Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE SCENE OF DIVINE DESTRUCTION. God's righteous anger is directed against the Holy Land, the holy places, the temple itself. Kings and priests alike are doomed. Traditional eminence and renown are impotent as a defence Against just retribution. God is no respecter of persons. Sin is equally detestable in an Israelite as in an Egyptian, and will be punished with equal severity. Oat of regard for a good man, God may employ a different method - more patience, perhaps - in dealing with his son; yet, in the end, there will not be the deviation of a hair's breadth from righteous principle. No man can cloak himself with privilege.
II. GOD'S VENGEANCE IRRESISTIBLE. "I have set the point of the sword against all their gates, that their heart may faint." As Samson lifted off the gates of Gaza from their hinges, much more can Samson's Creator pierce with his sword gates of brass and fortresses of iron. Who can withstand his thunderbolts? Who can raise a defence against his lightning? "Every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble." Did the antediluvians stop the rising of the Deluge? Could the families of Egypt protect their firstborn against the angel of destruction? Had the dwellers in Pompeii any power to prevent the overthrow of their city? How vain and impotent are men in league against an avenging God!
III. GOD'S VENGEANCE IS THOROUGH IS ITS ACTION. "I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked." Man's estimate of righteousness and God's estimate differ widely. In a nation every variety of character will be found, and sin will exist in every shade and gradation. In comparison with the blackest characters some will appear righteous who are only less tainted with sin. These are the so called righteous. In the very nature of things God will not and cannot treat alike the righteous and the wicked. The truth, then, set before us here is this - that the whole nation was corrupt, yea, ripe for slaughter. So few were the righteous, as to be left out in this graphic and impressive description. The scourge should sweep through the land, and penetrate every secret place.
IV. GOD'S VENGEANCE, THOUGH APPARENTLY, NOT REALLY, INDISCRIMINATE. Outwardly the same calamity may befall the righteous and the wicked, while the real and inward effect differs widely. The same sentence of death will send the righteous to their heavenly rest, the wicked to their final doom. The sun that hardens clay, melts wax. The storm that sends a leaky ship to the bottom, drives faster home the tight and gallant hark. The scourge that kills the wicked, only chastens the righteous. The furnace that destroys the alloy, refines the silver. To the few righteous this visitation of God "is a trial" (ver. 13). The rod had not been severe enough, therefore the sword came. No ill can befall the righteous. Death is ours. "To die is gain."
V. DIVINE AND HUMAN COOPERATION. This sword, which was sharpened to destroy, was no less God's sword, though it was wielded by the captains of Babylon, The prophet had his part to take. The king and statesmen of Babylon - yea, even the rank and file of the army - had their part to take, with God, in the execution of his just fury. The prophet is directed (ver. 14) "to smite his hands together" - a matter of fact prophecy of the coming event - the sign to summon the great army. And (in ver. 17) God describes himself as about to do the same act: "I will also smite mine hands together." Men are often called to act in God's stead - as God's delegates.
VI. DIVINE ADMONITIONS, THROUGH MEN, MUST BE DELIVERED WITH DEEP EMOTION. "Sigh therefore, son of man, with the breaking of thy loins; and with bitterness sigh before their eyes." If it be possible, on our part, to impress our fellow, men with the reality and severity of God's judgments, we must do our utmost to arouse earnest repentance, or we incur grave responsibility. God has constituted human nature so that strong emotion in the preacher, seemingly manifested, awakens strong emotion in the hearers. Men everywhere are susceptible of influence from a superior or a holier man. Nothing God allows us to omit which may serve to lead our fellows to repentance. We must make it clear that the events of coming retribution adequately impress our own minds; then, and then only, shall we arouse attention, promote inquiry, and lead to reflection, self-examination, and return to God. - D.
I. PROVIDENCE REGARDS A NATION AS HAVING A CORPORATE LIFE. Israel was a unity, and the scattered tribes were regarded by the King of nations as one people. It is the same with other communities. Every nation has its own national life, its own organic unity. Each subject or citizen is a member of the body, and his existence has meaning in this relation and all that it involves.
II. RECTORAL LAW ACCORDINGLY DEALS WITH A NATION AS A WHOLE. The inhabitants of the earth are under moral government and control, are subject to law and to the Divine Lawgiver and Judge. God is the God of nations. So much is this the case that political authority is represented in Scripture as being a Divine institution: "The powers that be are ordained of God." As Providence designs that men should live in communities, so God determines the discipline, the moral education, through which nations must pass. God is in history; which is uninteresting and meaningless unless his hand is recognized, and the operation of his rule observed with admiring reverence.
III. THIS PRINCIPLE INVOLVES THAT THE WICKED PARTICIPATE IN THE PROSPERITY, AND THE GOOD IN THE ADVERSITY, WHICH COME UPON A NATION. Individuals are not always in sympathy with the community of which they form a part. There are other currents in a stream beside its main flow. Broadly speaking, the nation which publicly and flagrantly violates the moral law undermines its own life and prepares the way for its own dissolution. When the catastrophe comes, those who have protested against the nation's sins, and have endeavoured to stem the torrent of unbelief and ungodliness, are carried away in the general destruction.
IV. SUCH RETRIBUTION DOES NOT, HOWEVER, AFFECT THE INDIVIDUAL MORAL PROBATION OF MEN. God deals with men upon general principles - according to broad, intelligible laws. We cannot see how it could be otherwise. Yet this seems to involve many cases of individual hardship, and even injustice. How can this be avoided? The Judge of all the earth will surely do right. How, then, can we explain the fact that - in the language of Ezekiel - the Eternal, with his sword, cuts off the righteous and the wicked?
V. THIS ARRANGEMENT IS EXPLAINED BY, AND HARMONIZES WITH, THE JUDGMENT AND RETRIBUTION OF A FUTURE STATE. What we know not now we shall know hereafter. The anomalies of the present state of being are such as to suggest that this is only a probationary state, that we do not now and here see the unfolding of the complete purposes of the Lord and Judge of all. The Scriptures reveal a state in which retribution and compensation shall be complete, as we know they are not here. The righteous and the wicked shall not always be confused in one common category, and consigned to one common doom. The discrimination which is not exercised now shall be exercised hereafter. Prosperous sinners shall not forever elude the righteous judgment of God. The suffering and patience of the virtuous and pious shall one day be rewarded, not only by the approbation of the Judge, but by an everlasting recompense. - T.
I. THE CAUSE OF THE PROPHET'S SIGHING.
1. The trouble which was about to come upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem and of the whole land of Israel, in the invasion of the country, the siege of the metropolis, and the violent death of many of the inhabitants.
2. The sinful rebelliousness of the people, by which they were bringing upon themselves these calamities and disasters.
3. Ezekiel's deep and sincere sympathy with sufferers, and his sorrow for their evil ways, so that he felt for his fellow countrymen as he would have felt for himself.
II. THE SEVERITY OF THE PROPHET'S SIGHING. It was "with bitterness," "with the breaking of the loins," i.e. sighing shaking the whole bodily frame, and evincing the pungent distress afflicting his spirit.
III. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PROPHET'S SIGHING.
1. It was an evidence of patriotism; for Ezekiel himself was far from the scene of approaching retribution, and it did not affect him personally, but through his patriotic identification of himself with all that concerned his people.
2. It was an evidence of his faith in Divine assurances. There is no reason to suppose that mere political foresight enabled the prophet to anticipate the coming, evil; yet he realized its certain approach with such intensity as to call forth the manifestation of feeling here described.
3. It was a warning to the careless and insensible. There were many for whom Ezekiel sighed who sighed not for themselves; yet theirs was the sin, and theirs the punishment now imminent.
4. It was a summons to repentance. If the prophet cried and sighed for the abominations wrought among the people, how much more did it become those who by their sins had provoked the anger of the righteous God to consider their ways, to weep because of their guilty ingratitude and persistent disobedience, and to flee from the wrath to come! how much more did it behove them to call upon the Lord that he might have mercy upon them, and upon their God who could abundantly pardon! - T.
I. THE SWORD IS THE IMPLEMENT OF HUMAN AMBITION AND VENGEANCE.
II. THE SWORD IS THE WEAPON OF DIVINE RETRIBUTION UPON THE NATIONS. Whilst it is unquestionable that wars and fightings come from human lusts, it is to the religious man, to the student of Scripture, equally plain that a Divine Providence overrules all the conflicts of the nations to accomplish wise purposes, and even purposes of. benevolence. The Assyrian power directed its forces against the land of Israel, under the influence, doubtless, of human passions and purposes by which those passions were suggested. But Assyria, Egypt, Persia, and Rome were pewees which the God of Israel employed to bring about the ends fixed upon by his own wisdom and faithfulness. As an instrument by which punishment was inflicted upon the idolatrous and rebellious, the sword was not only the sword of Nebuchadnezzar, but the sword of the Lord of hosts.
III. THE SWORD IS A SUMMONS TO HUMILIATION AND REPENTANCE. Ezekiel himself evidently regarded it in this light. He was directed to cry and howl, to smite upon his thigh, to smite his bands together, when he beheld in vision the weapon which was about to chastise his rebellious countrymen. There are minds which need to face the consequences of sin in order that they may admit the awfulness of sin itself. When the displeasure of the Almighty is revealed against the iniquities of men, they are sometimes roused to reflection and inquiry, and so it may be to repentance.
IV. THE SWORD IS THE SYMBOL OF THE POWER BY WHICH SIN IS SLAIN. The sons of Israel were not alone in the practice of sin, in ingratitude, and disobedience. Men in every age and in every place are found guilty of rebellion against the holy and. righteous God. Well is it when they turn against their own sins the edge of the spiritual sword, when they attack their vices, their follies, their crimes, as the enemies of God, and, by slaying with the Divine weapon the rebellious forces, avoid the otherwise inevitable judgment and retribution which overtake the impenitent. - T.
I. THE PREPARATION OF THE SWORD FOR SLAUGHTER.
1. It was sharpened for daughter. "A sword is sharpened,... it is sharpened to make a sore slaughter." In the providence of God, Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldean forces had become ready for their dread work at Jerusalem and among its inhabitants.
2. It was furbished for terror. "And also furbished,...it is furbished that it may glitter." The sword was burnished, that by its glittering it might dismay those against whom it was drawn (cf. Deuteronomy 32:41). The truth thus taught seems to be that the actual attack of the Chaldeans would strike terror into the hearts of the people of Jerusalem. Says Greenhill, "When God is bringing judgments upon a people, he will fit instruments for accomplishing of the same, and that to purpose. He will make that which is blunt, sharp; that which is rusty, glittering; and those who are spiritless, full of spirit; he can make one to chase ten, ten a hundred, and a hundred a thousand. His works shall never fail for want of instruments."
II. THE PRESENTATION OF THE SWORD TO THE SLAYER. "He hath given it to be furbished, that it may be handled: this sword is sharpened, and it is furbished, to give it into the hand of the slayer." The sword was not prepared for nought. It was, as it were, given by the Lord into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar to be used by him. That monarch could not have slain one of the sons of Israel unless permission had been given him by the Supreme; an that permission would not have been given to him but for the heinous and long continued sins of Israel. So also Pilate had no power against our Lord save what was given to him from above (John 19:11). The mightiest sovereign or government can do nothing without the permission of the great God.
III. THE VICTIMS OF THE SWORD IN SLAUGHTER.
1. It was to wage war against the chosen people. "It is upon my people." (We have frequently noticed this point; e.g. on ch. 20:46, and ver. 3.)
2. It was to wage war against the most eminent of the chosen people. "It shall be upon all the princes of Israel." These princes were strong advocates of the alliance with Egypt, and of resistance to the authority of Nebuchadnezzar. They did this in defiance of the word of the Lord by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and against the judgment of the weak minded King Zedekiah, when he was in his better moods (cf. Jeremiah 37, and 38.). By this course of action they hastened the destruction of Jerusalem. It was fitting that, when the sword came, they should not escape its terrible strokes. And King Zedekiah is probably referred to by the prophet. "It is the sword of the great one that is deadly wounded, which entereth into their chambers" (ver. 14, Revised Version); or, "that pierces into them" (Hengstenberg); "that penetrates to them" (Schroder). His sons were slain before his eyes; then his eyes were put out; then, bound in fetters, he was carried to Babylon, and there in prison he died (Jeremiah 52:8-11); surely the glittering sword pierced him. This sharp sword recognized no distinction of rank or riches, of place or power.
3. It was to destroy the national existence of the chosen people. "It contemneth the rod of my son, as every tree... And what if the sword contemn even the rod? it shall be no more, saith the Lord God." The view of these difficult clauses which is taken by the 'Speaker's Commentary' seems to us correct. "The rod is the sceptre of dominion assigned to Judah (Genesis 49:10). The destroying sword of Babylon despises the sceptre of Judah; it despises every tree (comp. Ezekiel 20:47; Ezekiel 21:4; also Ezekiel 17:24)." And on ver. 13, "The Karlsruhe translator of the Bible gives the best explanation: 'What horrors will not arise when the sword shall cut down without regard the ruling sceptre of Judah?'"
IV. THE EXECUTION OF THE SWORD IN SLAYING. Several things in this poem are indicative of this. The thrice-doubled sword (ver. 14) points to the dread violence of the slaughter, or to "the earnestness and energy of the Divine punishment." The sword set against all their gates, and the multiplication of their stumblings (ver. 15, Revised Version), refer to the fierce conflicts by the gates of the city and the bodies of the slain there, over which the living would stumble. And two of the directions addressed to the sword in ver. 16 suggest the terrible work it was commissioned to accomplish. Revised Version, "Gather thee together;" margin, "Make thyself one;" Hengstenberg, "Unite thyself." The allusion is "to the thrice-doubled sword in ver. 14. In reality, the terrible weight is designated with which the Divine judgment falls on him whom it is to strike." Very similar in its signification is the direction, "Set thyself in array" (ver. 16, Revised Version); It denotes the determination and zeal with which the Divine judgment would be executed. All these things point to the terrible sufferings and the fierce slaughter of the guilty people of Jerusalem by the Chaldean hosts.
V. THE FEELINGS EVOKED BY THE SLAUGHTER OF THE SWORD.
1. The sorrow of the prophet in anticipation of the slaughter. "Cry and howl, son of man: for it is upon my people, it is upon all the princes of Israel: terrors by reason of the sword shall be upon my people: smite therefore upon thy thigh." Smiting upon the thigh was a token of intense grief, corresponding to smiting upon the breast (cf. Jeremiah 31:19; Luke 23:48). And the prophet was to do this, and to cry and howl, not simply to express his own grief, but to indicate the anguish which would wring the hearts of the people.
2. The dismay of the people because of the slaughter. "That their heart may faint," or "melt" (ver. 15; cf. ver. 7, and see our remarks thereon).
CONCLUSION. This terrible judgment was the expression of the righteous anger of the Lord God, because of the persistent and aggravated sins of the people. And when it was thus expressed, it rested. It was satisfied with the vindication of the holy Law, which had been so basely set at naught.
1. Let no man, let no community, presume upon the patience and mercy of God. He is a Being of awful justice and of terrible wrath.
2. Let no one persist in sin. Such a course must meet with the stern judgment of the Most High. - W.J.
I. DIVINE JUSTICE MAKES USE OF HUMAN AGENCIES OF RETRIBUTION, OFTEN THEMSELVES UNCONSCIOUS OF THE PURPOSES FOR WHICH THEY ARE EMPLOYED. The King of Babylon was appointed as the minister of righteous avenging upon both Judah and Ammon. Unawares to himself, he, in his military operations, was carrying out the predictions of God's prophets, and the decree of God himself. Infinite wisdom is never at a loss for means by which to bring to pass its own counsels and resolves.
II. DIVINE JUSTICE PUNISHES THE PRIVILEGED WHO ARE UNFAITHFUL TO THEIR PRIVILEGES AS WELL AS THOSE WHOSE PRIVILEGES HAVE NOT BEEN EXCEPTIONAL. Although the descendants of Abraham were selected from among the nations for a special purpose connected with God's plans for the moral government of the world, they were not thereby released from their righteous obligations, or from liability to punishment in case those obligations were repudiated. Israel's election did not secure exemption from the consequences of defection and rebellion. Rather was the guilt of the nation deemed to be aggravated by their neglect to use aright the many advantages with which they were favoured. On the other hand, the Ammonites were not secured against righteous retribution merely because they were less highly privileged than Israel. They had a measure of light, and they were responsible for walking in the light they enjoyed; and if they loved darkness rather than light, they secured their own condemnation.
III. DIVINE JUSTICE DECIDES WHICH GUILTY NATION SHALL BE CORRECTED, AND WHICH SHALL BE DESTROYED. Into the secret counsels of God it is not given us to enter. Facts are before us; and we see that, according to this prophecy, Ammon was committed as fuel to the fire, and was no more remembered; that the very name of the Ammonites vanished out of human history; and we see that the Jewish people survived, and were brought forth from the furnace into which they were cast. We can only apply to these facts our faith in the Divine righteousness, and hold fast by our conviction that in this, as in all his dealings with men, the Eternal Ruler has acted upon principles of unquestionable equity.
IV. DIVINE JUSTICE SUMMONS SINFUL NATIONS TO REPENTANCE AND NEWNESS OF LIFE. These predictions and their fulfilment in history have been recorded for our instruction. What we read in Scripture is fitted to deepen within our nature the conviction that this world is under the righteous government of God. And we shall be foolish indeed if we do not infer from this fact the necessity of repentance and of renewal; if we are not led to welcome the assurance that for the penitent there is mercy, and for the lowly, life. - T.
I. GOD USES EVES WICKED MEN TO DO HIS WORK. If he employed only righteous men, he would have to reject the service of the human species. There is a class of services which men render consciously and intentionally, and for which they obtain reward. They are blessed in their deeds. There is also a class of services which men render unconsciously and without intention. These have no excellence, and bring the doer no advantage. With his infinite skill God can turn all streams to work his mill. Sin shall be overruled to bring about a greater good. The wicked are God's hand.
II. HEATHEN DIVINATIONS ARE MADE TO CONVEY GOD'S WILL. The choice and will of men have a certain sphere in which to move freely. Yet, after all, they are but parts, minor parts, of larger machinery. Proud and presumptuous men may choose to go either east or west: they think they have their own way; yet, in the final result, it simply contributes to bring about God's way. The ends which some men seek, and which they often attain, are only means to an end in God's larger plan. The responses which foolish men imagine they obtain from heathen oracles or from human diviners are decrees and edicts from the unknown God. Nebuchadnezzar flattered himself that he had gained a splendid triumph, in Judaea, while he was only doing servile work as a vassal of the King of kings.
III. ALL MILITARY INVENTIONS AND EXERTIONS SERVE THE CAUSE OF GOD. How instructive is it to perceive that all the martial preparations then about to be made by Nebuchadnezzar were all prearranged by God - all sketched in outline by his prophet! How this fact humiliates man! How it exalts God in our esteem! How small a thing, afar all, is human ambition! Men who rail against God yet serve him. And if this fact is so transparently seen in the case of the King of Babylon, may we not conclude that this is a sample of every event in human life? As every atom in the mountains occupies the place allotted to it by God, so every event in human history fills a place according to God's purpose.
IV. WICKED MEN, ALTHOUGH EMPLOYED AS INSTRUMENTS FOR CHASTISING OTHERS, BECOME VICTIMS OF GOD'S DISPLEASURE. "Thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, thy day is come, when iniquity shall have an end." To unreflecting minds, the defeat of a king would seem a commonplace thing - a chance of war. Yet the hand of God is in the matter. "He setteth up one, and putteth down another." As a king has larger scope for evil or for good, so proportionately is his accountability. At the best, we see but a tiny fragment of God's method of rule; if we could comprehend the whole, we should admire the skill and power and beneficence of his vast administration.
V. SUBVERSION OF HUMAN SYSTEMS SHALL MAKE FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it... until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him." There is no question but that this Coming One is "Jesus Christ the Righteous." "Because he loveth righteousness and hateth wickedness," therefore his throne shall be forever and ever. The only solid foundation for a throne is righteousness. The dynasty founded in might shall be demolished by a greater might. Mere power has an ephemeral tenure. The mightiest thing in heaven or earth is holiness. This is the thing that cannot be shaken: this shall remain. Today the strongest kingdom upon the earth is the most righteous. "There shall be new heavens, and a new earth!" And what shall be their distinctive principle - their special glory? In them "dwelleth righteousness." The man of right is the man of might. - D.
I. THE DESTINATION OF THE APPROACHING JUDGMENT DETERMINED BY GOD, THOUGH THE AGENTS THEREOF WERE UNCONSCIOUS OF HIS INFLUENCE. "Son of man, appoint thee two ways, that the sword of the King of Babylon may come," etc. (vers. 18-22). The prophet is here summoned to make upon a tablet, or parchment, or other material, a sketch in which two ways branch out of one principal way - the one leading to Rabbath, and the other to Jerusalem; and at the head of one of the ways to make a hand, or finger post, pointing to a city; and at the head of the two ways the King of Babylon employing divination to ascertain whether he shall proceed first against Rabbath or Jerusalem, and being directed to go to Jerusalem and besiege it. Thus he was to represent symbolically the judgment that was approaching Jerusalem from Chaldea. Notice:
1. The use of superstitious means for obtaining direction in conduct. "The King of Babylon stood at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination," etc. (ver. 21). "Divination" is a general term. Three different kinds thereof are here mentioned.
(1) "He shook the arrows to and fro." The method referred to was probably this: Three arrows were taken, on one of them was written "Jerusalem," on another "Rabbath," while the third was without any inscription. These arrows were placed in a helmet or in some vessel, which was shaken until one came out; if this one bore any name, to the place thus named the king must proceed; but if the arrow without an inscription first came out, they all had to be shaken again until one bearing a name came forth and indicated the course to be taken.
(2) "He consulted the teraphim." "The teraphim were wooden images consulted as idols, from which the excited worshippers fancied that they received oracular responses" (cf. Genesis 31:19, 30, 32, 34; 1 Samuel 19:13). The mode of consulting them is unknown.
(3) "He looked in the livery of animals offered in sacrifice the liver was looked upon as the most important part; and from an inspection of it, as to its size and condition, omens were drawn amongst several ancient nations. Nebuchadnezzar is represented by the prophet as feeling his need of direction as to whether he shall proceed first against Jerusalem or against Rabbath, and as using these modes of divination to obtain such direction. This need of our nature is recognized by God, and he has graciously provided for it (cf. Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 3:5, 6).
2. The use of superstitious means controlled by God for the accomplishment of his own purposes. Rabhath as well as Jerusalem had incurred the resentment of the King of Babylon. The antecedent probability was that he would first attack that place, seeing that it was somewhat nearer Chaldea than was Jerusalem. But God had determined otherwise, and accordingly the divination points Nebuchadnezzar to Jerusalem. "What a sublime proof," says Fairbairn, "of the overruling providence and controlling agency of Jehovah! The mightiest monarch of the world, travelling at the head of almost unnumbered legions, and himself consciously owning no other direction than that furnished by the instruments of his own blind superstition, yet having his path marked out to him beforehand by this servant of the living God! How strikingly did it show that the greatest potentates on earth, and even the spiritual wickedness in high places, have their bounds appointed to them by the hand of God, and that, however majestically they may seem to conduct themselves, still they cannot overstep the prescribed limits, and must be kept in all their operations subservient to the higher purposes of Heaven!" "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord."
"There's a divinity doth shape our ends,
II. THE DIVINELY COMMISSIONED ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE APPROACHING JUDGMENT TREATED WITH CONTEMPT BY THE FAVOURED PEOPLE. "And it shall be unto them as a vain divination in their sight, which have sworn oaths unto them: but he bring the iniquity to remembrance that they may be taken." The meaning of part of this verse is difficult to determine. Many and various are the interpretations of the "oaths" here mentioned. Two of these, each of which seems to us probably correct, we adduce.
1. That they refer to the awful declarations of the coming judgments which the prophet had made to them, which he generally introduced by the solemn formula, "As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah" (Ezekiel 5:11; Ezekiel 14:16, 18, 20; Ezekiel 16:48; Ezekiel 17:16, 19; Ezekiel 20:3, 33). Notwithstanding the solemnity of these assertions, they looked upon the prophet's announcement of impending judgment "as a vain divination."
2. That they refer to the oaths of fealty which the Jews had sworn to Nebuchadnezzar (Ezekiel 17:18, 19; 2 Chronicles 36:13), and which they had so shamefully broken. Because they were his sworn vassals, they thought that he would not attack them. But he would call their iniquity to remembrance, and bring home to them their perjury by the stern punishment thereof. Whatever interpretation of the clause in question be adopted, it is clear that the Jews made light of the announcement of judgment by the prophet. While the Chaldeans accepted the directions of their divinations, and acted upon them, the favoured Jews treated the word of Divine inspiration "as a vain divination." And these same Jews eagerly accepted as true the messages of false prophets which assured them of peace and safety. They had so trifled with the truth of God that they had almost destroyed their moral capacity for recognizing it when it was proclaimed unto them.
III. THE INFLICTION OF THE APPROACHING JUDGMENT VINDICATED BY THE MANIFESTATION OF THE SINS OF THOSE UPON WHOM IT WAS COMING. "Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered," etc. (vers. 24-26).
1. Persistence in sin leads to the discovery of their sins. "Because ye have made your iniquity to be remembered, in that your transgressions are discovered, so that in all your doings your sins do appear." Their unbelief of the word of the Lord by Ezekiel, and their treachery towards Nebuchadnezzar, which led to their dread punishment, brought to light their other sins, showing the wickedness of their entire conduct. When thieves are "taken in some wicked acts," says Greenhill, "their former villanies come to light. As one sin begets another, so one sin discovers another."
2. Persistence in sin leads to the punishment of their sins. "Because that ye are come to remembrance, ye shall be taken with the hand. And thou, O deadly wounded wicked one, the prince of Israel," etc. (vers. 25, 26). The people were to "be taken with the hand." God would deliver them into the hand of the Chaldeans, who would inflict upon them the dreadful judgments already predicted by the prophet - sword, famine, pestilence, captivity. The glory of the priesthood would be taken away; for the Lord God would "remove the diadem," or "mitre." The king would be carried into a miserable captivity, after enduring the most terrible sufferings (2 Kings 25:4-7), and the kingdom would be destroyed; for God would "take off the crown." Their most valued institutions would be overthrown. The then existing state of things would be destroyed. "This shall be no more the same: exalt that which is low, and abase that which is high." All would be brought to one melancholy condition of misery. National ruin was to be the penalty of national sin. Persistence in sin must ever lead to its just punishment.
3. The manifestation of sin vindicates the punishment thereof. It brings to light the justice of such punishment. That the Jews brought upon themselves the terrible sufferings which they endured at the hand of the Chaldeans was made unmistakably clear. And it was also shown that the terrible fate of the king was but the harvest of which he himself had sown the seed. In due season God himself will justify all his dealings with men.
IV. REVOLUTIONS IN HUMAN HISTORY LEADING TO THE ADVENT OF THE RIGHTFUL SOVEREIGN OF MAN. "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: this also shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him." Three points are suggested by this verse.
1. The completeness of the national downfall. The repetition of the "overturn" indicates the thoroughness of the destruction. No attempt to restore the kingdom to prosperity and power would fully succeed.
2. The duration of the national downfall. "This also shall be no more, until he come whose right it is." The regal authority and the priestly dignity were not restored to the Jews. "As to the kingdom, Zerubbabel, the leader of the people after the exile, although of David's line, was no king on David's throne. But Herod, who becomes king over Israel, is of Edomite origin" (Schroder). There was a partial restoration of the functions of the priesthood after the return from Babylon, but it never recovered its former dignity and glory. For, as Fairbairn observes, "there was no longer the distinctive prerogative of the Urim and Thummim, nor the ark of the covenant, nor the glory overshadowing the mercy seat; all was in a depressed and mutilated condition, and even that subject to many interferences from the encroachments of foreign powers. So much only was given, both in respect to the priesthood and the kingdom, as to show that the Lord had not forsaken his people, and to serve as pledge of the coming glory."
3. The advent of the rightful Sovereign. "Until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him." Undoubtedly these words point to the Messiah. They probably contain a reference to Psalm 72:1, "Give the King thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the King's Son." He is the great High Priest. He is the divinely anointed King. Previous to his coming into our world all revolutions in human history were overruled by God to lead on to that event. And all subsequent revolutions, and all revolutions in the present, are being overruled by him for the establishment of his gracious rule over the hearts and lives of men throughout the whole world. "Of his kingdom there shall be no end." Thus in the declaration of dread judgments mercy was not forgotten by God. "Even now, when he is in a full career of overturning, he tells them of the coming of Christ, who should be their King, wear the crown, and raise up the kingdom again. This was a great mercy in the depth of misery; if they lost an earthly kingdom, they should have a spiritual one; if they lost a profane and temporal king, they should have a King of righteousness, an eternal King" (Greenhill). Even in wrath he remembers and exercises mercy. - W.J.
I. THE HISTORICAL FACT. The primary reference of the prophet is doubtless to the downfall of the usurping, rebellious, treacherous, plotting prince of Judah, i.e. Zedekiah. His true policy lay in subjection to Nebuchadnezzar; instead of adopting and holding fast by this policy, he was ever endeavouring to free himself from the yoke, in the vain hope of independence. It was foreseen and predicted by Ezekiel that this should lead to his destruction.
II. THE MORAL, GOVERNMENTAL PRINCIPLE SUGGESTED BY THIS FACT. We learn that the Omnipotent Ruler is not indifferent to what happens among the nations, that he works in and through the ordinary laws of human action, and may sometimes work by extraordinary and exceptional means. Certain it is that his ways are not as men's ways. The great are often overthrown, and the feeble exalted, by the operation of his wise and merciful providence. God confounds all human policy and defeats all human expectations, exalts the low, and at the same time abases the high. The mitre and the crown are taken from the forehead of the powerful, and are placed upon the lowliest, brows.
III. THE TYPICAL AND SPIRITUAL APPLICATIONS OF THIS PRINCIPLE. There is a grandeur in this language which seems almost to compel its reference to greater events than those which happened in Jerusalem during the Eastern captivity. The kingdom of sin is mighty, and then have often felt how utterly vain it is to expect that kingdom to yield to any human attack. Ignorance and error, vice and crime, superstition and infidelity, have through millenniums of human history acquired over humanity a power which seems irresistible and invincible. But there is One "whose right it is" to reign, and he, the Son of God, has come in the flesh, and has come in the dispensation of the Holy Spirit. In his favour, and in order to secure his universal conquest, his everlasting dominion, the Most High is overturning, ever overturning. He is the High Priest, the rightful King, of the humanity whose nature he assumed, and fur whose salvation he died. The mitre and the crown are his of right, and to him they shall be given. Every usurper shall be defeated and disgraced; and Christ, whose right it is to reign, shall receive the kingdom, and his dominion shall have no end. - T.
I. THE CONTINUITY OF MUNDANE REVOLUTIONS. "I will overturn, overturn, overturn it." The Lord thus declares his determination to overthrow again and again the government of the Jews, until the coming of the Messiah, their rightful Sovereign. The words may also point, as Scott remarks, to "the repeated subversions of the Jewish nation by the Chaldeans, Macedonians, Romans, and many others to the present day; which will not come to any happy termination fill they submit to their long rejected Messiah. Nay, they seem to predict all the convulsions in states and kingdoms, which shall make way for the establishment of his kingdom throughout the earth." Revolutions in governments, in society, in science, have always been. They are rife at present. While men continue ignorant, selfishly ambitious, and wicked, they will continue. These overturnings will not cease until human character is radically altered, until it is fashioned after the Divine model. It is not one overturning, and then settled order and progress. In our world change succeeds change as wave follows after wave on the face of old ocean. Unsettledness characterizes all things here.
II. THE DIVINE AGENCY IN MUNDANE REVOLUTIONS. "Thus saith the Lord God...I will overturn, overturn, overturn it." These revolutions are not accidental; they do not occur by chance. They are brought about under Divine arrangements. God being the great "Ruler over the nations," they cannot take place, to say the least, without his permission. Being Supreme, all things are either originated or allowed by him. The sacred Scriptures assert this. "Neither from the east, nor from the west, nor yet from the south, cometh lifting up. But God is the Judge. He putteth down one, and lifteth up another;" "He bringeth princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity;" "The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will;" "His kingdom ruleth over all." He removes the leader of a nation's affairs, and disorder, disturbance, and immense change follow. He sends the light of truth to oppressed peoples, and they arise and claim their freedom. But what shall we say of dark and terrible changes? Let us take an example - the carrying of the Jews captive into Babylon. Whether we look at the sacred temple, or the celebrated city, or the fertile country, or the favoured people, how dark and sad it was! But look again. It saved the people, of whom the Messiah was to come, from idolatry, and so from utter ruin. Viewed in their Divine aspect, these revolutions are benevolent. Holy beings may advance calmly and evenly towards perfection. But disordered, sinful beings need great changes and rude shocks to banish hoary superstitions, and abolish cruel despotisms, and prevent ruinous inaction. While sin is here there must be unrest and change.
III. THE END OF MUNDANE REVOLUTIONS. "This also shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him." Until our Lord shall reign over the whole world, these revolutions will occur with greater or less frequency. But when he, the rightful Sovereign, shall take possession of the kingdoms of this world, these over-turnings will forever cease. The reign of the Christ precludes revolution. The character of his reign shows this. Under it the sacredness of human life will be practically recognized, and thus war will be precluded. Under his reign the universal brotherhood of man will also be practically recognized; and thus the cruel oppressions and base wrongs of man by man, which have often led to terrible revolutions, will be precluded. The reign of the "strong Son of God" is the sovereignty of his Spirit and principles in the hearts and lives of men; and these are entirely opposed to the crimes and ills which generate revolutions. His perpetual and universal sovereignty is founded upon his mercifulness and kindness, his justice and love (cf. Psalm 72:11-17). Such a sovereignty is incompatible with revolution. Under it men will have neither cause nor occasion for anything of the kind. Animated and governed by his Spirit and principles, they will advance calmly and regularly towards perfection.
1. Our subject supplies an argument for promulgating the gospel of Jesus Christ. International exhibitions, commercial interests, peace treaties, political economics, can never bring about the abolition of revolution, because they are not able to curb and conquer the strong and stormy passions of evil men. The gospel of the Lord Jesus is the only power that can abolish revolution, and bring in a state of peaceful and blessed progress. When it is heartily accepted it becomes a power in the heart, making man true and righteous, pure and loving, and so promotes peace on earth and good will toward men.
2. Our subject supplies encouragement for promulgating the gospel of Jesus Christ. We see that painful changes, wicked and cruel persecutions, and criminal and sanguinary strife, are being graciously overruled to bring in the worldwide empire of him "whose right it is." All changes, all overturnings, are bringing his glorious universal reign nearer. Be encouraged, then, in your efforts to promote it. "Men shall be blessed in him; all nations shall call him blessed;" "His dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom from generation to generation." - W.J.
I. THE CAUSE OF THIS JUDGMENT. This was threefold.
1. They had provoked the anger of the Chaldeans by joining the coalition against them. (Cf. ver. 20; Jeremiah 27:2-10.)
2. They had cast bitter reproaches upon the Jews. "Thus saith the Lord God concerning the children of Ammon, and concerning their reproach." Reproach is injury by words; and it may be inflicted directly by reviling another, or indirectly by self-aggrandizement. The Ammonites reproached the Israelites:
(1) By words. As Kitto remarks, they were particularly loud and offensive in their exultation at the downfall, first of the kingdom of Israel, and then of Judah, with the desolation of the land and the destruction of the temple" (cf. Ezekiel 25:3, 6; Zephaniah 2:8). It is probable that when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, the Ammonites upbraided the people of Judah that Jehovah their God had not protected them from his attack, while Moloch, which they worshipped as god, had not permitted the conquering monarch to attack their city, Rabbath. Reproach is a bitter thing, and hard to bear. David found it so, and said, "Reproach hath broken my heart." And it is a mean and cruel thing to inflict reproaches, especially upon the weak, the unfortunate, or the suffering. The Ammonites reproached the Israelites:
(2) By deeds. Rabbath, their capital city, was situated "in the country east of the Jordan, and east of the possessions of the Israelites on that side the river. David, in his war with the Ammonites, took it from them, and annexed it to the territories of the tribe of Gad On the separation of the realm into two kingdoms, this, with all the territory beyond the Jordan, went to the kingdom of Israel; and when that kingdom was dissolved by the Assyrians, or rather, probably, when the tribes beyond the Jordan were first of all led into captivity, the Ammonites quietly took possession of their ancient territories, and apparently of something more" (Kitto). This seizure of a portion of the territory of the former kingdom of Israel is sternly denounced by the prophets (cf. Jeremiah 49:1, 2; Amos 1:13-15; Zephaniah 2:8). It was a practical reproach of the vanquished people.
3. They had trusted in their diviners. "Whiles they see vanity unto thee, whiles they divine lies unto thee." The Ammonites preferred false divinations to true prophets, especially as their diviners buoyed them up with vain assurances of their safety. If men will believe a lie, the lie will prove disastrous to them.
II. THE NATURE OF THIS JUDGMENT.
1. Terrible slaughter. "A sword, a sword is drawn: for the slaughter it is furbished, to cause it to devour, that it may be as lightning." The seer beheld a sword drawn for execution, sharpened for slaughter, and glittering so as to strike terror into those against whom it was drawn. The line, "To cast thee upon the necks of them that are slain," is rendered in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' "To give thee over to the heaps of the slain," and is thus explained: "'The necks of them that are slain' is simply a poetical expression for the slain, perhaps because the corpses were headless." It seems to indicate that the slaughter of the Ammonites would be so terrible that the slain would not lie apart, but in revolting heaps. The clause, "Thy blood shall be in the midst of the land," probably also points to the dreadful extent of the slaughter.
2. Complete overthrow. "Thou shalt be no morn remembered." The ruin of the Ammonites was to be irreparable. Thus saith the Lord God to them, "I will cut thee off from the peoples, and I will cause thee to perish out of the countries" (Ezekiel 25:7). Not until long after the time of Ezekiel was this part of the judgment executed, but in due season it was completely accomplished. "From the times of the Maccabees, the Ammonites and Moabites have quite disappeared out of history" (Hengstenberg).
III. THE AUTHOR OF THIS JUDGMENT. "I will judge thee .... and I will pour out mine indignation upon thee; I will blow upon thee with the fire of my wrath, and I will deliver thee into the hand of brutish men, skilful to destroy." God himself was the Author of this judgment. The sword was his, though it was wielded by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. By their sins the Ammonites had aroused the indignation of the Lord; and he would pour out that indignation upon them.
1. That this judgment proceeded from him was a guarantee of its irresistibleness. When he puts forth his hand to smite his obdurate foes, he breaks them as "with a rod of iron," or dashes "them in pieces like a potter's vessel." To attempt to resist him is utterly useless, vain, and ruinous. "Hast thou an arm like God's?" "He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and prospered?"
2. That this judgment proceeded from him was a guarantee of its righteousness. "He loveth righteousness and judgment" "His work is perfect; For all his ways are judgment: A God of faithfulness and without iniquity. Just and right is he."
IV. THE INSTRUMENTS OF THIS JUDGMENT. "I will deliver thee into the hand of brutish men, skilful to destroy;" margin, "burning men." So also Hengstenberg, Schroder, "consuming men." Thus the Chaldeans are designated. They are so called because they were to prepare "the fire," or because they were filled with glowing anger. They were the unconscious instruments accomplishing the purpose of the Lord Jehovah. Thus he made the wrath of man to praise him. He can never lack fitting instruments for the execution of his designs; for he can employ whomsoever and whatsoever he will.
V. THE SCENE OF HIS JUDGMENT. "In the place where thou wast created, in the land of thy birth, will I judge thee." They were not to be carried into captivity as the people of Israel and Judah were. In their own land they were to suffer the retribution of their evil doings. The scene of their sin was to be also the scene of their punishment. The Lord can find out the wicked anywhere; and no place can hide them from his judgments when the time for their infliction arrives. "Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them," etc. (Amos 9:2, 3).
VI. THE CERTAINTY OF THIS JUDGMENT. "I the Lord have spoken it." The Ammonites deemed themselves quite safe when Nebuchadnezzar turned away from Rahbath, and went to besiege Jerusalem; and in their triumph they reproached the suffering people of Judah. But they had to learn that the postponement of their judgment was not its revocation; that their reprieve was not their pardon. Sentence against them here goes forth from Jehovah. Its fulfilment was rendered certain by both his power and his faithfulness. He is all-mighty. He "is not a man, that he should lie," etc. (Numbers 23:19). And, according to Josephus ('Ant.,' 10:9. 7), in the fifth year after the destruction of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar made war against the Ammonites, and subdued them. "God's words of mercy and of judgment are alike sure." - W.J.