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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

1 Chronicles 12

 

 

Verses 1-40

Skilled Hands

1 Chronicles 12

THIS chapter is supplemental to the preceding, and has been described throughout as peculiar to the chronicle. Here we have two registers: the first is of the warriors who went over to David during his outlaw career, and the second is of the tribal representatives who crowned David at Hebron. There are two or three resting-places even in this chapter of names, where we may tarry for a moment and partake of spiritual refreshment. These resting-places are the more remarkable as occurring in a chapter which is largely filled with such names as Ahiezer, Shemaah, Jeziel, Berachah, Ismaiah, Johanan, Josabad, Eluzai, Jerimoth, and many others. We seem to be wandering in very stony places, hence any sprig of flower is the more remarkable, and any pool of clear water the more valuable and precious.

Take the second verse for example, where we read:—

"They were armed with bows, and could use both the right hand and the left in hurling stones and shooting arrows out of a bow." ( 1 Chronicles 12:2)

On what comparatively small points fame often seems to rest. We have noticed before how many men there are in Scripture whose names seem to be preserved in association with some trifling eccentricity or local speciality of circumstances. In times of conflict and danger, however, it was no small qualification to be able to use both the right hand and the left in hurling stones and shooting arrows out of a bow. How few men know that they have a left hand; how very much are the operations of life confined to one side of the body; men speak of the right hand and the right eye as if they were crowned with a special kind of honour; other men seem to have cultivated both sides of the body with equal success, so that they are what are termed all-round men, able to do double work, and proving themselves to be most useful in complicated and unforeseen circumstances. We hardly yet know how many faculties we have. Physiologists delight to tell us that there are muscles in the body whose very existence we had not suspected, and they call us to this or that kind of unusual exercise, in order that such muscles may be excited and developed. Whilst all this may be perfectly true regarding the body, the use which we wish to make of the incident is purely spiritual. All faculties are needed in this great warfare to which we are called. It is the peculiarity of Christian service that all our faculties can be utilised within its lines. Yet have we not practically forbidden the use of certain faculties in seeking to complete our Christian avocation? We have given a high place to Reason, and a higher place still to Faith, and we have set Reverence in great honour, and crowned Veneration as the chief of worshippers. All this is right; so obviously right that it needs no vindication. But man is more than rational and reverent. His faculties are well-nigh innumerable. What place have we assigned to Imagination in the Church—that marvellous faculty which makes new heavens and a new earth, which turns the dust of the ground into men, and makes men sons of God; the creative faculty which turns bread into flesh, wine into blood, and sees in all the processes of nature a many-coloured and eloquent parable? We have been unjust to Imagination. We have treated Imagination as a trespasser, and thus have acted to our souls as a man would act towards an eagle who cut off the wings of the great flier. Even wit and raillery have their place in Christian teaching. Some men can bring wicked customs into ridicule who cannot set up against them a continuous and conclusive argument. Some men are gifted with the power of banter, so that by throwing anti-Christian contentions into grotesque forms, and reducing them to absurdity, they may do more by their raillery than others can do by formal and elaborate logic. Others again may have the faculty or power of amusing men, and so withdrawing them from cruel or brutal engagements to exercises that are innocent, and which may in due time create a desire for something higher than themselves. The Christian ministry should represent a marvellous piece of mosaic; or, to change the figure, a very intricate but beautiful and exquisite piece of machinery. Continually there is a danger that the ministry should be regarded as being only orthodox when of one and the same pattern, when using the same vocal tones, walking in the same literary paths, and practically saying the same thing without variety and without passion. Have we not many members in one body? and yet the body is one. The eye cannot say to the ear, I have no need of thee; nor can the hand do without the services of the foot. If we be many members therefore and one body, shall we not, in the Christian ministry, find the thinker, the teacher, the expositor, the eloquent orator, the burning evangelist, the tender and gracious suppliant, the sympathising visitor, the friend who has no power but that of suggestive teaching, so that the very grasp of his hand would seem to communicate energy and hope? There is indeed a danger of becoming envious of men who accomplish more than we can. This is pitiful everywhere, but doubly pitiful and inexcusable in the Christian Church. We are inclined to mock each other"s superiority, or to make the least of it, or to charge it to false motives. The man who can hurl stones with only one hand is apt to depreciate the man who can hurl stones with both hands. The enemy has no stronger ally, no better or more reliable colleague, than the man who, whilst professing to be a brother, plays the part of a sneerer or traducer.

In the eighth verse there are further discriminations of faculties and their uses—

"And of the Gadites there separated themselves unto David into the hold to the wilderness men of might, and men of war fit for the battle, that could handle shield and buckler, whose faces were like the faces of lions, and were as swift as the roes upon the mountains.... These were of the sons of Gad, captains of the host: one of the least was over an hundred, and the greatest over a thousand" ( 1 Chronicles 12:8, 1 Chronicles 12:14.)

In the nineteenth verse we come upon a baser sort of men—

"And there fell some of Manasseh to David [ 1 Chronicles 12:20; 2 Kings 25:11], when he came with the Philistines against Saul to battle: but they helped them not: for the lords of the Philistines upon advisement [i.e, with forethought and after deliberation ( Proverbs 20:18)] sent him away, saying, He will fall to his master Saul to the jeopardy of our heads." ( 1 Chronicles 12:19)

In the twenty-second verse we read:—

"For at that time day by day there came to David to help him, until it was a great host [camp], like the host of God." ( 1 Chronicles 12:22)

In Genesis 32:1-2 we read—"And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of God met him. And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God"s host: and he called the name of that place Mahanaim," that Isaiah , two camps. The verse points to the inclusion of considerable accessions to David"s forces which followed upon the defeat and death of Saul. The point of beauty in the verse would seem to be in the words "day by day." All the forces did not come at the same hour. Some came on the first day, some on the second, some on the third; yea, day" by day, as the need deepened the hosts came as if specially sent from God. Our Lord teaches us to pray—"Give us this day our daily bread." Daily help for daily need should be the confidence of every Christian soul. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." It is true that tomorrow will bring its own burden, it is also true that tomorrow will bring its own strength. Why do we project ourselves into the future, and try to live tomorrow within the limits of to-day? Christ endeavoured to teach us a contrary lesson, and he plied both our reason and imagination with many arguments and appeals; yet even now we treat tomorrow as if Christ had not laid down a doctrine concerning it, or made any promise that God would meet us then as certainly as he meets us now. Is it not the very law of life and progress that day by day we receive new accessions of strength and light and confidence? Who can tell how the mind grows, how ideas multiply, how sources of comfort reveal themselves, how pools of water are found in the burning desert? Who has not often said that he could not imagine himself doing this or that, but somehow, when the need arose, the faculty was awakened or the resources were assured? Men are continually surprising themselves by what they are enabled to do and to bear; and yet, should there come a moment of danger, and should they be called down from their enthusiasm, they soon sink into unbelief or indifference. "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." The Lord has many things to say unto us, but we cannot bear them now. To-morrow we shall be stronger, tomorrow we shall be wiser, tomorrow we shall be nearer heaven. The only way in which we can affect tomorrow is by living wisely to-day. To-day is the seedtime; tomorrow will be the harvest; and according to the seed we sow will be the harvest we reap. There Isaiah , therefore, a sense in which tomorrow is quite in our own hands, and that is in the sense of so using to-day that we shall have no fear of tomorrow bringing forth an evil harvest, because we know that we have sown the field of to-day with earnest labour, earnest prayer, ungrudging sacrifice, and that by the eternal law of God such seed must bring forth precious fruit.

We have seen what mighty men David had around him—men of valour, ambidextrous men, men of the lion face, men who never went forth but to victory; we see however in the thirty-second verse that David had men who were not only valiant but wise.

"And of the children of Issachar, which were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do" [literally, "And of the sons of Issachar came men, sage in discernment for the times, so as to know what Israel ought to do"]. ( 1 Chronicles 12:32)

It has been thought that the tribe of Issachar had skill in astrology, so that they could read in the heavens what seasons were auspicious for action. On the other hand, it has been thought that the meaning of the text is limited to the fact that the men of Issachar showed political sagacity in going over to David. It is noted that no similar phrase occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament. Taking this text as it stands, it leads us to see how important it is that men should study the times in which they live, and adapt their work to the conditions which constitute their opportunity. It is in vain that we endeavour to sew new cloth on to old garments, or to put new wine into old bottles. It is perfectly possible to be changing always as to mere position, attitude, direction, and yet to be never changing as to inner doctrine and moral purpose. Why should men think that the church is in danger, when it is only some old leaves that are being shed from the tree which the Lord himself has planted? Why should men think themselves reverent, simply because they are vainly endeavouring to make old methods suit new necessities? He is the wise man who considers all the features of a case, and adapts the treasure of which he is possessed to meet new desires and new demands. There may be change without change; in other words, the change may be but superficial, whilst the immutable may be within, giving order and dignity and energy to all that is attempted from without. Love is eternal, but its expression admits of continual variety. Prayer never changes as to its spirit and intent, yet every day may find it laden with new expressions, because human history has revealed wants which had not before been even suspected. He who understands every time but his own, will do no permanent work for society. He is like a man who knows every language but his native tongue, and is therefore unable to speak to the person standing at his side. To know everything but human nature is to be supreme in ignorance. The parent does not stand upon some high law of physiology, and command his child to show the phenomena which have justified that law, or resulted in its enactment; he studies the child"s particular want, or peculiar temperament, or special circumstances, and says the law was made for the child, not the child for the law. The Apostle Paul became all things to all men, that by all means he might win some. Conservatism is madness, when it will not study the law of the times and adapt itself to passing conditions.

In the thirty-third verse we find another description of men—:

"Of Zebulun, such as went forth to battle, expert in war [rather, "arrayed for battle with all harness of battle"], with all instruments of war, fifty thousand, which could keep rank: they were not of double heart." ( 1 Chronicles 12:33)

"All these men of war, that could keep rank [literally, "arrayers of battle," men that could set the battle in array], came with a perfect heart to Hebron, to make David king over all Israel: and all the rest also of Israel were of one heart to make David king." ( 1 Chronicles 12:38)

"If ye do return unto the Lord with all your hearts, then put away the strange gods and Ashtaroth from among you, and prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only."—Given a consecrated and undivided heart; given an army animated by such a heart, and the enemy will flee away, and the host of God will bring to Zion banners inscribed with Victory.

Prayer

Almighty God, may we read the word with our heart, and see its beauty, and answer all its solemn appeal. The word was written for us; it is a word sent to our life, bringing with it life and truth and love, and high vision, and glorious possibility of destiny. It is written with the finger of God. No man can erase the writing; it abides the fire; it outlasts the ages; it is grand with the quietness of Godhead. It is thy word,—it is all thine; we cannot add to it, and we cannot take from it, without showing the mischievousness of our attempts. We would receive thy word in all its fulness, read it with simple hearts, accept it with the trust of little children. We would prove its inspiration by living in its strength, enjoying its comfort, and magnifying its statutes and precepts. Help us to learn the doctrine by doing the will: show us how obedience explains what is written, and how to the broken heart hardly any light is refused—all heaven stoops to the contrite spirit to bless it with gospels and promises. Give us the understanding heart, the open mind, the unsophisticated spirit;—then shall we see much, and learn much, and do it with tender obedience to God. Let thy word always be amongst us as bread and water. Jesus said: I am the Bread of life. Jesus said: I am the Water of life. Bread of heaven, feed us, till we want no more! Amen.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Chronicles 12:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/1-chronicles-12.html. 1885-95.

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