Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE LAND OF CANAAN IS HONORED BY A DIVINE COMMUNICATION. It is a reasonable conclusion that the main interest God felt in the mountains and hills of Palestine arose from their use as a home and storehouse for his people. Yet it is proper that we should regard God as finding a pleasure in the hills and valleys on account of their native beauty. They were the workmanship of his hand, and there is every reason why he should find pleasure in his creations. The long, past history of their internal structure was open to his eye, and the beauty of their clothing was to him a delight. But why should he dispatch to these unconscious mountains a prophetic messenger? Without doubt, this was intended as a rebuke to the people who had grievously disregarded his messages. It was as if he said indirectly to the nation, "It is vain to speak longer to your stony ears. I turn away in sorrow, and address my message to the unconscious earth. The very mountains will give me better audience than you have done. If I speak to the dew, it will obey. If I speak to the fragrant soil, it will yield its fruit. If I speak to the mountains, they will put on verdure and beauty. But, alas! if I speak to the intelligent sons of Jacob, they turn deaf ears and rebellious wills to my gracious voice! O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the Lord!" By such methods of rebuke God endeavors to bring conviction home to the consciences of the people.
II. THE LAND OF CANAAN WAS AN IMPORTANT FACTOR IN ISRAEL'S PAST RENOWN. This land had been specially selected by God as the most fitting scene for the training of the Hebrew nation. It was the glory of all lands, the envy of surrounding nations. Compared with the territory north, or east, or south, it was splendidly fertile, while its mountains made it a secure fortress. The diversity of hill and vale gave it peculiar beauty and served to exhilarate the mind. The mountain-peaks drew heavenward men's thoughts. According to the known law, that the physical features of a country mould unconsciously the character of the inhabitants, Canaan had been a benefit to the Jewish tribes. The land was a contrast to the soft, fertile loam of Egypt. The relaxing climate of Lower Egypt, together with the wondrous facility of obtaining large crops, made the people indolent and effeminate - impatient of arduous exertion. In Palestine a totally different condition of things prevailed. For the most part the operations of husbandry were severe. The sides of the hills required to be built in terraces in order to retain the soil. But climate and soil were congenial for almost every kind of fruit. It was a territory in which it was scarcely possible for one to grow rich; it was a territory eminently suitable for the development of hardy and industrious peasants. Especially the land was singularly dependent upon the periodic rainfall. For, devoid of rain and dew, the olives dropped withered and unripe, the vines were blighted, the young corn was shriveled. Hence, in an eminent degree, the people hung in constant dependence on the good will of God. He held in his hand the helm of their prosperity.
III. THE LAND OF CANAAN HAD SHARED IN ISRAEL'S DISCOMFITURE AND SHAME. Frequent invasions on their borders had made their homes and crops insecure, and, without security for obtaining crops, men will not sow their fields. Frequent absence also, to serve on the battle-field, drew away the young men from quiet husbandry. Such losses in such a country soon became serious. A diminution in their produce left them unable and unwilling to pay tribute to their foreign conquerors, and this resulted in fresh invasion. Step by step the land went out of cultivation. The terraces on the hillsides were neglected. The people forget God, and God withdrew the light of his favor. The mountain-slopes, denuded of soil, soon became bald, bleached rocks. The high reputation for fertility which the land had enjoyed was gone. Its excellence and glory departed. Sharon was no longer a fold for flocks. Carmel laid aside her bridal garments of floral beauty. Jackals and foxes and hyenas infested the land. With the degradation of the elect people came the degradation of the elect land.
IV. THE LAND OF CANAAN WAS ABOUT TO SHARE IN ISRAEL'S NEW PROSPERITY.
1. In proportion to the infamy the land had endured was to be the fertility again to be enjoyed. The prosperity should not only rise to the former level; it should greatly surpass it. The infallible promise was made directly to every part and branch of the territory. God had a tender regard for every mountain and valley, for every river and plain; each should be enriched and gladdened by his favoring smile. The shame of the heathen should be outbalanced by corresponding reputation and honor. On condition of the faithfulness of the people this revival of prosperity should be enduring.
2. God speaks in language adapted to the age. By any other mode of speech God could not have been understood; and in such a case he may as well not have spoken. As men were stimulated to great exertions by a sentiment of national jealousy, so, in accommodation to imperfect men, God speaks of himself as stirred to activity by the fire of jealousy. Such jealousy was only another form of considerate love. It had no respect to himself. It was a jealous regard for the good of Israel, a jealous desire to fulfill his ancient promises.
3. These pledges of good were redeemed in the centuries which followed Israel's restoration. The land was reclaimed from the ravages of wild beasts. Cities and villages were rebuilt. Many parts of Canaan became fertile as a garden. Confessedly, we feel a disappointment that the revival of prosperity was not more complete, nor more abiding. But this was due alone to the folly and guilt of the people. In every promise of God there underlies a moral condition. For him to give unmingled blessing to evil-doers would be a fresh evil and an encouragement to sin. The actual fortunes of Canaan, in the later centuries, prove the faithfulness of God and the fickleness of the people. - D.
of the merciless mocker; its fortunes were low, its heart was sad indeed; it could not sing the Lord's song in such a strange land as that in which it was exiled. But after words of condemnation comes the language of hope. The prophet of God is commissioned to break into their gloom with some beams of promise. Here are gracious words from his mouth; here is a prophecy delivered to "the mountains of Israel," which may well have filled the hearts of the people of God with great joy and gladness. The lessons we glean from the passage (vers. 1-15) are -
I. THAT SOMETHING HAS LEFT US WHEN AN ENEMY HAS DONE HIS WORST. As Matthew Henry well remarks, the mountains, the hills, the rivers, and the valleys, the desolate wastes and the forsaken cities (ver. 4) "remained to be spoken to...these the Chaldeans could not carry away with them." They might deport and depopulate, but they could not destroy the land which Jehovah had given to his people. Still the mountains stood, and still the rivers ran, and still the valleys stretched beneath the sun and received the rains of heaven.
1. Our human enemy may do much to harm us, but his power is very limited after all. At the most and the worst, he can but kill the body; after that he hath no more that he can do." He cannot kill the soul; he cannot take away faith, or love, or peace, or hope from the human heart; he cannot rob us of our real inheritance.
2. Or if our spiritual enemy injures us in a more deadly way than the tyrant or the persecutor can do; if he gain dominion over us and rob us of our rectitude, and so of our peace and rest in God; even then there remains a spiritual nature which is capable of redemption; the soil remains, which, sown again with the good seed of the kingdom, may yet bring forth very precious fruit.
II. THAT THE TENDENCY OF SIN IS TO A DANGEROUS EXTREME. Edom and other heathen lands carried their enmity and their cruelty so far that they brought down upon themselves the righteous anger of God. "Because they have made you desolate, and swallowed you up on every side," etc. (ver. 3), "therefore, thus saith the Lord, surely in the fire," etc. (ver. 5). These persecuting nations had succeeded only too well; they had filled their hands with spoil, and their souls with spiteful pleasure (ver. 5); and the extremity to which they pushed their triumph led to their discomfiture. Such is sin everywhere. It leads to extravagance and excess; to a most guilty and ruinous indulgence; or to a high-handed arrogance and blasphemy which call forth the deep displeasure of the righteous God, and bring down the strong, stern hand of judgment. When we once give way to temptation, of whatever kind it be, we enter a path which leads and lures us on much further than we at first meant to go; and the end of it is condemnation and doom.
III. THAT GOD PITIES HIS PEOPLE, THOUGH THEY SURFER AT his OWN HAND. It was God who caused the children of Israel to lose their heritage and to be carried away as they were. Their sorrows were the penalty of their sin; it was the hand of the Lord that was laid upon them. Yet their distressing condition called forth the Divine compassion. It was in mercy, in true pity, that he saw them "bearing the shame of the heathen' (ver. 6; see ver. 15). Even though it is in virtue of God's own righteous laws that we "are minished and brought low," that we suffer in the flesh or in the spirit, in circumstance or in soul, as the consequence of our wrongdoing, even then, in our straits and in our misery, in our bondage and in our degradation, we are the objects of Divine compassion. God likes not to see his children suffer and "bear shame" as they do. And he sends the messenger of mercy that bids us rise from our wretchedness and ruin and return unto himself.
IV. THAT EVERYTHING MAY BE RECOVERED WHEN GOD IS ON OUR SIDE. (Vers. 8-15.) When God says, "I am for you, and I will turn unto you," what is there that we may not hope for? Then the land of Israel might look to be retilled and resown, to yield its fruit as in the best days that were; to be repeopled by those who had a right to walk upon its hills and to cultivate its villages; it should no longer be a grave for the dead, but a home for the living. And when we turn in penitence and in faith to God, and he turns in mercy and in grace to us, what is there that we may not hope for? What glorious spiritual restoration is within our reach! - the peace which no earthly good can either give or take away: the joy which abides and which blesses while it lasts; the excellency of character and of life which makes us take rank with the children of God everywhere; the hope which is full of immortality. - C.
I. THE AUTHOR OF THIS REVIVAL. "I," says the Lord, "am for you, and I will turn unto you." The Creator is the Source and Giver of all life, both in the natural and in the spiritual realm. If the wilderness is to be as the garden of God, it must be through the fall of showers from heaven, through dews of grace, through the Divine breath awakening the dead to life, through the sunshine from God's own countenance calling forth the vitality and the fragrance of the spiritual spring.
II. THE SCENE OF THIS REVIVAL. The land which has been so long desolate by reason of its occupation by hostile armies, and by reason of the deportation of its inhabitants, is visited by reviving mercy. The waste places, the dismantled and forsaken cities, are regarded in compassion and visited in mercy.
III. THE SUBJECTS OF THIS REVIVAL. These are living men, moral natures, capable of true life. "I will multiply men upon you;" "I will cause men to walk upon you." It is the men who make the land what it is, who till the soil, occupy the cities, garrison the fortresses, fill the temples, raise to heaven the free song of trust and praise. The return of the Hebrew captives to their inheritance, the land given to their fathers, was a joyful occasion, and was the earnest of good things to come. When God gives blessing, it is to living, spiritual, immortal natures that he gives it. He blesses his Church by raising up and consecrating to his service holy men and women, who in every position and vocation of life fulfill duty under a sacred impulse and with a noble aim.
IV. THE TOKENS OF THIS REVIVAL. Fruitfulness, increase, abundance, - these am the signs that God is working, that the winter is over and past, that the blossoms of the spring, the promise of the year, have not been delusive. "Herein," says Christ, "is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit."
V. THE MEASURE OF REVIVAL. "I will do better unto you than at your beginnings." Such is the gracious assurance of the Almighty. Israel had known times of benediction and prosperity; she should know them again, only more abundantly. All past experience is transcended when the Lord stretches out his hand to bless. - T.
this with a view to arouse their drugged and drowsy consciences. The equity and justice of his scepter had been vividly portrayed. The keen edge of his judicial sword had been felt. Some movements of better feeling in the exiles were apparent. And now God hastens to foster penitential sentiments with a promise of generous kindness. Further revelations of his great nature are made. The excellence of his grace is unveiled to the opening eye of the penitents. Stupendous condescension is shown. God himself will undertake the renovation of human nature. He will go down to the very root of the evil. He will transform the innermost principles in the minds of the people, and so qualify them for national restoration and national prosperity. And he will do this mainly that he may set before the world the wealth of goodness and kindness which constitutes his glory. "I do this for my holy Name's sake, saith the Lord."
I. ISRAEL'S ARRAIGNMENT.
1. The gravamen of the accusation is idolatry. Than idolatry, no greater affront can be put upon God, no greater evil can be wrought. God was deposed from his rightful throne, and senseless matter elevated into his place. The perfect will of God was set aside for the vain fancies of wicked men. The devil was preferred to Jehovah.
2. Idolatry was a system of active vice. It did not represent merely a change of belief; it was the enthronement and deification of vice. Public sanction was given to lust and unchastity. The marriage-tie was dissolved. The temple of God was desecrated with animal lust. The barbarous rites of idolatrous worship served to crush every tender feeling and to make men fiends. Wrong soon lost its hideous features in the eyes of men. They became inhuman, cruel, quarrelsome, murderous. Human life lost its sanctity, and the land was stained with blond.
3. Idolatry's fruits were most offensive to God. In order to convey to men an approximate idea of this offensiveness, God was compelled to borrow an illustration from the most loathsome thing familiar to men. As if he had said, "Picture to yourselves the thing most repulsive to your senses; this thing will feebly convey the idea of disgust I feel towards this monstrous crime." A common dung-hill is fragrance itself compared with the moral foulness of idolatry; and dead to every virtuous instinct must be the man who can endure it.
II. ISRAEL'S ARRAIGNMENT LED TO SEVEREST PENALTY.
1. A discharge of God's anger. "I poured out my fury upon them." The long-gathering storm of just indignation burst upon them as torrents from a broken reservoir. This is God's own account of his conduct, and he speaks, as usual, after the manner of a man. The violent anger of a man under a strong sense of injury has its correspondence in God, save that in God it is filled with the element of righteousness, and is in exact proportion to the sinner's deserts.
2. It embraced the dissolution of the covenant. The covenant made with Abraham and renewed with the Israelites was founded on a moral condition. That condition had been broken and abandoned by the nation; hence God publicly testified that he was no longer bound. The land of Canaan ceased to be held by Divine covenant; and, as the result of the broken compact, the Assyrians took possession. Pledges and contracts between God and man, wantonly violated, are surely followed by gravest disaster. This should teach all men the reality and the value of righteousness.
3. The penalty, though severe, was strictly equitable. "According to their doings I judged them." The fullest equity in God's dealings is guaranteed
(1) by the qualities of his nature and
(2) by the well-being of all the moral intelligences of his kingdom.
Every act of loving obedience shall be rewarded. Every deed of rebellion shall be punished according to the most equitable scale. And in this category is registered every secret design, as well as every overt deed.
III. THIS MANIFESTATION OF JUSTICE OVERSHADOWED THE BENIGNANT NATURE OF GOD. "They profaned my holy Name." It is a great responsibility to bear the Name of God - a great responsibility to belong to his kingdom. We carry his reputation in our hands. Mankind will judge him by what they see in us. If they discover in us selfishness, avarice, lust, they will conclude that our God is not over-righteous. If we, for our sins, are chastised, men will shrink from serving such a Master. Such was the case in the olden time among all the peoples that dwelt in the vicinity of Palestine. They said contemptuously, "This Jehovah, who conquered Canaan for his people, was, not able to retain it for them! Or else, he is a God easily offended! He chooses a nation for his favor one day, and casts it off on the morrow! Or else, his justice is so severe that we prefer to keep aloof from him!" Such were the judgments of men. But this was the result of ignorance. This was derogatory to God. This prejudiced the public mind against just conceptions of God. Now, it had been God's high design to unveil gradually to mankind all the fullness of his nature - his strong affection, the riches of his mercy, his self-sacrificing grace. Did men but know him thoroughly, one great hindrance to confidence and obedience would be removed. Most surely he deserves our allegiance; he is infinitely worthy of our trust. Therefore God had pity upon his Name; for his Name is the sum-total of his goodness. Men were suffering, because they did not know God - were misled by erroneous views of his character. Hence God resolved to adopt another plan - to make a grand experiment. He will make a new covenant with the people, and will write his laws on the tablet of their hearts. He will yet conquer their rebellions with his abounding grace.
IV. THE GRAND EXPERIMENT OF KINDNESS; viz. a gracious renewal of human nature.
1. The first step is cleansing. "From all your idols will I cleanse you." A disposition of repentance was already apparent. Many were beginning to ask how deliverance could be obtained; and, before they asked, the remedy is announced. God will undertake to purge out the virus of disease, and if he undertakes it, the change will be effectual. He will go to the root of the matter. The love of idols shall be rooted out of the heart; and, the root being killed, all the fruits will disappear. The instrument to be employed is the Truth - the revelation of Divine mercy. This is the "clean water" mentioned. To the same effect David declared, "The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul." And Jesus the Christ affirmed, "Now ye are clean, through the word which I have spoken unto you."
2. The next step is heart-renovation. "A new heart also will I give you." By the mystic power or' his grace God produces gradually a complete change in the moral principles of every penitent man. New light enters the mind. Sin is seen in its loathsomeness. A gracious influence from heaven softens the dispositions of the heart. Feeling becomes tender. The tastes cluster round nobler objects. God is seen to be supremely good, and new affections begin to entwine round him. Old habits of evil are dissevered. New inclinations and aspirations are engendered. Step by step the man rises out of his dead self into a new life. "Old things pass away, and all things" within him "become new."
3. A further step is the indwelling of God's Spirit in the wan. This is an anticipation of the new dispensation, more fully developed at Pentecost; this is the highest, noblest gift God can impart. In a word, this is spiritual evolution. On Adam God breathed, and he "became a living soul." But this is a new departure. The Spirit of God finds an entrance into the human soul, and works therein a new creation. All the dispositions of God are gradually reproduced. The man learns to think as God thinks, to feel as God feels, to love as God loves, to act as God acts. Then God's will is done, and God's image is reflected in the man as a face is reflected in a mirror.
4. A further step is national restoration. The man who truly loves God learns to love his fellow-man; and this bond of mutual love was the very thing wanted to weld the Hebrews into a nation. A people can safely be trusted with national prosperity only when they are loyal to God. The whole land of Palestine was a kind of enlarged temple, and only a consecrated people are fitted for a consecrated place. The old covenant, in its essential principles was to be restored. God would give himself to the people; they would give themselves up to him.
5. Material prosperity. "I will call for the corn, and will increase it." Soul-prosperity is the foundation; temporal fortune is the superstructure. "All things are ours if we are Christ's" "No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." In Palestine 'the state of the harvest-field was a mirror in which men saw the smile or the frown of God. To obedient Jews, land-fertility was secured by an inviolable pledge of Jehovah. The windows of heaven were opened; the vines were embellished with splendid clusters; the very mountains seemed to send out rills of oil from the olive-groves.
V. THE FINAL AIM OF THIS STUPENDOUS CHANGE; Viz. to reveal God's Name. In other words, to make known to the world his wealth of goodness. That the purpose and aim of Jehovah in this grand experiment might be made clear, it is stated both positively and negatively. "Not for your sakes do I this,' saith God, "but for my holy Name's sake." A full and accurate knowledge of God is hope and inspiration to men. If only the state of feeling in a man's heart be right, then in proportion as God is known, he will be admired, trusted, loved, served. If the soil of the heart be broken up and pulverized, the knowledge of God, like living seed, will grow and flourish and bear a rich harvest of fruit. "They that know thy Name will put their trust in thee." This heart-knowledge of God brings eternal life. Misunderstanding of God brings fear, bondage, misery, hell. The glory of God and the good of men are twin-purposes - two sides of the same coin. God's will is man's salvation. As we know God experimentally, we aspire to be like God, we yearn to do his will, heaven is begun within. - D.
I. TWO THINGS WHICH INCUR HIS HIGH DISPLEASURE. The pouring out of his "fury" is, of course, language which is accommodated to our human feelings; but it speaks of the Divine displeasure existing in a very high degree; and the two evils which excite it are:
1. Perverted piety; the giving to another the glory due to himself: idolatry (ver. 18).
2. Inhumanity. "They had shed blood upon the land" (ver. 18). The wanton taking of human life is the darkest and saddest form of cruelty; but it is by no means the only one which meets the severe rebuke of God. All forms of unkindness or of wrong, by which men's circumstances are reduced or their spirits are wounded, call down his reproach and bear their penalty.
II. ONE ESPECIAL FORM OF PENALTY. God "scattered the Israelites; he caused them to be dispersed through the countries" (ver. 19). The evil which they suffered in Babylon was negative rather than positive. They were not ill treated there. The misery of it lay in its unhomeliness. They were far from their own land - from Mount Zion and its glorious temple, from the happy services and holy institutions which made their childhood and their youth what they were; they were exiles, dwelling in "a strange land." This is the constant penalty of sin. It causes us to dwell afar off from God; we lose our sense of nearness to him; we are in no spiritual home; we are in the hand and in the land of the enemy. It is not that earth is far from heaven; it is that sin is far from righteousness; it is that the disloyal subject, the unfilial child, is far from his gracious Sovereign, far from his heavenly Father.
III. GOD'S SOLICITUDE CONCERNING HIS NAME. "They profaned my holy Name" (ver. 20); "I had pity for my holy Name" (ver. 21). Why should God be concerned thus "for his Name?" Knowing, as we do, that God is love, and that he lives not for himself, but for the good of his universe, we cannot believe that this Divine solicitude has any selfishness at the root of it. We conclude that its explanation is in the fact that it is of vital consequence to the world that he should be rightly regarded and truly honored. It is so in both aspects, affirmative and negative.
1. It is a boundless blessing when God is known and understood; when, therefore, he is honored and obeyed; and when, therefore, all the priceless blessings of obedience are secured.
2. It is an immeasurable evil when God is misrepresented and misunderstood; when his Name is profaned, and men think of him as he would not be thought of; when his Name is associated with weakness, or with indifference, or with injustice, or with any kind of wrong. Then comes irreverence, and all the long train of evils that accompany it - irreligion, disobedience, rebellion, degradation, ruin, death. We may well pray, "Hallowed be thy Name;" for as men speak of God, and as they think of him and know him, so will they order their lives and construct their character and choose their destiny. We ought, similarly, to be concerned about our name. Not that it is the part of a wise man to covet notoriety; that is weakness rather than wisdom. To wish to be notorious is simply selfish, and to be notorious is to stand on the same ground with many of the very worst men that ever strove and sinned. But we should be concerned so to live that our name, however far it may go, may be associated with all that is pure and good and wise; that such influence as God gives us to exert may all go into the right scale; that whenever and wherever we do speak or strike, we may speak what is true and strike for justice and humanity; that the issue of our lives shall be a brave and faithful witness for God, for the kingdom of Jesus Christ; that no man shall find a shelter for anything that is base or immoral behind our name; that many men may walk more steadily along the path of life or work more devotedly in the fields of usefulness because our name lends some strength to virtue and to holy service. - C.
I. THE ISRAELITES HAVE PROFANED GOD'S NAME AMONG THE HEATHEN. They are universally known as the people of Jehovah. When exiled from their land, they are the objects of derision and contempt to the heathen who behold them, and who, despising them, despise also the Name of Jehovah.
II. THE LORD IS MOVED WITH PITY FOR HIS OWN NAME. The language, nay, the very thought, is remarkably bold. But especially as it is repeated, it must be taken as deliberate and intentional, and as corresponding with a wonderful and Divine, though but partially comprehensible, reality. His Name, his reputation, even among the heathen, is dear to him, and he deigns to be concerned when men speak lightly of his Name and blaspheme him openly. In human language, he is distressed at the evil things which are said of him among the enemies of his people.
III. THE PURPOSES OF GOD'S MERCY ARE NOT PROMPTED BY ANY DESERTS OF ISRAEL. "I do not this for your sake, O house of Israel." This is a principle which should ever be borne in mind in interpreting Old Testament history. The Hebrew writers are faithful, candid, and outspoken in describing the national character, in relating the actions of their countrymen. They were a rebellious and stiff-necked people. They had their good qualities, but their many and grievous sins are not extenuated. If God chose them as his peculiar people, it was not for any special excellence or meritorious ness in themselves. And when he restored them from captivity, he let it be understood that he did this not from a regard to their deserts.
IV. GOD'S PURPOSES OF MERCY TO ISRAEL ARE PROMPTED BY A REGARD TO HIS OWN NAME. He had made certain promises to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and those promises he must needs fulfill. He has intentions of mercy to mankind to be realized by means of the "children of promise," and he will not allow those intentions to be frustrated. He has his own faithfulness to vindicate, his own moral attributes to manifest. By his Name must be understood his character, especially as known among men; and, this being the case, it is not difficult to comprehend the meaning of "having pity on his holy Name."
V. PITY BECOMES PRACTICAL IN THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL TO THEIR OWN LAND, BY WHICH GOD'S NAME IS SANCTIFIED. There is dignity and even moral grandeur in the resolution which is expressed in this passage; it is felt to be worthy of him in whose lips it is placed by the prophet. When the great work of restoration is achieved, the nations who behold it see that the taunts and ridicule in which they have indulged are both foolish and blamable. Israel is proved to be the consecrated nation, preserved by God's wisdom and goodness as the instrument in effecting his purposes. The Lord God is seen to be, not powerless like the so-called gods of the nations, but omnipotent and just. His promises are vindicated as faithful. "I will sanctify my great Name and the nations shall know that I am the Lord." - T.
I. GOD WILL GIVE FOR FOULNESS, PURITY. The defiling and offensive nature of sin is symbolized in Scripture by uncleanness of body. Of the sins with which Israel is especially charged, that of idolatry is perhaps the most prominent and the most debasing, bringing in its train a host of moral abominations. From idolatry and all its contaminations the consecrated people must needs be delivered, as a condition of all other blessing. With what simplicity and exquisite beauty is the gracious purpose of the Divine -Purifier here expressed! "I wilt sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you." The moral purity of the Divine nature is imparted to the nature of man. The Holy Spirit produces the holy character, which expresses itself in the holy life. Much of the religious observance practiced among the Hebrews was intended to convey the idea and to cultivate the practice of holiness. In the New Testament the greatest stress is laid upon this disposition and habit: "Be ye holy; for your Father in heaven is holy."
II. GOD WILL GIVE FOR HARDNESS OF HEART, A TENDERNESS AND SUSCEPTIBILITY. By hardness or obduracy we understand insensibility to Divine appeals, to rebukes and to promises - a character repelling all higher and holier motive. The stony heart is to be taken away, and replaced by a heart of flesh, i.e. a heart sensitive to Divine goodness and responsive to Divine appeals. The Israelites seem to have been peculiarly hard and stubborn in character. The word addressed to them, if it was to produce any impression, must needs have been "as a fire, and as a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces." This was so throughout long periods of the national history. When God dealt with them in his mercy, he rendered their obdurate nature susceptible to gracious influences. Under the Christian dispensation, the softer features of the human character are brought out into prominence. The Spirit of Christ is a Spirit of meekness and gentleness. The heart of flesh which he imparts is susceptible to all that is good and winning, purifying and consolatory.
III. GOD WILL GIVE FOR OLDNESS, NEWNESS OF CHARACTER. "A new heart also will I give you, and a new Spirit will I put within you." It is remarkable that we should find in Ezekiel's prophecies so striking an anticipation of the promises and privileges of Christianity. Living, as we do, under the new covenant, we are especially able to appreciate this gracious assurance. Old things pass away, all things become new, to him who is "in Christ Jesus," who is "a new creation." The oldness of the letter, the oldness of disobedience, are left behind; and spiritual newness opens up, in all its beauty and hopefulness, before us. "Newness of life" is the plainest mark of a Christianity more than nominal and formal.
IV. GOD WILL GIVE FOR ALIENATION, ACCEPTANCE. Those who had been afar off were to be brought nigh; those who had been estranged by sin were to be restored to fellowship; those who had been in rebellion were to be reconciled. The exiled should be brought home, and the cold oppression and scorn of the foreign conqueror should be exchanged for the acceptable services of the temple, and the smile of God upon his people and their inheritance. A marvelous emblem of the restoration of God's people to himself through Jesus Christ. For our Savior has "made peace," so that those who accept his mediation, from having been alienated and at enmity, are reconciled, and enjoy the fellowship, the smile, the approval, of their God.
V. GOD WILL GIVE FOR ERROR, OBEDIENCE, SUBMISSION, AND CONFORMITY TO HIS WILL. "I will cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." To feel the force of this promise, we must remember how grievously the Israelites had erred, and how far they had strayed from the path of true and acceptable service. A renovation worthy of the name must include a thorough submission to the will which had been defied, a thorough and cordial performance of the service which had been neglected. As it was with the Israelites, so must it ever be with all upon whom God has mercy. He puts his Spirit within them, and thus the life which would otherwise have been impracticable becomes the life deliberately chosen and consistently and perseveringly followed out. - T.
1. He would work within their hearts an entire change of thought and feeling, removing their strong stubbornness and replacing it with a childlike sensibility.
2. He would thus lead them to live in purity and uprightness before the eyes of those among whom they dwelt. Thus would he magnify his holy Name.
3. Then he would restore them to the old relation which they had forfeited by their sin; they should be again his people, and he would be their God, dwelling among them and ruling over them in peace and righteousness. We have here the three constantly recurring elements of true piety.
I. INWARD RENEWAL. (Ver. 26.) Consisting of:
1. Sensibility taking the place of indifference or stubborn rebelliousness. Instead of the "stony heart" is the "heart of flesh;" instead of an utter, brutish disregard of Divine claims or a perverse and froward determination to reject them, is the "new heart," the "new spirit" of openness of mind, willingness which ends in eagerness to learn of God, responsiveness of feeling when he speaks, tenderness of conscience under the spoken truth of Christ.
2. Humility taking the place of pride or careless unconcern; a sense of past sin and of present unworthiness; the inward conviction that God has not been remembered, reverenced, served, trusted, as he should have been, and that life has been stained with many errors, faults, shortcomings, transgressions; a spirit of true penitence and shame; a voice, not loud but deep, says within the soul, "I have sinned."
3. Consecration instead of selfishness. The heart turns away from selfishness and from worldliness toward God, toward the Divine Redeemer, whom it receives gladly and fully as the Savior of the soul, as the Sovereign of the life.
II. OUTWARD RECTITUDE. "I will cause you to walk in my statutes," etc. (ver. 27). The obedience which springs from mere dread of penalty is of very small account; but that which proceeds from a loyal and a loving heart is worth everything. The Divine Son, who was also a Servant, could say, "I delight to do thy will;... thy Law is within my heart." And when the new spirit or the new heart is within us, we can speak in the same strain. Our piety passes, with perfect naturalness, from the reverent thought to the right word; from the grateful feeling to the upright action, from the consecrated spirit to the devoted and useful life. We obey God's word because we honor himself; we keep the commandments of Christ because we love our Lord (John 14:15, 21, 23). If the Spirit of God be in us we shall bring forth the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23). Of the commandments of Christ, to which, by his own words or by those of his apostles, he has attached the greatest weight, as indispensable to the Christian life and as the condition of his acceptance, we must include purity, truthfulness, sobriety, honesty, reverence, love - the love which forbears, which pities, which succors in time of need.
III. HEAVENLY INTERCOURSE, (Ver. 28.) While still inhabitants of earth, our citizenship is to be in heaven (see Philippians 3:20). God is to be our God, and we are to be his people. All human and earthly relationships are to find their highest and best illustration in those which are "in the heavens," which are spiritual and eternal. Communion between ourselves and our Father in heaven is to be common and constant - a daily, an hourly incident through all our life and in all our circumstances and conditions. Far below and far above all other things, we are to be the children and the heirs of God, we are to be the servants of Jesus Christ, we are to bear witness to his truth, we are to promote the coming of his kingdom on the earth. - C.
I. SIN BLINDS MEN TO THEIR REAL CONDITION, AND FOSTERS UNDUE SELF-SATISFACTION. It is when men are offending most grievously that they are least sensible of their folly and guilt. They will not think, they will not suffer conscience to speak, they will not listen to any voice save the voice of passion and the voice of prejudice. They persuade themselves, and they allow themselves to be persuaded by others, that they are not to blame in following the dictates of "nature," in conforming to the usages of "society."
II. GOD'S CHASTISEMENTS AND GOD'S MERCIES AWAKEN MEN TO REFLECTION AND TO SELF-KNOWLEDGE. Israel came to herself when she had passed through the discipline of defeat, of captivity, of national humiliation. This was needed in order to open the eyes which were blind to her own state. Yet even this was not sufficient. Restoration and favor melted the heart to penitence and to gratitude. Sensible of God's mercies, she became sensible to her own faults. And it has often been observed that, after forgiveness has been obtained and reconciliation has been experienced, after Divine kindness has made its appeal to the better nature, then men's minds become alive to the magnitude and inexcusableness of the transgressions which have been committed. In the light of God's forbearance and loving-kindness, sin is seen to be what it really is.
III. SELF-KNOWLEDGE, BY REVEALING INIQUITY IN ITS TRUE LIGHT, LEADS TO SELF-LOATHING. Israel, remembering her evil ways, loathed herself in her own sight for her iniquities and for her abominations. Now that she was restored to her own territory, now that she entered again upon the enjoyments and privileges of her national life, she reflected upon her past. The guilt and folly of her idolatry, her unfaithfulness to Jehovah, her sensuality and pride, were apparent to her conscience. She saw herself in some measure as her God saw her. And at the sight she was filled with remorse and with self-loathing. What Christian is there who has not passed through an experience somewhat similar to this? There are times when we are comparatively insensible to the blemishes and imperfections of our own character. And there are times when God's mercy in Christ comes home to our hearts; and then we feel that to such a Being, who has so dealt with us, our sin must indeed be distressing and offensive, and we hate ourselves because we are not more what he would have us to be.
IV. THUS SELF-KNOWLEDGE LEADS TO REPENTANCE AND TO A BETTER LIFE. To repent of sin is to aspire after holiness. It is well that we should have a conscience of sin; but it is not well to rest in this. This should lead us to desire both to escape and to conquer sin in the future, and to resolve, by God's grace, that there shall not in that future be the same reason for self-reproach as in the past. Thus the pardon of sin and the victory over sin are made, by the appointment of Divine wisdom, the means of progress in the spiritual life towards moral perfection. Explain the mystery of sin, we cannot. But we are at liberty to remark how, in Christian experience, even the prevalence of sin is made the occasion of the manifestation of God's grace to his people, and how in this manner evil, ever remaining evil, is overruled for good, To love God and to loathe the sinful self are very closely associated in the Christian experience. It is to be desired by all of us that we may not be the victims of self-delusion; that we may see and feel our sin, our need of a Savior; that all the motives of the gospel may be brought to bear upon our nature, with a view to our swifter progress in the Divine and holy life. - T.
I. GOD'S GIFTS ARE BESTOWED IN A DEFINITE ORDER. "Order is heaven's first law." In nature and in human nature, God works from the center outwards. Jerusalem was such a center. The home is a center. Man's soul is a center - a center for himself, his family, his fortunes, his contemporary society.
1. Soul-cleansing is the root-blessing. This embraces cleansing from the love of sin, the power of sin, the stain and curse of sin. The animal part of our nature is kept in subjection to the spiritual. The old fountain of evil is cleansed. The real man no longer lives in the cellar and scullery of his nature; he prefers now to live and move in the capacious rooms above - in the great halls of reason and conscience.
2. A better social life. They "shall dwell in the cities." It is easier to live a godly life in a garden than in a city, but that sequestered life would be narrow and poor and weak. In the city temptations and hindrances abound; and he who surmounts them is raised into a higher plane of life. Men of pure and lofty tastes constitute a society that is fruitful in goodness. They shall be cemented in strong and vital ties for mutual security and mutual help.
3. Agricultural fertility. The Jews were devoted to the pursuits of husbandry; hence fertility in the field was their greatest earthly prosperity. This fertility would be the more highly prized because of its contrast with recent desolation. That which had been like a desert was to be prolific and beauteous as the virgin soil of Eden. The last vestige of the curse was to vanish. With the smallest measure of labor shall come the largest measure of increase.
4. Growing population. An unmistakable mark of national prosperity is increase of men. The stalwart and athletic youth would not be slain on the battle-plain, nor decimated by pestilence, nor destroyed by ruinous vice. Just as the streets of Jerusalem were crowded with flocks in the time of the Passover, brought thither for the Paschal feast, so should the towns and villages teem with hale and sinewy men. "I will increase them with men like a flock."
5. Renown among the neighboring nations. "The heathen shall know" that Jehovah is the real Source of prosperity. They had learnt to think of him as an austere Ruler, or as indifferent respecting his people's weal. Truer thoughts of God and of God's goodness shall displace the old ideas. They shall understand God's high designs, and shall admire and praise. To serve such a God will be counted true honor.
II. GOD'S GIFTS ARE PLEDGED BY AN INFALLIBLE PROMISE. The advantages of making this prosperity a matter of promise was manifold.
1. It would sustain their hope. In their exiled state, they were in danger of yielding to sullen despair. Adversity had demoralized them. They had well-nigh lost heart.
2. It would encourage wise effort. The bright prospect of a golden age would stimulate them to exertion. They could the better bear the ills of banishment when they knew these were only for a time. They would more bravely face the toils of another journey homeward when they knew what splendid prosperity was guaranteed.
3. It would more clearly unfold God's moral intention in their adversity. That defeat and its consequent hardships were no mere caprices on God's part. Nor had he wholly abandoned them. The judgment, though severe, was disciplinary. It was moral medicine, destined to produce better health. Hence a window was opened through which they gained an insight into God's heart.
4. The promise gave them a grasp upon God. They well knew his faithfulness. No word of his had ever failed, nor ever would. If he had fulfilled his threats of evil, much more would he fulfill his promises of good.
III. GOD'S GIFTS ARE SUSPENDED UPON HUMAN PRAYER.
1. This was an honor conferred upon men. God takes imperfect men into partnership with himself. Great though his power may be, he loves to ally himself with men, so that he may inspire them with a sacred ambition, and lift them to a higher level of life. He would have us to feel a responsibility respecting the welfare of mankind. This expands both mind and heart.
2. Prayer itself is salutary. No other occupation of the human mind is so salutary. There is hope for the lowest sunk, if he has begun to pray. Prayer generates humility. It dissolves self-trust and fosters trust in God. It enhances the value of God's gifts if we have to ask for them. Prayer serves to purify and elevate the nobler emotions. It brings our wills into submission to the Eternal Will.
3. The most successful prayer is united prayer. The request must be made "by the house of Israel." This union of hearts in prayer promotes sympathy, brotherly love, concord, cooperation. Social piety is fostered. The whole people is prepared for the blessing. The furrows are opened to receive the heavenly rain. This announcement forecasts that of the New Testament - that if "two shall agree on earth as touching anything they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven." - D.
I. SPIRITUAL STABILITY. "I will cause you to dwell in the cities (ver. 33). They were not to be as travelers who are always moving, sleeping beneath the trees or the stars, or as men, that pitch their tents for a few days and pass on; they should dwell in the cities. It is one sign of a healthy moral condition when we reach some permanency of principle and of feeling; when we are not "driven with the wind and tossed," but abide where we are, dwelling in the strong cities of assured conviction, of peace, of sacred joy, of blessed hope. It is the man who has learnt much of God and has attained to no small measure of heavenly wisdom whom we know where to find, on whose constancy we may depend, who is "steadfast and immovable."
II. FRUITFUL ENERGY. The wastes shall be builded, and the desolate land shall be tilled" (vers. 33, 34). Before the Churches of Christ there lie sad and desolate wastes - souls that are in ruins and urgently need to be restored; large stretches of manhood that are now uncultivated, but that would yield a very precious harvest if only the seed of heavenly truth were sown. The great work to which these Churches should have addressed themselves with utmost earnestness and zeal is the work of human restoration, of sacred culture. The fields lie fallow and are barren; the land is desolate; mankind is not yielding its fruit, though there are boundless capacities slumbering in the soil. But when the breath of Divine inspiration is felt by the Church, and the pulse of a Divine life is beating within it, then does it go forward in the fullness of its faithfulness and its pity, and the wastes are builded and the land is tilled.
III. IMPRESSIVENESS AND INFLUENCE. (Vers. 35, 36.) A Christian Church may not be composed of those whose outward behavior contrasts greatly with what it once was; for its members may be those who have "been with Christ from the beginning." Nevertheless, it ought to be a distinctively and unmistakably holy community; a society of men and women who are recognized by "all that pass by" as those that love righteousness and hate iniquity; as those that are seriously and earnestly endeavoring to translate the will of Christ into their daily and their public life; as those whose whole conduct is governed by Christian principle; as those who are intent upon the elevation of their country and of their race, whatever sacrifice of time, or money, or strength it may require to accomplish it. Then would the great Name of Jesus Christ be magnified, and men would know that he was the Lord, the Lord of all power and grace.
IV. PRAYERFULNESS. (Ver. 37.) God will have his children near to him in reverential and grateful thought, and he desires that they ask him for the help and the blessings they need at his hand. He will "be inquired of." As soon as we reach a point where we begin to think of independence, we are in spiritual danger. The wise, safe, prosperous condition, both of the individual and of the Church, is that of constant nearness to God and a deep sense of dependence upon him. The upward look and the earnest prayer become us well; and they not only become us, but they secure for us the responsive bounty and blessing of God. - C.
afterwards, it is affirmed that, for this blessing, God requires that his people should make supplication to him. The fact is that unless there be a basis for prayer in the explicit assurances of God, although it may be a natural and instinctive, it can hardly be a reasonable, exercise.
I. THE PROMISES OF GOD ARE AN ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE PRAYERS OF GOD'S PEOPLE. The fact that explicit promises have been given is a fact familiar to every reader of Scripture. These promises are numerous and repeated. They have respect to the varied wants of men, and accordingly are characterized by a wonderful and very precious variety. Blessings so valuable and so desirable may well be sought with earnestness and importunity.
II. THE PRAYERS OF GOD'S PEOPLE ARE THE CONDITION OF THE OBTAINING OF GOD'S BLESSING. This affirmation rests upon the plain declarations of God's Word. "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find." It rests also upon reason. The best gifts of God are of such a nature that they cannot be bestowed irrespectively of the moral condition, the spiritual attitude of the recipient. They are not material, they are not conferred as by mechanical, physical law. God opens the heart that it may receive the benefits he waits to bestow.
III. THE PRAYERS OF GOD'S PEOPLE ARE THE OCCASION OF GOD'S CARRYING OUT HIS PURPOSES OF MERCY. We have looked at the matter from the human side, but it must be regarded also from the Divine side. The All-wise himself propounds his own terms; he carries out his intentions of mercy in the way that seems good to him. "For this moreover will I be inquired of by the house of Israel, to do it for them." For reasons which are only very partially within our powers of comprehension, this is the ordinance, the arrangement of Jehovah himself. We may be content to understand that which is within our range, to trace the bearing of prayer upon our religious interests, and to learn from experience its reasonableness as respects ourselves. And we must, in childlike faith, accept upon God's authority what is beyond our limited powers with any completeness to comprehend.
IV. THE PRAYERS OF GOD'S PEOPLE ARE REQUIRED AND COMMANDED BY HIM WHO IS THE GIVER OF THE PROMISES. With one hand our Father in heaven offers the gifts; with the other hand he delivers to his Church his written and express command. "Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full;" "Pray without ceasing;" "If ye being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him!" - T.