Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. GOD IS RULER OF ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE EARTH. He made them, and controls their destinies. Of the earth he says, "I have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me." His control over human interests, possessions, and destinies is absolute and unlimited.
II. EVEN THE UNGODLY MAY BE INSTRUMENTS OF HIS PURPOSES. "Nebuchadnezzar, my servant," - a remarkable title when applied to a heathen prince. The character of the authorities, the agents, and the instrumentalities by which we are opposed is not in itself a reason for resisting them if they are evidently of Divine appointment. In such a case we should be fighting against God. Moral evil is ever to be resisted and witnessed against, but that which God appoints must be acknowledged and submitted to.
III. IN SUCH CASES CIRCUMSTANCES WILL CLEARLY SHOW WHETHER THE APPOINTMENT IS OF GOD OR NOT, AND NOW WE MUST BE GUIDED IN OUR CONDUCT. The advice of the prophet is not to be interpreted as an expression of mere political prudence. It was the moral significance of Nebuchadnezzar's supremacy to which he appealed. In default of revelation our own conscience and common sense must be our guides.
1. In cases of unmistakable Divine dispensations the law of submission is clearly taught. Of this class is the rule of submission to the powers that be; of cheerful contentment with one's lot in life, so far as it seems beyond our own legitimate control or to be providentially arranged.
2. The ordinary miscellaneous trials and difficulties of life are not to be regarded in this way. Where there is not witness of conscience enjoining submission, energetic effort must be made. The Bible is no book of fatalism. It inculcates self-help, manly fortitude, and believing, intelligent enterprise.
IV. GUIDANCE AND INSTRUCTION MAY BE GRANTED TO MEN EVEN WHILST UNDER DIVINE DISCIPLE.
1. Injunctions. To be punished does not mean to be cast off; quite the contrary. And therefore, if there be any gracious purpose in the dispensation, it is well that it should be explained. False prophets have foretold favorable turns of fortune with mischievous effect. These must be contradicted, and their tendency expend. The Bible is full of instruction to the perplexed in all ages, and the Spirit of God still speaks to the hearts of his children.
2. Signs. Sometimes these will be of one kind, sometimes of another. Here a crucial test was proposed, viz. the challenge to the false prophets to bring back the vessels of the temple from Babylon. If God heard their prayer, then it would appear that their advice was sound. Signs will never be wanting to those who earnestly seek to know God's will
3. These are to be sought through prayer and waiting upon God. - M.
I. GOD FORESEES THE NATURAL PROBABILITY OF A STRUGGLE. Nebuchadnezzar and his hosts are not to drop from the clouds on the land of Jehovah's people whom Jehovah has now doomed. These hosts come from a distant land, and have many intervening lands to pass through; and how can they pass through in any but a destroying, impoverishing fashion? If the King of Babylon is to reach Jerusalem, the lands here mentioned must assuredly suffer from him scarcely less than Judah itself. And naturally they will prepare to meet him. Alliances will be formed; resources will be accumulated; the greatest strain will be put on every one in order to make the defense successful. These attacked people cannot assume that, because Babylon is such a mighty power, it is folly to think of resisting it. Thus they seem to have sent to Zedekiah, hoping to make a confederation strong enough to drive the invader back.
II. NATURAL AS THE STRUGGLE MIGHT BE, IT WAS DOOMED TO CERTAIN FAILURE. Doomed, not because it was the strength of many against the weakness of few, but because God's great purposes required that any scheme of defense should be a failure. If the defenders had become as the invaders in point of strength, and the invaders as the defenders, this apparently decisive exchange of resources would have left the result unaffected.
III. The struggle, therefore, being vain beyond all doubt, THE TRUE WISDOM WAS NOT EVEN TO ATTEMPT IT. These nations, persevering in a vain struggle, were only committing self-slaughter. If the issue had been in any way uncertain, self-respect would have said "fight." But the issue was clear; and to make it clear and impressive by some visible symbol, God commands his prophet to send these yokes to the kings of the nations by their messengers. When the yoke is seen on the neck of the ox laboring at the plough or drawing the wagon, that yoke signifies, not only submission, but a submission that is inevitable. The ox is made for the service of man, and although when young it may rebel and defy for a while, it must submit at last. The superior intelligence and the ordained master cannot but conquer. And what the ox is in the hands of man, that every nation, even the strongest and bravest, is in the bands of God. Babylon, conqueror and spoiler as it was, was no more free from God's yoke than any of the nations it defeated. It is quite compatible with the carrying out of God's great purpose that there should be the most striking disparities in the temporal conditions of both individuals and nations. That Babylon should be the victor and these other nations the vanquished, was in his eyes a matter of very secondary moment. He cannot recognize, as a state of things to obtain even a modified permanence, that any nation should have the right to any particular territory. Men count it a great matter that they can show a title, as they call it, to a piece of land. This simply means that for the purposes of present society it is better for one particular person to have the piece of land than any one else. But wars and revolutions make short work of these so-called rights of property. The Lord has given the earth in trust to the human race, and one division he puts here and snottier there, cue man here and another there. From the throne where Jehovah sits in his righteousness, human patriotism and mere territorial pride are esteemed as nothing more than the feelings of ignorant children. We also, as taught of God, must become less interested in the traditions and rivalries of the kingdoms of earth, and more interested in that great procedure of God by which the whole earth will become a part of the kingdom of heaven. - Y.
I. BY THIS THEIR DISPOSITION WAS DISCOVERED. Prayer is one of the most vital indications of the presence of spiritual life. It is only by constant devotion and spiritual intercourse with God that any one can be truly acquainted with him or know his will. The taunt of the prophet is to the effect that they are not over addicted to this practice, but prefer to indulge in political trifling and bombast. They had no pleasure in the exercises of true piety; and it might be were even afraid directly to invoke Jehovah. It was the neglect of the latter by themselves and their idolatrous followers which had entailed the present evils upon Judah. The prophet points out, therefore, the true method of discovering the will of God, and of restoring, not only the vessels to the temple, but the exiles to their land.
II. THEIR PRETENSIONS WOULD BE TESTED BY THE EFFICACY OF THEIR INTERCESSION. This is the most disinterested form of prayer. By betaking themselves to it, instead of prophesying lies, they would do real service to the nation. Because he who can effectually intercede:
1. Is a source of blessing to all who are about him. He has true sympathy and insight, and can bring down forgiveness even upon the undeserving. The grandest promises of Holy Scripture are encouragements to this practice.
2. Is thereby acknowledged and accepted by God. As Elijah provoked with a similar challenge the prophets of Baal, so Jeremiah taunts his enemies with their spiritual impotency. The restoration of the vessels under the circumstances would be nothing short of a miracle, and supernatural aid would be required. He alone is truly great who can prevail with God. And the greatest of the prophets is he who makes intercession for mankind according to the Divine will. - M.