Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. ITS UNLIKELIHOOD. At the time the prediction was uttered appearances were completely against it. The original promise seemed doomed to failure. The flower and hope of Israel was in exile, and the land lay desolate. Interlopers reaped the benefit of their misfortunes, and seized upon portions of the unoccupied land. In the history of Christianity there may be perceived remarkable correspondences. Vast spaces of the civilized world have lost the spiritual traditions of the gospel in which once they gloried, and vaster regions still amongst the heathen are occupied by ancient faiths that offer a steady and powerful opposition to the missionary efforts of the Church. Yet the whole earth has been promised to the Church of Christ. The utmost zeal, devotion, and watchfulness are needed in order to prevent the inroads of worldliness and unbelief. At times the despairing cry may be heard, "Where is the hope of his coming?
II. THE METHOD OF ITS REALIZATION. It is well to ponder these facts in the light of God's Word, for it suggests an escape from the perplexity they occasion. Where the induction of the natural reason fails to render a hopeful explanation, the Spirit of God sheds an unthought of light. Jeremiah's interpretation, viz. that present dispossession need not mean utter disinheritance, is full of spiritual light and comfort. This impression is deepened and confirmed when he seals it with prophetic certainty and declares that Israel shall be heir to his heirs. But still remains the mystery to be solved:
1. How this will take place. Israel seems all but annihilated, or in danger of absorption into heathen nations, and his land is unoccupied. But according to promise
(1) a seed shall be preserved and shall be restored; and
(2) through the "seed of David," viz. Christ, a new Israel will be created, in spiritual succession to the ancient people of God, and destined to redeem from heathenism not only Palestine but the whole earth.
2. What will this involve? It will involve
(1) the judgment and overthrow of Israel's neighbours, especially such as Ammon, the traditional "land thief" of his border;
(2) the purification and discipline of Israel as the heir of the kingdom of God; and
(3) the conversion of many "out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (Revelation 5:9). In this sense also will God "bring again the captivity" of Moab, of Elam, and even of Ammon.
3. The following lessons are clearly taught by this prophecy, viz.: -
(1) A unity of purpose pervades the vicissitudes of Israel's and the world's history:
(2) human affairs are governed by a strict and never failing justice; and
(3) a happy future awaits the children of faith - the spiritual Israel - even on earth. - M.
I. THERE MAY BE RIGHT WITHOUT MIGHT. It was so with Israel at this time. Is so with the trite Church of God. "All things are yours" - so we are told, but it is only de jure, not de facto. But -
II. THERE MAY BE MIGHT WITHOUT RIGHT. In the case here given. And it is common enough. Perfect justice is not attainable in this life. Even in the little world of the home, the school, the Church, injustices will occur. And, painful as they are to witness and to bear, they have to be borne. It is hard sometimes to see the justice of the Divine ways; how much more, then, of human ways! Nevertheless -
III. MIGHT MAY BE RIGHT. "La carriere aux talents," said Napoleon - that was to be the law of his empire. "The tools to him who can use them" - such is our common maxim. The "king," the ruler, the lord paramount of the state, what is he but - if the etymology be correct - the "can"-ning man, the man who can, the able man? And so not seldom when we see might, we see right too. In the colonization of lands inhabited by savages who are letting the capabilities of glorious territories lie unimproved or running to waste, such colonization is not wrong. Might is right. "The tools," etc. It is a stern law to the incapable, but a just and beneficent one for the human race. "Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath ten talents" (Matthew 25:28); what is this but the sanction of this combination? "To him that hath shall be given." There we have it once more. But -
IV. GOD'S WILL IS, AND OURS SHOULD BE, TO GIVE MIGHT TO RIGHT. Right one day shall be might as well as right.
1. This is the burden of the promises of God in his Word. "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done" - the will that is ever righteous - "on earth," etc.
2. The constitution of human nature is in favour of it (cf. Butler's 'Analogy').
3. Conscience ever takes the side of right, whatever our conduct may do or be.
4. And God's providence is slowly working to this end.
5. "Faith is simply the giving ourselves up to the righteous One, to be his faithful servant and soldier, and to fight manfully under his banner until our lives shall end." CONCLUSION. Let us seek to be on the side of right always, let the cost be what it may. - C.
I. ACTUAL POSSESSION IS NOT THE ONLY THING TO BE CONSIDERED. Ammon is the actual present possessor of the territory of Gad. But every possessor must be ready upon occasion to show his title. With respect to the most trifling article the possessor must be able to make clear that it is his own, that he bought it, or inherited it, or had it given to him; in short, that it came to him in some entirely lawful way. Ammon had taken Gad by force, probably a very easy thing to do in the depressed condition of Israel's fortunes. And if it be said in reply that Israel had originally taken this very territory of Gad by force, such a statement is, of course, quite correct. But then we have to keep in mind the typical character of Israel Everything depends on the point of view from which we look. Certain rules of legal ownership are an indispensable necessity of present social order, but at intervals in the course of the world revolutions come more or less extensive, and existing legal ownerships get utterly swept away. The Maker of the world, who is also the Bringer forth of the abundance of the soil, is to be looked to as the real Disposer of what he has made. And therefore, with respect to every actual possession of man, we have the question to ask - Is it as the possession of Ammon, or as the possession of Israel? And chiefly we should ask the question with respect to ourselves. Whatever it be, external goods, or office, or reputation, have we got it, proceeding on the very highest principles of action, those which God himself would have us to employ?
II. ABIDING POSSESSION, AND HOW IT IS TO BE GAINED. Ammon now holds Gad, as it seems, very firmly. What can Israel now do to get the territory back? That question Jehovah will answer in his own time, and Ammon will have to suffer for violently laying hold of what was not its own. And yet, bear in mind that this very action came through Ammon's alienation from the true Lord and Guide of men. That alienation may manifest itself in different ways, but all sin and all chastisement of sin are traceable back to the alienation. Ammon was really trying to gratify a right desire in a wrong way. The desire for possession and for increase of possession, continuous and ever expanding, is a right desire. But it must be a possession assimilated to all that is best, all that is most enduring in our nature. Legal ownership is often in inverse proportion to actual enjoyment. The spiritual Israelite, the genuine, devout, habitual believer in Jesus Christ, is to be heir of all things. The things unseen and eternal are his, and they are his because a correspondence has been divinely produced between him and them (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:53). Inheritances gained after the natural fashion very soon turn out delusive. - Y.
Obadiah 1:8; Job 11:11; Baruch 3:22, 23), had secured itself in inaccessible fastnesses of the mountains, dwelling in rock-hewn cities. Eliphaz was a Temanite. It was chiefly in international relations that the skill or subtlety of the Idumaeans displayed itself. Their diplomacy was full of craft and falsehood, and could not be relied upon. Their wisdom was essentially of this world - cold, calculating, and unscrupulous. Of this it is predicted by Jeremiah that it shall be brought to nought. How did his prophecy fulfil itself? In relation to the kingdom of God.
I. IT FAILED TO OVERTURN IT. The Edomites watched the signs of the times, and sided with what promised to be the strongest power, and in the last resort trusted to their own inaccessible position. Their ambassadors were amongst those of neighbouring nations who came to Zedekiah to advise united resistance to Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 27:3); yet they triumphed over the prostrate city when it was captured by the Chaldeans (Lamentations 4:2; Ezekiel 35:15; Ezekiel 36:5; Psalm 137:7). Their country had been tributary to Israel under David, but, taking advantage of the Chaldean invasion, they appropriated much of the territory of Israel proper, and extended their territory to the Mediterranean. The same spirit seems to have actuated its remote descendants, the Idumaean princes of the Herodian line. Herod the Great "slaughtered the innocents" in hope of destroying the Christ, but was circumvented by the providence of God; and his son Antipas was the Herod before whom Christ appeared by arrangement with Pilate (Luke 23:12). In the later years of Christ's ministry the Herodians were constantly opposed to him, and plotted with the Pharisees against him. So God has defeated the continual antagonism of worldly men, guarding the residue of his Church, and evolving new generations of faith and fresh conquests of truth from the apparent failures and ruins of the past.
II. IT FAILED TO SECURE PERMANENT ADVANTAGE TO ITSELF. The prophet declares that it was to drink of the same cup as Israel, but it is not certain as to whether Nebuchadnezzar, or Alexander the Great, or other conquerors are alluded to.
1. The movement westward of the Idumaean power, during the Babylonian exile, was the occasion of its overthrow. The Nabethaean Arabs, ruling a large part of Arabia, seized upon Petraea, and settled down as its occupants. These were in turn conquered by the Romans. In time the country fell under Mohammedan misrule, and lapsed into permanent desolation early in the Christian era. The rock cities of Petraea are amongst the most striking monuments of fulfilled prophecy.
2. The same fate has overtaken all the empires that set themselves against the kingdom of God. Their history is series of dissolving views. Failing to overthrow it, they have themselves been overthrown. And the wisdom which could not subvert has equally shown itself unable to assimilate the "wisdom that cometh from above." The reason for all this is contained in the crowning proof of its folly, viz. that -
III. IT HAS FAILED TO UNDERSTAND IT. Had the Idumaeans known the might of a spiritual religion, they would not have leagued against Israel. Had the Herodians known the wisdom of God, "they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2:8; Acts 3:17; Acts 7:51). Had Rome known the power of the truth, it would never have corrupted the religion of the cross, and thus prepared for its own disintegration and decay in the Middle Ages, and the manifold complications of worldly religion in modern times. The whole conception of God's kingdom - its spirituality, other worldliness, and purity - is still a strange thing to the wise men of the world. But it continues to grow and to realize itself amongst men; and it is destined to fill the whole earth, absorbing and assimilating its ancient antagonists; for "he must reign until he hath put all enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25). - M.
I. DWELL DEEP IN THE LOVE OF GOD. For the firm faith of the love that God hath toward us will be found to be a shelter, a solace, and a strength, such as nought else can render. St. John says concerning that love, "We know and have believed the love that God hath towards us." Yes; sometimes we can clearly see it, we know and feel it. God's providence, God's grace, God's Word, are all filled and flooded with it. But there are other times when we cannot say we know, but only that we believe the love that, etc. - when providence seems adverse, when our path is rough and beset with thorns, when those you trusted prove treacherous and your own friends turn against you, when your home is left desolate and dark clouds of anxiety gather heavy and thick over you. But those times are made far less fearful for us if we will but dwell, dwell deep, in the love of God. It was through this ever cherished home of his soul that our Lord was able to endure so calmly and to meet with such meek majesty and Divine dignity the unspeakable sorrow of his earthly lot. Often did the tempter seek to drag him forth from that secure retreat by his mocking suggestion, "If thou be the Son of God," etc. But he tried in vain. Dwelling deep in the love of God, that inaccessible refuge, that sure retreat, he looked forth upon the path he had to tread and the cross he had to bear, and he could endure the one and despise the other in the might of that love in which he ever abode. And it is well that we should dwell where he dwelt, and so be blest as he was blest. And not a few of his people have done so - Abraham, David, Daniel, Paul, and myriads more, as God grant we may likewise.
II. DWELL DEEP IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF HOLY SCRIPTURE. For no surer aid to our obeying the former exhortation can be given than our obedience to this. And yet there are few books of importance that are neglected as the Scriptures are, notwithstanding the invaluable help which such knowledge has imparted and must ever impart. What is the hundred and nineteenth psalm but one long panegyric on the blessedness of this knowledge of the Word of God? And he who knows what the Word of God can do for his soul will deem no praise too extravagant, no admiration and love too enthusiastic. Oh to be mighty in the Scriptures! for that is to be mighty through them, capable and ready for all God's will. The dark problems of life cease to dismay; the mysteries which meet us on every side cannot shake our faith; we become open eyed to signs and tokens of God's love which otherwise we should not see. Integrity and uprightness preserve us, and we run the way of God's commandments, because God, by means of them, hath enlarged our heart. It is this prayerful habitual study of God's Word which is dwelling deep therein, and which is so fruitful of good to all that will so dwell.
III. DWELL DEEP IN THE FELLOWSHIP OF CHRIST. Cherish and guard with a holy care that communion with him which is the joy and strength of our souls. A sure test of the value of any spiritual aid is given us in the intensity of the opposition which Satan offers to our use of such aid. Now, measured by this standard it is difficult to over-estimate the value of this communion with Christ in which we say, "Dwell deep." This is not easy to do. For persistent indeed are the endeavours which Satan makes to destroy this communion. Who that kneels in prayer is ignorant of these endeavours? - thoughts wandering; desires earth bound; faith feeble; love cold. Hence many neglect prayer, or they become formal in it. But there can be no real communion with Christ without this. Therefore we must rouse ourselves to earnestness. Pray that we may pray. Kneel down again and pray once more our as yet unprayed prayer. Let us resolve we will not be conquered. Encourage Ourselves by remembering that the very difficulties we meet are evidences of the truth of true prayer. And that such difficulties can be overcome; for they have been. And not only by prayer, but by walking with Christ in obedience and sympathy and love. - C.
is Love, and who she knows will deal only in the best of ways - ways far better than she herself could have devised, for those who are now weeping over her grave, and missing and mourning her every hour of the day. Now, of those told of in this verse we note -
I. THAT TO LEAVE THEM TO GOD IS ALL WE CAN DO. We may and we ought to make provision for them to the best of our power. That is but a spurious and miserable travesty of faith in God which would neglect all such aids as life insurance and the like, on the ground that making such provision shows distrust and unbelief in God. Some speak thus, but they speak foolishly. Might we not as well refuse to work for our daily bread, on the ground that it is written, "My God shall supply all your need"? But who does not know that God's way of supplying our need is by giving us strength to work and minds to think, enduing us with the means of gaining our bread? And is it not so in this case also? Would not a man be most wrong who, because of what is here said, neglected to make all due provision in his power? But having done this, like Jacob and Joseph, we may safely leave our children, as they did, to the care of God, confident that he will care for them according to his word.
II. AND GOD HONOURS SUCH TRUST. As a fact, and a very interesting one it is, how wonderfully such bereaved children and widows are cared for! How God raises up one friend here and another there, and probably, if a comparison could be made, it would be found that such children have been as well cared for as any others; life has been as bright to them as for those whose earlier years were clouded over by no such sore bereavement. There may be exceptions, but the rule is surely for God to honour such trust. Can he who has said, "Ask, and ye shall receive," refuse the prayer of a believing man at such a time?
III. AND IT IS A REASONABLE TRUST. What would we desire more for our children than that they should be cared for by such a one who, so far as man can be, is like God? - having the power and the will, the knowledge and wisdom, and, above all, the love, which are in God. Who would not crave for our dear ones a guardian like that?
IV. THE CONDITIONS OF THE TRUST are that he who is about to leave behind widow and children should be himself one who trusts in God; that he have trained his children in the ways of the Lord, and sought to make his home a godly home. Verily such shall have their reward, yonder in heaven and here on earth, and especially at that supreme moment when he has to leave his loved ones and to lie down and die. Then for him shall the faith of this promise be precious indeed. - C.
I. AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE CHARACTER OF GOD.
1. Proving his strict righteousness. There is no respect of persons. His love for righteousness and hatred of wrong are such that even his chosen people do not escape punishment. Salvation will not, therefore, be by favour or independent of character. The least sin will be judged. Individual saints shared in the general calamity.
2. His unfailing faithfulness. It was predicted particularly concerning Israel, and was declared as the law of his kingdom. Its fulfilment, therefore, vindicates the Divine veracity.
II. AN ARGUMENT BASED UPON IT. If such a God reigns amongst men, can any transgressor escape? To such sinners, then, as the Edomites, the heathen or worldly enemies of godliness and the truth:
1. Punishment would be certain. Their present immunity was only as the lull before the storm. Conscience gathers no comfort from apparent prosperity. Israel's punishment is a certain guarantee of Edom's.
2. Punishment will be proportional to the sin. In such cases as that of Edom - an open, flagrant, and conscious foe to the kingdom of God - it would be far more severe. There is no promise of "bringing again their captivity." It was to be "as if it bad not been." Where the heathen, on the other hand, have not sinned so clearly against light, there will be condoning circumstances which will be taken into account. - M.
I. THEIR FELLOW MEN HELP TO DECEIVE THEM. "Thy terribleness," etc. All around them held them in terror, were afraid of them, deemed them too mighty to be overcome. And the consciousness of this kept in them a confidence which now was to be shown to be but vain.
II. MEN'S OWN PRIDE. "The pride of thine heart." What myriads has not pride slain! what woe hath it not brought upon mankind! "Pride goeth before destruction," etc. (Cf. homily on Pride, Jeremiah 48:29.) See Sennacherib's army (Isaiah 37.), Pharaoh's overthrow (Exodus 14.); and "all the ages all along" pride has done the like and does so still.
III. MEN'S CIRCUMSTANCES. No dwellings could seem more secure than were theirs; their fortress seemed impregnable. Hence they said in their hearts, We shall never be moved." (Cf. on these dwellings, introduction to homily on Desirable habitations, supra, ver. 8.) Cf. the rich fool (Luke 12:20). Prosperity and security do tend to beget these vain confidences.
IV. PAST SUCCESS. Not only did these Edomites dwell in the clefts of the rock, but they had held them fast hitherto against all invaders. A career of success, opponents vanquished, difficulties surmounted, wealth and honour won; who can persuade such a man to call himself a poor, lost sinner, dependent utterly on the mercy of God? It is much easier to say, "Have mercy on us miserable sinners," than to foal and believe we are so. CONCLUSION. There are two ways in which this spirit of false confidence may be got rid of or kept under.
1. By surrender of the soul to Christ. He makes us like himself, forms his Spirit in us, so that the truer the surrender the more we become "meek and lowly in heart" as he was. This the best way, the easy yoke, the light burden.
2. By the crushing force of God's judgments. Edom was to be humbled thus. And there are many who will only be humbled so. They will have their own way, and they have it for their woe, and then, after a weary while, they come to themselves. They "made their bed in hell," and as they made it so they had to lie upon it, until even there God's band shall find them, and they shall humble themselves beneath the mighty hand they had heretofore dared to defy.
3. And in some way this humility must be wrought in us. For God will have all men to be saved; but without this lowly mind, this rejection of all vain confidences, we cannot be. Which way, then, shall it be - through Christ or through the fire of hell? - C.
I. THE REAL EXTENT OF THE SECURITY. Not without some cause did Edom pride itself on its position. Security is a relative word. Mountain fastnesses are a sufficient defence against such attacks as Edom can measure and understand. Mountain fastnesses have done much for the cause of national liberty and independence. They ought not to be the shelter and home of brigands; but it is right to notice their glorious place in history as the shelter and home of struggling freemen. God would not have us undervalue any security so far as it is a real security. The mistake is when we live as if all precious things could be preserved by securities which Providence has only given for the preservation of certain outward things. So far from our overvaluing securities coming from our own strength and external resources, it may truly be said that we rather undervalue them. If we could only use them in the right way, with insight and without prejudice, we should find many dangers of the present life greatly diminished.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH A SECURITY MAY BECOME A PERIL. Edom lives as it likes among its great natural strongholds. Long experience has taught it exactly how to deal with every attacking force, and it sees no danger with which it cannot effectually deal. Thus the dangers and deliverances which come out of the unseen alike escape attention. Men are protected outwardly; they have all that heart can wish; but meanwhile the heart is left exposed to every temptation. The fewer dangers there are outwardly, the more dangers there are inwardly; and the more dangers there are outwardly, the fewer there may be inwardly. For when men live amid dangers and inconveniences to the outward life, then their eyes are open to the comparative superficiality of such dangers. They see how the deepest treasures of life, the most abiding ones, may remain perfectly safe while outward things are going to pieces. Better would it have been for Edom to live in the exposed plain, if thereby it had been brought to trust and know that God who is the only true Refuge.
III. THE FALLACY OF SEEKING SECURITY IN A HIGHER DEGREE OF THE ESSENTIALLY INSECURE. The eagle dwells in inaccessible heights, and thus it may be reckoned a symbol of the greatest security attainable here below. But after all, the word "inaccessible" is only a synonym for what is exceedingly difficult of attainment. Courage, patience, and perseverance may do much to blot out the word "inaccessible." And if this be so from the human point of view, how much plainer is it that all human securities, however high the degree they attain in our estimate, are in the sight of God as nothing! The great thing that sends us wrong in trying to make life really secure is that, instead of fixing our thoughts on an entirely different kind of danger, we allow ourselves to act as if the only thing needful was to guard against a higher degree of the danger already perceived. To God dealing with the ungodly and. the unrighteous, mountain and plain are alike. - Y.
Isaiah 17:12, 13; cf. 57:20, 21) uses the same figure of Damascus, and Jeremiah must, therefore, have either borrowed it from him or from some common source. It is possible that the figure was a common expression amongst the Jews of the time. The neighbourhood of Damascus and its associated cities was always a populous one, with a varied nationality and conflicting interests and affinities. From its character there was no religious unity, and its position exposed it to dangers on every hand, especially from Babylon and Egypt. It was a motley people, with vast commercial relations and strong tendency to pleasure, but no religious earnestness or capacity of moral influence or initiation. This is another of those phases of the world spirit which Jeremiah paints in his panorama of the nations' judgment.
I. THE UNREST OF WORLD LIFE IS LIKENED TO THAT OF THE SEA.
2. Vast and tumultuous.
3. Not to be stilled.
4. Sad and ruinous in its effects.
II. BECAUSE THE WORLDLY THEMSELVES ARE LIKE THE SEA.
1. Unstable. How easily ruffled! Uncertain, irresolute (James 1:6), subject to sudden panics. This is moral and spiritual.
2. With no central controlling power. The very constitution of the sea renders storms sudden and terrible. So it is with the sinner's character. There is no central controlling influence; no moral principle or spiritual power. True calm comes from within. He of the Galilean sea can alone tranquillize the troubled nation or the alarmed sinner. - M.
Deuteronomy 28:68 the being taken back to Egypt in ships is held out as a great threatening. They had no seaport worth mentioning. For centuries their seaboard was held by the Philistines. All their conceptions of it relate to its hurtful and destructive power (cf. Psalm 107, "They that go down to the sea in ships," etc.; cf. also histories of the Deluge, Exodus, Jonah). The epithets applied to it are never pleasing, but all more, or less terrible. It is "raging," "roaring," "troubled," "breaking ships of Tarshish." Hezekiah failed to construct a navy. And hence St. John (Revelation 21:1), when tolling of the beauty, the glory, and the joy of the new heavens and the new earth, is careful to add, "And there was no more sea." Now, this ver. 23 is an illustration of this common Jewish feeling. But this Jewish feeling was a false one, though not so to them. For the sea is one of God's most blessed gifts to man. Life would be impossible without it. It has been justly called, "the life blood of the land, as the blood is the life of the body. It is the vital fluid that animates our earth, and, should it disappear altogether, our fair green planet would become a heap of brown volcanic rocks and deserts, lifeless and worthless as the slag cast out from a furnace." We remember, too, how God said of the sea that it was "very good," and no mistaken Jewish ideas must be allowed to reverse that verdict. Think of: Its vapours. Each recurring harvest is really the harvest of the sea as much as of the land. For from the sea ascend those vapours which form the clouds and which descend in the fertilizing indispensable rain. Its currents, bearing along the sun-heated waters of sub-tropical climes, far away northward and southward, and giving to regions like our own that mild and on the whole beautiful climate which we enjoy, whereas but for these warm waters of the sea our shores would be bleak, inhospitable, barren, and all but uninhabitable, like the shores of Labrador. Its breezes, so health giving, imparting fresh life to the sick and feeble. Its beauty, ever presenting some fresh form of loveliness in colour, movements, outline, brilliancy. Its tides, sweeping up the mouths of our great rivers and estuaries, and all along our shores, washing clean what else would be foul, stagnant, poisonous. Its saltness, ministering to the life of its inhabitants, retaining the warmth of the sun, and so aiding in the transmission of those currents spoken of above, preserving from corruption, etc. But these thoughts were not those of the Jew. To him the sea was a type of manifold ills, and he rejoiced to believe that in his eternal home there should be "no more sea." For it told of unrest, instability, painful mystery, afflictions, separation, and hence impossibility of intercourse and death. For all these the sea serves in the Scriptures as a symbol, as reference to the passages which Speak of the sea will show. But it has its brighter teachings also, Note -
I. ITS WAVES. See them in their blithe merry heartedness, their buoyant spring and rush, coming in landwards from out the far distance, gleaming and sparkling as they roll along, "clapping their hands" as David would say, praising God as they leap and bound in their joy. How often we have seen them coming in such fashion, long lines of them! - nearer and nearer they approach, the seabreeze filling them with vigour, and the sunshine gleaming on them and adorning them with the most exquisite colouring, until at length the shelving shore stops them, and they fall over, and in masses of snow white foam, with merry rush and roar, they dash up the beach, brightening everything they touch; and then, their strength all gone, they glide down the sands and hid away back to their ocean-home, to begin the same joyous career all over again. Now, surely this perpetual process suggests the joyful vigour of the sea. True, its waves lie broken on the beach, their spray scattered far and wide, and it would seem as if that were but a poor ending for such a career. But not heeding that at all, the waves just gather up their strength again, and, never knowing when they are beaten, return again and again to the charge. And does not this teach us how we should meet rebuff and disappointment? Not lie down and moan, but lie back again to the source of our strength once more, and then again to the work God has given us to do. They seem to say to us, "Never be discouraged; see us as we begin again after each rebuff, how we sparkle all the more that we are scattered and broken, and then go back to come on again. So do you. Hope continually, and praise God more and more."
II. ITS MISTS AND VAPOURS - its clouds and exhalations - they also have their lessons. How common these mists are all who know the sea know well. But in and by them the sea renders up her strength, pays her tribute to the heavens. But how bountifully she is recompensed! How comes it that the sea abides wholesome, that it is not the source of malaria, a deadly mass of waters, in which no plant or fish can live? And part of the reply is in the fact that those mists and vapours which ascend from the sea descend to the earth in rain and showers, and fill the springs and fountains, which are the sources of the rivers, which are the carriers into the seadepths of those varied salts and other products which serve as ministers of health to the innumerable forms of life with which the sea abounds. Thus is the sea repaid for the tribute she renders to the heavens. And so these seamists teach the blessedness of rendering up to God all he asks for. Thy God commandeth thy strength. The recompense of the sea assures us how abundantly God will recompense all who obey this command. And they suggest the sure way of deliverance from all inward evil. They ascend from the sea, but they leave all its saltness behind; from the pools and lakes and from stagnant marsh, but they leave all their unhealthful, corrupting properties behind; and when they come back again in form of rain, they are sweet and wholesome and precious, to quench the thirst of man and beast, and to gladden the whole face of the earth. And so with ourselves. In ascending to God, in spiritual drawing near to him, we leave all our evil behind. God says to the waters, "Come up hither," and they are cleansed in the coming. And so he says to us, "Come up hither," and we, too, are cleansed in the coming. And when we come back our hearts and lives, our whole influence, will be healthful and salutary, a blessing to all with whom we have to do.
III. ITS TIDES. They teach the power of the unseen. Their mighty movements are all governed by a force imperceptible to our senses. And it is the unseen, the intangible, that. which the senses cannot perceive - thought, which governs the world. They teach also the gradualness of the religious life. It is often hard to say, on looking at the sea, whether the tide ebbs or flows. You must compare it after a while with its present position, and then you shall know. And so it is with the religious life. There are no leaps and bounds, no great starts and strides, but gradual, slow, step by step - such is the Divine ordering. Now, hence a lesson:
1. Of consolation. We are not to write bitter things against ourselves because our advance is slow.
2. Thankfulness. No man can leap into hell any more than he can into fitness for heaven. God holds us very fast, and only very slowly will he let us go.
3. Caution. Judge not that all is well because of no sudden great change in you. There may be the gradual ebbing away. Are there now large portions of your life which the fear of God does not govern, though once it controlled them all? If so the tide has ebbed.
IV. THE DEPTHS of the sea tell of that complete putting away of our sin which God promises to us (cf. Micah 7:19). God will utterly put them away, casting them, not near the shore, in the shallows, or in the tide way, but in the depths, where they will be sunk out of sight and out of reach forever.
V. ITS SANDS. (Cf. Jeremiah 5:22.) They teach how God makes our weakness strong. What more feeble than the sand? And yet by it the mighty sea is held in. "To them who have no might God increaseth strength." But what are we and the surroundings of our lives but weak, shifting, unstable as the sand? But God can so fill them with strength that they shall beat back the fierce waves which would overwhelm us. Then let us fear not. He who makes the weak sand a sure bar against the ocean's rage can and will make our weakness strong to triumph over all that would harm us. Such are some of the lessons of the sea. - C.
I. THE FEELING PRODUCED BY MARITIME DANGER. Sorrow is far too vague a word for the feeling here referred to. Fear, anxiety, constant watchfulness against close and sudden and increasing danger, a sense that utter destruction may come at any moment, - these are the feelings going to make up the complex state of mind with which Damascus is so profoundly disturbed. No discomposing effect produced by a land danger was enough to serve the prophet's purpose. Not but what land perils taken in the sum of them are greater than sea ones; but they do not produce the same effect on the mind. Away out at sea one is so completely at the mercy of the waters. There is no chance to say, "Run for your life." There is nothing left for it but patience, submission, and hope trying to rise above opposed emotions. Those who have been in such circumstances will be best able to realize the force and peculiarity of the figure here employed. The Old Testament furnishes one illustration in Jonah's disobedient voyage, and the New Testament another in the experiences connected with the shipwreck of Paul.
II. THE WAY TO PREPARE FOR SUCH AN HOUR. The hour in which human strength and wisdom can do nothing may come on us unawares, may come fated with terrible appearances beyond all previous imaginations, but it by no means follows that such an hour is to come unprepared for. More preparation is needed than simply that of counting on the chances of escaping such an hour altogether. The hour may be escaped, but all who go down to the sea in ships cannot escape it; and therefore they do wisely to prepare for it, especially as the preparation arises from a state of mind which brings the greatest positive blessings The peace that passeth all understanding is a peace that comprehends and subdues every possible disturbing cause. The attainment of this peace and the benefits consequent upon it have been wonderfully proved in terrible cases of shipwreck. The true wisdom for us all in this world so full of perils, whether we have to face the dangers of sea or of land, is to have the real treasures of life in heaven. Then when we have done all that human resources can compass, we are sure that the most precious things remain safe beyond the reach of harm. - Y.
And yet she was no mean city. No; she was distinguished indeed. The hearts of men, in all ages of the world, have been drawn to her, and are so still. For she was and is surpassingly lovely. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole land around, compared to the Paradise in which our first father was placed by God, and celebrated by every writer, sacred and secular, that has had occasion to speak of her or her history. "It is the oldest city in the world. Its fame begins with the earliest patriarchs and continues to modern times. While other cities of the East have risen and decayed, Damascus is still where and what it was. While Babylon is a heap in the desert, Nineveh buried beneath her mounds, and Tyre a ruin on the seashore, it remains what it is called in the prophecies of Isaiah, ' the head of Syria.' And ever since, down to our own days, its praise is celebrated. It was 'a predestinated capital.' Nor is it difficult to explain why its freshness has never Faded through all its series of vicissitudes and wars." Men have ever loved it and love it still. As the traveller from the west climbs up and up the steep passes of the great Lebanon range, and at length nears their eastern side, there, on the summit of a cliff, high up above the plain beneath, he looks down on the city of Damascus. "At the foot of the cliff on which the beholder stands, a river bursts forth from the mountain in which it has had birth. That river, as if in a moment, scatters over the plain, through a circle of thirty miles, the verdure which had hitherto been confined to its single channel. It is like the bursting of a shell, the eruption of a volcano - but an eruption, not of death, but of life. Far and wide extends in front the level plain, its horizon bare, its lines of surrounding hills bare, all bare, far away on the road to Palmyra and Bagdad. In the midst of this plain lies at your feet the vast island of deep verdure, walnuts and apricots hanging above, corn and grass below." The river is its life. It is drawn out in watercourses and spread in all directions. For miles around it is a wilderness of gardens - gardens with roses among the tangled shrubberies, and with fruit on the branches overhead. Everywhere among the trees the murmur of unseen rivulets is heard. Even in the city, which is in the midst of the garden, the clear rushing of the current is a perpetual refreshment. Every dwelling has its fountain; and at night, when the sun has set behind Mount Lebanon, the lights of the city are seen flashing on the water. All travellers in all ages have paused to feast their eyes on the loveliness of the city as they first behold it from the cliffs of Lebanon. Abana and Pharpar still flash and gleam as they flow along amid her fragrant gardens and by her dark olive groves. Snow-capped Hermon and the rugged range of Lebanon still keep over her their wonted watch and ward. Hence she may well be taken as the symbol of all that is lovely and fair in outward life, all that is bright and beautiful in the moral nature of man. But yet she fell, and she has lost her place amongst the nations forever. Thus she suggests to the thoughtful reader the heart searching truth that the lovely and the lovable may yet be lost - those on whom Jesus, looking, loves them, because they are so lovable, may yet miss of the life that is eternal; and he may say, as he did to one of them, "One thing thou lackest." Observe, then -
I. THERE HAVE BEEN SOULS CHARACTERIZED BY MUCH THAT IS LOVELY AND LOVABLE, AND YET HAVE NOT ENTERED INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Read the history of Orpah. Then there was that young ruler to whom reference has already been made. And the many who flocked around our Saviour when he was here on earth, and whom he likened to the stony ground hearers. They all had much that was excellent and good about them, but they failed to bring forth fruit unto life eternal.
II. AND THERE ARE MANY SUCH NOW. Were our Lord amongst us now, he would love them as he did him of whom the Gospel tells. They may be young in years; in the morning of life, fair and comely to look upon, vigorous and strong, well educated, intelligent, bright and clever, cultured themselves and loving refinement and culture in others; they may be possessed of very attractive moral qualities, amiable and kindly, ready to do a kind action and scorning to do a mean one, possessed of and deserving an honourable reputation, of unquestioned veracity, of high honour, modest and pure in word and deed, gentle and courteous in manner, unassuming, thoughtful of the feelings and wishes of others; parents and friends, family and neighbours, all speak well of them, and those who know them best honour and love them most. Now, there are thousands of such as these. They are loved and lovable; they must be so. And as we picture them to ourselves we almost shrink from saying that such may nevertheless miss of the kingdom of God; like Damascus in all that is externally beautiful, and yet, like her, come under the condemnation of God. It seems scarce believable, and yet in the face of God's Word what can we say? Nicodemus was one such, and yet our Lord told him, "Except a man be born again," etc. We would be as charitable as the Word of God - and if we were that would make us far more charitable than the most of us are - but we would not be more so, for that would be to be uncharitable and unfaithful both to God and to the souls of men. And therefore we say that a man may be all that is externally fair and lovable, and yet, like bright beautiful Damascus, come under the condemnation of God; lovely and lovable like him whom Jesus loved, and yet, because lacking the one thing, shut out - self shut out - from the kingdom of God. And observe -
III. THIS RULE OF GOD IS NOT ARBITRARY, BUT JUST AND INDISPENSABLE. For all that we have said may coexist along with the will alien from the will of God, the heart not yet truly surrendered to him. It was so in that typical instance of this character to whom we have so often referred. For when brought to the test he refused the will of God. For the proof of our loyalty to God is seen, not in the many things that we are and do which are in keeping with our own inclinations, but in those that we are ready to do when they involve a real taking up of the cross and contradict those inclinations. A cultured, refined disposition may lead us, out of regard to our own self-interest, to do and be that which wins for us the applause and favour of our fellow men. It would be a pain and grief to us to be otherwise. All the commands of the moral law we may have kept from our youth up, and hence conclude, and others - even Christ's disciples - may think also, that we lack nothing. And in fact we may lack nothing but that one thing without which all else is vain and useless for our admission into the kingdom of God. But in that kingdom the will of God must be paramount, or it ceases to be the kingdom of God. Suppose one of the heavenly bodies could choose, and did so, to swerve at times from its appointed orbit, and to take a course of its own; the whole universe would be thrown out of order, and confusion and destruction must ensue. Suppose one string of harp, one pipe of organ, instead of giving its proper note, were to resolve to utter a sound different from that which was appointed for it; what jarring discord must result! no true music could such harp or organ give. And so in God's kingdom, if there be one discordant will, how can the harmony and peace and blessedness of heaven any longer exist? If in our homes the law of the house be violated by any one of its members, how little would such a household deserve the sweet name of home! For the good of all, therefore, and not for any arbitrary reason, one law, one will, must be paramount. It is so in our earthly homes; it must yet more be so in the home of God, the kingdom of heaven. The heart, the will, must be surrendered to God if we are to be at last numbered amongst the inhabitants of God's eternal home.
IV. WHAT, THEN, SHALL WE SAY TO SUCH? Shall we bid you set light store by those varied qualities which draw forth the affection and esteem of your fellow men? Shall we say - Care nothing for that which, when Jesus looked upon, even he could not but love? Still less shall we say that all these things are of the nature of sin. On the contrary, we would say - Give God thanks for these things. For, indeed, it is of his great mercy that you have been led to approve of them, and to turn away with disgust and abhorrence from that which is contrary thereto. Why were you made to hear God's voice? - for it was his voice which called you, and his hand which led you to this good choice. Without doubt the parents of that young ruler gave God thanks again and again when they saw the character of their son unfolding and developing in all such high minded, pure, and amiable ways. And when we see the like in our children, do we not, ought we not to, give thanks likewise? What, then, do we say to you but this? -
(1) Render thanks to God that he has thus inclined your heart; and then
(2) go on to ask him who has been so good to you thus far that he will be more gracious still, and give you that one thing which yet you lack - the new heart, the perfectly surrendered will, the faith in God of which such surrender is the chief expression. Remember that the merchantman who became the happy owner of the pearl of great price was not content with the many goodly pearls after which he had been seeking and which he had already attained, No; but when he saw that pure, all-precious, lustrous pearl, he resolved that that should be his, and hence all was surrendered that he might make it his own. Now, you resemble him in two out of the three great facts of his history. Like him, you have sought and found many goodly pearls. The goodly pearls of moral excellence, virtue, amiability, many things lovely and of good report. You prize these things, as you ought to do. You have sought after them and have found them. And now, again, like that merchantman, there is shown and offered to you that pearl which is more precious than all - even the gift of God, which is Jesus Christ, the eternal salvation which comes to us alone through him. Yes, that is offered to you - that gift of the regenerated nature, that new heart and right spirit, which they who come to Christ receive. But now, in the third and chief point of all, would that you resembled that merchantman. He was willing to part with all he had for the sake of the pearl of great price. Are you? To persuade hereto we add two words.
1. The first by way of encouragement. That merchant had to part with his goodly pearls for the sake of the one all-precious one. You not only will not have to do this, but they will become more goodly and more indisputably yours than ever if the all-precious one be yours. You will have to renounce none of them, nothing lovely and of good report, nothing wherein there is any virtue or any praise. On the contrary, they shall gain an added lustre from their association with that chief excellence which we would have you win. Like as there is so great difference between a fair landscape on a bright summer's morn, and that same scene looked upon amid the mists of winter, so shall all that is virtuous and good in us attain to a higher beauty, a more perfect loveliness, by the bright shining of the Sun of righteousness upon them. Apart from him they are cold, dim, vague, uncertain; but in him and through him they become radiant and more beautiful than ever. And not only so, but they are more securely yours; they are far less likely to be lost.
2. By way of warning, let me remind you that on the wedding garment in which we must all be clothed if we would enter in and abate in the festivities of the marriage supper of the Lamb - on that garment there shines resplendent but one jewel; it is this pearl of great price. If we have not that, no bedizening of ourselves with such goodly pearls as we may possess, or think we possess, will serve instead. Many will seek, do seek, so to adorn themselves. But all such righteousness is rejected, all such trust refused. Oh, then, to your virtues and other lovely and lovable qualities add this - trust in the blessed Saviours Name, which will include in it the heart perfectly surrendered, the will yielded up to him! - C.
I. THE ELEMENTS OF DOOM.
1. Loss of active strength. The breaking of the bow ought, perhaps, to be taken somewhat literally. Elam may have been a people where skill in archery reckoned for much of its strength. Whatever our peculiar natural strength may be, God can break it to pieces. We should never pride ourselves on what is peculiar to us, for the really best things are those which may become common to all men.
2. The loss of all union. The two ways in which nations perish.
(1) They retain their corporate existence, remain in their country, but lose their independence and enter into servitude.
(2) They are scattered, and lose all the outward signs of a nation. Thus in this scattering we have a symbol of the way in which men who have been joined together for evil purposes may be disunited. Union itself is strength so long as it lasts, even if no actual step be taken. God can destroy the schemes of men and at the same time throw them into new relations as individuals, so that they may be forced each one into a new scheme and plan for himself. When God scatters and humbles nations, there is pain to the individual for the time in his feeling of nationality, but for all that the scattering is a good thing for the individual and for the world.
3. The destruction of the ruling men in Elam. God will set up his throne. The visible power and glory of those who represented Elam is to pass away. In a monarchy the king and his nobles give a centre, around which the whole nation gathers. When this centre is taken away there is nothing to act as a sufficient point of union for the scattered ones if they are so disposed. What God does he does completely.
II. NOTE THAT THE REASON OF ALL THIS IS NOWHERE DISTINCTLY EXPRESSED IN THE PROPHECY. And yet we know there is nothing capricious and arbitrary in all this severity. Elam must have done much wickedness in the sight of Jehovah. Wherever there is suffering there is sin; and, more than that, when God indicates his own special interference we know that he has a sufficient reason for it in the wrong doing of those with whom he thus deals.
III. THE ELEMENT OF HOPE. The captivity of Elam, as it is called, is not to endure forever. A brighter future is coming, spoken of very indefinitely, but not therefore uncertainly. Not, of course, that Elam was to be re-established literally in its old possessions and glory. Such verses as this must be taken spiritually. It is God's way of setting before us the truth that, whatever may be lost by a particular community or a particular generation, only vanishes to reappear in a far greater gain to every individual, spiritually considered. - Y.