But now listen, O Jacob My servant, Israel, whom I have chosen.
I. ADDRESS OF JEHOVAH TO THE PEOPLE. There are three names for the people - Jacob, Israel, Jesurun - and each represents a separate phase of moral progress.
1. Jacob, my servant. This itself is a title of honour. To be the minister of the will of an earthly sovereign is a proud distinction: how much more to wear the badge of the King of kings! Moreover, in ancient times servitude often meant confidence and friendship of the happiest kind between two souls. The name of Jacob, too, calls up memorable associations: a life of vicissitude and adventure, cheered by the constant presence of God; of notorious faults and weaknesses united with victorious faith; of a struggle to realize the Divine reality of love richly rewarded. The history of Jacob is beloved because it typifies the union of the human with the Divine - in the people, in all believing men.
2. Israel the chosen. One foreknown, selected, predestinated from the first to fulfil the ends of God. From the beginning of their history, the Divine hand had formed and moulded all Israel's restitutions. As the organism lies implicit in the cell of protoplasm, as the oak may be seen in miniature in the acorn, so Israel sprang from a thought of God.
3. Jesurun the upright one. An imputed righteousness, we are told, is meant. Others say it is a word of flattery and endearment - a diminutive form of "Israel." If the two ideas may be combined, then the chosen and beloved of God will be upright in the thought of God. To say that God "imputes" righteousness to those who have it not in themselves, what is it but to ascribe to him the most beautiful effect and operation of love? It is to say that Israel is by him idealized. And to feel this about ourselves means deliverance from despair in those moments when in the mirror of conscience we behold a hideous self-reflection, or when we perceive how cheaply we are held by the world -
"All I can never be, II. PROMISE OF JEHOVAH. 1. The outpouring of the Spirit. Let us transport ourselves in fancy from these moist atmospheres and dripping skies of Britain to yonder burning Orient clime. Then and there let us bathe ourselves in the generous bounty of those refreshing words, "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and streams upon the dry ground." But we need not go to the Orient to experience drought of soul. We may find reading "dry," and preaching drier, our own minds driest of all; nothing growing within us, nor promising to grow. And for the future the prospect seems equally cheerless. Nothing is left us but this Word of God; but all is left us in that Word. Thinking of snow will not cool us; the imagination of water will not refresh us in our thirst; but faith in God, the realization of what he is in this relation to us, remains the one resource which Scripture offers to us. 2. The spiritual posterity. Biblical promises respect the "solidarity" of life. That which we moderns call "individualism" appears to be unknown. As the curse, so also the blessing, goes on working to the "third and fourth generation," nay, to "a thousand generations," under the dispensation of a covenant-keeping God. Nay, it is conceived as abiding through time into eternity - "a seed established for ever, a throne built up to all generations" (Psalm 89:4). Here the abundance of Israel's spiritual posterity is imaged as grass by the waters, or as the tall and graceful poplars by the artificial water-courses. "A tree planted by the rivers of water;... Thy years shall be as the years of a tree:" what more beautiful and touching image? The tree is typical of life in its strength, its gracefulness, its fruitfulness. These shall be its characteristics in the Messianic age. The Church will finally embrace the world. Proselytes will come thronging to her threshold. They will join in one confession. It will be recorded that this and that man was born anew in Zion (Psalm 87.). Each Jew will be as it were the centre of a little synagogue; ten men will seize his skirts and say, "We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you" (Zechariah 8:23). The frequent confession will be heard, "I belong to Jehovah;" or be found taking upon his person the stigmata, or sacred marks, which denote him as vowed to Jehovah's service (cf. Herod., 2:113). We may learn: (1) The blessedness of pious parents, and their corresponding responsibilities. (2) The gift of God's Spirit is the source of true happiness and prosperity. Piety alone can be the root of the Church's and the nation's weal. (3) God will never permit true religion to be extinct. It may appear to wither; but so long as he lives it will certainly know its recurring times of revival. - J.
II. PROMISE OF JEHOVAH.
1. The outpouring of the Spirit. Let us transport ourselves in fancy from these moist atmospheres and dripping skies of Britain to yonder burning Orient clime. Then and there let us bathe ourselves in the generous bounty of those refreshing words, "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and streams upon the dry ground." But we need not go to the Orient to experience drought of soul. We may find reading "dry," and preaching drier, our own minds driest of all; nothing growing within us, nor promising to grow. And for the future the prospect seems equally cheerless. Nothing is left us but this Word of God; but all is left us in that Word. Thinking of snow will not cool us; the imagination of water will not refresh us in our thirst; but faith in God, the realization of what he is in this relation to us, remains the one resource which Scripture offers to us.
2. The spiritual posterity. Biblical promises respect the "solidarity" of life. That which we moderns call "individualism" appears to be unknown. As the curse, so also the blessing, goes on working to the "third and fourth generation," nay, to "a thousand generations," under the dispensation of a covenant-keeping God. Nay, it is conceived as abiding through time into eternity - "a seed established for ever, a throne built up to all generations" (Psalm 89:4). Here the abundance of Israel's spiritual posterity is imaged as grass by the waters, or as the tall and graceful poplars by the artificial water-courses. "A tree planted by the rivers of water;... Thy years shall be as the years of a tree:" what more beautiful and touching image? The tree is typical of life in its strength, its gracefulness, its fruitfulness. These shall be its characteristics in the Messianic age. The Church will finally embrace the world. Proselytes will come thronging to her threshold. They will join in one confession. It will be recorded that this and that man was born anew in Zion (Psalm 87.). Each Jew will be as it were the centre of a little synagogue; ten men will seize his skirts and say, "We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you" (Zechariah 8:23). The frequent confession will be heard, "I belong to Jehovah;" or be found taking upon his person the stigmata, or sacred marks, which denote him as vowed to Jehovah's service (cf. Herod., 2:113). We may learn:
(1) The blessedness of pious parents, and their corresponding responsibilities.
(2) The gift of God's Spirit is the source of true happiness and prosperity. Piety alone can be the root of the Church's and the nation's weal.
(3) God will never permit true religion to be extinct. It may appear to wither; but so long as he lives it will certainly know its recurring times of revival. - J.
Yet now hear, O Jacob, My servant.
(J. Stalker, D. D.)
1. This was the name of the natural man. After he had received his new name the very mention of the old one must have reminded him of the evil time when he was an unbrotherly brother and an unfilial son. It is true that, while he was still Jacob, he went through the experience of Bethel, where he saw the vision of the ladder reaching up to heaven. This is usually regarded as his conversion, but, if it was, he was afterwards a backslider, for his subsequent life in Padan-aram was far more guided by selfish cleverness than by the law of God. The name Jacob, in short, was a memorial of a youth of sin and of a manhood of worldliness. But is it not, thus understood, an appropriate name for the people of God? Is there not for them also a bad past to remember? It is well sometimes to go back to what we were, because the old habits may still spring up and trouble us; though we may now have received a new name, the old Jacob is in us still. Above all, we ought to go back on that old time, because it helps to magnify the grace which brought us out of it.
2. But there is another idea inseparably connected with the name of Jacob: it is that of Divine choice. In our text this is very prominent — "Israel, whom I have chosen, "Jesurun, whom I have chosen." It is, indeed, connected with the other two names here, because these indicate that to which he was chosen. But he was the choice of God, in preference to Esau, while he was still Jacob. As He chose Jacob, while he was still Jacob, so He loved us while we were yet sinners.
1. The patriarch received a new name because he had become a new man. God does not trifle with such things. A change of name among, us may be a mere freak of caprice; but when God deliberately changed a man s name, it was an outward monument of an inward change. If it did not mean that the natural man, which the name Jacob designated, was entirely exterminated, it meant that it was so far overcome that the complexion of the life would henceforth be different. The reign of selfishness and worldliness was over, and a new spirit had entered in and taken possession If we ask how this came about, it may have been a slower and more complex process than we have any record of; for what appears a sudden spiritual change is often only the culmination of movements going on for a long time before. But what we are permitted to see clearly in the records of the patriarch's life is the midnight scene on the bank of the Jabbok. It is far away, and it is evidently concealed under forms of speech which are now alien to us; but this at least is evident, that the patriarch was that night, if a homely phrase may be allowed, at cross grips with God. That night God was not to him vague and far-off, but intensely real and very near; and Jacob had transactions with Him face to face — ay, hand to hand. Is not this what the religion of many people lacks? To a certain extent they are religious. Yet somehow it never comes to close quarters between them and God. What they need is Christ, the reconciler.
2. But the new name of Israel denoted more than this. It was expressly said to him, as he received it, "As a prince hast thou had power with God and hast prevailed," and this was what the name meant — the possession of power with God. Evidently a great crisis had come in Jacob's experience, in which his will came into collision with the will Divine. But what an unequal struggle! The mysterious man had only to touch Jacob in the seat of his strength, and it yielded in a moment; the sinew shrank, and he could struggle no more. Yet in the moment when he appeared to be thoroughly beaten, it turned out that he had gained the victory and won the blessing. This is not so mysterious as it looks. It is repeated in every great spiritual crisis. It is through such experiences that men and women enter into the secret of the Lord, become mighty in prayer, are endowed with spiritual power, and if they do not receive new names on earth, yet obtain a stamp and a signature of character leaving no doubt that they have new names in heaven.
III. JESHURUN. There is no evidence that this name belonged to the third patriarch, though it may have done so. But there can be little doubt that, standing where it does, alongside of the other two, it was meant, like them, for a symbol of character. The root from which it appears to be derived means straight or upright, and this is its most probable meaning. This was precisely the development of character which the third patriarch needed, after he had received the new name of Israel. What happened the very next morning after the great midnight scene on which we have been looking? He went forth to meet his brother Esau; and this is the account of how he behaved: "Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold Esau came, and with him four hundred men;... and he bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother." Bowed himself — to the ground — seven times! This to his own brother! What was he bowing for? Why could he not stand up straight on his feet and look his brother in the face? Read the whole account of the preparations and dispositions which he elaborated before meeting Esau, and of the sly, suspicious way in which he met and managed his rough but generous brother, and you will feel inclined to sneer: Is this the man who was called last night a prince who had power with God? There is far too much bowing and becking, twisting and turning. This man is not straight; he is not upright. It seems to me that sometimes in people who have had their Bethels and Hahanaims and Peniels, and can speak to you about experiences of struggle and emptying, and of being filled with the Holy Spirit, there is a defect of a similar kind. Although they have had dealings with God, and feel themselves on a footing of reconciliation with Him, they are not right in their dealings with men. There are few things which so injure the cause of religion in the world as these defects of men of God. On the contrary, how noble and God-honouring a sight it is when one who is a prince with God is acknowledged on earth also to be a princely man; and when one who has power with God has at the same time influence with men through his manliness, uprightness, and charity. Our text is a message of hope. It speaks of the possibilities of spiritual transformation and development.
(J. Stalker, D. D.)
I. THE PATH OF TRANSFORMATION. Every "Jacob" may become a "righteous one" if he will tread Jacob's road. We start with that first name of nature which, according to Esau's bitter etymology of it, meant "a supplanter," — not without some suggestions of craft and treachery in it. It is descriptive of the natural disposition of the patriarch, which was by no means attractive. All through his earlier career he does not look like the stuff of which heroes and saints are made. But in the mid-path of his life there came that hour of deep dejection and helplessness when, driven out of all dependence on self, and feeling round in his agony for something to lay hold upon, there came into this nightly solitude a vision of God. In conscious weakness, and in the confidence of self-despair, he wrestled with the mysterious Visitant in the only fashion in which He can be wrestled with. "He wept and made supplication to Him," as one of the prophets puts it, and so he bore away the threefold gift-blessing from those mighty lips whose blessing is the communication, and not only the invocation of the mercy, a deeper knowledge of that Divine and mysterious Name, and for him. self a new name. That new name implied a new direction given to his character. Hitherto he had wrestled with men whom he would supplant, for his own advantage, by craft and subtlety; henceforward he strove with God for higher blessings, which, in striving, he won. All the rest of his life was on a loftier plane. That is the outline of the only way in which, from out of the evil and the sinfulness of our natural disposition, any of us can be raised to the loftiness and purity of a righteous life. There must be a Peniel between the two halves of the character if there is to be transformation. How different that path is from the road which men are apt to take in working out their own self-improvement! How many forms of religion, and how many toiling souls in effect just reverse the process, and say practically — first make yourselves righteous, and then you will get communion with God. That is an endless and a hopeless task! This sequence, too, may very fairly be used to teach us the lesson that there is no kind of character so debased but that it may partake of the purifying and ennobling influence.
II. THE LAW FOR THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. There are some religious people that seem to think that it is enough if only they can say: "Well! I have been to Jesus Christ, and I have got my past sins forgiven; I have been on the mountain and have held communion with God." Now, the order of these names here points the lesson that the apex of the pyramid, the goal of the whole course, is — righteousness. God does not tell us His name merely in order that we may know His name, but in order that, knowing it, we may be smitten with the love of it, and so may come into the likeness of it. Take, then, these three names of my text as preaching, in antique guise, the same lesson that the very Apostle of affectionate contemplation uttered with such earnestness: "Little children! let no man deceive you. He that doeth righteousness is righteous, even as He is righteous."
III. THE MERCIFUL JUDGMENT WHICH GOD MAKES OF THE CHARACTER OF THEM THAT LOVE HIM. Jeshurun means "the righteous one." How far beneath the ideal of the name these Jewish people fell we all know, and yet the name is applied to them. Although the realisation of the ideal has been so imperfect, the ideal is not destroyed. And so we Christian people find that the New Testament calls us "saints." All wrong-doing is inconsistent with Christianity, but it is not for us to say that any wrong-doing is incompatible with it; and therefore for ourselves there is hope, and for our estimate of one another there is the lesson of charity, and for all Christian people there is a lesson — live up to your name. Noblesse oblige! Fulfil your ideal. Be what God calls you, and "press toward the mark for the prize."
IV. THE UNION BETWEEN THE FOUNDER OF THE NATION AND THE NATION. The name of the patriarch passes to his descendants, the nation is called after him that begat it. In some sense it prolongs his life and spirit and character upon the earth. That is the old-world way of looking at the solidarity of a nation. There is a New Testament fact that goes even deeper than that. The names which Christ bears are given to Christ's followers. Is He a King, is He a Priest? He makes us kings and priests. Is He anointed the Messiah? God "hath anointed us in Him." Is He the light of the world? "Ye are the light of the world." His life passeth into all that love Him in the measure of their trust and love.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
1. As the servants of God. How great the honour to be acknowledged as a servant of the King of kings!
2. As the people of His special choice.
3. As the objects of His wonderful interpositions. The words, "Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb," refer to them in their national character. The relationship He sustained to them, and the great things He had done for them, are employed as arguments to inspire them with confidence, and lead them to be of good courage.
II. A PROMISE EMINENTLY CHEERING. "For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty," &c. They are evidently spiritual blessings which are here promised, of which water is frequently employed as an emblem. In this passage we are reminded of the following particulars.
1. Their nature. In some places the cleansing property of water is intended. At other times its quality of quenching the thirst is set forth. But it is to be understood here in connection with its refreshing and fertilising influences.
2. Their value. We have but a faint conception of the importance of water, on account of its being so common with us. But, in those countries where it is scarce, its worth is very differently estimated.
3. Their seasonableness. When the soil is parched through long-continued drought, how welcome are the genial showers. And to the dry and barren soul, how cheering are the waters of life and salvation!
4. Their abundance. "I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground." Nor are they ample in quantity alone, but in their range they are most extensive. Besides embracing the people of God themselves, they also embrace their offspring.
III. A RESULT TRULY REFRESHING. "One shall say, I am the Lord's; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel." We have here —
1. An important principle indicated. It is that God's own people must be first revived before large accessions can be expected to the Church from without.
2. The blessed truth declared.
I. THE LORD COMFORTS HIS PEOPLE BY THE REMEMBRANCE OF WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR THEM. Taking the text as our guide, let us notice —
1. The grace we have experienced in its practical effect. To make us God's servants — "Yet now hear, O Jacob, My servant." We may be unfaithful servants: we certainly are unprofitable odes, but, if not awfully deceived, we are His true servants. We were once the servants of sin and the slaves of our own passions, but He who made us free has now taken us into His own family and taught us obedience to His will.
2. This grace is peculiar, discriminating and distinguishing. "My chosen."
3. Reflect again upon the ennobling influence of grace. The people are first called Jacob, but only in the next line they are styled Israel. You and I were but of the common order. If we had boasted of anything we should have been called Jacobs, supplanters, boasting beyond our line; but as Jacob at the brook Jabbok wrestled with the angel and prevailed, and gained the august title of prince — prevailing prince — even so has grace ennobled us!
4. The text conducts us onward to notice the creating and sustaining energy of that grace. "Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb." Men might as well claim the honour of creation or resurrection as boast of commencing their own spiritual life.
5. This" grace has the characteristic, of intense,, affection in it. God gives to His people the title of Jeshurun, which means the righteous people," according to some translators, but most interpreters are agreed that it is an affectionate title which God gives to His people. Perhaps it may be considered to be a diminutive of Israel. Just as fathers and mothers, when they have great affection for their children, will frequently give them an endearing name — shorten their usual name, or call them by a familiar title only used in the family — so, in calling Israel Jeshurun, the Lord setteth forth His near and dear love. God's grace to us is not merely the mercy of the good Samaritan towards a poor stranger whom he finds wounded by the way, but it is the love of a mother to her sick child; the fondness of a husband towards a weeping wife; the tenderness of the head towards the wounded members.
II. WE ARE ENCOURAGED BY THE PROMISE OF WHAT GOD WILL DO. "Fear not; I will help thee." You cannot pray as you desire — "I will help thee." You feel unable to overcome sin — "I will help thee." You are engaged in service too heavy for you — "I will help thee." Then comes a promise, fuller in words and as rich in grace, "I will pour water on him that is thirsty." You shall be refreshed; your desires shall be gratified. Water quickens sleeping vegetable life: your life shall be quickened by fresh grace. Water swells the buds and makes the fruits ripe: you shall have fructifying grace; you shall be made fruitful in the ways of God. Whatever good quality there is in Divine grace, you shall enjoy it to the full You shall be, as it were, drenched with it.
III. AS A VERY GREAT COMFORT TO HIS MOURNING PEOPLE, THE LORD NOW PROMISES A BLESSING UPON THEIR CHILDREN. They must get the blessing for themselves first. "I win pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground," — that is first; and then afterwards — "I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed." We must not expect to see our children blessed unless we ourselves grow in grace. It is often the inconsistency of parents which is the outward obstacle to the conversion of their children. But now, if we have had faith to receive much grace from God, here comes a blessed promise for our children — "I will pour My Spirit upon thy seed," in which observe —
1. The need. To give a new heart and a right spirit is the work of the Holy Spirit, and of the Holy Spirit alone.
2. The source of the mercy which God will give. "My Spirit."
3. The plenty of grace which God gives. "Pour": not a little of it — but abundance.
4. The blessedness of all this. And My blessing upon thine offspring." What a blessing it is to have our offspring saved! What a blessing to have our children enlisted in Christ's army!
5. Notice the vigour with which these children shall grow. "They shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses." Close by the water's edge the grass grows very green, and the willow is a well-known tree for speedily shooting forth its branches. Our farmers lop their willows often, but they very soon sprout again. The willow grows fast, and so do young Christians.
6. The manifestation of this in public. Not only are our children to have the Spirit of God in their inward parts, but they are to make a profession of it. One shall say, "I am the Lord's," — he shall come out boldly and avow himself on the Lord's side; and another shall so ally himself to God's Church that he "shall call himself by the name of Jacob"; and then another who can hardly speak quite so positively, but who means it quite as sincerely, "shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord"; and a fourth "shall surname himself by the name of Israel."
( C. H. Spurgeon)
I. THE PEOPLE TO WHOM THE PROMISE IS MADE.
II. THE PROMISE ITSELF.
III. THE EFFECTS ATTENDING ITS FULFILMENT.
(D. Rees.)Deuteronomy 33:5, 26-29.)
(J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
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