Now, there is a last thought here. I have spoken of the foundation of
all as being divine love, of the security and guardian care of the
saints, and there follows one thought more: -
III. The docile obedience of those that are thus guarded.
As the words stand in our Bible, they are as follow: - 'They sat down at
Thy feet; every one shall receive of Thy words.' These two clauses make
up one picture, and one easily understands what it is. It represents a
group of docile scholars, sitting at the Master's feet. He is teaching
them, and they listen open-mouthed and open-eared to what he says, and
will take his words into their lives, like Mary sitting at Christ's
feet, whilst Martha was bustling about His meal. But, beautiful as that
picture is, there has been suggested a little variation in the words
which gives another one that strikes me as being even more beautiful.
There are some difficulties of language with which I need not trouble
you. But the general result is this, that perhaps instead of 'sitting
down at Thy feet' we should read 'followed at Thy feet.' That suggests
the familiar metaphor of a guide and those led by him who, without him,
know not their road. As a dog follows his master, as the sheep their
shepherd, so, this singer felt, will saints follow the God whom they
love. Religion is imitation of God. That was a deep thought for such a
stage of revelation, and it in part anticipates Christ's tender words:
'He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His
voice.' They follow at His feet. That is the blessedness and the power
of Christian morality, that it is keeping close at Christ's heels, and
that instead of its being said to us, 'Go,' He says, 'Come,' and
instead of our being bid to hew out for ourselves a path of duty, He
says to us, 'He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall
have the light of life.' They follow at His feet, as the dog at his
master's, as the sheep at their shepherd's.
They 'receive His words.' Yes, if you will keep close to Him, He will
turn round and speak to you. If you are near enough to Him to catch His
whisper He will not leave you without guidance. That is one side of the
thought, that following we receive what He says, whereas the people
that are away far behind Him scarcely know what His will is, and never
can catch the low whisper which will come to us by providences, by
movements in our own spirits, through the exercise of our own faculties
of judgment and common-sense, if only we will keep near to Him. 'Be ye
not as the horse or as the mule, which have no understanding, whose
mouths must be held in with bit and with bridle, else they will not
come near to thee,' but walk close behind Him, and then the promise
will be fulfilled: 'I will guide thee with Mine eye.' A glance tells
two people who are in sympathy what each wishes, and Jesus Christ will
speak to us, if we keep close at His heels.
They that follow Him will 'receive His words' in another sense. They
will take them in, and His words will not be wasted. And they will
receive them in yet another sense. They will carry them out and do
them, and His words will not be in vain.
So, dear brethren, the peace, the strength, the blessedness, the
goodness, of our lives flow from these three stages, which this singer
so long ago had found to be the essence of everything, recognition of
the timeless tenderness of God, the yielding to and answering that
love, so that it separates us for Himself, the calm security and happy
submission which follow thereon, the imitation of Him in daily life,
and the walking in His steps, which is rewarded and made more perfect
by hearing more distinctly the whisper of His loving, commanding voice.
ISRAEL THE BELOVED
'The beloved of the Lord shall dwell in safety by Him; and the Lord
shall cover him all the day long, and he shall dwell between His
shoulders.' - DEUT. xxxiii. 12.
Benjamin was his father's favourite child, and the imagery of this
promise is throughout drawn from the relations between such a child and
its father. So far as the future history of the tribes is shadowed in
these 'blessings' of this great ode, the reference of the text may be
to the tribe of Benjamin, as specially distinguished by Saul having
been a member of it, and by the Temple having been built on its soil.
But we find that each of the promises of the text is repeated
elsewhere, with distinct reference to the whole nation. For example,
the first one, of safe dwelling, reappears in verse 28 in reference to
Israel; the second one, of God's protecting covering, is extended to
the nation in many places; and the third, of dwelling between His
shoulders, is in substance found again in chap. i. 31, 'the Lord thy
God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son.' So that we may give the
text a wider extension, and take it as setting forth under a lovely
metaphor, and with a restricted reference, what is true of all God's
children everywhere and always.
I. Who are the 'beloved of the Lord'?
The first answer to that question must be - all men. But these great
blessings, so beautifully shadowed in this text, do not belong to all
men; nor does the designation, 'the beloved of the Lord,' belong to all
men, but to those who have entered into a special relation to Him. In
these words of the Hebrew singer there sound the first faint tones of a
music that was to swell into clear notes, when Jesus said: 'If a man
love Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and We will
come unto him, and make Our abode with him.' They who are knit by faith
and love to God's only-begotten and beloved Son, by that union receive
'power to become the sons of God,' and share in the love which is ever
pouring out from the Father's heart on 'the Son of His love.'
II. What are their blessed privileges?
The three clauses of the text express substantially the same idea, but
with a striking variety of metaphors.
1. They have a sure dwelling-place.
There is a very slight change of rendering of the first clause, which
greatly increases its 'force, and preserves the figure that is obscured
by the usual translation. We should read 'shall dwell safely
_on_,' rather than '_by_, Him.' And the effect of that small
change in the preposition is to bring out the thought that God is
regarded as the foundation on which His beloved build their house of
life, and dwell in security and calm. If we are sons through the Son,
we shall build our houses or pitch our tents on that firm ground, and,
being founded on the Rock of ages, they will not fall when all created
foundations reel to the overthrow of whatever is built on _them_.
It is not companionship only, blessed as that is, that is promised
here. We have a larger privilege than dwelling _by_ Him, for if we
love His Son, we build _on_ God, and 'God dwelleth in us and we in
What spiritual reality underlies the metaphor of dwelling or building
on God? The fact of habitual communion.
Note the blessed results of such grounding of our lives on God through
such habitual communion. We shall 'dwell safely.' We may think of that
as being objective safety - that is, freedom from peril, or as being
subjective - that is, freedom from care or fear, or as meaning
'trustfully,' confidently, as the expression is rendered in Psalm xvi.
9 (margin), which is for us the ground of both these. He who dwells in
God trustfully dwells both safely and securely, and none else is free
either from danger or from dread.
2. They have a sure shelter.
God is for His beloved not only the foundation on which they dwell in
safety, but their perpetual covering. They dwell safely because He is
so. There are many tender shapes in which this great promise is
presented to our faith. Sometimes God is thought of as covering the
weak fugitive, as the arching sides of His cave sheltered David from
Saul. Sometimes He is represented as covering His beloved, who cower
under His wings, 'as the hen gathereth her chickens' when hawks are in
the sky. Sometimes He appears as covering them from tempest, 'when the
blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall,' and 'the
shadow of a great rock' shields from its fury. Sometimes He is pictured
as stretching out protection over His beloved's heads, as the Pillar of
cloud lay, long-drawn-out, over the Tabernacle when at rest, and 'on
all the Glory was a defence.' But under whatever emblem the general
idea of a covering shelter was conceived, there was always a
correlative duty on our side. For the root-meaning of one of the Old
Testament words for 'faith' is 'fleeing to a refuge,' and we shall not
be safe in God unless by faith we flee for refuge to Him in Christ.
3. They have a Father who bears them on His shoulders.
The image is the same as in chap. i. already referred to. It recurs
also in Isaiah (xlvi. 3, 4), 'Even to hoar hairs will I carry you, and
I have made and I will bear, yea, I will carry, and will deliver'; and
in Hosea (xi. 3), 'I taught Ephraim to go; I took them on My arms.'
The image beautifully suggests the thought of the favourite child
riding high and happy on the strong shoulder, which lifts it above
rough places and miry ways. The prose reality is: 'My grace is
sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'
The Cross carries those who carry it. They who carry God in their
hearts are carried by God through all the long pilgrimage of life.
Because they are thus upheld by a strength not their own, 'they shall
run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint,' and though
marches be long and limbs strained, they shall 'go from strength to
strength till every one of them appears before God in Zion.'
'AT THE BUSH'
'.. The goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush.'-DEUT. xxxiii. 16.
I Think this is the only reference in the Old Testament to that great
vision which underlay Moses' call and Israel's deliverance. It occurs
in what is called 'the blessing wherewith Moses, the man of God,
blessed the children of Israel before his death,' although modern
opinion tends to decide that this hymn is indeed much more recent than
the days of Moses. There seems a peculiar appropriateness in this
reference being put into the mouth of the ancient Lawgiver, for to him
even Sinai, with all its glories, cannot have been so impressive and so
formative of his character as was the vision granted to him when
solitary in the wilderness. It is to be noticed that the characteristic
by which God is designated here never occurs elsewhere than in this one
place. It is intended to intensify the conception of the greatness, and
preciousness, and all-sufficiency of that 'goodwill.' If it is that 'of
Him that dwelt in the bush,' it is sure to be all that a man can need.
I need not remind you that the words occur in the blessing pronounced
on 'Joseph' - that is, the two tribes which represented Joseph - in which
all the greatest material gifts that could be desired by a pastoral
people are first called down upon them, and then the ground of all
these is laid in 'the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush.' 'The
blessing - let it come on the head of Joseph.'
So then here, first, is a great thought as to what for us all is the
blessing of blessings - God's 'goodwill.' 'Goodwill'-the word, perhaps,
might bear a little stronger rendering. 'Goodwill' is somewhat tepid. A
man may have a good enough will, and yet no very strong emotion of
favour or delight, and may do nothing to carry his goodwill into
action. But the word that is employed here, and is a common enough one
in Scripture, always carries with it a certain intensity and warmth of
feeling. It is more than 'goodwill'; it is more than 'favour'; perhaps
'delight' would be nearer the meaning. It implies, too, not only the
inward sentiment of complacency, but also the active purpose of action
in conformity with it, on God's part. Now it needs few words to show
that these two things, which are inseparable, do make the blessing of
blessings for every one of us - the delight, the complacency, of God in
us, and the active purpose of good in God for us. These are the things
that will make a man happy wherever he is.
If I might dwell for a moment upon other scriptural passages, I would
just recall to you, as bringing up very strongly and beautifully the
all-sufficiency and the blessed effects of having this delight and
loving purpose directed towards us like a sunbeam, the various great
things that a chorus of psalmists say that it will do for a man. Here
is one of their triumphant utterances: 'Thou wilt bless the righteous;
with favour wilt Thou compass him as with a shield.' That crystal
battlement, if I may so vary the figure, is round a man, keeping far
away from him all manner of real evil, and filling his quiet heart as
he stands erect behind the rampart, with the sense of absolute
security. That is one of the blessings that God's favour or goodwill
will secure for us. Again, we read: 'By Thy favour Thou hast made my
mountain to stand strong.' He that knows himself to be the object of
the divine delight, and who by faith knows himself to be the object of
the divine activity in protection, stands firm, and his purposes will
be carried through, because they will be purposes in accordance with
the divine mind, and nothing has power to shake him. So he that grasps
the hand of God can say, not because of his grasp, but because of the
Hand that he holds, 'The Lord is at my right hand; I shall not be
greatly moved. By Thy favour Thou hast made our mountain to stand
strong.' And again, in another analogous but yet diversified
representation, we read: 'In Thee shall we rejoice all the day, and in
Thy favour shall our horn be exalted.' That is the emblem, not only of
victory, but of joyful confidence, and so he who knows himself to have
God for his friend and his helper, can go through the world keeping a
sunny face, whatever the clouds may be, erect and secure, light of
heart and buoyant, holding up his chin above the stormiest waters, and
breasting all difficulties and dangers with a confidence far away from
presumption, because it is the consequence of the realisation of God's
presence. So the goodwill of God is the chiefest good.
Now, if we turn to the remarkable designation of the divine nature
which is here, consider what rivers of strength and of blessedness flow
out of the thought that for each of us 'the goodwill of Him that dwelt
in the bush' may be our possession.
What does that pregnant designation of God say? That was a strange
shrine for God, that poor, ragged, dry desert bush, with apparently no
sap in its gray stem, prickly with thorns, with 'no beauty that we
should desire it,' fragile and insignificant, yet it was 'God's house.'
Not in the cedars of Lebanon, not in the great monarchs of the forest,
but in the forlorn child of the desert did He abide. 'The goodwill of
Him that dwelt in the bush' may dwell in you and me. Never mind how
small, never mind how sapless, never mind how lightly esteemed among
men, never mind though we make a very poor show by the side of the
'oaks of Bashan' or the 'cedars of Lebanon.' It is all right; the Fire
does not dwell in them. 'Unto this man will I look, and with him will I
dwell, who is of a humble and a contrite heart, and who trembleth at My
word.' Let no sense of poverty, weakness, unworthiness, ever draw the
faintest film of fear across our confidence, for even with us He will
sojourn. For it is 'the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush' that we
evoke for ours.
Again, what more does that name say? He 'that dwelt in the bush' filled
it with fire, and it 'burned and was not consumed.' Now there is good
ground to object to the ordinary interpretation, as if the burning of
the bush which yet remains unconsumed was meant to symbolise Israel,
or, in the New Testament application, the Church which, notwithstanding
all persecution, still remains undestroyed. Our brethren of the
Presbyterian churches have taken the Latin form of the words in the
context for their motto - _Nec Tamen Consumebatur_. But I venture
to think that that is a mistake; and that what is meant by the symbol
is just what is expressed by the verbal revelation which accompanied
it, and that was this: 'I AM THAT I AM.' The fire that did not burn out
is the emblem of the divine nature which does not tend to death because
it lives, nor to exhaustion because it energises, nor to emptiness
because it bestows, but after all times is the same; lives by its own
energy and is independent. 'I am that I have become,' - that is what men
have to say. 'I am that I once was not, and again once shall not be,'
is what men have to say. 'I am that I am' is God's name. And this
eternal, ever-living, self-sufficing, absolute, independent, unwearied,
inexhaustible God is the God whose favour is as inexhaustible as
Himself, and eternal as His own being. 'Therefore the sons of men shall
put their trust beneath the shadow of Thy wings,' and, if they have
'the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush,' will be able to say,
'Because Thou livest we shall live also.'
What more does the name say? He 'that dwelt in the bush' dwelt there in
order to deliver; and, dwelling there, declared 'I have seen the
affliction of My people, and am come down to deliver them.' So, then,
if the goodwill of that eternal, delivering God is with us, we, too,
may feel that our trivial troubles and our heavy burdens, all the needs
of our prisoned wills and captive souls, are known to Him, and that we
shall have deliverance from them by Him. Brethren, in that name, with
its historical associations, with its deep revelations of the divine
nature, with its large promises of the divine sympathy and help, there
lie surely abundant strengths and consolations for us all. The
goodwill, the delight, of God, and the active help of God, may be ours,
and if these be ours we shall be blessed and strong.
Do not let us forget the place in this blessing on the head of Joseph
which my text holds. It is preceded by an invoking of the precious
things of Heaven, and 'the precious fruits brought forth by the sun...
of the chief things of the ancient mountains, and the precious things
of the lasting hills, and the precious things of the earth and the
fulness thereof.' They are all heaped together in one great mass for
the beloved Joseph. And then, like the golden spire that tops some of
those campaniles in Italian cities, and completes their beauty, above
them all there is set, as the shining apex of all, 'the goodwill of Him
that dwelt in the bush.' That is more precious than all other precious
things; set last because it is to be sought first; set last as in
building some great structure the top stone is put on last of all; set
last because it gathers all others into itself, secures that all others
shall be ours in the measure in which we need them, and arms us against
all possibilities of evil. So the blessing of blessings is the
'goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush.'
In my text this is an invocation only; but we can go further than that.
You and I can make sure that we have it, if we will. How to secure it?
One of the texts which I have already quoted helps us a little way
along t he road in answer to that question, for it says, 'Thou, Lord,
wilt bless the righteous. With favour wilt thou compass him as with a
shield.' But it is of little use to tell me that if I am 'righteous'
God will 'bless me,' and 'compass me with favour.' If you will tell me
how to become righteous, you will do me more good. And we have been
told how to be righteous - 'If a man keep My commandments My Father will
love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.' If we
knit ourselves to Jesus Christ, and we can all do that if we like, by
faith that trusts Him, and by love, the child of faith, that obeys Him,
and grows daily more like Him - then, without a doubt, that delight of
God in us, and that active purpose of good in God's mind towards us,
will assuredly be ours; and on no other terms.
So, dear brethren, the upshot of my homily is just this - Men may
strive and scheme, and wear their finger-nails down to the quick, to
get some lesser good, and fail after all. The greatest good is
certainly ours by that easy road which, however hard it may be
otherwise, is made easy because it is so certain to bring us to what we
want. Holiness is the condition of God's delight in us, and a genuine
faith in Christ, and the love which faith evokes, are the conditions.
So it is a very simple matter You never can be sure of getting the
lower good You can be quite sure of getting the highest. You never can
be certain that the precious things of the earth and the fulness
thereof will be yours, or that if they were, they would be so very
precious; but you can be quite sure that the 'goodwill of Him that
dwelt in the bush' may lie like light upon your hearts, and be strength
to your limbs.
And so I commend to you the words of the Apostle, 'Wherefore we labour
that, whether present or absent, we may be well-pleasing to Him.' To
minister to God's delight is the highest glory of man. To have the
favour of Him that dwelt in the bush resting upon us is the highest
blessing for man. He will say 'Well done! good and faithful servant.'
'The Lord taketh pleasure' - wonderful as it sounds - 'in them that fear
Him, in them that hope in His mercy,' and that, hoping in His mercy,
live as He would have them live.
SHOD FOR THE ROAD
'Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy
strength be.' DEUT. xxxiii. 25.
There is a general correspondence between those blessings wherewith
Moses blessed the tribes of Israel before his death, and the
circumstances and territory of each tribe in the promised land. The
portion of Asher, in whose blessing the words of our text occurs, was
partly the rocky northern coast and partly the fertile lands stretching
to the base of the Lebanon. In the inland part of their territory they
cultivated large olive groves, the produce of which was trodden out in
great rock-hewn cisterns. So the clause before my text is a benediction
upon that industry-'let him dip his foot in oil.' And then the metaphor
naturally suggested by the mention of the foot is carried on into the
next words, 'Thy shoes shall be iron and brass,' the tribe being
located upon rocky sea-coast, having rough roads to travel, and so
needing to be well shod. The substance, then, of that promise seems to
be - strength adequate to, and unworn by, exercise; while the second
clause, though not altogether plain, seems to put a somewhat similar
idea in unmetaphorical shape. 'As thy days, so shall thy strength be,'
probably means the promise of power that grows with growing years.
So, then, we have first that thought that God gives us an equipment of
strength proportioned to our work, - shoes fit for our road. God does
not turn people out to scramble over rough mountains with thin-soled
boots on; that is the plain English of the words. When an Alpine
climber is preparing to go away into Switzerland for rock work, the
first thing he does is to get a pair of strong shoes, with plenty of
iron nails in the soles of them. So Asher had to be shod for his rough
roads, and so each of us may be sure that if God sends us on stony
paths He will provide us with strong shoes, and will not send us out on
any journey for which He does not equip us well.
There are no difficulties to be found in any path of duty, for which he
that is called to tread it is not prepared by Him that sent him.
Whatsoever may be the road, our equipment is calculated for it, and is
given to us from Him that has appointed it.
Is there not a suggestion here, too, as to the sort of travelling we
may expect to have? An old saying tells us that we do not go to heaven
in silver slippers, and the reason is because the road is rough. The
'primrose way' leads somewhere else, and it may be walked on
'delicately.' But if we need shoes of iron and brass, we may pretty
well guess the kind of road we have before us. If a man is equipped
with such coverings on his feet, depend upon it that there will be use
for them before he gets to the end of his day's journey. The thickest
sole will make the easiest travelling over rocky roads. So be quite
sure of this, that if God gives to us certain endowments and equipments
which are only calculated for very toilsome paths, the roughness of the
road will match the stoutness of the shoes.
And see what He does give. See the provision which is made for patience
and strength, for endurance and courage, in all the messages of His