Now a wind sent by the LORD came up, drove in quail from the sea, and dropped them near the camp, about two cubits deep for a day's journey in every direction around the camp.
I. JOSHUA'S APPEAL. His love of order may have been offended. He feared lest the unity of the camp under the leadership of Moses should be disturbed. He was anxious for the honour of his master, and desired that political and ecclesiastical discipline should be not only really, but ostensibly, in his hands. The call of the seventy elders with prophetic powers was a new departure in the history of the theocracy, and now the prophesying of Eldad and Medad, apart, threatened still further apparently to derogate from the honours of Moses. Thus now narrow minds or small hearts may be fearful of that which is novel, and envious of those who take a course independent of established authorities and Church traditions, even though they "seem to have the Spirit of God." They may forbid, or at least "despise, prophesyings" which are not according to rule.
II. MOSES' REPLY. The only question with Moses is one not of place or method, but of reality. Are the prophesyings and the spirit "of God"? Largeness of heart cannot exempt us from this duty (1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1-3). Moses could not recognize the falsehoods uttered in the tabernacle of Korah, though he rejoiced in the prophesyings of Eldad. Spurious charity is traitorous to truth; true charity can only rejoice "in the truth" (1 Corinthians 13:6). The lesson taught us is illustrated by various incidents in the New Testament. A large-hearted Christian will not be offended -
1. If those who are clearly working in the name of Christ, and with the seal of his approval, do not follow with him (Mark 9:38-40).
2. If their success seems to imperil the prosperity of his party or denomination (John 3:26, &c.).
3. He will rejoice in the work, though unofficial and obscure men have originated it (Acts 11:19-24).
4. He will not "envy," but delight, in the proclamation of the gospel, even if the motives of the preachers are marred by "envy and strife" (Philippians 1:15-18). Large-heartedness will "covet earnestly the best gifts" for others, whatever the consequences may be to ourselves. - P.
I. THEIR SIN many consider a trifle. Certainly it was not of that character which the judgment inflicted on them would lead us to anticipate. We read here of no enormous transgression, or daring violation of God's law. All they were guilty of, was a strong desire for something which God had not given them. "Something evil," you will say perhaps, but not so; it was one of the most harmless things they could have desired. The Lord had provided them with manna for their support; they were weary of manna and wanted flesh. "The children of Israel," we read, "wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat?"
I. THERE ARE PERPETUAL RESURRECTIONS OF EASILY BESETTING SINS.
They gathered the quails.I. ISRAEL'S COMPLAINT.
1. Its object was food.
2. Its nature was intense. "Fell a lusting."
3. It was general.
4. It was accompanied with tears. A faint, weary, disappointed people. Tears, chiefly, of discontent.
5. It was associated with the retrospections of memory. "We remember," &c. (ver. 5). They should also have remembered some other things of that past. Their bondage, &c.
6. It made present things distasteful. "There is nothing at all." There was a time when they did not call the manna nothing. Longing for what we have not tends to cause disparagement of things possessed.
II. MOSES' PERPLEXITY. Great popular leaders have often been perplexed by the unreasonable clamours of their followers. Have often been urged farther than their greater prudence and wisdom would have chosen. People have often damaged their own cause by exorbitant demands.
1. Moses displeased at the position in which he found himself. "My wretchedness " (ver. 15). His faith faltered (ver. 11, 12). Especially displeased with the people (ver. 10).
2. In his perplexity cried to the Lord. A good example. God " a present help in trouble."
3. He acknowledges his own weakness (vers. 21, 22). He could not feed the people. It would be suicidal to kill the flocks and herds, even if they were enough. Needed for sacrifice; and the religious well-being of the people of most importance.
4. He receives comfort, and direction (ver. 23).
III. GOD'S PROVIDENCE. Nature is His storehouse, in which He has garnered food for man and beast. He made all living things. Endowed them with habits and instincts. Made the quails. Ordained their migratory habits. Made and ruled the winds. When the quails came, the wind was ready. It fulfilled the word of God. The wonderful flight of birds. The scene in the camp. What was sent so abundantly seems to have been thanklessly received. Divine anger went with the gift. Many of the people died. Learn —
1. To pray for the blessing of contentment.
2. To seek the moderation of our desires.
3. To pray for grateful hearts.
4. To acknowledge the hand of God in the supply of our wants.
5. To be chiefly anxious for the supply of spiritual need.
(J. C. Gray.)
1. The side from which the temptation came to them (vers. 4-6). This mixed multitude corresponds precisely to the troop of disorderly passions and appetites, with which we suffer ourselves to march through the desert of life. Passions, desires, ever mad for indulgence, and reckless, scornful of Divine law.
2. The special season when the easily besetting sin rose up and again made them its slave. It is a fact which all close students of human character must have observed, that there is a back-water of temptation, if I may so speak, which is more deadly than its direct assaults. You may fight hard against a temptation, and fight victoriously. You may beat it off, and then, when, weary with the conflict, you suffer the strain of vigilance to relax, it shall steal in and easily master the citadel, which lately it spent all its force in vain to win. Beware of your best moments, as well as of your worst; or rather the moments which succeed the best. They are the most perilous of all.
II. There comes a point in the history of the indulgence of besetting sins, when GOD CEASES TO STRIVE WITH US AND FOR US AGAINST THEM, AND LETS THEM. HAVE THEIR WAY.
1. God has great patience with the weaknesses and sins of the flesh. But it is a dreadful mistake to suppose that therefore He thinks lightly of them. He regards them as sins that must be conquered, and, no matter by what sharp discipline, extirpated and killed. He knows that, if tolerated, they become the most deadly of spiritual evils, and rot body and spirit together in hell.
2. Hence all the severer discipline by which the Lord seeks to purge them, the various agencies by which He fights with us and for us against their tyrannous power. What is life but one long discipline of God for the cleansing of the flesh? Are not the after-pains of departed sensual joys among its chief stings and thorns?
3. Left alone by God. God does not curse us; He leaves us to ourselves; that is curse enough, and from that curse what arm can save us! We will have it, and we shall have it. We leap through all the barriers which He has raised around us to limit us, yea, though they be rings of blazing fire, we will through them and indulge our lust; and in a moment He sweeps them all out of our path — perhaps roses spring to beguile, where flames so lately blazed to warn.
III. THE END OF THAT WAY IS, INEVITABLY AND SPEEDILY, A GRAVE. The grave of lust is one of the most awful of the inscriptions on the headstones of the great cemetery, the world. In how many do we now search in vain for fruits whose flowers once bloomed there; for generous emotions, swift responses to the appeals of sorrow, unselfish ministries, and stern integrity? How many have learnt now to laugh at emotions which once had a holy beauty in their sight; to fence skilfully with appeals which once would have thrilled to the very core of their hearts; to grasp at advantages which once they would have passed with a scornful anathema, and to clutch at the gold which was once the glad instrument of diffusing benefits around! Yes! there are graves enough around us — graves of passion, graves of self-will, graves of lust. Beware, young men; young women, beware! Beware! for the dead things buried in these graves will not lie quiet; they stir and start, and ever and anon come forth in their ghastly shrouds and scare you at your feasts. No ghosts so sure to haunt their graves as the ghosts of immolated faculties and violated vows. The memories which haunt the worn-out worldling's bed of impotence or lust are the true avengers of Heaven. The brain loses power to repel them, but retains power to fashion them. Once it could drive away thoughts and memories; now it can only retain them, and fix them in a horrid permanent session on their thrones.
(J. B. Brown, B. A.)
1. You see, then, the nature of the sin we have before us. It is a sin of the heart — coveting, desiring; and that not slightly, but very eagerly, with the full bent of the mind. It is not spiritual idolatry, though it is like it. That is making too much of what we have; this is making too much of what we want.
2. Look at the cause or spring of Israel's sin. Their desire for flesh was a desire springing up amidst abundance. It had its origin, not in their necessities, but m their vile affections, their own unsubdued, carnal minds.
3. Observe next the occasion of Israel's sin. Oh, dread the mixed multitude. Stand in fear of worldly-minded professors of Christ's gospel. They will teach you to lust for the things you now despise. They will drive, if not the fear, yet the peace of God from your hearts, and all they will give you in exchange for it will be a craving, aching soul, a share in their own restlessness and discontent.
4. Mark the effect of their sin, its immediate effect, I mean, on their own minds. It made them completely wretched. The truth is, the mind of man cannot long bear a strong and unchecked desire. It must be gratified or have a prospect of being gratified, or it consumes the soul. Perhaps we may say, this is one main ingredient in the misery of hell — a longing, and a longing, and a longing still, for something that can be never had.
5. Notice one thing more in this craving of the Israelites — its sinfulness or guilt. Wherein, then, did its sinfulness lie? In the twentieth verse, God tells us. He pronounces it a contempt of Himself. Moses is commanded to go to the weeping people, and say to them, "Ye have despised the Lord which is among you." And how had they despised Him?In three respects.
1. They had low thoughts of His power. "Who," they asked, "shall give us flesh to eat?" Who can give it?
2. And their conduct involved in it a making light of His goodness. They had evidently lost sight at this time of all He had done for them, or if not so, they lightly esteemed what He had done.
3. And then there was also here a despising of God's authority.
II. Look at THE CONDUCT OF THEM INSULTED GOD TOWARDS THEM IN CONSEQUENCE OF THEIR SIN.
1. He granted their desire. We are told again and again that it displeased Him, that His anger was kindled greatly against the people on account of it; but how does He show His displeasure? He begins with giving them the very thing they wish for; He works a miracle to give it them; He gives it them to the utmost extent of their desires, and beyond them. But what was God really doing all this while? He was only vindicating His aspersed honour.
2. The Lord took vengeance on these Israelites, and this in a fearful manner and at a very remarkable time. It is often the will of God to make our sin our punishment. We eagerly crave something; He gives us what we crave, and when we have it, He either takes away from us all our delight in it, and so bitterly disappoints us, or else He causes it to prove to us a source of misery.
(C. Bradley, M. A.)
1. This is plain, because they have through God's long-suffering increased the number, weight, and measure of their sins, and thereby compel the Lord to bring His judgments suddenly upon them.
2. God respecteth herein the benefit of others toward whom He hath not used as yet so long patience, to the end that they, seeing others fall into sudden destruction, may learn thereby not to abuse His patience, lest they also be suddenly destroyed (Daniel 5:22).The uses follow.
1. See from hence the happy estate of all such as think of the day of their reckoning betimes, and prepare their garments that they be not taken naked. Such are out of danger, and have no cause to fear wrath and judgment.
2. It serveth to teach us that we should not envy at the peace and prosperity of the wicked, neither fret at the flourishing estate of the ungodly that live in their sins, for howsoever they be for a time forborne, yet thereby they are the more hardened in their sins, till a far greater judgment come upon them. Therefore envy not at them though they grow great, for suddenly shall the judgments of God tulle hold upon them, and arrest them as guilty of death, and then they shall perish speedily; so that there is no reason to grieve or grudge at their prosperity.
3. From hence ariseth comfort to the faithful.
4. It is our duty to watch and attend with all care for the time of judgment.
(W. Attersoll.)I. IT IS THE TENDENCY OF LUST TO SHORTEN LIFE AND TO BRING MEN TO AN UNTIMELY GRAVE. Our animal desires are good servants; but, when they gain the mastery, they are fearful tyrants, loading the conscience with guilt and the body with disease, ruining life, and making eternity a hell. The Romans, it is said, held their funerals at the Gate of Venus, to teach that lust shortens life. The pleasures of sin are dearly bought.
II. LET US RECORD SOME OF OUR FEELINGS AS WE CONTEMPLATE "THE GRAVES OF LUST."
1. The one is of intense pity, that man should be so foolish as to live in sin when he knew how it would end; that life should be so wasted, and opportunities lost, &c.
2. The other is of awful solemnity. He is gone; but whither? He has given up the ghost; but where is he?Let us all —
1. Ascertain whether or no we are on the way to this grave.
2. Resolve through the help of God that we will not be there. Seek Jesus Christ. He, and He only, can rescue us from the power, the curse, and the consequences of sin.
1. To save the reputation of His own power, that it might not be said, He had cut them off because He was not able to suffice them. And —
2. To show us the meaning of the prosperity of sinners; it is their preparation for ruin. They are fed as an ox for the slaughter.
(Matthew Hearty, D. D.)
I. There is UNSEASONABLE DESIRE. The desire of the people for flesh was not unnatural, not illegal in itself, but it was unseasonable. This is a common fault of ours, to desire legitimate things in times and places which are not convenient.
1. There is the impatience of youth. The course of life with many in these times reminds us of the days when we were lads, and when in the early morning we went a distance to school, taking our dinner with us; then appetite was keen, and it was no unusual thing to devour our dinner on the way to school, starving for the rest of the day. It is thus with thousands of infatuated ones a little later on; in the greediness of their heart they devour and waste their portion in the morning of life, and then starve through the long tedious day, or else go down to a premature grave. I say to my young brethren, wait, rein in your desires, move slowly, and every joy of life shall be yours in turn. "Haste is of the devil," is a saying in the East popularly ascribed to Mahomet himself. We may accept the saying in the matter before us; let youth be moderate, deliberate, avoiding all feverishness, drawing slowly on the resources of life.
2. There is the eagerness, of manhood. We should do little in life without intensity, but there are times when we may with advantage take in sail, and give ourselves time for rest and reflection. It is certainly unseasonable to bring our business life in any shape into the Lord's Day. It is also unseasonable to allow worldly cares and ambitions to invade those spaces which are so necessary for our domestic and intellectual life. God grants us spaces for rest and thought in the home, in the chamber; and it is exhaustive, indeed, when our overweening worldliness excludes the possibilities of solitary and social life. Some men fill their annual holidays with anxieties until they are no holidays at all. And there are days of personal affliction, of domestic sorrows, of national calamity, when it is our solemn duty to pause in the race for riches and think of life's larger meaning.
3. There is the greed of age. Old men often come to the grave sooner than they need because they will not let the world go. They cling to ambition, although it wastes their strength and peace; they cling to business, they are pushing, grasping, hoarding as ever, although such application fast saps a life already tottering; they cling to pleasure, they will still wear the wreath of roses on their white hair, although to them it is the most fatal wreath of all.
II. There is IMMODERATE DESIRE. We may pursue a right object with inordinate appetite. The Israelites were not content with the simple, pearly, wholesome food God gave them — they wanted something more piquant. They got what they wanted — and a grave. In all generations how many fall the same way.
1. There is the immoderateness of our literature. We must feast on the romantic, the sensational, the morbid, the exaggerated. Out of this excess of imaginative literature come great evils. The reading public live in a world of fancy, sentiment, passion; and this feverish unreality in the hours of retirement gives birth to much of that practical immoderation which is the curse of our age. I do not say abandon this literature of romance; but I do say restrain and chasten your imagination, for be sure this habit of wild dreaming is at the root of much of that general intemperance of life which hurries many to the grave.
2. There is the immoderation of our style of living. A writer was finding fault the other day with the present style of gardening. He complained that we have rooted up the old fragrant flowers — lavender, pinks, marigolds, mignonette, and gone in for crude patches of red and blue and yellow; that we have swept away sweet shrubs and bits of lawn for the sake of violet ribbon-borders and vulgar carpet-bedding. But does not our Italian gardening largely reflect our social life? Are we not often found renouncing sweet, simple methods of living for a showy, ostentatious style which brings with it little joy?
3. There is the immoderateness of our appetite. Thousands are digging their grave with their teeth, and scooping it out with their glass.
4. There is the immoderateness of business. Immoderation in other directions often drives men to unnatural eagerness in business. In haste to be rich they pierce themselves through with many sorrows.(1) How fatal all this immoderation is to health! We fret for money, drinking blood out of a golden basin; we are anxious to be great, and the path of glory leads to the grave; we are mad to seize the flowers of pleasure, and find the flowers of the churchyard.(2) How fatal is all this immoderation to happiness I There are thousands of successful merchants who after immense toil and sacrifice have secured wealth and position, and now they are distressed to find they have no power to eat what cost so much to get together. They have whatsoever their soul desireth, but they cannot taste any sweetness in it. Moderation is the secret of all life. Our health, our happiness, our character, our destiny, are bound up with self-restraint. Live with circumspection, live slowly, live by line and square, and you shall realise life at its best here, and then the life everlasting.
III. There is ILLEGAL DESIRE. Fixing our eye on forbidden things and lusting after them. How beautiful they seem, how desirable! and yet they eat as doth a canker. They lead to a premature grave. "The wicked do not live out half their days." They lead to a dishonoured grave (Ecclesiastes 8:10). They lead to a hopeless grave. Such awake to shame and everlasting contempt. Do not hide it from yourselves for an hour that death is the price of touching forbidden things. Are you tempted by unlawful pleasure? see the skeleton behind the flowers. By unlawful gain? see the field of blood behind the pieces of silver. By unlawful greatness? see the shroud wrapped up in the purple. By unlawful indulgence? see that at the devil's banquet the sexton is head waiter. Lust when it hath conceived bringeth forth sin, and sin when it is finished will have finished you. This is the dismal eternal order; and no secrecy, no strength, no skill on your part can disturb the programme or avert the penalty. Wherein, then, lies our safety? In reducing all desire to a minimum? Some of our sceptical writers counsel this. but it is not the philosophy of Christianity. The infinity of desire is a grand characteristic of our nature which it is no part of our duty to destroy. Christianity leaves intact our boundless desire, whilst it teaches us moderation in all worldly things. It does this by fixing our attention on our inner life. It assures us that the deep, final satisfaction is not in our senses, but in our spirit; that we find the full and ultimate delight of life as our inner self grows in truth anal goodness and love. It does this by fixing our hope on the heavenly life. The pilgrim is not likely to be too deeply engrossed about the tent curtains, tent pegs, tent cords. Think much of that greater life, and you shall not think overmuch about things which perish in the using.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
I. THE TEST BENEATH WHICH MOSES BROKE DOWN, But in the case of Moses there was surely an outbreak of impatience which was hardly justifiable. He loved the people, but his love was not strong enough to sustain the terrific test to which it was exposed. He pitied them, but beneath the scorching sun of their repeated provocations that pity dried up like waters which are absorbed in the desert heat.
II. THE PARALLEL IN CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE.
1. We also have need to beware of the influence of "the mixed multitude." Had it not been for these, Israel had walked with God, and been satisfied with His provision on their behalf. It was from them that the discontent proceeded. There are many professing Christians who have the form of godliness, but deny its power, and who pass freely in and out among the children of God. It is among these that we may expect to hear complaints that religion is dry and irksome, or rapturous descriptions of the food of Egypt, or special pleadings that there should be a mingling of the delights of the Egyptian world, which should have been left behind for ever, with the manna which God lays on the dew of the desert floor. Their influence is all the stronger in that they appeal to tendencies within us, which are so susceptible to their call.
2. We must distinguish between appetite and lust. The appetites have been implanted within us to maintain the machinery of life. If it were not for their action, we should neglect food and rest and exercise, and many other things necessary to our well-being. But in us all appetite is apt to run up into lust. In other words, we seek satisfaction, not for the necessary supply of our physical needs, but for the momentary pleasure which accompanies the gratification of appetite itself. Our motive is not the obtaining of some lawful and necessary end, but the titillation of taste and sense. Appetite has, therefore, to be curbed with a strong hand, lest it become inordinate passion, for the moment we take pleasure in the indulgence of appetite for its own sake, and apart from the legitimate end for which it was intended by the Almighty, we begin to tread a path that leads swiftly down to the bottomless pit.
3. Let us guard against the resurrection of easily besetting sins. We say to ourselves that certain forms of sin have died down within us, anal will never trouble us more. We have grown out of them. But at that very moment the ghastly shape of that temptation is at hand, to assert perhaps even more than its olden force. You can never be sure of yourself. The suggestion that a certain form of temptation can have no further power over you is of the devil, and should excite you to greater watchfulness. Inordinate desire, murmuring and mistrust, are linked in the closest association. When one of these enters the window of the heart, it goes round to open the door to the other two. Oh, how often have we grieved our heavenly Father! Have we not had days of provocation and temptation in the wilderness?
III. THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE SERVANT AND THE FATHER. Moses repudiated the office of the nursing-father. He could not sustain its responsibilities. But his failure only serves to bring out into distincter relief a touching conception of the Fatherhood of God. Forty years afterwards, as the aged lawgiver, at the foot of Pisgah, was summing up the results of his experience, he said, "Thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bare his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came unto this place" (Deuteronomy 1:31; Isaiah 63:9; Acts 13:18, R.V. marg.). Moses' patience gave out in a twelvemonth, God's lasted till His work was done, and the people were safely deposited in the land of promise. If only the true story of our lives were written, it would be the most astounding record of God's forbearing and pitying love. Truly, "He hath not dealt with us after our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities." But let us beware: there comes a time in the history of besetting sin when God ceases to strive against it. He gave them the quails they asked, flesh to the full. You may be mad for gold, and gold may pour in; mad for pleasure, and the golden barges wait to waft you on the swelling current; mad for applause, and it is yours till you are surfeited. God does not curse you, He leaves you to yourself, and that is curse enough. It is best to let our Father choose. His choice as to route and manna and length of daily journey must be the best. And when our yearnings are in opposition to His wise provision, let us quench them and yield our will about them.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)Psalm 20:4), when offered for one whose heart is subdued, and whose desires are concentrated on the fulfilment of God's promises. But would it not be an awful prayer for one whose heart is full of unhallowed desires, who longs, like Israel of old, only for earthly things? Oh, we should take heed what we desire, and for what we pray. You may ask for some earthly gift — it may be worldly prosperity, it may be wealth, or it may be for some other gift — some far higher, but still earthly gift — and because you are very intent upon it, God may give it you: and then the fulfilment of that desire may become a most terrible snare to you. The gift, whatsoever it be, may become your idol, may let down your affections to earth; and thus, whilst your prayers have been granted, God has sent leanness withal into your soul. Oh, it is exalted mercy, that God does not grant all our desires — that He so often sets aside some desires, and greatly disappoints others. We are prone to fret at this, but it is a part of a merciful plan, whereby He would bring us to rest in Himself. Oh, then, through grace, I will turn away from earth, with all its treasures, and from the creature, whatever its attractions be. I will turn to Jesus. In Him I cannot be disappointed. His love is altogether pure, altogether satisfying.
S. S. Times.Among the passengers on the St. Louis express was a woman very much overdressed, accompanied by a bright looking nurse-girl and a self-willed, tyrannical boy of about three years. The boy aroused the indignation of the passengers by his continued shrieks and kicks and, screams, and his viciousness towards the patient nurse. He tore her bonnet, scratched her hands, and finally spat in her face, without a word of remonstrance from the mother. Whenever the nurse manifested any firmness, the mother chided her sharply. Presently, the mother composed herself for a nap; and about the time the boy had slapped the nurse for the fiftieth time, a wasp came sailing in, and flew on the window of the nurse's seat. The boy at once tried to catch it. The nurse caught his hand, and said coaxingly, "Harry mustn't touch. Wasp will bite Harry." Harry screamed savagely, and began to kick and pound the nurse. The mother, without opening her eyes or lifting her head, cried out sharply, "Why will you tease that child so, Mary? Let him have what he wants at once." "But, ma'am, its a —" "Let him have it, I say." Thus encouraged, Harry clutched at the wasp and caught it. The scream that followed brought tears of joy to the passengers' eyes. The mother woke again. "Mary," she cried, "let him have it!" Mary turned in her seat, and said confusedly, "He's got it, ma'am!"
(S. S. Times.).
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