Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE WORLDLY KING IS SELF-DEGRADED. He is likened here to a crocodile. This is a fitting emblem for the King of Egypt. As the crocodile flourishes in the rivers of tropical lands, so the prosperity of Egypt depended wholly on the Nile. Without the Nile, Egypt would be a desert. So, instead of rising to the dignity of a true king, a representative of God, he sank into a condition of self-indulgence, i.e. to the level of an animal. To grovel in the mire, to find satisfaction in earthly possessions, to gratify the lower nature, - this was the supreme aim of Pharaoh. This is animalism; this is self-degradation.
II. THE WORLDLY KING IS VAINGLORIOUS. "My river is mine own: I have made it for myself." Self-degradation leads to ignorance, ignorance to pride, pride to empty boastfulness. A man must divest himself of his intelligence and his reason before he can say, "I have made this river for myself." This is an abuse of intellect, a prostitution of conscience. Not even a crocodile has said this. To depart from God is to wander into darkness, folly, madness. Such a state of mind is practical atheism. It is a direct challenge to God to display his judicial might and to vindicate his rule. Such a vain-glorious temper of mind is profane, insolent, little short of the Satanic mind.
III. THE WORLDLY KING IS A DANGEROUS ALLY. "They have been a staff of reed to the house of Israel." As a man maimed or invalided rests his weight, when walking, upon some mechanical support, and suffers grievous injury if his support breaks, so was it when Israel foolishly leant upon Egypt for support. The prospect of succor was specious and plausible. Egypt promised friendly aid, but when the hour of trial came the support collapsed, and both Israel and Egypt were injured. It is perilous to trust in any godless power. We are often decoyed into a fatal ambush by appearances. Friendship, if not a real advantage, is a bane. It is an injury to us personally, if the one on whom we trusted fails; it is a hundredfold more injurious to an empire. Test your allies before you trust them.
IV. THE WORLDLY KING IS EASILY VULNERABLE. Carnal security is weakness incarnate. It is a rampart of cobwebs. The King of Egypt trusted wholly in his river with its seven branches; yet nothing was easier than for God to dry up the sources of that stream, and leave the crocodile on the dry land, with dead fish sticking to his scales. This is a graphic picture of defeat, a sudden collapse of brag. The river having failed, the prophecy would speedily be verified, "I have given thee for meat to the beasts of the field and to the fowls of the heaven." Achilles was said to have been vulnerable only in the heel, but every world-power is vulnerable in a thousand points. God's favor is the only known shield that is impregnable.
V. THE DEFEAT OF THE WORLD-POWER WILL BE THE ESTABLISHMENT OF GOD'S KINGDOM. "All the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the Lord." This is a difficult lesson for men to learn, and the task is long. Yet God is not impatient. He calmly waits his time. Slowly, yet surely, the foundations of his empire are being laid. The idols of Egypt have been completely overthrown, and gradually God is being acknowledged. "He must reign." It is a grand necessity. - D.
I. A PIECE OF FOLLY. In a purely political sense a country does belong to its inhabitants, and they have made it what it is. But in no other sense. That noble river Nile, the strength and the glory of the land, flowed in its channels and enriched the soil, not because Pharaoh or because Egypt had done anything remarkable, but because he who "sendeth forth the springs into the valleys" and "watereth the hills from his chambers" made the streams to run from the mountain-sides and to meet and flow in the great river-bed. Heaven sent the rains and the showers which fed the river which fertilized the laud. And if we will but go back far enough and trace our treasures and our joys to their ultimate source, we shall see and we shall feel the folly of appropriating to ourselves the wealth, the knowledge, the spiritual capacity, the material or moral resources, which proceed from God himself. From him they come and to him they belong. To say, "My river is my own, is to speak with falsehood on our tongue; such language is the utterance of foolish thoughtlessness.
II. As ACT OF SIN. It is positively wrong; for is it not "robbing God?" When we speak in this strain, because we think and feel in this habit of mind, we assume to ourselves that which we should be freely and continually offering to our Creater. We are denying to him that which is his due. We are showing ourselves to him as the irreverent, ungrateful, undutiful subjects and recipients that we are. Thus that which is foolish and false is also that which is guilty; it is accumulating Divine displeasure. It is taking up a position in which God, just because he loves us and. wishes our true and lasting welfare, is compelled, to say to us, "I am against yea"(Ver. 3).
III. THE WAY TO DISILLUSION AND HUMILIATION. For the interpretation or application of the solemn threatenings here pronounced (Vers. 4-6), see Exposition. But however we explain the prophet's words, it is clear that Egypt was awakened from its dream of absolute authorship and ownership, and that it had to stand down from its proud position of protector, and wear, for some time and in some degree, the yoke of subjection. Pride preceded a fall beneath those skies as beneath the heavens everywhere. Everywhere, to the proud country, to the pretentious power in Church or state, to the arrogant individual, there is sure to come the hour when the fond dream of lasting superiority is dispelled, when the pedestal on which it (he) stood is broken, when the homage once rendered it turns to defiance, and. the honor it once enjoyed is lost in shame. How excellent, on the other hand, is that humility which leads ever upwards and ends in immortal glory! - C.
I. EGYPT'S GROUNDS FOR SELF-CONFIDENCE. There was very much in the position, the strength, and the history of Egypt which seemed to men to justify the nation's pride and assumption of superiority.
1. The river Nile is alluded to by Ezekiel in this passage - a river in some respects the most marvelous in the world. The mystery of its source, the remarkable rise and fall of the stream, occasioning the extraordinary fertility of the soil, the stately temples and the lordly cities upon its banks, the harbor and port at its entrance into the Mediterranean, - all invested the Nile with a peculiar interest. In fact, as has often been said, it is the Nile which made Egypt what it was - the birthplace of civilization and the granary of nations.
2. Hence the wonderful fruitfulness of the laud, and the wealth of every kind which in its ages of prosperity Egypt enjoyed by reason of its teeming products, by which not only were its own inhabitants supplied, but distant peoples were fed. The territory was narrow, hemmed in by the desert on either side, yet abounding in most of the necessaries and luxuries of life.
3. The antiquity and fame of Egypt were unparalleled. A great nation before the other famous monarchies and empires of the ancient world came into being, a nation renowned wherever civilization existed, Egypt was prone to count herself the mother of nations, and to look upon all others as parvenus. A genealogy lost in remote antiquity not unnaturally inspired much pride and self-confidence, much haughty contempt for those who had their position still to make among the nations.
4. Add to all this the consciousness of great military power. The armies, and especially the cavalry and the war-chariots of Egypt, were such as to render her both formidable as a foe and desirable as an ally. These several circumstances account for the conviction cherished by the Egyptians that they were of all nations the greatest, and the least exposed to calamity and disaster.
II. THE WICKEDNESS OF EGYPT'S SELF-CONFIDENCE.
1. This appears from the fact that Egypt assumed the prerogative of the Creator himself. "The river is mine!" was the proud boast of Pharaoh, who herein proved himself to have lost sight of the dependence and feebleness which are attributes of humanity. God's river, given for their use, was by the arrogant Egyptians claimed as their own.
2. Egypt failed to recognize its dependence for material and social advantages upon the superhuman Source and Giver of all good. God was not in all their ways.
3. On the contrary, the people of Egypt took credit to themselves for national greatness and prosperity. It is, indeed, a sin common among the mighty, the wealthy, the flattered; who are too much given to assume first that they deserve credit for the powers of body and of mind with which they are endowed; and then, secondly, that all the results of the exercise of those powers are due to themselves. But nothing is clearer than that our humanity is bound both to gratitude and to humility. The appeal may well be addressed to every individual and to every nation, "Who made thee to differ? What hast thou that thou didst not receive?"
III. THE PUNISHMENT OF EGYPT'S SELF-CONFIDENCE. Such a temper of mind, such language, and such confidence as the prophet here describes, could not be allowed to pass unchecked, unrebuked. The Egyptians were preparing humiliation for themselves; for if there is one scriptural principle more than another enforced by the lessons of history, it is this: "He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart; he hath put down princes from their thrones." The facts recorded agree with the predictions of the inspired prophet. Egypt was speedily
(1) subdued by her Babylonian the;
(2) humiliated by defeat; and
(3) enfeebled in her military power, crippled, and rendered impotent. - T.
I. THE POWER OF A MIGHTY STATE REPRESENTED UNDER AS IMPRESSIVE SIMILITUDE. By the dragon we are to understand the crocodile, the powerful and monstrous creature which haunts the river Nile, and which is the terror of the population. An appropriate emblem of Egypt in its ancient, settled, and formidable strength.
II. THE REPUTATION OF THAT STATE AS INVULNERABLE AND IRRESISTIBLE. As the giant crocodile seems to make the river its own, lording it over all beside, devouring the fish, terrifying the dwellers upon the river's banks, so Pharaoh King of Egypt, in his haughty self-confidence and defiant fearlessness, regarded himself as the great potentate of the world, secure from all molestation, able to carry out all his schemes of aggrandizement, ready to meet in battle, and certain to overcome, the forces of any nation that might be foolhardy enough to challenge his supremacy. As "the great dragon that lieth in the midst of his rivers," so the power of Egypt dwelt secure and proud, claiming dominion, and dreading no disturbance from any foreign rival or foe.
III. THE ALMIGHTY GOD CONTROLS AND VANQUISHES THE POWER OF THE MIGHTIEST or NATIONS AND OF KINGS. The language attributed to Jehovah, who is represented as addressing Pharaoh, is very graphic: "I will put hooks in thy jaws and I will bring thee up out of the midst of thy rivers." God uses his own agents, but he always accomplishes his own purposes. He saw the need of humbling Egypt's pride, and he employed Babylon to do this work. It was done, and done effectively. The arms of Nebuchadnezzar were turned against Egypt, and God gave the land of Egypt to the King of Babylon, as a spoil and prey, and as his hire and wages for the service he had rendered in the siege and destruction of Tyre.
IV. THE MIGHTY OF THIS WORLD, WHEN DEALT WITH BY THE MIGHTIEST, IS LEFT DEFENSELESS, HUMILIATED, AND ASHAMED. The picture here, in the fourth and fifth verses, painted by the prophet, is painful, but it is effective. The mighty, monster of the Nile is dragged by hook and line from the depths of the river it has been wont to call its own, is flung into the wilderness, and is "given for meat to the beasts of the field and to the fowls of the heaven." Egypt, and all her dependents who trusted in her and boasted of her patronage, are brought low, their helplessness is made apparent; and those who but lately were an object of envy and of fear are now regarded with pity or with derision. - T.
I. THE SINFUL AND FOOLISH TRUST OF ISRAEL IN EGYPT. The circumstances in which Judah was placed at the time were such as to make it madness on the part of the remnant at Jerusalem to seek help from Egypt. Not only so; they were strictly forbidden upon Divine authority to act in this manner. In quietness and confidence lay their safety, in returning and rest, as Isaiah most powerfully and urgently represented to the people; - not in the horsemen and the chariots of Egypt.
II. THE HELPLESSNESS OF EGYPT AS A FRIEND AND DELIVERER. Why Egypt was at this time so powerless to help those who sought her alliance may not be perfectly clear to us; but the fact is so, and of this the events are sufficient evidence. It was a vain confidence which the Jews placed in the great and ancient world-power on the banks of the Nile. They thought they grasped a staff strong and trustworthy, and they found it "a staff of reed."
III. THE INJURY INFLICTED UPON ISRAEL BY THE FAILURE OF EGYPT'S AID. Not only did the helper prove helpless; not only did the staff, when leant upon, bend and break. Those who applied for help received hurt instead of aid; the reed broke and pierced the hand that grasped it and trusted in its support. Jerusalem was all the worse for turning to Egypt for assistance against Babylon, the victorious and, just then, irresistible power.
IV. THE COMMON CONFUSION OF THOSE WHO FOOLISHLY TRUSTED AND OF THOSE WHO PLACED CONFIDENCE IN THEM. Babylon rose; but Egypt and Judah fell. "All their loins shook;" i.e. the consequences of their policy were trouble, fear, and misery to both. Both incurred the hostility of the power which they in vain leagued with each other to resist.
V. THE MORAL AND RELIGIOUS LESSON OF THE INCIDENT AND EXPERIENCE HERE DESCRIBED. There is a proneness among all nations to be guided in their alliances, aims, and efforts by considerations of worldly policy and expediency. Too seldom do they ask themselves - What is right? What is in accordance with the eternal Reason and Righteousness which rule the world? What, in a word, is the course which God approves and enjoins? The proceedings undertaken at the instigation of worldly expediency, and in violation of Divine law, may meet with apparent and temporary success. But the Lord reigneth; and sooner or later action which he disapproves shall issue in disappointment and disaster. - T.
I. THE GROUNDS OF THIS HUMILIATION. It is a law of eternal justice that they who exalt themselves shall be made low and brought to the ground. The faults with which Egypt, as a state, are particularly charged are the faults of self-confidence, pride, and boasting - sins peculiarly offensive to the Most High, who will be acknowledged as God alone, and who will not give his honor to another.
II. THE POWER AND CAUSE OF THIS HUMILIATION. We are taught by the prophet - and the lesson is in harmony with the teaching of Scripture generally - to attribute this to the Eternal King and Judge, who is supreme over all nations. His sway is sometimes questioned and disputed, and is too often forgotten and practically repudiated. But behind and above all human powers there is a Power supreme and universal, not cognizable by sense, but discerned by the reason and the conscience. To this the working of moral law in the affairs of individual men and of nations is to be referred; to leave this out of sight is to leave much that we meet with in history and experience obscure and perplexing.
III. THE INSTRUMENT OF THIS HUMILIATION. The sword that was to cut off man and beast out of the land of Egypt, that was to lay waste and desolate the cities, was the sword of Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon, himself a heathen, doubtless stained with the errors and crimes of heathenism, yet employed as a suitable agent in the chastisement of many rebellious peoples. It is remarkable that the same power should be employed to chasten Israel, Israel's allies, and Israel's foes!
IV. THE CHARACTER OF THIS HUMILIATION. The armies of Egypt were defeated; the land was laid waste; the cities were dismantled; and the Egyptians themselves were scattered and dispersed among the nations. Scarcely an element of disgrace was omitted; the chastisement was complete.
V. THE EXTENT AND DURATION OF THIS HUMILIATION. It was to affect the whole land, from the mouth of the Nile to the southernmost boundary. And it was to last for the space of forty years - a limit of time which is not, perhaps, to be taken literally, but, as is usual in Hebrew writings, as representing a long period.
VI. THE LESSONS OF THIS HUMILIATION.
1. It was a rebuke to haughty self-confidence.
2. It was a summons to penitence and contrition on account of sin.
3. It was an inducement to submission.
4. It was a clear voice from heaven, calling the nations to put their trust, not in an arm of flesh, but in the living God. "Some put their trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the Name of the Lord, our God" - T.
I. DISASTROUS WAR. "I will bring a sword upon thee." It would not be true to say that God takes part in every war. In many cases both combatants are to blame, and God cannot take sides with either. But, in every case in which one of the combatants is impelled to fight for an unrighteous cause, clearly God will aid the other side. Not always then. For although a combatant may have a righteous cause to defend, he may defend it in a vindictive spirit and with unhallowed weapons. It is well to note that God does fight with his trusty servants against evildoers. He does employ the sword of men in his cause; and when he is behind the sword, "it will cut off man and beast."
II. WIDESPREAD DESOLATION. "The land of Egypt shall be desolate and waste." Nothing is easier with God than to make waste the land of Egypt. He has but to diminish the water-supply of the Nile, and the territory becomes a desert. To him it must be a grievous pain to make the fair face of nature desolate. He who delights in beauty, and caused the "sons of God to sing for joy" when earth was first robed in leafy vesture, must be pained when the verdure of forests and cornfields is blasted. Yet his desire for human good, and for the development of righteousness in the earth, is stronger far. This gives him a deeper joy; and, in order to promote moral loveliness, it is sometimes worth while to sacrifice the fair face of nature.
III. EQUITABLE REPRISALS. "Because he hath said, The river is mine... therefore I am against thy rivers." This is language which men everywhere can understand. This is argument which leaves deep impression in the human breast. If men despise and treat with contempt God's messages sent in the form of human speech, God will speak to them in language they will not contemn. The strict equity of God's dealings has often been written in largest capitals. The prohibited thing has become a scourge. The quails lusted after became disease in the intestines. The Nile, worshipped as a god, was changed into blood. God is never in haste to vindicate his rights, because at any moment he can cast a bombshell of alarm in his enemies' camp. If men must needs trifle, let them trifle with Satan - never with God.
IV. ANOTHER FRUIT OF GOD'S DISPLEASURE IS TEMPORARY DISPERSION. "I will scatter the Egyptians among the nations I will bring again the captivity of Egypt." Compulsory banishment is a serious disgrace, a heavy calamity. The poor, no less than the rich, have tender attachment to their homes. The tendrils of strong affection twine round the cottage in which one is born. To be compelled to turn away from the familiar scenes - to be compelled by a foreign conqueror - is galling to every sentiment, is like a fire in one's bones. Such enforced separation means loss, hardship, uncertainty, dishonor. Defeat in war is affliction sore enough; banishment is tenfold worse. How insane on the part of men to provoke God into such necessity of chastisement!
V. ANOTHER EFFECT OF GOD'S ANGER IS, PERPETUAL DEGRADATION. "It shall be the basest of the kingdoms, neither shall it exalt itself any more above the nations." To have a friend who is cultured and refined is to have an elevating power at our side, lifting us up to a better life. God is wise; and to have God as a Friend is to gain wisdom steadily. God is pure; and to have God's friendship is to become pure also. God is love; and he who is much in God's society becomes lovely and loving. All good flows from God as its Fount; and to cut off one's self willfully from that fount is to sink into ignorance and misery. The friends of God must rise; the foes of God must deteriorate. Today this prophecy is signally fulfilled. For centuries past Egypt has been the tool and the slave of other empires. She has been ground to the dust by the oppressor, nor is there at present any prospect that she will rise again. The word of the Lord by Ezekiel, although then improbable, has been performed. - D.
I. THE PROMISED RECOVERY AND RESTORATION. The prophet was instructed to foretell, first Egypt's defeat, dispersion, and captivity, and then Egypt's restoration to the land of Pathros, the land of their origin. We are not told, and we do not know how large was the section of the army or of the inhabitants of the country affected by these predictions. The fact only concerns us, and we recognize that in the midst of judgment the Lord remembered mercy, that banishment was not perpetual, and that the national, life was appointed for revival.
II. THE QUALIFICATION AND TEMPERING OF THE BOON THUS GRACIOUSLY VOUCHSAFED. Lest Egypt should be again puffed up, the prophet was directed to utter an assurance that the nation, though spared utter humiliation and extinction, should nevertheless never resume its former greatness. Two points are expressly mentioned.
1. The restored Egypt should be "a base kingdom." It should not take the rank among the nations which it had been entitled to hold aforetime. Its power should be crippled, and its splendor should be dimmed.
2. It should no more bear rule over other nations. Such had in former times been subject to its authority, as dependents, subjects, and tributaries. Egypt's might should no longer avail to reduce surrounding peoples to subjection.
III. THE MORAL AND POLITICAL LESSONS OF THE PROVIDENTIAL ACTION OF GOD TOWARDS EGYPT. These also are very explicitly stated by Ezekiel.
1. Israel should no more look to Egypt for aid, as, in defiance of express warnings from Jehovah, she had been wont to do in times past.
2. Both Israel and Egypt should know that the Lord is God. This was a truth with which Israel was speculatively well acquainted, but which Israel was too ready to forget. Egypt had not enjoyed the same opportunity of learning the wisdom, the authority, the compassion, of Jehovah. Yet lessons may be learnt in adversity which prosperity cannot teach. Egypt was taught by stern discipline; but some impression was doubtless made. It was not for Israel's sake alone that Egypt's calamities were permitted; but that the smitten nation might bow beneath the rod, and acknowledge the justice of the King of men. - T.
Ezekiel 17:15-17). It would never again be "the confidence of the house of Israel, bringing iniquity to remembrance" (Revised Version). For that misplaced hope in Egypt was iniquity in the sight of God (see Isaiah 30:2, 3; Isaiah 31:1; Isaiah 36:4, 6). It was a sinful failure to trust in its one true Refuge, and it was a blind and sensuous confidence in mere numbers and military prowess. The "iniquity" to which Egypt would never again tempt the people of God, or even bring to their remembrance, was, as we thus see, an unwarrantable and God-forgetting trust. We ask - Where do our temptations to this same folly lie, and how are they to be shunned or to be defeated?
I. WHERE OUR TEMPTATIONS LIE. We are continually invited to look for our resources or for our refuge in other beings than in God, in other things than in his Word and in his service.
1. In man; in the human counsel which proves to be short-sighted and shallow folly, and not the profound wisdom which it purported to be (see Jeremiah 17:5).
2. In money; in that which commands many valuable things (Ecclesiastes 10:19), but which conspicuously fails in the hour of darkest trouble and deepest need, which cannot enlighten the mind, or cleanse the conscience, or heal the heart, or amend the life: it is ill indeed to "trust in uncertain riches" (1 Timothy 6:17).
3. In numbers; it is very common delusion that we are right and safe if we have a great majority on our side. But what are all the hosts that man can gather when God is "against" us (Ver. 3)? How often in human history have great numbers proved to be utterly vain, and to have done nothing but stamp and signalize defeat?
4. In our own intelligence. The proud of heart say within themselves, "We shall discern the danger, we shall distinguish between the faithful and the false, we shall be able to defeat the enemy and to secure ourselves; others may have failed, but our sagacity will suffice." But they go on their way of false confidence, and they are rudely awakened from their dream (see Proverbs 3:5; Jeremiah 9:23, 24). All these false trusts are temptations to us. For they
(1) lead us away from the one true source of strength and safety; and they
(2) conduct us to defeat and to disaster. The hour comes when we recognize our folly, and see that we must suffer seriously for our fault.
II. How WHEY ARE TO BE MET AND MASTERED.
1. Not by attempting to avoid them altogether. Those who have sought to shun all temptation to seek safety or satisfaction in lower objects by placing themselves wholly out of their range, have found that they have only put themselves within range of other evils, less apparent but more subtle and quite as serious.
2. By a studious and strenuous endeavor to moderate our trust in the human and the material according to its worth. But chiefly:
3. By careful and constant cultivation of our trust in the living God, by seeking his face, by worshipping in his house, by consulting his Word, by daily addressing ourselves to him in the still hour of private, personal communion. - C.
I. GOD IS OVER ALL.
(1) The hearts of kings,
(2) the power of armies, and
(3) the fortunes of nations, are in his hand.
II. GOD USES ALL.
1. He has and directs his own instruments of work, kings and nations being at his service.
2. He has his own resources from which to provide wages and rewards for those whom he employs as his ministers of righteousness and retribution.
III. GOD IS GLORIFIED IN ALL.
1. In the submission of the rebellious.
2. In the chastisement of the proud.
3. In the recovery of the erring but penitent. - T.
I. ROUGH WAR IS SOMETIMES SERVICE DONE FOR GOD. "They wrought for me, saith the Lord God." Men of delicate sensibility cannot understand how God can allow the rough business of war to serve his cause. Nevertheless, he does. If a warrior-king is actuated by a desire to vindicate righteousness or to redress a wrong, he is fighting in the cause of Jehovah. Probably his motives and ambitions may be of a mixed and conglomerate character. Love of self may be commingled with love of justice; yet so far as a righteous purpose appears, he may expect the benediction of God. If our Lord Jehovah did not bless human endeavor until it was free from every admixture of selfishness, he would never bless at all. Abundant generosity marks all his action. By so doing he encourages youngest efforts in the right direction.
II. IN WAR, GOD IS THE SUPREME ARBITER. Possibly Nebuchadnezzar did not know Jehovah - did not know that he was rendering a service to the God of heaven. This happens sometimes. Isaiah was commissioned by God to say to Cyrus, "I girded thee, though thou hast not known me." Ignorance, if not preventible, is excusable. Ignorance that is willful is a crime. God does not always take sides in war. Very often both sides are actuated simply by malice or some equally base passion. Temporary success in war cannot, therefore, be accepted as the approval of Jehovah. The devil does, now and again, obtain a transient triumph - at least a seeming triumph. But, on the whole, God acts as Arbiter, and often quickly reverses the effect of a visible conquest. In every battle he sees much to condemn, sometimes much to approve.
III. GOD IS THE UNDISPUTED DISPOSER OF EMPIRES. Without question, he gave the empires of Canaan to the seed of Abraham. He gave the territory of North America to the British. He gave Egypt for a time to the kings of Persia. "He setteth up one, and putteth down another." As he claims supreme control over individual persons, so he does also over empires, large and small. "The earth is the Lord's." He alone may rule with a high hand, and give to men no account of his doings.
IV. HIS REWARDS, THOUGH SEEMINGLY DELAYED, ARE TIMELY AND GENEROUS. In this passage God does not stint his praise to Nebuchadnezzar. He generously styles it "a great service." He has noted carefully all the hard toil which his army endured. Not an item of hardship or fidelity is overlooked. Every tear of the widow, every sorrow of the orphan, was lodged in his memory. To have rewarded the king immediately might have been to do him injury. It might have unduly elated him. It might have fed his pride. It might have fostered an ambition for further conquests. Ambition of this sort is a terrible passion in man, and needs to be held in with a strong curb. But when danger of abusing the reward is past, God will give it, and give it in an ample measure. To possess Egypt was wealth, honor, fame. It was to gain a notable place in the history of the world. Be quite sure that when God rewards a man it will be with generosity more than royal - generosity not to be measured. Having done good service, we can afford to wait. - D.
I. THE GIFT OF SPEECH. We wonder how animals succeed in communicating with one another; that they are supplied with some method of making known and passing on is unquestionable. But whatever their means may be, they fall very short of the great gift of speech which it is our priceless advantage to possess. So common and so familiar has it become, that we little heed its value or the goodness of God in bestowing it. But when we dwell in thought upon all the difference it has made to human life, and the extent to which it has enriched us, we may well bless God with fervent feeling that he has given to our race "the opening of the mouth" in speech and in song. How has it multiplied our power to instruct and enlighten, to warn and save, to comfort and to heal, to cheer and to gladden, to pray and to praise and to exhort, to prepare for all the duty and the burden of life, to make ready for the brighter scenes and ampler spheres of immortality! And as this is so,
(1) how carefully should we guard, how earnestly pray, how seriously admonish, against its abuse!
(2) how studious should we be to make the best and wisest use of this inestimable gift of God.
II. THE GRACE OF SILENCE. If there is a great value in "the opening of the mouth," so also is there much virtue in keeping it closed when "only silence suiteth best." To spare the stinging but severe retort that rises to the lips; to delay the accusation until more knowledge has been gained; to bear without rebuke the sound that tries our nerves, but is the delight of others; to refuse to pass on the unproved default; to refrain from the commonplaces of comfort in presence of some fresh, acute, overwhelming sorrow; to wait our time and. our turn until others have spoken who should, precede us, or until we have earned the right to speak; to "be dumb, to open not our mouth" under the chastening hand of God, and to retire into the sanctuary of the inner chamber that we may think and understand; - this is a true "grace," which they who seek the best in human character and life will not fail to desire and to pursue.
III. THE PRIVILEGE OF PROPHECY. No nobler order of men ever rose and wrought than the Hebrew prophets. They were "men that spoke for God" as their name indicates they should have been. And they" opened their mouth" fearlessly, faithfully, even heroically. They were to be found in the front when there was unpalatable truth to be spoken, uninviting duty to be done, serious danger to be dared. They did not shrink from speaking the straightforward truth to the people, the army, the sovereign. The Lord "before whom they stood," and in whose near presence they felt that they were safe, gave them the wisdom to speak and the courage to act. He "gave them the opening of the mouth;" and hence these strong, brave, searching, sometimes scathing, sometimes cheering words, which we still read in our homes and in our sanctuaries, which still help to form our character and to shape our life. Their true successors are found in those Christian ministers, and in those who do not call themselves by that name, who "speak for God," and who do speak for him because, like their prototypes, they
(1) are enriched by him with knowledge and insight - under-standing of his will and insight into the nature and character of their fellowmen;
(2) are endowed by him with the power of utterance - such utterance as constrains attention and secures reflection and emotion;