Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE PROPHET AS SPECTATOR. The valley of vision seems to mean Jerusalem as a whole, round about which are mountains (Psalm 125:2); the city is spoken of, when compared with the surrounding mountains, as the "inhabitant of the valley," otherwise as the "rock of the plain" (Jeremiah 21:13; comp. 17:3). If Isaiah is gazing from his house in the lower town, the city would appear as in a valley in relation to the mountains inside as much as those outside (Delitzsch). He sees the whole population crowded together on the house-tops, and the air is filled with the uproar of merriment. The house-tops were places of resort at festival-time (Judges 16:27; Nehemiah 8:16).
II. THE MIRTH OF DESPAIR. It was famine and pestilence which, forcing the people into despair, had brought about this mad rebound of hollow merriment. The slain of the city had not been slain upon the field; but the crowding in of fugitives from the country had occasioned the plague. The description reminds us of Zephaniah's picture of Nineveh: "This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me" (Zephaniah 2:15). And again we think of scenes in connection with the plagues in the Italian cities of the Middle Ages, when revelry and story-telling are said to have gone on amongst groups who had withdrawn themselves from the horrors around them. How terrible the contrast between the dark background of calamity and this hollow feverish exhibition of merriment in the foreground! "I said of laughter, What is it?" Let us thank God for the precious gift of humor. Its light, lambently playing upon the sternest and most awful scenes and imagery of the mind, was given to relieve the tragedy of life. In melancholy minds the source of humor is deeply seated. But how different the cheerfulness which springs from the sense that the scheme of things is sound and right, that "God's in his heaven, all's right with the world," and that which confronts a hopeless future with mad defiance! There is something lurid, ominous, in the latter, full of foreboding; and the scene in Jerusalem may be dwelt upon as typical of the ill-timed mirth of the sinner when danger is impending, soon to be quenched in silence and night. The rulers have fled away from the devoted city; in the face of the enemy they have flung down their bows and yielded themselves prisoners. All is lost.
III. THE FORECAST OF DOOM.
1. The grief of type prophet. In warm patriotism he identifies himself with his city and his people, and gives way to bitter tears; a prototype of Jesus in later days, looking on the doomed city, perhaps, from some similar point of view. We are reminded also of Jeremiah, whose heart "fainted" under a similar sense of the miseries of the people, and who exclaims, "Oh that my head were full of waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears, that I might bewail the slain of my people!" (Jeremiah 4:31; Jeremiah 9:1). These are living examples of compassion, and of true patriotic feeling, including a true Church feeling. "We are altogether unworthy of being reckoned in the number of the children of God, and added to the holy Church, if we do not dedicate ourselves and all that we have to the Church in such a manner that we are not separate from it in any respect. Especially the ministers of the Word ought to be moved by this feeling of grief, because, being appointed to keep watch and to look at a distance, they ought also to groan when they perceive the tokens of approaching ruin" (Calvin).
2. The siege and capture. "We seem to see and hear the last hurrying stages of the siege and capture" (Cheyne). In one of the valleys the hosts of the enemy are seen thickly trampling and spreading dismay and confusion all around. As the undermining of the walls by the siege artillery goes on, cries of woe beat against the surrounding hills, and are echoed back again. The terrible famed bowmen of Elam (comp. Jeremiah 49:35)and the people of Kir, together forming, as it would seem, the vanguard of Assyria, are seen advancing. The valleys about the city, all teeming with associations of the past - Kedron, Gihon, Rephaim, Hinnom - are ploughed by hoofs of horses and wheels of chariots; and the foe is drawn up in column, ready to enter the "great gate," so soon as it shall be broken down by the battering-rams.
3. The state of the inhabitants. Jehovah draws aside the curtain from Judah. This may mean
(1) he exposes their weakness to the enemy; or
(2) he takes away the blindness of the people to their danger.
Probably the former. In either case the hand of an overruling Providence is recognized. The "forest house," or arsenal built by Solomon on Zion, is examined (1 Kings 7:2; 1 Kings 10:17; cf. Isaiah 39:2). The "city of David," i.e. the fortress on Mount Zion, is inspected by the leading men, and the numerous breaches in the walls are observed. They survey the houses, and take material from them to repair the wall. They concentrate the water-supply in one reservoir - the "lower pool," and form a basin between the two walls. These preparations may be compared with those of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:2-5).
IV. FATAL FORGETFULNESS. All these precautions would be too late! A dreadful word! And why?
1. The Divine counsel has been forgotten. "Hast thou not heard long ago, how I have done it; and of ancient times, that I have formed it? now have I brought it to pass" (Isaiah 37:26). These harpers, and violinists, and tabret-players, and feasters have not "regarded the work of Jehovah, nor considered the operation of his hands" (Isaiah 5:12). Self-reliance may be religious, or it may mean an attempt to be independent of God, and so end in alienation from God. How feeble and how foolish policy must become if from the first it ignores the Divine will, and at the last only comes to acknowledge a destiny above human might and human calculation! The idea of all that will be exists in the mind of God; we may know something of his meaning by constantly consulting the "living oracles," by truthful thinking, by loyal acting - in a word, by communion with the living God. What can attention to ramparts and ditches and reservoirs avail, if men have not found their defense in God? If he be trusted, what is there to fear? If he be denied, what can shield from calamity? "The fate of Jerusalem is said to have been fashioned long ago in God, But Jerusalem might have averted its realization, for it was no absolute decree. It Jerusalem repented, that realization would be averted" (Delitzsch).
2. Divine warnings have been neglected. God had called - in that day; at every critical time. By many ways he speaks - by the living and passionate tones of prophet and brother man, by the general course of events, by the touch of sorrow, by the hints of personal experience. There is a time for everything under the sun; to know our opportunity makes the wisdom of the world; to know the "time of our visitation" is the wisdom of heaven. But, alas! the Jews knew it not; "rushing to the banquet-table with despair in their hearts, and wasting the provisions which ought to have been husbanded for the siege." "Let us cat and drink; for tomorrow we die." The sensualism of despair (Cheyne). When the light of life, bright faith and hope toward God, dies out, what remains but to counterfeit its glow by some artificial illumination, kindled from the tow of physical excitement? A love of life which scoffs at death (Delitzsch). 'Tis dangerous to scoff; to scoff at the great scoffer Death, what is this but the last extreme of self-abandonment? And does not despair imply the last sin we can commit? And is not recklessness its evidence? And follows there not upon all this the shadow of a state unforgiven, a mind eternally unreconciled? Who can but tremble as he meditates on these things? "Probably if the real feeling of the great mass of worldly men were expressed, they could not be better expressed than in the language of Isaiah: 'We must soon die, at all events; we cannot avoid that - it is the common doom of all. And since we have been sent into a dying world; since we have had no agency in being placed here; since it is impossible to prevent this doom, - we may as well enjoy life while it lasts, and give ourselves to pleasure and revelry. While we can, we will take our comfort, and, when death comes, we will submit to it, because we cannot avoid it'" (Barnes). But such argumentation cannot really satisfy the conscience. Blessed the Word which evermore, in the mercy of the Eternal, calls to repentance, and reminds us that "now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation!" - J.
I. THAT GOD SENDS SORROW TO HUMAN SOULS. These national distresses were to be of his sending; it was to be "a day of trouble... by the Lord of hosts" (ver. 5). The human instrumentality would be visible enough, and both those who inflicted the blow and those who endured it - their enemies and themselves - might fail to discern any Divine hand at work; nevertheless, it was a chastisement that came from heaven, it was sent of God. And to whatever second causes we may trace our troubles in the day of our "treading down and of perplexity," or in the day of our loss, or suffering, or bereavement, we may always go beyond the instrumentality to him "of whom are all things," and feel that what has happened to us is "by the Lord of hosts."
II. THAT HIS PURPOSE THEREIN IS OUR SPIRITUAL AMENDMENT. "In that day did the Lord God of hosts call to weeping," etc. (ver. 12). God would then invite to a general humiliation - he would draw their minds to a view of their guilt, and lead them to repentance and so to restoration and life. This is always the Divine purpose in adversity. God seeks our spiritual amendment. Other methods of instruction failing, he lays his hand upon us so that we must feel his touch; he speaks to us in tones it is difficult to disregard; and we know that the thing from which he calls us is sin - sin in one or other (or in some) of its many forms; we know also that the thing to which he summons us is rectitude - rightness of heart and life.
III. THAT THIS HIS DIVINE END IS SOMETIMES ENTIRELY DEFEATED. "Behold joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep," etc. (ver. 13). Both national history and the biography of individual men prove to us that affliction may produce the very opposite result to that for which it is sent. Never has the city been so abandoned to vice as when the plague was raging and the dead lay unburied in the streets. Many a man allows adversity to drive him to dissolute enjoyments or to ruinous crimes, instead of letting it allure him to a Divine Deliverer. Trouble that was intended to lead to heavenly wisdom and to the service of God only too often hardens a stony heart, makes still ungodlier the man who has forsaken the sanctuary, fastens the fetters of some enslaving vice on the limbs of its wretched victim.
IV. THAT UNSANCTIFIED SORROW LEADS TOWN TO SPIRITUAL DEATH. This iniquity would not be purged until they died (ver. 14). It would end, not only with, but in death. Death is the penalty of unsanctified sorrow: "The sorrow of the world worketh death" (2 Corinthians 7:10). It leads down inevitably to that utter estrangement from God, that unlikeness to God, and that condemnation by God, in which spiritual death is found here; it leads on to that final banishment from his presence and glory in which it will be found hereafter. - C.
I. JOY IS ILL-TIMED WHEN IT EXPRESSES SELF-SECURITY. Foolish notions of the impregnability of their city possessed the Jews, in spite of the fact that it had been taken. Self-reliance blinded them to the elements of weakness in themselves, and to the strength and energy of their foes. We have heard many a man laugh at threatened danger, and say, "I am safe," and show, as Jerusalem did, the folly of joy with no better basis than self-security.
II. JOY IS ILL TIMED WHEN IT EXPRESSES THE RECKLESSNESS OF DESPAIR. Some think that was rather the spirit of Jerusalem at this time - the spirit which says, "Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die" (see vers. 12, 13). Self-restraint is very dependent on hope. Illustrate by the wild excitement and foolish things done when shipwreck is imminent; or by the riotings of the man who knows he is within an hour of bankruptcy. "I said of laughter, It is mad." There is an old saying which explains such reckless, heartless joy: "Whom the gods would destroy they first dement." All such joy is foolish and perilous, especially because it keeps men from the duty of the hour, the doing of which might be the means of delivering them from the danger.
III. JOY IS ILL TIMED WHENEVER IT HAS NO ROOTAGE OF RELIANCE ON GOD. Joy in God is the foundation of all joy. We can rejoice in what we possess; for it is God-given. We can rejoice in what we lose; for the Lord taketh away. We can rejoice in the future; for "the Lord doth provide." We can rejoice in the darkness and peril; for "he that keepeth Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps." - R.T.
I. PESTILENCE CREATES FRIGHT. And this prepares the way for the march of the pestilence; partly because those in whom are the seeds of disease go to other places, carrying the evil with them; and partly because fear lowers vitality, and so limits the power of resistance to disease. Fright in time of pestilence was painfully exhibited in the recent visit of the cholera to the towns in the south of France.
II. PESTILENCE BREAKS UP SOCIAL LIFE. By the flight, from the infected neighborhood, of all whose means permit. By the disturbance of commerce, business, education, etc. Worse than this, danger of life nourishes self-interest, so that men are ready to sacrifice others to save themselves. At such times the worst of humanity is revealed in the many, and the best of humanity in the few.
III. PESTILENCE OFTEN LEADS TO RECKLESSNESS. As was most painfully seen in the time of the great plague of London, and as is indicated by Isaiah in the text. Despair flings the reins on the neck of lust.
IV. PESTILENCE MAKES HEROES. Madame de Genlis tells of an incident in connection with the peste at Marseilles. The true nature of the disease was unknown, and could only be discovered by a post-mortem examination, but that was certain death to the operator. All the doctors drew back. Then a young surgeon, named Guyon, of great celebrity in his profession, devoted himself for the safety of his country. He made the necessary examination, recorded his observations, made his suggestions, placed the papers in a vase Of vinegar, retired to the lazaretto, and in twelve hours was dead - a hero made by the pestilence. - R.T.
1. The exaggerated self-consciousness or vain-gloriousness which some "patriots" exhibit.
2. The exclusiveness of spirit which others betray.
3. The diseased sensitiveness which leads many to catch at the first apparent international wrong as a valid casus belli. A great deal passes current as patriotism which would have been allowable, if not creditable, under heathenism, but which is simply false and guilty under the Divine teaching we have received who have learned of Christ. That man is the true friend of his country who takes -
I. A DEEP AND PRACTICAL INTEREST IN ITS POLITICAL WELFARE. A part of the "spoiling" to which Isaiah refers is to be found in the threatened seizure of his country's political independence, its being made subcut and tributary to the invader; this could not be other than a calamity of the first consequence in his eyes. The Christian patriot, while he ought to oppose most strenuously all unrighteous projects on the part of his own people, does well to be earnestly concerned for the integrity, the independence, the reputation, of his native land.
II. A PRACTICAL INTEREST IN ITS MATERIAL WELL-BEING. No doubt this "spoiling" included, in the prophet's thought, the destruction of its property and the deportation of its wealth. Considering how all the citizens, the wage-receiving multitudes as welt as the wealthier minority, are affected by the material prosperity of the land, it is right and Christian for us to make this a matter of careful and conscientious effort.
III. A PROFOUND INTEREST IN ITS MORAL AND SPIRITUAL CONDITION. It was
(1) the moral condition of Jerusalem, feasting and making merry on the day of its humiliation (vers. 12, 13); and also
(2) its spiritual condition, forgetting its true Deliverer (ver. 11), and slighting his discipline (ver. 12), which so much distressed the holy prophet. And it should be the moral and spiritual condition of our country which should create in us and call forth from us our most profound solicitude. And this because
(1) that is the matter of most intrinsic importance;
(2) that is the thing on which the Divine judgment and determination will depend; and
(3) that will be ultimately decisive of our country's political and material interests. If we would do our whole duty in relation thereto, we shall:
1. Join in prayer for Divine mercies.
2. Be careful to exert the influence of a godly and irreproachable example.
3. Exert all our power as individual men and through useful organizations for the guidance and the elevation of the people. - C.
I. WE MAY WEEP IN ANTICIPATION. If we can see trouble ahead, and our distress can be the means of awakening others who are careless, but who ought to be preparing to meet the trouble, our very griefs may be a "fore-warning."
II. WE MAY WEEP IN TIME OF TROUBLE. Because tears are the natural expressions of feeling, and the natural relief of overcharged feeling. Danger to brain and heart attend undue restraint of tears.
III. WE MAY WEEP IN SYMPATHY WITH OTHERS. Often such silent sympathy is more effective than any words. To feel with another so as to join in the same expression of feeling is most soothing and comforting. The sublime illustration of this is our Redeemer weeping in human sympathy with gentle Mary at the grave of Lazarus.
IV. WE MUST NOT LET OUR WEEPING BECOME A SELF-INDULGENCE. This is a greater peril to us all than we are wont to estimate. There is a luxury of grief; a keeping it up for the sake of the comforting and petting it brings; a pleasant giving way. Weeping is wrong, is mischievous, the moment it passes beyond the bounds of what is necessary for relief. As soon as self comes in, and we will to give way, our weeping becomes sin.
V. WE MAY WEEP AS A TESTIMONY. For this we have the example of our Divine Lord and Master, who" when he beheld the city [of Jerusalem - the very city concerning which Isaiah wept], wept over it, saying, Oh that thou hadst known, in this thy day, the things that make for thy peace!" John Howe most suggestively calls this "The Redeemer's tears wept over lost souls." - R.T.
I. MEN TRUSTING IN WEAPONS ONLY. By the term "weapons" understanding all that belongs to armies, navies, fortifications, and the material forces on which nations depend (see vers. 9-11). So often we hear that "Her navy is England's defense;" "Her insular position is her security:" Great guns, powerful ships, efficient drill, brave hearts - these, they say, guard Albion's honor. But these are only things, and they have to be continually changed and renewed. We can never be quite sure that we are abreast of the war-engines or the war force of other nations, and trust in mere weapons involves keeping the nation at a perpetual strain. Again and again we are alarmed as somebody argues our insecurity because of the state of our army and navy and coaling-stations.
II. MEN TRUSTING IS GOD ONLY. They should trust in God first and chiefly; but not only, if by that is meant letting the trust keep our hands idle, and put us on an expectation of miraculous deliverance. There have been times in the history of our race when men were required to do nothing, and simply to trust. In face of the Red Sea Moses said, Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord." And Sennacherib's army was overthrown without use of man's military forces. But these are exceptional cases, designed to impress one side of truth.
III. MAN MAKING HIS TRUST IN GOD APPEAR THROUGH THE USE OF HIS WEAPONS. This is, in every way, man's most difficult work. It may be dangerous self-confidence to trust weapons only. It may be mere listlessness to trust God only. It is the essence of piety to brace ourselves to all noble and wise endeavor, and keep through all our doings a soul full of trustings in God. This is but illustration in the war-spheres of the universal rule, "Workout your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his good pleasure." - R.T.
Jonah 3:5-9). God calls on the people to "lament their sins, by which they had brought these judgments upon their land, and to dispose themselves to a reformation of theft lives by a holy seriousness, and a tenderness of heart under the Word of God." God is ever, and has ever been, in various ways, calling men to repentance, because men are sinful, and constantly grieving him and ruining themselves by their willfulness.
I. GOD'S CALLS TO PENITENCE BY HIS PROPHETS. From Enoch (Jude 1:15), and Noah, to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, etc. It is the burden of prophecy. Their voice is ever crying, "Put away the evil of your doings."
II. GOD'S CALLS TO PENITENCE BY THE SILENT MARCH OF EVENTS. See the plea of Joel on foretelling invasions (Joel 2:12-14). "Coming events cast their shadows before," and those shadows ought to prove calls of God to thought and moral preparation.
III. GOD'S CALLS TO PENITENCE BY THE REVEALED WORD. "When God threatens us with his judgments he expects and requires that we humble ourselves under his mighty hand, that we tremble when the lion roars, and in a day of adversity consider" (Matthew Henry).
IV. GOD'S CALLS TO PENITENCE BY JOHN BAPTIST. A most remarkable person, as standing on the dividing line between the new and old dispensations. He carries forward into the new God's great demand in the old, "Repent." And he shows that moral preparation by repentance is the threshold of the new kingdom of forgiveness, acceptance, and grace.
V. GOD'S CALLS TO PENITENCE BY THE LORD JESUS AND HIS APOSTLES. They still demand repentance. Our Lord sends his apostles out with this message, and the apostles in the Pentecostal time, and in their letters, plead, saying, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you."
VI. GOD'S CALLS TO PENITENCE IN MODERN PREACHING. In this, more than in any other aspect of revealed truth, modern preaching fails. The ministers of the present day have no oppressive burden from the Lord, almost making them run away like Jonah - a burden of demanding "repentance of sin." - R.T.
I. SIN-PENALTIES THAT CAN BE REMOVED NOW, WHILE WE ARE IN' THIS WORLD. They are such as rest on the soul. Sin has a twofold aspect - it is both an act of transgression and a spirit of self-will. It is the soul that sinneth; the self-will, as opposing God's will, is the fountain and source of all wrong-doing. But the soul finds expression and action through the body, and consequently there will be both spiritual and bodily penalties following upon all sin. The soul will undergo a hardening process: The body will come into disabilities and sufferings. Pharaoh is willful. Then the Lord, in his judgment, wilt harden Pharaoh's heart; smite him in the tenderest part of his family feeling by the death of his firstborn; and bring down the pride of Egypt by an ignominious overthrow in the Red Sea. The soul-penalties attaching to sin are expressed in the sentence, "The soul that sinneth it shall die." Death, spiritual death, is the necessary result of soul-sin. Our first father, Adam, began to die when, in a spirit of self-will and self-pleasing, he ate the forbidden fruit. Every one of us, nowadays, begins to die the "eternal death" when we sin with our souls. The sphere of the atonement made by our Lord Jesus, in his life and in his cross, is precisely this sphere of soul-penalties. Christ removes the penalties of sin which come upon our souls. Christ renews the life of love, and trust, and submission, and joy in God, which effectually prevents any of the hardenings and debasings of sin becoming permanent in our cases.
II. SIN-PENALTIES THAT CANNOT NOW BE REMOVED. The penalties and consequences of sin that come on our bodies, our circumstances, and others who are connected with us. God has appointed the order in which family and social life should be arranged and conducted. If we would carry out that Divine order perfectly, and obey those Divine laws faithfully, heaven, with its eternal purities, its peace passing understanding, and its joy unspeakable, would be begun below. Sin, in its outward aspect, is the infringement of this Divine order, the breaking of those gracious and holy laws. To every such infringement a natural penalty is attached. This is expressed in a figure by the familiar words, "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." The redemption provided by the Lord Jesus does not immediately and directly touch these natural penalties of sin. There is an important sense in which the forgiving God "by no means clears the guilty." The child of the drunkard or the sensualist will not have the spirit of drink or of passion taken out of him, nor will he be renewed from his physical deterioration, because his father becomes a Christian in his later years. Consequences of wrong reach on until they get altogether beyond hand-grasp. Do any wrong, and for the soul of the wrong there is forgiveness, and full restoration, in the Divine mercy, through the precious blood-shedding; but you may pursue all your life after the natural consequences, and you shall never overtake them, never master them, never remove them. On they go, carrying their burdens of woe to the third and fourth generation. And Isaiah reminds us that there are some special kinds of iniquity to which the rule must more especially apply, for whose consequences there can be no earthly purging. They are such as are:
1. Maintained in a spirit of willfulness.
2. Such as outlast all warnings and corrections.
3. Such as have become a cause of open reproach.
4. And such as have been the means of ruining others.
In all these cases the judgment must come, and the sinner's fellow-men must see it hanging over him as long as he lives. If it were not so, adequate impressions of the evil and hatefulness of sin could not be kept before the eyes of men. Though we should also see that these sin-penalties, lying so heavy on the race, are part of the Divine remedial scheme for finally delivering humanity from its self-serving and its sin. - R.T.
I. SHEBNA THE HOUSE STEWARD. He was the steward of the household - a high office, as we may see from the allusion in Isaiah 36:3; Isaiah 37:2. Once it was held by a king's son (2 Chronicles 26:21; cf. 1 Kings 4:6; 1 Kings 18:3). This officer stood nearest the king, and had the domestic affairs of the palace under his superintendence. The office of the mayor of the palace under the Merovingian kings of France has been compared with it. It is thought that Shebna was not a native Israelite, as his father's name is not mentioned. Possibly he was a Syrian from Damascus, and a leader of the Egyptianizing party, whose perverse and crooked policy in collecting the subsidy for Egypt is denounced by the prophet in Isaiah 30:12.
II. HIS PRIDE AND OSTENTATION. He was busy hewing out for himself a family sepulcher in the rock. We realize what is meant when we see figured in works of art the magnificent rock-built tombs of Persia, of Lydia and Phrygia and Lycia, of Phoenicia, and the vast pyramid-tombs of Egypt. There kings desired to "lie in honor, each in his own house" (Isaiah 14:18). So, too, grandees - Eshmunazar King of Sidon, Joseph of Arimathaea, etc. - built themselves sepulchers in their lifetime. At Rome we look upon the famous tomb of Hadrian, now called the Castle St. Angelo, and the tomb of Caecilia Metella upon the Appian Way, the pyramid of Cestius. What may we learn from the habit of tomb-building? It expresses man's protest against the doom of mortality. On the tomb of Sardanapalus is said to have been written, "Eat, drink, and love; for the rest is little worth;" and yet the tomb itself is a witness that there hovers before the mind the thought of the future, in which man would still live and still be remembered by his fellows, even though only by means of the lifeless stone. Thus it expresses man's infinite longings, the cravings of a nature that nothing but eternity can satisfy. There was, then, something great, something even sublime, in this tomb-building instinct. "The power of acting for a distant object, of realizing distant good, and reaching forward to it over an intervening period of labor, has something moral in it." Yet, on the other hand, the motive may be something of a much lower order - vanity, self-exaltation. So the prophet views the undertaking of Shebna. He has no right, as a foreigner, thus to appropriate the soil of the sacred city, the slope of one of its hills.
III. THE DENUNCIATION. In the vehemence of his indignation, the prophet declares that Jehovah will clutch the offender tightly, will roll him as a ball, and toss him into a broad land; thither he, with the chariots on which he has been rolling about the city, shall go to die! Notice the opposition between the might of Jehovah and the weakness of mere man, however exalted. Shall mortal man attempt to rival the Eternal, proudly seeking to perpetuate his memory on earth (compare the thoughts in Job 4:17; Job 10:5; Job 22:2)? The leading Hebrew teaching recurs - the insignificance of ephemeral and frail man in presence of the mighty, just, and ever-living God. "The renown of that sepulcher which Shebna had built is indirectly contrasted with the ignominy which quickly followed it." "That the mask of his high rank might not screen him from the prediction, the prophet expressly states that the office which he holds aggravates his guilt and renders him more detestable. Let princes, therefore, if they do not wish to expose themselves and their houses to reproaches, learn to act with judgment in appointing men to hold office... Infer that God is highly displeased with that ambition by which men seek to obtain undying renown in the world instead of being satisfied with those honors which they enjoy during life. God punishes their haughtiness and presumption, and causes those things which they wished to be the records of their glory to become their disgrace and shame" (Calvin). - J.
I. HUMAN RECKONING. Shebna had carefully and successfully built up his position in the state, and he made sure that he should keep it; he had not only "feathered his nest," but he had made up his mind that he should "die in his nest." He had arranged beforehand the place of his sepulcher (ver. 16). "The nail was fastened in a sure place" (ver. 25). All his plans were drawn, and he confidently anticipated that they would be justified by the event. In this respect he was but a type and specimen of mankind; we do the same thing in our turn and in our way.
1. It may seem strange that it should be so. A modest view of our own capacities; the instruction we gain by reading what has happened to men in the past; the lessons we gather from our observation of human life; - all these might save us from the error, but they do not.
2. The fact is that men do indulge in this illusion: the boy counts on the prizes he will win at school, and the young man on the honors he will gain at college; the tradesman reckons on the profits he will make in business, and the professional man on the mark he will make in his vocation; the minister anticipates the work he will accomplish in his sphere, and the statesman indulges the confident expectation that he will carry the measures on which his heart is set. Others, we know, have failed, but we, we think, shall avoid their errors and escape their discomfiture.
II. DIVINE INTERRUPTION. Shebna's calculations were to be entirely overthrown; instead of living on and dying in Jerusalem, and being buried in the sepulcher he had so elaborately prepared, he should be hurled away like a ball by the strong arm of Jehovah into a distant land, where he should live and die in inglorious exile.
1. It may be that Divine judgment will overtake us, as it evidently overtook and overwhelmed this prefect of the palace. His ostentation (ver. 16), his luxury ("the chariots of thy glory," ver. 18), his tyranny (implied in characterizing his successor "a father to the inhabitants," in contrast to his own severities), brought down upon him the Divine displeasure and the prophetic denunciation. Sooner or later our sin will find us out. If we owe our elevation to our iniquity, or if, on the summit of our success, we fear not God, neither regard the claims of man, we may be sure that at some time and in some way defeat and dishonor will await us.
2. Or it must be that disciplinary changes will affect us. Whatever there is in sorrow which is not judgment is discipline. And of this latter, we must all have our share; we shall find that events will not fill up the outlines we draw, that our future wilt be very different from that which we picture it now: boyhood will not prove to be all that childhood imagines; still less will manhood be what youth supposes; friends will forsake us, schemes will be thwarted, hopes will be extinguished, props will be cut in twain, clouds will come up and rains will pour down, as we little think to-day. The hour will come when the nail that now seems so fast will be removed, and all that hangs upon it be brought to the ground (ver. 25). (See Luke 12:16-21; James 4:13-16.)
III. THE GOOD ON WHICH WE MAY RECKON WITHOUT FEAR OF INTERRUPTION.
1. Holy service, either in the form of action or endurance.
2. The favor of God, the friendship of Jesus Christ.
3. Eternal blessedness. Between the faithful soul and these high hopes no power can intervene. - C.
I. MEN OUGHT TO MAKE PLANS. The Bible never opposes foresight, practical wisdom, reasonable ambitions, taking life with a strong hand, or the statesmanlike sagacity, that estimates public movements and prepares for inevitable changes, life man's ship is expected to drift anyhow; the man's hand must be always at the helm, and the man must know for what port he sails.
II. MEN TOO OFTEN MAKE PLANS IN A SPIRIT OF SELF-RELIANCE. As the Apostle James (James 4:13-15) puts it, men say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into this city, and spend a year there, and trade, and get gain." The mistake lies in that will. "Whatever happens, I will." "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare."
III. MEN SHOULD MAKE PLANS IN THE SPIRIT OF DEPENDENCE ON GOD; and with due reference of every case to him. As James says (James 4:15), "For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall both live, and do this, or that." Man's will sometimes is strong, and carries him over and through great difficulties; but God is ever stronger than he, and grasps him with effectual restraints. - R.T.
I. GOD CARRIED THEM AWAY. The enemies of Israel were but instruments in the hands of Jehovah. He reigned over their interests as truly then as in their more prosperous day. "The day is thine, the night also is thine." And in the Captivity, God was disciplining the people as no other dispensation could. Their lofty looks were changed for penitential tears, and their proud hearts were brought low. God would, in due time "turn again the captivity of Israel;" and the Law would be read again, and not only be read, but be "lived."
II. THE CAPTIVITY WAS A MIGHTY ONE. It occurred to a mighty multitude; it affected mighty interests; and it produced, mighty results. For this people God had formed for himself, to show forth his praise. We have to learn the lesson too. How tremendous are the powers of grief and loss, change and sickness, under which God often brings his children captive now! We are "prisoned" by pain and circumstance. In our hours of solitude and sorrow, God renews our will, separates the chaff from the wheat in our character, and meetens us for service here and for the inheritance of the saints in light hereafter.
III. THE COVERING WAS SURE. They were not cast away; they were only cast down. The almighty wings were still over them. In strange lands, amid strange faces, and listening to strange voices, they could not sing the Lord's song in a strange land. But the time of joy was to return. God was very near them still, and none could really harm them. What a covering! Not the mere roof of the home; not the mere outward raiment; but the Lord himself' was there, spreading his shield over them, when they were away from the munitions of rocks and from the defenses of dear Jerusalem. Sure! That is what we want. He also is our Dwelling-place in all generations and under all skies. - W.M.S.
2 Kings 7:19, 20); Nebuchadnezzar's humiliation in the hour of his boasting (Daniel 4:29-33); and Herod's awful death (Acts 12:20-23), when he permitted men to offer him the honors due alone to God. Man's folly in trying God's power to smite and wound is finely satirized by Eliphaz the Temanite (Job 15:25, 26): "For he stretcheth out his hand against God, and strengtheneth himself against the Almighty. He runneth upon him, even on his neck, upon the thick bosses of his bucklers." - R.T.
I. A SERVANT OF JEHOVAH. So he is characterized. The title may be of personal, spiritual, import, or of official; or both may be blended, as in the case of Isaiah himself (Isaiah 20:3); or there may be a separation of the two. Unhappy for a nation or for a Church if the true servants of the Eternal, the true devotees of right and truth, are excluded from the places of honor and influence; or if the "ministers and stewards" of Divine mysteries are so only technically and officially. The true servant must in any case be called. He must not push himself forward, but must be drawn forward by invisible, Divine leading. He does not "achieve greatness," but it is "thrust upon him." "In that day I will call to my servant." The words suggestively remind us of that principle of Divine selection which runs through the order of the world. In this, in every day, the "right men" are wanted for every place. In this day, too, there is much excitement about education. What men can do by the instruction of the intellect is very limited; in quiet places and in hidden ways, unknown to the schools, the Almighty is growing men and training men till the time is ripe for their service, and his call is heard.
II. HIS INVESTITURE.
1. It is the solemn, symbolical way of transferring an office. We think of Elijah finding the son of Shaphat ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, and casting his mantle upon him as he passed by (1 Kings 19:19). That was the prophet's simpler dress; this is the tunic of a man of rank and state. The girdle was an essential article of Oriental dress, worn by all classes and by both sexes. The fineness of its quality denoted the rank of the wearer. Here it was probably similar to that worn by the priests (Exodus 28:39; Exodus 39:29). Josephus describes it as made of linen so fine that it looked like the slough of a snake, and it was embroidered with flowers of scarlet, blue, purple ('Ant.,' 3:7. 2). This is the only place where the word abneth is used for any but a priestly girdle.
2. The girdle is in other ways symbolic. Jehovah "girds kings with a girdle," and "ungirds them according to his pleasure" (Job 12:18). Thus to be "girded with strength" is a symbol of Divine invigoration (1 Samuel 2:4); to be "girded with gladness," of refreshment (Psalm 30:11). "Have your loins girt about with truth" (Ephesians 6:14); "Gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end" - are noble Christian exhortations, carrying with them all the force of the old Oriental imagery. To be ungirt is a way of describing nervelessness, lack of strength and manhood; and the very picture of the good servant is of one "whose loins are girt about, whose lamp is burning."
III. THE SPIRIT AND FUNCTIONS OF THE STEWARD.
1. He is to be like a father to the people. An appropriate term for the chief man of a town or the prime minister of a country (1 Chronicles 2:24; 1 Chronicles 4:5; cf. 9:6; Job 29:16; Judges 5:7). So the Roman senators were patres. It speaks of benevolence united with wisdom and experience - a rule both firm and loving. The great Father in heaven must be the sublime ideal before us in all positions of rule and influence on earth.
2. He is to bear the key. This is an ancient badge of office; Callimachus represents the priestess of Demeter as having a key upon her shoulder ('Hymn. ad Cererem,' 1.45), and in the 'Supplices' (291) of AEschylus, in like manner, Io, priestess of Hera, is "key-holder" of the goddess. For illustration the following interesting passage may be cited from Roberts: "How much delighted was I when I first saw the people, especially the Moors, going along the streets, with each his key on his shoulder! The handle is sometimes made of brass, though sometimes of silver, and is often nicely worked in a device of filigree. The way it is carried is to have the corner of a kerchief tied to a ring; the key is then placed on the shoulder, and the kerchief hangs down in front. At other times they have a bunch of large keys, and then they have half on one side of the shoulder and half on the other. For a man thus to march along with a largo key on his shoulder, shows at once that he is a person of consequence. 'Roman is in great favor with the modehir, for he now carries the key.' 'Whose key have you got on your shoulder?' 'I shall carry my key on my own shoulder.'" (For the application to the apostles and to the Lord himself, see Matthew 16:19; Revelation 3:7.)
3. His tenure of office. The nails must be those hooks or spikes which were worked into the mortar of the walls of houses while still soft, answering the purpose of cramp-irons to hold the walls together, and pegs to hang things on. So, in temples, armor, shields, helmets, swords, spoils of war, were hung on such nails. An appropriate image these of stability, of (to use a modern coinage) reliableness. All may depend upon a man such as this; all "know where to find him;" sacred and precious trusts may be reposed on him without fear of disappointment. So in Zechariah 10:4 the "peg means a prince.
IV. ABUSES OF STATION AND OFFICE. There is another side" to everything good in human institutions. "All the honor of his father's house" will be found hanging upon Eliakim. All his humble relations - the "small fry," as we say; the "small vessels," as the prophet calls them - will look up to him, and. he will shed luster anti give support to all. The allusion is to vessels of a small kind - basins, leathern bottles, earthen pitchers. We must respect the judgment of the majority of commentators, who see a turn in the prophecy about Eliakim here. There is an impression of nepotism, of favoritism; and it seems that the firm "peg" is, after all, to be loosened from its place. And if so, how instructive the passage! How is it that man, once high in esteem and general confidence, came to be weighed in the balances and found wanting? Some weakness of flesh and blood, some undue leaning to one's kith and kin, some dement of partiality or favoritism, is often the cause. "His family makes a wrong use of him; and he is more yielding than he ought to be, and makes a wrong use of his office to favor them! He therefore falls, and brings down all with him that hung upon the peg, and who have brought him to ruin through the rapacity with which they have grasped at prosperity" (Delitzsch). Whatever view may be taken of the passage, 'twere well to remind ourselves of the old lesson, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." God. raises up and brings low. Let us walk softly, nor boast ourselves if for a time we flourish like a green bay tree. Our own weakness may, like a worm, be gnawing at our root. The "pitted speck" in the "garnered fruit" may be spreading, the "little rift" in the lute be widening.
"More the treacherous calm I dread
he should shut and open, should appoint and depose according to his good pleasure. We look at -
I. THE EXCELLENCE OF HUMAN AUTHORITY.
1. It satisfies a craving which is both broad and deep. Doubtless his succession to the high office vacated by Shebna brought great gratification to the heart of Elialdm. Men covet office, and the authority which it brings. Many meek and lowly minded ones, indeed, there are who have no such thirst of spirit; but, on the other hand, there are very many who profoundly desire and exceedingly enjoy it. The craving is both broad and general; its satisfaction, consequently, brings an intense and a widespread delight.
2. It conduces to order and to all those activities and pleasures of which order is the first condition.
3. It enables its holder to confer benefits
(1) on those whom he is most desirous of serving - "a glorious throne to his father's house," a source of strength and succor to all those related to him; and also
(2) on those whom he should account it a privilege to serve - he can be "a father to the inhabitants," etc., a source of blessing to his fellow-countrymen;
(3) on those who are specially deserving - a man in authority can admit to office those who are capable and honorable, while he can exclude those who are incapable and undeserving (ver. 22). On the other hand, it has to be remembered that authority
(1) often injures its possessor by making him selfish or self-sufficient;
(2) is often grossly and pitifully abused;
(3) is often suddenly and unexpectedly withdrawn, plunging him who holds it into humiliation and distress (ver. 25).
II. THE GREATER, EXCELLENCE OF HOLY INFLUENCE. Our Lord gave his apostles promise of power; but he distinctly told them that such power would lie, not in the exercise of authority, but in the exertion of influence (Mark 10:42-45). They were to be commissioned to deliver the most vitalizing and transforming truth, and to live a life purified and ennobled by that truth; their utterance and their action together would have a most decisive influence on individual men and on society at large. We inherit the privilege which the Master conferred on them. The truth they taught we teach; the life they lived we live. And this Divine, this redeeming, this everlasting wisdom, thus revealed from God, and thus manifested through us, is a far greater and a far mightier thing than the exercise of any human authority whatever. For by their attitude towards it men determine their destiny; by it they stand or fall (Matthew 21:44; John 3:36; 2 Corinthians 2:15, 16). It "opens, and no man can shut; it shuts, and no man can open." It is not only a mightier, but also a more blessed thing. This holy influence, thus exerted by the wise and good, through lip and life,
(1) shuts men out of evils into the power of which none can thenceforth draw them;
(2) opens the gate into kingdoms from which none can exclude them - those of Divine wisdom, of holiness, of usefulness, of heavenly joy and glory;
(3) has a salutary and elevating effect upon the heart of him who wields it. It blesses him that gives as much as him that takes.
1. Only the minority among mankind can possibly exercise authority; it is to a small fraction only that it will prove a blessing; and from all of these it will soon be removed by the fickleness of man or by the lapse of time.
2. But it is open to every child of man to exert a holy influence; this will confer a true, spiritual, undying good on others, and will leave a lasting, inward blessing on the giver. It is far the better of the two. - C.
he is to prove a "father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah." There recur times in our national history when public ministrations on such a theme as this may wisely guide public opinion. Such topics as the following are suggested.
I. THE GENIUS OF THE PUBLIC LEADER. As much a Divine endowment and trust for the world's use as the gifts of the orator, the artist, or the poet.
II. THE EVIL INFLUENCE OF THE UNPRINCIPLED PUBLIC LEADER. In his permission of wrong things. In his securing of right things by wrong methods. In the public example which encourages unprincipled dealings in private life.
III. THE POWER OF THE GODLY PRINCIPLED LEADER. He elevates the tone of society. Avoids causes of offence to neighboring nations. Aims at the permanent well-being of the whole people. Puts the moral progress of the nation before its material prosperity. Such leaders were Moses and David.
IV. THE DUTY OF THE GIFTED INDIVIDUAL TO TAKE PUBLIC RESPONSIBILITY. Illustrate by Cincinnatus. A true man finds a sphere of service for his God in the common affairs of the nation. Joseph served God through years of famine in Egypt. Daniel served his God through important national changes and revolutions. The history of each age in nations is really the biography of the leading individual of the age. The world curses or blesses the memory of its public leaders. - R.T.
I. THE KEY OF COURT OFFICE. As in case of Eliakim.
II. THE KEY OF RABBIS, AS TEACHERS. Remember the expression, "The key of knowledge."
III. THE KEY OF CHRIST, AS HEAD OF THE CHURCH. (Revelation 3:7.)
IV. THE KEYS AS COMMITTED TO PETER. (Matthew 16:19.) - R.T.
I. THE SORT OF MAN WHO CAN THUS BE A NAIL FOE OTHERS TO DEPEND ON.
II. THE TYPE FULLY REALIZED IN THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
III. THE TYPE REALIZED, IN MEASURE, IN CHRIST-LIKE MEN AND WOMEN. Nothing better can be said of any of us than this - Men trust us. What can be said of woman nobler than this, "The heart of her husband trusteth in her?" - R.T.