But the king must not acquire many horses for himself or send the people back to Egypt to acquire more horses, for the LORD has told you, 'You are never to go back that way again.'
I. THE DESIRE OF A KING ANTICIPATED. (Ver. 14.) Moses anticipates that, when settled in the land, the people would desire a king, that they might be like other nations. This was:
1. A desire springing from a wrong motive.
(1) As involving a low estimate of their privilege in being ruled directly by Jehovah. It was the glory and distinction of their nation that they had God so nigh them, and were under his immediate care and sovereignty. But they could not rise to the sublimity of this thought. They deemed it a grander thing to have a mortal as their king, to be like other nations, and be led, judged, and ruled by a visible monarch. Their demand was a substantial rejection of God, that he should not reign over them (1 Samuel 8:7).
(2) As involving the idea of a king modeled on the pattern of the kings around them. The king they wished for was one who would embody for them their own ideas of splendor and prowess, and these were of a purely carnal type. Saul, their first king, had many of the qualities which answered to their notion of a king, while David, ruling in humble subordination to the will and authority of Heaven, answered to the Divine idea. Piety and submission at every point to the will of God are not elements that bulk largely in the common conception of a monarch.
(3) As involving self-willedness. The people did not humbly present their case to God, and entreat him for a king. They took the law into their own hands, and demanded one, or rather they declared their intention of setting one over them, irrespective of whether God wished it or not.
2. A desire in some respects natural. The spiritual government of an invisible Ruler was an idea difficult to grasp. The mind craved for some concrete and visible embodiment of that authority under which they lived. It probably lay in God's purpose ultimately to give them a king, but it was necessary that they should be made first distinctly to feel their need of it. The need in human nature to which this points is adequately supplied in the Messianic King, Christ Jesus. The central idea of the Kingship of Christ is the personal indwelling of the Divine in the human. In Christ, moreover, is realized the three things which ancient nations sought for in their kings.
(1) An ideal of personal excellence. "Heroic kingship depended partly on divinely given prerogative, and partly on the possession of supereminent strength, courage, and wisdom" (Maine).
(2) A leader inspiring them with personal devotion.
(3) A bond of unity in the State, the monarch representing, as he does still, the whole system of law and authority which is centralized and embodied in his person. "The king is the dot on the i" (Hegel). The kingship in Israel typified that of Christ.
II. THE ELECTION OF A KING PROVIDED FOR. (Ver. 15.) The position of king in Israel was essentially different from that of the monarch of any other nation. While discharging the same general functions as other kings (ruling, judging, leading in battle), his authority was checked and limited in ways that theirs was not. He was no irresponsible despot, whose will was law and who governed as he listed. He filled the throne, not as absolute and independent sovereign, but only as the deputy of Jehovah, and ruled simply in the name and in subordination to the will of God - in this respect affording another marked type of God's true king, whom he has set on his holy hill of Zion (Psalm it.). This fact gave rise to a second peculiarity, that he had no authority to make laws, but only to administer the Law already given. The manner of his election corresponded to these peculiarities of his position.
1. He was chosen under Divine guidance (cf. 1 Samuel 10:20, 21).
2. The Divine choice was ratified by the free election of the people (1 Samuel 10:24). From which we learn
(1) that the throne is strong only when it rests on the free choice, and on the loyal affection of the body of the people
(2) That kingly like all other authority, is derived from God. This is a truth of general application, though it was in a peculiar sense true of Israel. The Scripture gives no sanction to the "right Divine of kings to govern wrong." But popular sentiment has always recognized that a certain "divinity doth hedge a king." Ancient nations (Egypt, etc.) held him to be the representative of God on earth. The state and style with which a monarch is surrounded, and the homage paid to him, are expressions of the same idea. He embodies the functions of government, and has honor, majesty, and high-sounding titles bestowed on him on that ground. But this is simply to say that in certain respects he represents Deity. To constitute perfect "Divine right," it would be necessary:
(a) That a monarch should occupy the throne with perfect Divine sanction. Most rulers, on ascending the throne, try to make out, however weakly, some shadow of right to it.
(b) That he should govern in perfect accordance with the Divine will. The only perfect case of ruling by Divine fight is the reign of Christ.
III. THE CHARACTER OF THE KING DELINEATED. (Vers. 15-20.) He was to be an Israelite - one of themselves. Then:
1. He was not to multiply horses to himself, that is:
(1) He was not to be ambitious of military distinction.
(2) He was not to place his main reliance for the defense of the nation on extravagant military preparations.
(3) He was not, for the sake of supposed material advantage, to lead the people into ensnaring alliances.
2. He was not to multiply wives to himself. That is:
(1) He was to avoid enervating luxury.
(2) His court was to be chaste and pure. Cf. Tennyson, 'To the Queen:' "Her court was pure; her life serene," etc.; and 'Dedication' to the Idyls -
"Who reverenced his conscience as his king; 3. He was not to multiply to himself silver and gold; that is, he was not to affect the dazzle of imperial splendor, but to be simple and unostentatious in his manner of life. But: 4. He was to be a diligent student of the Word of God. (1) He was to write out with his own hand a copy of the Law. (2) He was to read in it diligently all the days of his life; the result of which would be: (a) That he would be kept in the way of obedience; (b) that his heart would be preserved humble towards God and his brethren; and (c) he and his seed would enjoy prosperity on the throne. What a noble sketch of the model king, yet how contrary to current ideas of royal greatness! We have happily been taught in our own country to appreciate the advantages of a pure court, and to feel its wholesome influence on the general tone of morals, and we are able to understand, also, the beneficial effect of uprightness and piety in a sovereign in adding to the love, esteem, and reverence with which the sovereign is regarded; but how far are we from dissociating the greatness of a reign from its external splendor, its military conquests, the wealth and luxury of its aristocracy, the figure it displays in the eyes of other nations, and the terror with which it can inspire them! Nor do we look in sovereigns generally for all the virtues which we find in our own, but are apt to condone want of piety, and even acts of great iniquity, if they but prove themselves to be bold, energetic, and enterprising rulers. The character of the sovereign is in some respects of less moment than it once was, but its influence for good or evil is still very great, and the evil fruits reaped from the court life, say of a Charles II. or a George IV., are not exhausted in one or a few generations. Piety upon the throne will lead to piety in the court and throughout the nation, and will give an impulse to everything else that is good. Whereas an evil and corrupting example sows seeds of mischief, which may involve the nation in the greatest losses and disasters (see Massillon's sermon, 'Des Exemples des Grands'). - J.O.
3. He was not to multiply to himself silver and gold; that is, he was not to affect the dazzle of imperial splendor, but to be simple and unostentatious in his manner of life. But:
4. He was to be a diligent student of the Word of God.
(1) He was to write out with his own hand a copy of the Law.
(2) He was to read in it diligently all the days of his life; the result of which would be:
(a) That he would be kept in the way of obedience;
(b) that his heart would be preserved humble towards God and his brethren; and
(c) he and his seed would enjoy prosperity on the throne. What a noble sketch of the model king, yet how contrary to current ideas of royal greatness! We have happily been taught in our own country to appreciate the advantages of a pure court, and to feel its wholesome influence on the general tone of morals, and we are able to understand, also, the beneficial effect of uprightness and piety in a sovereign in adding to the love, esteem, and reverence with which the sovereign is regarded; but how far are we from dissociating the greatness of a reign from its external splendor, its military conquests, the wealth and luxury of its aristocracy, the figure it displays in the eyes of other nations, and the terror with which it can inspire them! Nor do we look in sovereigns generally for all the virtues which we find in our own, but are apt to condone want of piety, and even acts of great iniquity, if they but prove themselves to be bold, energetic, and enterprising rulers. The character of the sovereign is in some respects of less moment than it once was, but its influence for good or evil is still very great, and the evil fruits reaped from the court life, say of a Charles II. or a George IV., are not exhausted in one or a few generations. Piety upon the throne will lead to piety in the court and throughout the nation, and will give an impulse to everything else that is good. Whereas an evil and corrupting example sows seeds of mischief, which may involve the nation in the greatest losses and disasters (see Massillon's sermon, 'Des Exemples des Grands'). - J.O.
Ye shall henceforth return no more that way.
Preacher's Monthly.! — Touching and sad is the last look of the emigrant leaving his old home and the white cliffs of his native land. Some partings have in them more than sorrow. Never again! is a mournful utterance. It has in it warning, admonition, and counsel.
1. The ways of youth are not to be trodden by us again. We are ever entering into new paths. Personality is ever changing, while individual identity remains the same.
2. The ways of possible improvement in the past cannot be trodden again. The capabilities of the organ are limited by its compass and the number of its stops. But within the necessary limits what marvellous varieties of music can be brought out of it! Our life, with measured capacities, is the instrument, and we the players. In the exercise of responsible will we can bring out heavenly harmonies, or unearthly discords. How the great player wishes the audience could come back and hear what he feels he can do now. But the chance is gone. Nothing can be done with the past.
3. If the past cannot be lived over again, it is our duty to make the best of our present. There is much to be done for ourselves and others.
I. I CANNOT DO WHAT I THEN MISSED DOING.
1. What thought I of myself?
2. Did I seek God's way or my own?
II. I CANNOT UNDO WHAT I HAVE DONE. What manner of tracks did I leave in the way?
3. Temptations to others to do wrong.
III. IN VIEW OF THIS, HOW SHOULD I WALK?
1. Confessing my past sins.
2. Repenting of, and forsaking them.
3. Exercising a cheerful faith.
4. Doing good to all men as opportunity offers.Lessons:
1. Sad and solemn things are in the past.
2. Eternal things are before us.
I. IT IS NOW A MOST SIGNIFICANT TIME FOR THE TAKING OF SPIRITUAL STOCK. Most religious people would be glad to know just where they are, and how the balance stands. It is well to have a clearing out, even if one is afraid he may be suffocated with the lifted dust.
II. THEN, AGAIN, THIS IS A GOOD TIME FOR US TO GIVE OVER LACKADAISICAL COMPLAININGS ABOUT SHORT CHANCES IN THE PAST. You will not have to take the same chances again. "Ye shall henceforth return no more by that way" of youth. But does anybody really want to do that? Victor Hugo confessed to his close friends that the most disagreeable advance in age to him had been that from thirty-nine to forty. "But," said his companion, "I should think it a great deal brighter to be forty than fifty." "Not at all," replied Hugo, gaily; "forty years is the old age of youth, while fifty is the youth of old age." Ah, just think how many fine chances yet wait for a brave heart in the beautiful future which we hope to enter on after next New Year's day!
III. IT IS BEST FOR US NOW, ALSO, TO KEEP A CLEAR LOOK OUT FOR WHAT IS STILL AHEAD. Almost all of us have some past worth looking over. But the glory of every true life is in the time to come. God has not yet exhausted Himself in apocalypses of splendid radiance to His waiting people. There certainly is, in the distance, that which "eye hath not seen nor ear heard." And wise men, while the years chime on, might well think of readiness to make the great journey and meet the revelations.
IV. ONCE MORE; BY THIS TIME WE OUGHT TO LEARN TO ESTIMATE RESULTS AND FORGET PROCESSES. We do really respect hills that we have climbed painfully over; but it awakes no emotion in others when we keep rehearsing the steps which we took, and the snows we met, and the winds that we resisted. Wiser is it always to let the dead past bury its dead out of sight. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way"; and to some the past year has been a year of conflict; and who wants to go over all that again? Please remember, moments of success are not always moments of happiness; much depends on what the success has cost. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way"; to some the past year has been one of self-discipline. How much it costs just to make a slender progress in Divine things!
V. FINALLY, THIS IS THE TIME IN WHICH TO INQUIRE AFTER WORK YET LEFT UNFINISHED. We should bring our unfulfilled resolutions to God, and ask Him to grant us time to complete them.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
II. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way," TO MAKE IMPERFECT GOOD BETTER. The merchant who has been slothful, inattentive, cannot live over again the months that are gone. The transactions and figures in his books are unalterable. He cannot transport industry into past idleness, nor introduce a single item of gain into past losses. Not a stroke of work is possible in time that is over, not a sixpence of profit can be added to the accounts which are closed. It is the same thing with the student. When his examinations are over, if his session has been indolent, unsuccessful, he cannot improve the work which has been unsatisfactorily performed. He may be grieved and ashamed that his time has been so little devoted to his vocation. But the insufficiency of the past is beyond his reach. The culture of the field and the vineyard exhibits the same law. If there has been neglect or inadequate tillage, when harvest time arrives there is no going back to re-sow or re-tend. There must be scanty crops, dwindled grain and fruit, and only half-filled ears and half-laden boughs. These laws have their fulfilment in the domain of spiritual life. In the day of reckoning you cannot number profits where there have been no gains, nor number victories, if no achievements have been won. The popular proverb says, "It is never too late to mend." True, it is never too late to mend in the present, but always too late to mend in the past. The path of time gone by is closed.
III. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way," TO USE NEGLECTED OPPORTUNITY. Christian, thou hast had thine opportunities. Perhaps, when thou wert blind — blinded by thy tears — thy opportunities were the nearest to thee. The Lord, it may be, laid Himself out with parental tenderness to purify thee by disappointment, crosses, and suffering. Yet thou sawest no bright avenues crossing the path of thy shade, and conducting to beauty and peace. Has seed been put into thy hand, and hast thou not sown it? Has fruit hung within thy reach, and hast thou not plucked it? Has blessing been committed to thy solemn trust, and hast thou not scattered it? To all neglecters, opportunity is a narrowing path, which at length vanishes in trackless wilds; to the obedient, it is an ever-expanding, ascending, and illumined career, and into it all courses run which lead to glory, honour, and immortality. Every precious opportunity of each departed year is now dead to thee, dead to thine effort and industry.
IV. "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way," TO ENCOUNTER PAST TRIAL, GUILT, AND SUFFERING. Do manifold imperfection and unworthiness bow thee down? Have they cost thee tears? Are they the burden of thy prayers? Dost thou daily struggle for the mastery of self, and sin, and Satan; and yet do thy besetments discourage thee? In the years now behind thee, has the firmament of thy soul often been dull and sunless, and even louring and tempestuous? Thou wilt never tread that path any more. New ground is before thee, and every step is towards the light. Conclusion:
1. The peculiar character of the Gospel is due to the fact that we cannot undo the past. Sin remains. Moral laws are immutable in their foundations, and their penalties are irrepealable. But the Lord Jesus has effected a saving work. He stands between the sinner and the woe that pursues him. He fulfils, honours, and satisfies broken laws, and covers the defenceless head of the contrite, and turns aside the merited destruction which was sweeping towards him.
2. Since what is done cannot by you be undone, are you to sit down and weep the tears of despair? My message is salvation, but not salvation which you can effect in time that is gone. The great lesson is, Act in the present.
3. Let the sincere Christian be comforted. The Lord has borne your sins. Your holy life is watched and guarded by His sheltering love. Ponder what you have done. Throw away no lessons which it offers. Be true to your past experience and conviction. But brood not over bygone evil.
4. Let us be up and doing; for all things pure and beautiful sweep along the upward groove of progress to perfection. The movement of every world and sun and system is onward.
5. In a few more breaths thy life may close. The Lord may be saying with the most literal emphasis, "Ye shall henceforth return no more that way" — "no more" the way to business, "no more" the way to the house of thy friend, "no more" the way to the church, "no more" the way to thy family and home, "no more" the way from the grave whither thou thyself shalt have been carried.
(H. Batchelor.)I. I can conceive THAT TO SOME OF US THERE MAY BE RELIEF AND EVEN COMFORT IN THIS ASSURANCE. The experiences through which we have come may have been such that we cannot wish for their renewal. The path over which we have passed may have been so rough and steep and dangerous that we cannot contemplate traversing it again without a shudder. When I was in Chamounix, last summer, a friend who had crossed the glacier and come down by the "Mauvais Pas," on which the iron railing put for the safety of travellers had parted from its fastenings in his grasp, assured me that be would not go through that experience again for all that earth could give. And there may be not a few among us who feel just in the same way concerning some chapters in our last year's life. We are, perhaps, thankful to be through them, but we do not wish to repeat them. We feel regarding them as one does who has come safely out of a terrible railway accident, or who sets his foot on land after a dangerous and tempestuous voyage. We are glad that we have escaped, but, even although we should escape another time, we do not desire to be again in the same peril. Some, too, may have had such a time of labour and anxiety that they are glad to think that it is now behind them and not to be renewed. And some there are who have had such a fierce fight with temptation, and have come out of it, victorious indeed, yet with such exhaustion that they cannot but rejoice in the thought that now it is all behind them in "the irrevocable past." They are glad for the result, but they would not willingly go back into the agony of the conflict. So this text, taken as an assurance, that we cannot re-live our lives, or go again through the experiences of the past, has in it an element of comfort. It is a relief to know that some things are over and done with.
II. But there is ANOTHER SIDE TO THE SUBJECT, AND THAT IS FULL OF SOLEMNITY, NOT UNATTENDED WITH SORROW, For in the past there are many things which now we wish had been otherwise. Our afterthought has shown us much to which our forethought was blind; but we cannot alter anything now. The past is always seen more correctly after it has become the past than it was when it was present. Lost opportunities cannot be recalled, and no cement of human device can mend a broken vow. Ah! what a sad reflection have we here! You cannot recall the profane word; you cannot wipe out the impure act; you cannot undo the sins you have committed. What then? What is to be done with it? I answer, that if we cannot cancel it, we can confess the evil that is in it, and seek through Jesus Christ forgiveness for that. If we please, we can obtain, through the great atonement, acceptance with God notwithstanding our sins. The sting of our guilt may be extracted, and the past may cease to be a clog upon our spiritual progress.
III. And then, turning the thought which the words of my text express, WE MAY MAKE IT FULL OF ADMONITION TO OURSELVES FOR THE FUTURE. We are about to enter upon a path in which there will be no possibility of retracing our steps; let us be very careful, therefore, where we plant our feet. We have only once to live; therefore let us live to purpose. The day that dawned this morning will never dawn again. So let us seize every moment as it comes, and use it as we shall wish we had done when we look back upon it from eternity. Remember, the year does not come to you all at once, in twelve months at a time, nor even in twelve distinct installments of a month each; no, nor yet in three hundred and sixty-five separate portions of a day apiece: but in individual moments. Do not, therefore, lose the moments in thinking that you will secure the year; but consider that the year is to be redeemed by the consecration of each moment to the Lord Jesus. Fill every day with His service.
(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
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