Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. RETRIBUTION, THOUGH APPARENTLY TARDY, HAS ITS OWN SET TIME. For the most part it is not according to human expectation. "God seeth not as man seeth." A thousand things enter into God's calculation which do not enter into man's reckoning. The clock of heaven does not measure days and years; it measures events and necessities. The well being of other races has to be pondered beside the race of men. Very often the doom of the ungodly is a fixed and irreversible fact long before that doom is felt and endured. From that moment gracious help is withdrawn, and the doomed man becomes the victim of his folly. To God's eye, the end is seen long before it is seen by man. While he is yet promising himself much delight, lo! by an invisible thread the sword is suspended over his head.
II. RETRIBUTION IS NOT A HAPHAZARD ACCIDENT. It is the outcome of infallible wisdom and righteous deliberation. The Supreme Ruler of heaven says, "I send." As nothing is too great for his management, so nothing is too minute to engage his notice. He who nourishes myriads of myriads of blades of grass, and clothes the hills with majestic forests, counts every hair of our heads. Too often men are so stunned with the blow of retribution that they count themselves only the victims of a great catastrophe, and look on every side for sympathy. But when conscience awakes, and connects the calamity with previous sin, then at length - too late to avert the crushing evil - they confess that it is "the Lord that smiteth." "God is not mocked." The seed we sow today will bear its proper fruit tomorrow.
III. RETRIBUTION FROM GOD IS MOST EQUITABLE. There are no scales so delicately true as those in the bands of God. The judgment is precisely" according to thy ways." It is exact "recompense for all thine abominations." Often men are so blinded by the deceitfulness of sin that they do not perceive this. But when the transient pleasure of sin has ceased, men awake to the fact that the retribution is well deserved. This will be the keenest sting of the suffering - that it is a just desert. If men could only persuade themselves that they were unjustly treated, it would be an alleviation of the woe - it would be a sweet consolation in their misery. But such alleviation is denied them. Their own consciences will confirm the sentence, an l out of the dark abyss the cry will rise, "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints."
IV. RETRIBUTION, IS CLEARLY FORESEEN BY THE RIGHTEOUS. The unbeliever has no eye with which to see the kingdom of God. The organ of vision he has first blinded, then destroyed. So, too, he is blind to the significance of passing events. He does not perceive the moral aspect of things - does not see that God's hand is behind the smoke and din of war. But the man of God has learnt to see God in everything. In all the sunshine of life he sees God, whose presence gives a brighter lustre to all earthly joy. And in all the adversities of life he learns to see the rod and the hand that wields it. Standing by the side of God, and in full sympathy with him, Ezekiel saw clearly every minute detail of the retribution that was preparing, and, until the latest moment, implored them to escape. But he foresaw also that they would delude themselves to the very last - would buoy themselves with false hopes.
V. RETRIBUTION, WHEN IT COMES, IS MOST COMPLETE. On every side there is bitter disappointment. The earthly props on which men were wont to rely, fail them. All the bonds of society relax and dissolve. To resist invasion the summoning trumpet is blown; but, alas! none respond. Anarchy is everywhere. The day itself becomes night, and every fount of joy is poisoned. Amid previous corrections and afflictions there were many forms of gracious compensation - silver linings on the black cloud. But no relief comes now. There is defeat and disaster on every side. Weeping endures through a long night, without any prospect of joy in the morning. It is darkness without a beam of light, despair without a vestige of hope. Not even shall there be the sweet relief of tears; for the hearts of men have been rendered insensible by the cursed power of sin. They are at length "past feeling" - incapable of repentance. "Neither shall there be any wailing for them." it is abasement the most profound. The first has become the last.
VI. THIS RETRIBUTION IS THE NATURAL FRUITAGE OF SIN. Our wise and gracious God has constructed his universe on this principle, that every form of rebellion shall bear in itself the seed of penalty. The pivot on which everything turns is righteousness. There is no occasion for God to issue any code of penalties commensurate with acts of transgression. Sin and punishment are one and the selfsame thing. Retribution is simply full-grown sin. It is often sweet in the bud, but the ripened fruit is bitterness absolute. As gunpowder is, in its nature, explosive, so that it is madness to set alight to it and expect it not to explode; so sin is, in its very nature, destructive, and can lead to nothing else than destruction. Love cements and unites; transgression dissolves and separates. And separation from God is ruin. Where God is, there is life; where God is not, there is death. Where God is, there is heaven; where God is not, there is blackest hell. - D.
I. THAT THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED, THOUGH LONG DELAYED, IS CERTAIN, UNLESS IT BE AVERTED BY THEIR REPENTANCE. "Thus saith the Lord God unto the land of Israel; An end, the end is come upon the four corners of the land. Now is the end come upon thee." The land is looked upon as a garment, and by the end coming upon the four corners thereof the prophet indicates the fact that the approaching judgment will cover the entire country. The punishment of their sins had been repeatedly and solemnly announced to the Israelites; and they had disregarded the announcement, and persisted in their sinful ways; and now "the end" was at hand. They would not consider that end while there was hope for them; and now the execution of the Divine judgment cast its dark shadow across their path (cf. Lamentations 1:9). The delay in the infliction of the punishment of sin is sometimes construed as an assurance that it will never be inflicted. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." Perilous and, if persisted in, fatal mistake! If in the time during which punishment is held back the wicked do not truly repent, that punishment will be all the more terrible when it comes (cf. Romans 2:4-11). The holiness of God arrays him in resolute antagonism against sin.
II. THAT THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED PROCEEDS FROM THE LORD GOD. "I will send mine anger upon thee, and will judge thee according to thy ways," etc. The Chaldeans were as a weapon in the hand of the Almighty for inflicting deserved punishment upon Israel. (We have noticed this point in our homily on Ezekiel 5:5-17.) When the stroke had fallen it was looked upon as having come from the hand of the Most High (cf. Lamentations 1:14, 15; Lamentations 2:1-9, 17). All persons and all powers are at God's disposal, and can be employed by him for the execution of his judgments. Very impressively is this illustrated in the plagues and calamities with which he visited Egypt by the hand of Moses.
III. THAT THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED BEARS EXACT RELATIONS TO THEIR SINS.
1. Their sins are the cause of their punishment. "I will judge thee according to thy ways." They had brought upon themselves the severe impending judgments. They could not truthfully charge the Lord with injustice or harshness in thus visiting them, for their punishment was the just consequence of their sins. "Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" With frequent reiteration Ezekiel declares that their sins have evoked their sufferings. With pathetic sorrow Jeremiah acknowledges the same truth (Lamentations 1:8, 9, 18; Lamentations 3:42; Lamentations 4:13, 14). And it is ever true that the sins of men are the reasons of the judgments of God.
2. Their sins are the measure of their punishment. "I will judge thee according to thy ways, and will recompense upon thee all thine abominations." Their sins were persistent, and were aggravated by many advantages and privileges conferred upon them; therefore their punishment was terrible in its severity. In the distribution of the Divine judgments a strict proportion is observed between the guilt and the penalty of sin. God inflicts his judgments equitably (cf. Luke 12:47, 48).
3. Their sins determine the character of their punishment. "I will recompense thy ways upon thee, and thine abominations shall be in the midst of thee," i.e. in their dire consequences. According to the order which God has established, the punishment grows out of the sin. Punishment is "ripened sin." "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," etc. Sin, says Hengstenberg, "has an active and a passive history. When the latter begins, that which was before the object of gratification becomes the object of terror." "Let the sinner know that he binds for himself the rod which will smite him." "His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins."
IV. THAT THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED WILL BE INFLEXIBLY EXECUTED. "And mine eye shall not spare thee, neither will I have pity." The holy Scriptures magnify the mercy of God - its infinity, its perpetuity, its tenderness, and his delight in it. And sometimes the wicked have drawn from these representations the unwarrantable conclusion that he is so merciful as to be devoid of justice, so gentle as to be incapable of anger. But "our God is a consuming Fire." He will be as firm in the punishment of the persistently wicked as he is gracious in pardoning the penitent.. He who mercifully spared repentant Nineveh ruthlessly destroyed incorrigible Sodom and Gomorrah.
V. THAT THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED WITNESSES TO THE DIVINE EXISTENCE AND SUPREMACY. "And ye shall know that I am the Lord." (We have dealt with these words as they occur in ch. 6:7, 10.) "Every one must know the Lord in the end, if not as One that calls, allures, blesses, then as One that smites, is angry, punishes" (Schroder). Be it ours to know him as the God of all grace, and to obey and serve him with loyal hearts and devoted lives. - W.J.
I. RECOMPENSE IMPLIES A FREE AND RESPONSIBLE NATURE ON THE PART OF MAN. There can be no recompense where there is no accountability; and there can be no accountability where there is no intelligence, no freedom. Natural objects, Kant tells us, act according to laws; spiritual beings, according to representation of laws. Man is capable of apprehending and approving moral ordinances prescribed for his guidance and control; he can recognize moral authority. And he is distinguished from unintelligent and involuntary natures in that he can obey or disobey the laws which he apprehends. If this were not so, consequences might indeed ensue from action; but recompense would be an impossibility.
II. RECOMPENSE PRESUMES THAT THERE IS ON THE PART OF GOD NO INDIFFERENCE, BUT DEEP CONCERN, WITH REGARD TO MAN'S MORAL CHARACTER AND CONDUCT. If We think chiefly of law, or uniformity of action, we cannot but remember that law does not account for itself; if we think of the Lawgiver, we are constrained to recognize purpose in all his proceedings and provisions. It cannot be imagined that the great Ruler of all inflicts suffering for any delight in seeing his creatures suffer, or even that he regards their sufferings with perfect indifference. There must be a governmental, a moral end to be secured. The Lawgiver and Judge has what, in the case of a man, we should call a deep interest in the condition and action of the children of men.
III. RECOMPENSE IMPLIES THE POSSESSION BY THE SUPREME GOVERNOR OF THE ATTRIBUTES WHICH QUALIFY FOR THE EXERCISE OF JUDICIAL FUNCTIONS. None but an omniscient Ruler can be acquainted with all the secret springs of action, as well as with all the varied circumstances of life; yet without such knowledge, how can recompense be other than imperfect and uncertain? None but a perfectly impartial Ruler can administer justice which shall be undisputed and indisputable: who but God is stainlessly and conspicuously just? All earthly retribution is open to suspicion, for the simple reason that every human judge acts upon partial knowledge, and is liable to be influenced by prejudice. But as from the Divine tribunal there is no appeal, so with the Divine decisions can no fault be found. The Judge of all the earth will surely and in every case do right.
IV. RECOMPENSE AS A PRACTICAL PRINCIPLE OPERATING IN HIS LIFE WAS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE HISTORY OF THE CHOSEN PEOPLE. The Old Testament has been written to little purpose for those who do not recognize the action of retributive Providence; the narrative would be meaningless apart from this moral significance. The position of Ezekiel compelled him to trace the hand of God in the life and fortunes of his nation. For the Captivity in the East was an unmistakable instance of God's judicial interposition. And if this was the most striking instance, others occur in abundance, witnessing to the fact that this earthly state is a scene of moral government, incomplete, indeed, yet not to be denied as real.
V. RECOMPENSE IS A PRINCIPLE OF UNIVERSAL PREVALENCE IN GOD'S ADMINISTRATION OF THE AFFAIRS OF MANKIND. Doubtless the history of the children of Israel is intended to teach, among other lessons, in a very especial manner, the lesson of Divine government and human responsibility. Not only is the story told, but its moral significance is expressly.set forth. Yet the great principles which are explicit in Old Testament history are Implied in all history - in the history of every nation which exists upon earth. Go where we may, we do not and cannot go beyond the sphere of Divine retribution. Everywhere "the way of transgressors is hard," and "the wages of sin is death."
VI. RECOMPENSE IS A PRINCIPLE OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT WHICH, WHEN ITS ENDS ARE ANSWERED, ADMITS OF BEING TEMPERED WITH MERCY. It is observable that, in the prophetic writings, we find no unqualified denunciation. Threats of severe punishment are met with; but they are followed by offers of mercy and promises of pardon to the penitent. The gates of hope are not closed upon the sinner. And if the most complete and glorious manifestation of God's character is to be found in the gospel of Christ, it must be remembered that, whilst that gospel was occasioned by man's ruin by sin and his liability to punishment, it was intended to secure man's salvation and deliverance "from the wrath to come." - T.
I. THE DELIBERATION WITH WHICH THE EXECUTION OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS IS PREPARED. "The rod hath blossomed, pride hath budded. Violence is risen up into a rod of wickedness." The rod is the emblem of power to execute the judgment; and pride, of disposition to execute it. Nebuchadnezzar the Chaldean monarch is thus indicated. And the text suggests that his power had long been in preparation for the stern work which he was about to do, and that now it was in readiness for it, like a rod which has been planted, taken root, and grown into vigorous development. "It illustrates," says Kitto, "the Lord's deliberateness in executing his judgments, as contrasted with man's haste, impatience, and precipitancy. Man, so liable to err in judgment and action and to whom, slow deliberation in inflicting punishment upon transgressors might seem naturally to result from his own consciousness of weakness, is in haste to judge and prompt to act; whereas he who cannot err, and whose immediate action must be as true and right as his most delayed procedure, works not after the common manner of men, but after the manner of a husbandman in sowing and planting. When the sin comes to that state, which must in the end render judgment needful for the maintenance of righteousness upon the earth, and for the vindication of the Lord's justice and honour, the rod of punishment is planted; it grows as the sin grows; and it attains its maturity for action at the exact time that the iniquity reaches maturity for punishment. When Israel entered upon that course of sin which ended in ruin, the rod of the Babylonian power was planted; and as the iniquities of Israel increased, the rod went on growing, until, under Nebuchadnezzar, it became a great tree, overshadowing the nations; and when the full term was come, it was ripe and ready for the infliction upon Israel of the judgments which had so often been denounced, and were so greatly needed" ('Daily Bible Illustrations'). This principle of the Divine action in human history may be traced in the relation of the Israelites to the ancient Canaanites. And in the Babylonian power it receives twofold illustration. One of these we have in the text, where Babylon is the rod of judgment for Israel. And afterwards Babylon itself was smitten by the rod of the Medo-Persian power, which had been gradually growing into maturity and strength. And the same principle is in operation today in relation both to nations and to individuals. If by either sin be persisted in, the rod of God's judgment for that sin will be planted, and when it has grown into power, God will sorely smite the nation or the individual with it. What the poet says of nature we may say of God.
"Nature has her laws
II. THE SUDDENNESS WITH WHICH THE EXECUTION OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS TAKES PLACE. "An end is come, the end is come: it watcheth for thee; behold, it is come." Instead of "it watcheth for thee," the Hebrew is, as in the margin, "it awaketh against thee." The end which had long seemed to sleep, now awakes and comes; it comes in sharp judgments. "The repetition indicates the certainty, the greatness, and the swiftness" of the approaching end. The judgment which had so long and frequently been announced to Israel, would come upon them at last suddenly and unexpectedly. That which seemed to sleep, awakes, arises, and draws near, to their confusion and dismay. How often do the judgments of God come unexpectedly, and with a great shock of surprise! Thus came the Deluge upon the old world, and the fiery flood upon the cities of the plain (Matthew 24:38, 39; Luke 17:26-29). Thus came the awful summons to the fool in the midst of his temporal prosperity and spiritual destitution (Luke 12:16-20). And so will come the last, the great day of judgment. "The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night," etc. (2 Peter 3:10). Although the wicked may persuade themselves that the Divine retribution lingers and slumbers, it is ever awake and active, and, unless they repent, it shall come upon them in "swift destruction."
III. THE TRANSFORMATION WHICH THE EXECUTION OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS PRODUCES. "The time is come, the day of trouble is near, and not the sounding again of the mountains." Schroder translates more correctly, "The day is near, tumult, and not joyous shouting upon the mountains." Upon some of their hills the Israelites planted vines, and in the time of the gathering of the vintage the labourers made the hills to echo with shouts and songs of gladness (cf. Isaiah 16:10). Perhaps the prophet refers to this in the text. Or the reference may be to the altars which were upon the mountains (Ezekiel 6:3, 13; Jeremiah 3:21, 23), and from which the shouts and songs of revelling worshippers echoed far and wide. And instead of these shouts of joy there should arise the wild tumult of war, and the lamentable cries of the distressed, imploring succour or seeking deliverance. Terrible are the transformations wrought by the judgments of the Most High. The selfish rich man passed from his luxurious home, his purple and fine linen, and his sumptuous fare, "and in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments," and was unable to obtain even a drop of water to cool his patched tongue. Blessed are they who, through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, are delivered from condemnation, and made heirs of eternal life. - W.J.
I. THAT CIRCUMSTANCES MAY ARISE REDUCING THE VALUE OF RICHES UNTIL THEY ARE ALMOST WORTHLESS. "Let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn: for wrath is upon all the multitude thereof. For the seller shall not return to that which is sold, although they were yet alive: for the vision is touching the whole multitude thereof; he shall not return." The reference seems to be to a compulsory sale of their estates by the Jews at the time of the troubles now impending. As the 'Speaker's Commentary' points out, "it was grievous for an Israelite to part with his land. But now the seller need not mourn his loss, nor the buyer exult in his gain. A common ruin should carry both away; the buyer should not take possession, nor should the seller return to profit by the buyer's absence. Should he live, it will be in exile. All should live the pitiful lives of strangers in another country." The sad changes about to transpire would so depreciate the value of the commodity sold, that the seller need not mourn over a bad bargain, or the buyer rejoice over a good one. Circumstances and events producing similar effects frequently arise, and will readily occur to every one upon reflection. The commercial value of properties and possessions fluctuates; and that to which a man may be looking confidently for the means of subsistence may become almost or altogether worthless. There is no absolute and permanent value in the riches of this world.
II. THAT THERE ARE EVILS IN LIFE FROM WHICH RICHES ARE UTTERLY POWERLESS TO DELIVER THEIR POSSESSORS. (Ver. 19.) Notice:
1. Their inability to satisfy their souls. "They shall not satisfy their souls." Schroder interprets this that their silver and gold were aesthetically worthless to the Israelites in the day of their calamity; they were not able to minister to their taste or promote their enjoyment in their season of bitter woe. It is true that in the day of sore distress all that can be bought with money will not afford relief. AEsthetic gratifications - pictures and statues, poetry and music - cannot adequately minister to the soul in its deepest sorrows. But may we not discover in the words a deeper meaning? Gold and silver cannot supply the soul's greatest needs, or satisfy its most importunate cravings. The gifts of God cannot be purchased with money.
2. Their inability, in certain circumstances, to procure even the necessaries of bodily life. "They shall... neither fill their bowels." When no food was left in the beleaguered city, the Israelites could not appease, or even mitigate, their hunger with their riches. I have read of an Arab who lost his way in the desert, and was in danger of dying from hunger. At last he found one of the cisterns out of which the camels drink, and a little leathern bag near it. "God be thanked!" he exclaimed. "Here are some dates or nuts; let me refresh myself." He opened the bag, but only to turn away in sad disappointment. The bag contained pearls. And of what value were they to one who, like Esau, was "at the point to die"?
3. Their inability to deliver from the retributions of the Divine government. "Their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord" (cf. Zephaniah 1:18). Riches can neither set a man so high that God's judgments cannot reach him. nor surround him with such panoply that God's arrows cannot pierce through it. We have striking illustrations of this in the cases of two rich men of whom our Lord spake (Luke 12:16-20; Luke 16:19-31). And there are some of the ordinary afflictions and sorrows of this life from which we can secure neither immunity nor deliverance by means of riches. "A golden crown cannot cure the headache, nor a velvet slipper give ease of the gout, nor a purple robe flay away a burning fever." All the royal wealth of King David could not ward off death from one of his children (2 Samuel 12:15-18), or exempt him from the heartbreaking treachery and rebellion of another (2 Samuel 15.).
III. THAT CERTAIN EVILS OF LIFE ARE AGGRAVATED BY THE POSSESSION OF RICHES. In circumstances like those indicated by the prophet riches are calculated to increase the evils in two ways.
1. They may endanger life by enkindling the cupidity of enemies. Greedy of booty, the invaders of Jerusalem would be likely to direct their unwelcome attentions to the rich, and not to the poor. As Matthew Henry quaintly observes, "It would be a temptation to the enemy to cut their throats for their money." Hence Ezekiel says, "They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed," or "shall be as filth." They would cast it away as an unclean thing, because their life was imperilled by it.
2. They may endanger life by hindering flight from enemies. Riches would be an encumbrance to those Israelites who sought to escape from the Chaldean soldiery by flight, and would retard their progress. Therefore, to be more free and swift in their movements, "they shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be as filth." How many human lives have been lost in the attempt to save riches! When the steamer Washington was burnt, one of the passengers, on the first alarm of fire, ran to his trunk, and took from it a large amount of gold and silver coin, and, loading his pockets, ran to the deck and jumped overboard. As a necessary consequence, he went down immediately. His riches were his ruin.
IV. THAT RICHES MAY BE THE OCCASION OF SIN. "Because it is the stumbling block of their iniquity." Their silver and gold had been the occasion of sin to the Israelites, especially in the manufacture of idols. "Of their silver and their gold have they made them idols" (Hosea 8:4). And there are many in our age and country to whom riches are an occasion of sin; they set their affections upon them, they repose their confidence in them. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" etc. (Luke 18:24, 25). "The deceitfulness of riches chokes the word" of the kingdom. "They that will be rich tall into temptation and a snare," etc. (1 Timothy 6:9, 10, 17-19).
1. Let us endeavour to form a true estimate of riches.
2. If we possess them, let us use our riches, not as the proprietors, but as the stewards thereof, who will one day be called by the great Owner to render the account of oar stewardship. - W.J.
Ezekiel 7:13Ezekiel 7:13 (last clause).
The impossibility of becoming truly strong in a life of sin. Neither shall any strengthen himself in the iniquity of his life. This clause has been variously rendered and interpreted. Fairbairn translates, "No one by his iniquity shall invigorate his life." Schroder, "Nor shall they - in his iniquity is every one's life - show themselves strong." And the 'Speaker's Commentary.' "And, every man living in his iniquity, they shall gather no strength." The meaning seems to be - Let no one think that in these impending judgments he can invigorate himself in "his iniquity; from such a source no such strengthening or invigoration of life can be derived; on the contrary, it is this very iniquity which is bringing all to desolation and ruin." Two observations are authorized by the text.
I. THAT WICKED MEN SOMETIMES ENDEAVOUR TO STRENGTHEN THEMSELVES IN THEIR INIQUITY. This is frequently and variously done. Take a few common examples of it. The dishonest bank manager or bookkeeper attempts to hide his defalcations by manipulating the accounts, making false entries in them, etc. Many try to conceal vice or crime by falsehood, as did Gehazi the servant of Elisha (2 Kings 5:20-27). A man who has got into monetary difficulties through betting or gambling seeks to escape from them by theft or forgery. Or a man has been in a position of privilege or power, and by reason of his own misdoing be is losing that position, but be seeks to retain it by further wrong doing. When Saul, the King of Israel, realized that the kingdom would not descend to his heirs, and saw his own popularity waning and David's growing, he endeavoured to secure the kingdom to his family by repeated attempts to kill David. Or when a person has obtained riches or power by fraud, oppression, or cruelty, and finding that possession failing him, he seeks to retain it firmly by perpetrating other crimes. The Macbeth of Shakespeare is a striking illustration of this. When he feels himself insecure on the throne which he had committed murder to obtain, he says to Lady Macbeth, the daring partner of his dread guilt -
"Things bad begun, make strong themselves by ill." And later, when he had incurred the guilt of another murder, and was tormented by terrible fears, he says to her - "For mine own good. II. THESE EFFORTS TO STRENGTHEN THEMSELVES IN THEIR INIQUITY MUST INEVITABLY END IN FAILURE. Let us try to show this. We have seen that men try to strengthen themselves in iniquity by means of falsehood. But falsehood is opposed to the reality of things, and by its very nature cannot give lasting strength or security to any one. Carlyle says forcibly, "No lie you can speak or act, but it will come, after longer or shorter circulation, like a bill drawn on nature's reality, and be presented then for payment, with the answer - No effects. Again, For if there be a Faith from of old, it is this, as we often repeat, that no Lie can live forever .... All Lies have sentence of death written down against them in Heaven's chancery itself; and, slowly or fast, advance incessantly towards their hour." "The lip of truth shall be established forever; but a lying tongue is but for a moment." "He that speaketh lies shall perish." And turning from falsehood in particular to sin in general, iniquity, so tar from invigorating man, by its essential nature strips him of strength and courage. Thus the guilty and aforetime brave Macbeth cries - "How is't with me when every noise appals me?" And elsewhere, Shakespeare says truly - "Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind; "From the body of one guilty deed "What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted?
"For mine own good. II. THESE EFFORTS TO STRENGTHEN THEMSELVES IN THEIR INIQUITY MUST INEVITABLY END IN FAILURE. Let us try to show this. We have seen that men try to strengthen themselves in iniquity by means of falsehood. But falsehood is opposed to the reality of things, and by its very nature cannot give lasting strength or security to any one. Carlyle says forcibly, "No lie you can speak or act, but it will come, after longer or shorter circulation, like a bill drawn on nature's reality, and be presented then for payment, with the answer - No effects. Again, For if there be a Faith from of old, it is this, as we often repeat, that no Lie can live forever .... All Lies have sentence of death written down against them in Heaven's chancery itself; and, slowly or fast, advance incessantly towards their hour." "The lip of truth shall be established forever; but a lying tongue is but for a moment." "He that speaketh lies shall perish." And turning from falsehood in particular to sin in general, iniquity, so tar from invigorating man, by its essential nature strips him of strength and courage. Thus the guilty and aforetime brave Macbeth cries - "How is't with me when every noise appals me?" And elsewhere, Shakespeare says truly - "Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind; "From the body of one guilty deed "What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted?
II. THESE EFFORTS TO STRENGTHEN THEMSELVES IN THEIR INIQUITY MUST INEVITABLY END IN FAILURE. Let us try to show this. We have seen that men try to strengthen themselves in iniquity by means of falsehood. But falsehood is opposed to the reality of things, and by its very nature cannot give lasting strength or security to any one. Carlyle says forcibly, "No lie you can speak or act, but it will come, after longer or shorter circulation, like a bill drawn on nature's reality, and be presented then for payment, with the answer - No effects. Again, For if there be a Faith from of old, it is this, as we often repeat, that no Lie can live forever .... All Lies have sentence of death written down against them in Heaven's chancery itself; and, slowly or fast, advance incessantly towards their hour." "The lip of truth shall be established forever; but a lying tongue is but for a moment." "He that speaketh lies shall perish." And turning from falsehood in particular to sin in general, iniquity, so tar from invigorating man, by its essential nature strips him of strength and courage. Thus the guilty and aforetime brave Macbeth cries -
"How is't with me when every noise appals me?" And elsewhere, Shakespeare says truly - "Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind; "From the body of one guilty deed "What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted?
I. THERE IS ABUNDANT OCCASION FOR MOURNING ON THE PART OF THOSE WHO HAVE SINNED AND WHO ENDURE THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN.
II. IT IS ONLY A NATURE IN SOME MEASURE SENSITIVE AND SUSCEPTIBLE OF BETTER FEELING WHICH IS CAPABLE OF MOURNING. How truly has it been said that "the worst of feeling is to feel all feeling die"! "They that lack time to mourn lack time to mend."
III. MOURNING FOR SIN IS MINGLED WITH SELF-REPROACH AND HORROR. They who mourn because they have lost what was precious to them, especially because they have been bereaved of such as they held dear, may mourn tranquilly and holily, and with a patient submission to the will of God. but they who "mourn, every one for his iniquity," cannot but feel conscience stricken because of their personal participation in sin, and their personal guilt for sin; they cannot but accuse themselves, and pass judgment, as it were, upon their own wrong doing and folly.
IV. SUCH MOURNING IS AGGRAVATED BY THE NUMBER OF THOSE PARTICIPATING IN IT. The prophet compares the conscience stricken remnant, distressed and weeping because of their own and their nation's iniquities, to a flight of doves uttering their doleful lamentations. It is no exceptional, singular case; multitudes are involved in the common fate, the common trouble. The feeling is heightened by sympathy. When all heads are bowed in confession, when the utterance of contrition rises from many afflicted hearts, when a contagion of sorrow and distress passes through a vast congregation of humble and penitent worshippers, each is the better able to realize his own and the common distress, and to unburden the over-laden heart.
V. SINCERE MOURNING MAY LEAD TO TRUE REPENTANCE, AND MAY ISSUE IN NEWNESS or LEFT. There is a "godly sorrow which worketh repentance" - a sorrow which is not only or chiefly because of the painful results of sin, but because of the very evil itself which is in sin, and because it is an offence against a forbearing and gracious God. Where such sorrow is, there can be no despair. The rainbow of hope spans the cloud, dark and heavy though it be. - T.
I. THEIR MISERY. They may escape, for a moment, sword wounds and bodily captivity; yet they have not escaped from inward distress and wretchedness. Exposure to hunger and cold and nakedness on the mountains is scarcely to be preferred to violent death. God, the real Avenger, has smitten them in their flight. Their senseless cowardice has added to their pain. Even though they live, they are dishonoured among men. The heathen nations will point at them with a finger of scorn. The common moralities of men reflect, though it be feebly, the just displeasure of God. Honour is lost, though life is yet continued.
II. THEIR REMORSE. Tears are on all faces, and sorrow is an occupant of every breast. Yet it is a selfish sorrow, which bears the fruit of death. It is not repentance, it is only remorse. Had this sorrow earlier come, and had it sprung from a better motive, it would have availed to deliver them. They mourn, not because they have sinned, but because their sin has been found out. When retribution comes, repentance is impossible.
III. THE COLLAPSE OF FALSE TRUST. In the day of their prosperity they had made their riches their trust. They reposed their faith in idols of silver instead of the living God. For gold they imagined they could hire mercenaries or buy the favour of kings. Such wealth as theirs seemed to them an impregnable security. They could make gates of brass and towers of iron. Yet how sudden and how complete was the collapse of their proud hope! Their gold, instead of a protection, became a snare. It attracted the cupidity of their foes. As hounds scent the prey, so foreign soldiers scented from afar Israel's riches. The gold and silver lavished on Jehovah's temple drew, like a magnet, the avarice of the Babylonian king! To rely on material possessions is to rely on a broken reed - is to slumber on the edge of a volcano.
IV. THEIR RELIGIOUS DEGRADATION. Their temple had been their pride; now it shall be their shame. They had gloried in its external beauty, and had forgotten that the Lord of the temple is greater than the building. They had neglected the spirituality of worship, and had profaned the holy place with human inventions and with idolatrous symbols. In their folly they had deemed it politic to set up, side by side with Jehovah, the shrines of other deities. But their policy was rotten. It was based on atheistic selfishness. And new the profanation they had commenced shall be completed by their foes. They had admitted a trickling stream of idolatry into the temple; now it shall become a flood. Thus God makes our sins to become our punishments; at length they sting like hornets, they bite like adders. Once our sin lasted like a sweet morsel; when once in the veins it works like poison. Rebellion is but a seed, of which retribution is the rife fruit.
V. THE CLIMAX OF DISASTER IS GOD'S DEPAPRTURE. "My face will I turn also from them." This is the crowning disaster, the bitter dregs of misery, the knell of doom. If, in our hour of crushing affliction, God would turn towards us as a Friend, the wheel of ill fortune would be reversed; all loss would be recovered. If he would only move upon our hearts with his mighty grace, and reduce our self-will and pride, disaster would be changed into dowry, night into day. The hurtling clouds would burst into showers of blessing. But when God departs, the last ray of hope departs, and man's prospects set in blackest night. - D.
I. THE WEALTHY ARE USUALLY PRONE TO PLACE TOO GREAT RELIANCE UPON THEIR RICHES. Money can purchase many things, and it is not surprising that the rich should have a latent belief that it can procure for them everything that they may need.
II. THE VANITY OF SUCH RESOURCES BECOMES MANIFEST EVEN IN ORDINARY EARTHLY CALAMITIES. In sickness, in sorrow of heart, in many calamities, especially in distressing bereavement, the powerlessness of wealth to deliver or to aid is made painfully apparent. In how many circumstances are the rich and the poor almost upon a level! How often would the wealthy be glad to exchange their riches for the poor man's poverty, might they enjoy the poor man's health!
III. SUCH POWERLESSNESS IS YET MORE EVIDENT IN THE PRESENCE OF SUCH CALAMITIES AS ARE THE SIGN OF DIVINE DISPLEASURE. Judah was fated to experience the catastrophe designated by the prophet as "the day of the wrath of the Lord." This awful expression conveys a distinct declaration concerning the Divine government, concerning human responsibility for rebellion and defection. From this wrath no worldly agency could possibly deliver. In the day when the Eternal enters into judgment with the sons of men, earth can offer no immunity, no protection. Release, exemption from righteous judgment can be purchased by no treasures, no gifts, no sacrifice.
IV. WEALTH, WHEN ABUSED, MAY EVEN BE A DISADVANTAGE AND HINDRANCE TO ITS POSSESSOR. In a shipwreck, in a fire, in flight from a besieged or captured city, men have been known, by clutching their gold and burdening themselves with its weight, to lose their chance of escape, and consequently miserably to perish. Their wealth has been their stumbling block. Such action and such a fate are a picture, a figure, of the conduct and the doom of not a few. They trust in uncertain riches instead of trusting in the living God. They make an idol of their possessions. That which they might have used for good ends they misuse to their own destruction.
V. HENCE APPEARS THE REASONABLENESS, THE WISDOM, OF SEEKING BETTER RESOURCES AND MAKING BETTER PROVISION FOR THE DAY OF TRIAL. Silver and gold must fail their possessor; the time must come when they will be cast aside. But there are true riches; there is a steadfast and unfailing prop; there are riches of Divine mercy and compassion. It is not what a man has, it is what a man is, which is of supreme concern. He who has repented of sin and forsaken sin, who has sought and obtained through Christ acceptance with God, whose attitude towards the great King is no longer an attitude of opposition and rebellion, but one of subjection and obedience, he only can look forward with calm confidence to the day of trial; for he knows whom he has trusted, and is persuaded that the Lord will keep that which he has committed to him against that day. - T.
I. DESIRABLE POSSESSIONS SINFULLY PERVERTED. (Ver. 22.) This verse has been differently translated and interpreted. Hengstenberg renders it, "And his glorious ornament he has set for pride; and they made the images of their abominations and detestable idols of it: therefore have I laid it on them for uncleanness." Some refer this to the temple, which "by way of eminence was the glory and ornament of the nation." Others, connecting it with the preceding verse, refer it to the riches, or to the elegant ornaments made of gold and silver, which the Israelites possessed. Without presuming to speak dogmatically on the point, we incline to the latter view. The Israelites were an opulent people. The Prophet Isaiah said, "Their land is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures." God had enabled them to accumulate riches (cf. Deuteronomy 8:18). And now they misused their wealth against him.
1. Their desirable possessions they turned into an occasion of pride. "His glorious ornament he has set for pride." The "he" signifies the people, who are called either he or they. They perverted their riches into a parade of their own self-sufficient, power; they misused them for their self-glorification. The prosperity, which should have enkindled their gratitude to the Lord their God, led to their presumption and self-exaltation (cf. Isaiah 2:11, 17). This is not a solitary case, but a representative one, of the way in which the gifts of God are perverted by the sin of man. When spiritual privileges lead to supercilious pharisaism (cf. Luke 18:11); when the possession of personal gifts and abilities generate self-conceit; or when the possession of riches is made the occasion of self-laudation (cf. Deuteronomy 7:17; Daniel 4:30); - when these things occur, we have a similar abuse of the gifts of God. "Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom," etc. (Jeremiah 9:23, 24).
2. Their desirable possessions they turned into detestable idols. "They made the images of their abominations and detestable idols of it." In Isaiah 2:7, 8 the abundance of riches and the prevalence of idolatry stand in close connection. To a great extent the idolatry proceeded from the self-exaltation. Pride would choose even its own god, rather than accept and serve the true God as he has revealed himself and his will. "All idolatry," says Hengstenberg, "is at bottom egoism, the apotheosis of self, that sets up its god out of itself - first makes and then adores." The gold and silver, which the Lord had enabled them to acquire, they abused against his express commands, and to his dishonour. Nor is this sin of perverting God's gifts to sinful and base uses without its modern illustrations. When the poet employs his glorious gift of song for the pollution of the imagination; or the philosopher his powers for the propagation of scepticism and the destruction of faith; when riches are expended for the gratification of pride, the love of vain show, or for any sinful object; when a nation uses its power oppressively, tyrannically, or to the injury of others; - when these things are done, the principle of the sin dealt with in our text receives fresh illustration.
II. PERVERTED POSSESSIONS TAKEN FROM THEIR PERVERTORS AND GIVEN TO THEIR ENEMIES. "And I will give it into the hands of the strangers for a prey, and to the wicked of the earth for a spoil; and they shall pollute it." Notice:
1. The true Proprietor of man's possessions. "I will give it into the hands of the strangers." In these words, by implication, the Most High asserts his claim to dispose of the riches of the Israelites according to his own pleasure. The richest man is but the steward or trustee of the riches. God alone is absolute Proprietor. The ablest man is indebted to God for his abilities, and is solemnly accountable to him for the use of them. "For who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?" etc. (1 Corinthians 4:7). God has the right to do with our gifts and goods how and what he will.
2. Man deprived of the possessions which he has abused by the true Proprietor of them. God was about to give the riches of the Israelites to the Chaldeans, who are here spoken of as "strangers, and the wicked of the earth." They could not have conquered and spoiled the Israelites but for the permission of the Lord Jehovah. The victory of the Chaldeans was his penal victory over his sinful people. Is it not reasonable and righteous that the gifts which have been perverted should be withdrawn from their pervertors? that the possessions which have been abused should be taken away from their abusers? (cf. Matthew 21:33-43).
III. THE PERVERSION OF DESIRABLE POSSESSIONS LEADING TO THE AVERSION OF THE DIVINE FAVOUR. "My face will I turn also from them, and they shall pollute my secret: for the robbers shall enter into it, and defile it."
1. Persistence in sin leads to the withdrawal of the favour of God. Turning the Divine face to any one is an expression denoting the favourable regards of God (cf. Numbers 6:25, 26; Psalm 25:16; Psalm 67:1; Psalm 69:16; Psalm 80:3, 7, 19; Psalm 86:16). "The face of God," says Schroder suggestively, "is the consecration of our life: our free upward look to it, its gracious look on us." In his favour there is life and peace, prosperity and joy. The turning of his face from any one is a token of his displeasure. He was about to turn it away thus from Israel.
2. The withdrawal of the favour of God leaves man without adequate defence. "They shall pollute my secret: for the robbers shall enter into it, and defile it." Very different meanings are given to the words, "my secret." Some would translate it, "my treasure," and apply it to Jerusalem; others to the holy land in general. Ewald interprets it, "the treasure of my guardianship, i.e. of my country or my people." It seems to us probable that Jerusalem is meant. When God turns "away his face from any, the lace of calamity and destruction is towards them, nay, destruction is upon them. No sooner doth God turn away from a nation, but destruction steps into that nation." He is both the Sun and the Shield of his people; and if he turn his face away from them, they are in darkness, and defenceless before their enemies and dangers. And this was the punishment of idolatry most solemnly announced by Jehovah through his servant Moses: "I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?" (Deuteronomy 31:16-18).
CONCLUSION. Here are solemn admonitions as to our use of the privileges and possessions, the gifts and goods, which God has bestowed upon us. - W.J.
shining of God's countenance means his good pleasure and good will towards those whom he favours, and the hiding or averting of his countenance means his displeasure. Prayer often shaped itself into the familiar expression, "The Lord cause his face to shine upon us;" and the displeasure of Heaven was deprecated in such terms as these: "Turn not thy face from thy servants." The child distinguishes at once between the smile and the frown of the parent; the courtier is at no loss to discriminate between the welcome and favour and the displeasure apparent upon the monarch's face. To the mind at all sensitive to the moral beauty and glory of God, no sentence can be so dreadful as that uttered in the simple but terrible language of the text, "My face will I turn also from them."
I. IN THE SHINING OF GOD'S COUNTENANCE IS LIFE AND JOY. When the sun arises in his strength, and floods the hills and the valleys, the rivers and the forests, the cornfields and the meadows, with his glorious rays, nature returns the smiles, glows in the sunbeams, rejoices in the warmth and the illumination. Where the sun shines brightly, there the colours are radiant, the odour delicious, there the music of the grove is sweet and the harvest of the plain is golden, there life is luxuriant and gladness breaks forth into laughter and song. And in the moral, the spiritual realm, it is the sunlight of God's countenance, the manifestation of God's favour, which calls forth and sustains all spiritual life, health, peace, and joy. "In thy favour is life."
II. MAN'S UNBELIEF AND SIN OCCASION THE HIDING AND WITHDRAWING OF GOD'S COUNTENANCE. The change is not in him; it is in us. When the sun is not seen in the sky, it is not because he no longer shines, but because clouds, mists, or smoke, ascending from the earth, come between the orb of day and the globe which he illumines. So if God turns his face from an individual, a city, a people, it is because their sins have risen up as a dense, foul fog, intervening between them and a holy, righteous God. "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God." So it was with those against whom the Prophet Ezekiel was called upon to testify. So it is with multitudes whom the ministers of Christ are required to address in language of tender sympathy, yet of expostulation and reproach.
III. THE AVERSION OF GOD'S COUNTENANCE IS THE WORST OF ALL CALAMITIES. It is not to be wondered at that men with their composite nature, absorbed as they are in things which affect the body and the earthly life, should think chiefly of the sufferings and privations in which the moral laws of the universe involve them. And these sufferings and privations are realities which no thoughtful man can fail to perceive and to estimate with something like correctness. Yet he who is enlightened and in any measure spiritually sensitive cannot fail to see that it is the regard of God himself which is of chief import. It is better to enjoy the Divine loving kindness, even in poverty, privation, spoliation, and weakness, than to possess luxury, honour, and the delights of sense, and to know that God's countenance is turned away, is hidden.
IV. A MERCIFUL GOD WILL TURN AGAIN HIS FACE AND CAUSE IT TO SHINE UPON PENITENT AND BELIEVING SUPPLIANTS. It is sin which conceals the Divine countenance; it is repentance which seeks the shining anew of that countenance; and salvation consists in the response of God to the prayer of man. Yet the turning of his face towards us is the work of his own mercy, the revelation of his own nature - compassionate, gracious, and forgiving. - T.
I. VIOLENCE IS MET BY VIOLENCE. The Law of God had been despised; and, instead of a just administration of Law, the rule of violence had prevailed. Therefore by violence they shall be mastered. "Make a chain." The arm of power had dominated over the hand of justice; therefore a mightier arm shall master it. Often has it been seen that they who ruthlessly use the sword themselves perish by the sword. Men are often "hoisted on their own petard." The gallows which Haman had prepared for another served for himself.
II. IDOLATRY ASSIMILATES MEN IN LIKENESS TO THE IDOLS. "I will bring the worst of the heathen upon them." The objects of their worship had reputed attributes of lust, cruelty, oppression, violence; these attributes shall appear in the worshippers. It is a law of nature, as well as a law of Scripture, that "they who make them are like unto them; so is every one that bows down to them." As the stream cannot rise above its fount, so man cannot rise above the object of his adoration. Worshippers of idols rapidly deteriorate in character and in moral quality. If God is driven out of the heart, demons will speedily come in. "Nature abhors a vacuum."
III. OPPORTUNITIES ABUSED ARE AT LENGTH CLOSED. "They shall seek peace, and there shall be none." "They shall seek a vision from the prophet; but the Law shall perish from the priest." Had they sought earlier, they would have found; now probation has ceased, the Judge has ascended his throne. All forbearance has its limits. any men are always one day behind. The tide has ceased to flow. Ebb has begun. In middle life they are weeping over a wasted youth. In old age they are lamenting the decay of vigorous manhood. On a death bed they regret the neglect of yesterday's opportunity. When the last shilling is spent men learn the value of money. Today there is the sunlight of hope; tomorrow there will be black despair.
IV. THE LEADERS IN REBELLION INCUR THE HEAVIEST CHASTISEMENTS. "The king shall mourn, and the prince shall be clothed with desolation." In proportion to the station any man occupies in society, in proportion to his talents and strength of character, is the influence he exerts, whether for good or for evil. The king will always have a crowd of servile imitators. Princes, by virtue of their exalted rank, wield an extensive influence. For the right employment of influence every man is responsible. He is daily sowing now; and, as the sowing is, so will be the harvest. The mourning of a king will have an intensity of bitterness that never acerbates the tears of a peasant.
V. JUSTICE, SHALL FINALLY BE PARAMOUNT. "They shall know that I am the Lord." Although they would not know him as Friend and Benefactor, they shall know him and acknowledge him as the Vindicator of right. The spirits in hell confess him, while blind and ungrateful men ignore him. "We know thee who thou art." Righteousness is endowed with a deathless life; and out of all present confusion and strife it shall come to the surface and be by all honoured. The lesson which men will not learn in the days of prosperity they shall learn in the dark hours of adversity. They shall know that Jehovah is supreme. Facile princeps. Yet such knowledge does not save; it leads only to deeper despair. It had been a long fight between self-will and God's will; and men often flatter themselves they are going to conquer. But the termination is always the same: God over all. - D.
I. THAT PERSISTENCE IN SIN LEADS TO PLENITUDE OF SIN. "Make a chain: for the land is full of bloody crimes, and the city is full of violence." The wickedness of the people had grown to such an extent that the darkest crimes were everywhere prevalent and predominant. The city was filled with outrage, and the country with blood guiltness. Sin, unless it be striven against and resisted, increases both in measure and in power, until it attains unto terrible fulness and maturity. As in holiness, so also in wickedness, full development is reached gradually. Peoples and nations arrive at thorough moral corruption not with a bound, but step by step. But unless checked, wickedness ever tends to that dreadful goal (cf. Genesis 15:16; Daniel 8:23; Matthew 23:32; 1 Thessalonians 2:16).
II. THAT PLENITUDE OF SIN USHERS IN THE AWFUL JUDGMENTS OF GOD. Because of the fulness of wickedness, the calamities announced by the prophet were coming upon the people. This is explicitly stated in both the twenty-third and twenty-fourth verses. The prevalent iniquities of Israel were the meritorious cause of the stern judgments of the Lord. Several features of these require notice.
1. They were of dread severity. They were to be carried into captivity. To set forth this truth Ezekiel is summoned to "make a chain." And, as a matter of fact, Zedekiah the king was bound with fetters of brass, and carried to Babylon (2 Kings 25:7). And a post-exilian poet speaks of the miserable captivity of the people (Psalm 107:10-12). Their homes were to be seized and held by their enemies. "I will bring the worst of the heathen, and they shall possess their houses." Their sanctuary was to be profaned. "Their holy places shall be defiled." The reference is to the temple, their "holy and beautiful house." The prophet speaks of it as theirs, not God's, probably to indicate that God had already forsaken the sanctuary which they had defiled. "Woe be to us when our sanctuaries are nothing but our sanctuaries!" Anguish was to take hold upon hem. "Destruction cometh;" literally, "standing up of the hair cometh" (Professor Cheyne). If we accept this view of the word, it denotes extreme anguish or horror by one of the physical manifestations thereof, as in 'Hamlet' (act 1. sc. 5) -
"I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
2. They were to come in terrible succession. "Mischief shall come upon mischief, and rumour shall be upon rumour." "Mischief" fails to fully express the force of the original word. Fairbairn renders it "woe;" Cheyne, "ruin;" Schroder, "destruction." Woe upon woe, misery upon misery, would befall them. Calamities would rush upon them in troops. As the king of Egypt was visited with plague after plague, so the strokes of the Divine judgments are sometimes sternly repeated, each stroke for a time being the harbinger of others.
3. Even the mightiest would be unable to stand against them. "I will also make the pomp of the strong to cease." Jehovah by his servant Moses had threatened the Israelites with a dreadful series of punishments if they persisted in rebelling against him, including this, "I will break the pride of your power" (Leviticus 26:19). When the Omnipotent arises for judgment, the most powerful creature is impotent to withstand him. "Hast thou an arm like God?"
III. THAT IN TIMES OF SORE DISTRESS THE WICKED SEEK HELP OF THE LORD OR OF HIS SERVANTS. "They shall seek peace, and there shall be none;... they shall seek a vision of the prophet." "Peace" is not an adequate rendering of the Hebrew here.. Professor Cheyne translates, "safety;" and Schroder, "salvation." In their overwhelming calamities the Israelites would seek the help which they had despised in the time of their prosperity. So the proud Pharaoh, when the plagues were upon him and his subjects, repeatedly called for Moses and Aaron, and besought them to entreat the Lord. on his behalf. So also the perverse and rebellious Israelites applied unto Moses when they were smarting under the Divine chastisements (Numbers 11:2; Numbers 21:7; cf. Psalm 78:34-37). And the presumptuous Jeroboam, soon as his hand was smitten with paralysis, entreated the prayers of the prophet whom a moment before he was about to treat with violence (1 Kings 13:6). By thus seeking deliverance from God in the time of their distress, the wicked bear witness to their sense of the reality of his Being, and of their need of him. And by seeking the intercession of his faithful servants they unwittingly testify to the worth of genuine religion.
IV. THAT MEN WHO HAVE REJECTED GOD IN SEASONS OF PEACE MAY SEEK HELP FROM HIM IN SEASONS OF DISTRESS, YET NOT OBTAIN IT. "They shall seek peace, and there shall be none;... then shall they seek a vision of the prophet; but the Law shall perish from the priest, and counsel from the ancients. The king shall mourn," etc. The following points require brief notice.
1. Deliverance from trouble, and direction in trouble, sought in vain. The Israelites seek for safety, but find it not; for prophetic guidance, but it fails them. The prophet or seer has no vision for them; the priest has no instruction in the Law or in religion; the ancients or wise men have no counsel for their life and conduct. Saul, the King of Israel, presents a mournful illustration of this (1 Samuel 28:6, 15). "Because I have called, and ye refused," etc. (Proverbs 1:24-31).
2. Failure to obtain help in trouble producing great distress. "The king shall mourn, and the prince shall be clothed with desolation," etc. The distress is general. The king, the prince, and the people all feel it. The calamities are not partial or sectional, but national. The distress is very great. The king mourns in deep inward grief; the prince clothes himself with horror, is as it were wrapt up in terror; and the hands of the common people tremble.
3. The righteousness of these judgments. "I will do unto them after their way, and according to their deserts will I judge them." The dealings of the Lord with them would be regulated by their conduct. His judgments would correspond with their lives and works. They would reap the fruit of their doings.
4. The righteous judgments of God leading to the recognition of him. "And they shall know that I am the Lord." In this day of their calamity they will feel and acknowledge the supremacy of Jehovah. (See our remarks on ver. 4, and on Ezekiel 6:7, 10.) Let us seek to know him, not in his judgments, but in his mercies; not in wrath, but in love. "And this is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ." - W.J.
I. THE GREAT BLESSING OF PEACE. This may be misunderstood. Warfare with ignorance, error, and iniquity, is characteristic of the condition of the good man here upon earth. Our Lord Jesus saw this, and declared, "I am not come to send peace, but a sword." The presence of evil requires that the attitude of the righteous should be one of antagonism. But this is for a season and for a purpose. A state of controversy and hostility is not a state in itself perfectly desirable and good. Peace of conscience, peace with God, peace with Christian brethren, as far as possible peace with all men, - these are blessings devoutly to be desired and sought.
II. THE INCOMPATIBILITY OF SIN WITH PEACE. If peace results from the harmony of the several parts of a man's nature among themselves, and from harmony between man as a moral being and his God, it is not to be expected that, when the passions are arrayed against the reason, interest against conscience, the subject against the rightful and Divine Ruler, there can be peace. It is mercifully ordered that peace should flee when iniquity prevails. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked."
III. THE PUNISHMENT APPROPRIATE TO SIN OFTEN LEADS TO A DESIRE FOR THE BLESSINGS OF PEACE. Men seek peace, and there is none. Thus they are led to reflect upon the unreasonableness of their expectation that the moral laws of the universe should be changed for their pleasure. Tossed to and fro upon the stormy waters, they long for the haven of repose.
IV. PEACE IS ONLY TO BE OBTAINED UPON GOD'S OWN TERMS OF COMPLETE SURRENDER AND SUBMISSION. It is not to be found either by endeavoring to stifle the voice of conscience within, or by withdrawing from a world of outward strife to some seclusion and isolation. Both these methods have often been tried, but in vain. The conciliation must take place within. The heart must find rest and satisfaction in the gospel of Jesus Christ, "our Peace." The whole nature must, by the power of the Spirit, be brought into subjection to God. The fountain of peace must thus be divinely opened, and "peace will flow as a river." - T.
I. THERE ARE IN A NATION MEN SPECIALLY QUALIFIED AND COMMISSIONED TO BE THE GUIDES OF THE PEOPLE, AND TO INSPIRE THEM TO A LIFE OF VIRTUE AND RELIGION. Among the Jews, the priests performed the sacrifices, and in this represented the nation before God; whilst the seers and prophets spake to the people of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, and in this represented God to the nations. Others, too, there were who lived and taught among their fellow countrymen as witnesses of God. In every community there are raised up by Divine Providence just and fearless servants of God, who testify to the law which a nation ought to obey, and who summon their fellow countrymen to obedience. There was doubtless what was special in the case of the religious leaders of the Jews, but the principle is the same wherever there exist soldiers of righteousness whose endeavour it is to lead the people in the holy war.
II. IN THE TIME OF A NATION'S TROUBLE IT IS NATURAL THAT THE PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE RECOURSE TO THEIR RELIGIOUS AND MORAL TEACHERS AND LEADERS. It is with nations as with individuals; in time of prosperity and of that distraction which is produced by absorption in things of earth and sense, the soul's interests are often neglected, and God himself is often forgotten. But let affliction befall either a man or a people, let earthly success come to an end, let earthly props be removed, let earthly visions be shattered, - then it is seen that consolation and succour are sought in directions long forsaken and despised. The counsellor, whose warnings were formerly ridiculed, is now besought to guide and to help. The neglected oracle is sought unto. Unwonted petitions are presented for help. "Is there," is the cry, "is there a word from the Lord?"
III. IN SUCH SEASONS, AND IN SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES, IT MAY BE FOUND THAT APPLICATION FOR COUNSEL AND FOR SUCCOUR IS MADE TOO LATE. The prophet may be dead; he may be slain, the innocent with the guilty; he may share the fate of those whom he warned in vain. Or his voice may be judicially silenced; no word may be given him whereby to relieve anxiety or to encourage hope. And recourse may be had even to the proper quarter when it is too late to be of any service.
IV. YET IT EVER REMAINS TRUE THAT AN APPEAL IS OPEN TO HIM WHO IS THE SOURCE OF ALL LIGHT AND CONSOLATION. God has not forgotten to be gracious. Certain opportunities which have been neglected may never recur; certain ministers of wisdom and sympathy, whose ministrations have been despised, may no more be available. But the Lord's ear is not heavy that it cannot hear, nor his hand shortened that it cannot save. - T.