IT IS not always that we recognize the good qualities in our fellow men, the qualities that perhaps dominate their lives and determine their value to the world. We are too prone to seize upon some trait obnoxious to us, and, often because it runs counter to our own crossed vision and uneven step, measure the man by that,—the squint of his eye or the length of his stride. We never put our finger upon his pulse, we never follow his woodland path, we never catch the song that the rhythm of his life pours forth. We know our brother as the tide knows the earth, by the rocks that obstruct our way.
But it is not so that the church of Jesus Christ know one another. "By this," said the Master, "shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another;" if ye "love one another; as I have loved you." Viewed through the virtues of the indwelling Christ, the characters of our fellow disciples present a different aspect. They may have faults, spots where the perfection of Christ has not yet been permitted to work; but we do not dwell upon these. Our minds and our speech are directed rather to the value of service which their positive virtues afford; and by this attitude, we are enabled ourselves to be of more service to them in getting rid of their faults. Often we shall find that those whose defects magnified themselves to us in our faultfinding state loom highest in virtue and power when we see them through Christ. In this spirit let us look at some further divisions in the Israel of God.
"Judah," said the inspired patriarch, "thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. . . . The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto Him shall the gathering of the people be." Genesis 49:8-10.
Judah came to be the leader in Israel after the failure of his older brothers. To the line of Judah came the kingship and the lineage of Christ. In the roll call of Judah are such glorious names as Caleb, Ruth, David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah, Zerubbabel, and Mary the mother of our Lord. Broad-visioned, noble-minded, courageous, resourceful, Judah indeed, in his own life, and in the lives of his descendants, natural and spiritual, has been "he whom his brethren shall praise."
Yet Judah was not without fault. We turn to his history to discover it, and read in the thirty-eighth chapter of Genesis the account of his secession from his brethren. It was after the experience of selling Joseph for a slave; and Judah was doubtless dissatisfied with his own experience. He was moody and restless. When he looked at his brothers, he found ample cause for criticism.
"These the people of God!" he brooded; "quarrelsome, vengeful, greedy, vain! Here is Reuben, supposed to be the leader; weak, vacillating, sensuous, afraid of his shadow. Simeon cannot take his place; he is too hotheaded and lacking in judgment. And Levi —I wouldn't trust my life in his hands overnight; rigid as a rock, cruel-eyed, intolerant. As for these younger brothers, that lad Joseph was right about them: they are vile scum of the earth.
"Shall I waste my life among this crowd, who claim to hold the oracles of God, but who do the work of the devil? The world is more upright than this degenerate church. My influence will be greater if I leave them and go by myself. Separated from the evil reputation of these brethren, I will stand alone for right and God."
So Judah went off by himself, away from the church, into the world. There is no record that he received from his brethren moral support, or asked for it. He worked all alone there among the heathen, found there his friends, married there his wife. I have no doubt that Judah tried to hold a high standard and to uplift his neighbors; but he was disappointed. He found that evil is not in the church alone, but also in the world; and that while the grace of Christ is working to overcome it in the church, the diabolism of Satan is working to increase it in the world. The state of the church may sometimes be low, as it was in Judah's day; but whenever it is, the world is so much the lower. Judah found himself separated from the freest channels of grace, he felt the pressure of evil about him, he saw his children go down into iniquity and death, he found his own feet slipping.
Then Judah prayed. We see it indicated in the plea of Deuteronomy 33:7: "Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him unto his people." This is a prayer for the brethren of Judah to pray when they see him slipping away, disgruntled, suspicious, independent. They are not then to push him on, to pull apart from him as he is separating from them, to criticize him, to sigh, "Oh, my poor, lost brother!" It is for them to pray: "Teach me, Lord, how to draw near to Judah, how to shape my own life to win him, to show him the value of union and fellowship and mutual helpfulness. Incline his heart to return. Hear, Lord, the voice of Judah, and bring him unto his people."
God heard Judah, and brought him back to his people. He came chastened and humble, generous to others' needs and others' faults, helpful, ministrative. To Reuben he supplied strength, to Simeon patience, to Levi gentleness, to his younger brothers purity and love. And when they all came to the great crisis of their lives, their nation, and their church, Judah offered the supreme sacrifice. Before the governor of Egypt, who accused Benjamin of a crime from which he could purchase his life only with slavery, Judah offered himself to take the lad's place: "Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. For how shall I s..ro up to my father, and the lad be not with me? lest peradventure I see the evil that shall come on my father." Genesis 44:33, 34.
And so. humbled to service, Judah became chief, according to the law of the Master: "Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: and whosoever of you will be the chiefest. shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many." Mark 10: 43-45.
Zebulun and Issachar were brethren, and of them together Moses said, "They shall call the people unto the mountain; there they shall offer sacrifices of righteousness: for they shall suck of the abundance of the seas, and of treasures hid in the sand." Deuteronomy 33:19.
This language indicates the common success and material ability of these two tribes; but they differ in the direction of their activities. Zebulun is the alert man of affairs, dwelling at the great junctions of trade, and gathering in the abundance that flows through the arteries of commerce. "Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships." Genesis 49:13. Wealth is his, both because he has from God the "power to get wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:18), and because he is willing to exert himself and to deny himself for the attainment of his purpose. The need of the church for such characters, with such ability, is very evident; and they have an honored place among the tribes of Israel.
It is not always easy for a person of business ability, and especially one whose success has come largely through his own self-restraint and energy, to have patience with less successful and less disciplined souls. It is a fault not infrequently adhering to the men of Zebulun, to condemn the unfortunate and the poor, to point to their obvious deficiencies, and declare that with equal care and self-denial, they might have equal success. It is a great temptation to many to regard their wealth, not as given by God, but as gained by their own self-constituted powers, and in its distribution to be either selfishly luxurious, or, quite oppositely, penurious. So prone are men to measure all values by money, that usually those who have great store of money do not consider that others who have wealth of learning, or of strength, or of love, are, in giving others the benefit of their service, bestowing what has cost them more and is of more value than the money the rich might give. This is false reckoning. It is not the right of the poor to claim the wealth of the rich, any more than it is the right of the ignorant to claim the knowledge and power of the learned; but it is the duty and the privilege of the wealthy and the wise to give all that they have to feed the poor.
And if the rich and the poor were in this true relation, many of our social ills would disappear.
"Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens: and he . . . bowed his shoulder to bear, and became a servant." Genesis 49:14, 15.
Of Issachar are the burden bearers. We all know, by reputation at least, that little beast of burden, the ass, by which Issachar is represented. Down in our Southern mountains, we have many of them, "jacks" and "jinnies;" and oftentimes you will see a diminutive jinny plodding along under a sack of corn or meal weighting her down on either side, or carrying a man whose long legs must be held up high lest they touch the ground and she slide from under him. Whose burdens does the ass bear—her own?—No; it is always the burdens of another. She has little of the grace, not much of the strength, none of the swiftness, of the horse and other elegant creatures, but she is sure-footed and willing.
There are Issachars in the church, and we may thank God there are. They do not make a great splurge in public; they cannot preach eloquent sermons and capture the plaudits of the multitude; they may not seem to have any great gift of teaching; they do not shine in society. But when it comes to unostentatious burden bearing, the Issacharites are right under the load. They are they who find the weary mother and the burdened neighbor, and go in to help with the housework and the nursing, and the wheat harvesting and the wood chopping. Or they quietly get under the mortgage, or see that the little Jimmies and Susies of the poor family have new mittens and shoes in winter. They are the ones who volunteer to do the janitor work of the church, or to take that class of bad boys, or to fit the little shroud that sorrowing mother fingers could not touch.
We may not notice them very much in the days when their bands make the way smooth; but when they are gone—they move away, or they die—then we feel the loss, and we mourn for Issachar. We miss, too, the solidity of their indoment; for, swarm as we may about the brilliant light of an eloquent oracle, we instinctively turn, in matters of grave moment. to the counsel of those who have shown the solid, perhaps the stolid, qualities that fit for burden bearing. Of Issachar this is true; for it is written,
"The children of Issachar . . . were men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do." 1 Chronicles 12:32.
True, Issachar has his faults. He is often slow, not of movement alone, but of wit. And his slowness is not only an annoyance to others; it is frequently injurious to the cause of God. It is no credit to be slow and clumsy, to take longer to do a thing than would be required if the fingers and the brain had been disciplined and trained to the task. And while the patience of the swift is to bear with the clumsiness of the slow, it is the duty of the slow to use all diligence in improving their powers of dispatch. So will the grace of Issachar be increased.
These are the sons of strength, upon whom, as upon a great rock of defense, the church gathers for conflict; not greater than any other, not sufficient in themselves, but strong and true when they give themselves to service, and through the grace of Christ cast off the evil that they inherited. Learning the lesson of Judah, they will humble themselves, and offer their lives for others, thereby gaining the vision and the power of leadership. Learning the lesson of Zebulun and Issachar, they will minister of their substance and give of their strength and wisdom to the necessities of their fellows, and so call the people to the mountain of God's glory with the sacrifices of peace.
(To be continued)