Guest Writer Sabine Baring-Gould
“Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are in the way with him” (Matthew 5:25).
I spoke to you the Sunday before last about the obstinacy of persisting in an opinion after you have good cause to believe that this opinion is unjust, or unreasonable. I am going to speak to you today of another form of obstinacy.
My subject is persistency in doing wrong, because you have begun wrong. This is only another form of the same fault. The other is thinking wrong persistently, this is perseverance in doing wrong. And the source of both is the same: pride. Pride stands in the way of altering an erroneous opinion, and in the way of altering a wrongful course of action.
In 2 Samuel 10 we have a striking story of the way in which a man having once done a wrong, persists in it, and it brings about his ruin.
King David, when firmly established on his throne, began to look about him to see who had been kind to him in his day of adversity, and to reward, or thank them. He showed his gratitude to the memory of his friend Jonathan by investing his son Mephibosheth with his grandfather’s property. Then he remembered that Nahash the King of Ammon had shown him hospitality, and he heard also that he was just dead. So David said, “I will show kindness unto Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father showed kindness unto me. And David sent to comfort him by the hand of his servants for his father” (2 Samuel 10:2).
The message was kindly intended. David wished to show that he was not forgetful of past favors, that he was ready to make a lasting friendship with Hanun, and he desired to exhibit his sympathy with the son for the loss of his father. These were the three motives actuating David, all good.
Now, how did Hanun act?
One would naturally suppose that he would appreciate these motives, and that he would be glad, when scarce settled on his throne, to secure the powerful friendship of King David.
No! He was young, insolent, inconsiderate, and fond of practical joking—a vulgar-minded fellow, puffed up with conceit at his elevation to power. Hanun took the servants, the ambassadors of David, and shaved off half their beards, and cut off the lower half of all their clothes, and sent them back to David. And when it was told David that his messengers had been thus ignominiously treated, “he sent to meet them, because the men were greatly ashamed, and said, Tarry at Jericho, until your beards be grown, and then return” (10:5).
As soon as Hanun and his Ammonites had done this, what was their next step?
As perhaps you are aware, by the laws of civilized and uncivilized people, the persons of ambassadors are held to be sacred. Therefore, not only had Hanun done an insolent, and utterly blackguard trick, but he had gone against one of the first laws of nations. What he ought to have done, was at once to send to David a most humble apology, with an acknowledgment that he had acted wrongly. But he was too proud for this. He would not admit that he had erred.
He at once sent and hired the Syrians of Beth-rehob, and the Syrians of Zoba, twenty thousand foot soldiers, and of King Maacah a thousand men, and of Ish-tob twelve thousand men, so that this malicious trick began to show that it was an expensive one. Then David’s army drew up in array against this army of Ammon and their hired allies, and at once, all the mercenaries ran away. So then there was nothing for it but for the Ammonites to return as quickly as possible within the walls of their city.
Now, what should Hanun have done?
It was clear that David was not eager to punish him, for he had not even sent his army against Ammon till Hanun had collected the great host against him, and as soon as the Ammonites, deserted by their auxiliaries, had retired within their walls, the army of David had not pressed them, but gone quietly back to Jerusalem.
What, then, ought Hanun to have done?
Of course, he should now have sent his apology, and said how wrongly he had acted, how ashamed of himself he was, and how desirous he was to have the past forgotten. But no, having done wrong once, his pride would not let him acknowledge it, and he went on. He now engaged Hadarezar, King of the Syrians, and this time there was a great battle; and David killed of the Syrians seven hundred chariots, and forty thousand horsemen, and smote the captain of their host, so that he was left dead on the field, and all the Syrians who could escape ran away for their lives.
Then Hadarezer had had quite enough of fighting against Israel, and he made peace with David. “So the Syrians feared to help the children of Ammon anymore” (10:19).
Now the Ammonites were left completely without auxiliaries. What chance was there for them?
Still David did not press them. A whole year passed, and he made no move. He was waiting for an apology. But no. That headstrong Hanun was still too proud to make it. He would die with all his people rather than say he had done wrong.
So, at the end of a year, David sent his army against the Ammonites, and destroyed them utterly. He killed Hanun, and took away his crown, and plundered his capital town, and ruined all his cities. That was the end of one practical joke unapologized for.
In the Gospel for today, our Lord warns against the same hard-headedness in persisting in refusing an apology, and to make up friendship that has been broken. “Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are in the way with him, lest at any time the adversary deliver you to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer, and you be cast into prison. Verily, I say to you, You shall by no means come out of there, till you have paid the uttermost farthing” (Matthew 5:25, 26).
Jesus urges Christians when they have done an injury to any, frankly to confess it, to put their pride in their pocket, and to ask forgiveness. It is not an easy thing to do, to acknowledge that you have done wrong; but there is more true courage in doing so, than in persevering in spite of the consequences, in wrongdoing. Many a lasting and miserable quarrel has arisen because at the outset one little word has not been said, which would have made all things smooth. Two families become estranged and bitterly hostile, because someone has reported to the mother in one, that the mother in the other had made a disparaging remark about her. A little word, and all would be explained, and set to rights. “Let not the sun go down on your wrath” (Ephesians 4:26), says the apostle, and an excellent piece of advice this is: Make up all quarrels the same day that they break out.
There was a good old bishop of Alexandria called John the Almsgiver, and he and the Governor of the city were great friends. Something occurred which made a breach between them. If I remember aright, it was this. The bishop was very charitable, and was always urging the rich people to give to the poor, and they were constantly sending him money to distribute among the sick and needy.
Now, at this time, the Governor had experienced some difficulty in raising the taxes, and this ruffled his temper. He was on a visit to the Bishop, when he saw on the stairs a number of servants of a rich lady bringing up, as a present to the bishop some pots, labeled “Virgin Honey.” The Governor said he did not believe they were pots of honey, but pots of gold, and when the bishop offered to open them and let him see for himself, he dashed out of the door in a rage, and said, “No wonder I can’t get money in taxes when you swindle it out of the people, to feed the beggars on honey.”
When the Governor was gone, the old Bishop was very troubled, and he sat in his room all the rest of the day, waiting for the Governor to come and make it up with him. But no! the Governor was fuming with anger and would do no such thing. That evening the Governor had a party, and as he was sitting at table with the guests, a little scrap of paper was put on his plate, a servant of the Bishop had brought it. The Governor took it up and saw, “Dear old Friend—the sun is setting.” Then his heart relented, he excused himself to his guests, and ran to the house of the Bishop, and they fell into one another’s arms and made friends again.
Now remember this story. Whenever you have a quarrel with another, “let not the sun go down on your wrath.” Make it up before set of sun.
“Be, therefore, not anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for the things of itself. Sufficient to the day is its own evil” (Matthew 6:34).
Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee
Photo Credit: Portland Bill Light, Isle of Portland, Dorset, England
*Adapted from Sabine Baring-Gould, The Village Pulpit, Volume II. Trinity to Advent / A Complete Course of 66 Short Sermons, or Full Sermon Outlines for Each Sunday, and Some Chief Holy Days of the Christian Year (London: Skeffington & Son, 1886), sermon 43. Quotes, scriptural locations, photos, links, emendations added.