Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE PRINCIPLE IN HUMAN NATURE. It is that self-inflicted suffering or deprivation will be of spiritual advantage and secure Divine favour. This is the secret of penance, pilgrimages, monastic life, and asceticism in general. The saying, often uttered of losses or pains over which one has no control, "Ah, well! it will be set down to our credit!" witnesses to the same idea. Remorse is largely explained on the same principle.
II. THAT IT IS FOUNDED ON A MISCONCEPTION OF THE DIVINE NATURE. Baal was a cruel god - a huge abortion and monstrosity. Not less cruel are the ideas of God's character entertained by many reputedly religious persons.
1. The gospel declares that "God is love." Such self-inflictions are but folly, and have no religious value in view of this great truth. "Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not... Lo, I come... I delight to do thy will, O my God" (Psalm 40:6-8; Hebrews 10:5-7); "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13; cf. Hosea 6:6); and "Wherewithal shall I come before the Lord,... he hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:6-8), - are the expressions of the spirit of true religion, which alone harmonizes with the doctrine of a loving God.
2. God himself in the person of his Son has "borne our griefs and carried our sorrows." The worship which is alone acceptable to the Father must begin with the recognition of this. There is a "godly sorrow," but its advantage consists in its moral influence on ourselves, making us hate sin and follow after righteousness, etc.
3. Everything which ignores the merit of Christ's sufferings and God's revelation of himself must needs be hateful to him, and bring upon its authors his wrath and curse. - M.
I. A PERSONIFICATION OF DIVINE WRATH. "Sword of Jehovah" is an expression that seems to suggest the Philistines as the sneakers: "for though not bad Hebrew, it has a foreign sound, and makes the impression that the speakers attribute the sword raging against them only unwillingly and hesitatingly to Jehovah" (Naegelsbach). God in his true character is still unknown, but conscience witnesses to him as a dimly realized agent of moral recompense. Such language tells:
1. How ceaseless and terrible is the judgment of the heathen world. Ezekiel uses the same figure in relation to the Amorites (Ezekiel 21:30). "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked;" "Surely thou wilt slay the wicked, O God" (Psalm 139:19); "When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them," etc. (1 Thessalonians 5:3).
2. Of ignorance and moral distance from God. He is only conceived of as a God of vengeance - an all but impersonal fate.
3. Of the helplessness and superstitious dread of sinners. An imperfect knowledge is eked out and distorted by a diseased imagination. All moral strength seems to have gone out of them.
II. EXPLAINED AND JUSTIFIED AS A DIVINE APPOINTMENT. At first the answer of the prophet appears little other than a repetition of the Philistines' thought; but it is far more.
1. This is not blind fate, but judgment strictly meted out and determined.
2. It declares, in effect, that the wicked cannot be suffered to remain on the earth. They must be subjects of continual and exterminating judgment. There is no escape. Is this so? Yes, so long as they remain impenitent and at a distance from him. Is it contradictory, then, for Zechariah to prophecy the conversion of the Philistines? The rightful end of judgment is mercy. The sinner is driven into the arms of the Divine love. Our helplessness prepares for the reception of his salvation. - M.
I. WHAT IS MEANT BY THE SWORD OF JEHOVAH. Any man, or army of men, or any inanimate thing even, may be as a sword in the hand of God. Men are restricted in their agents to injure and destroy, and well it is so, though in old and superstitious times some of them were believed to control the powers of nature so that they could raise winds and tempests. But God, with his real and complete control over all natural forces, can turn them against rebellious man whenever and to whatever extent it may be necessary. It is not a case of a strong arm and a weak weapon, or a weak arm and a strong weapon beyond what the arm can wield. God smites, and not imperfectly; nor does he need to smite twice.
II. WHAT IS SUGGESTED BY THE APOSTROPHE.
1. The thought of God's enemies. Here the Philistines are mentioned, so long the troublesome and jealous neighbours of Israel. But they are only types. There are still enemies numerous enough and active enough to keep the sword of God from lying quiet in its scabbard. Why were these Philistines reckoned enemies? Simply because of their wickedness. God is hostile to nothing but wickedness in man, and to that he is always hostile. There are Philistines still against whom a charge has to be given to the sword of God. And such must ever be destroyed, that is, not the men themselves must be destroyed, but that in them which selfishly upholds evil and profits by it. And even they themselves, if they continue the foolish war against God, must perish in the end.
2. The thought of God's opposing activity to his enemies. Wherever there is emnity to God, Divine opposition to it becomes manifest. Hard as it may be to fight for God, it is harder still to fight against him. In being on God's side against evil all the difficulties are at the beginning; in being on the evil side against God the difficulties, though they may look as nothing to start with, soon multiply and increase to the end. A charge is given to all God's servants to be resolute and uncompromising in their opposition to all wickedness.
3. The thought of ultimate cessation of the sword's activity. Surely the time is to come when the sword will lie quietly in the scabbard. He who came not to bring peace but a sword has peace for his ultimate aim. He will not say, "Peace, peace," when there is no peace; and when at last he will say, "Peace," we may be sure of the reality corresponding with the word. - Y.
I. OF THE SWORD OF CONSCIENCE. The Lord hath given it a charge, and, though we may blunt it, we cannot perfectly quiet it (cf. Macbeth, Judas, and other conscience-haunted men).
II. OF THE SWORD OF SCRIPTURE. "The Word of the Lord is not bound. How men have sought to sheathe it in the scabbard, to hide and hold it there, so that they may go on unchecked in their own ways! But it has leapt forth in spite of them; and, in spite of pagan, Roman, and other persecutions, has asserted its supreme might."
III. OF THE SWORD OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT AGAINST SIN. Sin and sorrow are eternally married, and can never be put asunder. Where one is the other is never far off, and never will be in this world or the next. But forevery believer Christ has offered his own heart as a sheath for it. For such that sword is sheathed therein, and will be quiet there forever.
"When Christ gave up the ghost