Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE YOUNG SHOOT PLANTED. In this chapter we have both parable and interpretation; hence there is no scope for conjecture touching the meaning. The tender twig is said to have been plucked from a cedar in Lebanon. For what Lebanon was to Palestine in natural fertility and glory, Jerusalem was in political eminence. What the cedar is among trees, royal princes are among the population. The most promising young men of the royal house had been transplanted to Babylon (see Daniel 1:1, 2). Every endeavour was made to train them for usefulness and eminence.
II. A FERTILE SITUATION. It was planted in "a fruitful field" - placed "by great waters." All that could minister to the growth of the tree was provided. The outward advantages conferred upon Israel were exceptionally favourable. God had dealt with them as he had not dealt with any other nation. Even when the wave of invasion swept over them, he did not allow it at the first to overthrow them completely. The conqueror still made terms with them, which, if honourably maintained on their part, might have led to a recovery of independence and honour. The God of heaven was still their Friend, and it was in his heart to show them every possible favour. No enemy was so formidable as their own selves.
III. ROBUST GROWTH. "It grew and became a spreading vine." "It brought forth branches, and shot forth sprigs." It had within itself abundance of life. Interpreted politically, this must mean that Israel had statesmen and warriors competent for the administration of her national affairs. She had men of intellectual gifts - far-sighted prophets - young men of courage and energy. As a nation, Israel had not sunk into the weakness and decrepitude of old age. It was not from any process of natural decay that calamity had overtaken her. The secret of her downfall must be sought in her moral delinquencies - in her want of loyalty to God.
IV. HER INDEBTEDNESS. For this fresh trial of her integrity and fruitfulness, the King of Israel was under obligation to the King of Babylon, here symbolized by the first eagle. Israel had acknowledged this obligation. It had become a matter of international treaty and compact. That Israel's nationality and existence had not, at once, been terminated by the Eastern conqueror was due solely to his clemency. The defeated kingdom had allotted to it another lease of existence, another chance of meriting renown. "It was planted in a good soil, by great waters," and the enjoyment of this privilege was a pure favour. Hence arose a new and distinct obligation - an obligation admitted and defined.
V. FLAGRANT TREACHERY. It is not consistent with the rules of literary composition to speak of a vine as guilty of treachery. But a teacher of religion is more concerned with the substance of his communication than with the form. If only Ezekiel could bring home to Israel's conscience the greatness of her sin he would easily forgive himself mere literary blemish. Earthly metaphors were incompetent to express all the truth. The violation of a positive covenant was a flagrant offence. We can conceive of none greater, especially as it was a covenant made in the name of God. And it was as foolish as it was flagrant. Did he suppose that Nebuchadnezzar would not resent the insult and avenge his outraged honour? Wrong doing is always bad policy, as inexpedient as immoral. If man cannot trust the oath and compact of a fellow man, all the bands of society would be loosed, and this globe would be a perpetual scene of anarchy, war, and misery. Mere might would always reign, and violence would be the only sceptre.
VI. DIVINE INDIGNATION. God himself appears upon the scene, and arms himself against the offender. Since the King of Israel had sworn, in God's name, to observe the covenant, the honour of God was involved. Therefore he will vindicate his own majesty. "As I live, saith the Lord God, surely mine oath that he hath despised, and my covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense upon iris own head." As the interests of a nation are greater than those of a private person, so the violation of a national compact is a sin of blackest hue. It was not simply his own pleasure and advantage Zedekiah was imperilling, but the interests and the lives of all his subjects. Therefore God himself was constrained to leave his secret habitation, and appear as the Avenger of crime.
VII. COMPLETE DESTRUCTION "All his fugitives with all his bands shall fall by the sword, and they that remain shall be scattered toward all winds." A series of lesser chastisements had been employed, but had proved unavailing to subdue the pride of Israel. Loss, defeat, public humiliation, dismemberment of empire, had in succession been tried. But the medicine had not taken effect. A more drastic measure must now be employed. The kindness, patience, and long suffering of God are signally displayed; and it ought to impress our hearts most deeply to observe with what reluctance he unsheathes the avenging sword. But Justice must have her due. Our God cannot be trifled with, for he is Judge of all. - D.
I. THE PARABLE AND ITS INTERPRETATION. It would be unwise to attempt to fix a definite meaning to every minute feature of the parable; and its chief features are interpreted for us by Ezekiel. The great eagle is intended to represent the King of Babylon, and, being a royal bird. it is fitly chosen for that purpose. Its "great wings and long pinions" indicate the wide extent of Nebuchadnezzar's dominions. And the fulness of its feathers and their divers colours denote the great number of his subjects and their various races and tongues. Lebanon sets forth Jerusalem, and is perhaps chosen for that purpose because it is the proper home of the cedar. The top or lofty crown, of the cedar (ver. 4) represents the princes of the royal house (ver. 12); the topmost of the young twigs, Jehoiachia, the youthful and rightful King of Judah; and the "land of traffic" into which they were carried by Nebuchadnezzar was Babylon. By "the seed of the land" (ver. 5) is meant Zedekiah, the uncle of Jehoiachin, whom the Chaldean monarch set upon the throne at Jerusalem, and who was to be, not as a great and stately cedar, but as a vitae needing support, yet flourishing and fruitful. But another eagle, great, yet inferior to the former one, is introduced, and this represents Egypt. Babylon is the great eagle, Egypt is only a great eagle. Now, Zedekiah had taken an oath of fealty to Nebuchadnezzar, but notwithstanding that, he turned to Egypt, seeking an alliance in order that he might become independent of the Babylonian power. Such an alliance was actually formed; and by reason thereof Zedekiah was to be brought to ruin as a vine plucked up by the roots.
II. THE LESSONS WHICH IT ADDRESSED TO THE JEWS OF THE PROPHET'S DAY.
1. The folly of entering into alliance with Egypt. The great aim of this prophecy was to keep the Jews from forming such an alliance. It was communicated between the sixth month of the sixth year (Ezekiel 8:1) and the fifth month of the seventh year (Ezekiel 20:1) of Jehoiachin's captivity, or of Zedekiah's reign. The alliance with Egypt was not actually formed until the close of the eighth or the beginning of the ninth year of his reign (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 10:7, 3). To prevent the formation of that alliance, Ezekiel exhibits the folly thereof. Nebuchadnezzar had not treated the conquered Jews with rigour or severity. He had rather dealt with them with marked moderation. He did not attempt to destroy their nationality, but simply to keep them a subject kingdom (ver. 14). They might have grown and prospered in the conditions and circumstances in which they were placed (vers. 5, 6, 8). Prudence would have dictated the maintenance of their fealty to the Chaldean monarch. "Jerusalem might have remained the bead of the Babylonian province of Judah, and the temple o(Jehovah continued standing, had Zedekiah possessed wisdom and firmness enough to remain true to his allegiance to Babylon." And no insignificant measure of strength and prosperity might have been theirs. But what real benefit could they reasonably hope for by an alliance with Egypt, which would bring down upon them the hostility of the Chaldeans?
2. The sin of entering into alliance with Egypt. It involved base treachery towards Nebuchadnezzar. The prophet speaks of it as despising the oath and breaking the covenant which Zedekiah had made with that monarch. Speaking in the spirit of that alliance as an accomplished thing, he says, "He hath despised the oath by breaking the covenant; and behold, he had given his hand, and yet hath done all these things." Covenant breaking is classed by St. Paul amongst the very worst of sins (Romans 1:31); while one of the features in the inspired portrait of a saint is that "he sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not" (Psalm 15:4). How base, then, would be the treachery of Zedekiah, who had sworn to his own advantage, if he should violate that covenant! Moreover, an alliance with Egypt would involve profane disregard of God, in whose Name the oath had been made. "Nebuchadnezzar had made him swear by God" (2 Chronicles 36:13); and to break that oath would be to despise the Divine Being. "It is not only that every oath," as Schroder says, "and hence also this oath, is of a religions character, and that the despising of it necessarily compromised the God of Israel in the eyes of the heathen; but still further, considering the clemency of Nebuchadnezzar in making such a covenant, as Jehovah's instrument, Jehovah's goodness was turned into lasciviousness."
3. The ruinousness of entering into alliance with Egypt. As a consequence, the kingdom should be destroyed as a vine plucked up by the roots (vers. 9, 10). Zedekiah himself should die in the mid-t of Babylon (ver. 16). Egypt would prove powerless to help them in the time of their sore distress (ver. 17). And God himself would go forth against them to avenge his oath that Zedekiah had despised, and his covenant that he had broken (vers. 19-21). Yet, notwithstanding these earnest remonstrances and solemn warnings, and those of the Prophet Jeremiah also, Zedekiah entered into the forbidden alliance with Egypt, and despised the sacred oath which he had sworn unto Nebuchadnezzar. And yet "Zedekiah," to quote the words of Mr. Aldis Wright, "was a man not so much bad at heart as weak in will. He was one of those unfortunate characters, frequent in history, like our own Charles I. and Louis XVI. of France, who find themselves at the head of affairs during a great crisis, without having the strength of character to enable them to do what they know to be right, and whose infirmity becomes moral guilt. The princes of his court, as he himself pathetically admits in his interview with Jeremiah, described in ch. 38., had him completely under their influence. 'Against them,' he complains, 'it is not the king that can do anything'" (Dr. Smith's 'Bible Dictionary,' art. "Zedekiah"). So he violated his oath of allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar, and entered into league with Egypt. And the dread consequences of such conduct announced in our text were terribly accomplished (cf. 2 Kings 25:1-21; Jeremiah 52:4-30).
III. THE UNIVERSAL AND PERMANENT TEACHING OF THE HISTORY.
1. The instability of earthly pomp and power, greatness, and graudeur. Mighty kings have often passed from the throne into exile or the dungeon. And kingdoms once strong and stately as a cedar of Lebanon have been completely rooted up or cut down. Such was the case with the kingdom of Judah. Abounding in vigour and prosperity in the days of David and of Solomon, it was much weakened by different causes and on various occasions, and at this time was fast hastening to its complete overthrow.
"Thus changing empires wane and wax, 2. The chief cause of the decline and fall of kings and kingdoms is moral. Sin had already made an end of the kingdom of Israel, and sent her people into exile. Sin had deprived the kingdom of Judah of most of its ancient prestige and power. And it and its king were ruined through the base treachery of that king towards Nebuchadnezzar, to which treachery he was incited by the princes of the court. "It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness;" "Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness;" "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people." The luxurious self-indulgence of the rich, the cruel oppression of the poor, the greed of territory, the delight in war, the prevalence of vice, - these are the causes of the overthrow of nations. 3. The heinousness of the sin of disregarding solemn oaths and covenants. This is frequently done in international relations, as though it were quite justifiable. "Princes and politicians are apt to trifle with solemn oaths and treaties," says Scott," and to devise specious pretences for violating them . but the Lord will not hold them guiltless who thus take his Name in vain; and few of them will be able to plead more plausibly for perfidy and prying than Zedekiah might have done, against whom these awful threatenings were denounced for breaking his covenant with the King of Babylon, and despising the oath sworn to him." "Think not to whom, but remember by whom, thou hast sworn an oath." 4. The mutations in the kingdoms of this world are all subordinated in the providence of God for the promotion of the progress of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. As soon as Jehovah by his prophet has announced the overthrow of Zedekiah and the destruction of the kingdom of Judah, he at once proceeds to announce the establishment of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus (vers. 22-24). Before the setting up of that kingdom in our world all events were made to contribute to its inauguration. And since then all human history has been controlled by God for its growth and increase. And it is destined to advance and extend until it universally prevails. "The kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ: and he shall reign forever and ever." "His Name shall endure forever;
2. The chief cause of the decline and fall of kings and kingdoms is moral. Sin had already made an end of the kingdom of Israel, and sent her people into exile. Sin had deprived the kingdom of Judah of most of its ancient prestige and power. And it and its king were ruined through the base treachery of that king towards Nebuchadnezzar, to which treachery he was incited by the princes of the court. "It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness: for the throne is established by righteousness;" "Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness;" "Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people." The luxurious self-indulgence of the rich, the cruel oppression of the poor, the greed of territory, the delight in war, the prevalence of vice, - these are the causes of the overthrow of nations.
3. The heinousness of the sin of disregarding solemn oaths and covenants. This is frequently done in international relations, as though it were quite justifiable. "Princes and politicians are apt to trifle with solemn oaths and treaties," says Scott," and to devise specious pretences for violating them . but the Lord will not hold them guiltless who thus take his Name in vain; and few of them will be able to plead more plausibly for perfidy and prying than Zedekiah might have done, against whom these awful threatenings were denounced for breaking his covenant with the King of Babylon, and despising the oath sworn to him." "Think not to whom, but remember by whom, thou hast sworn an oath."
4. The mutations in the kingdoms of this world are all subordinated in the providence of God for the promotion of the progress of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. As soon as Jehovah by his prophet has announced the overthrow of Zedekiah and the destruction of the kingdom of Judah, he at once proceeds to announce the establishment of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus (vers. 22-24). Before the setting up of that kingdom in our world all events were made to contribute to its inauguration. And since then all human history has been controlled by God for its growth and increase. And it is destined to advance and extend until it universally prevails. "The kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ: and he shall reign forever and ever."
"His Name shall endure forever;
I. COMMERCIAL CITIES ARE AN EXPRESSION OF A DEEP-SEATED TENDENCY OF HUMAN NATURE. There are, indeed, impulses which estrange and isolate men; but there are others which draw them together. We are by nature social; we have natural sympathies; we depend one upon another; we only live intellectually and morally in virtue of our mutual intercourse. Not only so; men find their interest and pleasure in close associations of various kinds. It is to their mutual advantage to gather together for the interchange of services. Thus it is in accordance with laws imposed upon our constitution by the Maker of all that men gather together in cities. In such populous centres the busy and active, the laborious and the influential, find scope for the exercise of their powers. Craftsmen and tradespeople, the bees of the social hive, spend in town life almost the whole of their earthly existence. And even those whose vocation is more distinctively intellectual, and who prefer retirement and quiet, still do not allow themselves to be cut off from the busy haunts of men; but ever and anon plunge, if but for a brief season, into the rapid, whirling tide of humanity that sweeps through their country's capital.
II. COMMERCIAL CITIES ARE THE SCENE OF VERY VARIED EXPERIENCES AND OF REMARKABLE FRICTION OF MIND WITH MIND. As compared with those engaged in rural pursuits, the dwellers in cities are quick and enterprising. They are brought more frequently into contact with one another, and each man meets daily a far richer variety of character. They are more ready to take in new ideas and to form new habits. In cities there are great contrasts. The life of the farm labourer and that of the country gentleman are not so contrasted as the life of the artisan and that of the merchant. In civics wealth and luxury are side by side with poverty and wretchedness. The poor have fewer to care for them, and the rich have fewer natural claims and responsibilities There is a rush and scramble for wealth and position, which renders a great city the natural theme of the cynic's sniper and the satirist's invective. Yet beneath all this there is much in city life which cannot but be regarded with interest and admiration; and the contempt which is felt for townspeople is often superficial prejudice.
III. COMMERCIAL CITIES ABOUND WITH TEMPTATIONS TO SIN. There is a bad as well as a good side to city life. In the race for riches there are many opportunities for theft, peculation, embezzlement, and forgery, and the widespread desire for rapid enrichment furnishes motives to which too many sooner or later yield. In a vast population provision is made for amusement and excitement, and for vicious gratification, and in this whirlpool multitudes of the young and heedless and pleasure seeking go down, never to emerge. There is in great cities a possibility of concealment, by which many are encouraged to form habits of self-indulgence and dissipation, from which they might in more favourable circumstances have been restrained by the gentle pressure of home influence and wholesome public opinion. No wonder that, when parents send a son to the metropolis to earn a living or to seek a fortune, their minds are distressed and anxious at the thought of the manifold temptations to which the child of many prayers is to be exposed.
IV. COMMERCIAL CITIES ARE THE CENTRES AND SOURCES OF GREAT INFLUENCE FOR BOTH GOOD AND EVIL. A great capital, the seat of government, of literature, of manufacture, of commerce, is often compared to the heart in the body, whence the streams of life flow constantly and regularly to reach the remotest extremity. In the great monarchies, empires, and republics of the world, how great a part has been played by the cities in which wealth and power have been concentrated, and by which national policy has been so largely shaped! How could the history of mankind be written without reference to Memphis, to Nineveh, to Babylon, to Rome, to Constantinople, to Paris, to London? Intelligence and wealth, luxury and vice, patriotism and public spirit, law and religion, spread from the great centres of population, industry, and prosperity, and affect the remotest regions.
V. COMMERCIAL CITIES AFFORD ESPECIAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR WORKS OF BENEVOLENCE AND EVANGELIZATION. They abound in enterprise and public spirit, and these may be employed as truly in the enlightenment and improvement of men as in the acquisition of wealth. They abound in population, and furnish persons of every grade of natural and acquired qualification for the several departments of Christian usefulness. They abound in wealth; and material means are necessary for the conduct of educational, philanthropic, and missionary plans. They have abundant means of communicating with localities near and far, which it may be desired to reach and affect for good; from them roads radiate to every part of the land, and ships sail to every port. These and other circumstances lead to the belief that our great cities will become in the future, even more than in the past, centres and ministers of blessing to mankind. - T.
I. A NATION'S HUMILIATION IS PERMITTED BY DIVINE PROVIDENCE. God raiseth up one, and setteth down another. It is a foolish and superficial view of political affairs which they take who attribute the rise and fall of nations to chance and accident. The Lord reigneth. There is wisdom and righteousness in his government of the world.
II. NATIONAL HUMILIATION SHOULD BE REGARDED AS A PROBATION AND A DISCIPLINE FOR BRIGHTER DAYS. They who see the hand of God in what happens to them will not be slow to believe that there is a purpose in human experience, and that this principle applies to communities as well as to individuals. There are lessons to be learnt in adversity which prosperity cannot teach. Schooled in the "waste, howling wilderness," Israel was made strong to enter and to possess the land of promise. The same principle has operated in the history of our own and of ether nations.
III. THE RELATIVE PROSPERITY WHICH IS POSSIBLE EVEN IN HUMILIATION MAY BE CHECKED AND DESTROYED BY SELFISHNESS AND TREACHERY. It was the policy of the remnant patiently to wait for better times; and it was their duty to observe the covenant into which they had entered with Babylon. The discontented vine which sought other patronage was to be plucked up and to wither. Increase of prosperity should not be sought by unlawful and forbidden means.
IV. SUBMISSION AND PATIENT IMPROVEMENT OF ADVANTAGES MAY BE THE MEANS OF NATIONAL GOOD. The subject sons of Abraham might not be eminent and majestic as the cedar of Lebanon. But they might he as the fruitful vine, planted in a well placed and well guarded vineyard, which bears abundance of fruit, and does not enjoy its advantages and opportunities in vain. - T.
I. THE CONDITION ALLOTTED TO US IN THE DIVINE PROVIDENCE IS GOOD FOR US, AND USUALLY AFFORDS SCOPE FOR PROGRESS. "He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful field," etc. (vers. 5, 8). Zedekiah King of Judah is meant by "the seed of the land." He was set upon the throne by Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, and took an oath of fealty to him. In so doing Nebuchadnezzar was the unconscious agent of Divine providence. And the condition in which Zedekiah was placed was a good one, and favourable to progress. But is there forevery one a condition allotted by God? Has he appointed the station and place even of the obscure and feeble? We argue that such is the case, because:
1. The providence of God is universal, including in its vast operations the great and the small, the high and the low. Every person and every event is comprehended in the great plan of the Supreme Ruler; Without a plan such as this his providential government could not possibly succeed. And it is both unscriptural and unphilosophical to look upon that government as dealing only with great things. It is unscriptural, as we see from Matthew 6:26-80; 10:29-31. And it is unphilosophical. "Must not the smallest links be as necessary for maintaining the continuity as the greatest? Great and little belong to our littleness; but there is no great and little to God."
2. The sacred Scriptures reveal the care of God forevery person - not only for the great and noble, but for the obscure and lowly. He distributes to some men one talent, to others five; and he looks for the right employment of the one as well as of the five. In fact, the Most High manifests special interest in the weak and the poor and the unregarded (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29; James 2:5).
3. This truth is confirmed by the material creation of God. That creation is one grand whole, to the completeness of which every portion is essential. The system of the universe is, "in fact, so perfect," says Bushnell, "that the loss or displacement of any member would fatally derange the general order. If there were any smallest star in heaven that had no place to fill, that oversight would beget a disturbance which no Leverrier could compute; because it would be a real and eternal, and not merely casual or apparent disorder. One grain more or less of sand would disturb or even fatally disorder the whole scheme of the heavenly motions. So nicely balanced, and so carefully hung, are the worlds, that even the grains of their dust are counted, and their places adjusted to a corresponding nicety. There is nothing included in the gross, or total sum, that could be dispensed with. The same is true in regard to forces that are apparently irregular. Every particle of air is moved by laws of as great precision as the laws of the heavenly bodies, or, indeed, by the same laws; keeping its appointed place, and serving its appointed use.... What now shall we say of man? Noblest of all creatures, and closest to God, as he certainly is, are we to say that his Creator has no definite thoughts concerning him, no place prepared for him to fill, no use for him to serve, which is the reason of his existence?" For these reasons we conclude that God has allotted a place and duty for each of us; and that place is best for us. It is that which infinite wisdom and kindness have appointed; and is therefore best suited to the end which God designs in us and for us. And our condition usually, like that of Zedekiah, admits of progress. From the smallest hamlet there is a way to the great metropolis. And the obscurest and meanest lot affords scope for fidelity and diligence and advancement.
II. MAN IS PRONE NOW TO BE CONTENT WITH THE POSITION ALLOTTED TO HIM BY DIVINE PROVIDENCE. Zedekiah was not content. The kingdom had actually made some progress under him. "It grew, and became a spreading vine of low stature," etc. (ver. 6). Further progress was possible to him. At the very least, "he might have kept the fragments of the kingdom of Judah together, and maintained for some generations longer the worship of Jehovah." But he and the princes of his court were not content with this. Judah had formerly been an independent and prosperous and powerful kingdom: why should it now be subject to Babylon? Why should they not discover or devise means for recovering their national independence? Thus we are apt to fail as regards contentment. We look at the bright side of our neighbour's lot in life, and at the dark side of our own, and become dissatisfied and restless. We long for the gifts, the advantages, and the circumstances of others, and in so doing we depreciate the good which we actually possess. We crave freedom from some hindrance or infirmity; we are eager for larger prosperity or speedier progress; we chafe under our restraints, and are impatient for the realization of our wishes, and are heartily discontented with our present circumstances and condition. But, it may be asked, is man to sink into ignoble content, never wishing to increase his attainments, to advance in his character, or to improve his circumstances? Certainly not. Such a state of mind can hardly be called contentment. It is more akin to indolence and slothtfulness; and it leads to stagnation and ruin. The true contentment of man is the contentment of a being created for progress. But such progress should not be based upon discontent with our present condition, and unfaithfulness in our present duties. That man only is fit for a greater position who makes the best use of his present position. "A man proves himself fit to go higher who shows that he is faithful where he is. A man that will not do well in his present place, because he longs to be higher, is fit neither to be where he is nor yet above it; he is already too high, and should be put lower." "Hence it was," as Bushnell says, "that an apostle required his converts to abide each one in that calling wherein he was called; to fill his place till he opens a way, by filling it, to some other; the bondman to fill his house of bondage with love and duty, the labourer to labour, the woman to be a woman, the men to show themselves men, all to acknowledge God's hand in their lot, and seek to cooperate with that good design which he most assuredly cherishes for them."
III. WHEN MAN IS NOT CONTENT WITH THE CONDITION ALLOTTED TO HIM BY DIVINE PROVIDENCE, HE IS PRONE TO USE UNLAWFUL MEASURES TO ALTER THAT CONDITION. Thus did Zedekiah in seeking an alliance with Egypt. "There was also another great eagle with great wings and many feathers," etc. (ver. 7). He had solemnly sworn fealty to Nebuchadnezzar for himself and the people under him. If there was anything in his circumstances or condition which he wished to be altered, he should have applied to Nebuchadnezzar, not to Pharaoh. Yet in his discontent, and incited by his princes, he sought an alliance with the King of Egypt, violated the sacred oath which he had sworn unto the King of Babylon, and rebelled against him. Supposing that rebellion had been successful, instead of the ruinous failure that it was, it would still have been a great wrong, because it would have been achieved by dishonourable and sinful means. Should discontent ever prompt us to use ways and instruments that are not upright and honourable for the altering of our condition, we may be quite sure that that discontent is wicked. When discontent becomes strong and active, we grow impatient of the evolution of the Divine purposes concerning us, and are tempted to break from our submission to the guidance and control of God's providence, and to take the ordering of our life into our own hands. And if we will take the helm of our life out of God's hands into our own, he will not compel us to yield to his guidance. Moreover, if we will employ questionable means to accomplish our desires when we cannot realize those desires otherwise, we may do so; but it will be to our own injury.
IV. THE USE OF UNLAWFUL MEASURES TO ALTER OUR CONDITION WILL ONLY RENDER THAT CONDITION WORSE. So it was with Zedekiah. "Thus saith the Lord God; Shall it prosper?" etc. (vers. 9, 10). Zedekiah entered into alliance with Egypt, rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, who came and besieged Jerusalem, and after the people had suffered unutterable miseries by famine and pestilence, the city was taken, the temple was destroyed; Zedekiah, who attempted escape by flight, was captured and brought before the King of Babylon at Riblah, where his sons were slain before his eyes; then his eyes were put out, he was carried captive into Babylon, and died in prison in that land (Jeremiah 52:1-11). Such was the disastrous development of his discontent. And still, if unchecked, discontent leads to ruinous issues, robbing the life of peace and progress, and conducting it to darkness and failure. If we will take the management of our life out of God's hands into our own, we shall certainly come into difficulties and trials, and perhaps even into ruin. We have neither knowledge nor wisdom enough to order our lives aright. "The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps;" "Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and not upon thine own understanding: in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths." "Be not ambitious to do the highest work, the grandest work, but the work God gives you to do - be it the meanest service, be it what others call drudgery. You may make it beautiful by the spirit in which you perform it. Strive not after the 'many things,' but after the 'one thing needful;' and remember, every part assigned you by God is a good part - be it the servant's part or the mistress's, the teacher's part or the scholar's, the wife's part or the maid's, - the part of action or of suffering, of toil or of tears, of speech or of silence." "And be content with such things as ye have: for himself hath said, I will in no wise fail thee, neither will I in any wise forsake thee." - W.J.
I. THE JUSTICE OF GOD IS DISCERNIBLE IN NATIONAL CALAMITIES. This was most evident in the case of Judah and Israel, who by their defection and apostasy incurred the righteous displeasure of the Almighty Ruler, and brought upon themselves the judgment beneath which, in the time of Ezekiel, they were smarting. The King of Babylon had come to Jerusalem, had taken the king thereof and the princes thereof, and had led them with him to Babylon; he had taken of the king's seed, and had established him in authority over the remnant in the land, that the kingdom, though base, might stand. In all this the righteous hand of God was visible to every observant and reflecting mind.
II. THE MERCY OF GOD IS DISCERNIBLE IN THE COVENANT BETWEEN THE CONQUERORS AND THE CONQUERED. Judah would have met with the fate she deserved had she been treated as an ordinary subject province. But God's providence ordered matters otherwise. The King of Babylon was disposed to deal favourably with the conquered sons of Judah. He made a covenant with Zedekiah, and took an oath of him. Thus some semblance of self-government was left with the vanquished. Although their chiefs were carried captive, those who were permitted to remain did so under the sovereignty of a member of the royal house. We are taught to see in this arrangement an evidence of the favour and forbearance of the Most High.
III. THE SANCTION OF GOD RESTS UPON NATIONAL ENGAGEMENTS SOLEMNLY UNDERTAKEN AND RATIFIED. An oath is an appeal to God, and he will not hold him guiltless that taketh his Name in vain. A nation may appeal to Heaven, as may an individual. Peoples come voluntarily into certain relations with each other in the great community of mankind. As surely as there is an Almighty Ruler who sways a righteous sceptre over the nations, so surely does sacredness attach to those obligations which nations take upon themselves with regard to one another. They are not indifferent and trivial matters, but matters with which the moral life of nations is bound up.
IV. THE DISPLEASURE OF GOD IS UPON THOSE WHO VIOLATE SOLEMN TREATIES. In language of truly prophetic indignation, the prophet upbraids the king and those who acted with him in secretly rebelling against the court of Babylon, to whose favour they owed whatever national existence was left to them, and with whom they had entered into sacred and binding treaty. "Shall he prosper? shall he escape that doeth such things? shall he break the covenant, and yet escape?" The Eternal regarded this conduct as a wrong, not so ranch to Babylon, as to himself. "Mine oath he hath despised; my covenant he hath broken." "He hath trespassed against me." It is to be feared that this is a consideration which never enters into the minds of some rulers and statesmen; they think of the effect of their conduct upon the great and mighty of this world, but they do not ask themselves how their falsehood and treachery are regarded by him who rules not in heaven only, but on the earth.
V. THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD WILL OVERTAKE THOSE WHO REGARD INTEREST AND EXPEDIENCY RATHER THAN PRINCIPLE AND PROMISES. It was foretold that Judah should gain nothing by her deceptive and base conduct. Pharaoh should not deliver the people with his mighty army. Judah's conduct should be recompensed by Divine interposition; the king who had rebelled should die in the midst of Babylon, and should not escape; the fugitives should fall by the sword, and they that remained should be scattered toward all winds. The lesson is one of universal import. Be they high or low, men who violate the compacts and disregard the engagements into which they have voluntarily and deliberately entered, shall not be unpunished, shall not escape the righteous judgments of the Judge of all the earth. - T.
I. CHRIST'S ORIGIN FROM A DESPISED AND OPPRESSED, YET FROM A ROYAL, STOCK. The members of the royal house of David were, in the lifetime of Ezekiel, reduced to comparative feebleness and obscurity. Either in Eastern exile or in the half-deserted land of their fathers' splendour, they were a deserted and dejected race. Yet from them - from the highest branch of the high cedar - Christ according to the flesh was to come.
II. CHRIST'S SELECTION AND APPOINTMENT THE TOKEN OF GOD'S FAVOUR TO HIS PEOPLE. The Messiah was "the Lord's Christ," and was set to be "a Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the Glory of God's people Israel" The temporal sovereignty might be lost, but a spiritual sovereignty should be established.
III. CHRIST'S EXALTATION, EMINENCE, AND GLORY. The twig was to be planted upon "a high mountain and eminent" - in "the mountain of the height of Israel." The Son of God was indeed "a Plant of renown." Unto him was given a Name chore every name, a kingdom ruling over all. He has become, and has remained for long centuries, the one great central Figure in the history of mankind. His kingdom is vaster and more glorious than the empire of Rome or of England - a kingdom over human hearts, over human society, over the moral life of man.
IV. CHRIST'S OFFICE AS THE SHELTER OF ALL THE NATIONS, THE PROVISION FOR ALL THEIR SPIRITUAL NEED. The goodly tree is to "bear fruit," and "under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing." This metaphorical and poetical language portrays alike the extent and beneficence of the Saviour's spiritual reign on earth and over the children of men. His influence ever grows. By his bounty myriads are provided with spiritual food. Beneath his loving care men of every race find peace and protection, safety and. life immortal. - T.
I. A TENDER SHOOT PLANTED. "I will take the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it." This is but a variation of Isaiah's prediction that a rod should spring out of the stem of Jesse. and a branch spring from his root. As the cedar was the most renowned among their trees, so the dynasty of David was the most illustrious of their princely families. Of this ancestral tree should the Messiah spring. Commencements are always full of interest. They are pregnant with hope. The appearance of a new child awakens tire imagination; much more the opening of a new epoch, the founding of a new kingdom. In this case the interest is immeasurably enhanced because God himself is the immediate Actor. "I, saith Jehovah, I will do it."
II. THE GARDEN PLOT CHOSEN. "In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it." Mountains me not the best localities in which to plant trees. They flourish better if rooted in shady valleys or on alluvial plains. But, inasmuch as the reference here is to the cedars of Lebanon, it is seemly that a mountain locality should be chosen. Still more is this appropriate when we consider that the language is metaphorical, and carries a spiritual meaning. The mountain here points to Zion - the cradle of the Messianic kingdom. "Out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." We are not to separate between this predicted king and his matchless kingdom. The Church "is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." In Jerusalem this new empire was founded; from the literal Mount Zion the first heralds and ambassadors went forth. And the Church is a moral elevation. It stands above the common level of human life. It holds a conspicuous place in the earth. Still is it true that "the Lord is King in Zion."
III. ITS GROWTH AND BEAUTY. "It shall bring forth boughs.., and be a goodly cedar." From a small beginning it shall steadily develop and increase. Nature is prolific in growth, especially in favoured places; but this growth shall transcend nature - it shall awaken on all sides surprise and admiration. The fulfilment has been equal to the promise. From a feeble and despised beginning it has become already a splendid empire. It has sent its boughs into every land; and, like the drooping branches of the banyan tree, these have taken root and commenced a new life. It has sent its plastic influence into every department and province of human life. It is symmetrical in its proportions, graceful in outline, replete with beauty - "a goodly cedar."
IV. ITS FRUITFULNESS. It shall "bear fruit." It is said of the tree of life, seen in the Apocalyptic vision, that it bore twelve manner of "fruits, and yielded her fruit each month." Of this goodly tree it may with truth be said that it yields an infinite variety of fruits. It would be difficult to enumerate them. Knowledge, wisdom, pardon, hope, joy, peace, gentleness, meekness, temperance, forbearance, strength, love, conquest over sin, victory over death, - these are a few of the fruits gathered from this generous tree. As years roll on, the productiveness of this tree, instead of diminishing, increases. There is no human want that cannot here find a suitable supply.
V. ITS WORLDWIDE USEFULNESS. "Under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing." This description is parallel to the language of our Lord himself, when he likened his kingdom to a grain of mustard seed, which, having sprung into a tree, all the fowls of the heavens lodge in the branches thereof. Under the sceptre of King Jesus every useful thing is sheltered - childhood is protected, womanhood is honoured, good legislation spreads, commerce prospers, art and science grow, every beneficent institution is nurtured. Beneath the regis of this gracious Monarch human life is enhanced in value, lands are recovered from desolation, Music learns to tune her lyre, international concord abounds. The world of man is gradually revolutionized and beautified.
VI. THE CERTAINTY OF THE EVENT. "I the Lord have spoken and have done it." God's word is equivalent to a deed; his promise is equal to a performance. With him a volition is omnipotent; therefore he speaks of things that are not as though they were. At the Creation a single word was sufficient. "He spake, and it was done;" "By the breath of the Lord were the heavens made." So in the redemption of the world a word was enough. Heaven and earth may pass away, but his word - never! When the Son of God walked our earth, a word from him sufficed forevery occasion. If he spake, the tempest slept, the fig tree withered, disease vanished, the grave gave up its dead, vice was conquered. He smiles, and men live. He frowns, and the earth quakes. It' only God has spoken, we may wait with confidence and calmness for the performance.
VII. THE EVENT SHALL BRING UNIVERSAL HONOUR TO JEHOVAH. "All the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord" have done it. In other words, all kings and statesmen shall learn that I Jehovah am supreme - am King over all mankind. "By me kings rule;" "He putteth down one, and setteth up another." And has not this prophecy been fulfilled? Has not faith in idols ceased among most of the civilized nations? Has not our God obtained for himself great renown? There is a more intelligent belief in God today than ever there has been in the past; and this admiration of God grows and strengthens. The number of real atheists is small; they are the units. Men of intelligence and culture confess that there is, behind all the machinery of the visible world, an Unseen Power - the hand of the wonder-working God! Waves of scepticism may now and again pass over the surface of human thought; but these are soon spent; and when they are past, there is seen the solid rock of intelligent belief and reverent faith. His Name shall eventually shine resplendent as the noonday sun. - D.
Introduction. The delightful transition from stem threatenings to gracious promises; from the destruction of the enfeebled and subject kingdom of Zedekiah to the establishment of the mighty and majestic kingdom of the Messiah.
I. THE PLANTING OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST. "Thus saith the Lord God; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it," etc. (ver. 22). Notice:
1. The Person by whom this kingdom was planted. The Lord Jehovah declares that he himself will plant the tender shoot out of which the new kingdom is to grow. He comes forward "as the rival of the King of Babylon," or in complete contrast to that monarch.
(1) Nebuchadnezzar cut off the top shoot of the cedar when he dethroned Jehoiachin; Jehovah will plant the top shoot in the Person of Jesus Christ.
(2) Nebuchadnezzar carried his top shoot into Babylon; Jehovah will plant his "in the mountain of the height of Israel."
(3) When Nebuchadnezzar planted Zedekiah a king, it was only as a vine, and with the design of keeping it low; when Jehovah plants the Messiah a King it is as a cedar, that it may grow into might and majesty. "I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it," etc. "This I is of powerful import, as the Speaker is no other than the Lord Jehovah, the Almighty, the purely absolute Being, whom no created thing can resist."
2. The Person in whom this kingdom was planted. The tender twig from the top of the cedar denotes the Lord Jesus, and the cedar denotes (as in ver. 3) the house or family of David. The prophecy looks back to Isaiah 11:1, "There shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit." There is, perhaps, a reference also to Isaiah 53:2, "He grew up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground." "It is Messiah as an individual," says Fairbairn, "that is here indicated; first, as a tender scion of the house of David, in the direct and proper line, then grown into a stately tree; and, finally, risen to the highest place of honor and power and glory. But the Messiah, who was to appear on earth only for the sake of the Divine kingdom, could not be regarded as apart from the kingdom itself; its fortunes must stand inseparably bound up with his history, and partake along with it of evil or of good." This kingdom cannot exist apart from its glorious King. Christianity is inseparable from Christ.
3. The place in which this kingdom was planted. "I will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent: in the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it." The mountain thus described is Mount Zion, as will be seen by a comparison of this place with Ezekiel 20:40. Yet not because of its natural height is it thus spoken of, but because of its spiritual pre-eminence. So also in Psalm 48:2, "Beautiful for elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion," etc. And in Isaiah 2:3, "Out of Zion shall go forth the Law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." Mount Zion signifies the seat of the throne of the Divine King. "I have set my King upon my holy hill of Zion" (Psalm 2:6). And from Jerusalem the extension of this kingdom began.
II. THE PROGRESS OF THE KINGDOM OF CHRIST. "And it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar," etc.
1. Its progress will be productive of benefit to men. It will bring forth boughs and leaves for the shelter of men. "In the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell." The idea of finding shelter and safety in the Lord is frequently and variously expressed in the Scriptures. "How precious is thy loving kindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge under the shadow of thy wings;" "Thou hast been a Stronghold to the poor, a Stronghold to the needy in his distress, a Refuge from the storm," etc. (Isaiah 25:4); "And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind," etc. (Isaiah 32:2). There is assured safety under the government of this gracious and almighty King. "My people shall abide in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places." But this tree "shall bear fruit" also. The fruit is the saving power and grace which proceed from Christ. The subjects of his kingdom find sustenance as well as shelter in their King. He is made unto them "Wisdom from God, and Righteousness, and Sanctification, and Redemption." He gives the living water, which springs up unto eternal life within those who receive him as their Saviour and King (John 4:13, 14). And he is the Bread of life, whereof if any man eat he shall live forever (John 6:32-51). The provisions of Christianity are rich and abundant and free (cf. Isaiah 55:1, 2; Matthew 22:1-10; Luke 14:15-24).
2. Its progress will be productive of benefit to all men. "Under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing." Men shall flock from all lands into this kingdom. Inspired poet and prophet predicted this in exultant song and thrilling eloquence (cf. Psalm 72:8-17; Isaiah 60:1-14). And the New Testament supplies most abundant and convincing evidence that the blessings of Christianity are for all. peoples. They are adequate for all, suited to all, offered to all, and free for all. Jesus Christ is the Saviour and King of the entire human race.
3. Its progress will produce the conviction of its Divine origin in all men. "And all the trees of the field shall know that I the Lord have brought down the high tree," etc. "The trees of the field" are the princes and potentates of this world. Expositors have endeavoured to fix a definite and special meaning to "the high tree,... the low tree,... the green tree, and... the dry tree." But it seems to us that the truth here stated is a general one. In the rise and fall of kings and kingdoms God himself works for the establishment and progress and universal triumph of the kingdom of his Divine Son. "He bringeth princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity."
"For neither from the east, nor from the west,
I. DIVINE PROVIDENCE IS TO BE RECOGNIZED IN THE ELEVATION AND DEPRESSION OF THE NATIONS. The changes which interest, amaze, and perplex the student of human history are not accidental; they are wrought by laws imposed by the Divine Creator and Ruler of all the earth.
II. DIVINE PROVIDENCE IS ESPECIALLY OBSERVABLE IN THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF HUMAN EXPECTATIONS AND THE OVERTURNING OF HUMAN PLANS. It is indeed a common proverb, "Nothing is certain but the unexpected." The fortunes of nations are beyond our prediction. Men admire the high tree; and it is brought low. They despise the low tree; and it is exalted. They predict and expect great things of the green tree; and it is dried up. They account the dry tree as fit only for burning; and lo! it flourishes.
III. DIVINE PROVIDENCE IS BY NO MEANS DIRECTED BY UNREASONING CAPRICE. The purposes of God may be hidden from us; but we may be assured that they are all inspired and controlled by infinite reason and flawless righteousness. Nothing occurs among the nations which the Omnipotent does not foresee and permit, which he will not overrule for his glory.
IV. DIVINE PROVIDENCE SO ORDERS THE CHANGES AMONG THE NATIONS THAT HONOUR MAY BE TAKEN FROM MAN AND MAY BE ATTRIBUTED TO GOD HIMSELF. He will be glorified by the work of his own hands; and will not give his honour to another. Universal history, when complete, shall be a full and manifest witness to the wisdom and to the benevolence of God. - T.