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David, part 28

The Destroying Angel Commanded to Spare Jerusalem.

2 Samuel 24:16-25.

Having in the previous chapter considered the two particulars, David's sin in, and his punishment for, numbering the people, it may be useful to follow it up by examining those which relate to the preservation of Jerusalem, and David's building an altar in the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite. The rearing of that altar was indeed the means of staying the plague and preserving the city. For Gad the prophet "came that day to David, and said to him, Go up, rear an altar to the Lord in the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite. And David built there an altar to the Lord, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings. So the Lord was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel."

As plagues and calamities of other kinds are attributed in Scripture to the anger of the Lord, their progress is represented as being arrested by the Lord's anger being appeased. A remarkable instance of this occurs in the 16th chapter of Numbers, which contains an account of the rebellion of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram. On the morrow after these men and all their company had been swallowed up of the earth, "all the congregation murmured against Moses and against Aaron, saying, You have killed the people of the Lord.... And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Get you up from among this congregation, that I may consume them as in a moment." Moses, being aware of the nature of the evil and the means of staying its progress, said to Aaron, "Take a censer, and put fire therein from off the altar, and put on incense, and go quickly to the congregation, and make an atonement for them: for there is wrath gone out from the Lord; the plague is begun.... And he stood between the dead and the living; and the plague was stayed." The wrath of the Lord, as we have seen, is an expression implying the rejection and also the perversion of His love and truth by the Church and by man. For as all protection and blessing are from the Lord, and are experienced by those who love and believe in Him, so all spiritual misfortune and misery are the result of rejecting Him as the Object of love and faith. In His love is life, in the refusal or rejection of His love is death. Spiritual rebellion—the renouncing of His authority, the presumptuous violation of His commands— makes us the subjects of wrath, because it brings us into communion with that kingdom which is opposite in its nature and experience to the kingdom of God. Thence come all the spiritual plagues that afflict the human race. And when the mind admits into itself the influence of evil, and adopts evil as a ruling principle, disease and death invade the whole of the will and understanding. There are no means of arresting the plague of the soul but by seeking reconciliation and conjunction with the Lord. These are signified in the Word by atonement; and atonement is made or effected by true spiritual worship. In the merely natural, or what may be called the Jewish sense, atonement seems to man the appeasing of Divine wrath, and the reconciliation of God to man; for since to God is attributed wrath, to Him must also be attributed reconciliation. But the Christian or spiritual sense teaches that there is no wrath in God, and that as the anger is on the part of man, on man's part must also be the reconciliation. The doctrine of the New Testament is, that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them." "Now then," says the apostle, "we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be you reconciled to God." How is this reconciliation to be effected but by repenting of our evils, acknowledging with David that we have sinned and done very foolishly; or by turning in sincere worship to the Lord as our preserver and restorer; like Aaron with his censer containing fire from off the altar. In the highest sense, Aaron, as the high priest, represented the Lord Himself; and it is still true spiritually that the Lord Himself, as our great High Priest, stands between the living and the dead. He is present with every human soul, ready to save, by sanctifying the heart with the holy fire of His Divine love, infusing life into every affection and thought of the mind. And when the Divine love is received and acknowledged the soul is preserved.

It was therefore when David had acknowledged his sin, and, in obedience to the command of the Lord by the prophet, had reared an altar, and had offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, that "the Lord repented Him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now your hand." We may here pause to inquire why an angel was the destroyer. But we need not marvel at this when we find that God Himself is represented as acting the part of a destroyer. The death of the first-born of the Egyptians is spoken of as having been effected by Jehovah Himself. And yet neither God nor His holy angels can destroy either the bodies or the souls of men. Plagues, and pestilences, and wars are the results of evil, and are effected by the agency, not of good but of evil angels. Why, then, it may be inquired, should they be ascribed to God and His angelic ministers? In the letter of the Word, all things and events, even evil things and calamitous events, are ascribed to God, in accordance with the general truth that God is the Creator and Governor of the world. But under this general truth there are particular truths, which reveal distinctions. It is true that God creates both good and evil things, for nothing exists which did not originally, and does not now, derive its life from Him; but good things were created and are sustained through heaven, and evil things through hell. God is the sole Governor of the world, but He governs by the laws of permission as well as by the laws of provision. Good He provides, evil He permits. Calamities come through evil, and are permitted for the purpose of restraining or correcting it. But calamities do not come through the agency of good but of evil spirits. In all permissions which are granted to evil spirits, angels are present to moderate or arrest the hands of the destroyers. Evil spirits do not need to be employed to do these direful works. Hell is in the continual effort to rush forth to the work of destruction; and it is only by the controlling power of the Lord that they are prevented from coming in like a flood, to carry the inhabitants of the world away into the gulf of perdition. The Divine wisdom measures the extent of the Divine permission, and says to the demoniac power, "Thus far shall you go and no further, and here shall your proud waves be stayed." When the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord is said to have repented Him of the evil. The Lord is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent; and yet there is a Divine meaning in His recorded repentance. That which is repentance in man is mercy in God; and that in man which obtains forgiveness is that in God which grants it. There is this essential difference between man and God. The finite changes, the Infinite is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. He does not change from severity to mercy. He never becomes merciful. He is mercy itself, and His mercy is ever the same. But as, when men sin, He seems to be angry, so, when men repent, He seems to be merciful. Men's changed states towards Him produce seemingly changed states in Him towards men. All that is necessary to make God merciful and forgiving is to remove the evil and impenitence that prevent His mercy and forgiveness from finding their way into the hearts and lives of men. It was when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem that the Lord repented Him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, "Stay your hand: it is enough." Jerusalem was the holy city, the place where the tabernacle containing the ark of the testimony was reared; and it represented, in the general sense, the Church, and, in the particular sense, the interiors of the mind. In the devastation of the Church, the Lord never permits a full end, for in that case there could not be a new beginning; and in the devastations of those who endure temptation, the Lord preserves the inner man from the power of evil spirits, for if the destroying angel were allowed to enter there, the capacity as well as the means of salvation would be destroyed.

We shall now speak of these circumstances in their general and particular sense. The numbering of the people and destruction that followed, represented, as we have seen, the perversion and consummation of the Jewish Church. This completeness of the consummation of that Church is signified by the number of people who died of the plague. The preservation effected by the offerings made on the altar does not denote the preservation or restoration of the Jewish Church, but the raising up of a new Church in its place. The altar was raised by Divine direction in the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

The Jebusites were one of the nations of Canaan whom the Israelites were commanded to disinherit; and Jerusalem was their stronghold. When Jerusalem was taken by David, the Jebusites were not entirely extirpated; but a remnant continued to live with the Jews. There were indeed two of the nations who were permitted to live with, though in subjection to, the Israelites—the Hivites, with whom Joshua made a covenant, and whom he made hewers of wood and drawers of water; and the Jebusites, who dwelt in Jerusalem. These two nations were preserved, because they represented those in whose idolatry there was something of good and something of truth. They were Gentiles in whom some of the principles of true religion could be implanted. David was required to rear an altar in the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, to represent that the Church which had become consummated amongst the Jews was to be transferred to the Gentiles. The pestilence continuing till the altar had been raised and offerings made in the floor of Araunah, describes representatively the continuance of the decline of the Church in the world, till the wasting corruption was arrested by the commencement of the Christian dispensation. It is therefore recorded that the angel of the Lord was by the threshing-place of Araunah when his hand was stayed. It was upon the spot where the angel stood and on which the altar was reared that the temple of Solomon was afterwards built, as recorded in the Second Book of Chronicles. "Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where the Lord appeared to David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshing-floor of Oman the Jebusite "(2 Chron 3:1). The temple was a representation of the Lord's Humanity, the temple of His body. The alter indeed had the same representation, with this difference, that the temple represented the Lord's Humanity as to Divine truth, and the altar represented the Humanity as to Divine goodness. When the temple was built, the altar of burnt-offerings was placed within the court to the east of the temple itself, the altar of incense being in the sanctuary, near the table on which was placed the shewbread. Indeed, one principal use of the tabernacle and temple was that the Lord might be worshiped according to the rites of the Mosaic law, and the altar was an essential part of the means by which that worship was performed, it being that on which the offerings were laid, and by which they were sanctified. The Lord therefore says in the Gospel, "Whether is greater the gift, or the altar that sanctifies the gift?" Not only does the Divinity of the Lord dwell in His Humanity, as the ark of the testimony did in the holy of holies, but the Humanity, like the altar of the temple, is that through which our offerings of worship are presented to the essential Divinity, and by which they are sanctified, and made acceptable to the Lord. When this representative character of the altar and temple is known, it may be understood why the altar was raised, and the hand of the angel was stayed, at the floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Jerusalem itself was preserved. The reason of this is, as we have remarked, that in all the dispensations of His Providence the Lord so orders that there shall not be a full end; for however the Church may be corrupted and consummated, a remnant is saved, to form the commencement of a new Church. Unless this were the case, no new dispensation could be commenced after a former one had come to its end. No Church or dispensation is therefore permitted to expire, or to close by an entire cessation of life; but is brought to an end by a judgement upon it while it yet contains some vitality, so that out of the remnant of the old Church a new Church may be established. The Lord teaches this when, He says, speaking of the darkness and corruption which were to precede His Second Coming, "Except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect's sake they shall be shortened." The shortening of the days is the bringing of the Church to its end, before it utterly expire by its own inherent decay. It was from the remnant of the Jewish Church that the Lord formed the beginning of the Christian Church; His apostles and first disciples being from the Jewish nation.

A similar Providence presides over the individuals of the human race as over the general Church. The numbering of the people and the pestilence which followed denote the entire perversion and destruction of the Church in those who fall away and terminate their life in a state of confirmed evil. With such there is a destruction of all goodness and truth, even of such as had been acquired from the period of childhood. Yet even in those cases some small remnant is preserved, for so much of the life or vitality of goodness and truth is preserved as is necessary to the existence of the faculties of liberty and rationality, without which nothing of humanity would exist. Something therefore remains which the worst can never utterly destroy, however much they may desire to do so; it is therefore said of such, that they "shall seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them "(Rev 9:6). The destroying angel therefore ever stays his hand before there is an entire end. But in this world man, however far he may have departed from the way of truth and goodness, is never without the power to return. And all the judgements of the Lord are intended to bring him by correction to a state of humiliation and repentance, and thus to the true worship of the Lord. The repentance and worship by which the sinner turns to the Lord are signified by those of David. The altar was set in the threshing-floor of Araunah, because a threshing-floor signifies where there is the good of truth. Jerusalem signifies the Church as to doctrine or the doctrine of the Church, and corn signifies the good which is the chief support of spiritual life. By a corn-floor is also signified the separation of what is evil and false from what is good and true, for there the wheat is separated from the chaff. It also signifies temptation, for spiritual temptations are the means by which there is a separation of good and evil in the mind and life. The altar of true worship, by which there is conjunction with the Lord, and thence all the benefits of His redemption and salvation, as they are dispensed by Himself in His Divine Humanity, must be built and established in the good of truth, or in the charity which is acquired by a true and sincere faith—a principle of good and charity which can only be acquired by self-denial, as the means of separating all the evil of self-love and the love of the world from love to the Lord and the neighbour. In the monarch of Israel, humble and repentant, seeking to stay the destructive pestilence by building an altar in the threshing-floor of the Jebusite, we may see the penitent worshiping the Lord in simple holiness from the principle of sincere good, chastened and purified by spiritual trial and temptation.

We may observe in conclusion that in the individual sense David signifies the human intellect. In his numbering the people we see the intellect acting under the influence of the natural will, or the selfhood; but in his penitential worship we see the intellect acting under the influence of a will brought into a state of humble submission to the Divine will. Whenever the understanding acts from self-will, evil consequences ensue; when it acts in union with a humble heart, goodness and blessing are the result.

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