Men of the Bible; Some Lesser-Known Characters
by George Milligan, J. G. Greenhough, Alfred Rowland, Walter F.
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

E-text prepared by Al Haines

























20. DEMAS By Principal D. ROWLANDS, B.A.



Enoch was the bright particular star of the patriarchal epoch. His record is short, but eloquent. It is crowded into a few words, but every word, when placed under examination, expands indefinitely. Every virtue may be read into them; every eulogium possible to a human character shines from them. He was a devout man, a fearless preacher of righteousness, an intimate friend of God, and the only man of his dispensation who did not see death. He sheds a lustre on the antediluvian age, and he shines still as an example to all generations of steady and lofty piety.

It is difficult to realise the exact environment of the early patriarchs. Human society was then in its making. There were giants in those days, both physically and intellectually. They lived long, and unfolded a vigorous manhood, by which civilisation was developed in every direction. Some of them, also, were tenderly responsive to supernatural influences, and thus rose to a spiritual stature which enables them to bulk largely in sacred history.

The guiding lines of Enoch's biography are clear though few. "He walked with God"; "he pleased God"; "he was translated that he should not see death." These are the pregnant remnants of his history, from which we may construct a character and career of striking eminence.


"He walked with God."

Therefore he knew God. The articles of his creed were not many, but he was fixed on this foundation-truth of all religion. Further than this, he knew God as taking a living interest in His creatures, as one who could be approached by them in prayer and communion, and who was sympathetically responsive to their needs. He somehow knew God, also, as being righteous and holy, and he must have had a rudimentary idea of the Christ, as it unfolded itself in the great promise of a deliverer from evil made to our first parents in Paradise. However scanty in number were the articles of his creed, they were not scanty in results. They produced a great life and a great name. The results were that "he walked with God." Walking is the habitual exercise of a man's life. A man runs sometimes. Under great strain, or the demand of special circumstances, he runs, but finds that exhaustion follows; or if he runs too frequently, total collapse is the inevitable consequence. Two of the most eminent ministers of our times recently died owing to overstrain and over-exertion. But we have some now living who have done signal service for the Church during a ministry of fifty years, and who are still hale and having a green old age. To walk at a steady pace, fulfilling life's responsibilities and the demands of duty, is to fulfil the will of God and serve our generation. This rule refers to man's religious and spiritual life. To walk onward and upward in the highest things is to grow in excellence and grace.

As man is a social being, he must walk with someone in life. Perpetual solitude dries up the springs of existence, and true manhood is shrivelled up. Solitary confinement is the saddest and cruellest punishment that can be inflicted by man on his fellow. The prisoner in the Bastille, when his reason reeled through prolonged silence and loneliness, was saved from mental collapse by the friendship of a rat; and a similar story is told of an English prisoner, who, under similar circumstances, found solace in the company of a pigeon. Man craves for fellowship and friendship. Happiest is he who has the noblest companion. God alone fills the deep craving of the heart for a congenial and helpful presence, and Enoch "walked with God." The words imply regular, unbroken, well-sustained communion with Him. With a sublime and lofty aspiration Enoch had risen above shadows, idols, and pretences, and with simple, manly faith had grasped the unseen substance and reality, the personal God, the Father of us all.

This "walking with God" may be fairly inferred to have been carried out in all the affairs of life. The statement has no exceptions in it. Other saints have their failings and sins recorded with an admirable candour, but we are left to conclude that this was a saint of pure life and character. In tending his flocks and herds, in carrying out the barter of the markets in the early world, in commanding his children and ordering his household, in preaching righteousness and foretelling judgment, the great law of his life was here, "walking with God."

When such unbroken intercourse with God is maintained, all duty and labour have a new meaning, and are suffused with a new glory. Every occupation or profession becomes a transparency by which divine truth and purity are translated to the world. No man is then a menial or a slave, but a free man, living in love and by love. He becomes an evangel, who, by words of holiness and deeds of sacrifice, adorns the doctrine of God and Christ in all things. Nothing is common, nothing is unclean; all life is sanctified and beautiful; the man is a temple consecrated by and for God alone.

In such habitual fellowship there is constant growth in familiarity and intimacy. God becomes known more and more in the tenderness and considerateness of His love. He unfolds Himself to the soul of His friend in such love-compelling charm as that the believer is constrained to ever-growing reverence, gratitude, and devotion. The man is transfigured. His thoughts, motives, desires, actions, are all inspired by the Divine Mind and framed after a Divine Pattern. The limitations of human nature are relaxed, and the man expands into newness of life; he soars into heavenly places; he is charged with holy influences. "The trivial round, the common task," become media to him, by which he can interpret and make known to all, the beauty of holiness as revealed to him by communion with God.

It is a significant fact in the history of Enoch, that his piety shone brightest amid family surroundings. He was not an ascetic or an anchorite. He was a husband and a father. It is said that he "walked with God after the birth of Methusaleh." With what measure of fervour he served God before the coming of a child into his house, we are not told; but we are told that after that event "he walked with God three hundred years." Possibly he had not manifested special piety before. His children gathered round him, for we are told that after Methusaleh, he had "sons and daughters." But the blessing of children in no wise slackened his course of piety. Not infrequently, family cares and business responsibilities draw men's thoughts and desires from God; and many who in youth were ardent in religious exercises and unfailing in spiritual duties, in middle life and old age are found to be merely formalists in worship, and paralysed for useful work in the Church. The fine gold has become dim, through the fretting cares or the surging excitements of life. It is awful when such is the case, when the promise and interest of youth settles into impotence and rigidity, when the type which once had the die of thought fresh upon it is worn flat by overuse, or when the shell, once the home of life and bright with ocean's spray, lies with faded colour and emptied hollowness. This is melancholy, indeed, and many such wrecks of religious life are around us. But with Enoch, the increase of life's cares brought an access of fresh devotion. New gifts of Providence roused new feelings of gratitude, and he grappled himself the closer in attachment to the Giver of enlarged blessing. This is as it should be. Every gift of God should be a call to renewed praise and prayer, to a more perfect and joyous service.

This record of Enoch's piety teaches that the highest spirituality of nature is not found in avoiding the duties and cares of life, or in seeking a cloistered and solitary existence. The piety of monkery is not the crown of living. It is neither an experience of healthy joy nor of abundant fruitfulness. The healthful influences of Christianity are immeasurably more beautiful when manifested in the joys of family and home life, or in the discharge of honest trade and commerce, than in the introspective gloom of the recluse, or the ceremonial round of the ascetic. It is remarkable that the record states that Enoch's walk with God lasted "three hundred years after the birth of Methusaleh." There was no break in his spiritual course; it was continuous growth and progress until the light of eventide deepened into the glory of heaven.


"He pleased God."

This is to win the highest prize of life. Not only because God is highest and noblest of beings, but also because His pleasure presupposes great moral and spiritual qualities, and unfolds itself in blessings of untold preciousness both in this life and that which is to come. The pleasure of the Lord is graduated to the intrinsic beauty or value possessed by the object which draws it out. It was manifested when the great creation stood in finished order before Him, and He pronounced it "only good." But of a higher kind is that pleasure said to be taken by Him in His only-begotten Son, in His people, and in His Church. Over these He rejoices with singing, as He rests in His love. Of such pleasure Enoch was the recipient, and it was bestowed upon him in a most signal and unique manner. Two especial qualities are indispensable to those with whom God is pleased. One is faith—"Without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb. xi. 6). The other is uprightness—"I know also, my God, that Thou hast pleasure in uprightness" (1 Chron. xxix. 17). The former grace is the superlative and distinguishing feature of the people of God. It is indeed the foundation quality on which all others rest, and from which they spring. It is the broad separating act which marks the difference between the saint and the sinner. Without it man is in opposition to God. The Divine displeasure rests upon him, because absence of faith means want of confidence and want of sympathy. The unbeliever distrusts God, and has no fellow-feeling with Him or His ways.

There is no more offensive feeling that can be shown by one being towards another than distrust. It irritates our sensibility; it arrays in opposition all the resentment of our nature. It is the parent of gloom, dissatisfaction, pessimism, and rebellion. It writes discontent on the brow, and bitterness on the heart. It is the fruitful parent of all ill in human nature. But faith pleases God. It draws the human and Divine into loving association. It leads the human to look to the Divine for counsel, to lean upon Him for help, to refer all things to His decision, to wait on Him for guidance in every step and enterprise in life. The faith of the patriarchs seems to have been characterised by entire simplicity and childlikeness. As manifested by Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, all of whom had the pleasure of the Lord resting on them in a pre-eminent degree, there was no stumbling or hesitancy. Some of them had their faith severely tried, but it came forth from the test victorious, as "gold tried in the fire." Therefore, if the command of God was hard, faith led to obedience; if the mystery of life was deep, faith drew them close to the Father; if the sense of sin and guilt was strong, faith never failed, but led them to look for the promised Redeemer, and they rejoiced to see His day and were glad.

Faith is said to be difficult to exercise in this day of bustle, excitement, and pressure. The differences between this day and Enoch's day are merely accidental and not essential. There were the same inducements and temptations to evil then as now. There were scoffers and cavillers then as now. The doubting spirit in our first parents and in Cain was felt in all; but there was also the strong and manly faith which resisted the sin of doubt, which looked from the seen to the unseen, from the temporal to the eternal, from sin and folly to God, and which established itself firmly on His promise of unchangeable love. Therefore Enoch "pleased God." Faith presupposes reverence, love, obedience, and man never pays a higher tribute to another than to trust him implicitly and for all in all. Such faith God accepts and delights in. Such faith builds a noble character and a lofty life.


"He was translated that he should not see death."

That was the crowning evidence and token of the Divine pleasure. Death is the wages of sin, the harbinger of retribution, the seal of man's humiliation and defeat. The fear of death is a bondage under which the race of man lies, save only where Christian faith and hope alleviate the terror and inspire a superhuman courage before which all fear is banished. The extraordinary nature of Enoch's piety could not be demonstrated by any fact so imperative as this, "He was translated."

There are three complete men in heaven. Man is threefold in his nature. He is body, soul, and spirit. He is not complete without his bodily organisation. The work of faith is not perfect, nor is the work of sin undone until at the Resurrection trump man shall stand complete in his threefold being. But of that completeness there are three specimens in heaven; Enoch from the patriarchal epoch; Elijah from the Jewish dispensation; and Christ from the Christian. The translation of Elijah was a marvellously dramatic episode. It was witnessed by Elisha and the sons of the prophets—and a heavenly equipage, lambent with supernal glow, carried him in triumph out of sight. But as to Enoch there was no such scenic display. "He was not found, for God took him." It was a quiet but beautifully fitting end. Moonlight rising into sunlight, the sweet calm light of a starlit sky becoming flushed with the auroral tints of a brilliant morning.

Translation means promotion, and also expansion.

It is promotion in honour, in office, in privilege. The bishop is translated from Rochester to Winchester and thence to Canterbury, because he has pleased his party and his sovereign. It is a sign that he has won promotion by devoted service. Christ says to his follower, "Occupy till I come"; and after a due period of labour well discharged, he says, "Come up higher." The rule of the Divine Kingdom is, "faithful in that which is least," then, "ruler over that which is much." Translation to Enoch meant the elevation to higher duties and enjoyments without the wearing agonies of disease, the sharpness of death, or the darkness of the grave.

It meant also expansion. In the passing from a lower to a higher condition, we cannot now realise the quick change which would pass over the material framework of the patriarch, but that it would be etherialised so as to be "a heavenly body" marvellously endowed with new powers of sense, of insight and locomotion, fit to be the instrument of a soul fully redeemed from the consequences of sin, we cannot doubt; and for thousands of generations has that soul sunned itself in the brightest fellowships and employments of the highest heaven.



NUMBERS xi. 24-30.

Nothing is known of these two men beyond the incident recorded in the Book of Numbers; but this is so remarkable and significant, that it well repays careful study.

The Israelites had been once more displaying suspicion and ingratitude. Turning with loathing from the manna, they whimpered, like spoilt children, for the fish and flesh they had enjoyed in Egypt, and murmured against God and against Moses. The patience of their leader, under this new provocation, completely broke down, so that he went so far as to accuse God Himself of being a hard taskmaster, who had laid too much upon him. With infinite forbearance, allowance was made for the manner in which Divine counsel and help had been asked for, and the promise was graciously fulfilled, "Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and He shall sustain thee. He will never suffer the righteous to be moved." God dealt with his servant as a father at his best will deal with his child who runs to him, hurt and bruised, in a passion of tears. Instead of beginning with an angry rebuke, help and relief are first given, and then in a few calm words the needed counsel is proffered. It was in a spirit of patient love that God appointed elders from among the people to help his over-wrought servant and share his heavy burden.

Moses was, no doubt, justified in saying, "I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me." Indeed it was well for him, as it is for us all, to feel the need there is for human sympathy and Divine aid. Self-contained, self-reliant men are not the highest type of humanity, and they are sometimes for their own good visited by anxieties and responsibilities which compel them to cry, "Lord help me." Thus was it with Moses. Indeed, our Lord Himself shared that experience, when for our sakes He became man. He chose comrades who were a blessing to Himself, although He was a far greater blessing to them. He took them with Him when he went forth to confront the crises of His life—on the Mount of Transfiguration, and in the Garden of Gethsemane, where His sorrow was intensified by their failure to watch with Him. He had three specially intimate friends. He called twelve to be apostles, and sent forth seventy as missioners—an arrangement in which we see the New Testament counterpart of the choosing of these seventy-two elders, to rule and judge the Israelites, and thus share the responsibility of Moses.

The account given us of their appointment is singularly interesting. Six men out of each of the twelve tribes were summoned to the Tabernacle, solemnly set apart and filled with the Spirit—but two of the men—Eldad and Medad—were absent "They were of them written to" is the exact phrase—and the fact that they received a written summons denotes a higher and more general culture among that ancient people than is generally imagined to have existed. Yet it is what might be reasonably expected, for they had come out of Egypt, the most civilised power then in the world, a country where the usual writing materials were exclusively made. Though the Israelites had been only slaves there, they would doubtless be familiar with the art of writing, for the men of that race have never yet lagged behind any people among whom they have lived.

Seventy of the men thus summoned came together promptly, and were ranged in a semicircle before the Tabernacle. Then, in the sight of all the people, the cloud descended, wrapped them all in impenetrable mist, as a sign that the chosen men were being mysteriously baptised with the Spirit, and when again they emerged they began to prophesy. It was the ancient counterpart of the day of Pentecost, when the disciples met, and the Spirit came upon them as a mighty, rushing wind, and they began to speak with other tongues, as men chosen and inspired by God.

In the 25th verse of the eleventh chapter of Numbers, it is said that "the Lord took of the spirit that was upon Moses, and gave it unto the seventy elders." Some conclude from this statement that, as a punishment for his intemperate prayer, the wisdom of Moses was thus lessened, while others were enriched at his expense. But wisdom, and all gifts similar to it, are not diminished by distribution. If we impart information, we do not lessen our own store of knowledge. If we give of our love lavishly, yet affection is not lessened by such outpouring. The spread of fire over what is inflammable increases its intensity. Though we light a thousand candles from one which burned alone at first, it still burns brightly as before. So is it with the Spirit of whose fulness we all receive. No Christian man is poorer because his brother is enriched with grace, nor was Moses. "There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth."

It is time that we turned to the two men, Eldad and Medad, who, although summoned with their brethren, did not come to the assembly at the Tabernacle. They may have been absent from their tents when the papyrus letter was delivered, and would not be quickly found in the vast camp. Be this as it may, what followed is evidence that they did not wilfully disobey the summons, and that their absence was not due to any bad motive. For some reason unknown to us they failed to put in an appearance at the critical time, when others of the elect were receiving the mysterious but efficient grace of the Spirit. Yet, at one and the same moment, they also were inspired while walking together, as they probably were doing, in some far-off part of the camp. To the amazement of the people, and doubtless to their own amazement too, they suddenly began to prophesy, and crowds of listeners quickly gathered round them, as on Pentecost they ran together to hear the inspired apostles. This unique experience was given by God, and received by the people as convincing evidence that Eldad and Medad were divinely appointed, and divinely qualified, equally with their brethren nearer the Tabernacle. It is true that Joshua exhibited some jealousy and suspicion, and would have silenced them because the blessing had not come through Moses; but the great law-giver, with characteristic insight and generosity, would not heed the request—"My lord Moses, forbid them." Calmly, yet decisively, the answer rang out, "Enviest thou for my sake? Would God that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His spirit upon them!"

In the experience of these two men there is imbedded valuable and permanent truth. We regard it as an evidence, the more remarkable because given under a ceremonial regime, that God did not intend to institute any order of men outside the limits of which there was to be no liberty of prophesying and no fitness for it. Nor is there any exclusively sacred place, be it tabernacle, temple, synagogue, or church, where alone such gifts can be conferred. We believe that outside all sacred places, outside the churches of our own faith and order, and of any other churches, there are men, and women too, equally called of God with those within such limits, and the evidence that they are so called lies in the fact that in them also the Spirit of God is resting, and through them the Spirit of God is working.

This lesson, which still needs to be enforced in our own day, is perhaps best deduced from an incident so early and so simple as this. Just as we may learn more of the way in which an engine really works from a simple model—say of George Stephenson's—than from one of the complicated machines of the present day, so we may gain the more instruction from this incident, because of its very simple character, while its antiquity keeps it out of the confusion caused by modern controversies.

Eldad and Medad were men called of God to undertake holy service for the good of His people. In their case the call was manifestly inward rather than outward. Though truly chosen, they were not in the Tabernacle, nor were they wrapped in the cloud, and they received no ordination from the laying on of hands by Moses and Aaron. The evidence of their call lay in their fitness for the work, and their fitness was due to the gift of the Spirit. Yet all this occurred under a dispensation which was far more strict in ceremonial law than that under which we live.

What does it teach? It surely confirms our belief that the word of God is not bound. The exposition and enforcement of Divine truth is not to be confined to those who have received priestly ordination by some outward rite. No man therefore has the right to forbid any preacher from exercising his functions on the ground that his orders are not regular, or because he has not been recognised by an Episcopate, a Presbytery, a Conference, or a Union.

To put the same truth in hortatory form, I would say to any one who has knowledge of Divine truth, who has experienced the graces of the Holy Spirit, and who has the gift of utterance: You are called upon, by the fact of possessing these qualifications, to serve God as opportunity comes. You ought not to be silent on the claims of Christ, nor should you refrain from leading others in prayer, while on every other topic you are fluency itself. "Neglect not the gift that is in thee," whether it came by laying on of hands, or in some other way. Every true convert should sometimes feel as the prophet Jeremiah felt, when he said, "The word of the Lord was within me as a burning fire shut up in my bones. I was weary with forbearing and could not stay." The work assigned too often exclusively to the minister is really the work of the Church.

Happily, speech is not the only mode in which men can serve God. It is clear from the Hebrew narrative that Eldad and Medad, like their brethren at the door of the Tabernacle, did not receive an abiding gift of prophecy, but a transient sign which seemed adequate to convince the people that they had been chosen and inspired. Unfortunately, the Authorised Version gives us a phrase which is the exact opposite of the meaning of the Hebrew phrase in the twenty-fifth verse, rendering it thus, "They prophesied, and did not cease." The Revised Version sets this right in the phrase, "They prophesied, but they did so no more." In other words, the singular manifestation of power soon passed away. It was not a permanent possession.

This is in harmony with the experience of the early Christian Church. The miraculous power given to the apostles, as evidence of their Divine commission, was not always at their disposal. The gift of tongues bestowed on them, and on others, soon ceased; for it was intended to show the supernatural origin of Christianity until written evidence was available, and then it was withdrawn. The Holy Spirit still remained in the Church, and was revealed in a diversity of operations. His presence was proved by the changed characters of converts more effectually than by abnormal gifts—and similarly the religious ecstasy of Eldad and Medad and their comrades was soon exchanged for their abiding spirit of wisdom and justice.

Christians who at one time spoke for Christ are not always to blame if they speak publicly no more. They may have withdrawn from Sunday School teaching, for example, but only to serve God in another form. Their matured experience may be quite as valuable as their once fervent zeal. The river which near its source noisily rushes over the pebbles, is not lessened in value when, full and deep, it silently glides onward to the sea.

Happily, there are diversities of operations, though they are all under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit; and if we are faithful to our special calling, we may hope to receive our Lord's "Well done," just as did these seventy-two men, who sustained and aided Moses, though they left no record of their steady, useful work. Indeed, there are those who in actual service can do very little, whose gracious and benign influence is the best proof of true inspiration. Such was he of whom Cowper sings:

"When one that holds communion with the skies Has filled his urn where those pure waters rise, And once more mingles with us meaner things, 'Tis even as if an angel shook his wings; Immortal fragrance fills the circuit wide, That tells us whence his treasures are supplied."

God calls us to Himself before He calls us to His service. The same Divine Spirit who qualifies for religious work, creates men anew. Of every one so created, it may be said he was "born of the Spirit."

In this, also, neither place nor circumstance is essential. Eldad and Medad were both away from the Tabernacle, somewhere in the unconsecrated camp; yet they received the same blessing which their brethren were enjoying at the door of the Tabernacle. And we rejoice that some who are now outside a place of worship—outside this or that denomination—outside Christendom, do receive the Spirit who transforms them into the likeness of Christ.

In confirmation of this, we recall the fact that our Lord spoke more often in houses, and fields, and boats, and streets, than in the Temple. And the apostles who were called to follow Him were engaged at the time of their calling in their ordinary occupations, at the toll-office or in the fishing-boat. Saul was converted on the road to Damascus, the jailor of Philippi in prison, Lydia by the river side. All this reminds us that though our power may be limited by time and place, God's power is not; though our work is contracted, His is broad. The Holy Spirit is no more confined to a place than the wind is, which bloweth as it listeth over land and sea, over desert and garden.

It is a comfort to remember this when we grieve over some prodigal, who has gone beyond the reach of religious observances; who never attends worship, or reads the Bible. We may hope about him, believe in him, and pray for him still, because the Spirit of God can reach him as He reached Eldad and Medad, "who went not up to the Tabernacle." The old promise is not exhausted yet: "I will pour out of My Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams."

It is this divine afflatus, this outpouring of the Spirit, which is the great need of the age we live in. The Church seems to be lying listless as a sailing ship, due to leave harbour, but still waiting for a breeze. Her masts are firm, the canvas ready to be stretched, and her equipment complete. The helmsman stands impatient at the wheel, and all the sailors are alert, but not a ripple runs along the vessel's side. She waits, and must wait, for a heavenly breeze to fill her sails, and till it comes she cannot stir. Like that ship the Church is wanting impulse, and we ought to be waiting for it, and praying for it. The power we need can only come from heaven, the breath of God must be our real moving force, and we should be wiser, stronger, and more hopeful if we entered into the meaning of the old, oft-repeated verse:

"At anchor laid, remote from home, Toiling, I cry, 'sweet Spirit, come,' Celestial breeze no longer stay, But swell my sails, and speed my way."



"There is nothing," says Socrates to Cephalus in the Republic, "I like better than conversing with aged men. For I regard them as travellers who have gone a journey which I too may have to go, and of whom it is right to learn the character of the way, whether it is rugged or difficult, or smooth and easy" (p. 328 E.).

It is to such an aged traveller that we are introduced in the person of Barzillai the Gileadite. And though he is one of the lesser-known characters of Scripture—and we might perhaps never have heard of him at all had it not been for his connection with King David—on the few occasions on which he does appear he acts with an independence and disinterestedness which are very striking.

The first of these occasions is at Mahanaim, in his own country of Gilead. In the strong fortress there David and his companions had taken refuge after the disastrous revolt of Absalom. Owing to their hurried flight, the fugitives were wanting in almost all the necessaries of life, and they could hardly fail also to have been a little apprehensive of the kind of welcome the Gileadites would extend to them. But if so, their fears were soon set at rest. Three of the richest and most influential men in the district at once came to their aid. Shobi the son of Nahash, and Machir the son of Ammiel, and Barzillai the Gileadite of Rogelim, brought beds, and cups, and wheat, and barley, and honey, and butter, and sheep—all, in fact, that was needed—for David, and for the people that were with him: for they said, "The people is hungry, and weary, and thirsty, in the wilderness" (2 Sam. xvii. 29).

In so acting, the first of these, Shobi, may have been trying to atone for his brother's insulting conduct when David had sent messengers to comfort him on his father's death (2 Sam. x. 1-5);[1] and Machir as the friend of Mephibosheth (2 Sam, ix. 4), was naturally grateful for the king's kindness to the lame prince. But, as regards Barzillai, we know of no such reasons for his conduct, and his generosity may, therefore, be traced to the natural impulses of a kind and generous heart. In any case, this unlooked-for sympathy and friendship had an arousing and encouraging effect upon the king. He no longer despaired of his fortunes, black though at the moment they looked, but, marshalling his forces under three captains, prepared for war with his rebellious son; with the result that in the forest of Ephraim Absalom's army was wholly defeated, and the young prince himself treacherously slain.

With the death of its leader, the rebellion against David may be said to have ended; but to the sorrow-stricken father victory at such a price seemed an almost greater calamity than defeat would have been. And it needed the strong, almost harsh, remonstrances of Joab to rouse him from his grief, and lead him to think of his duty to his people. At length, however, the homeward journey began, the king following the same route by which so shortly before he had fled, until he came to the banks of the Jordan, where a ferry-boat was in readiness to take him and his household across (2 Sam. xix. 18). Before, however, he crossed, several interesting interviews took place. Shimei, who had cursed so shamelessly on the day of misfortune, was forgiven, and received the promise of protection; Mephibosheth was restored to the king's favour, and his old place at the king's table; and, what specially concerns us at present, David had his final parting with Barzillai.

The loyal chieftain, notwithstanding his eighty years, had come all the way from his upland farm to bid farewell to his king, and see him safely over Jordan. And as David remarked the old man's devotion, and remembered his former favours, the wish seized him to attach him still more closely to his person. "Come thou over with me," he said, "and I will feed thee with me in Jerusalem" (2 Sam. xix. 33). It was from one point of view a dazzling offer. Barzillai had seen enough of David to know that what the king said he meant, and that if he chose to go with him, honour and position awaited him at the court. But he would not be moved. His grey hairs, if nothing else, stood in the way. "How long have I to live," he answered, "that I should go up with the king unto Jerusalem?" (verse 34). I am too old, that is, for such a life as would there be expected of me. And, after all, why should conduct such as mine meet with so great a reward? No! let me go a little way over Jordan with the king, and then "Let thy servant, I pray thee, turn back again, that I may die in mine own city, and be buried by the grave of my father and of my mother." "But," he hastened to add, as if anxious to show that he appreciated to the full the king's generous offer, and saw the advantages it presented to those who were able to enjoy them, "behold thy servant Chimham," my son, "let him go over with my lord the king; and do to him what shall seem good unto thee" (verse 37). With a plea so expressed, David could not but acquiesce: "The king kissed Barzillai, and blessed him; and he returned unto his own place . . . and Chimham went on with him" (verses 39, 40), to become famous as the founder of a caravanserai, or halting-place for pilgrims on the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, which for at least four centuries continued to bear his name (Jer. xli. 17) and which may even, it has been conjectured, have been the same which, at the time of the Christian era "furnished shelter for two travellers with their infant child, when 'there was no room in the inn.'"[2]

Round Barzillai's own name no such associations have gathered. After his parting with David we do not hear of him again, if we except a passing reference in David's dying instructions to Solomon, to "shew kindness unto the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite" (1 Kings ii. 7), and the mention, as late as the return from Babylon, of a family of priests who traced their descent to a marriage with the Gileadite's daughter, and prided themselves on the distinctive title of "the children of Barzillai" (Ezra ii. 61). But in the absence of anything to the contrary, we may be allowed to conjecture that, full of years and experience, surrounded by all the love which his useful, helpful life had called forth, Barzillai died in peace among his own people, and was buried, as he had himself desired, by his parents' grave.

Such, then, is the story of Barzillai's life, so far as the Bible reveals it to us. It is, as I have already said, as an old man that he is principally brought before us, and in thinking of his character further, it may be well to do so from this point of view, and see what he has to teach us regarding a true old age. Four points at least stand out clearly from the Bible narrative.


Barzillai was evidently by nature a warm-hearted, sunshiny old man, himself happy and making others happy.

David himself was such a man before the great sin which brought a trouble and a sorrow into his life that he was never again able wholly to surmount. And it may have been the sight of his own lost gaiety and lightness of spirit in the aged Gileadite that first drew out his heart to him.

It may be said, perhaps, that it was easy for Barzillai to be cheerful. The sun had shone on him very brightly: the good things of life had fallen very freely to his share. He was, according to the Bible record, "a very great man" (2 Sam. xix. 32), evidently a most successful farmer, rich in flocks and herds, looked up and respected in the district in which he lived. But after all, is it the universal, or even the general, experience that wealth and power are associated with simple cheerfulness and happiness? Could anything, for example, have exceeded the bitterness and the boorishness of the other rich flockmaster whom David's youths, with Eastern frankness, had asked, "Give, we pray thee, whatsoever cometh to thine hand unto thy servants, and to thy son David" "Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse?" burst out Nabal in a fury. "Shall I then take my bread, and my water . . . and give it unto men whom I know not whence they be?" (1 Sam. xxv. 8, 10, 11). And even if that be an extreme instance, it will not be denied that outward blessings in themselves, and considered only by themselves, are apt to have a hardening rather than a softening effect. It says much, therefore, for Barzillai, that amidst his great possessions, he still kept the free, open, happy disposition of youth.


That he did so, is due amongst other reasons to the fact that he was a generous man.

His unsolicited assistance of David clearly proves this, while the very length of the catalogue of articles with which he and his friends supplied the fugitive's needs, proves that when he gave, he did so in no stinted fashion, but freely and liberally.

It is an excellent example for all who are feeling themselves burdened by the possessions and the opportunities with which God has enriched them. Let them remember that they hold them only in trust, and in helping to bear others' burdens, they will actually, strange to say, lighten their own.

"'Tis worth a wise man's best of life, 'Tis worth a thousand years of strife, If thou canst lessen but by one, The countless ills beneath the sun."

While, on the other hand, can there be a sadder thought for the man whose earthly course is nearly run, than the thought that there will be none to rise up after him and call him blessed, but that he will die, as he has lived, unhonoured, unwept?

If that, then, is not to be our fate, we cannot use too diligently every opportunity of well-doing which God has placed within our reach; we cannot live too earnestly, not for ourselves only, but for others: that from the seeds which we sow now, there may spring up hereafter a rich and abundant harvest.


Barzillai was contented.

Not many men in his position would have refused the king's offer. It seems rather to be one of the penalties of wealth and greatness, that their owners cannot rest satisfied with what they have, but are always desiring more. But Barzillai felt, and felt rightly, that in his circumstances, the place in which he had been brought up—"his own place"—was the best place for him. He was a home-loving old man, and the simple interests and pleasures of his daily life had more attraction for him than the excitements and rivalries of the court.

I do not, of course, mean to say that either here or elsewhere in Scripture, a wise and healthy ambition is discouraged. It is natural to wish to get on, if only for the sake of a wider sphere of usefulness; but let us see to it that we avoid that restless longing for change, simply for the sake of change, that coveting of positions for which we are not suited, and which, if gratified, can end only in disappointment.

"It is a great thing," said one to an ancient philosopher, "to possess what one wishes." "It is a greater blessing still," was the reply, "not to desire what one does not possess." And surely, in what we do possess, in the beauties of nature with which we are here surrounded, in the love of home and wife and children, in the intercourse with friends and acquaintance, we have much to make us contented, much, very much, to be thankful for. "To watch the corn grow, or the blossoms set; to draw hard breath over ploughshare or spade; to read, to think, to love, to pray,"—these, says John Ruskin, "are the things that make men happy." And these are things that, in some measure at least, are within the reach of us all.


There remains still a fourth and a last element in Barzillai's honoured, life and happy old age—his attitude towards God.

Though we are never distinctly told so, we cannot doubt that he was a religious man. And as it was in gratitude to God for all that He had done to him, that he first showed kindness to God's anointed, so it was in the same humble and trusting spirit that he accepted old age, and all that it involved when it came. That is by no means always the case. Are there not some, who, as they look forward to the time of old age, if God should ever permit them to see it, do so with a certain amount of dread? They think only of what they will be called upon to abandon—the duties they must give up, the pleasures, so dear to them now, they must forego. But to Barzillai, the presence of such disabilities brought, as we have seen, no disquieting thoughts. He could relinquish, without a sigh, what he was no longer fitted to enjoy. He desired nothing but to end his days peacefully in his appointed lot. Enough for him that the God who had been with him all his life long was with him still.

Happy old man! Who does not long for an old age, if he is ever to see old age, such as his? But, if so, it must be sought in the same way. Every man's old age is just what his own past has made it. If, in his days of health and vigour, he has lived an idle, careless, selfish life, he must not wonder if his closing years are querulous, and bitter, and lonely. But if, on the other hand, he has devoted himself to good and doing good, if he has made the will of God his rule and guide amidst all the difficulties and perplexities of his daily lot, then in that will he will find peace. God wilt not forget his "work and labour of love" (Heb. vi. 10): and in him the old promise will be once more fulfilled—"Even to your old age I am He; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry and will deliver you" (Isa. xlvi. 4).

[1]In view, however, of the difficulty of reconciling the two passages, and of the fact that Shobi is not mentioned elsewhere, it has been conjectured that for "Shobi the son of Nahash" in 2 Sam. xvii. 27, we should read simply "Nahash," see Hastings' Dict. of the Bible, art. "Shobi."

[2]Stanley, History of the Jewish Church, ii., p. 154.



It is notorious that the sons of devout men sometimes prove a curse to their parents, and bring dishonour on the cause of God. When Eve rejoiced over her first-born, she little suspected that passions were sleeping within him which would impel him to slay his own brother; and the experience of the first mother has been repeated, though in different forms, in all lands and in all ages. Isaac's heart was rent by the deceit of Jacob, and by the self-will of Esau. Jacob lived to see his own sin repeated in his sons, and he who deceived his father when he was old and blind, suffered for years an agony of grief because he had been falsely told that Joseph, his favourite son, was dead.

Probably few men have known domestic sorrows, so many and so great, as those which befell David. He shared, in all its bitterness, the misery of a parent who sees his best hopes disappointed, and who is racked with anxiety as to what his wayward boy will do next, sometimes wishing that before such dishonour had befallen him his son had been laid to rest under the daisies, in the time of infant innocence. David's eldest son, Amnon, after committing a terrible crime, was assassinated by his brother Absalom. In his turn, Absalom, the fairest of the family, rebelled against his own father, and was killed by Joab, as he hung in the oak. Chiliah, or Daniel, died we know not how, and then Adonijah, the fourth son, the eldest of those surviving, followed in Absalom's footsteps.

Adonijah's sin appears at first sight so unnatural that, in justice to him as well as for our own instruction, we should try to discover the sources whence this stream of evil flowed which was so bitter and so desolating in its results.

This is not an easy task, because the full details of his life are not recorded. There are, however, no less than three evil influences hinted at in these words: "His father had not displeased him at any time, in saying, Why hast thou done so? and he also was a very goodly man, and his mother bare him after Absalom" (1 Kings i. 6). Taking them in reverse order: Heritage, Adulation, and Lack of Discipline, were three sources of moral peril, and these would tend to the ruin of any man. Let us think of each of these, for they are not extinct by any means.

We know very little of Haggith, but she was probably a dancing girl who made her way to the front by her ambition and beauty. From her and from his father we may assume that Adonijah inherited a tendency to ambition and self-conceit such as Absalom inherited from the union of David with Bathsheba. It is one of the laws of life that "like produces like," Evidence of this constantly appears in the lower animals, in the speed of the racehorse, in the scent of the hound, and so forth. This asserts itself in men also. We often notice what we call a "family likeness." Tricks of manner, and various mental qualities such as heroism, statesmanship, mathematical or artistic talent, descend from parents to children, and sometimes reappear for generations in the same family. This cannot be due to example alone, because the phenomena is almost as frequent when the parents die during the child's infancy. Similarly, moral tendencies are transmitted, and the Bible gives us many examples of the fact. The luxury-loving Isaac, who must have his savoury food, just as his son, Esau, who would sell his birthright for a mess of pottage, Rebekah, who, like her brother Laban is shrewd and cunning, sees her tendency repeated in her son Jacob, who needed a life of discipline and prayer to set him free from it.

In more senses than one "the evil which men do lives after them." A drunkard's son, for example, is often conscious of an inbred craving which is a veritable disease, so that he is heavily weighted as he starts out on the race of life. This solemn and suggestive fact that the future well-being of children depends largely on the character of parents, should give emphasis to the adjuration in the wedding service—marriage, therefore, is to be honourable in all, and ought not to be engaged in rashly, "thoughtlessly, or lightly, but advisedly, reverently, and in the fear of God." The law of moral heritage makes parental responsibility a solemn trust, while, in so far as it affects those who inherit bad or good tendencies, we are sure that the Judge of all the earth will do right. But it must never be forgotten that even a bad disposition need never become a dominant habit. It is something to be resisted and conquered, and, it may be, by the grace of Him who is faithful, and will not suffer any of us to be tempted above what we are able to bear. Our tendencies are Divine calls to us to recognise and guard certain weak places in the citadel of character, for it is against these that our enemy directs his most persistent and vigorous attacks.

Unhappily, Adonijah's natural bias was made the more dangerous by the atmosphere of the court, where flatterers naturally abounded—for "he was a very goodly man," physically a repetition of Absalom, the Adonis of his time. We may also fairly surmise that his parents were guilty of partiality and indulgence in their treatment of him, for David would love him the more as one who revived the memory of his favourite Absalom, the idol of the people, distinguished for his noble mien and princely bearing. Courtiers, soldiers, and people all flattered Adonijah, and Joab, the greatest captain of his age, next only to the king, was his partisan, the more so because he neither forgot nor forgave David's reproaches after the death of Absalom. Even Abiathar, who represented the younger and more ambitious branch of the priesthood, joined in the general adulation, until Adonijah, intoxicated by vanity, set up his own court in rivalry to that of his father, and when he moved abroad was accompanied by a stately retinue of chariots and horsemen, and fifty foot attendants gorgeously apparelled.

No doubt every position in life has its own peculiar temptations. The ill-favoured lad, who is the butt at school and the scapegoat at home, is in serious danger of becoming bitter and revengeful, and of growing crooked in character, like a plant in a dark vault, which will have no beauty because it enjoys no sunshine. But, on the other hand, physical beauty, which attracts attention and wins admiration, especially if it is associated with brilliant conversational gifts, and great charm of manner, has befooled both men and women into sin and misery. Many a girl has been entrapped into an unhappy marriage; and many a lad, moved by a vaunting ambition which overleaped itself, has fallen never to rise: like Icarus, when his waxen wings melted in the sun.

There must have been sad laxity of discipline in the home of David. It is said of Adonijah that "his father had not displeased him at any time in saying, Why hast thou done so?" In other words, Adonijah had never been checked and rebuked as he ought to have been, and this foolish indulgence was as fatal to him as it had been to the sons of Eli. There are still such homes as David's, although their inmates do well to draw down the veil of secrecy over them with loyal hands, and never blazon abroad the grief and anxiety which rend their hearts. In one home a fair, bright girl mars the beauty of her early womanhood by a flippant disregard of her mother's wishes, and by an exaltation of her own pleasure-loving disposition as the one law of her life. In another, a mere child, hasty and uncontrolled in temper, is the dread of the whole household, and at last becomes its tyrant, because every wish is gratified rather than that a scene should be provoked. In yet another a grown-up son is callous about his mother's anxiety and his father's counsels; and gladly ignores his home associations as he drifts away upon the sea of vice, and there becomes a miserable wreck. With each of these it might have been otherwise. If authority had been asserted, and steadily maintained, before bad habits were formed; if firm resolution on the part of the parents had taken the place of indulgent laxity, if, instead of being left to chance, character had been moulded during the time when it was plastic—these might, with God's blessing, have grown up to be wise, pure-hearted, courageous followers of Christ—who would not only have sweetened the atmosphere of home, but would have done something to purify and illumine society, as the salt and the light of the world.

The sin of which Adonijah was guilty, whose sources we have tried to discover, was the assumption of unlawful authority and state, which involved rebellion against his own father.

Ambition is not always wrong. It is a common inspiration often nerving men to attempt daring and noble deeds. Desire for distinction, with capacity for it, may often be regarded as the voice of God summoning to high effort. The world would soon be stagnant without ambition. The scholar working for a prize, the writer or speaker resolving to make a name, the man of business pressing onward past the indolent and the ne'er-do-weel, are not to be condemned, so long as they seek lawful objects by lawful means. Those who strenuously and hopefully fulfil the duties of their present sphere will be called higher, either in this world or the next, for God means us to rise by our fidelity where we are, and not by discontent with what we are. Ambition may have conscience in it, and this will reveal itself in the steady and minute performance of small duties. Any who are content, with tireless hand, to make crooked things straight and rough places plain, will ultimately see glory revealed. But if ambition is not ruled by righteousness, if it is not modified by love and consideration for others, it becomes a sin, and will prove to be the herald of disobedience and death, for it is such ambition which has cursed the world by tyrannies and bloodshed, and dragged down angels from realms of light. This was the ambition which let Adonijah exalt himself, and say, "I will be king."

It may be said that his conduct was natural enough, although it was too precipitate, because he would legitimately succeed his father in due course, as his eldest surviving son. But this was not so. The law of primogeniture was not law for Israel. The invisible King expressly reserved to Himself the right of appointing the ruler of His people, as is evident from Deut. xvii. 14 and 15. The government was theocratic, not monarchical nor democratic. David himself had been chosen and anointed in preference to Jonathan, Saul's son, and Solomon, David's younger son, had already been designated as his successor through the prophet Nathan, partly because he was best fitted to become the man of peace who should erect Jehovah's temple, and partly as a sign to David that his sin with Bathsheba was forgiven. It was not as the "leader of a court cabal," but as a prophet inspired by Jehovah, that Nathan had made this solemn appointment. Adonijah knew this perfectly well; he acknowledged it to Bathsheba in the fifteenth verse of the second chapter, and therefore, when he declared, "I will be king," he was deliberately and knowingly setting his will against God's, and this was a sin.

The divine choice often differs from the human, for "the Lord seeth not as man seeth." In his reply to the sons of Zebedee, Jesus declared that God is not swayed by favouritism, nor moved by arbitrary impulse, but assigns to each his position according to his fitness. This should give us contentment with our lot, and should emphasise the precept, "Seekest thou great things for thyself; seek them not." Though it is natural enough to wish for escape from the fret of poverty, or the weariness of pain, and to win for ourselves wealth or prominence, we must be on our guard against the indulgence of defiant self-will, like that of him who said, "I will be king."

Adonijah's motive in aspiring to the throne was not that he might the better care for the welfare of others, but that he might selfishly enjoy wealth and honour. He cared much for outward show, while he failed to cultivate inward worth, preparing for himself chariots, horsemen, and a retinue of servants, but never displaying a love of justice or ability in statesmanship. And such little motives as his never make greatness.

Adonijah was not the last to be attracted by glitter and tinsel, and to live for earthly things which perish in the using. The candidate who cares much for honour and nothing for learning, the professional man who will sacrifice reputation to win a fortune, and all who wrong others in order to better themselves, only gain what is transient and unsatisfying. It would be well for all to learn the lesson (not least he for whom the ceremony is primarily intended), which is symbolically taught when a Pope is crowned. The Master of the Ceremonies takes a lighted taper in one hand, and in the other a reed with a handful of flax fastened to it. The flax flares up for a moment, and then the flame dies away into thin, almost imperceptible, ashes, which fall at the Pontiff's feet, as the choir chant the refrain "Pater sanctus, sic transit gloria mundi." No earthly honour is worth having except it is the result or the reward of character. Even in Pagan Rome the Temple of Honour could only be reached through the Temple of Virtue. And over the gateway of the greatest of all kingdoms in which Christ Jesus is supreme, this motto is inscribed indelibly—"He that humbleth himself shall be exalted, and he that exalteth himself shall be abased."

How often such ambition is accompanied by disregard of the rights of others! What did Adonijah care for his father's dignity, or his brother's claims? David was still on the throne, and Solomon's right to succeed him had been authoritatively proclaimed, and yet, with inbred selfishness, this ambitious prince declared, "I will be king!" The lawfulness of any ambition may often be tested by the amount of selfishness which inheres in it. If desire for distinction, or wealth, leads one to crush a competitor to the wall without ruth, or to refuse all help to others in a struggle where every man seems to fight for his own hand, its lawfulness may well be questioned. Our Lord taught us to love even our enemies, and surely competitors have a still stronger claim on our consideration, and certainly all who belong to a church which is based on sacrifice, and symbolised by a cross, should even in such matters deny themselves, and seek every man his neighbour's good.

All sin is the worse when it is committed, as Adonijah's was, in defiance of warning. He deliberately repeated his brother's offence. Yet he knew the tragic story of his death, and how his brilliant life had been ended by violence in a wood, where he perished without a friend; and he must often have seen his father brooding alone over the trouble thus caused, as if he was still whispering to himself: "O Absalom, my son, would God I had died for thee! O Absalom, my son, my son!" Yet the very sin of Absalom which had been so terribly punished, Adonijah boldly committed.

History is crowded with examples of ambitious men who died in disappointment and despair,—Alexander, who conquered a world, and then wept because there were no more worlds to conquer, perished in a scene of debauchery, after setting fire to the city. Hannibal, who filled three bushel measures with the gold rings of fallen knights, at last, by poison self-administered, died unwept in a foreign land. Caesar, who had practically the whole world at his feet, was stabbed to the heart by so-called friends, even Brutus being among them. Napoleon, the scourge and conqueror of Europe, died, a heart-broken exile, in St Helena. Indeed, it is written in letters of blood on the pages of history, "The expectation of the wicked shall perish."

Happily, angels' voices are calling us to higher things. Conscience whispers to us of duty and love. Christ Himself, from the Cross, which was the stepping-stone to His throne, still cries to every one who will listen, "Follow me."

The false must be displaced by the true—the world by the Christ—the usurper by the Divinely-appointed King. It was thus that Adonijah's scheme was defeated. Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, and Nathan, the prophet, hurried in to tell David of Adonijah's revolt against his authority, and that at his coronation-festival, then begun, even Joab, the commander-in-chief, and Abiathar, the priest, were present. Then David's old decision and promptitude reasserted themselves once more. At his command, Solomon, his designated successor, was seated on the King's own mule, and rode in state to Gihon, where Zadok anointed him in Jehovah's name; and when the trumpet was blown all the people said, "God save King Solomon!"

It was the crowning of the new king which proved the dethronement of the false; and this fact enshrines a principle divine and permanent. False doctrine is overcome, not by abuse, but by the proclamation of the true. Evil, whether enthroned in the heart or in the world, is conquered by greater good. The strong man armed, only keeps his goods in peace, until One stronger than he comes to bind him and cast him out. Christ conquers the devil, be he where he may. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil."

In the progress of Solomon, as he rode on his mule to Jerusalem, amid the acclamations of the people, we see the Old Testament counterpart to the New Testament narrative, which tells how Christ Jesus entered Jerusalem as its king, while the people met Him with welcomes, and with palms, and children sang His praises. And in both is a symbol of His advent to every heart, and, if He be but welcomed as rightful king, He will take to Himself His power, and reign.



The Temple of Solomon was the crown of art in the old world. There were temples on a larger scale, and of more massive construction, but the enormous masses of masonry of the oldest nations were not comparable with the artistic grace, the luxurious adornments, and the harmonious proportions of this glorious House of God. David had laid up money and material for the great work, but he was not permitted to carry it out. He was a man of war, and blood-stained hands were not to build the temple of peace and righteousness. Solomon was the providential man for such an undertaking. He had large ideas, a keen sense of beauty, generous instincts, a religious nature, a literary training, and a highly cultivated mind. He was in peaceful alliance with surrounding nations, many of whom would be drawn into requisition for the suitable materials. They had to supply the cedar wood, iron, copper, brass, tin, gold, silver, and the rich fabrics which have made proverbial the sumptuous and beautiful raiment and decorations of those times, with the rarest marbles that the quarries of Lebanon and Bezetha could contribute. So with the thousands of busy builders and artificers,

"Like some tall palm, the graceful fabric grew,"

until it stood complete on Mount Moriah, an inspiration to the people, a continual benediction to the nation, and the envy of many a covetous conqueror.

The name of one man only has been handed down the ages as having specially signalised himself in the decoration of the temple. Solomon must procure the best of human talent and genius for the perfection of the work he meditated. Therefore he not only made a treaty with Hiram, King of Tyre, for supplies of material, but of workmen, and chief of these, one whose artistic productions were to be the best adornments of the House of God for succeeding centuries. He was a tried veteran in decorative work, an expert in almost every kind of art, and fit to be placed in the position of chief superintendent of so superb a building. The King of Tyre sent to Solomon a testimony which was eloquent in his praise: "I have sent a cunning man endued with understanding . . . . the son of a woman of the daughters of Dan, his father was a man of Tyre, skilful to work in gold, and in silver, in brass, in iron, in stone, and in timber, in purple, in blue, and in fine linen, and in crimson; also to grave any manner of graving, and to find out every device" (2 Chron. ii. 13, i4). Another record says: "He was filled with wisdom, and understanding, and cunning to work all works in brass" (1 Kings vii. 14).

It is a significant fact in the history that Hiram, this expert artificer, bearing the same name as his king, should have had an Israelitish mother, and a Gentile father who had also been a worker in metal. Thus he got his artistic taste and training from the father, his religious knowledge and sympathy from the mother. Religious feeling and sympathy he certainly had, as his magnificent work in the temple fully demonstrated.

Hiram constructed of bright, burnished brass, an immense laver, called "a molten sea," to be used for the ablutions of the priests. It was capable of containing from fifteen to twenty thousand gallons of water, and the ornamentation was elaborate exceedingly. Under the brim were two rows of balls or bosses, encircling the laver. Twelve oxen, three looking in four different directions, supported it, and the brim was wrought like the brim of a cup with flowers of lilies. Beyond this, there were ten lavers, smaller in size, for the washing of such things as were offered in sacrifice. These were carefully decorated with lions, oxen, and cherubim on the borders of the ledges. They stood upon bases, measuring 6 feet by 4 1/2 feet, ornamented carefully on each side with garlands hanging in festoons, literally, "garlands, pensile work." Each base had brasen wheels attached, with brasen axletrees, and brackets which stretched from the four upper corners of the bases to the outward rim of the laver. All the furnishings were also made by Hiram, such as pots, basons, shovels; probably also the golden altar, and table, with the seven-branched lamp stands, of which there were ten, of beautiful construction and ornamentation. But the most glorious work of Hiram was the construction of the two majestic brasen pillars, called Jachin and Boaz, They were stately in height, the shaft of each measuring 27 feet, a base of 12 feet, and two capitals of 13 1/2 feet, thus the whole height of each pillar being 52 1/2 feet. The decoration was equally graceful and elaborate, especially upon the capitals. The lower capitals had a fine network over the whole, and chain-work hanging in festoons outside. There were also pomegranates wrought upon them. The upper capitals, forming a cornice to the whole pillar, were ornamented with lily-work. At Persepolis there still stands a pillar, the cornice of which is carved with three rows of lily leaves. These pillars were esteemed the most important ornaments in the magnificent temple, the erection of which was the best feature of Solomon's reign. They were of such prominent importance that a name was affixed to each of them. One was called "Jachin," which means, "he will establish," the other was called "Boaz," which means "in strength." The ideas involved are stability and strength. Possibly the Psalmist had these pillars in his mind when he wrote, "Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary" (Ps. xcvi. 6); strength first, then beauty; strength as the foundation of divine work, then beauty, graceful finish, and ornament.

Hiram was an inspired artist and artificer. He was "filled with wisdom and understanding, and cunning to work." We are told the same as to the great decorative workers of the Tabernacle, concerning whom the Lord said: "See, I have called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur of the tribe of Judah: and I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, to devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, and in cutting of stones for setting, and in carving of wood, to work in all manner of workmanship" (Exod. xxxi. 2-5). So also it is written of Aholiab, Ahisamach, and other Tabernacle workers.

It is instructive to find that in Scripture, genius as displayed in literary insight and facility, in ingenuity and inventiveness as to the various arts, and even in the conception of instruments of husbandry, is attributed to Divine inspiration. It may not be the same order of inspiration by which "men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Ghost"; "Searching what time or manner of time the spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that should follow them" (2 Peter i. 21; 1 Peter i. 11); but the fact is clear, whether it was inspiration of a different nature or in a different degree, that on men of special gifts in various departments and of the highest order, wisdom and understanding are a direct gift of the Holy Spirit. This truth was acknowledged in earliest times, and skilled experts in art or handicraft were reckoned to be under the inspiration of God. Among the heathen this belief lingered long. The ancient poets invoked the aid of their deities when entering on some great composition, and the devout earnestness of some recorded prayers is remarkable. There should be a line of demarcation drawn in this connection between a man of talent and a man of genius. Talent may be a matter of cultivation and perseverance. A man of ordinary intelligence may, by determined resolution, push his way to power in many directions, and the one talent may become ten talents. But genius is not mere cleverness, however well directed and carefully developed. Genius is creative and inventive; it has insight, it has imagination, it "bodies forth the forms of things unknown," and "gives to airy nothings a local habitation and a name." Isaiah speaks of the inspiration of the inventor of the agricultural instrument: "His God doth instruct him aright, and doth teach him . . . This also cometh from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom" (Isa. xxviii. 26-29).

When man required in the old time direct teaching of great religious truths and realities, God inspired prophets and seers, but the world required also to be educated, regulated, civilised. Therefore poets, painters, litterateurs, artists, and artificers were called for, by deep needs of humanity. God answered the need by giving the marvellous gift in various forms and degrees to men who had understanding of their times, and who by special insight were able to give impulses to progress in every direction. This truth is powerfully stated by a German metaphysician:—"Nothing calls us more powerfully to adore the living God than the appearance and embodiment of genius upon the earth. Whatever in the ordinary course of things we may choose to attribute to the mechanical process of cause and effect, the highest manifestations of intellect can be called forth only by the express will of the original Mind, independent of second causes. Genius descends upon us from the clouds precisely where we least look for it. Events may be calculated, predicted—spirits never; no earthly oracle announces the appearance of genius: the unfathomable will of the Creator suddenly calls to it—Be!"[1]

The Apostle Paul says concerning the Christ, "IN HIM were all things created" (Col. i. 16). Everything in the universe became objective, because they were first subjective in Christ, the second Person in the adorable Trinity. All things were made from forms and types which were in Himself before they were impressed on Creation. The infinite glories of sky, and air, and sea, the beauties of the tree, the flower, the bird, and all forms of life, the fleeting and recurring grandeurs that paint the seasons and the years, are all but revelations of the boundless resources and the ineffable beauties and qualities of the mind of Christ, our Master and Teacher. Our craving of genius, and its never-dying ambition, is to come ever nearer to the perfection of the Infinite Artist and Architect. The inspiration which filled the soul of Bezalel or Hiram may not be so elevated or elevating as that which enabled Isaiah to soar to the throne of the Eternal in speechless rapture, or which enabled Michael Angelo to represent in form and colour his vast conceptions of the beautiful and sublime; but it was as real, and in some aspects as serviceable in suggestion and realisation, as these. "God fulfils Himself in many ways." As the Divine Spirit plays on the minds of special men, one is turned to music, another to painting, another to sculpture, another to architecture, another to mechanics, and another to a smith's imaginings; but it is still the same Spirit that worketh in all and through all, and each may be perfected instruments by which He accomplishes His wise and gracious purposes in the uplift of men.

What a living force among men is the true poet, the man who can take words and weave them into forms of perfect rhythm, rhyme, and measure, and then fill them with thoughts so suggestive and burning, as that they become for ever a force in the hearts of men, thrilling the souls of men and women with lofty ideals, prompting them to noble deeds, nerving them to patience in suffering and courage in battle. What may not the artist accomplish by throwing on the canvas landscapes or seascapes, like Turner, Scripture scenes, like Raphael, or heroic deeds, like Millais? Do these things not speak to the heart through the eye effectually? And what refining influences may not be silently absorbed into the nature by the artificer, who works in metals, or in pottery, in glass, or in wood, producing shapes of graceful contour, and decoration of delicate beauty, so that the articles of the household or the warehouse may be an education to the mind, and become to it patterns of things in the heavens. The command to Moses on the Mount was, concerning all the furniture of the Tabernacle, which Bezalel and Aholiab had to construct was, "See that thou make all things according to the pattern showed to thee in the mount" (Heb. viii. 5). The beautiful things were in the mind of God first, and then had to be produced by the inspiration of the artist, in the house of prayer by the wisdom and deftness imparted by the Spirit.

It is possible, we sorrow to think, to misuse the Divine gift of artistic inspiration. The poet may devote his genius to animalism, like Byron, or to teach immoral license, like Swinburne; the painter may crowd his canvas with degrading ideas and vulgar representations, and the artificer may be ingenious in the production of forms of ugliness and degrading grotesqueness. Such desecration of great endowments is alike displeasing to God and ruinous to the man. Of such it may be said: "He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?" (Isa. xliv. 20).

Thank God, that we may say truly that generally the superlatives might have been found sitting at the feet of Jesus. The heavy, dull masses of meaningless masonry which belonged to Egypt or Assyria, flowered into the pure, delicate, ideality of the Greek builders, and this again developed into the warm, spiritual, suggestive style of Christianity which has covered Christendom with consecrated buildings like the cathedrals of Cologne or Chartres. The art of twenty centuries has been proclaiming the Christ as perfect in beauty, in grace and refinement, as He is perfect in love and in sacrifice. The music of the past, in all its highest reaches from Gregory to Mendelssohn, celebrates His grand redemption. The most gifted poets, from Dante, pealing his threefold anthem from the topmost peak of Parnassus, to Shakespeare, with "his woodnotes wild"; from Milton, with his "sevenfold chorus of hallelujahs and harping symphonies," to Tennyson, with his "happy bells," which

"Ring in the valiant man and free, The larger heart, the kindlier hand,"

but chief of all which

"Ring in the Christ that is to be,"

are resonant with loyalty and devotion to Him. Thus, all voices and all gifts, as they come from Christ, and are claimed by Christ, should be used for Him and Him alone. The lofty reach of genius is called to glorify Him, and the humblest gift of the peasant in the cottage, or the workman in the mill, or the little child at the mother's knee, are all due to Christ, to be devoted to Him, and also to be appreciated and rewarded by Him.

[1]Gustav Schwab, quoted by Ullmann, in The Worship of Genius.



"Jeroboam, who did sin, and who made Israel to sin."—1 KINGS xiv. 16.

Jeroboam's character is worthy of serious study, not only because it influenced the destiny of God's ancient people, but because it suggests lessons of the utmost value to His people still. He may be fairly regarded as a type of those who are successful men of the world. He was not an example of piety, for he had none—nor of lofty principle, for he was an opportunist who made expediency the law of his life throughout. Yet he was permitted to win all that he could have hoped for, and reached the very zenith of his ambition, though he went down to the grave at last, defeated and dishonoured, with this as his record—he was the man "who made Israel to sin."

Such a life as his throws a flood of light on our possibilities and perils, showing unscrupulous men both what they may possibly win, and what they will certainly lose.

Jeroboam appears to have been a man of lowly origin. Of his father Nebat, whose name is so often linked with his own, we know nothing, although an old Jewish tradition, preserved by Jerome, identifies him with Shimei, who was the first to insult David in his flight, and the first of all the house of Joseph to congratulate him on his return. All we know with certainty is that he belonged to the powerful tribe of Ephraim, which was always jealous of the supremacy of Judah, and therefore hated David, Solomon, and Rehoboam. It was this feeling of which Jeroboam skilfully availed himself when he split the kingdom of David in twain.

In the Book of Kings, this remarkable man first appears as an ordinary workman, or possibly as a foreman of the masons who were engaged in building Fort Millo, one of the chief defences of the citadel of Zion, guarding its weakest point, and making it almost impregnable. Under the system of forced labour then in vogue, the workmen would be inclined to shirk their toil, and among them Jeroboam stood out in conspicuous contrast, by reason of his eagerness and industry. Solomon the king, who always had a keen eye for capacity, saw the young man that he was industrious, and after making some inquiries about him, raised him to the remunerative post of superintendent of the tribute payable by the tribe of Ephraim. It was, no doubt, a difficult office to fill, for the tribe was restive and powerful, but it would be very profitable, because the system on which taxes were collected, as is still usual in Eastern countries, gave immense opportunities for enrichment to an unscrupulous man. We may be sure, therefore, that Jeroboam quickly became wealthy. At the same time he won influence with the tribe, by expressing secret sympathy with his fellow-tribesmen, and he stealthily fostered their discontent until the opportunity came for asserting himself as a more successful Wat Tyler, in the kingdom which by that time Solomon had left to his foolish son, Rehoboam. Little did Solomon imagine that when he advanced Jeroboam he was preparing the instrument of his son's ruin, and that this Ephraimite would prove to be like the viper Aesop tells of, which a kind-hearted man took in from the cold, but which when roused by warmth from its torpor, killed its benefactor.


1. In looking for the elements which contributed to Jeroboam's rapidly-won success, we must certainly credit him with remarkable natural ability.

No one can read his biography carefully without noticing his shrewdness in seeing his chance when it came, and his boldness and promptitude in seizing it. He possessed such self-control that he kept his plans absolutely to himself until the critical moment, and then he made a daring dash for power, and won it. And these characteristics of his were gifts from God, as Ahijah the prophet emphatically declared.

We are far too timid in the maintenance of our professed belief that physical and mental gifts are divine in their origin. Mediaeval theology, which was largely tinged by Pagan philosophy, sometimes went so far as to attribute exceptional beauty, or talent, to evil powers; and we are apt to trace them to a merely human source. But keen perception, sound judgment, a retentive memory, a vigorous imagination, and, not least, good common-sense, are among the talents entrusted to us by God Himself, who will by-and-bye take account of His servants.

This is regarded by many as an old-fashioned and effete theory. They assume that the doctrine of evolution has conclusively shown that no man is a new creation, but is a necessary product of preceding lives; that his lineaments and talents may be traced to parentage, that the brilliance of the Cecils and the solid sense of the Cavendishes, for example, are simply a matter of heritage. But even admitting this to be largely true, it does not invalidate the statement that our gifts are of God—He is the Father of all the "families" of the earth, as well as of individuals. He does not rule over one year only, but over all the generations. Time and change, of which we make much, are nothing to Him. The theory of evolution, therefore, merely extends our conceptions of the range of His power and forethought. Whether a child presents a striking contrast to his parents, or whether he seems to be a re-incarnation of their talents, it is equally true that all things are of God, and that for Him and by Him all things consist. Natural abilities are Divine trusts.

There is startling unevenness in the distribution of these gifts. Not only do two families differ widely in their talents and possessions, but children of the same parents are often strangely unlike, physically and mentally. One is radiantly beautiful, and another has no charm in appearance or in manners. One is physically vigorous, and another is frail as a hothouse flower. One is so quick that lessons are no trouble at all, and another wearily plods over them till ready to give up in despair. Evidences of this unevenness of distribution meet us everywhere. One man will make a fortune where another would not suspect a chance. One remains a third-rate salesman all his days, and would spend even his holidays in looking into shop windows, for his soul does not rise beyond them; while his comrade is brimful of talent, and the world will ring at last with his name and fame. We say "it is in them"; but what is in them is of God, and these very differences between men are intended by Him to elicit mutual consideration and mutual helpfulness; for we are members one of another, and the deficiencies of one are to be supplemented by the superabundance of another.

2. The most brilliant gifts are of no great value apart from personal diligence, such as distinguished Jeroboam.

He did thoroughly the work which lay to his hand, whether as mason, tax-collector, or king. Such diligence often rectifies the balance between two men of unequal ability. The plodding tortoise still beats the hare, who believes herself to be so swift that she can afford time to sleep. Any one who looks back on his classmates will see that the cleverest have not proved the most successful, but that the prizes of life have usually gone to those who diligently developed to the utmost what they had. Scripture is crowded with examples of this. Jacob laboured night and day, and therefore he prospered, even under Laban, unjust and exacting though Laban was. Joseph won his way to the front, though an exile and a slave, for he made himself indispensable in prison, and in the kingdom. "Seest thou a man diligent in business? he shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men." And because this is a Divine law, it prevails in higher spheres also. If a Christian uses, in the service of his heavenly Master, the gifts he possesses, faith in God, knowledge of truth, power in prayer, persuasive speech—his five talents will become ten, or his two will gain other two. "To him that hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have abundance."

3. It may be said that talent and diligence combined do not always win success, and so far as this world is concerned, it is true. Possibly Jeroboam would never have come to the front if Solomon had not happened to notice him. But if we read the interviews which Ahijah the prophet had with Jeroboam, and with his mother, we shall learn to recognise the control of God in this also.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse