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Religious Zeal

By Sabine Baring-Gould

      Dedication Festival

      Ps. lxix., 9. "The zeal of Thine house hath eaten me up."

      INTRODUCTION.--David spoke the truth.   The one great desire of his heart was the glorification of God by the erection of a temple befitting His worship at Jerusalem.   Although he had plenty of cares to distract him, yet he never had this out of his heart.   "I will not come within the tabernacle of mine house; nor climb up into my bed; I will not suffer mine eyes to sleep, nor mine eyelids to slumber; neither the temples of my head to take any rest; until I find out a place for the temple of the Lord; an habitation for the mighty God of Jacob."

      One of the first things he did after he was anointed King over Israel, was to go to Kirjath-jearim, and bring up thence the ark of God from the house of Abinadab in which it had lodged.   And David went before the ark playing his harp, and his heart was so full of joy that he danced before the ark, singing and striking the strings of his harp. Then Michal his wife, Saul's daughter, looked out of a window, and sneered at him, "and despised him in her heart."   She was one of your cold-blooded people, with no enthusiasm in her, with no zeal for God, no heart for God's glory.   Better David dancing for joy of heart, than captious Michal with a contemptuous curl of her lips.

      David collected great treasures to build the temple, and directly he was at peace, his heart began to yearn to be about the work, and build to the glory of God.   "See now," he said, "I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains."   But the word of God came to him by Nathan the prophet, forbidding him to build, because he was a man of blood, the temple was to be erected by his son Solomon. Nevertheless, David collected for the temple, and above all, composed his beautiful psalms to be sung in it.   The gold and the cedar that Solomon set up are gone, but the Psalms remain, and have passed over to be the heritage of the Church.

      SUBJECT.--How striking is the zeal of David, and how little zeal have we for God's glory, and for the adornment of His house!   Let us consider to-day this zeal for God's house, and for those things that appertain to the worship of God, and tend to His glory.

      I. Of all the pathetic stories in the Bible, there is one which has struck me for its singular pathos, yet it is one which I dare say has escaped your notice.   You have heard of the zeal of David, how his enthusiasm carried him away, out of himself, so that he forgot his royal dignity, and danced before the ark.   You have heard of his bitter disappointment, how when through many years he had longed and planned to build the temple of God, his desire was not allowed to be carried into effect, but the honour was reserved for his son.   The zeal of God's house had eaten him up.   This was very touching, I think, but I remember a still more touching story of zeal for God's house, and God's honour, and that, not in a great man, but in a humble woman.

      Eli, the priest and judge of Israel, had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, and they were priests in Shiloh.   They were utterly bad, profligate men, utterly regardless of the honour of God, and they disgraced their sacred calling by their shameless lives.   They snatched from the sacrifices the best portion of the meat, and kept it for themselves, and they dishonoured the tabernacle by their shameless immoralities committed with those women who came to Shiloh to worship.

      In a great battle fought between the Israelites and the Philistines, the ark of God was taken, and Hophni and Phinehas were both slain. Then the news was brought to Eli the priest, and the old man, when he heard it, fell back off his chair in a fit, and broke his neck and died.   The news also reached the wife of Phinehas.   We do not know her name.   We only hear of her this once, but by the one little incident recorded of her, we know what she was.

      "The daughter-in-law of Eli, Phinehas' wife, was with child, near to be delivered, and when she heard the tidings that the ark of God was taken, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed herself and travailed; for her pains came upon her.   And about the time of her death, the women that stood by her said unto her, Fear not, for thou hast borne a son.   But she answered not, neither did she regard it. . .   And she said, The glory is departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken."   Good, God-fearing, loving heart!   Not a thought about herself.   She is in great suffering; not a cry from her other than this, "The ark of God is taken!"   They tell her that her father-in-law, old Eli, has fallen and broken his neck, "But she answered not, neither did she regard it"--only she said, "The ark of God is taken."   They tell her that her husband has been killed in the battle.   "But she answered not, neither did she regard it"--only she cried, "The ark of God is taken."   They brought to her her new-born child, a son.   What dearer to a mother than the little infant to whom she has given life?   But no, even that does not move her mind from the one absorbing idea, "She answered not, neither did she regard the babe," only she cried, "The glory is departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken."   Then the women who stood by said to her, "What shall the name of the child be, thy husband who should have named it is dead, thy father-in-law is dead, thou must name it."   "But she answered not, neither did she regard it,"--only she cried, "The glory is departed from Israel."   Then the women that stood by said, "So shall the name be," and they called the child Ichabod, which means, "Inglorious."   A few minutes later, and she was dying, and the last murmur on her lips, and the last thought of her heart were, "The ark of God is taken."

      I say this is a singularly touching story, for it shows us a woman whose whole soul was imbued with zeal for the glory of God, and that woman was the wife of a man whose whole priestly career was one of dishonour to God.

      II. Now I have given you two striking instances of zeal for God's honour, one in a man, and one in a woman.   Have you any such zeal in you?   Are your thoughts at all taken up with God's church, God's altar, God's worship?   Are you eager that all should be beautiful and seemly in the temple of God?   Does it pain you above every other pain when you know of something which is to the dishonour of God and of His Church? Have you any zeal at all like that of David?   Have you any self-forgetfulness in what concerns His honour, like that of the nameless wife of Phinehas?   I think if there were a little of this zeal, so many of our churches would not be untidy, neglected, ruinous. There would not be moth-eaten altar-cloths, and worm-eaten altars. There would not be green mouldering walls, and broken pavements.   There would not be a service slovenly, unmusical, irreverent, or if not irreverent, at least unworthy of the glory of God.

      In heaven flame the golden candles, and the censers fume with frankincense.   In heaven the seven lamps ever burn, and the altar shines like the sun.   In heaven the angels and the saints cease not day nor night in singing praises, and bowing in worship--and we! how do we show that we love God's worship?   The zeal of God's house does not eat us up, we do not even know what it is.

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