2 Samuel Chapter Twenty-three
2 Samuel 23
David's last words. (1-7) David's mighty men. (8-39)
Commentary on 2 Samuel 23:1-7
(Read 2 Samuel 23:1-7)
These words of David are very worthy of regard. Let those who have had long experience of God's goodness, and the pleasantness of heavenly wisdom, when they come to finish their course, bear their testimony to the truth of the promise. David avows his Divine inspiration, that the Spirit of God spake by him. He, and other holy men, spake and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. In many things he had his own neglect and wrong conduct to blame. But David comforted himself that the Lord had made with him an everlasting covenant. By this he principally intended the covenant of mercy and peace, which the Lord made with him as a sinner, who believed in the promised Saviour, who embraced the promised blessing, who yielded up himself to the Lord, to be his redeemed servant. Believers shall for ever enjoy covenant blessings; and God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, shall be for ever glorified in their salvation. Thus pardon, righteousness, grace, and eternal life, are secured as the gift of God through Jesus Christ. There is an infinite fulness of grace and all blessings treasured up in Christ, for those who seek his salvation. This covenant was all David's salvation, he so well knew the holy law of God and the extent of his own sinfulness, that he perceived what was needful for his own case in this salvation. It was therefore all his desire. In comparison, all earthly objects lost their attractions; he was willing to give them up, or to die and leave them, that he might enjoy full happiness, Psalm 73:24-28. Still the power of evil, and the weakness of his faith, hope, and love, were his grief and burden. Doubtless he would have allowed that his own slackness and want of care were the cause; but the hope that he should soon be made perfect in glory, encouraged him in his dying moments.
Commentary on 2 Samuel 23:8-39
(Read 2 Samuel 23:8-39)
David once earnestly longed for the water at the well of Bethlehem. It seems to be an instance of weakness. He was thirsty; with the water of that well he had often refreshed himself when a youth, and it was without due thought that he desired it. Were his valiant men so forward to expose themselves, upon the least hint of their prince's mind, and so eager to please him, and shall not we long to approve ourselves to our Lord Jesus, by ready compliance with his will, as shown us by his word, Spirit, and providence? But David poured out the water as a drink-offering to the Lord. Thus he would cross his own foolish fancy, and punish himself for indulging it, and show that he had sober thoughts to correct his rash ones, and knew how to deny himself. Did David look upon that water as very precious which was got at the hazard of these men's blood, and shall not we much more value those benefits for purchasing which our blessed Saviour shed his blood? Let all beware of neglecting so great salvation.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on 2 Samuel》
2 Samuel 23
 Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said,
Last words — Not simply the last that he spoke, but the last which he spake by the spirit of God, assisting and directing him in an extraordinary manner. When we find death approaching, we should endeavour both to honour God, and to profit others with our last words. Let those who have had experience of God's goodness, and the pleasantness of the ways of wisdom, when they come to finish their course, leave a record of those experiences, and bear their testimony to the truth of the promise.
Raised — Advanced from an obscure estate, to the kingdom. Whom, God singled out from all the families of Israel, and anointed to be king.
Psalmist — He who was eminent among the people of God, for composing sweet and holy songs to the praise of God, and for the use of his church in after ages: these seem not to be the words of David, but of the sacred penman of this book.
 The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue.
His word — The following words, and consequently the other words and Psalms composed and uttered by me upon the like solemn occasions, are not to be looked upon as human inventions, but both the matter and the words of them are suggested by God's spirit, the great teacher of the church.
 The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.
Rock — He who is the strength, and defence, and protector of his people; which he manifests by directing kings and rulers so to manage their power as may most conduce to their comfort and benefit.
Ruleth — Here are the two principal parts of a king's duty, answerable to the two tables of God's law, justice towards men, and piety towards God, both which he is to maintain and promote among his people.
 And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.
Shall be — These words are a farther description of the king's duty, which is not only to rule with justice and piety, but also with sweetness, and gentleness, and condescension to the infirmities of his people; to render his government as acceptable to them, as is the sun-shine in a clear morning, or the tender grass which springs out of the earth by the warm beams of the sun after the rain.
 Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow.
Altho' — Although God knows, that neither I, nor my children have lived and ruled as we should have done, so justly, and in the fear of the Lord; and therefore have not enjoyed that uninterrupted prosperity which we might have enjoyed.
Covenant — Notwithstanding all our transgressions whereby we have broken covenant with God, yet God, to whom all my sins were known, was graciously pleased to make a sure covenant, to continue the kingdom to me, and to my seed for ever, chap. 7:16, until the coming of the Messiah who is to be my son and successor, and whose kingdom shall have no end.
Ordered — Ordained in all points by God's eternal counsel; and disposed by his wise and powerful providence which will over-rule all things, even the sins of my house so far, that although he punished them for their sins, yet he will not utterly root them out, nor break his covenant made with me and mine.
Sure — Or, preserved, by God's power and faithfulness in the midst of all oppositions.
For this — Or, in this is, that is, it consists in, and depends upon this covenant.
Salvation — Both mine own eternal salvation, and the preservation of the kingdom to me and mine.
Tho' — Although God as yet hath not made my house or family to grow; that is, to increase, or to flourish with worldly glory as I expected; yet this is my comfort, that God will inviolably keep this covenant. But this refers also to the covenant of grace made with all believers. This is indeed an everlasting covenant, from everlasting, in the contrivance of it, and to everlasting, in the continuance and the consequence of it. It is ordered, well ordered in all things; admirably well, to advance the glory of God and the honour of the mediator, together with the holiness and happiness of believers. It is sure, and therefore sure, because well-ordered: the promised mercies are sure, on the performance of the conditions. It is all our salvation: nothing but this will save us, and this is sufficient. Therefore it should be all our desire. Let me have an interest in this covenant, and I have enough, I desire no more.
 But the sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands:
But — Having in the foregoing verses described the nature, and stability of that kingdom which God had by a sure covenant settled upon him and his seed; and especially, upon the Messiah, who was to be one of his posterity; he now describes the nature and miserable condition, of all the enemies of this holy and blessed kingdom.
As thorns — Which men do not use to handle, but thrust them away. And so will God thrust away from himself, and from his people, and kingdom, all those who shall either secretly or openly set themselves against it.
 But the man that shall touch them must be fenced with iron and the staff of a spear; and they shall be utterly burned with fire in the same place.
Fenced — He must arm himself with some iron weapon, whereby he may cut them down; or, with the staff of a spear, or some such thing, whereby he may thrust them away from himself, that they do him no hurt.
Burnt — Or, if they do not cut them down or thrust them away they will burn and consume them.
The place — Or, in their place, where they grow or stand.
 These be the names of the mighty men whom David had: The Tachmonite that sat in the seat, chief among the captains; the same was Adino the Eznite: he lift up his spear against eight hundred, whom he slew at one time.
These — But this catalogue, though placed here, was taken long before, as is manifest from hence, that Asahel and Uriah are named here. And whereas there are some difference between this list, and that, 1 Chronicles 11:10-47, most of them are easily reconciled by these two considerations; 1. that nothing is more common than for one person to have divers names. 2. That as some of the worthies died, and others came in their stead; this must needs cause some alteration in the latter catalogue, 1 Chronicles 11:10-47, from this which was the former. Learn hence, how much religion tends to inspire men with true courage. David both by his writings and example greatly promoted piety among the grandees of the kingdom. And when they became famous for piety, they became famous for bravery.
Adino — This was his proper name.
Lift up — Which words are fitly supplied out of 1 Chronicles 11:11, where they are expressed.
One time — In one battle, which though it be strange, yet cannot seem incredible, supposing him to be a person of extraordinary strength and activity, and his enemies to be discouraged, and fleeing away.
 And after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David, when they defied the Philistines that were there gathered together to battle, and the men of Israel were gone away:
Gone away — That is, fled away, 1 Chronicles 11:13, being dismayed at the approach of their enemies.
 And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered together into a troop, where was a piece of ground full of lentiles: and the people fled from the Philistines.
Lentiles — Or barley, as it is 1 Chronicles 11:13. For both might grow in the same field, in divers parts of it. And this fact is ascribed to Eleazar, 1 Chronicles 11:12, but it is implied, that he had some partner or partners in it; for it is there said, 1 Chronicles 11:14 they set themselves, etc. So Eleazar might fight in that part where the barley was and Shammah where the lentiles were.
 But he stood in the midst of the ground, and defended it, and slew the Philistines: and the LORD wrought a great victory.
Lord wrought — How great soever the bravery of the instruments is, the praise of the achievement is to be given to God. These fought, but God wrought the victory.
 And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!
Said — Being hot and thirsty, he expresses how acceptable a draught of that water would be to him; but was far from desiring, or expecting that any of his men should hazard their lives to procure it.
 And the three mighty men brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David: nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the LORD.
Would not — Lest by gratifying himself upon such terms, he should seem either to set too high a price upon the satisfaction of his appetite, or too low a price upon the lives of his soldiers.
Poured it — As a kind of drink offering, and acknowledgment of God's goodness in preserving the lives of his captains in so dangerous an enterprize; and to shew, that he esteemed it as a sacred thing, which it was not fit for him to drink.
 And he said, Be it far from me, O LORD, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives? therefore he would not drink it. These things did these three mighty men.
These three — Jointly: then two of them are mentioned severally.
 Was he not most honourable of three? therefore he was their captain: howbeit he attained not unto the first three.
Attained not — He fell short of them in strength and valour.
 And he slew an Egyptian, a goodly man: and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand; but he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian's hand, and slew him with his own spear.
Pit — Where he put himself under a necessity, either of killing, or being killed.
Of snow — When lions are most fierce, both from the sharpness of their appetite in cold seasons, and from want of provisions.
 Shammah the Harodite, Elika the Harodite,
Harodite — In 1 Chronicles 11:27, Shammoth the Harorite. Concerning which, and other changes of the names, which will be observed, by comparing this catalogue with that, it will be sufficient to suggest, 1. that the same names of persons, or places, are differently pronounced according to the different dialects of divers places or ages. 2. That one man had often two names. 3. That David had more worthies than those here mentioned; and as some of these were slain in the former part of David's reign, as Asahel was; so others came up in their stead; and some were added to this number, as appears from 1 Chronicles 11:10-47, where they are named, but not numbered, as they were here; and where there is a greater number than is here expressed.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on 2 Samuel》
23 Chapter 23
Now these be the last words of David.
The “last words” of David
According to a commonly received interpretation of this passage, David mourned over the ungodly state of his children, but exulted in the assurance of his, own personal salvation. He first repeated the description he had received from the Lord of the character which kings and rulers should maintain, and it is supposed that he next lamented the fact that his children did not answer to the Divine ideal. It is further supposed that his sorrow on account of their shortcomings instantly gave place to grateful joy in the hope that, through the mercy and faithfulness of God, he himself should be secure and blessed for ever. It might go ill with his children, but it would be well with him. His family troubles were great and many. Some of his children were anything but what his conscience could approve and his heart could desire. They were thorns in his side and arrows in his heart. Still, is it not incredible that David, as he contemplated the lost condition of his children, could instantly get comfort by thinking of his own safety? He was sometimes sadly unlike his true self, but assuredly he was never so unlike himself as to say in effect, “My children may perish, but, the Lord be praised, I shall get to heaven myself!” This must be deemed impossible to David, even by those who take the worst view of his conduct in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. There is another interpretation of the passage which makes it chiefly and almost exclusively a prophecy of Christ. It is supposed to regard Him as the King ordained of God, and to describe the perfection of His kingly character, the righteousness of His rule, the benignity of His sway over those who submit to it, and the destructive effects of His sovereignty upon those who are rebellious and disobedient. Those who adopt this interpretation make certain changes in the translation of the passage which remove from it everything like lamentation on David’s part. There is a third interpretation according to which David here sets forth the Divine ideal of a ruler over men as he in early life received it from the Spirit of the Lord. Now that he has reached the close of his kingly career, he compares that career with the description of a good king which God had given to him, and he finds that he has fallen far short of it. When he speaks of his “house” not being “so with God,” he does not mean his domestic circle, but the reigning dynasty, and he refers, not to the godless character of his children, but to the imperfections of his own kingship. That had not been altogether such as Gad had enjoined, and as he himself had desired and determined. When he speaks of the “covenant ordered in all things,” he exults, not in the thought that he is personally safe despite the irreligion of his children, but in the assurance that he shall be saved despite his shortcomings and failures as a king.
1. These “last words” reveal to us the lofty standard of kingly character which was set before David in early life. Righteousness towards men and reverence towards God are named as the two great essentials in a good king. For lack of these, monarchs have been curses instead of blessings, and peoples have been oppressed, and kingdoms have been ruined. But where the authority of God has been recognised, and the rights of the people have been respected, nations have flourished, and kings have been a terror to evil-doers, and a praise to them that do well. Stress is laid upon justice rather than upon compassion, and history warrants the emphasis. The benignant influence of a God-fearing and righteous ruler is described in expressive figurative language. Gladness and growth shall characterise his reign, for “he shall be as the light of the morning,” etc. Several years elapsed before the throne promised to David came into his possession; and it is probable that this vivid picture of kingly perfection was also placed before him some time prior to his accession. These last words reveal to us the sad consciousness which David had in his old age, that the lofty standard set before him in early life had not been reached. His kingship was anything but a great failure. It cannot be questioned that David’s reign was a great blessing to the Jews, and that in the review of his career there was much to inspire him with joy and thankfulness. Earthly perfection is one of the pleasant dreams of inexperience. It is generally the honest determination of young beginners to do very great things, and they firmly believe that all their lofty aspirations will be fully realised This is one of the illusions of life by which every new generation is fascinated despite all the disappointments of preceding generations. Each fresh comer into the field is blissfully forgetful of human frailties and heroically defiant of difficulties, and nothing but his own personal experience will be able to shake his faith in the splendour of his future achievements. There never lived but One in this world whose review of His earthly life was free from all the sadness which sight of fault and failure brings. When Jesus hung upon the cross, He could think of such a work as had never been devolved upon man or angel, and of that matchless work He could say, “It is finished!” (C. Vince.)
The last words of David
The song falls into four parts.
1. In the introduction, we cannot but be struck with the formality and solemnity of the affirmation respecting the singer and the inspiration under which he sang. The first four clauses represent David as the speaker; the second four represent God’s Spirit as inspiring his words. The introduction to Balaam’s prophecies is the only passage where we find a similar structure, nor is this the only point of resemblance between the two songs. In both prophecies, the word translated “saith” is peculiar. While occurring between two and three hundred times in the formula, “Thus saith the Lord:” it is used by a human speaker only in these two places and in Proverbs 30:1. The second part of the introduction stamps the prophecy with a fourfold mark of inspiration.
1. “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me.”
2. “His word was in my tongue.”
3. “The God of Israel said.”
4. “The Rock of Israel spake to me.”
So remarkable an introduction must be followed by no ordinary prophecy.
2. We come, then, to the great subject of the prophecy--a Ruler over men. It is a vision of a remarkable Ruler, not a Ruler over the kingdom of Israel merely, but a Ruler “over men.” The Ruler seen is One whose government knows no earthly limits, but prevails wherever there are men. It is worthy of very special remark that the first characteristic of this Ruler is “righteousness.” There is no grander or more majestic word in the language of men. Not even love or mercy can be preferred to righteousness. And this is no casual expression, happening in David’s vision, for it is common to the whole class of prophecies that predict the Messiah. It is the grand characteristic of Christ’s salvation in theory that it is through righteousness; it is not less its effect in practice to promote righteousness. To any who would dream, under colour of free grace, of breaking down the law of righteousness, the words of “the Holy One and the Just” stand out as an eternal rebuke, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” And as Christ’s work was founded on righteousness, so it was constantly done “in the fear of God”--with the highest possible regard for His will, and reverence for His law. Having shown the character of the Ruler, the vision next pictures the effects of His rule. No imagery could be more delightful, or more fitly applied to Christ. The image of the morning sun presents Christ in His gladdening influences, bringing pardon to the guilty, health to the diseased, hope to the despairing. The chief idea under the other emblem, the grass shining clearly after rain, is that of renewed beauty and growth. The heavy rain batters the grass, as heavy trials batter the soul; but when the morning shines out clearly, the grass recovers, it sparkles with a fresher lustre, and grows with intenser activity. So when Christ shines on the heart after trial, a new beauty and a new growth and prosperity come to it.
3. Next comes David’s allusion to his own house. In our translation, and in the text of the Revised Version, this comes in to indicate a sad contrast between the bright vision just described and the Psalmist’s own family. The key to the passage will be found, if we mistake not, in the expression “my house.” We are liable to think of this as the domestic circle, whereas it ought to be thought of as the reigning dynasty. What is denoted by the house of Hapsburg, the house of Hanover, the house of Savoy, is quite different from the personal family of any of the kings. So when David speaks of his house, he means his dynasty. In this sense his “house” had been made the subject of the most gracious promise. But take the marginal reading--“Is not my house so with God?” Is not my dynasty embraced in the scope of this promise? Hath He not made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure? And will He not make this promise, which is all my salvation and all my desire, to grow, to fructify? It is infinitely more natural to represent David on this joyous occasion congratulating himself on the promise of long continuance and prosperity made to his dynasty, than dwelling on the unhappy condition of the members of his family circle. And the facts of the future correspond to this explanation. Was not the government of David’s house or dynasty in the main righteous, at least for many a reign, conducted in the fear of God, and followed by great prosperity and blessing? David himself, Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah--what other nation had ever so many Christlike kings?
4. The last part of the prophecy, in the way of contrast to the leading vision, is a prediction of the doom of the ungodly. While some would fain think of Christ’s sceptre as one of mercy only, the uniform representation of the Bible is different. In this, as in most predictions of Christ’s kingly office, there is an instructive combination of mercy and judgment. Nor could it be otherwise. The union of mercy and judgment is the inevitable result of the righteousness which is the foundation of His government. Sin is the abominable thing which He hates. To separate men from sin is the grand purpose of His government. Oh, let us not be satisfied with admiring beautiful images of Christi Let us not deem it enough to think with pleasure of Him as the light of the morning, a morning without clouds, brightening the earth, and making it sparkle with the lustre of the sunshine on the grass after rain! (W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)
The dying king’s last vision and psalm
It was fitting that “the last words of David” should be a prophecy of the true King, whom his own failures and sins, no less than his consecration and victories, had taught him to expect. The dying eyes see on the horizon of the far-off future the form of Him who is to be a just and perfect ruler, before the brightness of whose presence and the refreshing of whose influence verdure and beauty shall clothe the world. As the shades gather round the dying monarch, the radiant glory to come brightens. He departs in peace, having seen the salvation from afar, and stretched out longing bands of greeting toward it. Then his harp is silent, as if the rapture which thrilled the trembling strings had snapped them.
1. We have first a prelude extending to the middle of 2 Samuel 23:3. In it there is first a fourfold designation of the personality of the Psalmist-prophet, and then a fourfold designation of the Divine oracle spoken through him. Similarly, the fourfold designation of the Divine source has the same purpose, and corresponds with the four clauses of 2 Samuel 23:1, “The spirit of the Lord spake in (or, ‘into’) me.” That gives the Psalmist’s consciousness that in his prophecy he was but the recipient of a message. It wonderfully describes the penetrating power of that inward voice which clearly came to him from without, and as clearly spoke to him within. Words could not more plainly declare the prophetic consciousness of the distinction between himself and the Voice which he heard in the depths of his spirit. It spoke in him before he spoke of his lyric prophecy.
2. The Divine oracle thus solemnly introduced and guaranteed must be worthy of such a prelude. Abruptly, and in clauses without verbs, the picture of the righteous Ruler is divinely flashed before the Seer’s inward eye. The broken construction may perhaps indicate that he is describing what he beholds in vision. There is no need for any supplement such as “There shall be,” which, however true in meaning, mars the vividness of the presentation of the Ruler to the prophet’s sight. David sees him painted on the else blank wall of the future. When and where the realisation may be he knows not. What are the majestic outlines? A universal sovereign over collective humanity, righteous and God-fearing. In the same manner as he described the vision of the King, David goes on, as a man on some height telling what he saw to the people below, and paints the blessed issues of the King’s coming. It had been night before he came--the night of ignorance, sorrow, and sin--but his coming is like one of these glorious Eastern sunrises without a cloud, when everything laughs in its early beams, and, with tropical swiftness, the tender herbage bursts from the ground, as born from the dazzling brightness and the fertilising rain. So all things shall rejoice in the reign of the King, and humanity be productive, under his glad and quickening influences, of growths of beauty and fruitfulness impossible to it without these.
3. The difficult 2 Samuel 23:5, whether its first and last clauses be taken interrogatively or negatively, in its central part, bases the assurance of the coming of the king on God’s covenant (2 Samuel 7:1-29), which is glorified as being everlasting, provided with all requisites for its realisation, and therefore “sure,” or perhaps “preserved,” as if guarded by God’s inviolable sanctity and faithfulness. The fulfilment of the dying saint’s hopes depends on God’s truth. Whatever sense might say, or doubt whisper, he silences them by gazing on that great Word. So we have all to do.
4. But the oracle cannot end with painting only blessings as flowing from the king’s reign. If he is to rule in righteousness and the fear of the Lord, then he must fight against evil. If his coming causes the tender grass to spring, it will quicken ugly growths too. The former representation is only half the truth; and the threatening of destruction for the evil is as much a part of the Divine oracle as the other. Strictly, it is “wickedness” the abstract quality rather than the concrete persons who embody it--which is spoken of. May we recall the old distinction that God loves the sinner while He hates the sin? The picture is vivid. The wicked--and all the enemies of this king are wicked, in the prophet’s view--are like some of these thorn-brakes, that cannot be laid hold of, even to root them out, but need to be attacked with sharp pruning-hooks on long shafts, or burned where they grow. There is a destructive side to the coming of the king, shadowed in every prophecy of him, and brought emphatically to prominence in his own descriptions of his reign and its final issues. It is a poor kindness to suppress that side of the truth. Thorns as well as tender grass spring up in the quickening beams; and the best commentary on the solemn words which close David’s closing song is the saying of the King Himself: “In the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers,” Gather up first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
David’s last words
I. God’s words by david.
1. David’s words as king, “David, the man who was raised on high, saith” (2 Samuel 23:1.)
2. David’s words as Psalmist, “David saith, the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1.)
3. David’s words from God, “The spirit of the Lord spake by me” (2 Samuel 23:2.)
1. “These be the last words of David.”
2. “The man whom God raised on high.”
3. “The spirit of the Lord spake by me.”
II. God’s words concerning rulers.
1. What good rulers must be: “One that ruleth righteously, in the fear of God” (2 Samuel 23:3.)
2. What good rulers are like: “He shall be as the light of the morning” (2 Samuel 23:4.)
3. How God treats good rulers: “He Hath made with me an everlasting covenant” (2 Samuel 23:5.)
1. “He shall be as the light of the morning.”
2. “He hath made with me an everlasting covenant,”
3. “It is all my salvation, and all my desire.” God’s covenant
III. God’s words concerning enemies.
1. Equipped for evil: “The ungodly shall be all of them as thorns” (2 Samuel 23:6.)
2. Overcome by power: “The man that touched them must be armed with iron” (2 Samuel 23:7.)
3. Doomed to destruction: “They shall be utterly burned with fire” (2 Samuel 23:7.)
1. “The ungodly shall be all of them as thorns to be thrust away.” The ungodly
2. “Armed with iron and the staff of a spear.”
3. “They shall be utterly burned with fire in their place.” The end of the wicked:
The history does not inform us at what period of David’s chequered life “the God of Israel--the Rock of Israel,” spake thus to him. We may not be presumptuous, however, in fixing on what in our judgment would appear to have been the most likely time. Voices of highest inspiration, visions of loftiest things, come, as a rule, to men in early life. By an irresistible sense of the fitness of the figure, we speak of the youth as the “Morning of life,” when all within and without is at its brightest and its best, and heaven and earth smile with the promise of the coming day. It would seem but natural, then, that we should place this vision of the ideal man--the ideal ruler--at least in some period of David’s earlier life. There are two or three purposes which ideals and visions serve, and though they are the mere commonplaces of all serious thinking, I may be permitted briefly to state them.
I. Ideals and visions are our only possible means of enlargement and enrichment. For the chances of true greatness everywhere never lie so much in what a man is as in what he sees, in perhaps rare moments, he may become. This is clear and obvious enough to all our minds; but in days when men are asking whether ideals do not stand in our way, it will bear enforcement. An ideal is the soul, the only soul, and the only soul in every conceivable direction of sustained effort and assured progress. Our Saviour knew this full well when He pitched the tune of our Christian lives in the highest key of all, and bade us “be perfect, as our Father who is in heaven is perfect.” And the high ground which He took, all experience approves. A vision of our personal possibilities may be extravagant--it may even be misleading; but find a man who has ceased to see such visions, who has ceased to be allured by them, who has ceased to follow them, and you find a man who is growing from small to less, from mediocrity to insignificance.
II. We should feel things as well as know them, There is no chance of continuous and successful effort, apart from a strict fidelity to what, in our best moments, “the God of Israel--the Rock of Israel,” has said to us, or has set before us. Moral precepts will help us on a long way, but they cannot kindle an abiding endeavour. Abstract injunctions and commands will help us on a long way, but I doubt if they ever yet carried a single struggling soul within sight of a very high goal.
III. God sends us our ideals--our religious ideals--to break the binding arid blinding spell of religious custom. What stagnation, what paralysis sometimes comes over us! Then, happy is the man whom the memories of former days, of former visions, of former vows, disturb at such a time; who accepts, as from God, the reproachful looks of former ideals; who goes back in thought to the times of his youthful consecration, and who determines that henceforth Christ and not custom shall be his King. And when memory travels back to life as it shaped itself to our young imagination, and then reflect on the way and manner in which it has all turned out, it requires something like ah effort to talk about ideals. And yet consider--
1. Most of the deepest things m life we can only, learn from conscious, perhaps repeated failure. In a fine lecture on Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the late Principal Shairp tins the following: “Through the wounds made in his own spirit, through the brokenness of a heart humbled and made contrite by the experience of his own sin, he entered into the faith which gave rest, the peace which settles where the intellect is meek.” Now wounds and failures, and even sin, remembered ideals that seem sometimes only to reproach us, sometimes almost to mock us, these things have a good account to give of themselves, if they accomplish for us anything like that
2. Patiently, too, do we come to look upon our brother’s failures. Sons of consolation indeed do we become when we learn to look through the open windows of our own. The Voice of voices to this generation exclaims, “Oh! my brother, my brother, why cannot I fold thee to my breast?” That brother cannot be folded to this breast in any very effective way till I have come to know much more what is inside than I could know when “the God of Israel--the Rock of Israel,” first spake to me.
3. Lastly, there are many great sights in this world. There are many great and noble things done under the sun. Heroes and heroines are only scarce to those who, often enough for good reason, cannot see them. (J. Thew.)
David’s swan song
And now comes the last “Lay of the Minstrel,” with its flashes of heavenly fire--the true “Swan song.” If we treasure with peculiar fondness the closing sayings of great men, with what devout interest may we not listen to the concluding strains of the Laureate of the universal church--the last cadences of that harp of a thousand strings! The grandeur of earthly empire is fast waning. He has heaven in view. But he would give to his people--to the world--this dying “Confession of faith” farewell ode of victory. The whole poetry of his nature seems summoned up for the expiring effort. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Dr. Preston: “Blessed be God! though I change my place, I shall not change my company; for I have walked with God while living, and now I go to rest with God.” Matthew Henry: “You have been used to take notice of the sayings of dying men, this is mine--that a life spent in the service of God, and communion with Him, is the most comfortable life that any one can lead in this present world.” Rutherford: “If he should slay me ten thousand times ten thousand times, I’ll trust.” “I feel, I feel, I believe in joy, and rejoice; I feed on manna.” “Oh, for arms to embrace Him. Oh, for a well-tuned harp!” Rev. James Hervey: “You tell me that I have but a few moments to live. Oh, let me spend them in adoring our great Reedeemer! Oh, welcome death! thou mayest well be reckoned among the treasures of the Christian.” His last words, “The great conflict is over: all is done.” President Edwards, after bidding goodbye to all his children, looked about, and said, “Now, where is Jesus of Nazareth, my never-failing Friend?” And so he fell asleep, and went to the Lord he loved. Rev. John Wesley: “The best of all is, God is with us.” Rev. Charles Wesley: “I shall be satisfied with Thy likeness; satisfied--satisfied!” Dr. Payson: “The battle’s fought--the battle’s fought; and the victory is won--the victory is won, for ever! I am going to bathe in an ocean of purity, and benevolence, and happiness to all eternity.” “Faith and patience, hold out.” (G. S. Bowes, M. A.)
The Spirit of the Lord spake by me.
The inspiration of the Scriptures
I. The Inspiration Of The Scriptures. This may be shown by the combined testimony of Moses, the Psalmist, the Prophets of our Lord, and also of the Apostles and Evangelists. Consider:
1. The language of Moses. Now what does Moses say of his own writings? “Thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep His statutes and His commandments, which are written in this book of the law.”
2. The language of the Psalmist. David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel, claims inspiration for those psalms which are of his own composition. “The Spirit of the Lord,” he says, “spake by me.” And what are his other testimonies respecting the word of God at large? Very wonderful, he says, are its properties. It is the grand instrument, he tells us, in the sinner’s conversion. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul.”
3. The language of the prophets. What does Jeremiah say concerning his own writings? The Lord commanded Jeremiah to set down in a book certain prophecies. Those prophecies Baruch read in the audience of the king and the princes. And what is said respecting Baruch’s reading? “Then read he in the book the words of the Lord in the house of the Lord.” He read in the book “the words of the Lord.”
4. The language of Christ. He met His adversaries with the Scripture.
5. The language of the Evangelists and Apostles. Our Lord, before His departure, promised to send to His disciples the Holy Ghost. “And when He is come, He will bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have spoken unto you.” The Evangelists and Apostles, therefore, wrote under the controlling power of the Holy Ghost. “All Scripture, wrote St. Peter,” is given by inspiration of God,” or, is “God-breathed.” That Scripture Timothy had known from a child; arid that Scripture was able to make Timothy “wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” By that term “Scripture,” which was able to make its readers savingly acquainted with Christ, was meant the Old Testament writings. Now, these Old Testament books are directly quoted or alluded to in the New Testament several hundreds of times. There are more than eighty such references in St. Matthew; more than thirty in St. Mark; more than fifty in St. Luke; forty in St. John; more than fifty in the Acts of the Apostles; more than seventy in the Romans.
II. Words of counsel.
1. Beware of the sin of unbelief. God has given us-a revelation. The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken. That revelation contains difficulties and mysteries. Our Lord was satisfied with the Old Testament, and we, therefore, should surely be satisfied. But we have, in addition, a most clear commentary on the Old Testament. We have the New Testament.
2. Cultivate a childlike spirit. Our Lord has plainly told us that, except we be converted and become as little children, we shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.
3. Receive all that the Bible reveals. In the Bible, as St Peter tells us, there are many things “hard to be understood.” This is no more than we ought to expect, when the infinite God reveals Himself to a finite being like man. Those things, however, which are necessary for our salvation--sin, death, hell, heaven, the general resurrection, the atonement of Christ, the work of the Spirit--are written so plainly “that he may run that reads.” (C. Clayton, M. A.)
God the Author of Scripture
Who built St. Paul’s Cathedral? So many masons, carpenters, iron-workers, carvers, painters--and then there was Wren. Yes, there was Christopher Wren. He was not a mason, nor a carpenter, nor an ironworker. He never laid a single stone, drove a nail, or forged a railing. What did he do? He did it all. He planned the splendid edifice: inspired with his thought and purpose all their toil, and wrought through every worker. They were his “hands,” and people flock to-day in their thousands from all over the world to see Christopher Wren’s masterpiece. Who wrote the Bible? Moses, David, Isaiah, John, Paul? Yes. But the Holy Spirit did it all. “Holy men of old spake as they were borne along by the Holy Ghost.”
Plenary inspiration of Scripture
In an interesting little pamphlet, written by the late Dr. A. J. Gordon, and called “Three weeks with Joseph Rabinowitz,” there are several striking expressions uttered by the Russian Jew. “What is your view of inspiration?” we asked him, in order to draw him out concerning certain much-mooted questions Of our time. “My view is,” he said, holding up his Hebrew Bible, “that this is the Word of God; the Spirit of God dwells in it; when I read it, I know that God is speaking to me; and when I preach it, I say to the people, ‘Be silent, and hear what Jehovah will say to you.’ As for comparing the inspiration of Scripture with that of Homer or Shakespeare,” he continued, “it is not a question of degree, but of kind.. Electricity will pass through an iron bar, but it will not go through a rod of glass, however beautiful and transparent, because it has no affinity for it. So the Spirit of God dwells in the Word of God, the Holy Scriptures, because these are His proper medium, but not in Homer or Shakespeare, because He has no affinity with these writings.”
The Rock of Israel spake to me.
The voice of a rock
The phraseology is peculiarly dramatic and picturesque.
I. The rock has a voice; the Rock of Israel had been speaking to him ever since he had been in the kingly seat of power. David’s wild and outlaw life had made him know what was the value of a stronghold, a shelter, a refuge. Rocks had been in his experience his best friends for many a year. Rocks were unchanging in their affection for him; they were immovable in their stability; they were impregnable for defence; often he had found rest under the “shadow of a great rock in a weary land.” What had this Rock of Israel said to him during this wonderful career?
1. For one thing, it had told him, as a counsel of superior wisdom, that he ought to reign righteously all his life: “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.”
2. For another thing, the Rock had spoken the terms and the conditions of a fine promise. A just ruler would be prospered in proportion to the purity and piety of his administration: “And he shall be as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.”
3. And for the best thing of all, the Rock had assured him graciously of a permanent continuance of the Divine favour: “Although my house be not so with God, yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow.”
II. Modern religious experience. What are the conditions of implicit trust in the Lord of our salvation, such trust ah will insure peace and comfort?
1. The main condition of resting in the Lord is found in looking outside of one’s self. There is a habit of morbid self-examination which needs to be shunned. The more conscientious any believer is, the more apt he is to press unnecessary scrutiny of introspection.
2. The next condition of spiritual repose is found in the avoiding of unwise counsellors. Once a Christian friend wrote a letter to me, saying that she had just, after a long struggle, come to something like peace in believing, when along came a “so-called evangelist to torment her before her time,” telling her that “all we have to do is to accept salvation as we would accept a book from Christ’s hand.” She could not do this so easily, and hence she was informed again that her faith had no foundation upon which to be “secure.” It would break up two-thirds of the business firms in the United States if an evangelist were to keep going round among the counting-rooms, telling people that they were in jeopardy every hour unless they could come to absolute confidence in their senior partners; and then they must be sure, still, that they have the-right kind of confidence in them; and then they must be modest, and become surest of all that they are not becoming over-sure of anything this side of heaven. Human beings cannot get on with this; they cannot live so with God or with man. We must cultivate some measure of unquestioning trust. We must learn to trust our trust, and not keep rooting it up. No plant grows which is continually being rooted up.
3. Another condition of rest in God is found in drawing a clear distinction between historic faith and saving faith. What secures to us a perfect salvation is spiritual trust in the Saviour, and this is the gift of the Holy Ghost. And whoever says that we receive Divine grace as we would receive a book from a man’s hand, is simply mistaken in ignorance, or is misunderstood in his statement. Mechanical acts are frightfully poor illustrations of deep religious exercises. Some sort of fervour, some degree of emotion, is needed in order to appreciate Divine grace and receive it fitly. Tameness and lukewarmness are simply insipid. It is a heart-trust that God asks for, not a mere head-trust. A maiden may be told by her enthusiastic lover that it is as easy to trust him for ever with her life as it is to take a flower he offers; she knows better. It is easy to receive facts, perhaps, but not so easy to understand experiences which lie deeper than any mere outward acts. Historic faith is not necessarily saving faith.
4. Yet again: we are to cultivate confidence in the slowly reached answers to our prayers for Divine grace.
5. Yet again: we must distinguish between emotions, and religious states. The one may vary, the other is fixed Faith is a very different thing from the result of faith; and confidence of faith is even a different thing from faith itself; and yet the safety of a soul depends on faith, and nothing else. We are justified by faith--not by joy or peace or love or hope or zeal. These last are the results of faith, generally, and will depend largely upon temperament and education.
6. Finally, this unbroken courage is a condition of rest. We must not think everything is lost when we happen to have become beclouded. That faith is the best which has been tried and tested. In my study lies a little flower. It came to me long ago, by the hand of one who plucked it upon the highest ridge ever reached in the Rocky Mountains. It is of a rich purple colour, light and graceful in form, and retains yet, I imagine, a faint and delicate perfume. The lesson which it teaches me is one of endurance and patience. Away up there, where the snow lies late and the storms come early, it has held its own. The bleak solitudes had no charm for it; nay, I think that this flower was created to give a charm to a solitude which would have been the bleaker without it. To me it is the symbol of trust--absolute and implicit trust in God. It is a living thing that knows how to keep its warmth in despite of ice, and its beauty in despite of desolation all around it. (C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
He that ruleth over men must be just.
The importance of character in rulers
Mr. Stead quotes from Major Lennard’s “How We Made Rhodesia,” a passage to illustrate Dr. Jameson’s opinions on morality and public life. “What differences can it make in a man as a legislator what his morals are, if he has genius and intellect, and can use them? I cannot see how in any way morals can affect a man’s intellect, and so long as he keeps his immoralities to himself, I do not see how they can affect any one else.” So the Prime Minister of Cape Colony. The man who cannot see the influence of morality upon mind, how it affects motive and outlook, and his whole attitude and action in public affairs may have many gifts, but he is unfit to be Prime Minister of any colony or state. Far higher than the view of the modern Prime Minister of South Africa was that which inspired that ancient, Prime Minister of North Africa, who regarded his position as a trust, and his work as a mission from God. “And Joseph said: It was not you that sent me hither, but God; and He hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all ills house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.”
A righteous monarch
When Alfred made his laws his difficulties were only beginning. He had to depend for their execution on the Ealdermen and Thanes, most of whom were rude, uncultivated warriors, unable even to read the laws they had to administer. Many also were careless and unprincipled, either taking no pains about the matter at all, or favouring the rich against the poor. Alfred accordingly undertook the enormous labour of going over in person and in detail “almost all cases” in the kingdom. When he found, as he did very often, that the judgment given was unjust, he would send for the offending judge, and ask him why he had delivered it, taking great pains to ascertain whether this was done out of greed or partiality, or out of simple ignorance. Probably a judge who was convicted of the former would be suspended or superseded. But more often the perplexed Thane or Ealderman, when hard pressed, would stammer out the candid confession, “An’ it please you, my lord king, I did not know any better.” Asset has preserved us a specimen of the reproof that would follow, which he calls “discreet and moderate.” “I wonder truly at your insolence that, whereas, by God’s favour and mine, you have occupied the rank and office of the Wise, you have neglected the studies and labours of the Wise. Either, therefore, at once resign your office or endeavour more zealously to study the lessons of wisdom. Such are my commands.” He adds that the judges, almost without exception, chose to learn their duties properly rather than to resign them. (J. Alcock.)
He shall be as the light of the morning when the sun riseth.
King David’s vision of Christ
It is generally allowed that, the Authorised Version is not very happy here, and that the true idea of the passage is got by reading it as a vision--a bright vision of a glorious Ruler, as it rose before the entranced sight of the psalmist. The form of this Ruler is projected before him; He is one who is “righteous,” and who “rules in the fear of God.” A Divine radiance goes from Him, diffusing a silvery brightness on every side. “As the light of the morning!” exclaims the psalmist, recalling the welcome sight of the purple dawn after a dark and stormy night. By-and-by “the sun ariseth,” rejoicing like a strong man to run a race. It is “a morning without clouds”; there is nothing to obstruct the influence of the orb of day as he scatters his treasures from his golden chariot. See how his beams fall on “the tender grass,” making it sparkle with diamonds and pearls! This was King David’s last vision--the vision of a ruler appearing on earth, worthy of these glorious emblems. Who can this Ruler be? Not Solomon, not Jehoshaphat, not Hezekiah: for though these and other kings were noble rulers, they did not come up to the high eulogy of David; neither were they “rulers over men” as such, but only over a small section of them--David’s own kingdom, if even the whole of that. The Ruler of the vision has a wider dominion, and belongs to a nobler order. There are few things that strike the imagination more, or that dwell more vividly in the memory than a beautiful sunrise in an Alpine country. The Alpine horn wakens you in the early morning, and, flushed with the expectation of a rare enjoyment, you hasten to the spot where the view is to be seen. Your patience is somewhat taxed as the minutes slowly pass, and no sun appears. But as you look, the flush of dawn begins to brighten the sky, and now, just over the dark mountain range in the east, you see a speck of ruby peering, brighter than any gem. Quickly broadens into a slender bow, then to a golden semicircle, and in a few more seconds the round globe itself stands above the horizon. And what a glory it spreads over mountain and valley, over lake and river! What a transformation of the dull dark globe, now bright with a hundred hues and sparkling with a thousand smiles! Not only are your eyes feasted, but your soul is thrilled with a holy emotion; your mind carries you to a brighter transformation, to the thought of the new heaven and the new earth, and of the great Resurrection morn, when they that dwell in dust shall awake and sing, and the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads! In the imagery of the vision our Lord is compared to light; and it is interesting to note the successive touches by which the image grows in brilliancy. First, He is as “the light”--the most cheering and reviving, the most beautiful and beautifying of earthly things. Then He is as the light of “the morning,” for morning light is more cheerful and reviving than any other. Then the great fountain of light, the sun, comes into view, suggesting inexhaustible fulness. And lastly, it is a morning “without clouds,” there is nothing to obscure or interrupt the light in its passage to earth; it falls on the face of Nature in an unbroken flood, giving radiance and beauty to every object; and “there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.”
1. It is indeed a gloomy experience when one first feels what it is to be a sinner, and first knows oneself to be a sinner--a great sinner--in the Sight of God. What the Holy Spirit brings home to one may not be dark flagrant acts of sin, but the fact of one’s rebellious will--one’s systematic disregard of the holy will of God. Young Bruce of Kinnaird, three hundred years ago, declared that he would rather wade through a stream of boiling lead half a mile long than endure what befell him one night in the house of Airth, when the Holy Spirit was convincing him of sin. But when one apprehends the true meaning of the Baptist’s call--“Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world”--is it not as if one passed into the light of the morning?
2. There is another gloomy experience to which many are subject after they have entered on the Christian life--the sense of indwelling sin, of the perpetual activity of evil desires, giving birth to a sad contrast between their souls and those saintly, angelic, Christ-like, beings whom they have sometimes met with, or about whom they have read. “Oh, wretched men that we are!” they sometimes cry, “who shall deliver us?” St. Paul was far in the depths when he uttered that groan. But hardly was it uttered when the light of the morning burst on him--“I thank God, through Jesus Christ.” He saw in Jesus Christ, over and above His atoning merit, a sanctifying grace capable of renewing him wholly, and he thanked God.
3. A third gloomy experience of Christians is that which often arises from the trials and troubles of life. There are St. Sebastians in this world whom God seems to make a target for all His arrows: all His waves and billows seem to pass over them. There is a tradition that once a great painter, seeing a rough block of white marble, said, “I see an angel imprisoned in that stone; but I will set him free.” It was his way of saying that out of the rough block he would carve the form of an angel. But what an infinite amount of labour, what innumerable strokes of the hammer and touches of the chisel, were needed to fulfil the task! Certainly the task of turning the human soul into a pure unsullied spirit is not an easier one. We may be helped here by another emblem of the text--“Clear shining after rain.” Heavy rain, pelting fiercely during the night, batters the tender grass, seems rude, and reckless, arid destructive; but the morning sun not only makes the grass bright, but helps it to rise and helps it to grow; and in a little while the grass is stronger and richer than ever. I knew an eminent Christian, in a prominent position, who said that on looking back on his life he saw that the times of sorest trial--of trials that seemed as if they would crush him utterly were the very times when he got most spiritual good; it was out of such weakness that he was made strong.
4. We note one other gloomy experience against which Jesus is emphatically as the light of the morning--that which is bred under the shadow of death. This is probably due to that feebler faith in the unseen and eternal, in heaven and hell, in rewards and punishments, which marks the present age. But for oneself, and for all who die in the Lord, how welcome is the vision of Him who is as the light of the morning! Jesus has Himself died. O Light of the morning! how welcome is Thy rising to all who have eyes to see! Arise and shine on all the dark places of the earth. Again and again let these words be verified: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light!” (The Quiver.)
David’s last and best song concerning Christ
This was a prediction of the advent of Christ uttered by David as his last words: not, probably, the last words that he ever spoke, but the last recorded of his public and inspired utterances.
I. He comes from without. The hope of the world, according to the teaching of the Scriptures, is not in itself. Just as this morning the earth’s face is beautified not by any brilliancy of its own, but by the light that streams from the open heavens, and is reflected by the grateful earth, so when Christ should come He would come to a dark world m the effulgency of the Father’s glory, and the brightness of heaven’s own light.
II. Like the morning without, clouds, the revelation which He will give, and the light and joy which He will shed shall be perfect. There shall be nothing imperfect in His personality or in His teaching or works. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ shall be as the light of the morning when the sun ariseth, a morning without clouds.
III. Christ’s advent would be like the day-dawn because of the certainty of his coming. What, more certain than the morning? You have your dark nights, but then there is the counterbalancing assurance that morning cometh. Yes, the light always succeeds darkness, and day succeeds night. This is the Divine order of things. “God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night, and the evening and the morning were the first day.” All God’s evenings burst into mornings. God began with darkness and finished with light, that is the idea here. The evening of the world has been dark, tedious, and depressing, but “He shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth.”
IV. The fulness of His glory and blessing connected with His advent. He would come to all men alike.
V. Christ would come with the gentleness of the morning. Oh, the gentleness with which the light comes to us! Have you thought of it? There is nothing so gentle. You know that the speed at which light travels is twelve millions of miles per minute. An engine that comes at seventy miles an hour comes dashing through everything in its way; but the light that comes at the rate of 200,000 miles per second has not knocked any of us down yet, nay, not even an insect in its feeble flight. It comes direct from the sun, through space, at the rate of 200,000 miles per second, and yet this sensitive eye of ours, which is hurt if you but touch it with even a feather, and is injured even if a breeze comes at the rate of sixty or seventy miles an hour, and still more if water were splashed against it with any force, receives that ray without the consciousness of being touched at all. Anything else but the light, coming at this fearful velocity, would kill us, yet the eye takes in the light and is thankful for it. The most sensitive nerve is only gratified. Christ’s advent is compared to this coming of that light. Such is the gentle grace of Christ. He comes to enlighten the world--comes with the great impetus of almighty love that began in eternity--and yet a love that falls as gentle as the day of light upon an infant’s eyes.
VI. His coming shall be all the more glorious because of the darkness and sorrow which have preceded it: “When the tender grass springeth out of the earth through clear shining after rain.” It would not be so glorious if the darkness had not preceded it, and the rain had not come. If you would see things clearly, go out in the morning. Just when the sun rises, everything appears at its best. During the day you have the moist land sending up heated vapours, and the denser airs mix up with the rarer atmosphere, so that you see nothing clearly. But the morning light is pure and undisturbed, and it is never so pure as when showers of rain have immediately preceded the dawn. Then it seems as if the rain had cleansed the atmosphere. A shower does wonders in purifying air. That is the figure in our text. Just as when a shower has been cleansing the nit of its impurity, and then the pure light of dawn reveals the landscape, there is nothing so glorious in nature; so in thy spiritual realm there is nothing so charming as the revelation of Christ to the heart after its long night of darkness and grief. Oh, if He but dawned upon the darkness of many of you to-day, you would thank God for all the sorrows which have prepared the way for His more clear shining into your heart and life. (D. Davies.)
Christ’s coming as the light of the morning
These are some of the last` words of David; not the very last which he uttered while on earth, but of those, we may conceive, which he spake when he knew that he was about to close his course below, and which he would leave as his dying testimony to the truth which had been the matter of his faith, and which was still the ground of his hope. These words, as we read them, might be regarded as those which David now recalled as having been spoken to him on his elevation to the throne, conveying a lesson concerning the duties of a sovereign, which he had on the whole endeavoured to fulfil. But a greater than David is here; and the words may be more properly’ regarded as a prophecy, announcing the reign of that descendant of David in whom his throne was to be built up for ever. You see, that to what is here said, considered as a prediction of the Messiah and his times, the voices of the other prophets agree. But I would direct your attention to what may be suggested concerning him, and the effects of his mission and work, by the beautiful imagery here employed.
I. He Is Most Glorious In Himself. Light, you will acknowledge, is the most beautiful of all material things: Nature’s resplendent robe, without whose vesting radiance all were wrapt in unrelieved gloom. Its name is associated with all that we know of what is fair and pleasant for the eyes to behold. But when we turn from its lesser sources, from the lamps which man kindles, or even from the moon and the stars which shine by night, to the light of the morning, to the sun when he riseth on a morning without clouds, what an object of splendour is before us! But who is He of whom it is said that “He shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth?” He is one of whom this sun is only a faint image. But in the application of the figure which likens the Messiah to the morning sun, we are to notice not merely the superior excellence of the things represented to those by which they are held up to view, but the truth that they are found in him in similar purity and fulness and perfection to that in which their emblems appear in the natural sun. Wisdom, holiness, benignity, equity, and truth and mercy, are not only more excellent in themselves, more worthy to be admired, more suited in their manifestations to awaken a sense of beauty and grandeur in the mind of the beholder than the most brilliant appearances of the light which is taken in by the bodily eye; but as in him, and shown forth by him of whom we speak, they have a plenitude and an exuberance which place him, we may say, infinitely farther above all created excellence than the sun is above the dim lamps that men kindle by night,. He “is the brightness of the Father’s glory, the express image of His person.” He is the light of the heavenly world. The seraphim that worship there veil their faces with their wings before him. He is the Sun of spirits, and His beams of all-informing thought irradiate every created intellect. He is “the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” Raise your eyes, O believer, to this Sun of Righteousness. He dwelleth indeed in light to which no man can approach.
II. He came to show to a benighted world the way of truth and peace. The sun is the great fountain of light to the natural world. His absence makes night. Though there be lesser lights to relieve the darkness, even these derive from him their borrowed lustre. The evening’s twilight and the morning’s dawn give us his faint diffused beams, and the moon and the planets shine with his reflected glories. But what would our earth be if he was utterly darkened in the heavens? In the coming of the Messiah, in that revelation of truth and mercy, of which He is the giver and great subject,, the dayspring from on high hath visited us. “I am come,” said Jesus, “a light unto the world, that whosoever believeth in me should not abide in darkness.” How glorious are the discoveries which He makes to mankind, who were sunk under debasing superstition; who, in the depths of their ignorance of the true God, offered the homage due to him to dumb idols, the work of their own hands, nay, to the personified ideas of hate and lust.
III. He comes to put forth on a depraved world a renovating influence. The sun in the natural world not only sheds light, “there is nothing hidden from his heat.” He warms and by his genial influence renews the face of the earth. We have spoken of Him as revealing the way of truth and peace, this He does not only in His external word; it is He who opens the eyes of the understanding to discern it, and inclines the heart to walk in it; to return to God in the faith of offered mercy, in penitence, grief for past wanderings, and new-born love and devotedness to his service. A willing people come to him in the day of his power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning he has the dew of his youth; under His quickening influence the spiritual life and beauty which sin had blasted revive and flourish. He purges out the gross and debasing elements of corruption, implants and cherishes the principles and affections which adorn and bless the soul, and makes it fair and bright in his own reflected image. Arid it is when he comes in the might of his renewing Spirit that a voice is heard, saying to the souls which He visits, “Arise, shine, for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.”
1. We may observe that when he came in the flesh, He appeared in the character and for the ends here assigned. It was to this coming that the Psalmist looked forward when he said, “There shall be a ruler over men,” etc. The Saviour promised long was born. He appears by the blood of whose cross peace has been made, and by whom it hath pleased the Father to reconcile all things to himself.
2. We may observe that He comes in tiffs character, and for the ends we have spoken of, in the dispensation of His gospel, and when it is made effectual, to give “light to them that sit, in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide their feet into the way of peace.” The invitations of mercy are from him, and tell of him; and when it enters a nation or a city, when it is preached to the poor and the guilty among men, there he is evidently set forth, and the light of His salvation diffused.
3. And the time is approaching when He shall thus come in all the world A great part of it yet lieth in wickedness. Monstrous forms of idolatry prevail in many places of the earth, and in others a false prophet has deceived the nations, or Antichristian superstitions perverted the gospel of Jesus. Even where the light shines most clearly multitudes shut their eyes on it, and show that they love the darkness better than the light. But we have a sure promise that thus it shall not always be. The everlasting gospel shall be preached to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people. “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
4. He is to come in the end of the world, when He shall be to them that look for Him “as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.” (J. Henderson, D. D.)
Royal emblems for loyal subjects
Eastern despots fleece their subjects to an enormous extent. Even at the present day one would hardly wish to be subjected to the demands of an Oriental government; but in David’s time a bad king was a continual pestilence, plague, and famine--a bane to the lives of his subjects, who were under his caprice; and spoliation to their fields, which he perpetually swept, clean to enrich himself with the produce thereof. Hence, a good king was a rara avis in those days, and could never be too highly prized. So soon as he mounted the throne, his subjects began to feel the beneficent influence, of his sway. He was to them “as when the sun riseth.” The confusion which had existed under weak governors gave place to settled order, while the rapacity which had continually emptied the coffers of the rich, and filched the earnings of the poor, gave place to a regular system of assessment, and men knew how to go about, their business with some degree of certainty. It was to them “a morning without clouds” Forthwith, trade began to flourish; persons who had emigrated to avoid the exactions of the tyrant came back again; fields which had fallen out of tillage, because they would not pay the farmer to cultivate them, began to be sown; and the new ruler was to the land as “clear shining after rain, which makes the tender grass spring up.”
1. David says of Christ, “He shall be as the light of the morning when the sun riseth.” This he is as king, already, in His church, and as the rightful monarch in the individual heart of the believer. Wherever Christ comes into a soul, it, is as the light of the morning when the sun riseth. And, how glorious is the; sun when from his pavilion he looks forth at morn! Job describes the sunrise as being the stamping of the earth with a seal; as if, when in darkness, the earth were like a lump of clay that is pervious; then, as it is turned to the light, it beginneth to receive the impress of Divine wisdom; mountain and vale all stream with it, till impressed on its, surface we begin to perceive the glorious works of God. So when Christ riseth upon the heart, what a glorious transformation is wrought! Where there has been no love, no faith, no peace, no joy, none of the blessed fruits of the Spirit, no sooner doth Christ come than we perceive all the graces in blossom; yea, they soon become fragrant and blooming, for we are made complete in Him. The advent of Christ bringeth to the heart celestial beauty; faith in Him decketh us with ornaments and clothes us as with royal apparel. The sunrise, moreover, is very much like the coming of Christ, because of that which it involveth. Those rays of light which first forced the darkness from the sky with golden prophecy of day, tell of flowers that shall open their cups to drink in the sunlight; they tell of streams that shall sparkle as they flow; they tell of the virgins that shall make merry, and the young men that shall rejoice, because the sun shineth on them, and the darkness of night is fled. And so the coming of Christ into the heart is a prophecy of years of sweet enjoyment--a prophecy, of God’s goodness and long-suffering, let night reign, elsewhere, as it may--yea, and it is a prophecy of the fulness of the river of God, for ever and ever, before the throne of God in heaven.
2. We must proceed to notice that the psalmist uses another figure: “Even as a morning without clouds.” There are no clouds in Christ when He ariseth in a sinner’s heart. The clouds that mostly cover our sky come from Sinai, from the law, and from our own legal propensities, for we are always wishing to do something by which we may inherit eternal life; but there are none of these clouds in Christ.
4. But, now, to the last figure. David says of Christ, the king, that his sway is like “clear shining after rain, whereby the tender grass is made to spring out of the tartly.” We have often seen how, after a very heavy shower of rain, and sometimes after a continued rainy season, when the sun shines, there is a delightful clearness and freshness in the air that we seldom perceive at other times. Perhaps, the brightest weather is just when the wind has drifted away the clouds, and the rain has ceased, and the sun peers forth from his chambers to look down upon the glad earth. Welt, now, Christ, is to His people lust like that--exceedingly clear-staining when the rain is over.
The character of Christ’s government
These words are generally understood to describe duties of civil governments and the happiness of a people righteously ruled. But they have doubtless a further reference even to Christ Himself. They designate His character most appropriately. The energetic manner in which the prophecy is introduced, and the strong profusion which the dying king makes of his immediate inspiration, leave no doubt that something more is conveyed than a mere direction to magistrates.
I. The nature of the saviour’s government. In the sacred writings peculiar stress is laid on the equity of that dominion which the Saviour exercises over His people (Isaiah 9:7). And who that has submitted to His government will not confirm the truth?
1. Behold His laws. Is there one which does not kind to the happiness of His subjects? They are all comprehended in one--love to God and man. And can anything be conceived more excellent in itself and more beneficial to man? Well does the apostle say of it that it is holy, just, and good.
2. Behold His administration. Is there any one point in which a righteous governor can excel, that is not found in its most perfect measure in Him? He relieves the needy, succours the weak, protects the oppressed, and executes judgment without respect of persons.
II. The benefits it confers.
1. Illumination and joy. The sun rising on the unclouded hemisphere cheers and gladdens all who behold it. And when it shines on the earth that has been refreshed, with gentle showers it causes the grass to grow almost visibly. And is it not thus with all who submit to Christ?
2. Abundant fruitfulness. What an astonishing effect, too, does the light of his countenance produce in respect to fruitfulness in good works. Let the soul watered with tears of penitence, or softened by contrition, once feel the influence of His genial rays, and there is a change in the whole deportment.
1. How earnestly should we desire the universal establishment of Christ’s kingdom. Little do men consider the import of the petition, “Thy kingdom come.” In uttering it we desire that our whole souls, and the souls of all mankind, may be subjected to Christ.
2. What madness is it to continue in rebellion to Christ. It is not at our option whether Christ be our ruler or not. For God has set Him king on the holy hill of Zion. In due season He will “put all His enemies under His feet.” (Evangelical Preacher.)
The character of the Messiah’s rule genial and beneficent
This psalm describes the empire of the King of kings, and our text exhibits the gracious and genial character of His dominion. Some men say that Christianity is not genial, that the Christian scheme exhibits God in a most unlovely aspect, that the doctrines of Christ are dark with awful mysteries, that the promises of the Christian dispensation offer but little of present benefit, and therefore of certain and tangible advantage, that its precepts demand conduct which is too high and self-sacrificing, that its ordinances are depressing rather than elevating, and that, as a whole, Christianity promotes a narrow mind and a feeble judgment, morbid and morose feelings, an enslaved will, a too sensitive conscience, an unmanly bearing, and a character which is intellectually low, and unsocial, and melancholy. Is this charge against the religion of Jesus Christ just, and can it be substantiated? We assert that it is most unjust, and cannot be maintained. (Samuel Martin.)
A morning without clouds.
A morning without clouds
David is at the head of this chapter a representation of all the people of God; he is raised up on high; do every one who is born of the Spirit is raised up by the atonement and righteousness of Christ Jesus; even as the poor out of the dust, and made to inherit that life, and light, and glory, which can be only by faith in Him in whom they are complete and accepted. David was the anointed of the God of Jacob: so are all who have the spirit of Christ. This anointing means consecration to God; and in, and by which, anointing, they know all things essential to salvation. Also David is called “the sweet Psalmist of Israel.” He was indeed the poet of the Hebrew nation. But all the people of God shall be sweet singers of Israel: God and salvation their theme; truly with them the bitterness of death is past, and they are passed from death unto life--a life of eternal delight. “The Rock of Israel spake to me, and showed me the way to prosper; he that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.” And unto none do these words apply as unto the Son of God: He was that Just One that died for the unjust, that He might bring us to God; He feared God in perfection, and did always those things that pleased Him. Can we say this of ourselves? We cannot, for there is not a just man upon the earth that doeth good and sinneth not: but He did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth; He is, therefore, as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, and as fresh as new grass springing out of the earth; by clear shining after rain, He is “a morning without clouds;” and is thus a pattern of what all the mystic morning stars shall be.
I. It was when Adam fell. A morning without clouds.
1. Sin came in as a cloud, a thick cloud, a tempestuous cloud, a gloomy cloud. And this cloud of darkness is universal--all are involved therein, all are encompassed thereby; no light from any quarter, but darkness every way. And we, by nature, love this darkness, and hereby prove ourselves to be under condemnation. We cannot endure the true light! But if God, who “commanded the light to shine out of darkness,” shine into our hearts, then we see and feel the desperate wickedness of our hearts, and become a terror to ourselves, and begin to be drawn by and to love the light of the bright and morning Star.
2. But not only is there the cloud of sin, but also the cloud of Sinai, where God is inaccessible. Here “clouds and tempests are round about him!”
3. But there is the cloud not only of sin, and of Sinai, but also of tribulation. The clouds of tribulation will more or less darken the path of every one whose face is truly set Zionward: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.”
4. But there is also the cloud of death. It casts its shadow over everything; and this King of Terrors is, indeed, often a terror of kings. But to those who love the Gospel light, unto such the cloud of death will be but a passing shadow.
II. What the morning is without clouds. The morning without clouds is the morning of Christ’s resurrection. He dieth no more. “Death hath no more dominion over him.” And now let us carefully trace out how the Lord was unto David a morning without clouds. It was by a covenant. “He hath made with me a covenant.” This means a testamentary will.
1. But this covenant is an everlasting covenant. This made David say, “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.”
2. But this covenant is ordered in all things and sure; there is nothing vague--nothing at random; as the ark, the tabernacle, and temple, were not made at random, so this covenant in all its arrangements, is such as shall meet, and establish, and make good all its provisions and designs. Jesus Christ is the executor of this will, “And the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hands.”
3. And this covenant is all our salvation; it is included in this covenant; here none are reckoned otherwise than sons, saints, and kings, and priests to God.
4. But not only is this covenant all salvation, but it answers all desires. No Christian desires anything more, yet nothing less can save, supply, and satisfy; while neither faith, nor hope, nor love, nor prayer, nor godly fear, nor good works are the rule of measurement here as to what our real standing in the covenant is, these graces of the Spirit distinguish the real Christian from others. (J. Wells.)
Rain clouds not devoid el beauty
Ruskin reminds us that we habitually think of the rain-cloud only as dark and grey, yet we owe to it, some of the fairest hues of heaven. “Often in our English mornings,” says he, “the rain-clouds in the dawn form soft level fields, which melt imperceptibly into the blue.” He describes them, too, as gathering into apparent bars that cross the sheets of broader clouds, all bathed in soft, unspeakable light, the barred masses, composed of tresses of cloud, “looking as if each knot were a little swathe or sheaf of lighted rain.”
As the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.--
Clear shining after rain
The beautiful picture that David draws is produced by a combination, first, rain, and then, clear shining after rain; and the most flourishing condition of spirituality is produced by the same two causes; it comes as the result of a combination of rain and sunshine.
I. How the “clear shining after rain” is manifested in the heart of the convert.
1. The work of grace begins in the heart with a time of gloom. Clouds gather; there is a general dampness round about; the soul seems saturated with doubt, fear, dread. There is something coming, but the soul knows not what; it feels that it is very sinful, and deserves whatever punishment God may send.
2. After the clouds, in the next place, the rain falls. The real work of the. Spirit of God often follows upon an inward depression of spirit. An Irish friend of mine once said, that he had carefully noticed that it did not rain when the sun was shining; but that, whenever it rained, there were always some clouds to keep the sunshine off. There is a great truth in what my friend said. Rain becomes doubly precious to the earth when all the surroundings are suitable for its reception. All the atmosphere becomes damp; whereas, if rain could fall when all is dry and warm, mischief might come of it. Well, now, God’s Holy Spirit loves to come and work ill man a congenial atmosphere, a holy tenderness, a devout heartbreaking; then with the clouds He brings a heavenly rain.
3. Then the sun shines: “Clear shining after rain.” The man perceives that he is a sinner, but that Christ has come to save him. He sees his own blackness; but he believes that Christ can make him whiter than the snow.
4. Then everything grows. The grass is sure to grow when we have mist and heat together; and When a soul, having felt its need of Christ, at last beholds the light of His countenance, then it begins to grow.
II. This “clear stoning after rain” often produces the very best condition of things in the soul of the believer.
1. Trial followed by deliverance.
2. This experience is realised in humiliation of self followed by joy in the Lord. It is a very healthy thing for a man to be made to know himself; and if he is made to know himself, he will have no cause for boasting.
3. Tenderness mixed with assurance. I like to meet with that man, whom Mr. Bunyan speaks of in his “Pilgrim’s Progress,” who was, above many, tender of sin. He was not afraid of lions; but he was dreadfully afraid of sins. Mr. Fearing is very tender of sin.
4. The blending of experience and knowledge.
III. Our text makes a very happy combination in the ministry of the word.
1. He who would have a fruitful ministry must have clear shining after the rain, by which I mean, first, law,, and then, Gospel.
2. First, repentance, and then zeal: rain, and then clear shining.
3. If your service is to be successful, bringing glory to God, there must be in it, first, prayer, and then blessing.
4. My text also means grace softening, and then shining.
IV. The clear shining after rain in the ages to come.
1. And, first, times of gloom are to be expected.
2. Although times of gloom are to be expected, an age of light will follow. There will come a day when Christ shall reign amongst His ancients gloriously; when the ungodly shall hide themselves in obscure places, and the meek shall have dominion in the earth, and the sons of God in that morning shall be owned as the noblest of men. There is to come yet “a thousand years” (whatever that period may mean) of a reign of righteousness, wherein the whole of the earth shall be filled with the glory of God, and become the vestibule of heaven. Have comfort about that glorious truth. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God causeth the grass to spring forth
The grass springs up; the bud opens; the leaf expands; the flowers breathe forth their fragrance as if they were under the most careful cultivation. All this must be the work of God, since it cannot even be pretended that man is there to produce these effects. Perhaps one would be more deeply impressed with a sense of the presence of God in the pathless desert, or on the boundless prairie, where no man is, than in the most splendid park, or the most tastefully cultivated garden which man could make. In the one case, the hand of God alone is seen; in the other, we are constantly admiring the skill of man. (A. Barnes.)
Although my house be not so with God.
David’s sorrow and resource
The great and elevated among mankind have sorrows proportioned to their greatness, as the highest points of earth are most exposed to the fury of the fiercest storms. Kings have their griefs as kings.
I. David’s domestic sorrow: “My house is not so with God.” Many were the occasions when this distinguished man had to say: “The sorrows of my heart are enlarged: bring thou me out of my distresses. All Thy waves and Thy billows are gone over me. I sink in deep waters” (2 Samuel 22:5-6.) Probably as a king, as a public man, David more habitually and simply cast himself upon the Lord. As a domestic man, he was less upon his guard. He expected no lion, no bear, no Goliath difficulty in his home; he therefore did not meet home temptations and troubles as he had met them: “I come to Thee in the name of the Lord of hosts.” And some of you may now be drinking of a similar cup of domestic bitters.
II. Let us look at David’s personal resource: “Yet hath he made with me an everlasting covenant.”
1. In duration it is everlasting. From everlasting the counsel of peace was between them both--the Father and the Son; the Son, who as Messiah was to sit and rule upon His throne, and be a priest upon His throne (Zechariah 6:13.) It is that covenant, which, to use the forcible language of Paul to Titus, “God, who cannot lie, promised in Christ before the world began.”
2. Observe its completeness: “Ordered in all things: This is all my salvation, and all my desire.” Nothing is left to captious chance; nothing to inconstant and changeable man. There are no contingencies with God; nothing takes Him by surprise.
3. Look also at its certainty: “Sure.” The uncertainty of all earthly things is one sad ingredient in the cup of earth’s bitterness. Such was David’s personal resource at seventy, amidst domestic sorrow. And when we look at the sufficiency: of it, we may well ask, What has the man of the world to fall back upon, when all his earthly hopes are blighted; what to be compared with the believer’s resource? (J. East, M. A.)
David’s dying song
How many choice thoughts have we gained in the bedchamber of the righteous, beloved? I remember one sweet idea; which I once won from a death-bed. A dying man desired to have one of the Psalms read to him, and the 17th being chosen, he stopped at the 6th verse, “Incline thine ear unto me and hear my speech,” and faintly whispering, said, “Ah, Lord, I cannot speak, my voice fails me; incline Thine ear, put it against my mouth, that Thou mayest hear me.” None but a weak and dying man, whose life was ebbing fast, could have conceived such a thought. It is well to hear saints’ words when they are near heaven--when they stand upon the banks of Jordan. But here is a special case, for these be the last words of David.
I. The Psalmist says he had sorrow in his house. “Although my house be not so with God.” What man is there of all our race, who, if he had to write his history, would not need to use a great many “althoughs?” If you read the biography of any man, as recorded in the Sacred Word, you will always find a “but,” or an “although,” before you have finished. Naaman was a mighty man of valour, and s great man with his master, but he was a leper. There is always a “but” in every condition, a crook in every lot, some dark tint upon the marble pillar, some cloud in the summer sky, some discord in the music, some alloy in the gold. So David, though a man who had been raised from the sheepfold, a mighty warrior, a conqueror of giants, a king over a great nation, yet had his “althoughs,” and the “although” which he had was one in his own house.
1. But I imagine that the principal meaning of these words of David refers to his family--his children. David had many trials in his children. It has often been the lot of good men to have great troubles from their sons and daughters.
2. What must I say to any of those who are thus tried and distressed in estate and family? First, let me say to you, it is necessary that you should have an “although” in your lot, because if you had not, you know what you would do; you would build a very downy nest on earth, and there you would 1ie down in sleep; so God puts a thorn in your nest in order that you may sing. It is said by the old writers that the nightingale never sang so sweetly as when she sat among thorns, since say they, the thorns prick her breast, and remind her of her song. So it may be with you. Ye, like the larks, would sleep in your nest did not some trouble pass by and affright you; then you stretch your wings, and carolling the matin song, rise to greet the sun. Trials are sent to wean you from the world; bitters are put into your drink, that ye may learn to live upon the dew of heaven: the food of earth is mingled with gall, that ye may only seek: for true bread in the manna which droppeth from the sky. Your soul without trouble would be as the sea if it were without tide or motion; it would become foul and obnoxious. But, furthermore, recollect this, O thou who art tried in thy children--that prayer can remove thy troubles. There is not a pious father or mother here, who is suffering in the family, but may have that trial taken sway yet. Faith is as omnipotent as God Himself, for it moves the arm which leads the stars along.
II. David had confidence in the covenant. Oh! how sweet it is to look from the dulness of earth to the brilliancy of heaven! How glorious it is to leap from the ever tempest-tossed bark of this world, and stand upon the terra-firma of the covenant! So did David. Having done with his “Although,” he then puts in a blessed “yet.” Oh! it is a “yet,” with jewels set: “He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure.”
1. David rejoiced in the covenant, because it is Divine in its origin. “Yet hath He made with me an everlasting covenant.”
2. But notice its particular application. “Yet hath He made with me an everlasting covenant.” Here lies the sweetness-of it to me, as an individual.
3. Furthermore, this covenant is not only Divine in its origin, but it is everlasting in its duration.
4. But notice the next word. “It is ordered in all things.” “Order is heaven’s first law,” and God has not a disorderly covenant. It is an orderly one. When He planned it, before the world began, it was in all things ordered well.
5. That word things is not in the original, and we may read it persons, as well as things. It is ordered in all persons--all the persons whose names are in the covenant; it is ordered for them, and they shall come according to the promise: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.”
6. To wind up our description of this covenant, it is sure. We cannot call anything “sure” on earth; the only place where we can write that word is on the covenant, which is “ordered in all things and sure.”
III. The Psalmist had a satisfaction in his heart. “This is,” he said, “all my salvation, and all my desire.”
1. He is satisfied with his salvation.
2. Then, the Psalmist says, he has all his desire. There is nought that can fill the heart of man except the Trinity. God has made man’s heart a triangle. Men have been for centuries trying to make the globe fill the triangle, but they cannot do it; it is the Trinity alone that can fill a triangle, as old Quarles well says. There is no way of getting satisfaction but by gaining Christ, getting heaven, winning glory, getting the covenant, for the word covenant comprises all the other things. “All my desire”--says the Psalmist. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The everlasting covenant, the believer’s support under distress
Now there are three parts of this last prophecy of David:, The first of them concerns the subject of all prophecy and promises, that he had preached about and declared, and that is Christ himself, in the third and fourth verses. The second of them concerns himself, as he was a type of Christ (2 Samuel 23:5.) The third part concerns Satan and the enemies of the Church, in opposition unto the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
I. A great surprisal and disappointment; “Although my house be not so with God.” I have looked that it should be otherways, saith he, that my house should have a great deal of glory, especially that my house should be upright with God; but I begin to see it will be otherwise. The best of the saints of God do oftentimes meet with great surprisals and disappointments in the best of their earthly comforts: their houses are not so with God. The reasons hereof why it may be thus, are:
1. Because there is no promise of the covenant to the contrary. There is no promise of God secures absolutely unto us our outward comforts, be they of what nature they will, be they in our relations, in our enjoyments, in our persons, of what kind they will, why yet we may have a surprisal befal them in reference to them all; because there is no promise of God to secure the contrary, therefore it may be so.
2. Sometimes it is needful it should be so, though we are apt to think the contrary; and that for these three reasons:
That which we should learn from hence, by way of use, is:
1. Not to put too great a value upon any contentment whatever we have in this world, lest God make us write an “although” upon it.
2. Let us be in an expectation of such changes of Providence, that they may not be great surprisals unto us.
II. That the great reserve and relief for believers, under their surprisals and distresses, lies, in betaking themselves to the covenant of God, or to God in His covenant. “Although my house be not so with God.” Why do they so?
1. They do it because of the author of the covenant.
2. The second reason is taken from the properties of the covenant; what kind of one it is: and they are three. It is an everlasting covenant. His a covenant that is ordered in all things. And it is a covenant that is sure.
He hath undertaken two things.
There is an addition of order, in reference to the matter of it, here expressed.
The springs of the security of this covenant are two:
1. The oath of God;
2. The intercession of Christ. (J. Owen, D. D.)
Last words of dying David. As the dying are sometimes visited with a wave of physical strength to which they were strangers in life, so often in death the believer is blessed with a mental and spiritual vision, he rises to a state of exultation in which he feels, sees, comprehends things altogether beyond his usual ken. “At evening-time there” is often marvellous “light” for the child of God. To King David it took the form of a vision of the ideal King that one day should arise (see marg. R.V.) No contemporary suggested it, no history fanned a recollection; it was an inspiration of God. (2 Samuel 23:2.) Nothing else was sufficient to explain how a warrior of those brutal days came to conceive of a kingdom that should be as morning light after darkness. Not even yet has a kingdom of earth appeared that might be so described. Where is the realm to-day whose working-classes, e.g., would say it was as “a morning without clouds?” David, like Abraham, saw afar off the day of Christ. Then, turning from the vision of the ideal future to the actual present, the bitter confession of the text is made.
I. We have here the confession of the disappointed idealist. Compared with others, David, easily first of the kings, gave peace from enemies round about, established religion, and by his hymns and personal character made it popular, and made internal order and justice sure. The secret of his success was the secret of his acknowledgment of failure, viz., that he had a very lofty standard which he felt he had failed to reach. The explanation of many a believer’s depression, and of many an earnest worker’s discouragement.
II. We have here the confession of the disappointed Godly parent. We know what had happened in the matter of Absalom, and what subsequently transpired between Adonijah and Solomon. Coming events which cast their shadows before upon the dying father’s heart. He saw there was no likelihood that the ideal he had failed to attain would be attained by any of his house. And this, although a father’s hope will linger longer than anyone’s respecting his children. We have then, here a dying father’s pillow stuffed with thorns because his family is not right “with God.” In the dying hour it is our own kith and kin we want around us--fortune, fame, etc., are of little moment--and if believers ourselves the all-consuming anxiety is how do they stand “with God?” What explanations or warnings may we get from David’s instance?
David’s distress, consolation, and experience
I. A depth of distress. “My house,” says David, “is not so with God.” He had many trials; but with regard to the affliction before us, we may observe two things; that it was domestic; and that it was principally, though not entirely, of a moral nature.
II. An all-sufficiency of consolation. “Although my house is not so with God.”
1. And first it tells us that this “covenant” is everlasting. Its counsels and its contrivances were from eternity.
2. Secondly, he tells us that this “everlasting covenant” is ordered in all things. Nothing in it is left to any contingency, nothing left to the intermeddlings of men.
3. Thirdly, he tells us that this “covenant ordered in all things” is sure. The covenant of works made with Adam was soon destroyed; the national covenant of the Jews was soon destroyed; and the people, dispersed over the face of the earth, remain to this day a proverb and a by-word. But this covenant is unchangeable; it is as sure, as the truth of God, as the faithfulness of God can make it.
4. Fourthly, the importance he attached to it. “It is all my salvation,” says he. All my salvation requires to be done is here, and all my salvation requires to be given is here. And how much is required? Is the pardon of our sins necessary? There it is. Is holiness necessary? There it is. Is strength necessary? He will put strength in us. Is grace necessary? This covenant gives it. Is glory necessary? It provides it. Is God necessary Himself, with all His relations and attributes? This is the grand provision in the covenant--“I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” They have all of them a God, each a God for himself; a God to guide them, a God to guard them, a God to supply all their need from His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
5. He tells us also of the love he bare to it. It is “all my desire.” What can I wish for besides?
III. An instructive experience.
1. This experience of David calls upon you, in the first place, and says, see what variations there are in the views and the feelings even of the Godly. If it is now dab, with them, the day is neither clear nor dark, as Zechariah says, it is a mixture of both. Every thing with regard to them now is a chequered scene. The image of the Church now may be a bush burning with fire, and not consumed; and the motto of the Church should be, “Perplexed, but not ill despair; cast, down, but not destroyed.”
2. This experience admonishes you, in the next place, and says, do not look for too much here. There are some persons, who idolize life; but after all, what is it found to be? In what condition, and at what period of it, does it effectually belie the language of Young, who says that, for solid happiness--
“Too low they build who build beneath the stars?”
They are “walking in a vain show,” they are “disquieting themselves in vain;” they are seeking the living among the dead.
3. This experience admonishes you how to improve your afflictions; and how to render them, not only harmless, but even beneficial. And this will be the ease, when, like David, we are turned towards Him, and ask, “Where is God my Maker, who giveth songs in the night?” “Though no affliction for the present is joyous, but grievous, nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them that are exercised thereby.” The ploughman is not angry with the ground; but he drives the ploughshare through it to prepare it for the reception of the seed. The husbandman is not angry with the vine; but he cuts it, and prunes it, in order that it may bring forth more fruit. As constantly as the ox is in the field of labour, he must have the yoke on; and Jeremiah compares affliction to a yoke, and says, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke.” Let but the Lord impose it upon us, and it will sit easy, and it will bear well.
4. This experience of David admonishes you not to cherish discontent, nor to dwell principally on the dark side of your condition, but to cherish cheerfulness, to look on the bright side.
5. What you are principally to derive from this experience is to see what resources genuine Godliness has. From what you have heard, you learn that it-does not exempt; its votaries from afflictions; but then, you see, it sustains them under those afflictions; it turns them, at least, into a blessing. (W. Jay.)
The covenant of grace, a support under sorrow
Standing on the borders of the eternal world, David looks back to his humble original, and blesses that goodness Which God had displayed to him, in elevating him to eminence both in the Church and the state.
I. Even the children of God, those who are within the bonds of His covenant, may have to contend with domestic afflictions, may have to lament their errors and their falls, and must be extended on the bed of death.
II. The nature of this covenant. It was primarily made with the glorious Redeemer, as the head and surety of believers; but it is also made with all those who, by faith, accept that Saviour who has ratified it with His blood, and who make of this covenant thus sealed, “all their salvation and all their desire.”
1. It is everlasting; it is, in the language of the apostle, “The eternal purpose which the Father purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” All the manifestations of it in time, and all the blessings which constantly flow from it, are only the accomplishment of the gracious designs that were formed infinite ages before a creature lived.
2. It is “ordered in all things;” planned and arranged by Him whose knowledge is infinite, and whose wisdom is unerring; by Him rendered so comprehensive that “all things,” all possible exigencies, all conceivable events that can befall the Christian, are provided for; every difficulty, every trial, every, tear, and every struggle, were foreseen; together with the effects to be produced by them.
3. This covenant is sure. If there be any truth in the promise and in the oath of Jehovah; if there be any strength in that mighty Redeemer, who is its surety, or any virtue in that blood which sealed it, then those who have a personal interest, in it, may triumph in the stability of their hopes. (H: Kollock, D. D.)
A sure covenant
I. The description which he gives of this great covenant.
1. The time it is to last. It is “an everlasting covenant”--strictly everlasting--never, never to expire.
2. The completeness of its arrangements. It is “ordered in all things, and sure.” The covenants of men are often very incomplete. Something, perhaps, hath been forgotten or lost sight of in the drawing of them up, which makes them almost good for nothing to the parties they are made with. Some case, some circumstance, is unprovided for, which, as soon as it occurs, makes the covenant of none effect. Not so in respect of the covenant of grace made with sinners through a Saviour. No, that is all complete in its provisions. Complete in reference to God’s requirements. For it satisfies His justice; it fulfils His truth; it displays His holiness; it magnifies His love; it sets forth His wisdom; it commends His mercy; it shows forth at once all His glorious perfections, and puts a song of praise into the lips of men and angels. And it is complete, again: in reference to man; nothing, nothing is there wanting in the salvation of Christ Jesus to make it everything poor sinners want.
II. The interest which David states himself to have in this everlasting covenant. “God hath made it,” saith he, “with me.” He had an assurance, then, that he was personally interested in this covenant. He could lay his hand on it and call it his--a covenant made particularly with himself. And, brethren, there is little comfort otherwise. It is a poor thing to look upon salvation, and to say, “This and that man have a part in it. The comfort is when we can bring it nearer home; when we can think, upon good grounds, “I have a share in it.”
III. David’s fillings.
1. “All my salvation.” Why that, in other words, is to tell us that he could most comfortably rest upon it, rest upon it altogether.
2. “This,” saith he, this everlasting covenant of grace, “is all my desire.” (A. Roberts, M. A.)
Consolations of the covenant of grace
“Yet” this little word “yet” wraps up a great and sovereign cordial in it. “Though Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah be gone, and gone with many smarting aggravations too; yet hath He made with me a covenant; yet I have this sheet anchor left to secure me: God’s covenant with me, in relation to Christ, this under-props and shores up my heart. As all the rivers run into the sea, and there is the congregation of all the waters; so all the promises and comforts of the Gospel are gathered into the covenant of grace, and there is the congregation of all the sweet streams of refreshment, that are dispersed throughout the Scriptures. The covenant is the storehouse of promises, the shop of cordials and rare elixirs, to revive us in all our faintings; though, alas, most men know no more what are t, heir virtues or where to find them, than an illiterate rustic put into an apothecary’s shop. (Flavel.)
Divine covenant compensates earthly disappointment
It is wise, when we are disappointed in one thing, to set over against it a hopeful expectancy of another, like the farmer who said, “If the peas don’t pay, let us hope the beans will.” Yet it would be idle to patch up one rotten expectation with another of like character, for that would, only make the rent worse. It is better to turn from the fictions of the sanguine worldling to the facts of the believer in the Word of the Lord. Then, if we find no profit in our trading with earth, we shall fall back upon our heart’s treasure in heaven. We may lose our gold, but we can never lose our God. The expectation of the righteous is from the Lord, and nothing that comes from Him shall ever fail.
His hand clave unto the sword.
A heroic sword-grasp
In the roll of honour of King David’s army, there was one, Eleazor by name, who was counted worthy to stand with the first three mighty men of David, because “he arose and smote the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clave unto the sword, and the Lord wrought a great victory that day, and the people returned after him only to spoil.” In this account we see that his heroic sword-grasp was looked upon as a proof of his valour, and was made the mark of his honour and of his reward.
I. We observe that Eleazar’s grasp shows his appreciation of the sword as a weapon both for defence and for aggression.
1. We cannot do much with a weapon in which we have little or no confidence.
2. The sword of the Spirit is the only weapon by which we can gain a great victory.
3. The efficiency of God’s Word does not consist in the mere letter, but in the doctrines and duties which it teaches, and in the virtues which it commends such as truthfulness, justice, purity, benevolence, holiness. Our grasp of these shows cur appreciation of them.
II. Eleazar grasped his sword firmly, and did not relax his hold.
1. The enemy, knowing the power of the sword, will seek to wrest it from one’s grasp. If the grasp be weak, a sly thrust at the “Mistakes of Moses,” or a bold, materialistic blow at the “Miracles of Jesus,” may break the grasp, and then we are helpless.
2. Worldliness, or avarice, or appetite, or lust, or malice, may so loosen our grasp upon the principles of the Word that we shall be compelled to surrender.
3. It requires true heroism to hold on to principle when “the men of Israel are gone away,” and “the Philistines are arrayed against” us.
4. A true soldier will die rather than lose his sword.
III. Eleazar’s grasp was made firmer by the conflict.
1. Heroic conflict requires and produces an heroic sword-grasp.
2. A true hero does not stop to count the enemy nor to consider a compromise, nor to hide himself through fear of ridicule or other evil weapons; but putting his strength into his sword he rushes on to victory.
3. Christian conflict is not controversy, but an heroic Christian life which requires and produces a firm grasp on the words and the principles of the Gospel.
4. Jesus With this sword met and repulsed Satan. (Matthew 4:10.)
5. When we are alone, as Jesus was and as Eleazar was, we can gain our greatest victories.
IV. Eleazar’s firmness of grasp, and fierceness of conflict, made his sword cleave unto his hand.
1. Whatever we cling to, shapes the grasp, and will, in proportion to the strength of the grasp, cleave unto the hand.
2. The more firmly we grasp, and the more efficiently we use, the words and the principles of the Word, the more deeply will they be impressed into our nature and cleave unto us.
3. When the sword cleaves unto the hand, and the hand grows weary, we can still fight on.
4. The sword of the Spirit has adhered so firmly to the hand of many a hero in God’s army that even death could not break the grasp.
V. Eleazar’s heroic sword-grasp was made the mark of his heroism and of his reward.
1. The true marks of honour are obtained through conflict and suffering.
2. The cleaving of the sword unto the hand is the mark of God’s greatest heroes: the prophets, apostles, martyrs, reformers, missionaries, and others.
3. Clinging to the true and the right until the true and the right cleave unto us, is as heroic in the peculiar temptations of our day as was Eleazar’s conflict.
4. The marks of our sword-grasp will be our badge of honour in eternity. Let us, then, be assured that if we rightly appreciate the sword of the Spirit, grasp it firmly, and use it efficiently until it cleave unto the hand, we also shall gain a great victory in the conflicts of life, and in the kingdom of heaven a glorious reward. (J. Saxtell.)
The warrior’s scars
I want you to hold the truth with undetachable grip, and I want you to strike so hard for God that it will react, and while you take the sword, the sword will take you. Soldiers coming together are very apt, to recount their experiences, and to show their scars. Here is a soldier who pulls up his sleeve and says, “There I was wounded. I have had no use of that limb since the gunshot fracture.” Oh, when the battle of life is over, and the resurrection has come, and our bodies rise from the dead, will we have on us any scars of bravery for God? Christ will be there all covered with scars. And all heaven will shout aloud as they look at those scars. Ignatius will be there, and he will point out the place where the tooth and the paw of the lion seized him in the Coliseum; and John Huss will be there, and he will show where the coal first scorched the foot on that day when his spirit took wing of flame from Constance. McMillan, and Campbell, and Freeman, American missionaries in India, will be there--the men who with their wives and children went down in the awful massacre at Cawnpore, and they will show where the daggers of the Sepoys struck them. The Waldenses will be there, and they will show where their hones were broken on that day the Piedmontese soldiery pitched them over the rocks. And there will be those there who took care of the sick and who looked after the poor, and they will have evidences of earthly exhaustion. And Christ, with His scarred hand waving over the scarred multitude, will say, “You suffered with Me on earth; now be glorified with Me.” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The sword of the valiant
Of the old hero the minstrel sung, “With his Yemen sword for aid, ornament it carried none but the notches on the blade.” What nobler declaration of honour can any good man seek after than his scar of service, his losses for the cross, his reproaches for Christ’s sake, his being worn out in the Master’s service. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The sword for use
The glittering sword with its keen edge and jewelled hilt is an object of beauty as a work of art, yet it is harmless. But in the muscular grip of a soldier’s hand and swung with a purpose and an aim, it is a dread weapon. So with truth wielded with skill and power by the consecrated preacher.
It is told of Abraham Lincoln that once, when quite a young man, he saw men and women put on the block, exhibited for sale, and bought like cattle. He saw the humbling and degrading familiarities which the buyers took with file human chattels, saw the looks of dumb and piteous agony which stole across the poor black faces as wives were sold away from their husbands, and children torn from their mother’s arms; and he forced his way out the ring and with flaming eyes, and voice husky with suppressed passion, said to a companion, gripping him by the arm, “If ever I get a chance to hit at this thing I’ll hit hard, by the Eternal God.” “My chance has come,” he exclaimed, later in life, “and I mean to hit hard.”
Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite.
I wish you to look at the deed of this man Shammah, who stood in the midst of the plot of lentils and defended it, and slew the Philistines. The one idea that leaps up from this narrative is that which you often find through Scripture, that in the clay of defeat and disaster all God wants is one whole-hearted man. If the Lord can only get a beginning made, if He can, amidst all the disgraceful stampede and rout, get but one man to stop running, one to stop flying, one soul to cease from unbelief and panic and fear, and begin to trust in Him, there and then the tide of battle shall be turned. Shammah did, that is to say, the unexpected. Fleeing had been the order of the day for Israel, and pursuing;had been the order of the day for Philistia. A very pretty game, truly! We shout and you run. We appear, and you disappear. You sow in the spring--it was very kind of you, Israelites--and we step in in the autumn and take the harvest. It is a wonderfully nicely arranged system for Philistia, whatever it may be for Israel. And, just so; don’t we seem to make nothing of our Christianity (meaning by that, Christ), as against the powers of Philistia? Look at them in London to-day. What are we doing? Where are we gaining? Speaking broadly, it is invisible. Where are we defeated? Everywhere. The world laughing at us, scandal upon scandal, tale upon tale, wreck upon wreck, ruin upon ruin. Drink, lust, uncleanness, commercial dishonour, everything that belongs to the Devil, strong and vigorous, successful and sweeping; and everything that belongs to Jesus Christ, like those dispirited Israelites, weak and scattering as a flock of sheep. It is bad enough. But just as then, so I believe still, if here and there some man would only understand that in all this there is a trumpet being blown for rallying, times for the individual and for the community might be mightily changed. There is Shammah, and what seems to be sweeping through the breast of--I was going to say the poor man, the noble man--was this: “This is too bad! I am sick and tired of this. Are we for ever to sow in the spring, and are these Philistines to reap our crop in the autumn? Are we for ever to be at their mercy? Are we for ever to be trodden underfoot and scattered like sheep? Death is preferable to this running and running and running; and in God’s great name I stand to-day--Death or Victory! If some of us would do that we would be big Christians before night. Just where you have always yielded, my hardly beset brother or sister, try how it will work to stand to-day. Resist this onset that always before has made a clean sweep of you, and what will happen? It will be what always happens: “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”--he is a bigger coward than you are. “Whom resist steadfast in the faith.” Then, it was a big fight for very little. “He defended a plot of lentils.” Not much to fight for, a plot of lentils! But, coarse horse-feed after all, as I believe it was, it was Israel’s lentils, and Philistia had no right to them. It was God’s, and not theirs; and little as it seemed to be to make a fight for, Shammah stepped into the middle of the plot, like one who would say, “It is mine, it is my countrymen’s, it is my God’s, and ye shall not have it if one man can prevent it.” I wish come one here, young or old man, would, like Shammah, stand in the middle of the wreck that is left, and have one fight for it. Although what is left may have no more proportion to what used to be or what might have been than a patch of lentils has to a broad-acred farm, yet in God’s name stand in the middle of the wreck, and see what will happen. That is all God asks: Stand, stand in the midst, and then see! If the Church of Christ would only get possessed of Shammah’s spirit, and in all the howling wreck that is at home and abroad, if she would stand and fight, there would be such a central victory as would tell to the furthermost circumference. I think I see him. He is a sight for dispirited Christians, a sight for all poor backsliders. You are defeated, overcome, overborne. Old sins, like Philistines, have come back on you; redeemed though you call yourself, old sins have come back fore the last month or year and more, and they have been driving you before them pitiably, somewhat contemptuously--secret sins, or open sins, or both combined. You have lost heart, the roaring flood in its strength has swept you away, especially the weakest thing that ever dared to call itself Christian man, believing man, redeemed man. Now, what are you to do? In God’s name let us all try it, let us all do what Shammah did--stand in the middle of what is left. What shall you do? My brother, late in the day as it is, and although night is coming near, although you are not now the man you used to be, and a hundred voices in your ear say to you, “It is too late to retrieve the past,” those hundred voices are a hundred lies and liars. It is not too late: stand in the middle of the wreck left, in God’s great name. Stand, stand! you might die more than conqueror yet. Over you, there may yet be heard in Heaven the shout of victory: Stand! Shammah stood in the midst of it, and though it wee not worth two half-crowns of any man’s money, he defended it, and slew the Philistines, and God came down from heaven to win a patch of lentils! For the Lord loves victory, and the Lord hates defeat, and the only thing He wants is to get at His adversary through some faithful, upright, believing soul. (John McNeill.)
And three of the thirty chiefs went down.
The dear-bought draught
I do not think that this was what you might call a mere sentimental longing. David was strong in true and real sentiment; but I do not think that when we have him pictured here longing and sighing, that he was, as some have supposed, merely suffering from passing home-sickness. Some take that view, and imagine that he just momentarily gave way to one of those whims or morbidities that come across the spirits of otherwise brave and earnest men, and make them as weakly sentimental as their neighbours. When I read that “David longed,” and I hear his longing set forth, I like to think of him as showing here something of his deepest and best. The Spirit of God would make us know that He understands us when we are like David. There is a depth in us; a deep below, perhaps, what we ourselves, in our commonplaces, were unaware of. The hard-beaten bottom or floor of our soul sometimes gives way. Many a time and oft, when we are not thinking, or ever we are aware, these common, ordinary, worldly hearts of ours are cleft as by a great chasm and depth, through which there comes, like the breath of the mountain wind sighing through a gorge, a great, inexhaustible “Oh!” Like David, we long! “Oh, for youth; oh for renewal; oh for freshness; oh to get rid of what, is making me tame, and flat, and dull; of the earth, earthy; and of the world, worldly!” You see, there was a great deal in that water. There is no water like the water we drank at home, when we were young. Is that sentimental? Is not that feeling derived from something deep and true within the soul? It is more than ordinary water. What memory brings into mind of all the years that have come and gone between! And this “water of the well” is the type, and symbol, and picture of it--the rush of the spring, with the sheen and the bubble of the water, We are not so utterly dead, and dark, and given up as we seem to-day. God can open rivers in dry places. He can pierce down, down through all the mortification and all the corruption; through all the sand and sawdust; all that is earthly and carnal--clown to the quick. Then up there comes that burdened sigh--“Oh for living water! oh for cooling streams!” Rightly used, it leads the longing soul back to more than original purity. And this is also a type of the cry of the backslider who once knew the joys of salvation; who once lived in Bethlehem, the House of Bread; and drank of the well that bubbles up from beneath its walls. Ah, yes, we repeat it again, there is a great deal in a drink, in what it suggests. Oh, may you get that suggestion and the satisfaction of it to-day. “Oh! that I could get back to God, the living God!” Do not go easily over that word: David longed. Oh that God would give us to-day longing hearts, to find Him out. For you will never find out God by greater intellect; never by wider reading and deeper study. This is the road to God; this is the “new organ” by which we receive the truth that alone can satisfy. “As the hart panteth after the water-brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.” May it be given us to-day to taste, and see that God is good. David’s desire was gratified. The three mighty men said, “He shall have it.” Shall I say one had wisdom, and the other love, and the other power; and these three together scattered the powers of Philistia? Oh! don’t you see how the Gospel breaks out upon us? You yearn for something the possession of which would be the renewing of your youth; the lack of which is decay; and your longing is heard, and your prayer answered before you know it. The Three Mighties, the Blessed and Glorious Three, Wisdom, Love, Might, have broken the host of the Philistines, and liars brought to us--right to our parched lips--before our sighing is done, that bubbling spring for lack of which we die. I knew the Gospel was there. I knew it when I read the story. I felt it more deeply the longer I studied it. Do not accuse me of dragging things in--of putting the Gospel where it is not. The grand key to open the Old Testament is Christ--put Him in wherever He will fit, and certainly He will fit here. Still further, the story deepens in interest. “Nevertheless, he would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the Lord.” Here we have the very crown and flower of Gospel teaching. What ought this great love of God to produce in our hearts? What did this great love of these three mighty men produce in David’s heart? It begot in him a like spirit again. They flung themselves away for him; he flung himself, and them with him, back Upon God, the Fount and Spring of all. So with us: Christ has brought us pardon, and peace, and everlasting life. But let Christ’s sacrifice produce a self-sacrificing spirit in you--as Christ flung Himself away for you, so fling your life away for God--and you will enjoy it. It has been brought to you; lay yourself, body, soul, and spirit, on the altar--it is your reasonable sacrifice. Give now your money, for money is a covenant blessing. It is one rill of the fountain that comes from the well--the spring of Bethlehem. (J. McNeill.)
Longing for the water of the well of Bethlehem
It must have been a rare and imposing assembly that came to crown David king of all Israel. The Chronicles record the names and numbers of the principal contingents that were present on that memorable occasion. The Philistines, however, were watching the scene with profound dissatisfaction. So long as David was content to rule as a petty king in Hebron, leaving them free to raid the northern tribes at their will, they were not disposed to interfere; but when they heard that they had anointed David king over all Israel, all the Philistines went down to seek David. They probably waited until the august ceremonial was over, and the thousands of Israel had dispersed to ‘their homes, and then poured over into Judah in such vast numbers--spreading themselves in the Valley of Ephraim, and cutting off David’s connection with the northern tribes--that he was forced to retire with his mighty men and faithful six hundred to the hold, which, by comparison of passages, must have been the celebrated fortress-cave of Adullam (2 Samuel 5:17; 2 Samuel 22:13-14.)
I. A sudden reversal of fortune. It was but as yesterday that David was the centre of the greatest assembly of warriors that his land had seen for many generations. With national acclaim he had been carried to the throne of a united people. He realised that he was fondly enshrined in the hearts of his countrymen; but to-day he is driven from Hebron, where for more than seven years he had dwelt in undisturbed security, back to that desolate mountain fastness, in which years before tie had taken refuge from the hatred of Saul. It was a startling reversal of fortune, a sudden overcasting of a radiant noon, a bolt out of a clear sky. Such sudden reversals come to us all--to wean us from confidence in men and things; to stay us from building our nest on any earth-grown tree; to force us to root ourselves in God alone. Child of mortality, such lessons will inevitably be set before thee to learn. In the hour of most radiant triumphs, thou must remember Him who has accounted thee fit to be his steward; thou must understand that thy place and power are thine only as His gift, and as a trusteeship for His glory. This contrast between the anointing of Hebron and the conflict of Adullam presents a striking analogy to the experiences of our Lord, who, after His anointing at the banks of the Jordan, was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness of Judaea to be forty days tempted of the devil. It is the law of the spiritual life. The bright light of popularity is too strong and searching for the perfect development of the Divine life. Loneliness, solitude, temptation, conflict--these are the flames that burn the Divine colours into our characters; such the processes through which the blessings of our anointing are made available for the poor, the broken-hearted, the prisoners, the captives, and the blind.
II. Gleams of light. The misty gloom of these dark hours was lit by some notable incidents. The mighty men excelled themselves in single combats with the Philistine champions. What marvels may be wrought by the inspiration of a single life! We cannot but revert in thought to that hour when, hard by that Very spot, an unknown youth stepped forth from the affrighted hosts of Israel to face the dreaded Goliath. Thus the lives of great men light up and inspire other lives. They mould their contemporaries. The inspiration of a Wesley’s career raises a great army of preachers. The enthusiasm of a Carey, a Livingstone, a Paten stirs multitudes of hearts with missionary zeal. Those who had been the disciples of. Jesus became his apostles and martyrs. His own life of self-sacrifice for men has become the beacon-fire that has summoned myriads from the lowland valley of selfishness to the surrender, the self-denial, the anguish of the Cross, if only they might be permitted to follow in his steps.
III. A touching incident.
Adullam was not far from Bethlehem. One sultry afternoon he was a semi-prisoner in the hold. Over yonder, almost within sight, a garrison of Philistines held Bethlehem. Suddenly an irresistible longing swept across him to taste the water of the well of Bethlehem, which was by the gate. Almost involuntarily he gave expression to the wish. How often we sigh: for the waters of the well of Bethlehem! We go back on our past, and dwelt longingly on never-to-be-forgotten memories. Oh to see again that face; to feel the touch of that gentle hand; to hear that voice! Oh to be again as in those guileless happy years, when the forbidden fruit had never been tasted! Oh for that fresh vision of life, that devotion to the Saviour’s service, that new glad outburst of love! Oh that one would give us a drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem’, which is beside the gate! They are vain regrets; there are no, mighties strong enough to break through, the serried ranks of the years, and fetch back the past. But the quest of the soul may yet be satisfied by what awaits it in Him who said, “He that drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but he that drinketh of the water that I shall give him, shall never thirst: but it shall be in him a spring of water, rising up to everlasting life.” Not in Bethlehem’s well, but in Him who was born there, shall the soul’s thirst be quenched for ever.
IV. The overthrow of the Philistines.--Prosperity had not altered the attitude of David’s soul, in its persistent waiting on God. As he was when first he came to Hebron, so he was still; and in this hour of perplexity; he inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Wilt Thou deliver them into mine hand?” In reply, he received the Divine assurance of certain victory; and when the battle commenced, it seemed to him as if the Lord Himself were sweeping them before Him like a winter flood, which, rushing down the mountain-side, carries all before it in its impetuous rush. Again the Philistines came up to assert their olden supremacy, and again David waited on the Lord for direction. It was well that he did so, because the plan of campaign was not as before. Those that rely on God’s co-operation must be careful to be in constant touch with Him. The aid which was given yesterday in one form, will be given to-morrow in another. In the first battle the position of the Philistines was carried by assault; in the second it was turned by ambush. Sometimes we have to march, sometimes to halt; now we are called to action, again to suffering; in this battle to rush forward like a torrent; in the next to glide stealthily to ambush and wait. We must admit nothing stereotyped in our methods. What did very well in the house of Dorcas will not suit in the stately palace of Cornelius. Let there be living faith in God. Then shall we know what God can do as a mighty co-operating force in our lives, making a breach in our foes, and marching his swift-stepping legions to our succour. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The well of Bethlehem
This incident, which is strangely unlike the ordinary records of history, and has about it the air of an old-world romance, is here narrated, not in chronological order, but in a review of David’s life, when that life had well-nigh reached its close and its leading events stood out in their true proportions. It occurred immediately after David had been made king at Hebron, where there was war between him and the Philistines, who had pushed their way to Bethlehem, and threatened still further advance. In times of deprivation and danger, in great crises, which life itself is hanging in the balance, the mind reverts to early and familiar scenes, and invests them with a strong and pathetic charm. The man, whose boyhood was spent at the seaside, longs for a breath of its bracing air. The Swiss mountaineer, far away from home, listens to the songs of his early days, and is seized with a restless impulse to return. The old Highland woman, dying in the Red River settlements, surrounded by miles of prairies, can find no comfort save in remembering the bens and glens which she loved so well. “Oh, doctor dear, for a wee bit of a hill!” Surely we can understand it. Heaven lay about us in our infancy, and, from the rough world in which we dwell it is pleasant to look back and revive the vanished glory. David’s wish seemed foolish and vain, for the foe was encamped between him and the well. To reach it was all but impossible. David no doubt knew that, and his longing was the keener in consequence. We often fail to value our privileges until we have lost them. We know their worth only when they are beyond our reach. But the expression of the king’s longing was heard. They listened to his faintest wish and made it their law. It was a noble and heroic act, a deed of splendid daring, the mere recital of which rebukes our selfishness and covers our cowardice with contempt.
1. The incident affords a remarkable instance of David’s power to inspire devotion. He could have been no sordid, common-place, self-seeking usurper for whom they did this; no slave of greedy ambition, swayed only by the lust of power. He was manly, trustful, and chivalrous, as a king should be, and the enthusiasm and fidelity of his soldiers were but the answering reflection of his own nobility and grace.
2. The incident exemplifies the power and inventiveness of love. Love will laugh at impossibilities. It is quick to devise means of fulfilling its desires, and though it be tender it is also courageous. It is gentle, but full of power, and can set its face like a flint against all opposition. Love to Christ will make us pure, strong, brave and victorious. We shall scorn to serve Him with that which costs us nothing, arid for His sake we shall count all things as loss. When David had in his hand the water, which only love strong as death could have secured, he refused to drink it, and poured it on the ground unto the Lord. How fickle and capricious! we have heard men say. Not so! Far other feelings prompted the refusal. There is a higher law than self-gratification. David was the very soul of chivalry, and felt that he had no right to the water which had been brought as by priestly hands and in a cup that had on it the marks of sacrifice. To have drunk it himself would have been sacrilege. There was but One Being worthy of it--He who had inspired the heroism and devotion which secured it. David saw in the act of the captains who had jeopardised their lives for him a love, a courage, and a self-surrender of which no mortal was the fitting object.
4. The action of David’s friends is a witness on both its sides to the unselfishness and grandeur of our nature. It shows that we have other than material instincts to satisfy, that we live not by bread alone. Physical gratification, bodily ease and comfort, prosperity in all its forms leave untouched vast spaces of our worldly thought and aspiration and need; and if we possess only what they can yield, the noblest elements of our nature will be feeble and impoverished, aye, and will become the means of our acutest suffering and most dreaded retribution. When the depths of our being are stirred, we think of God and our relation to Him. We live by admiration, love, and hope. There is something dearer than material pleasure, personal safety, and even life itself to the man who has been entranced by the vision of the Divine. He reveres the majesty of truth and duty, fidelity, honour, God. It is not necessary that we should be at ease, with an abundance of pleasure and of wealth. It is not even necessary that we should continue to live, but, it is necessary that we should be true, pure, upright, godly; and to fulfil this great law of our being there is absolutely no sacrifice which we should not be prepared to make. (J. Stuart.)
When the brave and ill-fated English envoy, Cavagnari, was warned by the Ameer of Afghanistan that his life was not safe at Cabul, he coolly replied that if he were shot down, there were others ready to take his place. Whilst one cannot but honour the courage of such a man, and feel a desire to throw a wreath upon his grave, it would be the greatest possible error to imagine that the commonest spheres of civil end prosaic life, do not, many and many a time, yield instances of an equally noble, though less showy heroism. (J. Thain Davidson, D. D.)
We love upright, energetic men. Pull them this way, and then that way, and the other, and they only bend, but never break. Knock them down, and in a trice they are on their feet. Bury them in the mud, and in an hour they will be out and bright. They are not ever yawning sway existence, or walking about the world as if they had come into it with only half their soul; you cannot keep them down, you cannot destroy them. But for these the world would soon degenerate. They are the salt of the earth. Who but they start any noble project? They build our cities and rear our manufactories; they whiten the ocean with their sails, and they blacken the heavens with the smoke of their steam vessels and furnace fires; they draw treasures from the mine; they plough the earth. Blessings on them! Look to them, young men, and take courage; imitate their example; catch the spirit of their energy and enterprise, and you will deserve, and no doubt command, success. (Christian Weekly.)
And David longed, and said, Oh, that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem.
Craving to enjoy a past comforter
The scene in this chapter was one of the remarkable events in David’s life. While hiding in the cave he saw from its rocky cliffs, across the green landscape, the place of the dear, familiar well whose cooling beverage had often quenched his parched lips when a youth. The picture so revived cravings of his heart that he gave expression to the innermost feelings of his life.
I. The graphic description which David gave of the well.
1. The right appellation was truly stated. “The well of Bethlehem.” It is the most noted, and appears to have made a deep impression on his mind, which the lapse of years had failed to erase. Is not this illustrative of “the well of Bethlehem” sunk at the birth of Christ? Before this time men had drunk of impure water, but when God was manifest in the flesh He became the well without an equal. It is the well of mercy, peace, consolation, and love.
2. The distinctive mark was clearly given. “Which is by the gate.” We need in our longings to do the same, as there are many wells--science, arts, philosophy, and literature, and the well of, salvation. We must be distinct, as our lives can only be satisfied with the “well of Bethlehem,” whose bubblings are ready to give heavenly refreshment. We find it by the Holy Communion table, the spiritual devotion meetings, etc.
3. The proper occupant was fully proclaimed. “The water.” Some wells are useless, being filled with rubbish or polluted streams; but the well named by David was faithfully doing its mission. Many wells with us are of no service--empty or impure.
II. The earnest longing which David expressed.
1. The sight rekindled the thought of his heart. We wish to recall hallowed seasons and comforts. The sight of parent, teachers, and friends rekindle our hearts afresh with comfort and joy. We sigh to taste of the old streams, to sit by the side of loving parents, to hear the faithful entreaty of our teachers, to walk with the companions whose society we prized.
2. He gave utterance to the thought of his heart. David had keen aspirations and passionate longings, so that what he felt readily passed into words. He-gave vent to his pent-up feelings. In the midst of the worry and battle of life the scenes of our past days are so vividly portrayed to the mental sight that we crave for the times and enjoyments that are gone. At such seasons we cannot contain our feelings, but give expression to them. In things spiritual it is the same; when we have gone from all the comforts and happiness of religion a time dawns when we cannot any longer keep the state of mind to, ourselves. We cry out to be satisfied with the living water from the well of Bethlehem.
3. The unconscious entreaty for brave help. David knew that Bethlehem had been taken by the enemy. There were great obstacles in the way of obtaining a drink from the well of his ancestors. Probably he little thought that his pathetic wish was heard. We often imperil the lives and characters of others by unconsciously speaking what we feel.
4. The deep craving was of a personal character. David knew what he wanted. It was not that common, foolish wish for something fresh and new, but he sought to taste of that which he had often been refreshed with before. The reason why we have not much enjoyment in this life is because our cravings are indefinite.
1. We never realise the worth of our best comforts until we are separated from them.
2. After a season of spiritual declension how anxiously we crave to drink again of the eternal spring. (Alfred Buckley.)
The well by the gate
I. The Gospel a well of Bethlehem. David had known hundreds of wells of water, but he wanted to drink from that particular one; and he thought nothing could slake his thirst like that; and, unless your soul and mine can get access to the fountain opened for sin and for uncleanliness, we must die. That fountain is the well of Bethlehem. It was dug in the night. It was dug by the light of a lantern--the star that hung down over the manger. It was dug not at the gate of Caesar’s palaces--not in the park of a Jerusalem bargain-maker. It was dug in a barn. The camels lifted their weary heads to listen as the work went on; the shepherds, unable to sleep because the heavens were filled with bands of music, came down to see the opening of the well. The angels of God, at the first gush of the living water, dipped their chalices of joy into it, and drank to the health of earth and heaven, as they cried: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace.” Sometimes, in our modern times, the water is brought through the pipes of the city to the very nostrils of the horses or cattle; but this well in the Bethlehem barn was not so much for the beasts that perish as for our race--thirst-smited, desert-travelled, simoom-struck. Oh! my soul, weary with sill, stoop down and’ drink to-day out of that Bethlehem well.
II. This Gospel is a captured well. David remembered the time when that good water of Bethlehem was in the possession of his ancestors; his father drank there, his mother drank there. He remembered how that water tasted when he was a boy, and came up from play. We never forget the old well we used to drink from when we were boys or girls. There was something in it which blessed the lips and refreshed the brows better than anything we have found since. As we think of that old well, the memories of the past flow into each other like crystalline drops, sun-glinted; and, all the more, we remember that the hand that used to lay hold of the rope, and the hearts that beat against the well-curb, are still now. We never get over these reminiscences. George P. Morris, the great song writer of this country, once said to me that his song, “Woodman, spare that tree,” was sung in a great concert hall, and the memories of early life were so wrought upon the audience by that song, “Woodman, spare that tree,” that, after the song was done, an aged mall arose in the audience, overwhelmed with emotion, and said, “Sir, will you please tell me whether the woodman really spared the tree?” We never forget the tree under which we played. We never forget the fountain at which we drank. Alas! for the man who has no early memories. David thought of that well, and he wanted a drink of it; but he remembered that the Philistines had captured it. And this is true of this Gospel well. The Philistines have at times captured it. When we come to take a full, old-fashioned drink of pardon and comfort, don’t their swords of indignation and sarcasm flash? Why, the sceptics tell us we cannot come to that fountain. They say the water is not fit to drink anyhow. Depend upon it that well will come into our possession again, though it has been captured. If there be not three anointed men in the Lord’s host with enough consecration to do the work, then the swords will leap from Jehovah’s bucklers, and the eternal three will descend--God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost--conquering for our dying race the way back again to “the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate.”
III. The Gospel well is a well at the gate. Do you know that that well was at the gate, so that nobody could go into Bethlehem without going right past it? And So it is with this Gospel well--it is at the gate.
1. It is at the gate of purification. We cannot wash away our sins unless with that water.
2. This well of the Gospel is at the gate of comfort. There is life in the well at the gate. “All things work together for good to those who love God.”
3. This Gospel well is at the gate of heaven. After you have been on a long journey, and you come in all bedusted and tired to your house, the first thing you want is refreshing ablution; and I am glad to know that after we get through the pilgrimage of this world--the hard dusty pilgrimage--we will find a well at the gate. In that one wash away will go our sins and sorrows. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
Memories of childhood
The incident belongs to that period in David’s life when he was an outlaw, when Saul was hunting trim and he was hiding with ills ragged followers in various mountains and eaves.
I. There are times in every life when we are reminded of the well of bethlehem, and wish in vain that we could drink of that well again. A children’s anniversary always brings one of these times to grown-up people. I mean times when our thoughts are carried back to early days, and we almost sigh as David did because we cannot cross over to them again, We have visions of happy wells of which we drank in the dear young days, and from which we are now separated by a barrier of years and other things. And there are other things which we should like to return to if it were in any way possible--the leisure, the golden opportunities, the school days, and the wells of knowledge, the hours which we thought so little of and for the most part wasted when we had them, the books we might have read, the things we might, have learned, the fitness for life’s work we might have gained. Most of us would be glad to have those chances repeated. And we have all longings and regrets sadder than these. All of us, I say, though some have reason to feel them more than others. Certain other things have left us which the child had--a certain stock of happy innocence and purity and simple faith. There were days when we knew little of evil; when we had no thought which we wished to hide, when our feet had not been in any crooked ways; when our minds were not defiled; when no chains of habit held us bound, and no fierce passions within drove us to wrongdoing. It was our Garden of Eden, and the angel with the flaming sword stops our return. This is what we mean by the wells of Bethlehem. Or, as Tennyson expresses it--
“The tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.”
II. We are reminded by this story that there are better things in life than the well of Bethlehem. David here was crying for his vanished childhood, and in a moment certain things happened which proved to him that he was richer as a man than he had ever been as a child. For one thing, he had won friendships that were faithful to him even unto death. There are better things than the glory of childhood, just as the gnarled, strong, winter-worn oak is nobler than the slender sapling with its first shoots of green. God did not send us into the world to be always children, but to be strong, long-suffering, serviceable men and women; to make friends and deserve their friendship; to learn patience through sorrow and courage, by facing difficulties, and take a real soldier’s part m the great battle of life. And if we are doing that in a measure there is no need to sigh for our Bethlehem days. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
The memory of boyhood
David was feeling the strong pressure of memory. He was living again in his boyhood days, What he said was no doubt only a sentiment. Other wells were just as refreshing, and their waters as cool as this well of his old home, but for the moment David was living in the past, and his thirst for water, which he drank in childhood could be taken, I think, as a longing for a draught of the purity and the abundance of all that which went to make life happy when he was a boy. Life is not all plain sailing for anyone, and so for a brief hour, amid the pressure of your daily business and toil, you step aside from the hurrying crowds and stop to rest awhile in the presence of God and to think.
1. The old simple faith. The water may be taken as typifying and standing for faith, the faith which the child always seems to drink in from any religious-minded teacher. Those were the days when faith came simply and easily to you; but you have been out into the world since then.
2. The dangers of young manhood. Is there any secret sin in your life, come temptation to impurity, some yielding to that degrading sin of intemperance, some playing with that modern vice of gambling which spoils and mare and destroys so many lifes? Is there anything which you know is fouling the purity of that religious youth that you had as s boy, which is clogging up the stream and making it, alas! very muddy indeed? Well, do you sigh and long to-day like David, for that pure stream, so fresh, so abundant, which satisfies, that deep thirst for God which you had in the days gone by, before sin and doubt had crept in? Thank God if you do, it shows your heart is still in the right place, and that your life is not turned away so much from God as perhaps at times you may have suspected. Will you renew that faith to-day?
3. The one standard. Remember, there is only one standard put before us all, the highest of all standards--the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (W. F. J. Robberds.)
This gift of water was associated with memories of early days. It is wonderful how little sometimes will bring back old times to those who have wandered far, in time or place, from the scenes of childhood’s years. It is always so. “To this day,” says a French writer, wearied with his work in Paris, and thinking longingly of a quiet holiday he once spent in algeria, “to this day I cannot think of that siesta in the tent without regret and longing; but on that afternoon, I must own, in that country, I thirsted for Paris.” When in Paris he thirsts for Algeria, and when in Algeria he thirsts for Paris. So David, when in Bethlehem as a boy, hoped likely for better days, and now, looking back, he thinks there could not be anything better than those old times over again. Cherish your dreams by all means, but, at the time time, learn to prize the present, and to make the most and best of your opportunities now. Try to see the present--its beauty and its value--as you will be sure to see it if you are spared to look back from after years.
2. This gift of water would always be associated in David’s mind with the love that brought it. What a splendid gift it was! Only a drink of water, but it was turned, as it were, into sacramental wine by the love that brought it. Just so is it that God values our gifts. The best of earthly gifts is poor, but if it is given with a hearty spirit it will be graciously accepted. Some one has said that God cares more for adverbs than for verbs; that is, more for how a thing is done than for what is done. “Do it heartily as to the Lord,” says St. Paul. The important word is not the verb “do,” but the adverb “heartily.”
3. David felt that he must associate this gift in a special way with God. It was one of the finest things he had ever had done to him in his life. Men’s lives had been in jeopardy to get it. It was too rich an offering to make use of only for his own gratification, and he poured it out unto the Lord. (J. S. Maver, M. A.)
Nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out before the Lord.
The sacredness of life
I. The sacredness of life. To the Hebrew the blood was the vital principle (Genesis 4:4.) Hence it was not to be eaten. Even the blood of a hunted animal or bird was to be reverently covered with dust (Leviticus 17:13.) Because of its sacredness it was used in the temple worship in acts of consecration (Exodus 29:20), and in acts of propitiation (Leviticus 4:6), and in its Divine sacredness, as flowing from the Incarnate Word, it was poured out for, that “full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.” So, too, the solemn act of David expressed the fact that life is a sacred thing.
1. With what mysteries is it linked, and mankind has ever associated the mysterious with the sacred. In what manner did life, in its most rudimentary form, enter into a world that till then had been lifeless? How wondrous is the chain of life--each following link made of more precious material arid more “curiously wrought”--that runs up from its first appearing to man, to the angels, and to the Eternal!
2. How strangely is life interwoven with life, husband and wife, child and parent, brother and brother, friend and friend. Weakness is linked to strength, and folly to wisdom; while the weakness that is wise is helped by and vet delivers the strength that is foolish. “No man liveth to himself” in the economy of God.
3. What possibilities lie undeveloped in life. The child that slumbers in its cradle may be a Croesus, a Raphael, a Napoleon, a Shakespeare, a Luther. Even when life’s first stages may seem to justify a forecast of the future, what possibilities remain to us in virtue of diligence, application, fortitude, or through that overruling of things which we name fortune.
4. The everlastingness of its issues makes life sacred. The character it fashions lasts. Any chord once made to vibrate--be it of feeling or thought, or word, or act, or influence--may vibrate for ever. Death far from ending rather reveals life’s issues.
5. Yet in the fact that the Son of God took to Himself a human nature, lived a human life in its varied stages as babe and boy, as youth and man, has life obtained its weightiest and indelible sanctity.
II. What is gained by life’s risk partakes of life’s sanctity. Unharmed the three returned bearing with them a draught of water for which their king and captain had longed. It was the Balaclava of Israelitish history--an act of fruitless bravery, a blunder only possible to heroes--though less fatal in its consequences. Had a warrior been lost then regret for the foolish wish might have prompted the libation. But though no evil had overtaken them the “jeopardy” had made the water bleed-like and sacred, and lie “poured it out unto the Lord.”
1. Things necessary when purchased by life’s risk partake of this sacredness. Every life sacrificed in the service of mankind makes man a debtor, and sets the seal of sanctity upon the survivors. The substitute for the conscript who dies upon the battlefield, the fireman who perishes at his task, the lifeboatman who falls a victim to the raging sea, the physician and nurse who die saving the patient, should make these whom they ransom at so great a cost feel that every breath they draw is no common but a most sacred thing.
2. But things of convenience, hardly of necessity, are purchased at the same cost, and obtain a like sanctity. Our boasted and elaborate civilisation is costly in lives. To some it gives comfort and days, for others it shortens the span of existence. And the civilisation which lengthens life is largely dispensible; life without these blessings would be possible, though far less enjoyable. Men could still live in wattled huts and warm themselves with a wood or turf fire. There need be no coal fire, no steam engine, no railway travelling, no great engineering works such as we are accustomed to. Yet, how many and terrible are the disasters to life and limb, which have given us these advantages, and to our nation so much of her wealth. Very costly are many of the comforts and conveniences of our modern civilisation. The cutlery which, bright and sharp, lies upon our dining table, has meant a reduction of the years of life to the grinders who gave it edge. In many of the chemical and mechanical processes which furnish us the conveniences of modern life there is a similar sacrifice of the health and life of the workers. We should shrink from doing without these things; deprived of them men would question if life be worth living; but in the use of things purchased at such a cost let us remember that cost; it would give an earnestness to much of the morally relaxed life we live, could we see these things bedabbled with the blood that procured them.
3. Still more must we feel our responsibility when whims are gratified by the risk of life. That water from the well by the gate was not a necessity; it was the gratification of a sentiment; And it was the sense that life had been jeoparded for a sentiment that made David treat it as he did.
III. There are two directions in which these words have their bearing upon modern life.
1. Employment means employment of life, the hiring of blood. To say a man employs so many “hands” is to mention the least important of the powers he gets a claim upon. He employs lives, hearts, characters; souls that must live for ever, destinies that never become spent. But these lives must be regarded as sacred things, and every employer should bear with him the solemn sense of responsibility. If he feels as David felt, “Is it not the blood of those men who jeoparded their lives?” he will give in respect of those who serve him every care for life and for health. Such a man would never send men to sea in an unworthy ship, or to work with deficient apparatus, or expose them to the peril of a risky boiler. Neither should the moral perils of employees be forgotten. No man can justly retain as foreman a man of good ability but bad morals. No clerk should be asked to pen a letter that goes against his moral convictions; no traveller should be permitted to feel he must get orders by means which are not “as the noonday clear,” The wealth that comes from ruined health, lost lives, seared consciences, damned souls, “is it not the blood of these men?”
2. Perhaps it is well to remember that most persons are the employers of those who afford amusement. The stern Puritan days are largely past, and the average Christian man does not refrain from public spectacles on the high principle that “the world passeth away and the fashion thereof.” But dare men believing in the Bible countenance amusements involving the risk of life; did not the early church bring to an end the cruel sport of the Roman amphitheatre? should not such sports as to-day involve the health and lives of those who afford others pleasure be discountenanced, and by moral influence suppressed by the followers of Christ. When we see in the coveted water from the well that is by the gate, in the gratification we have or craved, the whim we have indulged, the needless convenience we have thoughtlessly enjoyed--“the blood of men who have jeoparded their lives”--then will a solemn sense of life’s sacredness steal upon us, and we shall pray, “Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God.” (J. T. L. Maggs, B. A.)
We speak of things being wasted when they are not used, or when they are used for an inferior purpose to that which was originally intended. But waste is a relative term; and in these economic days some of the most valuable products have been obtained from substances that used to be thrown out as utter refuse. The most brilliant colours are got from the waste of gas manufacture; the sweetest perfumes and most delicate flavourings from the offal of the street; and the mounds of rubbish excavated from the placer mines of California have formed ever since the most fertile soil, in which have grown harvests far more valuable than their richest gold. That which is said to be wasted is often more precious than that which is employed for some utilitarian purpose. The well of Bethlehem was associated with the happiest days of David’s life, when, as a shepherd boy, without any care or trouble, he drank of it, and went on his way rejoicing. The heat and burden of the day had consumed him in the beleaguered garrison, and the thought of that water was to him like the beautiful mirage--the desert’s dream of dewy fields and sparkling streams. And yet, when a goblet full of the clear cold water was put into his bands, and he was free to drink and slake his burning thirst, he would not take it. His spirit rose above his languid frame and asserted its superiority. He nobly denied himself what his body weakly craved. Some might call such spilling of the water upon the ground an uncalled-for waste, and might blame David severely for appearing to lightly esteem the act of the brave men. What though the water had been procured at the cost of so much trouble and danger, did not that circumstance enhance its value? Was it not the very reason why it should not have been thrown away? The worst use to which it could be put was surely to pour it upon the dry ground, where it would do no good to living thing, but would speedily evaporate into the hot air, and leave no trace behind. We have all heard such selfish reasonings, and witnessed such penurious prudence in regard to similar acts of apparently rash generosity. But though the narrow-minded, capable only of the most short-sighted policy, may condemn it, every enlightened conscience, every generous heart, must deeply feel that David’s act of seeming wastefulness was in reality one of the noblest in his life. It would have been selfish in him to drink the water; but it was the height of unselfishness to refuse to drink it. By not using it, he put it to the highest use. By pouring it out upon the ground, seeming to waste it, he put a far greater value upon it than could possibly have been done if it had been used only to slake his thirst. Drunk, it would have refreshed the parched lips of David for a moment, and then the incident would have been forgotten. The draught of water would have accomplished its purpose, and that would have been the end of it for ever. But by being refused, by being wasted upon the ground,, and offered as a libation to the Lord of heaven and earth, its use remained unexhausted, its memory would be for ever cherished. To all generations the deed will he spoken of as one of the finest examples of generous self-denial and pious gratitude; and it will have an inspiring effect upon all who come to know of it, inducing them to practice similar self-denial and devotion in their own lives. The water spilt upon the ground in this way, which could not be gathered up again, rose up to heaven, a beautiful cloud gilded by the sun, to adorn the sky, to be seen and admired of all eyes, and to fall again in fertilising rain and dew upon ground that, but for it would have been for ever barren. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
Howbeit he attained not unto the first three.
The might of mediocrity
Everybody just now is deploring the singular dearth of genius which marks our immediate era. Some historic periods are remarkable in consequence of the brilliant constellations of extraordinarily gifted men which illuminate them; but the current age threatens to resemble those starless spaces of the firmament which perplex astronomers. In the musical world no one remains to play the first fiddle. The dropped mantle of Macaulay lies unclaimed. A modern commentator warmly protests against the custom of describing certain prophets as “minor prophets”; but no one proposes to abolish the designation “minor poets”--they are very much to the |ore, and there is no forehead worthy of Tennyson’s laurel. Epoch-making scientists like Darwin and Faraday, and masterly expositors of science like Huxley and Tyndall, have left no successors. As to great singers like Lind and Titiens, we feel the silence that Israel felt on the day and in the place of which the sacred historian wrote: “Miriam died there, and was buried there.” No artist appears competent to take up Millais’ fallen pencil. No orator like Bright charms the nation. We might think that the forces of nature were spent. The greatest souls are rarer than ever. This is the age of democracy, and it would seem as ii it were going to justify Amiel’s dictum that “democracy is the grave of talent.” The nineteenth century ended without leaving a single really great figure on the stage. We rather welcome this parenthesis in the annals of the sublime; it gives a rare opportunity to mediocrity to demonstrate its great merits, and to show that it is not without considerable glory of its own. Nothing may compare with the Divine virtue of genius; it is a direct gleam of the eternal light: and there is little danger in our day that any real greatness will suffer depreciation and neglect. The danger always is lest we should disesteem faithful mediocrity. Victor Hugo regrets the English victory at Waterloo because it was “the victory of mediocrity.” We do not care to attempt any refutation of this epigram; let us allow that Wellington was not a brilliant adventurer like Napoleon, and that, as poets reason, the victory of Waterloo was the triumph of mediocrity. It must be acknowledged also that the victory of mediocrity is quite a feature of the world’s general affairs and history. Ages ago the author of Ecclesiastes wrote: “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happened to them all.” This keen observer discerned what Victor Hugo regretted, that there is a place in the government of the world for the triumph of mediocrity. We ourselves constantly observe the same thing. The brilliant preacher conspicuously fails to create a church, whilst the plodding pastor ministers through years to a flourishing congregation. The brilliant speculator dies poor, whilst the homespun’ shopkeeper leaves an inheritance to his children’s children. The fable of the hare and the tortoise never grows obsolete. Said Diderot, “The world is for the strong.” But the world is not altogether for the strong, neither are brilliant men permitted to ride roughshod over the simple. The world is also for the faithful, the artless, the industrious, the modest, and the meek. All things are not delivered over into the hands of William the Conqueror, Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Peter the Great; strugglers destitute of original power and brilliant parts have a trick of coming out at the top and sharing the spoils with the strong. We may honestly rejoice that this is so. It may affront the romantic critic to see the soldier of genius banished to St. Helena whilst the soldier of patience stands before kings; but the fact is comforting and inspiring to the faithful many. Intense, decisive faithfulness has the character of the sublime, and it sets the virtuous man of ordinary intelligence on a level with the most gifted. Commonplace talent united with high moral qualities is certainly one of the most precious factors of civilisation. We must not permit ourselves to be browbeaten by towering greatness; we too have possibilities. Faithful mediocrity may enter hopefully into all social competitions; it often turns out to be genius in undress; it has a good chance of the prizes of life. We are not equal to daring assaults, far-reaching speculations, dazzling manoeuvres; but simple truth and perfect patience possess mysterious efficacy, and they as well as genius bring riches and honours, power, and fame. In our struggle against gifted and splendid wickedness let us remember the victory of mediocrity. The New Testament frequently calls attention to the power and magnificence of the kingdom of evil. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels.” The Apocalypse brings out very strikingly the glory and power of the evil with which the saints contend. Wickedness is seen with many heads, eyes, and horns; she is arrayed in purple and scarlet, decked with precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand; force, fire, and fury are attributes of the awful power. This picture is not mere rhetoric. In the actual world we find these gigantic and lurid poetic images distinctly and powerfully reflected. A thousand times over wickedness is seen identified with royal magnificence, luminous intellect, immense learning, fabulous riches, indomitable courage, and resources all but infinite. Now it seems simply impossible for good, plain, honest, spiritual souls to make headway against the devilry thus leagued with might, magnificence, and stratagem. Men smile pitifully when they read on the page of history of clowns going forth with scythes, pikes, and pitchforks to do battle with panoplied hosts; but it seems unutterably more absurd for simple men and women to dare the rampant wickedness of the universe, boasting as it does this strength and splendour. In the natural world we daily witness the victories of mediocrity, and we may be sure that in the spiritual universe these victories are not less wonderful. The conflict of simple souls with the dash and guile of the demoniac powers appears a battle of doves with eagles; but tiny humming birds are said to attack the eagle with impunity, ignominiously driving it away. So wickedness in its utmost pride is strangely vulnerable, and sinks vanquished by very weakness There is a haste in wickedness which threatens its overthrow; it is feverish, premature, precipitate, and in its hurry comes to grief, despite the greatest advantages. Goodness, on the other hand, is deliberate, tranquil, patient, and herein finds a source of strength and victory. “Here is the patience and faith of the saints.” All hell in its wrath and pride makes shipwreck on this innocent-looking rock of simple faith and steadfastness, as at Waterloo the glittering, impetuous legions of France were worn out by the sheer patience and confidence of the duke. There is a blindness in wickedness which frustrates its designs. Brilliant, crafty sinners fall into egregious mistakes; they are guilty of surprising lapses, oversights, miscalculations. There is also in wickedness s pride and presumption which work its confusion, and in Strange ways turn its pomp into shame, its boastings into failure. Napoleon is reported to have said on the morning of Waterloo that he would “teach that little English general a lesson.” Such pride cometh before destruction. How utterly wrong are they who capitulate to temptation from the notion that evil is overwhelming, that it is necessarily victorious! We too often forget the penetration of sincerity, the depth of simplicity, the cleverness of uprightness, the strategy of straightforwardness; we forget that patience is genius, that persistence is the most unequivocal sign of force, that there is a conquering awfulness in real goodness, an all-subduing loveliness in the form of simple virtue. Mediocre as we are, we are destined to great victories. Entrenched in nature, exalted on thrones, defended by literature and eloquence, wickedness shall be vanquished by plain, good men. (W. L. Watkinson.)
The value of second-rate
To the student who asked, “What is the good of second-rate art?” Ruskin replied: “I am glad you asked me that question. Fifth rate, sixth rate, to s hundredth rate art is good. Art that gives s pleasure to any one has s right to exist. For instance, if I can only draw a duck that looks as though he waddled, I may give pleasure to the last baby of our hostess, while a flower beautifully drawn will give pleasure to her eldest girl, who is just beginning to learn botany, and it may be useful to some man of science. The true outline of a leaf shown a child may turn the whole course of its life. Second-rate art is useful to a greater number of people than even first-rate art--there are so few minds of high enough order to understand the highest kind of art. Many more people find pleasure in Copley or Fielding than in Turner. Most people only see the small vulgarisms in Turner, and cannot appreciate his grander qualities.” (Christian Weekly.)
He went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow.
A lion in the snow
Perhaps, like me, you have at times found yourself wondering how it was that Palestine was chosen to be the land of She Bible? There is a reason, if we did but know it. Perhaps because, so far as I know the world, there is no other country which for climate and other things is so much of a world in itself. For instance, we read of a man who slew a lion in time of snow. Now we don’t often think of lions and snow in the same place, but the Holy Land was a place where you could get all sorts of weather and all sorts of beasts. The fact is, the old Book was written for all the world; and, live where you like, you find it speaking of something which you see every day. Whoever reads the Bible should, however, use his imagination. For instance, in this story, as we read, we must think Of that old quarry, and how it would look when the snow was falling. Was the hero of the tale a farmer, and had he gone out to look after the stock, and did he see, to his horror, the footprints of a large beast? The marks on the snow are like those of a cat’s feet, but very much larger. We can hear him say, “There’s a lion down there! He has gone for shelter. Won’t he be hungry? When the snow-storm is over, he will have my calves or sheep. No, he won’t! if I am the man I ought to be, there shall be a dead lion or a dead man in five minutes;” so he went down and slew the great cat that would have otherwise robbed his flock or his family.
I. God always did like courage, especially the sort that is not afraid of great odds. He who always waits to count his enemies will never wear the Victoria Cross. If you are the only Christian in She shop, there’s a chance for you to distinguish yourself. When I was a lad, elections were much rougher than they are nowadays. You could get your head broken without any trouble. A man I knew was electioneering, and strayed into the wrong committee-room. However, he found out his mistake in time, and pulled off his ribbon, put it in his mouth, and swallowed it. That is what some fellows do with their religion when they are in the midst of God’s foes.
II. Difficulties and dangers which give the chance of promotion. If you will follow this man to other parts of the Bible, you will find him at the head of four-and twenty thousand men. Now David did not make men captains because their fathers before them were officers; they had to rise by merit; and King David’s greater Son,. the Prince of Peace, lifts privates into captains when they have shown their mettle. They tell a tale in Lancashire of an Oldham man enlisting with the distinct understanding that he was to he an officer; but next morning, when he woke from his drunken slumbers, he found himself a full private. I am afraid if he ever got a stripe it was only one of many, and they were on his back and not on his arm! Distinguish yourself, and ignominy cannot claim you. The higher you get up the hill the less crowding you will find. When a collection is taken, and some one drops in a piece of gold, it may be hidden by penny pieces while in the box, but when counting begins they will soon see. This man Benaiah little dreamed that three thousand years after he killed the lion somebody would think it worth his while to talk of what happened that snowy day. The fact is, we are making history every day, and it is for ourselves to settle whether it is to be sheen or shade. (T. Champness.)
Benaiah went down also and “slew a lion in the midst of the pit in the time of snow.” That is a man worth looking at! It is a snow day; think of it. It is difficult to be brave on a day like that. But that was the day when Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man of Kabzeel, who had done many mighty acts, went and did another. Did it ever occur to you that that man was wonderfully like another Benaiah? Did you ever think he was wonderfully like the Lord Jesus Christ, who, on one of the dullest and darkest days that ever the world saw, went down into the pit, and encountered, face to face, the devourer and the destroyer of men. And He had nobody to encourage and nobody to cheer. All His disciples forsook Him and fled; and single, unaided, and alone, He went down into the pit, and slew the lion, the dragon, the devourer. He fought and He won. There is a lion-like strength of evil in every one of us, and we are not saved till our foot is upon its neck, and its power is broken. With some, the lion is out, ranging and roaring, as that lion might be supposed to have been before this snowy day when he fell into the pit. No, the big work is to be done yet. Go down into the pit; go down into the deeps of your own fallen nature, the depths of Satan in you; go down there quick, in the strength of Benaiah, and win that fight, or you are not saved yet. None of us, old or young, ignorant or learned, has a right to feel safe until he has done Benaiah’s deed, and gone down into the depths of sin that are in himself with the lamp of God and the sword of God, and stabbed to the heart the life of sin that is in the very deep places of his soul. What does Benaiah mean? Benaiah means, literally, the man whom God built. There is something in a name, after all The man whom God built from the protoplasm upward and onward, the God-built, God-strengthened, God-nerved, God-sustained man. May God grant that all of us shall have that pedigree! “Born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of man, but born of God.” Born again! Spiritual men, whose foundations God hath laid in Christ Jesus; and out of whom God is making strong, stalwart, heroic, spiritual, men, because He has built them and founded them on the Eternal Rock of His own dear Son. (J. McNeill.)
Possible achievement of a man plus God
The Rev. F. B. Meyer had been shown a wonderful collection of chrysanthemums. The horticulturist said to him, “And all these glorious blooms come from a common field daisy.” In response to Mr. Meyer’s questions, the expert told how, by long processes of patient cultivation pursued through a number of years, the simple wild-flower had become a triumph of scientific development. “I see,” he said, “the chrysanthemum is a field-daisy, plus a man.” “Yes,” said the gardener, “that is it.” “And,” said Mr. Meyer, with impressive intensity, “A Christian is a man plus God--God in Christ, who came to give us life, abundantly.”
Possibility of great achievements
There is a wonderful power in honest work to develop latent energies and reveal a man to himself. I suppose, in most cases, nobody is half so much surprised at a great man’s greatest deed as he is himself. They say that, there is dormant electric energy enough to make a thunderstorm in a few rain drops, and there is dormant spiritual force enough in the weakest of us to flush into beneficent light, and peal notes of awaking into many a deaf ear. (A. Malaren, D. D.)
Enterprise essential to success
Success is the reward of endeavour not of accident. Rufus Cheats, when someone remarked that great achievements often resulted from chance, thundered out, “Nonsense! as well talk of dropping the alphabet and picking up the Iliad.”
──《The Biblical Illustrator》