Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. HIS NAME. Habakkuk i.e. "One who embraces" - a name singularly appropriate in its significance to the man who "rested in the Lord, and waited patiently for him" through the dark days. Luther applied the name to the prophet's regard for his people, "embracing them, taking them to his arms, comforting them, and lifting them up as one embraces a weeping child, to quiet it with the assurance that, if God will, it shall be better soon." Jewish tradition has identified him with the son of the Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4:18), and with the watchman sent by Isaiah to the watch tower (21) to look towards Babylon. But with these and other merely fanciful and utterly unreliable traditions the silence of Scripture very favourably contrasts. It makes him known to us through his teaching. It is the message rather than the messenger that is presented to us here; yet through the message we get to know the man so intimately that he becomes to us quite a familiar presence.
II. HIS OFFICE. "Habakkuk the prophet." This title clearly indicates that he had been appointed to the prophetical office. Many men in Old Testament times uttered certain prophecies, as for instance Moses, David, Solomon, Daniel, but we do not find the title "the prophet" appended to their names, it being given simply to such as were specially chosen and set apart to this office. The closing words of the book (Habakkuk 3:19) have led some to regard him as belonging to one of the Levitical families, and as appointed to take part in the liturgical services of the temple; but of this we cannot speak with any degree of certainty, though probably it was so.
III. HIS PROPHECY. This is described as "the burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see." The phrase is peculiar, but the meaning is clear. He saw a vision of coming events, in which solemn Divine judgments would be executed both against his own people and their oppressors; and the scene of impending woe oppressed his spirit and lay as a heavy weight upon his soul. Still, dark as the outlook was, and oppressed in heart as he felt himself to be amidst the mysteries of life viewed in relation to the Divine government, he maintained throughout unswervingly his trust in God; and which so clearly pervaded his spirit and so repeatedly revealed itself in his expressions as amply to justify the representation that he is "eminently the prophet of reverential, awe-filled faith." Viewed from a literary standpoint, his prophecy may well exite our profoundest interest. Critical writers with one consent bear testimony to the beauty of his contributions to these sacred oracles. Ewald calls the book "Habakkuk's Pindaric Ode." Delitzsch says of it, "His language is classical throughout, full of rare and select words and turns, which are to some extent exclusively his own, whilst his view and mode of presentation bear the seal of original force and finished beauty." Pusey observes, "Certainly the purity of his language and the sublimity of his imagery is, humanly speaking, magnificent; his measured cadence is impressive in its simplicity." But valuable as this composition is in this respect, its great charm consists in the spirit of holy trustfulness which it breathes. As we ponder over its contents we feel at every stage our lack of confidence in our God reproved, and are impelled to cry, "Lord, we believe: help thou our unbelief" (Mark 9:24); "Lord, increase our faith" (Luke 17:5). - S.D.H.
Hebrews 10:37, 38; Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; Acts 13:41), hence it was regarded as having Divine authority. His style, in dignity and sublimity, is not surpassed by any of the Hebrew prophets. He is original. His utterances are bold and animated; his descriptions graphic and pointed. The lyric ode contained in the third chapter is esteemed by most biblical critics as one of the most splendid and magnificent in the whole compass of Hebrew poetry. The prophet sets forth the cause of the Chaldean invasion, and the great wickedness that abounded in the Jewish nation during his time. This was the burden of his discourse. "The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see." What was the burden? The heavy judgments impending over his nation. He saw it like a mountain with his prophetic eye; nay, he felt it as a mountain on his heart. This doom hanging over the Jewish people was indeed an intolerable weight. The text contains the cry of a good man under the perplexing procedure of God - "O Lord, how long shall I cry!" There seem to be two elements in his perplexity.
I. GOD'S APPARENT DISREGARD TO HIS EARNEST PRAYER. "O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!" Under the pressure of "the burden" that was resting on his heart, viz. the moral corruption and the coming doom of his country, it would seem that he had often cried unto the Almighty and implored his interposition; but no answer had come. How often have good men in every age felt that God disregarded their supplications! They cried and cried, but no answer came. The heavens seemed like brass; the oracles were hushed. It was thus with the Syro-Phoenician woman. Christ for a time not only treated her application with seeming indifference, but he even repulsed her. Why are not the prayers of good men immediately answered? In reply to this question three undoubted facts should be borne in mind.
1. That importunity of soul is necessary to qualify for the appreciation of the mercies sought. It is not until a man is made to feel the deep necessity of a thing that he values it when it comes. If we obtained from the Almighty what we required by one cry, or even by a series of mere formal applications, the boon would be of doubtful service; it would scarcely be appreciated, and would fail to fire the soul with the sentiments of devout gratitude and praise. It is not what God gives a man that does him good; it is the state of mind in which it is received that transmutes it either into a blessing or a curse. "How long shall I cry!" How long? Until the sense of need is so intensified as to qualify for the reception and due appreciation of the blessing.
2. That the exercise of true prayer is in itself the best means of spiritual culture. Conscious contact wit? God is essential to moral excellence. You must bring the sunbeam to the seed you have sown, if you would have the seed quickened and developed; and you must bring God into conscious contact with your powers, if you would have them vivified and brought forth into strength and perfection. True prayer does this; it is the soul realizing itself in the presence of him "who quickeneth all things."
3. That prayers are answered where there is no bestowment of the blessing invoked. We know not what to pray for; and were we to have what we seek, we might be ruined. Acquiescence in the Divine will is the highest answer to all true prayer. Christ prayed that the cup should pass from him. It did not pass from him; but, instead, there came to him the spirit of acquiescence in the Divine will: "Not my will, but thine be done." This is all we want. Acquiescence in the Divine will is the moral perfection, dignity, and blessedness of all creatures in the universe. With these facts let us not be anxious about the apparent disregard of God to our prayers.
II. GOD'S APPARENT DISREGARD TO THE MORAL CONDITION OF SOCIETY. "Why dost thou show me iniquity, and cause me to behold grievance? for spoiling and violence are before me: and there are that raise up strife and contention. Therefore the Law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth: for the wicked cloth compass about the righteous; therefore wrong judgment proceedeth." The rendering of Delitzsch is both faithful and forceful, "Why dost thou let me see mischief, and thou lookest upon distress? Devastation and violence are before me; there arises strife, and contention lifts itself up. Therefore the Law is benumbed, and justice comes not forth forever: for sinners encircle the righteous man: therefore justice goes forth perverted." The substance of this is the old complaint, "Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?" (Jeremiah 12:1). Two facts should be set against this complaint.
1. The good have the best of it, even in this life. Goodness is its own reward. Take two men - one who enjoys the love and fellowship of God, but who is destitute of this world's good and lives in poverty; the other, in whose heart reign the elements of wickedness, but who has an abundance of the things of this life. Ask which of the two is the happier. The former, without doubt. Benevolence is the fountain of happiness, and selfishness the fountain of misery in both worlds. In this world give me poverty and piety rather than riches with wickedness.
2. That the evil will have the worst of it in the next life. There is no doubt about this. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus teaches this. "When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish, it is that they shall be destroyed forever" (Psalm 92:7).
CONCLUSION. Pray on, brother. "Pray without ceasing" Thy prayers are not lost. Let not God's apparent disregard to the supplications of his people and the moral condition of society perplex thy judgment and disturb thy peace. Wait the great explaining day. "What thou knowest not now thou shalt know hereafter." - D.T.
I. AN EARNEST HEART REFLECTING UPON THE PREVAILING INIQUITY. Whatever may have been the exact date of this prophecy, it is clear that the writer stood connected with the close of the kingdom of Judah, the eve of the Captivity, and that he presents to us, in a few graphic touches, a vivid description of the depravity then prevailing in the land. He bitterly laments over:
1. The insecurity of property. "Spoiling and violence are before me" (ver. 3).
2. The strifes of parties and factions. "And there are that raise up strife and contention" (ver. 3).
3. Laxity in the administration of the Law. "The Law is slacked, and judgment doth never go forth" (ver. 4).
4. The good suffering unjustly at the hands of the evil. "The wicked doth compass about the righteous " (ver. 4).
5. The openness and audacity of wrong doers in this evil course. He speaks of all this iniquity as being patent to the observer. Sometimes, "vice, provoked to shame, borrows the colour of a virtuous deed;" but in this instance there Has no attempt at concealment or disguise, and no sense of shame. "Spoiling and violence are before me (ver. 3).
II. AS EARNEST HEART YEARNING FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND IMPATIENT OF DELAY. The life of piety is undoubtedly the happy life (Psalm 1:1). Still, it is not always sunshine, even with the good. There are times in their experience when the sky becomes overcast, and when they become depressed and sad at heart. Although possessing the firstfruits of the Spirit," the pledge and the earnest of the enjoyment at length of a fulness of blessing, they often "groan within themselves" (Romans 8:23). And a very large ingredient in the cup of sorrow the good have to drink is that occasioned by beholding the blighting effects of sin. As they witness men unprincipled in their dealings, impure in their speech, dishonourable in their transactions, and as they note the pernicious influence and effects of such conduct, their hearts are rendered sad, and they are constrained to long ardently for the time when sin shall be completely vanquished, when it shall be banished from this fair universe of God, and when there shall come in all its perfection the reign of truth and righteousness, peace and love. This spirit runs through the prophet's mournful strain (vers. 2-4). We recognize it also in the words of David, "Oh let the wickedness of the wicked!" etc. (Psalm 7:9), and of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 14:8, 9), and impelled by it many are crying today, "Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why tarry the wheels of his chariot?"
III. AN EARNEST HEART DIRECTING ITS IMPASSIONED APPEAL TO GOD IN PRAYER. (Ver. 2.) The seer did not question the Divine rectitude, but his spirit was perturbed at the delay, and he yearned with a holy impatience for the vindication of the honour of his God. And under such conditions no course is so commendable as that of pouring our plaint into the ear of Infinite Love. Prayer at such seasons will be found helpful:
1. In tranquillizing the spirit, quieting and subduing agitation, and imparting a sense of restfulness and peace.
2. In linking our human weakness to God's almighty strength, and thus fitting us for reviewed service to him. "Toil, pain, doubt, terror, difficulty, - all retreat before the recognition of a great life purpose wrought out in entire dependence upon Heaven."
3. In causing light to shine through the dark cloud of mystery, helping us to understand the Divine plan (Psalm 73:16, etc.), and so preparing the way for our exchanging the mournful elegy for the rapturous melody of thankful and adoring praise. - S.D.H.
I. THAT GOD IS NOT INDIFFERENT WITH RESPECT TO PREVAILING UNGODLINESS. The seer had asked, "How long?" (ver. 2). He was impatient of delay. But whilst there is this lingering on the part of God, so that "judgment against an evil work is not executed speedily" (Ecclesiastes 8:11), this is owing to the Divine long suffering and patience, and does not arise from indifference and unconcern being cherished by the Most High in reference to iniquity. Wrong doing is ever before him, is closely observed by him. It is the source of displeasure to him who is perfect in purity, and the requital of it will assuredly be experienced by transgressors. Though it may tarry, it will surely come. "I will work a work," etc. (ver. 5).
II. THAT GOD, IN THE ORDER OF HIS PROVIDENCE, IN EXECUTING HIS JUDGMENTS, OVERRULES THE ACTIONS OF EVIL MEN, AND CAUSES THESE TO FULFIL HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS. The verses contain a wonderfully graphic account of the Chaldeans who were to be the instruments of the Divine chastisement of Judah (compare with them Isaiah 14:6, 16, 17), and whilst in reading them, so vivid is the portrayal, that we seem to see the Chaldean horsemen sweeping through the land like the simoom, causing death and desolation to follow in their track, we also have presented to us certain traits most clearly indicative of their gross wickedness.
(1) Their proud ambition to possess the dwelling places that were not theirs (ver. 6);
(2) their fierceness and cruelty (ver. 7);
(3) their self-sufficiency (ver. 7);
(4) their scorn and contemnt. (ver. 10) and their blasphemy (ver. 11); - all pass in review before us. And these were chosen to be the executors of the Divine judgments! "For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans" (ver. 6). The meaning is that God, in his providence, would permit "that bitter and hasty nation" to be a scourge to his
III. THAT GOD, IN OPERATING AGAINST EVIL AND ITS DOERS, SOMETIMES EMPLOYS UNEXPECTED AGENTS. "The Hebrew state was at this time in close alliance with the Chaldean state, an alliance so close and friendly that the Hebrew politicians had no fear of its rupture. Yet it was in this wholly unexpected form that the Divine judgment was to come upon them. The Chaldeans in whom they trusted, on whom they leaned, were to give the death blow to the dynasty of David." All the material and moral forces of the universe are under the Divine control, and in ways and by means little anticipated his retributions often overtake his adversaries.
IV. THAT THIS DIVINE WORKING AGAINST EVIL AND ITS DOERS RECEIVES BUT TARDY RECOGNITION AND ACKNOWLEDGMENT FROM MAN. (Ver. 5.) The retributions have to light upon them ere they will believe. "They cry, Peace and safety: till sudden destruction comes upon them" (1 Thessalonians 5:3). So has it been in the past, and so, upon the authority of Christ, will it be in the future (Matthew 24:27-29). Still, amidst this unconcern and unbelief, the duty of the messenger of God is clear. He must "cry aloud." He must bid men "behold," "regard," and "wonder," and then, "whether they hear or forbear;" "he has delivered his soul." - S.D.H.
conventional religionists. The Jews were such a nation; they prided themselves in the orthodoxy of their faith, in the ceremonials of their worship, in the polity of their Church. "To them pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises" (Romans 9:4). But they had now become abhorrent to their Maker. He was weary of them, and he threatens them with a terrible doom; the doom was so terrible that "ye will not believe, though it be told you." The doom threatened was terrible in many respects.
I. IT WAS TO BE WROUGHT BY THE INSTRUMENTALITY OF A WICKED NATION. "I will work a work in your days, which ye will not believe, though it be told you. For, lo, I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, which shall march through the breadth of the land, to posen the dwelling places that are not theirs." "Nabopolassar had already destroyed the mighty empire of Assyria, and founded the Chaldeo-Babylonian rule. He had made himself so formidable that Necho found it necessary to march an army against him, in order to check his progress; and, though defeated at Megiddo, he had, in conjunction with his son Nebuchadnezzar, gained a complete victory over the Egyptians at Carehemish. These events were calculated to alarm the Jews, whose country lay between the dominions of the two contending powers; but, accustomed as they were to confide in Egypt and in the sacred localities of their own capital (Isaiah 31:1; Jeremiah 7:4), and being in alliance with the Chaldeans, they were indisposed to listen to, and treated with the utmost incredulity, any predictions which described their overthrow by that people" (Henderson). Observe that God employs wicked nations as his instruments. "Lo, I raise up the Chaldeans." "I will work a work," he says; but how? By the Chaldeans. How does he raise up wicked nations to do his work?
1. Not instigatingly. He does not inspire them with wicked passions necessary to qualify them for the infernal work of violence, war, rapine, bloodshed. God could not do this. The diabolic passions are in them.
2. Not coercively. He does not force them to it; in no way does he interfere with them. They are the responsible party. They go forth on the bloody message with a consciousness of freedom. How, then, does he "raise" them up? He permits them. He could prevent them; but he allows them. He gives them life, capacity, and opportunities; but he does not inspire or coerce them. Now, would not the fact that the destruction of the Israelites would come upon them from a heathen nation, a nation which they despised, make it all the more terrible?
II. IT WAS TO BE WROUGHT WITH RESISTLESS VIOLENCE.
1. The violence would be uncontrolled. "Their judgment and their dignity shall proceed of themselves." They recognize no authority, and proudly spurn the dictates of others. "They recognize no judge save themselves, and they get for themselves their own dignity, without needing others' help. It will be vain for the Jews to complain of their tyrannical judgments, for whatever the Chaldeans decree they will do according to their own will: they will not brook any one attempting to interfere" (Fausset).
2. The violence would be rapid and fierce. "Their horses are swifter than the leopards." A naturalist says of the leopard that it runs most swiftly, straight on, and you would imagine it was flying through the air. "More fierce than the evening wolves." These ravenous beasts, having skulked all the day away from the light of heaven, get terribly hungry by the night, and come forth with a fierce voracity. Like the swift leopards and the ravenous wolves, we are here told, these Chaldeans would come forth. Yes, and swifter and more ravenous than the wolves, like the hungry eagle on its pinions that "hasteth to eat." What a terrible description of their doom! Alas! into what a monster sin has transformed man! he becomes leopard, wolf, eagle, etc.
III. IT WAS TO BE WROUGHT WITH IMMENSE HAVOC. "Their faces shall sup up as the east wind, and they shall gather the captivity as the sand. And they shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them: they shall deride every stronghold; for they shall heap dust, and take it." As the east wind, they would sweep through the country, like the simoom, spreading devastation wherever it passed; and like that wind would bear away the Jews into captivity, thick as the sand. "They shall scoff at the kings, and the princes shall be a scorn unto them." They would regard all the great magnates of Judaea with a haughty contempt, and treat them with derision. And so would they be in their bloody expedition. They would regard their very conquering power as their god, and worship their success.
CONCLUSION. All this was to come upon a nation of conventional reglionists. All peoples whose religion is that of profession, letter, form, ceremony, are exposed to a doom as terrible as this. - D.T.
I. CONSIDER THE PROPHET'S REASONING IN THIS VERSE IN ITS APPLICATION TO HIMSELF AND HIS NATION, AND NOTE HOW THE INSPIRATION OF HOPE FIRED HIS SOUL.
1. The seer directed his thoughts to the contemplation of the character of his God. Two aspects of this were vividly present to his mind.
(1) God's eternal duration. "Art thou not from everlasting?" etc. (ver. 12).
(2) His infinite purity. "Mine Holy One" (ver. 12).
2. Associated with these thoughts concerning God in the mind of the prophet we have the recognition of the relationship sustained by this Eternal and Holy One to himself and the nation whose interests lay near and pressed with such weight upon his heart. He and his people were the chosen of Heaven. God had entered into covenant relations with them. They had been the objects of his ever gracious care and providential working. He had not dealt thus with any other people. They could call him theirs. "O Lord my God, mine Holy One" (ver. 12).
3. And by associating together these thoughts of God and of his relationship to his people he gathered, in the troublous times upon which he had fallen, the inspiration of hope. One great difficulty with him arose from the threatened extinction of his nation. He had mourned over the national guilt, and had sought earnestly in prayer the Divine interposition. The response, however, to his impassioned cry unto God was different from what he had expected. The revelation made to him of the approaching Chaldean invasion of his country seemed to carry with it the complete annihilation of the national anticipations, and the utter desolation and extinction of those who had been specially favoured of God. Surely, thought he, this cannot be. God is eternal; his purposes must be fulfilled. Then "we shall not die" (ver. 12). God is holy. Then evil cannot ultimately be victorious. It could only be for chastisement and correction that the threatened trials should come. "O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction" (ver. 12). And by such reasoning hope became the balm of healing to his troubled heart, the bow of promise cast across his stormiest cloud, the bright star kindled in his darkest sky.
II. OBSERVE THAT THE PROPHETS REASONING ADMITS OF A MORE EXTENDED RANGE OF APPLICATION, AND HAS AN IMPORTANT BEARING UPON THE IMMORTALITY OF MAN. Jehovah is "from everlasting." He is "the eternal God;" hence, our immortal destiny: "We shall not die." Surely the Divine Father will not allow his children to fade away and be no more. Certainly, he whose tender love to his children the love of human parents so faintly images, will not dwell through the eternal ages and "leave himself childless when time shall such"
"Souls that of his own good life partake,
utterly destroyed by the adversities which were about to overtake them - "We shall not die" - but also that these coming judgments should be made to work for their good. "O Lord, thou hast ordained," etc. (ver. 12). God's chastisements are not directed to the overthrow but to the salvation of those upon whom they are inflicted. He chastens men sore, but does not give them over unto death. The dark scenes through which the frail and erring children of men are led are designed to contribute to their weal. How? Well, they operate in various ways.
I. THEY TEACH US THAT WE ARE NOT TO EXPECT TO HAVE OUR OWN WILL, BUT THAT THERE IS ONE HIGHER THAN OURSELVES, TO WHOSE WILL WE MUST ALL BOW.
II. THEY LEAD US TO REFLECTION, AND ARE THE MEANS OF REVEALING TO US OUR PAST SHORTCOMINGS AND FAILINGS.
III. THEY RENDER US MORE SUSCEPTIBLE TO RECEIVING THE TEACHINGS OF GOD'S OWN SPIRIT.
IV. THEY RAISE OUR THOUGHTS FROM EARTH TOWARDS GOD AND HEAVEN.
V. THEY BRING US BACK WHEN WE HAVE WANDERED FROM OUR GOD, AND ARE THE MEANS OF RESTORING TO US THE WARMTH AND FERVOUR OF TRUE PIETY. Whilst, therefore, suffering considered in itself is not good, yet instrumentally it is desirable, and, if we are rightly exercised by it, will help us to attain unto a holier and more heavenly life. So David (Psalm 119:71, 67). So Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:11-13). It is because we are so slow to learn the lessons our sorrows are intended to teach us that it is "through much tribulation" that we are to enter the kingdom prepared for the saints of God. We need these threshings of the inner spiritual man in order that the chaff may be separated from the wheat, and we become thus prepared for the heavenly garner. Let us accept all our griefs as precious tokens of the Divine Father's love, and make them our convoy to bear us up to him. - S.D.H.
I. HE REGARDS HIS ETERNITY AS AN ARGUMENT FOR THEIR PRESERVATION. "Art thou not from everlasting, O Lord, my God, mine Holy One? we shall not die." "However terrible and prostrating the Divine threatenings may sound, the prophet draws consolation and hope from the holiness of the faithful covenant God, that Israel will not perish, but that the judgment will be only a severe chastisement" (Delitzsch). "Art thou not from everlasting?" The interrogatory does not imply doubt on his part. The true God is essentially eternal; he "inhabiteth eternity." He is without beginning, without succession, without end. The loftiest thoughts of the loftiest intelligence are lost in the idea of his eternity. From his eternity the prophet argues that his people will not perish: "We shall not die." There is force in this argument. His people live in him. Their life is hid in God, and so long as he endures they may hope to continue. Christ said to his disciples, "Because I live, ye shall live also." Man's immortality is not in himself, but in God. If he has purposed that we shall live forever, he is eternal, and will never change his mind or die.
II. HE REGARDS HIS PROVIDENCE AS A SOURCE OF COMFORT. "O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and, O mighty God, thou hast established them for correction." "Jehovah, for judgment thou hast appointed it, and, O Rock, thou hast founded it for chastisement" (Delitzsch). Whatever evil of any kind, from any quarter, comes upon the loyal servants of God, comes not by accident; it is under the direction of the All-wise and the All-beneficent. These Chaldeans could not move without him, nor could they strike one blow without his permission; they were but the rod in his hand. All the most furious fiends in the universe are under his direction. He says, concerning the mighty tide of wicked passions, "Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further." Is not this a source of comfort under suffering and oppression? Whatever mischief men design to inflict upon his people, he purposes to bring good out of it: and his counsel shall stand.
III. HE REGARDS HIS HOLINESS AS AN OCCASION FOR PERPLEXITY. "Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: wherefore lookest thou upon them that deal treacherously, and boldest thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?" Jehovah is the Holy One. His holiness is essential, underived, indestructible, reflected in all consciences. He is of "purer eyes than to behold evil." His eyes do behold iniquity. There is no sin that comes not within his glance. What the prophet means, I presume, is - Thou art of "purer eyes" than to behold iniquity with satisfaction. It is that "abominable thing" which God hates. Now, this holiness was the occasion of perplexity to the prophet. As if he had said, "Since thou art holy, why allow such abominations to take place? why permit wicked men to work such iniquities, and to inflict such suffering upon the righteous?" This has always been a source of perplexity to good men. That a holy God, who has the power to prevent such iniquities, should allow them to occur, abound, and continue, is one of the great mysteries of life.
CONCLUSION. Let us, in all our troubles, like the prophet, look to the Everlasting One, and hold firmly the conviction that, notwithstanding the abounding of evil in the world, He is the Holy One, and is of "purer eyes" than to approve of wickedness,
"Courage, brother, do not stumble; "Let the road be rough and dreary, "Perish policy and cunning, "Trust no party, sect, or faction; "Simple rule and safest guiding, "Some will hate thee, some will love thee,
"Let the road be rough and dreary, "Perish policy and cunning, "Trust no party, sect, or faction; "Simple rule and safest guiding, "Some will hate thee, some will love thee,
"Perish policy and cunning, "Trust no party, sect, or faction; "Simple rule and safest guiding, "Some will hate thee, some will love thee,
I. THE MYSTERY CONNECTED WITH THE DIVINE OPERATIONS. (Vers. 13-15, 17.) The prophet in these words expressed the perplexity of his mind and the consequent sadness of his heart. He had bitterly mourned over the prevailing guilt of his people, and had earnestly appealed to Heaven to vindicate the right. The Divine response, however, filled him with distress. That Divine chastisement should be inflicted upon his country he understood and approved, but that the Chaldeans, who were still greater transgressors, should be permitted to run over the land, and to lead his people into captivity, baffled and perplexed him. Yea, more; whilst the good in his land were but few, yet there were to be found such; and how could it be that these should suffer, and suffer at the hands of the heathen who were so gross and iniquitous? Surely, thought he, this scarcely accorded with the thought of the Divine purity, and of the rectitude of God's providential government. And hence he cried in his perplexity, "Thou art," etc. (vers. 13-15, 17). There is mystery in the Divine operations; dark problems confront us as we reflect upon the Divine working. "How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Romans 11:33); "Thy way is in the sea;" i.e. "far down in secret channels of the deep is his roadway;" "Thy footsteps are not known;" i.e. "none can follow thy tracks" (Psalm 77:19). One man enjoys the endowment of reason; another is left a helpless lunatic. One has all things and abounds; another is well nigh destitute of the common necessaries of life. One has "no changes;" another is being continually subjected to adverse influences. We see the mother dying just after she has given birth to her child; we behold the young and the beautiful passing "out of sunshiny life into silent death;" we behold the earnest toiler stricken down in the very prime of life, whilst useless and injurious lives are preserved and "burn to the socket." The sceptic asks us to reconcile all this with the thought of God's wise and loving rulership, and, failing this, to join him in his indifference and practical atheism; but to do so would be to go contrary to the deepest convictions of our hearts, and to the clearest testimony of our consciences. We will rather seek to cherish a faith which will pierce the mists, and enable us, despite such anomalies, to recognize the goodness and the love of God.
II. THE TRUE ATTITUDE IN RELATION TO THESE DARK PROBLEMS.
1. The attitude of prayer. The seer took all his fears and forebodings, his difficulties and discouragements, his doubts and perplexities, to God in prayer (vers. 13-15, 17). As we pray light often is cast upon the hidden path.
2. The attitude of expectancy. "I will stand upon my watch," etc. (ch. 2:1). We are to "wait patiently for the Lord," and there is ever to enter into this waiting the element of watchfulness. We are to look for further light, even here, upon the works and ways of our God, and we shall assuredly miss this unless we cherish the spirit of holy expectation. "Many a proffered succour from heaven goes past us because we are not standing on our watch tower to catch the far off indications of its approach, and to fling open the gates of our hearts for its entrance" (Maclaren).
3. The attitude of trust. "The just shall live by his faith" (Jeremiah 2:4). It is not in the process, but in the issue, that the wisdom and rightness of the Divine operations will be fully manifested, and for the issue we must trustfully wait. Tennyson sings -
"Who can so forecast the years,
rapacious selfishness in power. Selfishness is the root and essence of sin. All unregenerate men are therefore more or less selfish, and rapacity is an instinct of selfishness. Selfishness hungers for the things of others. Whilst this rapacious selfishness is general, mercifully it is not always in power, otherwise the world would be more of a pandemonium than it is. It is ever tyrannic and ruthless in the measure of its power. Here we find it in the power of an absolute monarchy, and it is terrible to contemplate. Four things are suggested.
I. IT PRACTICALLY IGNORES THE RIGHTS OF MAN AS MAN. "And makest man as the fishes of the sea, as the creeping things, that have no ruler over them." The Babylonian tyrant did not see in the population of Judea men possessing natural endowments, sustaining moral relationships, invested with rights and responsibilities similar to his own fellow men, but merely "fishes;" his object was to catch them and turn them to his own use. It is ever so with selfishness: it blinds man to the claims of his brother. What does the selfish landlord care for the man in the tenants and labourers on his estate? He only values them as they can subserve his interests. What does the selfish employer care for the man in those who work in his service and build up his fortune? He treats them rather as fishes to be used than as brethren to be respected. What does the selfish despot care for the moral humanity of the people over whom he sways his sceptre? He values them only as they can fight his battles, enrich his exchequer, and contribute to his pageantry and pomp. What were men to Alexander? What were men to Napoleon, etc.?
II. IT ASSIDUOUSLY WORKS TO TURN MEN TO ITS OWN USE. "They take up all of them with the angle, they catch them in their net, and gather them in their drag; therefore they rejoice and are glad." Thus they take up all of them, some with the hook one by one, others in shoals as in a net, others in a drag or enclosed net. Ah me! Human life is like a sea - deep, unresting, treacherous; and the teeming millions of men are but as fishes, the weaker devoured by the stronger.
"... the good old rule
III. IT ADORES SELF ON ACCOUNT OF ITS SUCCESS. "Therefore they sacrifice unto their net, and burn incense unto their drag; because by them their portion is fat, and their meat plenteous." They glory even in their crimes, because these result in success. They admire their own dexterity and prowess. The selfish man says to himself, "My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17). According to the measure of a man's selfishness is his propensity to self-worship. The more selfish a merchant, a scholar, a religionist, an author, a preacher, etc., is, the more prone to praise himself for his imaginary success. Because men are everywhere selfish, they are everywhere "sacrificing unto their net, and burning incense unto their drag." The selfish statesman says, "There is no measure like mine;" the selfish sectarian, "There is no Church like mine;" the selfish author, "There is no book like mine;" the selfish preacher, "There is no sermon like mine."
"To our own nets ne'er bow we down,
IV. IT REMAINS INSATIABLE, NOTWITHSTANDING ITS PROSPERITY, "Shall they therefore empty their net?" etc. An old author thus paraphrases the language: "Shall they enrich themselves and fill their own vessels with that which they have by violence and oppression taken away from their neighbours? Shall they empty their net of what they have caught, that they may cast it into the sea again to catch more? And wilt thou suffer them to proceed in this wicked course? Shall they not spare continually to slay the nations? Must the number and wealth of nations be sacrificed to their net?"
CONCLUSION. What an awful picture of the world we have here! All unregenerate men are selfish. Men are everywhere preying on men; and, alas! often those who most lament the universal selfishness are the most selfish. Like the ravenous birds which seem to bewail the sheep when dying, they are ready to pick out their eyes when their opportunity comes. "Where every man is for himself," says an old author, "the devil will have all." This selfishness is the heart of stone in humanity, which must be exchanged for a heart of flesh, or the man will be damned. What but the gospel can effect this change? Oh that those who call themselves Christians would cherish and exemplify that disinterestedness which alone gives title to the name! "I would so live," said Seneca, "as if I knew I had received my being only for the benefit of others." - D.T.
I. SUCCESS IS EVER SECURED AS THE BESTOWMENT OR BY THE PERMISSION OF GOD.
1. Temporal success is thus gainful. The age in which we live is an age of earnest toil, of restless activity. It is becoming more and more felt that a man cannot expect to make headway apart from continuous, energetic work. And this is a healthy "sign of the times." It reminds us that life is too valuable a gift to be frittered away. It contrasts, strikingly and pleasingly, with those periods in which ease, luxury, and sloth were deified and adored. There is dignity in labour. The danger lies in the non-recognition of God as the Bestower of the prosperity secured, and in ascribing the success achieved wholly to ourselves. The true spirit is that which prompts the acknowledgment, "All things come of thee" (1 Chronicles 29:14). The Lord is "Giver of all." Success is sometimes achieved by bad men. By fraud, oppression, reckless speculation, and by taking mean advantage, "the portion" of such is "made fat" and "their meat plenteous;" and in such cases all this is through the all-wise although often inscrutable permission of the Most High.
2. Spiritual success is also thus gained. In holy service we are but the instruments employed by God. The power is his, and the honour should all be laid at his feet. Baxter, when complimented at the close of his career upon the usefulness of his writings, said, "I was but a pen in the hand of my God, and what honour is due to a pen?"
II. MEN, FORGETFUL OF THIS AND TRACING TO THEMSELVES THE SUCCESS ACHIEVED, BECOME ELATED WITH THE PRIDE OF HUMAN SUFFICIENCY. "Therefore they sacrifice unto their net," etc. (ver. 16). "They say in their heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth" (Deuteronomy 8:17). So Pharaoh said, "My river is mine own, and I have made it for myself" (Ezekiel 29:3). So Nebuchadnezzar said, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built," etc. (Daniel 4:30). Pusey refers in illustration of this to certain North American Indians, "who designate their bow and arrow as the only beneficent deities whom they know;" to the Romans sacrificing to their military standards; and to the French referred to in the Times during the FrancoGerman War as "almost worshipping the mitrailleuse as a goddess." And this is still our peril. Because our possibilities are so great, we think that we can win all blessings for ourselves. Everywhere we see the worship of our human powers and means - the workman worshipping the strength of his arm and the deftness of his fingers, the man of business worshipping his skill and acuteness, and the man of science, human knowledge. Nor is the Church of God free from this spirit: for there is far too much of trusting to forms and ceremonies, to worldly alliances, to machinery and organization, as though these were the great essentials, and far too little of "looking up unto the hills whence cometh her help."
III. ALL SUCH GLORYING IS VAIN.
1. It reveals self-ignorance. For no one who really understands himself could possibly cherish this spirit.
2. It leads to oppression. The man who has exalted notions of his own powers and doings is likely to be proud and overbearing in his conduct towards others.
3. It is offensive to God. "He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 4:6). "In all our ways, therefore, let us acknowledge him" and as we prosper in our course ascribe the success gained to his favour and blessing. In the language of Keble, let us say - .
"Should e'er thy wonder working grace "To our own nets ne'er bow we down,
"To our own nets ne'er bow we down,