1 Kings 20:11
And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girds on his harness boast himself as he that puts it off.

Such was the reply of Ahab, King of Israel, to the vain-glorious boast of Ben-hadad, King of Syria: "The gods do so unto me, and more also, if the dust of Samaria shall Suffice for handfuls for all the people that follow me." "Tell him," Ahab said, "Let not him that girdeth on his harness" — that is, his armour — "boast himself as he that putteth it off." And the result, as you will see from the history, was, that Ben hadad suffered two disgraceful and disastrous defeats, and was compelled to sue for mercy from the king whom he had so insolently challenged. Ahab's reply, however, was simply a proverb — a homely, pithy proverb of the day, admitting of a thousand applications.

1. There is a certain self-confidence, which is natural to youth, and which sits not ungracefully upon it. It has been cleverly said, "that conceit is a young man's capital." A young man has to learn by actual trial what he can do, and what he cannot do; and he requires a certain amount of self-confidence to give him the necessary courage to experiment with his untried powers, until he knows what direction they must take. As Carlyle says, in his quaint forcible way, "The painfullest feeling is that of your own feebleness: ever, as Milton says, to be weak is the true misery. And yet of your strength there is and can be no clear feeling, save by what you have prospered in, by what you have done. Between vague wavering capability and fixed indubitable performance, what a difference! A certain inarticulate self-consciousness dwells dimly in us; which only our works can render articulate and decisively discernible. Our works are the mirror wherein the spirit first sees its natural lineaments. Hence, too, the folly of that impossible precept, Know thyself; till it be translated into this partially possible one, Know what thou canst work at." For the same reason, youth is the time of criticism. We all know how unsparingly, how unmercifully, the young criticise the proceedings of their elders. The excuse for it is, that they are trying to see or feel their way to action; and they have a keen eye, therefore, and a sharp tongue, for the actions of those around them, upon whom the weight of the world's work is for the time being falling. As they get under the yoke themselves, this criticising, censorious temper will leave them.

2. One of the great poets of Greece has a saying to the effect, that the reverses of life are sometimes so terrible, that it is impossible to pronounce upon any life, in the way of estimate of its happiness or its misery, until the end is reached. History, both sacred and profane, enforces this lesson with a thousand examples testifying to its truth. Even the noblest lives are often crossed and barred with bands of shadow, nay, of darkness. Think of Abraham; think of David; each falling, in a moment of weakness and temptation, to a point of shame and infamy, in which the true self was lost in the false. And when we pass from the pages of the Bible to the pages of common history, or to our own experience of life, it may well exclude all boasting to mark how hard the actors in life's busy and varied scene have ever found, and do still find, it to maintain a uniformly lofty level of thought and speech and action. Think of the great Frenchman, Bossuet; of our own great Englishman, Bacon. When such men go wrong, men so gifted and so good, we may well tremble for ourselves. Some of us, who are getting on in life, know what it is, perhaps, to come across letters of twenty or thirty or forty years ago, written by ourselves, or by dear friends and relatives, at a time when our own lives were entirely unformed, and when what was then our future was, in anticipation, as little like as it could well be to what has since become our past. Each stage of life shades, as a general rule, by such imperceptible degrees into the next stage, that it needs an experience of this kind to bring home to our minds the strange uncertainty and the curious waywardness of the future, which lies before the young.

3. Very different views may be taken, and, as a matter of fact, are taken, upon the subject of the ordinance of confirmation. We all know that it is not a sacrament, not an ordinance of Christ's own appointment, but, simply, an ecclesiastical ordinance; and, as such, one that must justify itself by actual trial. I am asking you, in the interest of the young, to consider the initial principles, which they ought to take with them into the conduct of life. And I value confirmation for this, more than for anything else, that it explains so clearly what those principles are, and brings them home to us so forcibly. It should never be forgotten that confirmation loses the greatest part of its meaning if it is postponed until late on in life. It was intended to meet the young at the very threshold of adult life; just when the first "years of discretion" were beginning to come, freighted with many an anxious thought, to them. And whenever in after years such thoughts come to us, it is well for us to go back to our confirmation, and to welcome its deep yet simple teaching upon the great ruling principles of the conduct of life. Again and again we ask ourselves, not merely at the outset of mature life, but in its onward course, "What am I to God? What am I to the world of men around me?" Let us think for a moment what solid and direct answers the ordinance of confirmation returns to these momentous questions. Our answer, if we will but think of our confirmation and its meaning, is ready at once: "I am the child of God; I am a member of the one great household and family of God; I have a work to do in the world for God, a place to fill, to His glory, and to the good of my fellow-men, who are all co-members with me in the same great world-wide and time-wide family and household." Time-wide and world-wide, do I say? Nay, rather eternity itself is the true measure of this universal family of God, whose sacred bond death itself is powerless to dissolve.

4. More particularly I would commend to you, one and all, the thoughts which confirmation teaches us to associate with our work in life and our place in life. Both in the Old Testament and in the New, we find the imposition of hands closely connected with a consecration to a particular work, or office, or function.

(D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the king of Israel answered and said, Tell him, Let not him that girdeth on his harness boast himself as he that putteth it off.

WEB: The king of Israel answered, "Tell him, 'Don't let him who puts on his armor brag like he who takes it off.'"

Ben-Hadad: Boastful Beginnings and Bitter Endings
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