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“Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood.”

Jeremiah was the messenger of the Lord, sent with many fearful predictions of wrath upon the carnal and idolatrous Israelites, and also upon the nations round about them. In the connection of our text he delivers a message from the Lord against Moab, because Moab had trusted in his works, treasures, etc. As the Moabites were always adversaries to Israel, so those of subsequent ages who, like Moab, trust in their own works, treasures, means and instruments, are the adversaries of the spiritual tribes of our Lord, who contend that salvation is of the Lord alone.

These curses denounced, in our text, against those who do the work of the Lord deceitfully, and him that keepeth back his sword from blood, seem to have a special reference to the execution of the judgments of the Lord against Moab. We have an illustration in the account recorded of Balak, king of Moab, when he sent for Balaam to come and curse Israel for him, hoping that thereby he and his forces might be able to drive the Israelites out of the land. Balaam loved the wages of unrighteousness, and being allured by the princely gifts which Balak proposed to bestow, and the great honors to which he was to exalt him, although solemnly pledged to utter only the words of the Lord, did nevertheless consult deceitfully with Balak to ensnare the Israelites, by laying a stumbling-block to cause them to sin. He did the work of the Lord deceitfully, for while acting as a prophet of the Lord, and charged by the angel of the Lord (see Numbers 25:26, etc.) he consulted with Balak to lay a stumbling-block to cause Israel to sin. Balaam’s love for the wages of unrighteousness undoubtedly induced him to do the work of the Lord deceitfully.

Jeremiah may have uttered the words of our text in justification of his own faithfulness in declaring the word of the Lord, and in showing the fearful responsibility resting on him, and on all who are called to proclaim the judgments of the Lord to Zion, or what God hath spoken of impending wrath which shall consume the adversaries of his cause and people.

We have a striking illustration of doing the work of the Lord deceitfully in the case of Saul, when he was sent to destroy Amalek. He was commanded to utterly destroy old and young, men and beasts. He had no discretionary power, for it was the work of the Lord; but instead of strictly obeying the word, he ventured to substitute his own judgment, and spared Agag, the king, and the best of the sheep and oxen, and then reported to Samuel that he had obeyed the commandment of the Lord. But Samuel replied, “What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?” Saul had a very pious and plausible excuse; he said, ‘Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and have brought Agag, the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the Lord thy God in Gilgal.” But Samuel did not regard even this pious disposition of Saul and the people to make wholesale sacrifices to the Lord as a valid excuse, for he said, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.”

We have many examples recorded of doing the work of the Lord deceitfully, which are written for our admonition, and to which we shall do well if we take heed, such as making clear the outside of the dish, the whitening of sepulchres, the straining at gnats, the drawing nigh unto the Lord with our lips, the tithing of mint and the making void of the law of God by our traditions, and the teaching for doctrines the commandments of men; but to all such deceitful workers how terrible are the words, “Cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully.”

What multitudes are at this very day professing to be the ministers of God, interpreters of the will of God to men, who, instead of preaching peace on earth and good will to men, are appealing to the most violent passions of their fellowmen, and with all their ability fanning the flame of discord, war and carnage. Rivers of human blood have marked the history of these deceitful workers from the days of Cain to the present hour. This very class has caused more bloodshed on the earth by their deceit and hypocrisy than has ever been shed from all other causes since the world began, yet they pretend to be doing the work of the Lord. At one time we find this deceitful clan engaged in getting up their union prayer meetings simultaneously throughout the land, all loving, melted in sympathy for the poor Hottentots, or the barefooted Indians of some foreign desert, and promising to usher in a glorious millennium in a very short time. Anon we hear them praying for war to the knife, and the knife to the hilt. They are a praying people, and have been famous for their long prayers in public places for ages past. But to detect the deceitful manner of their prayers, let their prayers be compared with the instructions given to the disciples by their Lord and Master: “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they maybe seen of men.” “Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread: and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors,” etc. To this instruction our Lord has added: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matthew 6:5, 9-15) Again: “And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us.” (Luke 11:4) “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (Luke 6:27,28) There are very many lessons of prayer of this kind taught by the Savior to his disciples, but in no instance has he instructed them to pray for fire to destroy their enemies, or for God to help us to take vengeance on our supposed or real foes; nor are we at liberty to ask God to forgive our sins, only as he has made us willing to forgive all who have trespassed against us. Let those who profess to be doing the work of the Lord, in praying or in preaching, or in any other way, be tried by the words of him who is the supreme Judge of quick and dead, and from whose decisions there is no appeal, and mark what multitudes are under the curse, as they are manifestly doing the work of the Lord deceitfully.

“And cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood.” In the war which God instituted between Moab and Israel we have figuratively presented the conflict which is now raging between antichrist and the spiritual Israelites. In the type the warfare was carnal, but in the Christian warfare no carnal weapons are allowed to be used. Moab, as we have shown, as well as all the other tribes and nations which were hostile to Israel, were figurative of the various organized powers of earth and hell, against which the great Captain of our salvation leads forth the soldiers of the cross. Those who were in the type were, like Saul and David, to use carnal weapons, and forbidden to keep back their swords from blood, where God commanded them to shed blood, were, as we understand the types, to teach us that in our spiritual conflicts we are to make no compromise with error, no treaty with the man of sin, to give neither aid nor comfort to those who are hostile to the spirit or government of the King of Zion. It certainly cannot be construed to mean that as men in the flesh we are to indulge in hatred, wrath or vengeance against them, or to in the least injure them in their persons, property or reputation, for that would conflict with the lesson taught in the preceding part of our text. For we war not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, and against the rulers of the darkness of this world. Christ has said, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight,” etc. But as his kingdom is spiritual, so our weapons are not carnal, but spiritual, and mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds. But still, as in the type, the war was to be uncompromising and earnest, so also in the antitype the soldiers of Jesus are to fight valiantly and constantly until they are honorably discharged from the conflict; then, like the valiant Paul, they may say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” etc. In applying the language of our text: “Cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood,” we understand those who professing to be the soldiers of Jesus, who from cowardice, or from any wicked affinity with the enemy, shall hesitate to contend earnestly for the faith, the truth, the order, the ordinances or the discipline of the gospel, shall thereby forfeit the fellowship of the saints. As they that were cursed in Israel were separated and put away from the congregation of the Lord, so those who will sympathize with the enemy, or countenance their errors, are guilty of keeping back their sword from blood, in the spiritual application of the text. Saul was not the only Israelite who kept back his sword from blood, in sparing Agag, and the sheep and oxen, which the Lord commanded him to destroy with his sword. Nor are we permitted to believe the cases are few or far between in christian profession wherein faithless soldiers are intermingled with those who “are called, and chosen, and faithful.” Saul was a carnal man, his sword was a carnal weapon, an instrument for inflicting injury and death. The true soldier of Jesus is spiritual, and his sword is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; it is not an instrument of cruelty, in a literal point of view, but it is nevertheless “quick and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.” What then required the carnal Israelite to utterly destroy their adversaries with the edge of the sword, must signify that the spiritual Israelite is to demolish every stronghold of the enemies of the truth by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. With this spiritual weapon no personal injury can be inflicted upon our fellow-men, while we smite offensively and defensively all who dare oppose the truth of God, and utterly cut off from our communion and fellowship all who fail to pronounce the gospel Shibboleth.

Perhaps in all ages of the christian dispensation there have been some connected with the church who have kept back their sword from blood, in the sense of our text, by indulging in a false sympathy for error itself, or for those who hold and plead for error, and they not only keep back their sword, if they ever had the sword of the Spirit, but also do all in their power to deter the more valiant soldiers of the cross from dashing Babylon’s little ones against the stones. But they are accursed; that is, they are denounced in their cowardly and treasonable course by the declarations of the word of truth. The word of the Lord is: “Put yourselves in array against Babylon round about: all ye that bend the bow, shoot at her, spare no arrows; for she hath sinned against the Lord.” (Jeremiah 50:14)

Middletown, N.Y.,
October 15, 1862.

Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 272 – 277