Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THEIR DUTIES The imposition of definite lines of conduct and policy upon the exiled, was one proof that they were not cast off; the promise of deliverance was another. Although amongst the heathen, they were not to be as the heathen; neither were they to be wholly given over to despair. As children of God they were to exhibit the virtues of:
1. Industry. (Ver. 5.) Misanthropy and despair are the parents of idleness; Divine faith endues men with energy. The exiles had a testimony to bear before the heathen. It was a present duty to achieve an honest independence.
2. Domestic attachment. (Ver. 6,) The family, with all its joys and responsibilities, is still to be cared for. If the present be forfeited the future is still capable of being redeemed. The new generations would reap the advantages of which the fathers had been deprived.
3. Public spirit. (Ver. 7.) They were not to abstain from the duties of citizenship merely because they were amongst heathen conquerors. Even there they might exert an influence for good. The fundamental law of God's kingdom is to seek the good of all men. Work faithfully rendered to the commonwealth would not be vain or without its reward. Even the heathen and the men of this world can appreciate good citizenship. That a distinctive work and testimony still remained to the Church as a Church, is no reason for neglecting those less direct and more general duties which so powerfully commend the religious profession that inculcates them.
4. Cheerfulness. This is not so much to be classified along with the preceding as to be understood as the spring and governing principle of them all. What more natural than a spirit of resentment under the circumstances? How easy to hang the harp on the willows! But this would only be to misunderstand God and thwart his purposes. He seeks the happiness and prosperity of his people - even here and now, and notwithstanding the discipline to which he may be subjecting them. Not resignation merely, but cheerful acquiescence and Co-operation, are, therefore, to be expected of his people. "I opened not my mouth, because thou didst it."
II. THEIR CONSOLATIONS. These were partly to consist in the natural results of the course of conduct enjoined, or the happiness inseparably associated with the observance of it; but chiefly in the anticipation of the future.
1. A definite term was set to their captivity. (Ver. 10.) It was one that could easily be verified, and was not too far distant to extinguish hope. Some of those who as children were taken to Babylon, might in their old age return to the land of promise. There is measure as well as meaning in all God's discipline. He never imposes upon his people a burden greater than they can bear. The darkest night is illumined by light beyond. When the sorrow, their sorrow is not without hope.
2. The present was linked with the future. They might be comforted in the fulfillment of their daily tasks by the knowledge that everything done in obedience to God and the spirit of true benevolence would have its influence upon the promised deliverance. At the very worst, what was done in this disposition would not retard that event or rob it of its fullness of blessing. In like manner the children of God are assured that this earthly life is but a "sojourning," and that "all things work together for good." This life will have an immense influence upon the complexion of the next. The duties of every day are therefore to be attended to in the full conviction of their absolute worth and avail in the sight of God. They have the promise not only of the life which now is, but of that which is to come.
3. Spiritual blessings were promised. (Vers. 11-14.) The good will and faithfulness of God; the restoration of religious communion; the gathering and reconstitution of the theocracy. - M.
I. GOD'S CONSIDERATION FOR HIS PEOPLE IN THEIR CAPTIVITY. He not only means to bring that captivity to an end in his own time, but while it lasts it is to be made as little like captivity as possible. It was not enough that he should leave the nation in Babylon till the time of his chastisement expired. While they remained there, they were to have the largest opportunities compatible with the circumstances in which he had found it necessary to place them. And so when the circumstances of any life are untoward, when perhaps we have made them so by our own folly, God shows his solicitude that we should nevertheless have peace in our own hearts, and such ample guidance as may turn even the untoward into the helpful. God will not banish circumstances merely because we find them hard; but this we may always be sure of, that he will enable us to make the very best of them.
II. GOD'S ASSERTION OF HIS PART IN BRINGING THIS CAPTIVITY ABOUT. He had caused his people to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon. The place of their present abode was by his arrangement. It was their own fault as a nation that they had had to leave Jerusalem; but it was in God's own wisdom that they were planted in Babylon rather than another place. Clearly to perceive that the omnipotent God was disposing their outward relations, would enable them to listen all the more attentively to what instructions he had to give them for making the best of their present circumstances.
III. GOD'S PLAN FOR THE PROFIT AND COMFORT OF THE PRESENT GENERATION. The people are plainly told that they are to be there for seventy years. No energy of their own can get them away a year sooner; and no might of their captors can keep them a year later. Hence it is the true wisdom to accept the divinely settled position. No man among them was to neglect the possibilities of his brief temporal life by reason of a baseless expectation that he might soon return to his own land. He might indeed say," If I show signs of settling down here, I shall be reckoned a very poor patriot." And so over against all temptations to restlessness and utter waste of existence there is this explicit direction from Jehovah. If any Israelites lives a wasted life in Babylon it will be his own fault. So to speak, God makes Babylon, for the time, a sort of substitute for the promised land. If the Israelite has only sufficient of the spirit of true faith and obedience in him, he may make even the land of captivity a place of blessing. For the nation Babylon was a mere place of sojourning, but for the individual it was to be his chief abode on earth. Hence the loving-kindness of God is manifest in telling him he might build a house and make a home and plant fields, thus settling down to a useful and cheerful life.
IV. GOD'S WILL WITH REGARD TO THE RELATIONS BETWEEN ISRAEL AND BABYLON. Israel was to seek the peace of Babylon. It was to support everything that promoted peace and security. Naturally Israel would expect to find its chance in the difficulties of Babylon. If any formidable foe threatened the country, or the equal danger of civil war, it might only too easily seem to Israel that this would give the chance for liberty. But so far from this being really the case, God assures his people that Babylon's peace is their peace. This sets before us a principle of action which Christian people cannot too diligently observe. While it is true that we are not of this world, but must constantly rise superior to its habits and maxims, yet at the same time we cannot do too much to maintain the stability of governments and the public order of the land in which we live. While Christ would have us turn away from the cant of what is called patriotism, he would also have us to abhor everything that tends to anarchy. While the Spirit of God promotes the highest individuality, he also promotes the greatest order (1 Timothy 2:1-4). - Y.
I. THE FREE USE IT IS PERMITTED THEM TO HAVE OF THIS WORLD'S GOOD. "Build ye houses, and dwell in them," etc. In being carried beyond the bounds of Israel these captives were not passing beyond the domain of Israel's God. He is the "Lord of the whole earth." And whether in Jerusalem or in Babylon, all resources, all materials, all power to labor, and all products of labor, are his. Shall not the children of the heavenly Father make themselves, at home" in their Father's world, free to use and to enjoy whatever good he puts within their reach? Remember St. Paul's counsel to the Corinthians, "Whatsoever is sold in the shambles," etc. (1 Corinthians 10:25, 26). All natural good has the stamp of God's ownership upon it. Whatever, therefore, comes to you in the honorable commerce of life do not shrink from it or refuse it. It is yours to enjoy because he made it; it is yours because it is his. The freedom of the earth is given to his true children. There is a sense in which it may be said of all outward good that they who know best how to use it aright have most right to its use. There is no "possession" of these things like that which springs from spiritual affinity and sympathy with him who gave them, and from the power to discern and appreciate their inner meaning. There is no "right" like that of Divine sonship. "All things are yours," etc. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). We dishonor our Christian faith when we move about in the world timidly Or gloomily, as if we had no right to live in it, or as if it were a mere "house of bondage;" hedged in on all sides with painful restrictions, bound with fetters of restraint; afraid to share with a free, hearty, childlike gladness any of its innocent delights. If this is "Emmanuel's land," have we not the range of all its delectable mountains? Is it a world that our Father's hand has made and filled with the tokens of his beneficence, and that has been trodden by the feet of the great Redeemer, and shall we throw over it the shadow of our discontent or fear (Nehemiah 8:10; Ecclesiastes 9:7; 1 Timothy 4:4, 5)?
II. THE IDENTITY OF INTEREST SUBSISTING BETWEEN THEE AND THE WORLD. "Seek the peace of the city," etc. Captives and bondmen as these Jews were, they were nevertheless involved in all that affected the welfare of the Babylonian state. The administration of its affairs for good or ill, for peace or war, must needs be a matter of great interest to them, since they would so largely share the consequences. (See illustrations in Joseph and his brethren, Daniel and the three Hebrew youths, Esther and Mordecai, etc.) The citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem have also an earthly citizenship to maintain, the bonds of which are not broken through their being raised spiritually to a higher level than that of the worldly life around them. Rather are those bonds correspondingly raised and made more sacred and binding. Their Christian faith elevates the character of their earthly citizenship, invests it with a new dignity, attaches to it higher and diviner sanctions. "In the peace thereof shall ye have peace." All parts of the social system are so linked together by a law of mutual dependence and influence that the well-being of one is, in a measure, the well-being of all. "The eye cannot say to the hand," etc.; "Whether one member suffer," etc. We are all personally affected for good or ill by the political order and the general tone of the moral life around us. There are deep rankling wounds in the body politic - ignorance, drunkenness, roving beggary, domestic vice and violence, the systematic training of the young in crime, the oppression of the hireling in his wages, etc. - which it is to the interest of us all most earnestly to seek to heal. No class of the community can escape the ill effect of these things, and religion does but bring us into the deeper sympathy with those who most suffer by such forms of wrong.
III. THEIR RESPONSIBILITY TO LIVE FOR THE WORLD'S HIGHEST BENEFIT, "Seek the peace of the city... and pray to the Lord for it." Real peace is the fruit of righteousness. There can be none while the Divine order is violated and the Divine will set at naught. The gospel is in every way God's message of peace to the world. The Church is called to be the "light of the world" and the" salt of the earth," as a witness for God's truth and righteousness. The Christian philanthropist alone has in his hands a thorough cure for the diseases and wounds of our humanity; and of all the weapons he can wield in his conflict with them, none so mighty as prayer, inasmuch as that unseals the fount of all blessing, and brings down from heaven the healing, saving power. Well may a Christian apostle enlarge and emphasize the old prophetic message, saying, "I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men," etc. (1 Timothy 2:1-4). - W.
I. THE MIND OF GOD IS A PROFOUND MYSTERY TO US, BUT HE KNOWS HIS OWN COUNSELS.
1. God has his "thoughts," even as we have ours. We believe in a God who is no mere philosophic abstraction, but a living, personal being, of whose infinite intelligence ours is but the dim and distant reflection.
2. His thoughts are immeasurably higher than ours. "As the heavens are higher than the earth," etc. (Isaiah 55:9). We cannot solve the mystery or trace the course of our own mental processes, and how should we be able to comprehend his? Our minds, with all their utmost range and activity, move but upon the outskirts of the glorious realm of the infinite and eternal thought of God.
3. His thoughts are all conformed to the eternal truth of things. Indeed, they are themselves the eternal truth of things. For what are all created existences - material and spiritual, all laws, forces, etc., but embodiments and reflections of the "thoughts of God? And whatever his purposes maybe they are not variable; they partake of the immutability of his essential nature. The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations" (Psalm 33:11).
II. GOD'S WAYS OF DEALING WITH US ARE OFTEN PERPLEXING, BUT A GRACIOUS PURPOSE GOVERNS ALL. "Thoughts of peace and not of evil." He concealed within his darkest providences.
1. The constitution of the universe, in spite of all its discords, bears abundant witness to the benign spirit that inspires it. We have no sympathy with that gloomy and morbid view of it according to which, for aught that appears, it might have been fashioned by some spirit of cruelty and hate. True as it may be that "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together," there is proof enough that "God's tender mercies are over all his works."
2. The Bible has its anomalies, but it is the unfolding of a redemptive purpose. The revelation of God's mercy towards a guilty, ruined world in the person of the Christ is the key to all its historic dispensations. As every chastisement inflicted on the Jewish people had some gracious design in it as regards themselves, so the whole course of their national life and ecclesiastical polity played its part in the development of that world-wide plan. And through all the changes and storms and conflicts that may yet be in store for the Church and the world, Scripture keeps alive the blessed hope of the future. The prophetic word is "as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawn and the day-star arise in our hearts" (2 Peter 1:19).
3. The saddest experiences in our personal life have their beneficent Divine intent. Every cloud has its "silver lining." Our keenest sorrows often prove to be "celestial benedictions in a dark disguise." God's "thought of peace" is at the heart of all our earthly tribulations (Hebrews 12:6-11).
III. THE ISSUE ALWAYS JUSTIFIES GOD'S THOUGHTS AND WAYS. The "expected end," when it comes, never fails to solve the mystery of the path that led to it. The gracious purpose, hidden in the secrecy of the Eternal Mind, veiled under many forms of dark disguise, is then made manifest. God is his own Interpreter, and the day of his glorious self-vindication will surely come.
"His ways are love - though they transcend
I. WHAT HE DOES IN HIS PEOPLE.
1. In turning their hearts to himself. They had been worshipping Baal and the gods of heathendom. Only now and then did they offer a haft-hearted worship to Jehovah. The idolatries that pandered to their lusts were uppermost in their thoughts, and it was only occasionally, in seasons of desperate need, they bethought themselves of Jehovah. Now he was to assume a higher place in their regard. Their views of life, its purposes and destinies, would be elevated, and he would become their chief desire. The new err of favor and happiness would be distinguished by intense personal love for God. In Nehemiah's day a measure of spiritual affection like this showed itself, but it could only be fully developed through the personal manifestation of Christ, who was to draw all men unto him.
2. In pouring forth the spirit of true prayer. Where the heart's affections go forth towards God the spirit of true prayer commences. It is that which cries within us, "Abba, Father," which is the spirit of prayer and supplications. It has been supposed that the first clause of ver. 12 refers to private and the second to public prayer. The habit and delight of devotion were to be restored. Where these are there is already the earnest of all substantial and eternal good. Pentecost was prefaced and penetrated with prayer.
II. WHAT HE DOES FOR HIS PEOPLE.
1. In revealing himself. They who seek for him with their whole heart will find him. The veil will be withdrawn, and calamity, understood as fatherly chastisement, patiently borne. In the subsequent history of Israel this was largely experienced; but the fullness of the spiritual meaning of the promise was only realized in Christ and the outpourings of his Spirit.
2. He will hearken to their petitions. The sense of acceptance will come, even in the midst of captivity. Faithful hearts will fill with presage of coming deliverance, and prayer will not only be effectual but be felt to be so. It is in this exercise the true relationship of God and his people becomes evident, and the blessings of a present and ultimate redemption are secured. There can be no more marked proof of God's favor towards any one than answers to his prayers.
3. He will bring back to the Promised Land and the privilege of covenant relationship. That is a matter of course, seeing he already hears them. And yet nonetheless imposing will their redemption be. How complete the restoration! how miraculous! Its supernatural character is to be as evident as that of their dispersion. That which under anomalous circumstances has been a difficult, unauthorized, or intermittent exercise will become easy, honorable, and constant, as they will return to their own land, where every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree, none daring to make him afraid. In the case of the Christian this promise will be fulfilled in either the gradual conquest of the world by the Church, or entrance into heaven. But there is a foretaste of this in the self-conquest and perfected spiritual life of the regenerate soul. - M.
Acts 8:20-24; and the reply to Ananias, the high priest, "God shall smite thee, thou whited wall," Acts 23:3.) How is the latter to be regarded? Evidently as the word of God through his true servants, and not as the expression of vindictive feeling. In regard to this punishment notice -
I. ITS NATURE. It had direct reference to that concerning which they spoke. From the future they had denied they were to be cut off. In the case of Ahab and Zedekiah the instrumentality of man is indirectly employed; in that of Shemaiah it is brought about by what we might regard as natural causes. In both instances the penalty was:
1. Exceptionally were. The fate of the lying prophets, even apart from its associated consequences in the eternal sphere, was tragic in the extreme, and presents hardly an element of hope. Ahab and his companion are subjected to a fearful death and an eternity of shame in Israel. Shemaiah is consigned to effacement and deprived both as regards himself and his posterity, of the promised blessings.
2. Exemplary. Unmistakably these men were but the leaders of many of like mind, and it was intended they should be marked out for signal retribution. Their fate would appeal to the imagination and spiritual feeling of their people, and in either case it corresponded closely with the peculiarity of their conduct. In their heathen exile they were to be taught that God's hand could still reach them and that an exact justice waited upon their actions. Ahab and Zedekiah so lived that even a heathen monarch had to make them examples.
3. Graduated according to heinousness of offence.
II. ITS JUSTIFICATION.
1. The opposition to God's truth was necessarily direct and malicious, Nothing could well be more consciously wicked than their whole behavior. It occurred at a critical period, when great destinies were determined. The prophet of God was thereby discredited and hindered, and the people prevented from receiving and acting upon his message. In every season of critical consequence and great spiritual activity such manifestations occur. Merely to overcome them is not sufficient. The victory must be signal and conspicuous.
2. The offense was one to which God himself is ever most sensitive. It affected his character and prerogatives, and was therefore nothing else than blasphemy (cf. Matthew 12:32. "Even I know, and am a witness, saith the Lord," ver. 23).
3. The interests of truth required the penalty. The people had to be overawed by the presence of the supernatural; their obedience had to be won to the direction of the true prophet, and the spiritual ends of the Captivity were thus to be secured. A moral demonstration like this was requisite, and enables the human mind more completely to realize the Divine conceptions of righteousness and truth. - M.