dispute the facts, but they reverse the implied conclusion,
because they add the governing fact of God's help. How differently
the same facts strike a man who lives by faith, and one who lives by
calculation! Israel might be a row of ciphers, but with God at the
head they meant something. Caleb's confidence that 'we are well able
to overcome' was religious trust, as is plain from God's eulogium on
him in the next chapter (Num. xiv. 24). The lessons from it are that
faith is the parent of wise courage; that where duty, which is God's
voice, points, difficulties must not deter; that when we have God's
assurance of support, they are nothing. Caleb was wise to counsel
going up to the assault 'at once,' for there is no better cure for
fear than action. Old soldiers tell us that the trying time is when
waiting to begin the fight. 'The native hue of resolution' gets
'sicklied o'er' with the paleness that comes from hesitation. Am I
sure that anything is God's will? Then the sooner I go to work at
doing it, the better for myself and for the vigour of my work.

This headstrong rashness, as they thought it, brings up the other
'spies' once more. Notice how the gloomy views are the only ones in
their second statement. There is nothing about the fertility of the
land, but, instead, we have that enigmatical expression about its
'eating up its inhabitants.' No very satisfactory explanation of
this is forthcoming. It evidently means that in some way the land
was destructive of its inhabitants, which seems to contradict their
former reluctant admission of its fertility. Perhaps in their
eagerness to paint it black enough, they did contradict themselves,
and try to make out that it was a barren soil, not worth conquering.
Fear is not very careful of consistency. Note, too, the
exaggerations of terror. 'All the people' are sons of Anak now. The
size as well as the number of the giants has grown; 'we were in our
own sight as grasshoppers.' No doubt they were gigantic, but fear
performed the miracle of adding a cubit to their stature. When the
coward hears that 'there is a lion without,'--that is, in the open
country,--he immediately concludes, 'I shall be slain in the
streets,' where it is not usual for lions to disport themselves.

Thus exaggerated and one-sided is distrust of God's promises. Such a
temper is fatal to all noble life or work, and brings about the
disasters which it foresees. If these cravens had gone up to fight
with men before whom they felt like grasshoppers, of course they
would have been beaten; and it was much better that their fears
should come out at Kadesh than when committed to the struggle.
Therefore God lovingly permitted the mission of the spies, and so
brought lurking unbelief to the surface, where it could be dealt
with. Let us beware of the one-eyed 'prudence' which sees only the
perils in the path of duty and enterprise for God, and is blind to
the all-sufficient presence which makes us more than conquerors,
when we lean all our weight on it. It is well to see the Anakim in
their full formidableness, and to feel that we are 'as grasshoppers
in our own sight' and in theirs, if the sight drives us to lift our
eyes to Him who 'sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the
inhabitants thereof,' however huge and strong, 'are as


'And all the congregation lifted up their voice, and
cried; and the people wept that night. 2. And all the
children of Israel murmured against Moses and against
Aaron; and the whole congregation said unto them, Would
God that we had died in the land of Egypt! or would God
we had died in this wilderness! 3. And wherefore hath
the Lord brought us unto this land, to fall by the sword,
that our wives and our children should be a prey? were
it not better for us to return into Egypt? 4. And they
said one to another, Let us make a captain, and let us
return into Egypt 5. Then Moses and Aaron fell on their
faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the
children of Israel. 6. And Joshua the son of Nun, and
Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that
searched the land, rent their clothes. 7. And they spake
unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying,
The land, which we passed through to search it, is an
exceeding good land. 8. If the Lord delight in us, then
He will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land
which floweth with milk and honey. 9. Only rebel not ye
against the Lord, neither fear ye the people of the land;
for they are bread for us: their defence is departed
from them, and the Lord is with us: fear them not.
10. But all the congregation bade stone them with stones.
And the glory of the Lord appeared in the tabernacle of
the congregation before all the children of Israel.'
--NUM. xiv. 1-10.

Terror is more contagious than courage, for a mob is always more
prone to base than to noble instincts. The gloomy report of the
spies jumped with the humour of the people, and was at once
accepted. Its effect was to throw the whole assembly into a paroxysm
of panic, which was expressed in the passionate Eastern manner by
wild, ungoverned shrieking and tears. What a picture of a frenzied
crowd the first verse of this chapter gives! That is not the stuff
of which heroes can be made. Weeping endured for a night, but to
such weeping there came no morning of joy. When day dawned, the
tempest of emotion settled down into sullen determination to give up
the prize which hung within reach of a bold hand, ripe and ready to
drop. It was one of the moments which come once at least in the
lives of nations as of individuals, when a supreme resolve is called
for, and when to fall beneath the stern requirement, and refuse a
great attempt because of danger, is to pronounce sentence of
unworthiness and exclusion on themselves. Not courage only, but
belief in God, was tested in this crucial moment, which made a
turning-point in the nation's history. Our text brings before us
with dramatic vividness and sharpness of contrast, three parties in
this decisive hour--the faithless cowards, the faithful four, and
the All-seeing presence.

I. Note the faithless cowards. The gravity of the revolt here is
partly in its universality, which is emphasised in the narrative at
every turn: '_all_ the congregation' (v. 1), '_all_ the children of
Israel,' the _whole_ congregation' (v. 2), '_all_ the assembly of the
congregation' (which implies a solemn formal convocation), '_all_ the
company' (v, 7), '_all_ the congregation,' '_all_ the children of Israel'
(v. 10). It was no sectional discontent, but full-blown and universal
rebellion. The narrative draws a distinction between the language
addressed to Moses, and the whisperings to one another. Publicly, the
unanimous voice suggested the return to Egypt as an alternative for
discussion, and put it before Moses; to one another they muttered the
proposal, which no man had yet courage to speak out, of choosing a
new leader, and going back, whatever became of Moses. That could only
mean murder as well as mutiny. The whispers would soon be loud enough.

In the murmurs to Moses, observe the distinct and conscious apostacy
from Jehovah. They recognise that God 'has brought' them there, and
they slander Him by the assertion that His malignant, deliberate
purpose was to kill them all, and make slaves of their wives and
children. That was how they read the past, and thought of Him! He
had enticed them into His trap, as a hunter might some foolish
animal, by dainties strewed along the path, and now they were in the
toils, and their only chance of life was to break through. Often,
already, had they raised that mad cry--'back to Egypt!' but there
had never been such a ring of resolve in it, nor had it come from so
many throats, nor had any serious purpose to depose Moses been
entertained. If we add the fact that they were now on the very
frontier of Canaan, and that the decision now taken was necessarily
final, we get the full significance of the incident from the mere
secular historian's point of view. But its bearing on the people's
relation to Jehovah gives a darker colouring to it. It is not merely
faint-hearted shrinking from a great opportunity, but it is wilful
and deliberate rejection of His rule, based upon utter distrust of
His word. So Scripture treats this event as the typical example of
unbelief (Psa. xcv.; Heb. iii. and iv.). So regarded, it presents,
as in a mirror, some of the salient characteristics of that master
sin. Bad as it is, it is not out of the range of possibility that it
should be repeated, and we need the warning to 'take heed lest any
of us should fall after the same example of unbelief.'

We may learn from it the essentials of faith and its opposite. The
trust which these cowards failed to exercise was reliance on
Jehovah, a personal relation to a Person. In externals and contents,
their trust was very unlike the New Testament faith, but in object
and essence it was identical. They had to trust in Jehovah; we, in
'God manifest in the flesh.' Their creed was much less clear and
blessed than ours, but their faith, if they had had it, would have
been the same. Faith is not the belief of a creed, whether man-made
or God-revealed, but the cleaving to the Person whom the creed makes
known. He may be made known more or less perfectly; but the act of
the soul, by which we grasp Him, does not vary with the completeness
of the revelation. That act was one for 'the world's grey fathers'
and for us. In like manner, unbelief is the same black and fatal
sin, whatever be the degree of light against which it turns. To
depart from the living God is its essence, and that is always
rebellion and death.

Note the short memory and churlish unthankfulness of unbelief. It
has been often objected to the story of the Exodus, that such
extremity of folly as is ascribed to the Israelites is inconceivable
in such circumstances. How could men, with all these miracles in
mind, and manna falling daily, and the pillar blazing every night,
and the roll of Sinai's thunders scarcely out of their ears, behave
thus? But any one who has honestly studied his own heart, and known
its capacity for neglecting the plainest indications of God's
presence, and forgetting the gifts of His love, will believe the
story, and see brethren in these Israelites. Miracles were less
wonderful to them, because they knew less about nature and its laws.
Any miracles constantly renewed become commonplace. Habit takes the
wonder out of everything. The heart that does not 'like to retain
God in its knowledge' will find easy ways of forgetting Him, and
revolting from Him, though the path be strewed with blessings, and
tokens of His presence flame on every side. True, it is strange that
all the wonders and mercies of the past two years had made no deeper
impression on these people's hearts; but if they had not done so, it
is not unnatural that they had made so slight an impression on their
wills. Their ingratitude and forgetfulness are inexplicable, as all
sin is, for its very essence is that it has no sufficient reason.
But neither is inconceivable, and both are repeated by us every day.

Note the credulity of unbelief. The word of Jehovah had told them
that the land 'flowed with milk and honey,' and that they were sure
to conquer it. They would not believe Him unless they had
verification of His promises. And when they got their own fears
reflected in the multiplying mirror of the spies' report, they took
men's words for gospel, and gave to them a credence without
examination or qualification, which they had never given to God. I
think that I have heard of people who inveigh against Christians for
their slavish acceptance of the absolute authority of Jesus Christ,
and who pin their faith to some man's teaching with a credulity
quite as great as and much less warrantable than ours.

Note the bad bargain which unbelief is ready to make. They
contemplated a risky alternative to the brave dash against Canaan.
There would be quite as much peril in going back as forward. The
march from Egypt had not been so easy; but what would it be when
there were no Moses, no Jethro, no manna, no pillar? And what sort
of reception would wait them in Egypt, and what fate befall them
there? In front, there were perils; but God would be with them. They
would have to fight their way, but with the joyous feeling that
victory was sure, and that every blow struck, and every step
marched, brought them nearer triumphant peace. If they turned, every
step would carry them farther from their hopes, and nearer the
dreary putting on of the old yoke, which 'neither they nor their
fathers were able to bear.' They would buy slavery at as dear a
price as they would have to pay for freedom and wealth. Yet they
elected the baser course, and thought themselves prudent and careful
of themselves in doing so. Is the breed of such miscalculators
extinct? Far greater hardships and pains are met on the road of
departure from God, than any which befall His servants. To follow
Him involves a conflict, but to shirk the battle does not bring
immunity from strife. The alternatives are not warfare or peace,
God's service or liberty. The most prudent self-love would coincide
with the most self-sacrificing heroic consecration, and no man can
worse consult his own well-being than in seeking escape from the
dangers and toil of enlisting in God's army, by running back through
the desert to put his neck in chains in Egypt. As Moses said:
'Because then servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and
with gladness of heart for the abundance of all things, therefore
thou shalt serve thine enemies, in hunger, and in thirst, and in
want of all things.'

II. The faithful four. Moses and Aaron, Caleb and Joshua, are the
only Abdiels in that crowd of unbelieving dastards. Their own peril
does not move them; their only thought is to dissuade from the fatal
refusal to advance. The leader had no armed force with which to put
down revolt, and stood wholly undefended and powerless. It was a
cruel position for him to see the work of his life crumbling to
pieces, and every hope for his people dashed by their craven fears.
Is there anywhere a nobler piece of self-abnegation than his
prostrating himself before them in the eagerness of his pleading
with them for their own good? If anything could have kindled a spark
of generous enthusiasm, that passionate gesture of entreaty would
have done it. It is like: 'We beseech you, in His stead, be ye
reconciled to God.' Men need to be importuned not to destroy
themselves, and he will have most success in such God-like work who,
as Moses, is so sure of the fatal issues, and so oblivious of all
but saving men from self-inflicted ruin, that he sues as for a boon
with tears in his voice, and dignity thrown to the winds.

Caleb and Joshua had a different task,--to make one more attempt to
hearten the people by repeating their testimony and their
confidence. Tearing their dresses, in sign of mourning, they bravely
ring out once more the cheery note of assured faith. They first
emphatically reiterate that the land is fertile,--or, as the words
literally run, 'good exceedingly, exceedingly.' It is right to
stimulate for God's warfare by setting forth the blessedness of the
inheritance. 'The recompense of the reward' is not the motive for
doing His will, but it is legitimately used as encouragement, in
spite of the overstrained objection that virtue for the sake of
heaven is spurious virtue. If 'for the sake of heaven,' it is
spurious; but it is not spurious because it is heartened by the hope
of heaven. In Caleb's former report there was no reason given for
his confidence that 'we are well able to overcome.' Thus far all the
discussion had been about comparative strength, as any heathen
soldier would have reckoned it. But the two heroes speak out the
great Name at last, which ought to scatter all fears like morning
mist. The rebels had said that Jehovah had 'brought us into this
land to fall by the sword.' The two give them back their words with
a new turn: 'He will bring us into this land, and give it us.' That
is the only antidote to fear. Calculations of comparative force are
worse than useless, and their results depend on the temper of the
calculator; but, if once God is brought into the account, the sum is
ended. When His sword is flung into the scale, whatever is in the
other goes up. So Caleb and Joshua brush aside the terrors of the
Anaks and all the other bugbears. 'They are bread for us,' we can
swallow them at a mouthful; and this was no swaggering boast, but
calm, reasonable confidence, because it rested on this, 'the Lord is
with us.' True, there was an 'if,' but not an 'if' of doubt, but a
condition which they could comply with, and so make it a certainty,
'only rebel not against the Lord, and fear not the people of the
land.' Loyalty to Him would give courage, and courage with His
presence would be sure of victory. Obedience turns God's 'ifs' into
'verilys.' There, then, we have an outline picture of the work of
faith pleading with the rebellious, heartening them and itself by
thoughts of the fair inheritance, grasping the assurance of God's
omnipotent help, and in the strength thereof wisely despising the
strongest foes, and settling itself immovable in the posture of

III. The sudden appearance of the all-seeing Lord. The bold
remonstrance worked the people into a fury, and fidelity was about
to reap the reward which the crowd ever gives to those who try to
save it from its own base passions. Nothing is more hateful to
resolute sinners than good counsel which is undeniably true. But
just as the stones were beginning to fly, the 'glory of the Lord,'
that wondrous light which dwelt above the ark in the inmost shrine,
came forth before all the awestruck crowd. The stones would be
dropped fast enough, and a hush of dread would follow the howling
rage of the angry crowd. Our text does not go on to the awful
judgment which was proclaimed; but we may venture beyond its bounds
to point out that the sentence of exclusion from the land was but
the necessary consequence of the temper and character which the
refusal to advance had betrayed. Such people were not fit for the
fight. A new generation, braced by the keen air and scant fare of
the desert, with firmer muscles and hearts than these enervated
slaves had, was needed for the conquest. The sentence was mercy as
well as judgment; it was better that they should live in the
wilderness, and die there by natural process, after having had more
education in God's loving care, than that they should be driven
unwillingly to a conflict which, in their state of mind, would have
been but their butchery. None the less, it is an awful condemnation
for a man to be brought by God's providence face to face with a
great possibility of service and of blessing, and then to show
himself such that God has to put him aside, and look for other
instruments. The Israelites were excluded from Canaan by no
arbitrary decree, but by their own faithless fears, which made their
victory impossible. 'They could not enter in because of unbelief.'
In like manner our unbelief shuts us out from salvation, because we
can only enter in by faith; and the 'rest that remains' is of such a
nature that it is impossible for even His love to give it to the
unbelieving. 'Let us labour, therefore, to enter into that rest,
lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.'


'Pardon, I beseech Thee, the iniquity of this people
according unto the greatness of Thy mercy, and as Thou
hast forgiven this people, from Egypt even until now.'
--NUM. xiv. 19.

See how in this story a divine threat is averted and a divine
promise is broken, thus revealing a standing law that these in

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