Numbers 11:27 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
JOSHUA’S ENVY REPROVED
Num 11:27-29. And there ran a young man, and told Moses, and said, Eldad and Medad do prophesy in the camp. And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of Moses, one of his young men, answered and said, My lord Moses, forbid them. And Moses said unto him, 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!
EXPERIENCE proves that eminent situations are atttended with manifold anxieties; and that rulers, though envied by their subjects, often feel a weight of care which is burthensome in the extreme. Moses was supported in his office by God himself, who confirmed his authority by many signal and miraculous interpositions: yet even he complained, “I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me [Note: ver. 14.].”
To relieve him from the burthen, God promised, that he would pour out his Spirit upon seventy elders, whom Moses should select, and would qualify them for taking a share in the government. Two of the persons nominated, (being deterred, it should seem, by a sense of their own insufficiency for the office,) stayed in the camp, instead of going up with the others to the tabernacle at the time appointed. God however did not on this account withhold his Spirit from them, but gave it to them in the same manner as to the others: in consequence of which they began to prophesy in the camp. This innovation excited the jealousy of Joshua; who, fearing lest it should weaken the authority of Moses, instantly informed him of it, and desired him to forbid any further exercise of their gifts: but Moses saw through the hidden motives by which he was actuated, and checked the evil which had risen in his heart.
Let us consider,
The principle he indulged—
Doubtless, Joshua thought that he was acting under a good impression, and that his zeal was of the purest kind: but Moses traces his conduct to a principle of envy, which needed to be mortified and suppressed. Now envy is,
A common principle—
[Few are conscious of it in themselves; but all see the operation of it in their neighbours. There is not any evil in the heart of man more universally prevalent than this. “It is not in vain that the Scripture saith, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy [Note: Jam 4:5.].” We may see in Cain, in Joseph’s brethren, in Saul, and in all the rulers of the Jewish Church, that this disposition is natural to man [Note: 1Jn 3:12; Act 7:9; 1Sa 18:9; Mat 27:18.]. Infants at the breast have been seen to feel its malignant influence, when another has been permitted to participate what they have deemed their exclusive right. There is no age, no situation, exempt. Even those who possess the most, as well as those who are wholly destitute, are open to its assaults — — —]
An active principle—
[Whatever is an object of desire, is also an object of envy: for envy is nothing but a regret that another should possess that which we ourselves would wish to enjoy. Usually indeed the things which persons most envy, are such as are proper to their own age or condition in life; and such as they think themselves in some measure entitled to. Those in whom beauty or strength is highly valued, look not with complacency on one who is reckoned to surpass them: nor do those who desire fame on account of mental qualifications, love to acknowledge the intellectual superiority of others. All are happy to hear their rivals depreciated, and themselves preferred. Nor is it respecting natural endowments only that this principle exerts itself: it shews itself no less in reference to acquired distinctions, of whatever kind. Riches and honours are amongst the objects which most powerfully excite this corrupt feeling: and it is difficult for any one to behold the more rapid advancement of his rival, and not to feel in himself some workings of this malignant disposition.
But this principle operates even where personal considerations appear very feeble and remote. The exaltation of a party, for instance, will call it forth in those who belong to an opposite party. There scarcely ever is a popular election, but the partisans of rival candidates are open to its assaults, as much as the principals themselves. Parties in the Church are no less agitated by this corroding passion, insomuch that they will endeavour to outstrip each other in things to which they have no real inclination, in order by any means to gain an ascendency for their own side. In the days of the Apostles, “some preached Christ of envy and strife;” and there is but too much reason to fear, that many also in this day have no better motive for their benevolent and religious exertions, than the strengthening and increasing of a party in the Church.]
A deep-rooted principle—
[One would suppose that religion should presently and entirely extirpate this principle: but it is not so easily rooted out. We find it working in persons who profess to have a zeal for God [Note: 1Co 3:1-4.]; yea, in persons also of whose piety we cannot doubt. The disciples of John were alarmed for the honour of their master, when they heard that Jesus had more disciples than he [Note: Joh 3:26.]: and the Apostles themselves forbade a person to persist in the work of casting out devils, because he did not attach himself to them [Note: Mar 9:38.]. This was the very spirit by which Joshua was actuated: he was afraid lest the honour and influence of Moses should be weakened by others rising into popularity around him. Of course, this disposition is not wilfully indulged by any who truly fear God: but it is so rooted in the heart, that all have need to be on their guard against it.]
The hatefulness of such a principle may be seen by,
The reproof it met with—
Moses appears truly as a man of God. Behold, in his answer to Joshua,
[He had a peculiar regard for Joshua: but that did not cause him to overlook his faults, much less to countenance him in what was wrong. Young men in general are apt to be led away by their feelings, and not to be sufficiently aware of their own corruptions. This was the case with Joshua: and Moses, like a father, watched over him with care, and reproved him with tenderness. Moses pointed out to him the principle by which he was actuated, and that higher principle by which he ought rather to be governed. It would be well if all religious people were equally on their guard, to check, rather than encourage, the growth of evil. If a person be of our party, and more especially if he be our friend, we are ready to receive his reports, without very strict inquiry, and to accede to his proposals, without sufficient care. Hence one person in a society sometimes diffuses throughout the whole a spirit of strife and contention, when, if the erroneousness of his views had been pointed out at first, the peace of the whole body might have been preserved. Great attention therefore do we recommend to all in this particular. More especially would we remind professing Christians of their duty; “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy brother, and not suffer sin upon him [Note: Lev 19:17.].” We should not be contented with a specious suggestion. We should dread the incursion of an evil principle in the Church, as much as we do the introduction of fire in a place filled with combustibles. We should ever remember, that “a little leaven will soon leaven the whole lump.”]
[The glory of God was that which was uppermost in the mind of Moses: and if that might but be advanced, he was quite indifferent whether his own honour were eclipsed or not. He well knew, that these two men “could have nothing except it were given them from above [Note: This was John’s answer; Mar 9:39.]; and that if God had conferred on them the gift of prophecy, he would overrule the exercise of it for his own glory. Instead therefore of wishing to repress it in them, he would have been glad if every person in the camp had possessed it. What a noble spirit was this! how worthy of universal imitation! It was precisely thus that St. Paul rejoiced, when “Christ was preached of contention.” He knew the motives of the preachers to be bad; but he knew that God would render their ministrations subservient to the increase of the Redeemer’s kingdom: and therefore, however their conduct might affect his influence, he did, and would, rejoice [Note: Php 1:15-18.]. Thus, beloved, should we be glad to see the Redeemer’s interests advanced, whoever be the instruments, and whatever be the means. This consideration should be paramount to every other; and we should say, with John, “Let me, and my party, decrease, so that Christ and his kingdom may but increase [Note: Joh 3:30.].”]
[Moses had no desire to engross or monopolize the gifts of Heaven. As Paul said to his bitterest persecutors, “I would to God that all who hear me this day were both almost and altogether such as I am, except these bonds [Note: Act 26:29.],” so did Moses wish all the people of Israel to have the Spirit of the Lord imparted to them, as much as he himself had. The more they were benefited, the more would his happiness be increased. This is that very disposition which St. Paul himself exercised [Note: 1Co 4:9.], and which he inculcates on us, when he says, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others [Note: Php 2:4.].” In fact, this is that principle, which, more than any other, counteracts the baneful influence of envy; “Charity envieth not [Note: 1Co 13:4.].” Let universal love reign in our hearts, and, instead of envying any of our brethren, we shall be willing rather to “lay down our lives for them [Note: 1Jn 3:16.].”]
To improve this subject, we would recommend to you two things;
Examine well your own principles—
[Do not hastily conclude that your principles are right, even though you do not know that they are wrong; but search and try your ways, and maintain a godly jealousy over your own hearts. The Apostles themselves, on more occasions than one, “knew not what spirit they were of.” Who amongst us does not see the blindness of others in relation to their principles? Pride, and ostentation, and vanity, and envy, and malice, and a thousand other evils, are visible enough to others, when the persons influenced by them give themselves credit for very different motives. Doubtless, at times, this is the case with all of us. If indeed envy become in any respect a governing principle in our hearts, our religion is altogether vain [Note: Jam 3:14-16.]. Let us therefore watch our own spirits, and be thankful to any friend, who, like Moses, will “point out to us a more excellent way [Note: 1Co 12:31.].”]
Take diligent heed to the word of God—
[The word of God, if duly attended to, would correct every bad principle in us. It is a two-edged sword, that lays open the inmost recesses of the heart [Note: Heb 4:12.]. To that St. Peter directs us, as the means of subduing envy, and every other evil propensity [Note: 1Pe 2:1-3.]. By the word the Apostles themselves were sanctified; and by that also must we be made clean [Note: Joh 15:3; Joh 17:17.]. Meditate then on that day and night: and let it be your earnest prayer, that it may dwell richly in you in all wisdom; and that, being cast into the mould of the Gospel, you may be “changed into the divine image, from glory to glory, by the Spirit of the Lord.”]
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Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.