Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. AN AGGRAVATED NATIONAL OFFENSE.
1. It sprang out of an ancient hatred. The then-existent inhabitants of Israel had done the Edomites no wrong. It was simply an ember of an old fire the Edomites had fanned and kept alive generation after generation. Their duty clearly was to forgive and to forget. Centuries before, the blood-stained hatchet ought to have been buried. Heedlessly the Edomites were doing their own nature a cruel wrong. They were strangling their noblest qualities,
2. Hatred, nursed, soon develops into murder. "They had shed the blood of the children of Israel." Murder may stain the character of a state as much as it stains the character of an individual; and every war, unjustly provoked, is only murder. The lives of a myriad innocent men will be required at some tyrants' hands. And this murderous outrage was an act of basest cowardice. They had plunged the sword into Israel's breast when Israel was prostrate and wounded by other foes. It was as black deed as ever had been done under the eye of the sun.
3. Added to this was an attempted spoliation of Israel's territory. "Because thou hast said, These two nations ... shall be mine." Edom had hoped to blot Israel's name completely out of history, and to embrace the sacred territory in the empire of Edom. Their hatred had hatched a purpose to murder and bury a nation - a nation that had been and might again be a blessing to the globe. And the guilt was equally as great as if the vile purpose had succeeded. To the eye of our righteous God there is often a vast volume of crime secreted in a single purpose, in a hidden motive. The quintessence of sin may be found there.
II. CRIME AGAINST A NATION IS SIN AGAINST GOD.
1. God has identified himself with men. This was conspicuous in a marked degree in the case of Israel. Yet this identification with Israel's true welfare is typical of God's fatherly interest in all trustful souls. More or less, God identifies himself with humanity; and no wrong to humanity shall go unpunished. He will champion the interests of the oppressed everywhere.
2. God carefully notes every act of injustice. "I have heard all thy blasphemies which thou hast spoken against the mountains of Israel." Every whisper of man is heard by God. Such acute hearing staggers our understanding. Yet "he that formed the ear, shall he not hear?" The secrets of imperial councils are all seen and heard by Jehovah. Ultimately, and in the best time, he bathes all wicked designs.
3. Human folly in ignoring God's presence. "Whereas the Lord was there." In every age worldly men concoct their plans as if no God ruled over the affairs of men. Ambitious rulers parcel out a neighbor's territory, totally unmindful that God is in possession. "The earth is the Lord's," and his eye is never absent from his property. The weakest child of man may always summon God to his side - his Helper and Friend.
III. EQUITABLE RETRIBUTION.
1. Divine activity. "I will stretch out mine hand." Hath God, then, a human hand? The language is an accommodation to the understanding of man. God has an adaptation of power more than equivalent to the dexterous strength of the human hand. His almighty hand can reach to the very extremities of the universe. As by a breath of the lips he can create, so by a breath can he desolate cities.
2. Exact retribution. "Sith thou hast not hated blood, even blood shall pursue thee." No human judge has ever been able to mete out such exact penalties as God does. A combination of perfect qualities is needed, and this perfect combination no one possesses save Jehovah. It is always a real alleviation if the victim can feel that he has not deserved so much severity; and it is the very core of anguish to realize that the suffering is absolutely just. Conscience itself becomes the executioner of God.
3. The penalty will be set in the light of contrast. "When the whole earth rejoiceth, I will make thee desolate." It is a slight mitigation of suffering when others share it with us. It aggravates our suffering if all around us are bright with joy. The rich man of the parable felt his torment the keener because Lazarus was seen in the repose of blessedness. Isolation in misery is an additional element of woe.
4. The desolation was to be final. No prospect, not the most distant, could be entertained of relief. The stroke was to be, not disciplinary, but utterly penal. It was to be a perpetual desolation. The race was to suffer extirpation from the district.
5. The edict was confirmed by an oath. "As I live, saith the Lord God," this shall be done. This form of speech by God is a further accommodation to men. As an affirmation makes a deeper impression upon the minds of men when accompanied by an oath, by a solemn appeal to the presence of God, so God condescends to speak to men in such manner as shall most powerfully affect them. From God the simplest form of words is enough. "He is not a man, that he should lie." A word from him creates or destroys. But he speaks by way of oath, in order to arrest our thoughts and to convince our judgment.
6. Conviction of God's jurisdiction often comes too late. Men ignore God's presence and God's interference in human affairs, until events force upon them the fact that they are fighting, not simply against their fellows, nor contending against adverse circumstance, but are verily fighting against God. At length, out of the chaos of atheistic thoughts there looms the form and features of the living God. But the knowledge comes too late. They know God as their overpowering Foe, whereas they might have known him as a gracious Friend. - D.
I. AN INFLICTION ANSWERING IN CHARACTER TO THE SIN. "Because thou hast given over... to the power of the sword... therefore... I will prepare thee unto blood, and blood shall pursue thee" (vers. 5, 6). Our Lord also himself tells us that "they who take the sword shall perish with the sword." Violence shown to others commonly brings down violence on its own head. Craft and cunning lead men to great wariness, and even to a corresponding wiliness, in their dealing with the man who endeavors to undermine and to deceive. The man who is much engaged in digging pits for others is very likely to fall into one himself. Miserliness of spirit and behavior always leads to a real impoverishment of soul, and often to an imaginary poverty of circumstance which, though imaginary, is real enough to the man's own mind. There is no one whom the penurious man deprives of so much good and joy as himself. Penalty always answers to wrong-doing in its character. They who sin in the flesh suffer in the flesh, and they who sin in the spirit suffer in the spirit. The man who sins against his family will suffer domestic trouble; he that does not respect himself wrongs himself grievously, if not fatally.
II. AS INFLICTION ANSWERING IN MEASURE TO THE SIN. The severity of Edom's punishment was to answer to the greatness of her crime.
1. Lasting enmity was to be visited with lasting desolation (see vers. 5, 9).
2. Because they had "hated blood," i.e. had shown such determined malice and cruel hatred towards their own relatives (Theodoret, Jerome, Michaelis), therefore "blood should pursue them;" violence should not only overtake and slay, but should pursue them, should continue to smite them.
3. "According to the joy of the whole land [of Edom], God would make it a desolation" (ver. 14; Fairbairn); as it did rejoice in Israel's fall, in like measure would it be the object of derision and of triumph "in the dark hour coming on." As its joy, so its desolation; the height of the one would measure the depth of the other. We cannot always prove that penalty answers in measure to the extent of the wrong that has been wrought; but we can very often see that it does, and we are quite sure that it does so when we cannot recognize the fact. The truth that much sorrow is not penalty at all but discipline and preparation for higher work and a larger life, and the further and deeper truth that a very large and most important part of penalty is found in inward experience and especially in spiritual deterioration, will explain many apparent exceptions to this rule. Fuller knowledge and profounder wisdom will bring their sufficient revelations in good time; meanwhile we may be perfectly assured of the fact that the further we wander from God, from truth, from righteousness, from love, the deeper is the brand that enters into our soul, and the sadder is the destiny we are weaving for ourselves.
III. THE CONSTANTLY RECURRING ELEMENT OF DESOLATION. As the word "desolate," or "desolation," is the prevailing note of this prophecy, and indeed of many others also, so may it be said that loss, diminution, destitution, ruin, is the constantly recurring evil which sin is working in the Soul and in the life of men. They who forsake the God of their fathers and who seek their heritage not in his holy service but in material successes or in the lower affections and delights, will surely find that they are bereaving themselves of all that is best; that they are denuding their life of its highest worth, that they are going down, step by step - sometimes it is by very steep steps, too - to the condition which may be well described in the prophet's words as "a desolation and an astonishment" (ver. 3). - C.
I. THE CHARGE BROUGHT AGAINST THE PEOPLE OF MOUNT SEIR.
1. The offense. They were guilty of violence against Israel and inexcusable bloodshed. A predatory and warlike race, they had turned their arms against their neighbors, instead of allowing them to dwell in security.
2. The motive. This was malice, malignity. A perpetual, unappeasable enmity actuated those of Mount Seir in their repeated incursions into the territory of the Israelites, and the desolation of the land and the destruction of life laid to their charge. Other more excusable motives accounted for the hostilities waged by other peoples; against Mount Seir the charge is brought of acting upon the meanest and basest of motives.
3. The opportunity. This was the time of Israel's calamity and weakness. They took advantage of the circumstances of their neighbors, and attacked them at a conjuncture when they were powerless to defend themselves.
II. THE RETRIBUTION WITH WHICH THE PEOPLE OF MOUNT SEIR WERE THREATENED.
1. The Author of this retribution was none other than the Lord God himself. He ruleth among the nations; "let not the rebellious exalt themselves." His justice is unquestionable and his power is irresistible. "He is terrible in his doings towards the children of men."
2. The nature of it. It is foretold that the cities shall be laid waste, and that the land shall be desolate, that the blood of the inhabitants of Mount Seir shall be shed. "I will prepare thee unto blood, and blood shall pursue thee"
3. The law of it. Observe that the judgment and penalty here foretold is not simply retributive; it is of the nature of retaliation. The lea talionis prescribed "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth," etc. The punishment matched the offense. Such a correspondence is noticeable between Seir's treatment of Israel and Jehovah's treatment of Seir. They had shed blood, and in recompense their blood should be shed. This is not to be regarded as private, personal revenge, which is forbidden to man, and could never be practiced by a holy God. It is a public measure, a judicial act, a proceeding warranted by justice, and intended to produce a deep and wholesome impression upon all who should witness it. It certainly marks the heinousness of sin in the view of the righteous Ruler, and it exemplifies the inevitable and universal action of the retributive government of the God of nations. - T.
I. EDOM'S GREAT MISCALCULATION. No doubt Edom had its princes, its statesmen, its warriors, of whom it was proud, on whose sagacity and prowess it was leaning. But however astute her ministers may have been, they made one great and fatal mistake - they left out of the account one factor, the presence of which made all the difference to the issue. Under their false guidance Edom thought itself more than a match for Israel, which, with its pastoral and agricultural pursuits, was less warlike than itself. And Edom said to itself, "These two nations... shall be mine, and we will inherit it" (ver. 10). "And Jehovah was there," interjects the prophet, with burning indignation. Edom, forsooth, going to appropriate Israel, and swallow it up as a dainty morsel, as if it had only to stretch out its hand and take it "And Jehovah was there" - that One in whose presence all Edom, with all its civil and military power, was but the dust of the balance, was nothing and less than nothing and vanity; that Holy One who held Edom responsible for its enmity and its cruelty; that Mighty One at the breath of whose mouth all its proud soldiery would go down as saplings before the storm! What senseless infatuation! what infinite presumption! to remember and to covet Israel's well-watered meadows and well-cultivated fields, and to forget that "Jehovah was there! to resolve to go up and possess its pleasant places, and occupy its strong cities, and plant its flag on Mount Zion without taking into the account that "Jehovah was there!" Edom was entertaining proud, ambitious schemes, and it was making "scornful speeches against the mountains of Israel, saying, A desolation, to us they are given for fire," and was thus "magnifying itself against" the Lord. But what depth of meaning, and what vigor of action, and what certainty of doom lies in those simple words of Jehovah, "I have heard!" Those disdainful words of theirs have entered the Divine ear, and they will move that mighty hand to its work of righteousness and judgment.
II. OUR OWN SUPREME MISTAKE. We never commit so great and so ruinous an error as when we leave out of our account the presence and the handiwork of God. We are never so utterly and so perilously in the wrong as when we lay our plans and make our speeches, forgetful that God is near us, overruling all we do, and hearing every word we speak. We make this supreme mistake:
1. When we think we can sin without his banning. If we lay our schemes to injure our brethren, or if we design to enrich or indulge ourselves in any forbidden way, without smarting for our sin, we shall find, sooner or later, that "Jehovah is there," with his penalty in his hand.
2. When we think we can succeed without his blessing. To succeed without the favoring presence of God and the co-operation of his gracious power is as hopelessly impossible as it is to sin without encountering his Divine displeasure and rebuke. If we prosper in our toil, if we find joy and gladness in our life, it will be only because "Jehovah is there;" because he makes our land to yield its increase, because he fills our soul with the blessedness that abides.
3. When we think we can be wise without his teaching. Neither workman in the field of nature nor student in the realm of truth can leave out of his account the presence and the aid of the Divine. There is nothing sadder than the sight of men seeking and straining after the wisdom that they want for life and for death and for eternity, trying to find their way by the light of the sparks of their own intelligence; this will they have of God - "that they will lie down in sorrow" (Isaiah 1:10, 11). But blessed are they who take into their account the fact that "Jehovah is there," that God is speaking to us in his Word, by that Son who was and is the Eternal Word of God; for they who are wise in his wisdom shall enter the kingdom of truth, the kingdom of God, and they shall rise up in everlasting life and joy. - C.
I. THE INIQUITOUS CONDUCT OF SEIR. They were guilty:
1. Of anger and enmity against Israel.
2. Of evil speech, of blasphemy, against Israel.
3. Of rejoicing over the sorrows, calamities, and desolations of Israel.
II. THE LORD'S IDENTIFICATION OF HIMSELF WITH ISRAEL IN THE WRONG THEY SUSTAINED AT THE HAND OF SEIR. The fact is that Israel was his people, and he, Jehovah, was Israel's God. This is said with the recollection that Israel had transgressed his Law, rebelled against his authority, despised the privileges he had bestowed; with the recollection that their God had chastened them sorely, and at this very time was causing them to pass through the furnace of affliction. All this does not interfere with our belief of the close identification between the Lord and the sons of Jacob. It was not for their goodness, but for his purposes, that they were chosen. They were a consecrated nation, i.e. a nation set apart to fulfill a deliberate intention of the most high and holy God. Therefore, in a special manner, the Lord took the part of Israel, resented the wrongs done to them, the indignities put upon them, and the blasphemies uttered concerning them. Therefore the Lord avenged them of their adversaries. Other nations might be destroyed, but it did not consist with God's purposes that Israel should perish. He was against those who were against his people.
III. THE LORD'S AVENGING OF ISRAEL'S WRONGS AS DONE TO HIMSELF.
1. He heard with displeasure all the evil words uttered against those whom he had set apart for himself.
2. He judged with a righteous and severe judgment all who injured his servants.
3. For Mount Seir, as a flagrant offender, was reserved an especial punishment: "When the whole earth rejoiceth, I will make thee desolate." Let it be observed that this was a reversal of what had formerly taken place; for when Israel was desolated, Mount Seir had rejoiced. - T.