And the LORD said to Moses, "How long will this people treat Me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in Me, despite all the signs I have performed among them?
2 Kings 20:1-11; Luke 24:28, 29; Acts 27:22-24, 31. Moses stands in the breach, and skillfully urges two motives, suggested by -
I. HIS ZEAL FOR THE HONOUR OF GOD.
II. HIS FAITH IN THE MERCY OF GOD.
I. (verses 13-16). The Egyptians would soon "make comedies out of the Church's tragedies." Our best pleas are founded on the prayer, "Hallowed be thy name." E.g.,
1. In pleading for a highly-favoured but guilty nation. After all God has done for Britain and by it, may we not feel as though it would be a dishonour on the Christian name and a reflection on the Christian's God if we were altogether cast off. Our plea is Jeremiah 10:24, and our hope is Jeremiah 30:11.
2. In pleading for a fallen Christian.
3. Or for ourselves (Psalm 79:9; Jeremiah 14:7, &c.). God feels the power of this motive (Deuteronomy 32:27; Ezekiel 20:9, 14). God is not) like some men, indifferent to his own reputation (Isaiah 48:11).
II. Note how skillfully Moses uses God's own declaration of his name in Exodus 34. He appeals
(1) to the pure mercy of God;
1. The heinousness of unbelief; shun it.
How long will this people provoke Me?I. THE SIN OF ISRAEL IS HERE DEFINED: "How long will it be ere they believe Me?" Observe that God's account of all the murmuring and fear which these people felt was simply that they did not believe Him. They doubtless' said that they were naturally afraid of their enemies: the Anakim, the sons of the giants, these would overcome them. "No," says God "that is an idle excuse. No fear of giants would enter their minds if they believed Me." If these sons of Anak had been ten times as high as they were, yet the almighty Lord could vanquish them, and if their cities had been literally as well as figuratively walled up to the skies, yet Jehovah could smite them out of heaven, and cast their ramparts into the dust. Gigantic men and battlemented cities are nothing to Him who divided the Red Sea. When the Omnipotent is present opposition vanishes. "Ah," but these people might have replied, "we fear because of our weakness. We are not a drilled host, like the armies of Egypt. We know not how to fight against chariots of iron: we are only feeble men, with all these women and children to encumber our march. We cannot hope to drive out the hordes of Amalekites and Canaanites. A sense of weakness is the cause of our terror and complaint." But the Lord puts the matter very differently. What had their weakness to do with His promise? How could their weakness affect His power to give them the land? He could conquer Amalek if they could not. Our trembling is not humility, but unbelief. We may mask it how we please, but that is the state of the case as God sees it, and He sees it in truth. Mistrust towards God is not a mere weakness, it is a wickedness of the gravest order.
II. DESCRIBE this sin of not believing.
1. At the first blush it would seem incredible that there should be such a thing in the universe as unbelief of God. Jehovah's word is but Himself in action, His will making itself manifest; and is it to be supposed that this can be a lie under any conceivable circumstances whatsoever? Oh, the incredible infamy which lies even in the bare thought of calling in question the veracity of God. It is so vile, so unjust, so profane a thing that it ought to be regarded with horror, as a monstrous wrong.
2. Consider, next, that, though unbelief certainly exists, it is a most unreasonable thing. If God hath made a promise, on what grounds do we doubt its fulfilment? Which of all the attributes of God is that which comes under suspicion? Truth enters into the very conception of God: a false god is no God. Any other doubt in the world may plead some warrant, but a doubt of God's truthfulness is utterly unreasonable, and if sin had not filled man with madness, unbelief would never find harbour in a single bosom.
3. Again, because this sin is so unreasonable, it is also most inexcusable. As it is to the glory of every man to be upright, so it is to the honour of God to be faithful to His solemn declarations. Even on the lowest conceivable ground, the Lord's own interests are bound up with His truth. There is no supposable reason why the Lord should not be true: how dare we then, without the slightest cause, cast suspicion upon the truthfulness of the Most High?
4. I venture to say that unbelief of God's word ought, therefore, to be impossible. It ought to be impossible to every reverent-hearted man. Doth he know God and tremble in His presence, and shall he think of distrusting Him? No one that hath ever seen Him in contemplation, and bowed before Him in sincere adoration, but must be amazed at the impertinence that would dare to think that God can lie.
III. THE SIN BITTERLY DEPLORED. We have all been guilty of it. But what I want to call to your remembrance is this, that in any one case of doubting the truthfulness of God there is the full venom of the entire sin of unbelief. That is to say, if you distrust the Lord in one, you doubt Him altogether. The Scripture calls Him, "God who cannot lie." Do you think He can lie once, then He can lie and the Scripture is broken? "Ah, but I mean He may not keep His promise to me; I am such an unworthy person." Yes, but when a man forfeits his word it is no defence for him to say, "I told an untruth, but it was only to an unworthy person." No, the truth must be spoken irrespective of persons. I have no right to deceive even a criminal. "Do you dare say that to one person the Lord can be untrue? If it can be so, He is not a true God any more. You may as well doubt Him about everything if you distrust Him upon any one matter. Do you reply that you doubted Him upon a very trivial matter, and it was only a little mistrust? Alas! there is a world of iniquity in the faintest discredit of the thrice-holy Lord. Reflect, then, with sorrow that we have been guilty of this sin, not once, but a great many times. Timorousness and suspicion spring up in some bosoms like weeds in the furrows. They sing the Lord's praises for a great deliverance just experienced, but the next cloud which darkens the sky fills them with fear, and they again mistrust Divine love.
IV. Lastly, as we have now deplored this sin, we shall conclude by heartily DENOUNCING IT.
1. This sin of unbelief, if there were no other reason for denouncing it, let it be reprobated because it insults God.
2. This is sufficient reason for denouncing it, and yet since weaker reasons may perhaps help the stronger, let me mention that we are bound to hate unbelief because it is the ruin of the great mass of our race. Why are men lost? All their sins which they have done cannot destroy them if they believe in Jesus, but the damning point is that they will not believe in Him Thus saith the Scriptures, "He that believeth not is condemned already." Why? "Because he hath not believed on the Son of God."
3. We may hate it, again, because it brings so much misery and weakness upon the children of God. If we believed God's promises we should no longer be bowed down with sorrow, for our sorrow would be turned into joy. We should glory in our infirmities — sea, we should glory in tribulation also, seeing the good result which the Lord bringeth forth from them. The man who steadily believes his God is calm, quiet, and strong.
4. One very shocking point about this unbelief is that it has hampered the work of Christ in the world. The Christ that can save is a Christ believed in, but of a Christ who is not believed in it is written, "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
2. The large number and convincing character of the evidences of Christianity; remember that our faith should bear a proportion to them. "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required," &c.
3. God takes our conduct as evidence of our belief or unbelief; let us show our faith by our works. "Faith without works is dead." "Faith worketh by love," &c.
1. Their sin: They provoke me; or, as the word signifies, they reject, reproach, despise Me; for they will not believe Me. That was the bitter root which bore the gall and wormwood. It was their unbelief that made this a day of provocation in the wilderness (Hebrews 3:8). Note, distrust of God, and His power and promise, is itself a very great provocation, and at the bottom of many other provocations. Unbelief is a great sin (1 John 5:10); and a root sin (Hebrews 3:12).
2. Their continuance in it: How long will they do so? Note, the God of heaven keeps an account how long sinners persist in their provocations, and the longer it is, the more He is displeased.The aggravations of their sin were —
1. Their relation to God. This people; a peculiar people; a professing people. The nearer any are to God in name and profession, the more is He provoked by their sins, especially their unbelief.
2. The experience they had had of God's power and goodness, in all the signs which He had showed among them, by which one would think He had effectually obliged them to trust Him and follow Him. The more God has done for us, the greater is the provocation if we distrust Him.
( Matthew Henry, D. D..)
(J. M. Gibson, D. D.)
I. Hard as it is to believe, MIRACLES CERTAINLY DO NOT MAKE MEN BETTER; the history of Israel proves it. The only mode of escaping this conclusion is to fancy that the Israelites were much worse than other nations, which accordingly has been maintained. But as we see that in every other point they were exactly like other nations, we are obliged to conclude, not that the Israelites were more hard-hearted than other people, but that a miraculous religion is not much more influential than other religions.
II. WHY SHOULD THE SIGHT OF A MIRACLE MAKE US BETTER THAN WE ARE?
1. It may be said that a miracle would startle us, but would not the startling pass away? Could we be startled for ever?
2. It may be urged that perhaps that startling might issue in amendment of life; it might be the beginning of a new life though it passed away itself. This is very true; sudden emotions — fear, hope, gratitude, and the like — all do produce such results sometimes; blot why is a miracle necessary to produce such effects? Other things startle us besides miracles; we have a number of accidents sent by God to startle us. If the events of life which happen to us now produce no lasting effect upon us then it is only too certain that a miracle would produce no lasting effect upon us either.
III. WHAT IS THE REAL REASON WHY WE DO NOT SEEK GOD WITH ALL OUR HEARTS if the absence of miracles be not the reason, as assuredly it is not? There is one reason common both to us and the Jews: heartlessness in religious matters, an evil heart of unbelief; both they and we disobey and disbelieve, because we do not love.
IV. In another respect WE ARE REALLY FAR MORE FAVOURED THAN THE ISRAELITES. They had outward miracles; we have miracles that are not outward, but inward. Our miracles consist in the sacraments, and they do just the very thing which the Jewish miracles did not: they really touch the heart, though we, so often resist their influence.
V. Let us then PUT ASIDE VAIN EXCUSES, and instead of looking for outward events to change our course of life, be sure of this, that if our course of life is to be changed, it must be from within. Let us rouse ourselves and act as reasonable men before it is too late; let us understand, as a first truth in religion, that love of heaven is the only way to heaven.
(J. H. Newman, D. D.)
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