Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE HUMILIATION OF BEL AND NEBO. These were the tutelar gods of Babylon and its suburb, Borsippa. Merodach, or Marduk (Jeremiah 50:2), is another name of a being closely related to or identical with Bel. The idols of the Chaldeans are given up to the beasts, and the images once carried in solemn procession by the priests and nobles are put upon the backs of beasts of burden. Herodotus and Diodorus tell us of the golden statue of the great god at Babylon (the Greeks called him after their own, Zeus), and the great golden table in front of it - a "table of demons" - and the golden altar. The image was said to have been carried away by Xerxes (Herod., 1:183). These gods, then, once held as mighty, tutelar, delivering saviours in one of the greatest cities in the world, have themselves gone into captivity. Themselves they could not save. Had these gods been really Divine, they would surely have rescued their own images. Conceived as persons by the heathen, they are, in the prophet's arguments, convicted of being without any of the proper ability of personality. "It is difficult not to think of the last strange journey of these desecrated images," remarks a commentator (cf. Layard's picture of the 'Procession of the Bull beneath the Mound of Nimrod'). The power of the heathen god depended on the faith, i.e. the imagination, of his worshippers. The overthrow of Babylonian power was a great shock to the heathen imagination. It showed that the power in which they had believed was an illusion and a lie from the Hebrew point of view. And so ever; the powers of this present world and its princes and its illusions are seen passing away before the prevalence of true religion.
II. THE PROVIDENCE OF JEHOVAH OVER HIS PEOPLE. He is what the gods counterfeited - a wise superintending Being, a faithful supporting Being, to his people, alike in war and in peace; the gods of conquered peoples had failed to be this, according to the prophet, and according to ancient thought generally. Jehovah is this. Note the extreme tenderness of the representations of him in this attitude to his folk. Not a timid and trembling captive but may appropriate the truth to his own consolation. He is as the Nurse, they as the little helpless infant (cf. Isaiah 63:9; Deuteronomy 1:31; Exodus 19:4; Psalm 28:9; Hosea 11:3). But the thought of the human parent and nurse reminds us of mortality and of transiency belonging to human conditions. "The devoted watchfulness of the parent dies away when his child has come to maturity; and he is commonly removed by death when his offspring has attained to old age." Not so with Israel and Jehovah. Israel is always the object of the motherly care and affection of God (Isaiah 42:14; Isaiah 49:15; Isaiah 66:9, 13). "Even to old age I am the same" (see Psalm 71:18, where the people speak as one person). "Even to grey hairs I will bear; I have made, and g will carry, and I will bear and will rescue."
III. HIS APPEAL TO THE REASON OF THE PEOPLE. Ever we seem to hear him saying, "Come now, and let us reason together. There are rebellious ones" (ver. 8), yet Jehovah still reasons with them. Once more the piece of manufactured helplessness called an idol is placed before their thought. What can it do for men? They "cry unto it, but it cannot answer, nor save them out of trouble." Is Jehovah to be compared with that thing? And then the positive argument is again brought forward. Jehovah alone has the power of prediction. "From the very beginning of a period of history he can announce the far-off issue, utterly incalculable to human eyes." If, then, now he has announced his purpose, it will stand. If the bird of prey, the eagle Cyrus, has been called from the east, it will be to the certain execution of a mission from Jehovah. To trust in him is to have all difficulties solved, all confidence restored. To believe in Providence; to be assured that the world's history at any moment, at this moment, is not a mere play of passion, caprice, and chance, but that things are working together to an end foreseen; - this is strength, because this is reason. And God would have his people understand what true reason brings to religion; that religion is reason and sense, while idolatry is weakness, folly, and unreason.
IV. THE NEARNESS OF GOD'S SALVATION. This, too, is an emphatic thought (cf. Isaiah 56:1). Righteousness and salvation are but two aspects of the same blessing. Yet men may be "far off." How? It is not space, it is not time, that separates from God. It is in the heart that men are near or far. The power of imagination must not be forgotten. In one sense God is no more near or distant at one time than another, nor to one person than another; that our reason assures us. Yet the evidence of feeling and of imagination is otherwise. They tell us that he may be "near" or "far." It is, then, in ourselves that the cause must be sought. The warm affection, the lively fancy, the open and lowly intelligence, - these bring him near. The obdurate heart - which means the dull intelligence, the sluggish fancy, the state of coldness in the affections - this may place him wide as the poles asunder from man. What is needed in religion, alike in its intellectual and its practical aspects, is simplicity, yielding childlikeness, impressionableness to great and obvious truths. - J.
I. THAT FALSE TRUSTS, SO FAR FROM LIGHTENING OUR BURDENS, ARE A HEAVY WEIGHT TO CARRY. Men make mistakes now which are as serious in their consequences as that made by the Babylonians. They put their trust in things which prove to be delusive and even burdensome. This is trite of unwise friendships; of ill-gained or excessive wealth; of exalted positions, which we have not strength to fill, or high honours which we have not grace to carry; of learning in one direction, unbalanced by knowledge in other directions. You see men who thought to bless themselves with these "idols," who expected to be enriched and sustained by them, staggering under their weight, blinded and misled by them, betrayed and ruined by them. Instead of their gods carrying them, they have to carry their gods.
II. THAT TRUST IN GOD WILL BE JUSTIFIED BY THE LONGEST LIFE. (Ver. 4.)
1. God continued his mercies to us from our birth to our regeneration; though we knew him not, he girded us (Isaiah 45:5). He fed and clothed and sheltered us.
2. He undertook to befriend us when we gave ourselves to him, and he has done so. He has made good to us his kindest words of promise.
3. A time of special trial may confront us: the pillar and mainstay may have fallen; unfriendly seasons or adverse circumstances may have stripped us; sickness may have weakened us, or infirmity may be visibly advancing on us. Our human powers, our earthly prospects, may be failing and waning.
4. But we may go on undaunted, untroubled. "The Lord will provide." We have a strong consolation - we whose hope is in the Lord our God.
(1) His word of promise cannot be broken.
(3) Our very weakness and distress are a strong guarantee that the compassionate and considerate Father will befriend and sustain us.
(4) The unchangeable One will not begin without concluding his work; he will "perfect that which concerns us;" he will "not forsake the work of his own hands." To old age, to hoar hairs, he will carry us along the path of life, till we reach the home of unfailing health and unbroken joy. - C.
I. THE SURPRISE. Even. At the time when the world draws off, God comes nearer. Weakness is always welcome to him. He loves to comfort. His infinite strength is not weakened by all outgoings of help to others. Wherever, in age, sickness confines us, or solitude keeps us, there is our Father. Even then, when heart and flesh faint and fail. He has not merely promised this, but the Jacobs of the world can attest the truth: "All my life long." And apart from promise and experience, it is God's nature so to do.
II. THE REASONS.
1. "I have made. God will not, as Job says, forget us, because thou hast a desire to the work of thy hands."
2. "I have rescued." What else says the prophet? "I will carry and deliver you." What we could not bear away, God, in the person of his Son, will do for us. "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!' Hoar hairs may have their perfect whiteness, but hoar hearts have not, and we need a Saviour to the end. Nor is this all. Old age has its sorrows as well as its sins. The young have not always sympathy with the old. They do not understand what it is to feel so "alone," with buried generations behind, who once joined in the race of life with them, and who worshipped with them in the house of God. Those who admired and understood and loved them are gone, and a generation has risen up who know not Joseph. Beautifully does the next verse begin, "To whom will ye liken me?" "Even to your old age I am he." Always a Father, always a Saviour, always a Friend. - W.M.S.
John 13:1), when, speaking of his Master, he said, "Those whom he loveth, he loveth unto the end. It may be noticed that, while mother's love and interest never flags or fails, mother's work, of bearing, tending, carrying, does change and pass as the children grow older. So even with a mother God may be contrasted; for he tends even to old age, even to the end. Opening the general topic suggested by the text, we may observe that the promise -
I. ASSUMES US TO BE IN GRACIOUS RELATIONS WITH GOD. Sometimes those relations are presented under the figure of a covenant." At other times they are seen as relations brought about by "redemption"-work in our behalf. Here the closer, more natural, more personal, relations of parents and children are referred to. God is represented as feeling towards us like the mother who bore us. Compare the psalmist's sense of the motherly relation in his plea, "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up."
II. DECLARES THAT THE RELATION SHALL BE KEPT UP TO THE END. Such an assurance is necessary, not because we fear any changeableness in God, but because we fear that the wilfulness and changeableness in us may grieve him, and lead him to remove his grace from us. The comfort of the promise of the text lies in the confidence it gives us that our waywardness will not outweary our God. "Though we believe not, yet he abideth faithful."
III. INVOLVES GRACE SUFFICIENT FOR MAINTAINING THE RELATION. It is not a promise of grace at the end, but unto the end. All along the way we may be quite sure of adaptations of Divine grace such as may go into the words "carry," "bear," "deliver." - R.T.
exercising their powers of recollection and reason in remembering the facts and arguments he has adduced, or by taking appropriate, manly action in the recollection and realization of these convincing and constraining reasons. Religion is a manly thing in both these aspects. So far from its being the childish or effeminate thing which its enemies have been pleased to call it, it is a sphere of thought and of action in which the very highest and noblest attributes of our humanity have fullest scope.
I. AS A SPHERE OF HUMAN THOUGHT.
1. It is the most elevated. All objects of creation are worthy of regard, and the study of them is full of recompense. But they differ in the degree of their worthiness; there is an ascending scale, and they culminate in the Divine. The noblest study of mankind is God his nature, his character, his will, his kingdom.
2. It is the most obligatory. Men, as men, should consider that which most claims their attention, should dwell on those themes which most demand their thought and care. And these are found in Divine blessings, Divine dealings, Divine messages, Divine beauties and excellences. We are never doing anything more worthy of our manhood than when we are recalling and realizing what God is, what he has done, what he has been to our race and to ourselves, what sovereign and supreme claims he has on our reverence and love.
II. As A SPHERE OF HUMAN ACTION. If there be anything which can be said to be manlier than patient and earnest thought on the highest themes, it is:
1. Deliberate choice of the wisest and best course - the determination, at all costs and spite of all inducements, to take that course which commends itself to our judgment as the right and the wise one. This is exactly what men do when they surrender themselves to the will of God, to the service of Jesus Christ.
2. Resolute and persistent pursuit of it. Where does manliness find nobler illustrations than in the persistent worship of God under cruel persecution, the immovable adherence to sacred conviction under the wearying and worrying assaults of worldly and frivolous associates, the steadfast endeavour to extend the kingdom of righteousness and to raise the condition of the degraded, notwithstanding all the discouragements that await the Christian workman? - C.
I. GOD IS BEST SERVED BY MAN AT HIS BEST. A very curious perversion of St. Paul's glorying in his infirmities is the notion, which prevails in some quarters, that the more ignorant, weak, and foolish we are, the better we can serve God's purposes. It is the universal truth that God works out his best purposes through the consecration of man's best and most cultured powers to his service. It is only the exception of Divine grace that God is pleased sometimes to use man's feebleness. Sometimes, indeed, it is so, that "out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God perfects praise;" and his so doing efficiently persuades us of the absolute sovereignty of Divine grace; but the normal law is that God shall be served by the best culture and the wisest use of just those powers and faculties which he has himself given us. Let babes be babes, and honour God with infant songs. Since we are men, it is the best-cultured and most fully matured manhood that we must lay upon his altar. When reproached by a mere sentimentalist that "God had no need of his learning," the cultured divine very wisely as well as smartly replied, "And he has as little need of your ignorance." We must be in every way the best possible for God, and this includes our mental best.
II. MAN AT HIS BEST IS BUT A SERVANT OF GOD. This conviction will keep him in his place, whatsoever his attainments may be. It is the constantly observed fact that fulness of learning and a genuine humility go together hand-in-hand. It is a "little knowledge" that puffeth up, a "little culture" that nourishes self-will. The things we have in the household and family life, for daily use, need not be chipped, ugly, or inefficient things; they may be in the best shapes, and may be artistic in appearance, pleasant to the eye, without losing their practical usefulness. So we can be the truest, wisest, most cultured, most beautiful men and women, and yet keep in perfect simplicity the humility and the joy of our service. - R.T.
I. WHAT IS PLEASANT TO GOD MUST BE RIGHT. For men that is true which is expressed in the proverb, "Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." Man finds his pleasure in that which is doubtful, and even in that which is wrong. But we have the most perfect confidence that God finds no pleasure in anything that is not through and through right. If he is well pleased, then we are sure that the thing is right. Indeed, so fixed is this relation between "God" and "right," that, for us, the right has come to be simply "God's will."
II. WHAT IS PLEASANT TO GOD MUST BE KIND. That is, it must have taken all due consideration of the well-being and the wishes of others; and it must involve a going out of God, as it were, beyond himself, to live in the feelings of others. The essence of pleasure is unselfish concern for others. And God may do all his "pleasure," because he proposes only that which secures our highest welfare. What may be spoken of as the highest pleasure God can know? We are assured that he has "no pleasure at all in the death of the wicked, but that he turn from his evil way and live." God's supreme pleasure is found in redeeming; in all that this most suggestive and comprehensive word involves. "The Lord taketh pleasure in them that tear him, in those that hope in his mercy." - R.T.
Ezekiel 2:4); "For all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted" (Ezekiel 3:7). The term "stout-hearted" expresses stubborn and confirmed opposition, rebelliousness, obduracy, a state of mind and heart that is beyond the influence of any gracious pleadings and persuasions. And such "stout-heartedness" involves the man's own self-willed exclusion from the "righteousness of God." The stout-hearted man gets far away from God, because he has no intentions of obedience to him. The plea of the text is sent to those exiles who were slow to believe in their deliverance through the agency of Cyrus; and it must be admitted that all the later information we have concerning Cyrus helps us to understand how unlikely a person he was for the carrying out of Jehovah's purposes. Not even yet have we sufficent information to permit our understanding the national circumstances and political pressure which, humanly speaking, led to the restoration. The plea of the text is full of force for all sinners who refuse to accept the offers of mercy and salvation which God has been pleased to make to them. The "stout-hearted" can even refuse God's mercy in Christ Jesus. But the refusal is rebellion and insult; and the stone that should be a foundation must prove a stone that falls and crushes. Matthew Henry regards these "stout-hearted" as "the unhumbled Jews, that have been long under the hammer, long in the furnace, but are not broken, are not melted; that, like the unbelieving, murmuring Israelites in the wilderness, think themselves far from God's righteousness (that is, from the performance of his promise, and his appearing to judge for them), and by their distrusts set themselves at a yet further distance from it, and keep good things from themselves, as their fathers, who could not enter into the land of promise because of unbelief." A study of this state and condition of mind and feeling may follow along three lines.
I. STOUT-HEARTEDNESS AS A NATURAL DISPOSITION. There is a natural obstinacy, a self-willed tendency to object and to resist, which parental training ought to correct, test it should get established as a bad bias for life. Severe child-chastisements only can check this evil.
II. STOUT-HEARTEDNESS AS A PRODUCT OF CIRCUMSTANCES. Illustrate from the distressed condition of exiles in Babylon, the long delay in Divine deliverance, etc. We can hardly wonder that some should say, "Why should we wait for God any longer?"
III. STOUT-HEARTEDNESS AS A RESULT OF ACTS OF WILFULNESS. Nothing is more morally injurious than for us to be successful in first transgressions and little sins, and so to become hardened and proud in our hearts. - R.T.
I. WHAT HE DOES FOR THEM. Illustrate from God's moving away all obstacles, and constraining unlikely agents to serve him in the restoring of the exiles to their loved city and country.
II. WHAT HE DOES IN THEM By the very delay of his promise, and by his gracious sanctifyings, preparing them to get the very best moral and spiritual blessings out of their deliverance.
III. WHAT HE DOES WITH THEM. Making them a spectacle and a witness for himself, to their own age and the surrounding nations; and making the marvel of their story a testimony to his faithfulness and mercy to all ages, until the end of the world shall come. - R.T.