Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE WORST CAPTIVITY IS THAT OF HUMANITY TO SIN.
1. This implies that sin is not the true and proper lord of our race, but that God has a claim to the loyalty and obedience of men.
2. And that sin is a tyrant, arbitrary, unjust, and basely oppressive.
3. And further, that in such bondage, no peace, no liberty, no satisfaction, are to be found.
II. THE ONLY DELIVERER OF HUMANITY IS GOD HIMSELF.
1. His interposition is prompted by Divine compassion.
2. And is effected by supernatural means. In rescuing Judah from the captivity in the East, Jehovah was painting, as it were, beforehand a picture of what was yet to be. In Christ God laid help upon One who was mighty; his designation is emphatically the Redeemer.
3. The interposition is completed by the restoration of the ransomed to greater happiness than by their disloyalty they forfeited and lost.
III. THE RESTORED FROM SPIRITUAL CAPTIVITY ARE SUMMONED TO OBEDIENCE AND PRAISE.
1. TO obedience, because they have tasted the bitter fruits of rebellion, and have learned the lesson that true happiness lies in cheerful subjection.
2. To praise, because such mercy as they have experienced deserves grateful and unceasing acknowledgments. - T.
the persecution of good men on earth.
I. THERE HAVE EVER BEEN GOOD MEN ON EARTH. Corrupt as the world has been for sixty centuries, there have always been in every generation some men whose characters in the main have been good, and in whom the great Governor of the world has manifested a special interest. These are in the holy book called by a large variety of names. They are called here:
1. "My people. They are his.
(1) They have surrendered themselves to his will All others are controlled by a variety of laws, they evermore by his will. Whatever they do, in word or deed, they are inspired by a loving loyalty to his will. They are his faithful servants, his loyal subjects, his loving children begotten again by his will.
(2) He has pledged them his loving guardianship. He is their Shepherd. He leads them by still waters." He is their Father. "As a father pitieth his children." He makes for them all necessary provision, both for this life and for the life that is to come.
2. "My heritage. In Exodus 19:5 you have these words, Now therefore if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine." He who owns the universe, esteems holy souls as the most valuable of his possessions. The vast universe of matter is in his estimation worth nothing in comparison with one truly virtuous spirit.
II. THESE GOOD MEN ON EARTH HAVE GENERALLY BEEN SUBJECT TO PERSECUTION. "Whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land." The faithful and the true amongst the Jews had, subsequent to their restoration from Babylonish captivity, been driven by violence amongst the nations. The indignities and cruelties which they. were subject are specified in the subsequent verses. "Persecution.". says an old writer, "is the reigning sin of the world." The enmity between the seed of the woman and the serpent has shown itself from the beginning. "Marvel not," said Christ, "that the world hate you." There is a persecution that, whilst it does not involve bonds, imprisonments, and physical violences, involves the malice of hell, and inflicts grievous injury. There is social calumny, scorn, degradation, and various disabilities. The good must ever suffer in a world like this for conscience' sake.
III. THEIR PERSECUTION WILL BE AVENGED BY HEAVEN. "I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel." It is not necessary to suppose that the valley of Jehoshaphat here means the vale through which the Kedron flows, lying between the city of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives; or the valley of blessings mentioned in 2 Chronicles 20., or any other particular place. Its literal meaning is, "the valley where God judgeth." It means here the scene where God would deal out retribution upon the nations that persecuted his people. It was in the valley of Jehoshaphat that in all probability the army of Sennacherib was slain by Heaven's avenging angel. Ah! the time hastens when persecutors of all types and ages will have full retribution dealt out to them in some great valley of Jehoshaphat. - D.T.
I. THE OPPRESSION OF GOD'S PEOPLE BY THEIR FOES.
1. The laud is parted. The sacred soil is divided among strangers, for the tribes to whom it was allotted are dispossessed. The heirs become slaves, and toil upon their own inheritance.
2. The treasures are carried away. The silver, the gold, the pleasant things, which have been a delight to the eyes and an enrichment to the population, - these are carried off to adorn the palaces and temples of the conquerors and captors.
3. The inhabitants of the land are led into captivity, are scattered among the nations, far from the homes of their ancestors and the scenes of their childhood.
4. Nay, even worse, the children are sold as slaves, as worthless trifles, or as ministers to the luxury or the lust of heathen masters.
II. THE RESCUE OF GOD'S PEOPLE FROM THEIR FOES.
1. The enemies and oppressors shall be themselves defeated and vanquished. The valley of Jehoshaphat, or "the judgment of Jehovah," is to be the scene of a righteous retribution, in which the cause of God's people shall be maintained, and their enemies judged.
2. The people of God shall be restored to their dwelling-places, and their former happiness and privileges; the mischief shall be undone.
3. And the oppressors shall in turn endure the fate they inflicted upon the Lord's people; they who sold Israelites into captivity in the West shall themselves be deported as slaves into the East. From this prediction the great lesson may be learned that the Lord reigneth - that he suffers nothing to happen to his people that he will not overrule for their good and for his glory. - T.
I. A PICTURE OF WAR.
1. The vastness of the scale upon which it is conducted appears from the language employed to designate those who take part in it. They are "the Gentiles;" "all the nations."
2. The valour and renown of the combatants are set forth in the expressions," the mighty men," "the men of war," etc.
3. The military preparation and warlike accoutrements are brought before us very vividly and picturesquely in the representation of ploughshares fashioned into swords, and pruning-hooks into spears.
4. The warlike array is denoted by the directions to "assemble," to "come up," etc.
II. A PICTURE OF JUDGMENT AND RETRIBUTION.
1. The vast multitudes who intend to gather for battle prove in reality to have gathered for judgment. They came in battle array to contend with the Lord of hosts; and 1o! they find themselves standing at the bar of the great Judge of all.
2. The Lord sits upon his judgment-seat, his throne, whilst before him are gathered all nations.
3. Under two striking figures is set forth the judicial process and the punitive consequences which ensue. The harvest is reaped, the wine-press is trodden. The enemies of the Lord and of his people are, as it were, mown down by the hand of the reaper; their blood flows from the wine-press of the wrath of God.
APPLICATION. The passage shows us the omniscient regard of God surveying all the sons of men, and the power of God defeating the counsels of rebels and foes, delivering the righteous from oppression, vindicating the cause of truth and obedience. The sway of the Supreme extends throughout the universe; and however we may be perplexed and baffled by seeming disorder, we may be assured that the sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of God's kingdom, and that every enemy shall be put beneath his feet. - T.
I. THE GREATEST RESISTANCE ABSOLUTELY FUTILE. "Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: beat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruning-hooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about: thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord." The idea is - Let all the enemies of God do their utmost to ward off this judgment. It means - Do your utmost, muster all your strength, "wake up the mighty men," let them turn their agricultural implements into weapons of war, swords and spears; all will be futile. Heaven bids defiance to all such opposition. "The heathen may rage, and the people imagine a vain thing; but he that sitteth in the heavens laughs them to scorn." "We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ." Wicked spirits will fight to the utmost, but will fail.
II. THE GREATEST MULTITUDES ASSEMBLED TOGETHER. "Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves together round about Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision." Oh, this valley of decision, this valley of Jehoshaphat, this scene of judgment! what untold multitudes are summoned to appear therein! All the men of all generations will be there, and the Judge will appear also, and all the holy angels too, etc.
III. THE GREATEST PROPRIETY DISPLAYED IN THE WHOLE. "Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great." The judgment is only the harvest; hell is only sin ripened into fruit. "In that valley those that have sowed to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; those that have sowed to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap everlasting life." No one, then, will have any just reason to complain. It is mere reaping of what they have sown; it is the mere result of their own labours.
IV. THE GREATEST AWFULNESS DISPLAYED. "The Lord also shall roar out of Zion, and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the heavens and the earth shall shake." He shall "roar." Now he speaks in the still small voice of mercy, then he shall roar like a lion, striking terror into all ungodly hearts. "At his voice the heavens and the earth shall shake." The idea is
(1) he will appear on that day in such a way as to strike terror into the hearts of his enemies; and
(2) to inspire hope in the hearts of his people. "The Lord will be the Hope of his people" Should the material universe be frightened into nothingness at his approach, even then his people will still have a strong Hope in him. "God is our Refuge and Strength, a very present Help in time of trouble." Let us learn calmly to await the judgment.
"God's ways seem dark, but soon or late
I. THE HARVEST REVEALS THE RESULTS OF MAN'S LABOUR. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly, and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." Both in kind and in quantity, every harvest is proportioned to our sowing.
1. We see this in social life. The nation which allows its children to grow up in hovels where decency is impossible, and under conditions in which knowledge and virtue are out of reach, will have to reap as it has sown - in jails and penitentiaries, in abject misery and festering vice.
2. In our intellectual life, as every man in due time discovers for himself; e.g. the indolence and the studiousness of school-days have their certain results.
3. In the occupations we follow we sow as we reap. Wealth or fame depends upon our choice and persistence.
4. In the moral and religious sphere the same law holds good, so that the worldly need not complain if they are hopeless of heaven, and the religious need not be indignant if the wealth of this world is not theirs. Yet we must remember the injunction, "Judge nothing before the time." God's Word points us on to a future in which alone we shall be able accurately to estimate the full issues of our present life. We look for a distant day when he shall say to his angels, "Put in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe."
II. THE HARVEST PROCLAIMS THE SUPREMACY OF DIVINE LAW.
1. Science has demon-strafed the constancy and regularity of the laws of nature. Amongst them is this: "Seed-time and harvest... shall not cease." If it had not been for the fidelity of our God in fulfilling this promise, husbandry would have been discouraged, many of the race would have perished, and the world would only be peopled by a wandering race of starving fishermen and hunters. It is the stability of law which preserves humanity. If, then, we trust God in nature, ought we not to trust him in the higher sphere where he reigns as certainly? We are confident that he will be true to himself in all the physical laws he has ordained, so that we dare not trifle with them, knowing that retribution is certain. Then let us not forget his words, "He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption."
2. The thought that our God rules in every sphere should give sanctity to all our employments, and to all the relationships which they necessitate. The Christian who does a menial service, and is treated with indifference or with unkindness, may be encouraged by the reflection that he can "therein abide with God." On the other hand, employers will feel their responsibilities, and, even at the risk of their interference being resented, will give counsel and warning and encouragement (as well as wage) to the weak and unwary.
3. Most of all, in the broad fields of Christian service, we should work as those who are under the eye of "the Lord of the harvest. He will give us the seed of truth to sow; he will prepare the soil of human hearts; he will water what we have sown, and let it appear first as the blade, then as the ear, and afterward as the full corn in the ear."
III. THE HARVEST WITNESSES TO THE ACCOMPLISHMENT OF GOD'S PURPOSE.
1. He has a purpose about everything, but with him there is no haste. In proportion as we are co-workers with him, we must experience the Divine slowness. A farmer cannot hasten his harvest, but must wait for the due season. He can do little more than watch it; for as he sleeps and rises night and day, the seed springs up, he knows not how. He must wait and trust.
2. Let us not be discouraged about ourselves, though the new life within us does seem immature. Let us not fear the storms of temptation, weak though we are in ourselves; for God can care for the feeble blade as well as for the mighty oak. Nor should we, in our impatience, try to force spiritual growth by unwholesome excitement. "In due season we shall reap, if we faint not."
1. Even in this life the law of retribution and reward makes itself felt. The old proverb truly says, "He that seeketh mischief, it shall come unto him." Haman plotted his own destruction. His vaulting ambition overleaped itself. The men of Babel meant to form a social combination which should bid defiance to God, but only brought about their scattering. The Pharisees crucified the Son of God, but they made his cross the pivot of the world's history. Our own observation and experience can give many examples of folly and sin bringing dire results even in this world. Popular proverbs embody this universal expectation: e.g. "Ashes fly in the face of him that throws them;" "Harm watch, harm catch;" "He that sows thorns, let him not walk barefoot;" "Even as I have seen, they that plough iniquity and sow wickedness reap the same."
2. The law of retribution, of which we see glimpses here, will be revealed in the experience of all men hereafter. On earth we see, as it were, an ear or two ripening to show what the crop will be like; but the harvest is yet to come, and none can hinder it or alter it. Let us not delay the sowing of good seed until the mandate is heard, "Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe." - A.R.
I. LAW AND RETRIBUTION ARE PRESENT AS PERPETUAL FACTORS IN HUMAN HISTORY.
1. Nations are judged by their works. What is stated in this chapter regarding Judah, Tyre, Sidon, and the Gentile nations that surrounded Palestine, is not true of them alone. God is the Ruler of the nations. National error and crime are visited by Divine penalties, and the nations that endure probation are exalted to honour and to sway. Hi§tory is now better understood than formerly, and it has become growingly evident that deep-seated moral causes underlie and explain the changes, the rise, the decline, the fall, of peoples.
2. Individual life is equally the province of God's retributive government. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap;" "The wicked shall not go unpunished." His prosperity shall not last for ever; it shall be seen that there is a Judge in the earth. We, indeed, have no right to set ourselves up as infallible interpreters of the ways of God; we have no right to infer from particular sufferings particular sins; but the fact of God's moral rule we cannot question, and we should never for a moment forget.
II. THOUGH RETRIBUTION BE DEFERRED, ITS ACTION WILL NOT BE EVADED; FOR THE DAY OF THE LORD IS NEAR.
1. Men's conscience assures them that, although for a season they may escape the deserved penalties due to their misdeeds, a time of reckoning shall come, and that soon.
2. The reflections to which events constrain us, and which lead us to consider the course and order of Divine Providence, cannot but induce a belief that the inequalities of this world will be redressed hereafter; that although vice and virtue may not here meet with their recompense, that recompense will be accorded hereafter.
3. Revelation comes in to make the probability a certainty. The Hebrew prophets seem to point on to a day of the Lord, in which the inequalities of this life shall be corrected, in which the truth shall be made manifest, in which every man shall receive according to his works. Indeed, the future judgment occupied a more prominent position in the preaching and teaching of the apostles than it usually holds in Christian teaching at the present time. In that day, for which all days were made, multitudes shall be gathered in the valley of decision; the righteous Judge shall administer his awful functions in the sublimest publicity, and upon principles of unquestionable rectitude. Happy is the Christian who can look forward with equanimity and hope to the day when "every man shall receive his praise from God." - T.
I. THE RIGHTEOUS LORD IS THE HARBOUR AND THE HOPE OF HIS PEOPLE.
1. They have need of a Divine and secure refuge and confidence.
2. They have received God's revelation of himself, and are accordingly able to trust and rest in him.
3. And thus the expectation which brings to others consternation, brings to them a tranquil confidence.
II. THE RIGHTEOUS LORD IS THE STRENGTH OF HIS PEOPLE.
1. This assurance supports them when conscious of their own feebleness.
2. And when convinced by experience of the comparative strength of their enemies.
3. To them the power of God is a welcome thought; for the irresistible might, which others fear because it ensures their defeat and destruction, will be exercised by a faithful God for the protection and preservation of all who trust in him. - T.
I. THE TRUE JERUSALEM IS THE CONSECRATED CHURCH OF CHRIST. In the elder dispensation certain places were holy. But the Christian religion has taught us that holiness is not local, ceremonial, or official. True holiness is of the heart. Hence the spiritual temple is that constructed of living stones. The true Jerusalem is the city composed of renewed and sanctified citizens and subjects of the new and spiritual kingdom.
II. THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD CONSECRATES AND BLESSES ZION. His omnipresence is not to be questioned. But the presence of his approval, his favour, his love, is peculiar to his own chosen abode. In his holy mountain, the Church of his Son, God ever dwells as in a congenial residence. His presence diffuses purity, confidence, and joy.
III. THE INDWELLING OF THE LORD BANISHES FROM THE SPIRITUAL JERUSALEM ALL THAT COULD INJURE OR DEGRADE. The presence of the foreigner contaminated and defiled the holy dwelling-place of the Eternal. As such invasion was loathed by patriotic and pious Jews, we can understand how welcome was the assurance that strangers should no more pass through the city. The perfection of the saved and glorified Church of God involves its freedom from all that is uncongenial and inharmonious. There shall in no wise enter into heaven "anything that defileth." - T.
I. THE MOUNTAINS DROPPING WINE SYMBOLIZE THE SPIRITUAL JOYS OF CHRIST'S CHURCH. The Scriptures speak of wine as "making glad the heart of man." The "new wine" of the gospel is for the enjoyment of the elect. The wine of the kingdom is of celestial vintage; they who partake of it are "filled with the Spirit." The joy of the new covenant, the joy of the Lord, is the portion of the rescued, emancipated, and consecrated Israel.
II. THE HILLS FLOWING WITH MILK SYMBOLIZE THE SPIRITUAL NUTRIMENT OF CHRIST'S CHURCH. We are taught by the apostle to "desire the sincere milk of the Word, that we may grow thereby." Even the babes in Christ can partake of this nourishing spiritual diet; but the strong men do not disdain the food. As Canaan was "a land flowing with milk and honey," so the Church of the blessed Saviour abounds with all that can enrich and nourish and bless the people of God. "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more."
III. THE RIVERS FLOWING WITH WATERS SYMBOLIZE THE REVIVAL AND REFRESHMENT OF CHRIST'S CHURCH, Several of the prophets, expatiating (as they loved to do) upon the glorious prospect afforded them by inspiration of the future of the Church, describe one element of that happy future by the figure of a river flowing from its source in the Lord's house at Jerusalem, and fertilizing the soil until it should enter the Dead Sea or the Mediterranean. And the Apostle John beheld the river of the water of life, flowing out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. How exact is the correspondence between the prediction and the reality! It was in Jerusalem that Jesus was condemned, and hard by that he suffered; and his cross was the source of a river of spiritual blessing to mankind. Wherever his Spirit penetrates, there life is revived, souls are saved, society is purified, weariness is refreshed. Not earth only, but heaven, is fertilized and cheered by the water which Christ gives in a sweet, unceasing stream. - T.
I. IT WILL BE AN ERA OF PLENTIFUL PROVISION. "And it shall come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with waters, and a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim." Fertilizing streams will irrigate the land. The vineyards on the mountains shall drop down new wine, and the well-fed cattle shall yield abundance of milk. The idea is, in that age there will be a profusion of all that is necessary to supply the needs and gratify the desires of men. The time, I verily believe, will come when pauperism will be banished from the earth, when indigence, squalor, and want will be evils existing only in the history of the past. Even now it does not require the earth to he more fruitful than it is, to yield mankind ample supplies. What is wanted is men less avaricious, indolent, extravagant, intemperate, and wasteful.
II. IT WILL BE AN ERA OF COMPLETE CONQUEST. "Egypt shall be a desolation, and Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence against the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land." Egypt and Edom, the old and inveterate enemies of the Jews, are here represented as crushed into utter desolation. Error and sin are the Egypt and Edom of the world. These will be crushed one day. The great moral Deliverer will bruise Satan under our feet, will put down all rule and authority, will make mankind more than conquerors. There is a period of moral conquest and moral kingship that will dawn upon souls before the history of the world is over.
III. IT IS AN ERA OF ABIDING PROSPERITY. "Judah shall dwell for ever, and Jerusalem from generation to generation." So long as the earth endures the righteous shall continue. They will endure throughout all generations, and happiness will attend them. The kingdom of truth, purity, love, and peace, which Christ is now building up, and which one day he will make commensurate with the world, will continue from generation to generation; it will have no end.
IV. IT IS AN ERA OF MORAL PURITY. "For I will cleanse their blood that I have not cleansed." That is, I will radically cleanse them. Their very blood, which has been a current of moral pollution, I will make pure in every particle. I will cleanse, not merely their skin, or their external parts, but the whole current of their life. Such is the era which the passage anyhow suggests; such is the era that awaits the earth. Would that it had dawned! Haste, ye circling seasons, and bring it on - or rather haste, ye servants of Christ, to disseminate those principles of the gospel over the earth in whose mature development consists the blessed era!
"The time shall come when every evil thing