Verses of Numbers 21
Numbers 21:4 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
THE ISRAELITES DISCOURAGED BY THE WAY
Num 21:4. And the soul of the people was much discouraged because of the way.
THE history of human nature is nearly the same in all ages. Successive generations ought progressively to advance in wisdom, because they have the advantage of others’ experience. But youth will not avail themselves of the instructions of their forefathers: they will go forward in their own ways; exactly as if they had no compass whereby to steer, nor any chart of the rocks and shoals, on which so many thousands have been shipwrecked. “The way of their predecessors has been folly; and yet their posterity, in practice at least, applaud their saying.” A new generation had been born in the wilderness since the departure of the Israelites from the land of Egypt; and they had ample means of information respecting the rebellious conduct of their fathers, and the chastisements inflicted on account of it: yet on similar occasions they constantly acted in a similar manner, murmuring and complaining as soon as any new trial arose, and wishing themselves dead, to get rid of their present troubles. Thus it was with them at this time. We propose to inquire into,
The causes of their discouragement—
Doubtless, to those who could not implicitly confide in the wisdom and goodness of God, there was ground for discouragement. There was,
A perplexing providence—
[The period fixed for their entrance into Canaan was nearly arrived. They had just had a severe engagement with one of the Canaanitish kings, who had come forth against them with all his forces; and, after suffering a partial defeat, had entirely vanquished him. But they were not suffered to follow up their success, or to proceed to the immediate invasion of his land. On the contrary, having been refused permission to pass through the territories of the king of Edom, they were directed to “compass his whole land, and to go back to the Red Sea,” perhaps as far as to Ezion-gaber [Note: Deu 2:8.]. This was after they had been thirty-nine years and six months in the wilderness; after two of their leaders, Miriam and Aaron, were taken from them by death; and when there remained but six months to the time fixed for their entrance into the promised land. How unaccountable did this appear! Must they wait to be attacked in the wilderness, and never be permitted to reap the reward of victory? Must they wait in the wilderness till their enemies should be willing to resign their land? Had God forgotten his promise, or determined that they should spend another forty years in the wilderness? If the promise was to be fulfilled, why give them the trouble of traversing the wilderness again? If it was not to be fulfilled, they had better die at once, than protract a miserable existence under such vexatious and cruel disappointments.
Whilst they viewed the dispensation in this light, we do not wonder that “their soul was much discouraged.”
In truth, this is a very common source of discouragement to ourselves. Persons, on their first commencement of their journey heaven-ward, are apt to be sanguine, and to expect that they shall speedily arrive at the promised land. At one time they seem near it, but are turned back again, in order that by a long course of trials, they may be better prepared to enjoy it. At another time they seem almost to possess it; and then, not long after, find themselves at a greater distance from it than ever. Thus “hope deferred maketh their heart sick:” and being disappointed in their expectations, they yield to great dejection of mind: ‘If I am not of the number of God’s people, whence have I these desires? if I am, why have I not those attainments?’
The same disquietude arises from perplexities of any kind, where the promise, and the providence, of God appear at variance with each other. Not being able to account for the Lord’s dealings towards them, “their souls are cast down, and greatly disquieted within them.”]
A long protracted trial—
[Forty years of trial was a long period: and the nearer they came to its completion, the longer every day appeared. Hence this fresh order to go back to the Red Sea, and there to recommence their travels, quite overwhelmed them.
And how do long-continued afflictions operate on us? For a season we can bear up under them: but when pains of body, or distress of mind, are lengthened out; when the clouds, instead of dispersing, thicken, and storms of trouble are gathering all around us; then patience is apt to fail, and the mind sinks under its accumulated trials. Because “our strength is small, we faint under our adversity.” Even Job, that bright pattern of patience, who after the heaviest losses could say, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord;” even he, I say, fainted at last, and cursed the day of his birth. And he must be endued with an uncommon measure of grace, who under such circumstances can say with Paul, “None of these things move me.”]
That we may see how their discouragement operated, let us consider,
The effects produced by it—
Their minds being discomposed, they immediately gave way to,
A dissatisfied spirit—
[Many were the blessings which they received from the hand of God: they lived by a continual miracle: they were provided with water out of a rock, and with manna daily from the clouds: and yet they complain, “There is no bread, neither is there any water: and our soul lotheth this light bread.” Because they did not partake of that variety which the nations around them enjoyed, they were discontented: or rather, because they were offended with the order to go back unto the Red Sea, they were displeased with every thing.
What a picture is this of human frailty! The mind discouraged on one account, looks not out for circumstances of alleviation and comfort, but gives itself up to disquietude and dejection. Temporal blessings lose all their relish. Let even the bread of life be administered to persons in such a frame, they can taste no sweetness in it; the promises of God seem not suited to their case; nor are they sufficient for their support. They “cannot hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.” If they even turn their minds to the right object, it is only to confirm their own doubts, and to augment their own sorrows. Their experience is like that of Asaph, “My sore ran in the night, and ceased not; my soul refused to be comforted: I remembered God, and was troubled [Note: Psa 77:2-3.].”]
A murmuring spirit—
[How lamentable to hear them on this occasion accusing God and his servant Moses of having brought them out of Egypt with a view to deceive their expectations and to kill them in the wilderness! But the mind, once thrown off its bias, will stop short of nothing, unless it be restrained by the grace of God [Note: Isa 8:21-22.]. Let any one that has been in deep affliction, look back and see, whether he has not found his mind rise against the immediate authors of his calamities, and ultimately against God himself, for having appointed him so hard a lot [Note: Pro 19:3.]? It is true, we do not perhaps intend to accuse God; but we do it in effect; because, whoever be the instrument, it is his hand that smites. Whether Chaldeans or Sabeans invaded the property of Job, or tempests destroyed his family, the holy sufferer referred the events to God, as their true author. Without God, not a hair of our head could be touched, even if the whole world were confederate against us: when therefore we murmur at the calamities we suffer, we murmur in reality against him who sends them.]
It may be asked perhaps, How could they help yielding to this discouragement? That they might have done so, will appear, whilst we shew,
The way in which they should have fortified themselves against it—
It behoved them in this trouble, as indeed in every other, to consider,
Whence it came—
[It did not spring out of the dust; it came from God; even from him who had brought them out of Egypt, and had supported them to that very hour. Had they not had evidence enough of God’s power and goodness during the nine and thirty years that they had continued in the wilderness? and did it not become them to place their confidence in him, though they could not see the immediate reason of his dispensations?
Thus should we do, when tempted to disquietude and despondency: we should say, “It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good:” “the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” Yes; “when walking in darkness, we should stay ourselves upon our God;” and determine with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” This was the expedient to which David resorted in the midst of all his troubles, and which he found effectual to compose his mind; “he encouraged himself in the Lord his God [Note: 1Sa 30:6 with Psa 42:11.].”]
For what end it was sent—
[God has expressly stated the end for which he tried them so long in the wilderness: it was, “to humble them, and to prove them, that they might know what was in their hearts [Note: Deu 8:2.].” And was not the prospect of such an end sufficient to reconcile them to the means used for the attainment of it? Let us also consider the ends for which our afflictions are sent: are they not sent with a view to make us “partakers of his holiness?” Who would be discouraged at his trials, if he reflected on the necessity which there is for them, and the blessed fruit that shall spring from them? Doubtless, they are “not joyous for the present, but grievous:” nevertheless the refiner’s fire may well be endured, if only it purge us from our dross, and make us, as “vessels of honour, meet for our Master’s use.”]
The certain issue of it, if duly improved—
[They were well assured that God would fulfil his promises. Even their recent victory over the Canaanites was a pledge and earnest of their future conquests. What if they did not understand the way of the Lord? The direction they had taken at their first departure from Egypt had appeared to their fathers to be erroneous: but it had proved “the right way;” and they should have been satisfied, that this, though alike mysterious, would have a similar issue; and that the number and greatness of their trials would ultimately redound to the glory of their God, and to their own real happiness
Thus we should bear in mind that all our afflictions are working together for good, and that, “light and momentary in themselves, they are working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” Did we but consider this, we should be content to suffer, till we had filled up our appointed measure: yea, we should even “glory in our tribulations,” knowing that we are to be “made perfect by them,” and that “they are our appointed way to the kingdom of heaven.”]
[Certain it is that “we have need of patience, in order that, when we have done the will of God, we may inherit the promises.” But let not any of the sons and daughters of affliction yield to discouragement. If their trials be great, their supports and consolations shall be great also. Are they particularly discouraged at the thought of their weakness and sinfulness? let them recollect, what a fulness of merit and of grace is treasured up for them in Jesus; that “where sin has abounded, his grace shall much more abound; and that his strength shall surely be perfected in their weakness.”]
Verses of Numbers 21
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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.