Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE GENESIS OF CRIME. Three stages are described.
1. Sinful desires are cherished in the heart. These sinners "devise iniquity," think over it (Psalm 7:14), imagine it (the same word as in 1 Samuel 18:25, referring to Saul's thought and plan to secure David's death), dwell on it; for wickedness is "sweet in their mouth" (Job 20:10-12). Illustrate from the licentious thoughts of David (2 Samuel 11:2, 3) or Amnon (2 Samuel 13:1, 2), the covetous thoughts of Ahab (1 Kings 21), or the envious and revengeful thoughts of Haman (Esther 3:5, 6; see James 1:14, 15). Here sin is not traced during its growth. From its birth St. James passes on to its maturity: "The sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death." But Micah points out stages in its growth.
2. Plans of wickedness are deliberately contrived. They "work," prepare or fabricate, "evil upon their beds." In their hours of rest they "cannot cease from sin." On their beds, where they might enjoy the sleep of God's beloved, where in wakeful hours they might commune with God and their own hearts (Psalm 4:4; Psalm 16:7; Psalm 63:6; Psalm 104:34), they plot their crimes (Psalm 36:4; Proverbs 4:16). If they want allies they hesitate not to secure the aid of the false witness, the procuress, the dishonest lawyer, the bribed judge. Illust.: Jezebel; the priests (Matthew 28:11-14); the assassins (Acts 23:12-15).
3. The plot is executed in a crime. They act promptly, early, showing no signs of repentance or reflection (Jeremiah 8:6); in the daylight, without shame (Esther 6:4; Matthew 27:1, 2) - "swift to shed blood," or defraud, or debauch. Might constitutes their right; "impiously mighty and mighty in impiety," "because it is in the power of their hands." "Dextra mihi Deus" (Virgil). They are reckless of the ruin caused to an innocent man or a whole family robbed of their heritage (Nehemiah 5:1-5), or of their head (1 Kings 21:13), or of the flower of the flock, some beloved child more precious than any heritage (2 Samuel 12:1-9).
II. ITS INEVITABLE CONNECTION WITH RETRIBUTION. While sinners are coveting, plotting, plundering, God is watching, devising, and framing punishment. This is:
2. Hard to be borne. Compared to a yoke. Contrast the yoke of the Father's discipline (Lamentations 3:27), and of the Redeemer's service (Matthew 11:29, 30). If these yokes are contemptuously cast away, the evil yoke of punishment, a "yoke of iron," is prepared (Deuteronomy 28:48; Jeremiah 28:14).
4. Humiliating. "Neither shall ye go haughtily." How often the retribution on the proud or the extortioner is strikingly appropriate to their sin! Man's skill in successful sinning is outmatched by God's wisdom in punishing (Job 9:4). When God's wisdom and power are both arrayed against us, it is an evil time indeed.
5. Utterly disastrous. A revolution in their entire circumstances (ver. 4). Thus the consequences of sin may be irreparable in this world; but the gospel of the grace of God tells of a forgiveness whereby sin may be righteously forgiven, and the eternal consequences may be cut off (Isaiah 43:25; John 5:24). - E.S.P.
I. SCHEMING IN THE LIGHT. The avaricious men "devise iniquity and work evil upon their beds." When avarice takes possession of a man, it works the brain by night as well as by day. It keeps the intellectual faculties busy in the stillness of nocturnal hours. What schemes to swindle, defraud, and plunder men are fabricated in this London of ours every night upon the pillow! Perhaps there is no passion that takes a stronger hold upon man than this, and that moves his intellect with such concentration and constancy. It has been called "the great sepulchre of all other passions."
II. WORKING IN THE DAY "When the morning is light, they practise it, because it is in the power of their hand." Delitzsch renders this," In the light of the morning they carry it out, for their hand is their god." The idea is, perhaps, that which they esteem most is the worldly gain of their avaricious labour. So it ever is; gain is the god of the greedy man. He sacrifices all his time and labour on its altar. Before it he prostrates his soul Your avaricious man in the day trots about the streets, the shops, the markets, like a hungry hound in search of food. Shakespeare compares such a man to a whale, which plays and tumbles, driving the poor fry before him, and at last devours them all at a mouthful. Such whales have I heard of on the land, who never leave gaping till they've swallowed the whole parish - church, steeple, bells, and all.
III. SUFFERING IN THE JUDGMENT. "Therefore thus saith the Lord; Behold, against this family do I devise an evil, from which ye shall not remove your necks," etc. Judgment comes at last; and in the judgment, as these words give us to understand, the punishment will correspond with the sin. "Because they reflect upon evil," says Delitzsch, "to deprive their fellow men of their possessions, Jehovah will bring evil upon this generation, lay a heavy yoke upon their necks, under which they will not be able to walk loftily or with extended neck." Ay, the time will come when the avaricious millionaire will exclaim, "We be utterly spoiled." "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you," etc. (James 5:1). - D.T.
I. AN IMPIOUS VETO. Men may seek to put their veto on a faithful messenger in various ways.
1. By seeking to persuade him to utter smooth words. Thus Micaiah's integrity was first assailed (1 Kings 22:13). So, too, in the later days of Amos (Amos 2:12, where the corruption of prophets as well as of Nazarites is suggested) and of Isaiah (Isaiah 30:9-11).
2. My direct veto, supported by threats, uttered or implied, as in the ease of Amos (Amos 7:10-13).
3. By direct persecution. Micaiah was imprisoned; Jezebel "cut off the prophets of the Lord," and sought to slay Elijah. Conspiracies were formed against the liberty and the life of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 20:1, 2; Jeremiah 26:8, 9). God's faithful witnesses are always odious to "the beast" and those who bear his mark (Revelation 11:7-10). Successive steps in this impious veto are seen in the experience of Christ's apostles (Acts 4:1-3, 18-21; Acts 5:17, 18, 26 40).
4. By stubborn neglect or haughty contempt. These are virtually a veto on faithful preachers (cf. Isaiah 28:9-12; Isaiah 53:1). It is as though their hearers said, "Spare your breath," etc., or in still ruder phrase, "Shut up!" For they actually prefer such teachers as those alluded to in ver. 11, who encourage them in sin and delusion (Deuteronomy 29:19, 20). The contempt with which preachers and their messages are often regarded are a temptation to abandon the work. They say, "Drop not" (Hebrew), which seems almost equivalent to "Drivel not," We hear of "the decay of preaching," and know by how many it is neglected. To say, "We do not care to hear your message," is much the same as to say, "Prophesy not," And the neglect of God's truth by courteous and even complimentary hearers is a sore temptation to an earnest preacher who watches for souls not for smiles (Ezekiel 33:30-32). To this impious veto a reply comes in the form of -
II. A FATAL WITHDRAWAL. We hear three sharp, decisive messages.
1. "They shall prophesy. God's servants shall continue to do so under the constraint of both a Divine command and an irresistible impulse. Both these are illustrated in the history of Jeremiah, who shrank from his mission (Jeremiah 1:5-19; Jeremiah 15:10; Jeremiah 20:7, 8), yet undertook it (Jeremiah 2:1), and returned to it again and again (Jeremiah 15:15, 16; Jeremiah 20:9). St. Paul is another example (Acts 26:16-20; Galatians 1:15, 16; see too Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:16). Men's impiety shall not frustrate God's purposes.
2. They shall not prophesy to these. The ministry shall be withdrawn (Psalm 74:9; Amos 8:11-13; and see 1 Macc. 4:46 1 Macc. 9:27 1 Macc. 14:41); or, if continued, it will be of no avail because of the hardness of heart of the hearers (Ezekiel 3:24, 27). Both these threats are illustrated by the treatment of the gospel by the Jews, and of the Jews by the apostles (Acts 13:46, 47; Acts 28:23-28). Many now are subject to a similar sentence. They nominally attend some pastor's ministry, but practically are without it, because deaf to the message it brings to them. Then the threat against God's ancient vineyard is fulfilled, I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it" (Isaiah 5:6). Showers of blessing are dropping on others, but their hearts are dry, like Gideon's fleece when the floor around was soaked with dew.
3. "Shame shall not depart. By silencing God's messengers they hoped to silence the reproaches of conscience and the shame they felt at the prophet's rebukes. But in vain. The fact of the withdrawal of the messengers was itself a shame to the people; like the withdrawal of an ambassador because he had been shamefully treated (illust.: 2 Samuel 10:1-4; Roman ambassador insulted at Tarentum; and cf. Luke 10:16). This shame was the fruit of their own doings, and was thus bound up with their future history. It became more and more aggravated, owing to the degrading influence of sin. The wrath of God abode on them, whereas, by repentance and faith, it might have been removed (cf. John 3:36 with John 9:41). The final issue of shameful sin must be a resurrection to shame" and "condemnation" (Daniel 12:2; John 5:29). - E.S.P.
I. JUDGMENT IS GOD'S "STRANGE WORK."
1. The people are reminded of this by their very name. It is a great honour but a grave responsibility to have a good name and ancestry (John 8:39; Acts 3:25). What sacred associations clustered around the name, "house of Jacob"! The personal history of their ancestor Jacob gave great significance to the name, "God of Jacob" (Psalm 46:11). The history of Jacob shows that he had to do with a God who is forbearing to sinners; who enters into covenant with men, and renews that covenant even with the unworthy children of godly parents; who is the Hearer of prayer, and condescends to represent himself as being overcome by it; who bestows eternal life on those who die in faith (Exodus 3:6; Matthew 22:31, 32). Similar lessons might be learned from God's treatment of "the house of Jacob" which name they gloried in. They could look back to a long catalogue of mercies (Psalm 78., 105., 106.). Yet the very fact that they bore this name made more glaring the contrast between it and their real character (vers. 5, 6; Hosea 12:2-7; John 8:33-40; Romans 2:17-29). Apply to the name we English bear as a Christian nation.
2. An appeal is made to their judgments as to the character of God. "Is the patience of Jehovah short?" Let God testify to them (Exodus 34:6, 7), and Moses respond (Numbers 14:17-20), and David take up the strain (Psalm 103:8-10), and the long lives of the ungodly, and late repentances confirm the Divine words, and their own consciences confess that Jehovah is a long suffering God.
3. They are reminded that God is not responsible for sin, and has no pleasure in punishment. "Are these his doings?" We take it as a moral axiom that God is not responsible for sin, unless the sun can be held responsible for the shadows caused by opaque objects (James 1:13; 1 John 1:5). At the best, sin is the corruption of what God made good; e.g. selfishness is depraved self-love; envy is fallen emulation; and so with other sins. In regard to punishment we know that "he doth not afflict willingly." He presides over his own laws and executes his threats; but it is sin, not God, who is the great destroyer. "Evil shall slay the wicked" (Psalm 34:21).
II. MERCY IS GOD'S DELIGHT. "Do not my words do good," etc.? The special reference seems to be to God's words through his prophets, so that it was a glaring sin as well as folly to try to silence God's prophets (ver. 6), whose words were so wholesome (Jeremiah 15:16), because they revealed God's Name, and therefore the path of peace and safety (Psalm 9:10). The prophets would have grievously misrepresented God's Name if they had spoken comfort to the wicked in their wickedness Isaiah 3:10, 11). Contrast Zedekiah with Micaiah and Elijah in their conduct towards Ahab; and cf. Ezekiel 13. with Psalm 18:25, 26; Psalm 34:15, 16. To us God's words do good still more abundantly. The psalmist's words, "Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy Name," are true of the revelation of God in "the word of the truth of the gospel." Yet even the gospel, though offering mercy to the vilest, can do good only to those who deal truly with it and thus walk uprightly. The perversion of the greatest blessing may be the most fatal curse. The word of life will be the word of judgment (John 12:48); ministers may become a "savour of death," and Christ a stone that shall grind to powder. "When the gospel becomes deadly to a man, it is a terrible thing; to die of a gospel plague is a terrible way of dying" (John Howe). The revelation of God's delight in mercy by Christ's sacrifice for sinners makes it possible for the vilest to walk uprightly. But salvation is from sin itself. Character is essential to heaven, or even God could not make it heaven to us. - E.S.P.
I. THAT THE SPIRIT OF DIVINE TRUTH CANNOT BE RESTRAINED. "Is the Spirit of the Lord straitened?" There is no limit to truth; it is an ocean that has no shore, a field whose ever-springing seeds are innumerable. Men's theological systems, even the largest of them, have narrow limits. They are, as compared to Divine truth, only as a barren rood to a fertile continent; a little sand pool to the mighty Atlantic. It is not "straitened." It has no limit. To every true minister this Spirit has something fresh to suggest, and which he is bound to propound and enforce. "The Lord hath yet more light and truth to break forth from his Word."
II. THAT THE PRACTICE OF DIVINE TRUTH CANNOT BUT DO GOOD. "Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?" Though you have never heard the particular truth before, though it may be too severe to please you, though it may clash with all your prejudices and wishes, if you practise it, it will do you good.
1. It is to be practised. It is not fitted merely for speculation, systematizing, controversy, and debate; it is for inspiring the activities and ruling the life. It is a code rather than a creed; it is not something to play about the brain, the imagination, or the emotions, but to possess, permeate, and transform the whole life. It must be incarnated, made flesh, and dwell in the land.
2. When practised it is a blessing. "Do not my words do good to him that walketh uprightly?" Yes, they do good - when they are translated, not into languages and creeds, but into living deeds. A man gets good only as he builds up a noble character. But what is a good character? It is made up of good habits, and good habits are made up of good acts, and good acts are but the forms and expressions of God's words and ideas. - D.T.
2 Chronicles 28:24, 25 that Ahaz shut up the doors of the temple, and erected altars in every corner of Jerusalem. We may safely conclude, from the language of Micah (2) and Isaiah (11), that when he did so, abominations of every kind overran the land. A prophet like Micah was no longer permitted to speak. The testimony of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:8.) had borne no fruit; the fruitlessness of invoking the aid of Assyria had taught him no better. Ahaz did not repent, like Manasseh, but persisted in his evil ways. What a melancholy course of conduct! Like Uzziah, Ahaz was denied honourable burial (2 Chronicles 28:27). The prophet here, in denouncing the sins which were then moat prevalent in Judah and Ephraim, alludes expressly to the acts of oppression and violence then common, and tells them that for these they would be driven out of the land." The verses lead us to look at sin in the aspect of an antagonist, and suggest -
I. THAT IT IS AN ANTAGONIST TO THE DIVINE. "Even of late [margin, 'yesterday'] my people has risen up as an enemy." "It is not stated," says Delitzsch, "against whom the people rise up as an enemy; but, according to the context, it can only be against Jehovah." Sin is an antagonist to God; it lifts up the soul in hostility against its Maker. We are told that the carnal mind is at enmity with God; it is not only alienated from him, but in deadly opposition to him. Unregenerated men say that they are not conscious of any enmity in their hearts towards their Maker; on the contrary, sometimes they feel a passing glow of gratitude and adoration for him. But it is the conduct of a man that proves the settled state of his heart. What though a man may say that he has no unkind feeling towards me, on the contrary, that he has some amount of respect; if he pursues a course of conduct that he knows is in direct opposition to my wishes, interests, and reputation, can I believe him? I judge his state of heart towards me, not by his words, but by his habitual conduct. Thus men prove their enmity to God; they pursue a course of life which they know is repugnant to his nature, hostile to his government, and injurious to the order and happiness of his universe.
1. This enmity is most unjustifiable. Enmity sometimes admits of justification, but never in this case. "They hated me without a cause." There is nothing in his character or procedure to justify one spark of animosity m any intelligent creature in the universe towards him.
2. This enmity is most wicked. It is against reason and justice. The character and relations of God are such as to demand the supreme love of all his intelligent creatures.
3. This enmity is most miserable. Enmity to God is the fountain of all the misery in the universe; it is the root of all the cursed passions of the soul. The soul's salvation is in love, its damnation is in enmity.
II. THAT IT IS AN ANTAGONIST TO THE HUMAN. "Ye pull off the robe with the garment [margin, 'over against the garment'] from them that pass by securely as men averse from war." Not content with the outer garment, ye greedily rob passers-by of the ornamental robe fitting the body closely and flowing down to the feet; and this you do, not to enemies, but to friends, to those who are "averse from war." More, "The women of my people have ye cast out from their pleasant houses." The widows of the men slain by you in battle you have deprived of their homes. They "devoured widows" houses." This was not all. "From their children have ye taken away my glory forever." The orphan children you have despoiled. In all this there is the manifestation of sin, as an antagonist to human fights and human happiness. Sin puts man against his brother; hence the slanders, quarrels, litigations, wars, that are rife in every human society. John says, "If a man love God, he will love his brother." The converse of this is true too. If a man hate God, he will hate his brother.
CONCLUSION. Look at sin as an antagonist to God and man, shun it with horror, and battle against it with all the force of your being. This is the great battle of life. - D.T.
I. SIN WAS THE DISTURBER OF THE EARLIEST EARTHLY PARADISE. It was not the serpent or the temptation, but Adam's sin, that destroyed our first parents' rest. They might have known of the presence of the tempter, have seen his trail, heard his hiss, and been conscious of his solicitations, and yet have continued in the rest of unbroken confidence in God. But when sin entered their hearts, rest fled, and guilt, shame, and fear took its place. If allowed to remain in the garden, it would no longer have been an Eden, a Paradise to them. The groans of creation begin to mingle with the reproaches of their own hearts. But the voice is heard, "Arise, and depart," etc. (Genesis 3:22-24).
II. SIN EJECTED THE FIRST INHABITANTS OF CANAAN. Even then it was "the glory of all lands," a splendid inheritance (Genesis 13:10; Numbers 14:7, 8; Deuteronomy 8:7-9). But sin of the foulest kind was there. Vice and crime rendered real rest impossible. The land is represented as stained, saturated with sin, no longer able to tolerate any further iniquity (cf Genesis 15:16); but ready to "spue out" its inhabitants (Leviticus 18:24-28; Leviticus 20:22, 23). The summons went forth - Arise, and depart, yet not to exile, but to utter destruction.
III. SIN CHANGED THE REST OF CANAAN INTO A LAND OF UNREST TO THE CHOSEN NATION. Canaan was promised as one of God's rests - not the highest, but none the less real (Deuteronomy 12:9; Psalm 95:11). What a rest it might have been, enriched with its natural resources, blessed with peace and brotherhood among the tribes, and crowned with the assurance of Divine protection (Exodus 34:24; Deuteronomy 12:10). A dim vision of the fulness of rest they might have enjoyed was seen in the reign of Solomon the peaceful (1 Kings 4:25). But throughout their whole history they allowed sin to mar their inheritance and break in upon their rest. There were periods of special demoralization, as in the days of the judges and of the later kings. They cast out the fatherless and the widow (ver. 9), they plundered the peaceable (ver. 8), they indulged in some of the abominations of the old Canaanites (1 Kings 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7). They could therefore have no rest themselves, but were doomed to exile (Revelation 13:10). The land is represented as once more taking sides with God and turning against those who abused his goodness. The false report of the spies (Numbers 13:32) received a fulfilment, as Moses foretold (Leviticus 26:18-35) and Ezekiel described (Ezekiel 36:13-19), as though an earthquake or a flood drove the sinners far away (Amos 8:8). Illust.: Pompeii. So has it been in the history of nations ever since (wars, slavery, despotism, revolutions, etc.). Illustrate from the Indian chief with his tribe fleeing from his foes. till, on the banks of a splendid river, he stuck his spear into the ground, exclaiming, "Alabama! Here we rest!" But in vain.
IV. SIN BREAKS THE REST OF THE HAPPIEST HOME. A young bride and bridegroom may think they have reached the goal of earthly happiness. But unless Christ occupies in their hearts the place which he claims, and which he alone can fill, they may soon learn that sin is a great disturber, even in a domestic Eden. Augustine's words are found to be true, "O God, thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless till it rests in thee." Sickness, suffering, death, and other fruits of sin stir up their nest (Deuteronomy 32:11), and remind them that their rest is polluted and therefore insecure.
V. SIN INVADES AND DISTURBS EVEN THE ADOPTED FAMILY OF GOD. For "death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned," so that "ourselves also which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan within ourselves" (Romans 5:12; Romans 8:23). We rejoice to know that "here we have no continuing city," because it is polluted. But already we know of a rest in Christ (Matthew 11:28, 29; Hebrews 4:3), which will be perfected into a rest with Christ (Hebrews 4:9), when we shall have completely" escaped the corruption which is in the world by lust," and be made fully "partakers of the Divine nature" (2 Peter 1:4). To us the summons, "Arise, and depart," will be the signal of emancipation; the curse will be changed into a blessing, for we shall "depart to be with Christ, which is far better." - E.S.P.
1. It does not mean the termination of our mortal life. Life is a talent which we should guard. Suicide is a crime.
2. It does not mean neglect of material interests and duties. We are commanded to be diligent in business, etc.
3. It does not mean absolute retirement from the world. The life of the hermit is a sin against our social affections, the claims of our species, and the commands of the Bible. What, then, shall we take it to mean? The rising of the soul above the dominant materialism of this life. It is the setting of the "affections upon things above." It is the exodus of the soul from the Egypt of a dominant materialism. There are three reasons suggested here for this moral exodus of the spirit.
I. THERE IS NO REST FOR THE SOUL IN A DOMINANT MATERIALISM. "This is not your rest." There are four forms in which this dominant materialism exists amongst us, and in neither of which can the soul find rest.
1. There is the gross, sensual form. The sensualist and the voluptuary live in this; but they have no rest. Ask the epicurean and the debauchee.
2. There is the thoroughly secular form. The man who is absorbed in the work of making money lives here; but he finds in it no rest. Ask the man who has become the creature of business, etc.
3. There is the intellectual form. The region of mere flesh wisdom, flesh arts, and flesh literature - poetry and novels that appeal to the flesh. There is no rest for the soul here. Ask Byron, Burns, Dryden, Churchill, etc.
4. There is the religious form. There is a fleshly religion amongst men - a religion of pictures, music, pompous rites and ceremonies, all appealing to the senses. There is no rest for the soul here. Let it "arise, then, and depart."
II. THERE IS POLLUTION FOR THE SOUL IN IT. To allow the material in any form to rule us is a sin.
1. Reason shows this. Mind was made to govern matter; the senses were made to be the servants, not the sovereign, of the soul
2. Conscience testifies this. Conscience is everlastingly protesting against the dominion of the flesh.
3. Bible declares this. The carnal mind is enmity against God (Romans 8:7).
III. THERE IS DANGER TO THE SOUL IN MATERIALISM "It shall destroy you." "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption" (Galatians 6:7, 8). For to be carnally minded is death. The work of soul destruction is going on every moment; the soul decays in this state. Force of intellect, discrimination of judgment, freedom of will, sensibility of conscience, elasticity of soul, are being destroyed.
CONCLUSION. Arise, then! The voice of philosophy, the voice of history, the voice of the Bible, and the voice of departed saints, all combine in the injunction, "Arise, and depart!" - D.T.
popular preacher, we shall find that he was marked by two things which always tend to make a preacher generally acceptable to thoughtless men in every age.
I. BY EMPTINESS OF MIND. "If a man walking in the spirit and falsehood do lie," or, as in the margin, "walk with the wind, and lie falsely." He has nothing in his mind but wind, vain conceits, vapid notions; no deep thought, no rich store of information, no well digested belief or profound conviction. He walks with the wind. His movements are the swellings of wind, his voice the echoes of wind. Now, the kind of preacher that the Israelites desired is the kind of preacher that is in general request almost everywhere. What thoughtful man of any extensive acquaintance with the religious world does not know that, as a rule, the less brain, intelligence, conviction, a preacher has - if he possesses the gift of passion, voice, and utterance - the more attractive he will be to the people in general? He is the man who attracts the crowd. The causes of this are obvious. The more empty a man is, the more fluent he is. The pauses in speech necessitated by thoughtfulness are never pleasing to the thoughtless; they like the rattling flow. The empty mind has generally a glib tongue. Again, the more empty a man is, the more dogmatic. The thoughtful man can only suggest and hint, and cautiously and reverentially submit his doctrines. For, as a thinker, he has touched difficulties and mysteries at every point; he can only speak with modesty. This, to the people, is more or less distasteful; they want dogmatism, positiveness, assurance, amounting to audacity. This the empty man can give. The more empty a man is, the more somnific. The people do not like mental effort in their pews; what they want is gentle titillation and spiritual dreaminess. This the empty man can and does supply.
II. BY MINISTERING TO PLEASE. "I will prophesy unto thee of wine and of strong drink." These prophets would accommodate themselves to their hearers' tastes and habits, and sanction their indulgences. They would not disturb their consciences nor strike against their prejudices, but talk to them in such a way as to leave them satisfied with themselves. The preacher who can do this, who can enunciate his discourses in such a way as to avoid interference with the tastes, habits, and pleasures of the people, will always be popular. Oh, it is sad to think of the thousands of sermons that are preached every year by our clergy and our ministers which interfere in no measure with the sinful delights of the people, which leave them in the full indulgence of their wine, strong drink, and other carnal gratifications!
CONCLUSION. Such a preacher as this popular preacher is, for many reasons, the greatest curse to his race. I see but little hope for the progress of Christianity or for the spiritual reformation of mankind, until the pulpits of Christendom are closed forever against such men. Oh, haste the time when none shall assume the solemn office of preacher but those who, by the manifestation of the truth, "commend themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God" (2 Corinthians 4:2)!
"I venerate the man whose heart is true,
1. A grand gathering. Jacob and the remnant of Israel were to be "gathered" as a mighty flock in the fruitful and lovely region of Bozrah. The scene of the gathering would be like the rich pastures of Bozrah, and the numbers of the gathered would be enormous. "They shall make great noise by reason of the multitude of men."
2. A triumphant deliverance. "The breaker is come up before them." Who is the breaker? If reference is here made to Jewish bonds, it was to Moses; if to Babylonish captivity, it was to Cyrus; if to the bondage of the devil, it was to Christ. We shall apply the words to illustrate the grand work of the gospel. "The fulfilment of this prophecy," says Delitzsch," commenced with the gathering together of Israel to its God and King by the preaching of the gospel, and will be completed at some future time, when the Lord will redeem Israel, which is now pining in dispersion, out of the fetters of its unbelief and life of sin. We must not exclude all allusion to the deliverance of the Jewish nation out of the earthly Babylon by Cyrus; at the same time, it is only in its typical significance that this comes into consideration at all, viz. as a preliminary stage and pledge of the redemption to be effected by Christ out of the spiritual Babylon of this world." Taking the words, then, as an illustration of gospel work, two thoughts are suggested.
I. UNIFICATION. "I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah." Men are morally divided; there is a schism in the great body of humanity. Men have not only lost interest in their fellows, but an antipathy prevails amongst them. They are scattered abroad in different countries, under different governments, and in connection with different religions and interests. The great work of the gospel is to bring men together, to gather them together in some moral Bozrah, to unite them in the fold of Christ. How is this to be done? Not by any political compact, or ecclesiastical concordat, or social organization. These things can never unite souls together; they have been tried a thousand times, but failed. There is only one way, and that is the presentation of an object of supreme moral attraction to all men. That object the gospel presents; it is Christ. It was predicted that unto him should the gathering of the people be, and that he should gather together in one the children of God that are scattered abroad. And he himself said, "I, if I be lifted up... will draw all men unto me." There is in him what is not found anywhere else - that which can attract with equal power all souls, and centralize in him the strongest sympathies of all hearts. Men can only become socially united to each other in brotherly love by first becoming united to Christ. The true union of souls is like the union of planets having one centre of light, life, and rule. As a matter of philosophy, I proclaim that there is nothing but the gospel that can hush the discords, heal the divisions, and terminate all wars and strifes amongst men; and historically I declare nothing else has ever done anything successfully towards it.
II. EMANCIPATION. "The breaker is come up before them: they have broken up, and have passed through the gate." Men everywhere are in moral bondage. They are the slaves of sin and the devil. "Carnal, sold under sin." Moral bondage is the worst of all bondage; it is a bondage
(1) connected with self-compunction; it is a bondage
(2) of the soul, the self; it is a bondage
(3) that death cannot terminate.
Who shall free man from this bondage? Who is the Moses that will take us out of this Egypt, the Cyrus that will free us from this Babylon? There is One, and but One - Christ. He is the "Breaker." He snaps the chains, breaks open the prison gates, and lets the soul into the true light and liberty of life. He came to preach liberty to the captive and to oven the prison doors of them that are bound.
CONCLUSION. Blessed gospel, speed thy work! Bring all the scattered sections of the world together, and unite them together by uniting them to one common centre - Christ. Break the moral chains that bind the faculties, sympathies, and souls of men to sin and the devil. Bring on the moral jubilee of the race, and let the clarion blast of liberty be heard through all the land. - D.T.
I. TO THE BREAKING OF THE BABYLONISH BONDAGE. Cyrus was a bond breaker. In a certain sense the words are applicable to him (Ezra 1:2 4, etc.). But above him was the greater Deliverer, whom Cyrus himself recognized, who had long before predicted deliverance (Isaiah 45:1-6), and who now puts it into the heart of the Persian monarch to act as his servant. Before God interposed, the captives were but as a flock of sheep (ver. 12) whom a fold, not to say a fortress, could restrain. Till the seventy years of destined captivity were fulfilled no breaker could release that flock; but then "the man that executeth my counsel from a far country" appeared (Isaiah 46:9-11). When God broke through, it was an easy thing, even for those timid sheep, to pass through or to break through any gate (like Peter passing the iron gate of his prison). As they streamed forth from Babylon, Zerubbabel, "the Prince of Judah" (Ezekiel 1:8), led them. But there was another invisible Leader, of a nobler royalty than Zerubbabel - "their King," who went before them (Isaiah 49:8-10; Isaiah 52:12). See Exodus 13:21: there the symbol was visible; now the invisible King was seen by the eye of prophetic faith. Learn to recognize the Divine hand in all national deliverances; as did David (2 Samuel 5:20), and Queen Elizabeth at the destruction of the Armada (medal and its inscription, "Afflavit Deus, et dissipuntur"), and godly monarchs in later days.
II. TO DELIVERANCE FROM THE BONDAGE OF SIN. "The Word" was the Divine Deliverer of Israel from Babylon (Isaiah 63:9), and is so of us. The Jews recognized "the Breaker" as a title of Messiah their Prince. In this work of spiritual deliverance he was foretold, and now is revealed as:
2. A Leader and Commander. (Isaiah 55:4.)
3. A Redeemer at the cost of conflict. (Isaiah 63:1-6.)
5. A Savior from foes within as well as oppressors without. (Matthew 1:21; Titus 2:14.) Who shall save all Israel at last. (Isaiah 59:20, 21; Romans 11:26.) In both these deliverances the redeemed have their appointed work. Israel was hidden to humble themselves in repentance (Leviticus 26:40-42), to pray in faith (Jeremiah 29:12, 13), and to accept the Lord as their Redeemer and Leader (Hosea 1:11). And we, too, are commanded to repent, to "believe in the Name of his Son Jesus Christ" (Acts 17:30; 1 John 3:23), and thus to work "the work of God" (John 6:29). Then Christ our Bond breaker will, for us, break through the power of evil habit, of this present evil world, and of the infernal oppressor of our souls.
"The world, with sin and Satan,