Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE POSITION OF A YOUNG MAN. He was twenty-one years old when he began to reign. Out of boyhood, looking round him at a time when he had become responsible for the conduct of his life. In England the age of twenty-one is full of significance to many young men, for then they become free from legal disabilities and restrictions. Any young man about the age of Zedekiah becomes thereby an object of special interest.
II. AN UNEXPECTED POSITION. At least we may fairly assume this from 2 Kings 24:17. Zedekiah was not in the succession. Of course it is just possible there may have been aims and intrigues by which Zedekiah gained the crown. But that does not make less noticeable the fact that young men often do find themselves in unexpected positions. They have been making ready for one course, when all in a moment they are turned into a new course where they have to act without much time for consideration.
III. A RESPONSIBLE POSITION. Responsible in any case as that of a young man; peculiarly responsible as being called to a throne. To be called to a position of peculiar responsibility may sober a man if he is inclined to be reckless, may rouse him if inclined to be easy going and self-indulgent. This point may be illustrated by the traditional belief in the change that came over Henry V. on his accession to the throne, especially as this view is brought out in Shakespeare.
IV. A POSITION UNUSUALLY DIFFICULT. A king appointed by a foreign conqueror would be regarded with dislike by many. In such circumstances the best of personal qualities were needed, decision of character combined with the utmost circumspection.
V. A POSITION IN WHICH ZEDEKIAH HAD A COMPETENT ADVISER. Not any of his own courtiers, though there may have been men among them marked by prudence and insight. He has a prophet of Jehovah, a man with a keen sense of right and wrong, a man with revelations from on high, to help him. Moreover, it is on record that he actually sought Jeremiah out. Note the many references in the course of the book to the dealings between the king and the prophet. By the plain speaking of such a man many doubts might be cleared and many errors corrected. It is the censure on Zedekiah (2 Chronicles 36:12) that "he humbled not himself before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of the Lord." ? Y.
I. THERE ARE OTHER PASSAGES LIKE THIS. Cf. "the Lord hardening Pharaoh's heart." The history of Judas. "None of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the Scripture might, be fulfilled" (John 17:12). Again," Is there evil in the city and I have not done it?" (Amos 3:6; Isaiah 45:7). And St. Peter's word to the Jews on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:23). They wickedly did what nevertheless God had determined before to be done. And there are yet other Scriptures besides these.
II. THEY GIVE ELSE TO GREAT DIFFICULTY. It is not difficult to understand that men should do wrong, or even the particular wrong which is charged against them and for which they are punished; but the difficulty is that the sin should be seemingly ascribed to God. And the Jews seem to have believed that God did prompt men to sin; cf. John 9:1, "Who did sin, this man or his parents in order that (ἱνα) he should be born blind?" The effect, the man's blindness, they looked on as designed and intended by God, and hence the cause producing that effect must have been designed also. As we read over Scriptures like these, the question of Abram starts immediately to our lips, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (cf. Romans 3:5-8). God "may and must transcend our understanding. He will by the very nature of the case dazzle and confound our imagination by the unsuspected riches and glory of his many mansions; but he must not trouble our sense of right if he would retain our homage and our love." But it is this sense of right that is troubled by what seems to be the teaching of Scriptures like these. They seem to teach that God prompts men to sin and then punishes them for it. Some who reasoned with St. Paul appear to have suggested (cf. Romans 3) that in such cases God was "unrighteous'" who took "vengeance." The apostle does not attempt to argue the matter, but treats the suggestion with a sort of "Get thee behind me, Satan," which is what his μὴ γένοιτο really amounts to. And where the suggestion is made from mere captious motives, or with the intent only to support a foregone conclusion and determination to disregard God, then such a reply is the proper one to make. But it can never be other than right to endeavour to meet the honest difficulties which some of the utterances of God's Word and some of the actings of his providence do unquestionably give rise to. If the suggestion were true that God made men to sin and then damned them for it, nothing could be more horrible, and no possible force could make men trust, love, or sincerely worship a God who would act so. But the suggestion is not true; for -
III. THE DIFFICULTY IS APPARENT, NOT REAL. God is never the author of sin. "The Lord is holy in all his ways, and righteous in all his works." "Let no man say when he is tempted," etc. (cf. James 1:13). But when sin has been Begotten in a man's soul by his own evil desires, then the special form in which that sin shall manifest itself is very often ordered by God. This is how we understand all these passages. That very Babylon in connection with which this ver. 3 is written may supply an apt illustration. Isaiah calls Babylon "the desert of the sea," for when, by reason of the melting of the snows which fed the Euphrates and her many tributaries, the great river overflowed its hanks, the great plain on which Babylon stood became like a vast sea. But the great Assyrian lords cut their canals and constructed their massive dams and reservoirs so that the superabundant and otherwise destructive waters were directed into safe channels, and could do no further harm. Those monarchs were not the authors of the floods, but by their skill and wisdom they directed which way those floods should flow. On one of our great railways a little while ago, a signalman saw to his horror that an engine had somehow got away without its driver, and was rushing on with ever-increasing speed to its own destruction and that of the first unhappy passenger train - and one was nearly due - that it should meet. Quick as thought the signalman seized his levers and turned the runaway into a siding where it could harm no one but itself. In every large fire the firemen act in a similar way. And so God. When sin has broken out by no will of his, but altogether contrary to his will, he does not let it run riot, as it might, but he orders the way it shall take. Thence it came to pass "through the Lord" that "Zedekiah rebelled against the King of Babylon" (ver. 3).
IV. THIS ORDERING OF SIN'S WAY ON THE PART OF GOD IS A THING MUCH TO BE REMEMBERED.
1. For our consolation and comfort. Mad and monstrous as sin is, it is yet under God's control. Like as to the raging sea, he can say and does say to it, "Thus far shalt thou go, and no further," etc., and cf. Jeremiah 5:22.
2. For the warning of the sinner. The flames of the eternal fire are lit within our own soul. Sin is ever twisting and knotting its own scourge. What a man soweth that shall he also reap. The seed of all our punishments was sown by our own hand, though we never intended the harvest. The way sin shall take is utterly out of our power. If it does somewhat that we did intend, it does for men that we never dreamt of nor desired.
3. For instruction to all thoughtful readers of God's Word and beholders of his providence. God "does" the evil that is in the city (Isaiah 45.), but he does not originate it, and that which he does is but the ordering of its way. - C.
I. THAT THE JUDGMENTS OF GOD ARE SLOW TO BEGIN. He is slow to anger. How long he bore with Judah and Jerusalem ere these tribulations came!
II. BUT WHEN BEGUN THEY GO ON. What a procession of one calamity after another it is!
III. THEY CANNOT BE ARRESTED OR TURNED ASIDE. All that endurance, courage, and skill could do was done in that memorable siege. Cf. Ezekiel 7:6, "An evil, an only evil, behold, it is come," etc.
V. THEY ARE RELENTLESS AND KNOW NO PITY. Prayers and entreaties are in vain (cf. Proverbs 1:24-31).
VI. THEY CEASE NOT FILL THEIR WORK IS DONE. See this history. The heart of the deceived evil doer protests that God cannot deal so. But he has dealt so with ungodly men, not once nor twice alone; and when he declares that he will again, of what avail is man's mere protest that he will not? Cf. the whole Book of the Revelation. How loudly, therefore, do facts like these cry out to the sinner, "Flee from the wrath to come"! - C.
I. THERE ARE SUCH DAYS. In the record of the Flood we have such exactness of date. And in the later history of Jerusalem, the story of its decline and fall under its last kings, we again and again, as in this chapter, meet with such careful giving of exact dates. And in our own experience, looking back over the record of our lives, how vividly some dates stand out! We know the year, the month, the day, and hour, and it seems likely that we shall never forget them nor the events connected with them.
II. BUT THESE DAYS ARE NEARLY ALWAYS DAYS OF PAIN AND DISTRESS. It was so in the instances given in these verses. There are anniversaries which we keep, but these are for the most part joyous days, the memory of which we will not willingly let die. But the fact of our keeping them shows that there is probability that such memory would die if we did not carefully keep it up. But the days whose dates are indelible need no anniversaries to remind us of them. We cannot forget them, though, perhaps, we would fain do so. They are burnt in upon our souls so deeply that they are written as on a rock forever. And they are days, not of joy, but of sore distress; as when first the fierce Babylonian forces beleagured the holy city, and as when after weary months of obstinate defence the awful famine at length broke them down; and as when the proud conqueror in his rage burned down the sanctuary of God. Days of judgment were they, never to be forgotten by Israel any more. And there were many such days. We read of the "fasts" of the different months, many of which commemorated these sad events.
III. AND THEIR DATES ARE INDELIBLY WRITTEN IN OUR SOULS.
1. Because of the contrast which they offer to well nigh all other days. If any mark stands out conspicuous - like the black marks on a white page, or white on black - it proves that the ground upon which such mark stands out so conspicuously is of an entirely opposite colour, a complete contrast. And so the very blackness of these indelible days proves that the days against which they stand out so conspicuously have been of a far other and happier kind. Our very trials, by the vividness with which we remember them, prove the general goodness of our God, because they are such exception to his rule.
2. Because of their intensity. The mark is not merely dark, but deep. The sword pierces through the soul. It is the intensity of the pain that makes it so memorable.
3. Because of the shadow they cast. All our after life may be darkened -it often is so - by the effect of some awful blow, and the shadow ever starts from and guides our thoughts up to the terrible fact which has caused it. IV, BUT THESE DATES ARE NOT INDELIBLE FOREVER. Cf. our Lord's illustration: "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow,... but as soon as she is delivered... she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy." So it is oftentimes even in this world. Life would not be bearable were all sorrows indelible. But they are not. The lapse of time, the pressure of necessary work, the awakening of other interests, and, above all, the bestowment of new joys - all tend to scatter the gloom of the soul and to thrust into oblivion memories that could only give pain. And none of them shall follow us into our eternal home. We shall not - it does not appear possible - forget facts that have occurred, but we shall see them in such new lights and irradiated by such love of God that all the pain that belonged to them will depart and be seen no more.
"Help, Lord, that we may come
Jeremiah 37:21 and Jeremiah 38:9 with what difficulty ever so little was gained (also Ezekiel 5:16; Ezekiel 5:16; Ezekiel 12:19) Then Lamentations 4:7 and Lamentations 5:10 tell of the sufferings of the nobles; Lamentations 4:5 and Ezekiel 4:12-15 of the degradation of the high-born ladies of Jerusalem, snatching morsels of bread from the dunghills. The cries of the poor little children (Lamentations 2:11, 12, 19; Lamentations 4:4); the hard-heartedness of their parents (Lamentations 4:3). Fathers ate the flesh of their own sons (Ezekiel 5:10); mothers that of their new-born babes (Lamentations 2:20; Lamentations 4:10). Thus frightful was this famine. And it is ever a fearful thing, let the cause be what it may. Note -
I. WHEREFORE THEY ARE SENT. I. As punishment:
(1) For violation of natural law. When men will crowd together in space too limited or on lands that will not yield sufficient, or will out of greed or selfishness refuse to cultivate aright the land they have, then sooner or later famine will come.
(2) For violation of Divine laws. So in the case of famine told of here. But:
2. They are sent as prompters and promoters of repentance and amendment. In case of violated natural laws they have again and again performed this needed office. Men have spread themselves abroad, communications between one district and another have been opened up, improved methods of cultivation have been adopted, wiser and juster laws have been enacted, and men's energies and thoughts have been roused to devise remedies and safeguards against the recurrence of the evil. And when it is the Divine laws that have been violated, the Divine laws against sin - for natural laws are also Divine - famine has brought many a prodigal to himself, and led him to say," I will arise and go to my Father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned." It did so in the case of the Jews.
II. BUT FAMINE IS AN UNNECESSARY AND UNNATURAL THING. For in our Father's house there is bread enough and to spare, and none need perish with hunger. The world contains ample store; the resources of nature are in no degree exhausted, and therefore it can only be by negligence of God's laws in nature that famine can in ordinary cases occur. And why need any go away into the far country of sin, and so compel the righteous and loving Father to send such sore judgment after them in order to bring them back? "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself!" It is not according to God's will in any case.
III. AND WHAT IS TRUE OF THE LITERAL IS TRUE ALSO OF THE SPIRITUAL FAMINE.
1. It is caused by man's disobedience. So it was at the first. Sin thrust him forth from the Father's house, the happy home where he never knew what want was. And so it is still. Had those who knew of Christ and his redemption but obeyed the word, "Let him that heareth say, Come," long ere this the whole world would have been evangelized. And if the same command were obeyed now, the like result would speedily follow. Christ has given a self-propagating power to his Church, which it has failed to use, and therefore spiritual famines are and will be until the Church obeys her Lord's commands. But:
2. Such famine need not be. Christ is the "Bread of life" for all, and there is enough and to spare for all CONCLUSION. Let not thy brother hunger if thou canst give him of this bread. Think of what famine means, and let thy charity be aroused. Take care that thou eatest - not merely talkest - of the Bread of life thyself. - C.
Jeremiah 23:5-7). It may be that, in allusion to this, the new king assumed that name Zedek-Jah on his accession to the throne. He was a mere youth, but not without noble feelings which, in a less critical moment, might have saved the state." And his very name attested the hope which was cherished concerning him. But read the history of his career and his awful fate, and see if ever there could be sadder irony than in the name he bore. It was a glorious name, but how miserably belied! Defeated, dethroned, disgraced, bereaved, tortured, blind, an exile, a slave, - so he dragged out the last weary years of his life. We know not how many they were, we can only hope they were but few.
I. SUCH IRONY OF NAMES IS FREQUENT. The degenerate bearers of noble and hallowed names are many. The children of Abraham were told by our Lord that they were children of the devil. A good name should be an inspiration; it often is; noblesse oblige. That it may be so is often the motive wherewith it is given by parents to their children. But, as with Zedekiah, their character and their names are in sad contrast.
II. NOTE THE CAUSE OF THIS SAD IRONY IN THIS CASE. It was not lack of right knowledge. For a while he was under the teaching and influence of God's prophet Jeremiah. And men rarely go wrong from lack of knowledge. Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor. Nor for lack of right feeling. He had again and again good purposes and aspirations. So with men like him. Nor were there wanting sundry endeavours to act according as God prompted him. He made one and another attempt. But the secret of his sad failure was his lack of strength, infirmity of will, weakness of resolve. And thus it perpetually is with men who turn out failures in life. There is no more pitiful sight in this world than the spectacle of these ruined men. Jeremiah lamented bitterly over Zedekiah, as he well might.
III. LET THIS ILL-APPLIED NAME LEAD US TO THINK OF HIM WHOSE NAME WAS NOTHING BUT BLESSED TRUTH - JESUS. He was called Jesus because "he should save his people from their sins." For in him is the remedy for all such as Zedekiah was. Give up our will to him, come to be in him by a living faith, and his strength shall be reproduced in us, and out of weakness we shall be made strong. - C.
I. AT THE CAUSE OF IT.
1. The cause so far as it lies in his own conduct. There was no need for him to accept a throne as viceroy for Babylon, but, having done so, he had entered into an implied covenant. No wonder that the King of Babylon took special care to stamp such conduct in a peculiar way.
2. The cause so far as it lies in the notions of the time. Zedekiah was treated, not only vindictively, but savagely. The meaning must have been to humiliate him, to make the iron enter into his very soul. What a difference Christianity has made in the treatment of conquered foes! The change has Come very slowly, but it is real and stable. One cannot imagine the time returning when a captured enemy would be deprived of his eyesight.
II. AT A CONTRAST IMMEDIATELY SUGGESTED. One cannot but think of Samson, whose external condition was exactly that of Zedekiah, blinded, fettered, and imprisoned. Reduced to this state the Philistines reckoned he was impotent. Zedekiah really was impotent; he seems to have gone on to the day of his death in monotonous submission to what he felt necessity. But it was only necessity because he made it so. The worst limitations our fellow men can put on us may become in certain conditions like an easily snapped thread. Zedekiah might have risen above all these insults and pains. Perhaps he did rise. It is well for us to recollect how God has placed the essential liberty of every individual in his own hands. - Y.
I. THE BURNING IN GENERAL. The sum of the details amounts to a statement that the city was reduced to ashes. For this not Babylon is to be blamed, but Zedekiah and his predecessors, together with their advisers. Babylon was only acting according to the fashion of the times. The hand of Jehovah was withdrawn, the hand that might have averted the torch; and it was withdrawn because the destruction of Jerusalem had become a better thing for the world than its preservation. Still, it is not to be said in the fullest sense of the word that Jehovah destroyed Jerusalem say as he destroyed Babylon. In the course of a few generations Jerusalem rose from its ashes, temple included. The mere destruction of buildings, terrible as it is at the time, may soon be got over, as witness the rebuilding of London, and Chicago. The decay of national spirit and national resources is the thing to be feared.
II. THE BURNING OF THE TEMPLE IN PARTICULAR. Babylon had no fear in destroying the house of the Lord. Doubtless it was quite a common thing in war to destroy the temples of gods, for they were looked upon merely as part of the resources of nations. We must distinguish between what is essentially sacred and what is sacred only by association and to serve a purpose. When the purpose is accomplished the sacred sinks back into the common. God dwelleth not in temples made with hands. He was none the poorer for all this burning. Babylon learned hereafter that, though his house had been burned, his power was not at all diminished. The chief value of the temple lay in this, that it had been an expression of the piety and devotion of David and Solomon. Kings and people alike had proved themselves unworthy of their great ancestors. - Y.