Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. IT WAS A "PEACE OF GOD." The hand of Jehovah was seen. The consciences even of the wicked had been touched. So in the lives of individuals and nations there are times given of God after judgments in which to repent and amend; and these are not of their own creation, but a result of a gracious Providence. But as they are each a calm after a storm, so, being unimproved, they may be but the portentous lulls before greater judgments. The enemy from without is restrained, as if to say that the real danger could only arise from within.
II. ITS CHARACTER. Undistinguished by great individual exploits; but showing a general advance in civilisation, the arts of peace, and external respect for government and religion. The solid monuments of the people's industry and foresight (the cities of the circle of Jair, etc.) remained. A happier generation lived and throve over the ashes of the guilty past; and some steps were taken towards the more settled and permanent type of government, the monarchy.
III. ITS IMPORT. God's punishments and judgments are intended to prepare for peace. The sinner can never say he has had "no room for repentance." But this was only external and temporary peace - a truce with an unreconciled Heaven. It is precious, therefore, only as making for and typifying the kingdom of Christ, and the peace of believers, which follow upon storm and overturning and Divine chastisements, but confer unspeakable blessings and make happy. - M.
I. THE BEST MEN ARE NOT ALWAYS BEST KNOWN. We know nothing of Tola and Jair in comparison with what we know of Abimelech. Yet the very fact that little is said of them is a proof that they were good and honest men. We are too ready to mistake notoriety for fame and both for signs of greatness. They are not the greatest men who make the most noise in the world. It is something if this censorious world can say no ill of us. Aim at doing well rather than at striking attention.
II. QUIET TIMES ARE HAPPY TIMES. Israel was now experiencing the happiness of the people whose annals are dull. It is generally a miserable thing to be the subject of an interesting story; the more full of incident the story is, the more full of distress will be the person to whom it relates. Happiness generally visits private lives in their obscurity, and forsakes those which are protruded into the glare of vulgar curiosity. David's happiest days were spent with the sheep on the hills of Bethlehem. Christ found more happiness at Capernaum than in Jerusalem.
III. QUIET TIMES ARE OFTEN HEALTHFUL TIMES. There is a quietness which betokens the stagnation of death, and there is a condition of ease which favours indolence, luxury, and vice. But there is also a quietness of healthy life (Isaiah 30:15). The flowers grow, not in the noisy storm, but in soft showers and in quiet sunshine. In times of quiet a nation is able to effect legislative improvements, to open up its internal resources, to develop commerce, to cultivate science, art, and literature, and to turn its attention to the promotion of the highest welfare of all within its borders. In times of quiet the Church is able to study Divine truth more deeply and to carry out missionary enterprises with more energy. In times of quiet rightly used the soul enjoys the contemplation of God and grows under the peaceful influences of his Spirit (Psalm 72:6).
IV. QUIET TIMES ARE MORE FREQUENT THAN WE COMMONLY SUPPOSE. History directs inordinate attention to scenes of tumult, and necessarily so. Hence we are likely to magnify the range of these. In times of war there are vast areas of peace. The terrible seasons which attract our attention are separated by long intervals of quiet which pass unnoticed. Thus it was
(1) in the history of Israel, which is really not so clark as it appears because so many generations were spent in peaceful obscurity;
(2) in the history of our own country, of the Church, and of the world; and
(3) in our own lives, since we commonly recollect the troublesome times (which are striking partly just because they are abnormal), and ungratefully ignore the long, quiet seasons of unbroken blessings. - A.
they continued to do evil.
I. OBSERVANCE OF EXTERNAL DECENCIES OF LIFE IS NO SAFEGUARD AGAINST INBRED DEPRAVITY. Only the hearty love and service of God. Probably the whoring after other gods" began beneath the cloak of an orthodox worship. For a certain time material prosperity may consist with religious laxity.
II. BESETTING SINS, UNREPENTED OF, ASSUME MORE AGGRAVATED PHASES. Like the man out of whom the devil had been cast, which, returning from the "dry places," and finding his heart "empty, swept, and garnished," "bringeth seven other devils," etc. It was an idolatrous confusion; there could be no rationale of these systems, harmonising them with the conscience, or even with one another. All sense of raceness has deserted Israel. It plunges heedlessly into a sea of obscurity and filth. - M.
I. IN THE PUNISHMENT INFLICTED THE CALAMITY WAS CLEARLY CONNECTED WITH THE SIN.
1. The sin committed is at once followed by penalty.
2. The punishment lasts whilst the transgression is unrepented of.
3. The seducers become the instruments of punishment.
II. THE UNHELPFULNESS OF IDOLATRY WAS EXPOSED. The Ammonites, whose unholy practices they had copied, take advantage of their weakness, and pitilessly despoil and harass them. The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel. Of all the gods they had served, Baal, Molech, Astarte, etc., not one could deliver them. Only Jehovah can hear, and to him they are at last driven. Even Gilead - the heroic land - is rendered helpless before the despised Ammon, as if to show that real bravery is a moral quality. And the old "fear of Israel" which kept the heathen nations back was gone. The Ammonites wax bold, and cross the Jordan even into Judah. - M.
I. THE AIM OF THE SEVERITY IS TO AWAKEN TRUE REPENTANCE. Inconvenience, discomfort, distress, humiliation may all be felt without true repentance. The latter arises from sorrow for and haired of sin as sin.
II. THIS IS SECURED by -
1. An appeal to memory of manifold deliverances and mercies.
2. Holding the sinner under the yoke of his own choosing when he no longer chooses it.
3. The temporary horror and despair of rejection. "I will deliver you no more." - M.
I. MAN MUST HAVE SOME RELIGION. If God is forsaken, Baal is followed. The soul cannot endure a void. This temple must always have some deity in it. If the higher religion is rejected, a lower superstition will take the place of it. The decay of the national religion of old Rome was accompanied by the adoption of strange Oriental cults, and by the spread of a religion of magic. Modern scepticism gives birth to extraordinary forms of superstition - religions of nature, of humanity, of spiritualism. Accordingly, the effort to attain freedom by escaping from the restraints of Christianity is a delusion, and ends only in the bondage of some lower influence. The soul must have some master, and if it rebels against God it will serve Baal, mammon, the world, the flesh, or the devil. True liberty is only found in willing obedience, in the submission of love, in sympathy with the mind of God, in delighting in his law. Perfect freedom of will arises from perfect harmony between our will and God's will, so that we gladly desire what he requires (Psalm 40:8).
II. SIN HAS TWO LEADING FEATURES, A POSITIVE AND A NEGATIVE. It is forsaking God and serving Baalim; omission and commission. The tendency is to regard one of these two much to the neglect of the other. Over-scrupulous people are very sensitive about the minutest act of positive wrong, but sometimes indifferent in regard to the neglect of duty. Energetic people often make the opposite mistake, and show great anxiety to do good service, while they are not sufficiently careful to avoid hasty acts of a questionable character. These two sides of sin are closely connected. Devotion to God is the great safeguard to purity; when this grows cold the soul is open to the attack of temptation, leading to direct transgression. On the other hand, positive sin is poison to religious faith. The commission of evil deeds inclines us to the omission of duties. Impurity paralyses zeal. We cannot serve God while we are serving Baalim.
III. CONDUCT ALWAYS TENDS TO RUN INTO EXTREMES. We serve God or Baalim, light or darkness, good or evil. There is no middle course. There appears to be more variety, gradation, and mixed character in life than is allowed for in Scripture (e.g. 1 John 3:8-10). But life is only yet beginning to develop, its true nature will be seen in eternity. Two seeds may look much alike, and the first sprouts from them may not be very dissimilar, yet the gardener who knows the natural history of the plants, judging by their whole growth, may pronounce them to be very different. In this early growth of the soul's life on earth, the great question is, What tendencies does it show? The twilight of sunrise looks very like the twilight of sunset, yet the one is the prophecy of day and the other the portent of night. Two streams which flow from one watershed are at first near together, yet if one is running east and the other west, they may come at last to be divided by a whole continent, and to end in two separate oceans. We must be moving in one or other of two directions. The question is, Are we going to the light or from the light, to God or from God? The tendency determines the character of the life, and this must be justly estimated by the full issues involved in the tendency, not by the present early stages of it. Thus we are all children of the light or children of the darkness, ripening into saintly servants of God or corrupting into wretched slaves of sin. - A.
I. WE ALL NEED A REFUGE FOR TROUBLE. Life is so mixed that even to the happiest it is full of disappointments and anxieties. Though it may be smooth at present, we know that it cannot continue so for ever. The storm must fall at some time on every soul that is making the voyage of life. "Man is born to trouble" (Job 5:7). The self-assurance that suffices us in prosperity will not be enough when the tribulation comes. Some refuge every soul must then seek.
II. THE GREAT REFUGE FOR TROUBLE IS IN RELIGION. This is not the sole function of religion. It is also a light, an inspiration, an authority. But all men who have a religion turn to it as their supreme haven when the storms drive. We are naturally religious. Instinctively we look up - if not to the light, then to the darkness, the mystery, the unknown above us.
III. THE VALUE OF RELIGION IS TESTED BY ITS EFFICACY AS A REFUGE IN TROUBLE. The breakwater is tested by the storm; the armour is tried by the combat; the medicine is proved by the disease; the consolation is revealed by the distress. If the lamp of our religion will only burn while the sun of prosperity shines, and goes out when the night of adversity closes in, it is worthless. Men make gods of their pleasures, their business, their science. What can the husk of old pleasures do in the "winter of discontent," when no new pleasure can be evoked? What will the idols money, fame, knowledge avail in the agony of the wreck of a life's hopes, in the mystery of death and eternity? How foolish to be engrossed in pursuits which will leave us destitute in the.hour of our greatest need!
IV. IF WE HAVE NOT SUBMITTED TO THE TRUE RELIGION IN PROSPERITY WE HAVE NO RIGHT TO EXPECT TO ENJOY THE REFUGE OF IT IN ADVERSITY. There are men who postpone attention to the claims of Christ till the time of trouble, and find no way to him when they most need him. They will "make their peace with God" on their death-bed. But this is not so easy as they suppose. Apart from the wickedness and insult to God which such conduct implies, it is also the height of folly, and is based on a complete misconception of the first elements of true religion. It is true that God is willing to receive us whenever we honestly return to him in repentance; but
(1) the selfish terror of approaching calamity is not repentance;
(2) genuine repentance, involving a change of desire, is not easily created by selfish fear;
(3) it is not well that men should too readily escape from all the consequences of their sins. - A.
I. IN WHAT THESE CONSIST.
1. Heartfelt sorrow and confession of sin.
2. Absolute yielding of oneself into the hands of God.
3. Forsaking the sins that have deceived and destroyed.
4. Serving Jehovah with new obedience and zeal.
II. How THESE APPEAL TO THE MIND OF GOD. "His soul was grieved for (literally, endured no longer) the misery of Israel." The alternate hardening and melting of God's soul an accommodation to man's conceptions and feelings; yet with a reality corresponding to them in the Divine nature. They have a disciplinary effect, and their succession is impressive. So God "repents." To our heavenly Father the proofs of our sincerity are an irresistible petition. He welcomes the first signs of true repentance, and leads it forth into saving faith. The truly repentant were never yet rejected. In working this repentance in their minds he began to answer their prayer even whilst rejecting it. - M.
I. REPENTANCE INVOLVES CONFESSION OF SIN. The people admit their guilt to themselves and declare it frankly to God.
1. We must confess sin. We cannot turn from sin till we are conscious of sin. God will not forgive our sin till we confess our guilt. These two things, the self-knowledge and the self-revelation before God, which are implied in confession, must be found in true repentance. Pride would simply forget the past, but this cannot be forgotten till it is forgiven, nor forgiven till it is confessed (1 John 1:9).
2. The confession must be to God; because
(1) it is against God that sin is committed;
(2) he alone can forgive sin;
(3) we have no warrant for believing that he delegates this Divine prerogative to any human deputy.
II. REPENTANCE INVOLVES SUBMISSION TO GOD. No repentance is complete which does not involve self-renunciation. This is necessary,
(1) because, since sin arises from self-will and rebellion against the will of God, the return from sin must be marked by a return to obedience;
(2) because the penitent is conscious of his utter ill desert, and of his absolute dependence on the mercy of God, so that he dares claim nothing but what God may think fit to give him, and knows that at the worst this can be no harder than what he merits; and
(3) because repentance involves the admission that while we were sinful and foolish in forsaking God, he was always good to us, and will never do for us anything short of what is best. Repentance thus recognises again the despised fatherhood of God, and willingly trusts to his grace.
III. REPENTANCE INVOLVES PRACTICAL AMENDMENT. The children of Israel put away the strange gods from among them, and served the Lord. If repentance is genuine it will show itself in conduct - it will bring forth fruits (Matthew 3:8). This does not imply -
1. That we must complete the reformation of our own lives before God will forgive us, because
(1) that is impossible (Jeremiah 13:23); and
(2) the very object of the gospel is to do this - i.e. to save us from our sins (Acts 3:26).
2. Neither does it imply that any measure of reformation will be regarded as penance, as sacrifice, as a meritorious work securing forgiveness, since the essence of forgiveness lies in its freeness. But it implies that the genuineness of repentance must be tested by its effects. Repentance is not a mere feeling of grief; it is not seated in the emotions, but in the will. It is a change of desire, and the wish to do better. This is active, and must manifest itself in conduct. The conduct will be twofold:
(1) the giving up of old evil ways, and
(2) the commencement of the service of God.
IV. REPENTANCE IS FOLLOWED BY TOKENS OF GOD'S MERCY. When the people repented God could no longer endure their misery. He never willingly afflicts (Lamentations 3:33). He only waits for our repentance to show his compassion. It is possible then because
(1) there is no longer the necessity for continued chastisement;
(2) the justice and righteousness of God no longer require him to look upon us in wrath; and
(3) we shall not be injured by the kindness which fails upon us in our humiliation, but rather healed and strengthened for a better life by the influence of God's love. - A.
I. BY PROMOTING THE UNITY OF GOD'S PEOPLE. The worship of Jehovah is the uniting and inspiring principle. All other worship disunites and weakens. The very site of their camp was instinct with solemn, Divine associations.
II. ENABLING THEM TO FACE RESOLUTELY THE GREATEST TROUBLES OF LIFE. Israel is in the field against Ammon, a circumstance full of meaning. When the Spirit of God enters a man he looks upon difficulties with a new resolution. It enables him "to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them."
III. RENDERING THEM WILLING TO ACCEPT THE LEADER GOD SHALL INDICATE. It is no lusting after a king now. The only King is Jehovah. But a leader and judge is sought. So the true Christian will reverence and follow all who are inspired and appointed by God. - M.