We are enjoined to give earnest heed to the words spoken
from heaven. A dark display of Israel's ingratitude and rebellion follows.
God's repeated and abundant mercies seem only to awaken evil. May the sad
example be a profitable warning!
1-6. "Give ear, O my people, to my law; incline your
ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will
utter dark sayings of old; which we have heard and known, and our fathers
have told us. We will not hide them from their children, showing to the
generation to come the praises of the Lord, and His strength, and His
wonderful works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob,
and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they
should make them known to their children; that the generation to come might
know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and
declare them to their children."
This introduction claims especial notice. We often crave
audience of God. He here calls us to incline our ears to His instruction.
Let us be quick to hear. His revelation is the truth of truths, the light of
light, the joy of joys, wisdom in the highest. Not only should we read, and
mark, and learn; we should impress these doctrines on our offspring. Fathers
should teach their children; and children's children should in turn
7-11. "Those who might set their hope in God, and not
forget the works of God, but keep His commandments; and might not be as
their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set
not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God. The
children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day
of battle. They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in His
law; and forgot His works, and His wonders that He had shown them."
Bible-study quickens grace. By pondering God's works of
old, confidence will strengthen and hope become more bright. We shall
tremble, also, at the dreadful iniquity of Israel's sons. They quenched the
recollection of the repeated mercies, which blessed their fathers. Armor was
provided for them, but they refused to stand firm, and fled before their
foes. They closed their eyes, and would not see His arm extended for their
12-16. "He did marvelous things in the sight of their
fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan. He divided the sea, and
caused them to pass through; and He made the waters to stand as n heap. In
the daytime also He led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of
fire. He split the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of
the great depths. He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters
to run down like rivers."
A recapitulation follows of the wonders which cradled the
childhood of His people. In this history, God's character—His love, His
might—is written as with a sunbeam. No enemies could crush. No perils could
destroy. Impossibilities vanished. He made the waters of the deep to be a
highway for their feet. The mighty billows stood as a wall on their right
hand and on their left. That their journey might be safe, a cloud from
heaven preceded their march by day, and a canopy of fire shone over them at
night. Does thirst oppress them? The hard rock opens its flinty sides, and
refreshing streams flow in their rear. Miracle followed miracle, proclaiming
His unceasing care.
17-25. "And they sinned yet more against Him by
provoking the Most High in the wilderness. And they tempted God in their
heart by asking food for their lust. Yes, they spoke against God; they said,
Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Behold, He smote the rock, so
that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can He give bread
also? can He provide flesh for His people? Therefore the Lord heard this,
and was angry; so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up
against Israel; because they believed not in God, and trusted not in His
salvation, though He had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the
doors of heaven, and had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given
them of the bread of heaven. Man ate angels' food; He sent them food to the
Can it be that such miracles of love could fail to melt
their hearts; and that such evidence of fatherly guardianship should allow
rebellion still to live! Alas! abundant kindness awakened superabundant sin!
They sneered at past lovingkindness. They allowed that their thirst had been
relieved; but they doubted whether food could similarly be provided! Can we
marvel that God's wrath went forth, and that fire raged in their camp?
While we bless God for His goodness, let us remember that to hardened rebels
He is a consuming fire.
26-29. "He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven;
and by His power He brought in the south wind. He rained flesh also upon
them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea. And He let it
fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations. So they ate,
and were well filled; for He gave them their own desire; they were not
estranged from their lust."
How striking is this instance of God's forbearance!
Tender compassion checks the outbursts of just vengeance. Instead of
punishing, He gratifies their impious desires. He sent the food which they
believed He could not grant. He multiplied it beyond their power to gather.
They fed until their appetite was more than sated.
30-32. "But while their food was yet in their mouths,
the wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote
down the chosen men of Israel. For all this they sinned still, and believed
not for His wondrous works."
Let presumptuous rebels tremble. Wrath may linger, but
delay is not forgiveness. In due time it will blaze forth, and terrible will
be the results. The dreadful sequel shows this truth. While they feasted,
vengeance fell. The richest and the mightiest found no refuge in their high
estate. They perished with the lowest in the camp. But the hard hearts,
unmelted by the plenty, and unappalled by wrath, grew more daring in
rebellious feeling. They had no confidence in His goodness, no fear of His
anger. Reprobate is the case which neither mercy nor sternness leads to
33-37. "Therefore He consumed their days in vanity,
and their years in trouble. When He slew them, then they sought Him; and
they returned and enquired early after God. And they remembered that God was
their rock, and the high God their redeemer. Nevertheless they flattered Him
with their mouth, and they lied to Him with their tongues. For their heart
was not right with Him, neither were they steadfast in His covenant."
Their troubles were continued. The scourge drove them to
seek relief; but their outward change was not inward conversion. In
semblance they became other men; but the same features were behind the mask.
With utterance they seemingly drew near; but falsehood dwelt on their lips.
They were not slow to promise; but their unstable minds were like the
leaking sieve. They made a covenant; but it was only to break it.
38-41. "But He, being full of compassion, forgave
their iniquity, and destroyed them not; yes, many times He turned His anger
away, and did not stir up all His wrath. For He remembered that they were
but flesh; a wind that passes away, and comes not again. How often they
provoked Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert! Yes, they
turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel."
But still compassion is not utterly exhausted. Our God is
infinite in all His attributes. He pitied them still, and held back the arm
uplifted to destroy. He remembered their utter feebleness. For a little
season only they sojourned on earth. We hear the wind, but it soon is gone.
So from this scene they would be quickly taken, and their places would be no
more found. To enumerate their sins exceeds all power. So, also, to
enumerate God's acts of goodness. While we shudder at their vileness, let us
adore forbearing mercy.
42-48. "They remembered not His hand, nor the day when
He delivered them from the enemy. How He had worked His signs in Egypt, and
His wonders in the field of Zoan; And had turned their rivers into blood;
and their floods that they could not drink. He sent different kinds of flies
among them; which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them. He gave
also their increase to the caterpillar, and their labor to the locust. He
destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamore trees with frost. He
gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot
Great had been their deliverance. They well knew God's
terrible acts upon their foes. He had shown that all instruments of
vengeance subserved His will. All creation at His bidding would arise to
plague. Their annals were the record of His power to avenge. But vain was
the lesson. Provocation was their rule.
49-51. "He cast upon them the fierceness of His anger,
wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending destroying angels among
them. He made a way for His anger; He spared not their soul from death, but
gave their life over to the pestilence; and smote all the first-born in
Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham."
Wrath terribly smote Egypt. Every form of plague spread
desolation. All agents of evil did their ruthless work. Misery reached its
height when the firstborn fell, and death was the inhabitant of each home.
The evidence is clear that God, who delights in mercy, can righteously
execute severity. Ah, sin! what have you done? Let us ponder and be wise!
52-55. "But made His own people to go forth like
sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. And He led them on
safely, so that they feared not; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. And
He brought them to the border of His sanctuary, even to this mountain, which
His right hand had purchased. He cast out the heathen also before them, and
divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell
in their tents."
It is sweet to return to views of God's gracious
dealings. Behold Him guiding His own from this land of thraldom, as a
shepherd tending his beloved flock. Behold Him preceding through the
wilderness, and bringing them safely to the promised land. Behold Him
driving the natives from their land, that Israel's tribes might settle in
the goodly heritage. The history is an assurance that He will safely bring
His own to the heavenly rest.
56-58. "Yet they tempted and provoked the most high
God, and kept not His testimonies. But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully
like their fathers; they were turned aside like a deceitful bow. For they
provoked Him to anger with their high places, and moved Him to jealousy with
their engraved images."
Can it be that a people thus favored can forget their
God, reject His testimonies, and provoke Him by idolatries! Alas! what evil
will not man perpetrate! God was deserted. Altars to idols were erected.
59-64. "When God heard this He was angry, and greatly
abhorred Israel. So that He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which
He placed among men; and delivered His strength into captivity, and His
glory into the enemy's hand. He gave His people over also to the sword; and
was angry with His inheritance. The fire consumed their young men; and their
maidens were not given to marriage. Their priests fell by the sword; and
their widows made no lamentation."
Warnings are here multiplied. God saw Israel's rebellion
and raised the arm of vengeance. The tabernacle of His presence was
deserted. The enemy came in like a flood. The inheritance was laid waste.
Misery consumed the flower of their youth. Oh! let us dread the wrath of
God. We are warned that He marks and punishes iniquity.
65-66. "Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and
like a mighty man that shouts by reason of wine. And He smote His enemies in
the hinder parts; He put them to a perpetual reproach."
Here evidence returns that free grace reigns. Mercy
rejects slumber. God is aroused and drives back the insulting foe. He
inflicts terrible chastisement. When His people merit extremities of wrath,
love will still love them.
67-69. "Moreover, He refused the tabernacle of Joseph,
and chose not the tribe of Ephraim. But chose the tribe of Judah, the Mount
Zion which He loved. And He built His sanctuary like high palaces, like the
earth which He has established forever."
The tribe at first so honored receives mark of rejection.
The Temple must not rise in Shiloh. Joseph must be humbled, and Judah must
be honored with distinguishing favor. The Ark must be removed to rest on
Mount Zion, and there the Temple—the joy of the whole earth—must show its
glorious front. Let us again take warning. The Gospel is not restricted to
one place. If it is not gladly welcomed and devoutly honored, God may remove
it, and gladden others with the sound.
70-72. "He chose David also His servant, and took him
from the sheepfolds; from following the ewes great with young He brought him
to feed Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So he fed them
according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skillfulness
of his hands."
God's mercy does not leave His people without the
guidance of a wise Prince. He chooses David. He raises him from low estate,
and places him on a high throne. He gives him skill and wisdom to rule in
righteousness. Here we have our rightful King. The government is on the
shoulders of our Jesus. Let us fall low before Him; and serve Him faithfully
and love Him supremely. To us He is the King of kings, and Lord of lords.