Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Job 12:7, 8; Isaiah 1:2, 3; Luke 19:40; 2 Peter 2:16.) The mountains hays stability; not so the favoured nation. They have survived many generations of God's ungrateful beneficiaries, and have been witnesses of the blessings those thankless ones have received. The cliffs of Horeb have echoed back the precepts and promises of Jehovah, and the gentler tones of his "still small voice," but his people have remained deaf to his appeals. Hence -
I. A PROTEST. Before Jehovah passes judgment he permits himself to be regarded as the defendant if his people can venture to bring any charge against him. He knows that nothing but unrighteous treatment on his part could justify them in departing from him. Hence the appeal in Jeremiah 2:5, and the similar remonstrances of Christ in John 8:46 and John 10:32. Nothing but intolerable grievances can justify a national revolt or a desertion of the paternal home. Had God "wearied" Israel by unreasonable treatment? The whole history of the nation refutes the suggested libel. Or can we make any such charges against God? What can they be?
2. A harsh and trying temper? The very opposite is the spirit of the Father of mercies" (Psalm 145:8, 9).
3. Unreasonable exactions of service? No; he can make the appeal, "I have not caused thee to serve with an offering, nor wearied thee with incense" (Isaiah 43:23). His "yoke is easy;" "His commandments are not grievous."
4. Negligence in his training of us? Far from it; he can declare, "What could have been done more?" etc. (Isaiah 5:1-4). Forbearance, loving kindness, and thoughtful consideration have marked God's conduct throughout. The case against God utterly breaks down. Instead of desiring to remonstrate, or even "reason with God," u at one time Job did, every reasonable soul, hearing God's words and catching some vision of his glory, must acknowledge, as that patriarch did, "I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (cf. Job 13:3; Job 42:5, 6). The way is cleared. O God, thou art justified when thou speakest, and clear when thou art judged. And now God's messenger may take up his parable, like Samuel (1 Samuel 12:7), and God himself may make the appeal in vers. 4, 5.
II. A RETROSPECT. Jehovah selects specimens of his gracious dealings with them from their early history. He reminds them of:
1. A grand redemption. (Ver. 4.) We, too, as a nation can speak of great deliverances from political and ecclesiastical bondage. See T.H. Gill's hymn -
"Lift thy song among the nations, 2. Illustrious leaders. Moses, their inspired lawgiver and the friend of God (Numbers 12:8); Aaron, their high priest and intercessor; Miriam, a singer, poet, prophetess. What memories of "the loving kindnesses of the Lord" these names would recall - the Paschal night, the morning of final deliverance and song of triumph by the Red Sea, the manna, the plague stayed, etc.! We, too, can look back on our illustrious leaders in English history. And in common with the whole of Christendom, "all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas" - the apostles, the martyrs, the preachers, the poets of the past - "all are yours" by right, if not by actual enjoyment. 3. Foes frustrated. (Ver. 5.) "Remember now" - a word of tender appeal, as though God would say, "Oh, do remember." Balak was a representative foe, striving against Israel, first by policy (Numbers 22.), then by villainy (Numbers 25.), and finally by violence (Numbers 31.). Again the parallel may be traced in national and individual history. 4. Curses turned into blessings. (Deuteronomy 23:5.) So has it been with many of the trials of the past. "Remember from Shittim unto Gilgal" (cf. Numbers 25:1 and Joshua 4:19). What a contrast! Sins forgiven; reproach "rolled away" (Joshua 5:9); chastisements blessed; the long looked for land of promise entered. All these blessings show us "the righteous acts of the Lord." They remind us of the successive acts of God's righteous grace. They make sin against him shamefully ungrateful as well as grossly unjust. Oh, that the goodness of God may lead to repentance! that he may overcome our evil by his good! that "the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" may constrain us to live henceforth, not to ourselves, but to him! - E.S.P.
2. Illustrious leaders. Moses, their inspired lawgiver and the friend of God (Numbers 12:8); Aaron, their high priest and intercessor; Miriam, a singer, poet, prophetess. What memories of "the loving kindnesses of the Lord" these names would recall - the Paschal night, the morning of final deliverance and song of triumph by the Red Sea, the manna, the plague stayed, etc.! We, too, can look back on our illustrious leaders in English history. And in common with the whole of Christendom, "all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas" - the apostles, the martyrs, the preachers, the poets of the past - "all are yours" by right, if not by actual enjoyment.
3. Foes frustrated. (Ver. 5.) "Remember now" - a word of tender appeal, as though God would say, "Oh, do remember." Balak was a representative foe, striving against Israel, first by policy (Numbers 22.), then by villainy (Numbers 25.), and finally by violence (Numbers 31.). Again the parallel may be traced in national and individual history.
4. Curses turned into blessings. (Deuteronomy 23:5.) So has it been with many of the trials of the past. "Remember from Shittim unto Gilgal" (cf. Numbers 25:1 and Joshua 4:19). What a contrast! Sins forgiven; reproach "rolled away" (Joshua 5:9); chastisements blessed; the long looked for land of promise entered. All these blessings show us "the righteous acts of the Lord." They remind us of the successive acts of God's righteous grace. They make sin against him shamefully ungrateful as well as grossly unjust. Oh, that the goodness of God may lead to repentance! that he may overcome our evil by his good! that "the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" may constrain us to live henceforth, not to ourselves, but to him! - E.S.P.
I. HERE IS A CALL ON MAN TO GIVE AUDIENCE TO ALMIGHTY GOD. "Hear ye now what the Lord saith." These are the words of the prophet who speaks in the name of Jehovah, and on his behalf. Such an audience as this is:
1. Natural. What is more natural than for the child to hang on the lips and attend to the words of his parent? How much more natural for the finite intelligence to open its ears to the words of the Infinite! It is more natural for the human soul to look up, listening, to the great Father-Spirit, and to receive communication from him, than for the earth to thirst for the sunbeam and the shower. The human soul is made for it.
2. Binding. Of all duties it is the meet primary and imperative. The great command of God to all is, "Hearken diligently to me; hear, and your soul shall live" (Isaiah 55:2, 3). The conscience of every man tells him that his great duty is to heat God in all the operations of nature, in all the events of life, in all the teachings of the Bible, in all the monitions of the soul. God is always speaking to man. Would that the human ear was ever open to his voice!
3. Indispensible. It is only as men hear, interpret, digest, appropriate, and incarnate God's Word that they can rise to a true, a noble, and a happy life. Hear ye now, then, what the Lord saith." "Now. In the scenes of retribution whither you are hastening, you will be bound to hear his voice, whether you wish or not.
II. HERE IS A SUMMONS TO INANTIMATE NATURE TO HEAR THE CONTROVERSY BETWEEN GOD AND MAN. "Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice. Hear ye, O mountains, the Lord's controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the Lord hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel." "It is not unusual," says an eminent biblical scholar, "with the prophets to make appeals respecting the enormity of human guilt to the inanimate part of creation, as if it were impossible for it not to inspire them with life, mad call them as intelligent witnesses of what had taken place in their presence (see Deuteronomy 32:1; Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 2:12, 18). By a similar personification, the mountains and durable foundations of the earth are here summoned to appear in the court of heaven. Jehovah, however, instead of bringing forward the charge, abdicates, as it were, his right, and leaves it to the guilty party to state the case. In the appeal to lofty and ever during mountains, in which the puny affairs of man could excite no prejudice, and which might therefore be regarded as quite impartial judges, there is something inexpressibly sublime." The appeal to inanimate nature:
1. Indicates the earnestness of the prophet. He would seem to speak with such vehement earnestness as if he would wake the dead mountains and hills to hear his voice, and shake the very "foundations of the earth" with his thunders. He would cry aloud and spare not. Every minister should be earnest. "Passion is reason" here.
2. Suggests the stupidity of the people. Perhaps the prophet meant to compare them to the dead hills and mountains. As firmly settled in sin were they as the mountains, as hard in heart as the rocks.
3. Hints the universality of his theme. His mission had no limitation; his doctrine was no secret, it was as open and free as nature.
III. HERE IS A CHALLENGE TO MAN TO FIND FAULT WITH DIVINE DEALINGS. "O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? Testify against me." His challenge:
1. Implies that they could bring nothing against him. "What have I done unto thee?" which means, "I have done nothing. I have not treated you with injustice, I have laid on you no intolerable burdens, I dare you to charge me with any act unrighteous or unkind? What fault has the sinner to find with God?
2. Declares that he had done everything for them. He here reminds them of:
(1) His delivering them from Egyptian bondage. "I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants."
(2) What he did for them on the way to Canaan. "I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam." Moses the lawgiver, Aaron the priest, and Miriam the prophetess.
(3) What he did for them in Canaan. "O my people, remember now what Balak King of Moab consulted," etc. He not only furnished them with inspired teachers, but counteracted the designs of false ones, as in the ease of Balaam, who was engaged by Balak to curse them, but was inspired by Heaven to bless them. If the Israelites could find no fault with God, and if he did so much for them, how stand we here in this country and in this age under the full light of the gospel dispensation? What more could he have done for us than he has? etc.
CONCLUSION. Sinner, you are in the great moral court of the universe, you are arraigned before your Judge, you are commanded to listen to his voice. Inanimate nature around is a witness against you in this court; the very timbers of the wall will cry out against you. You are commanded to give a full explanation of your conduct. If you have any fault to find with the Almighty, bring it forth. If you have not, ponder until your heart breaks into penitence and gratitude at the memory of his wonderful mercies to you. - D.T.
I. ANXIOUS QUESTIONS. (Vers. 6, 7.) These questions remind us of:
1. Man's sense of distance from God. He is not consciously walking "with God," like Enoch; "before God," like Abraham.
2. His conviction that he cannot come to God by any right or merit of his own. "Wherewith?" He cannot come just as he is, empty-handed. He has no right of entry to the court of the Divine King.
3. And that if he comes at all he must "bow," as an inferior, conscious of absolute dependence. This "consciousness of absolute dependence" (Schleiermacher's definition of religion), which is shared by all intelligent creatures, is intensified by the consciousness of sin. Sin has as its shadow guilt, and the brighter the light the clearer and darker the shadow. That shadow projects itself into the mysterious future. A sense of desert of punishment and "a certain tearful looking for of judgment" are the attendants of sin, though there may be no meltings of godly sorrow from a sense of its base ingratitude. Thus sin is the great separater; man feels it; God declares it (Isaiah 59:1, 2). Hence there follow suggestive inquiries as to the means by which acceptance with God may be obtained. Shall they be "burnt offerings"? There was a germ of truth in this thought (cf. 2 Samuel 24:24). Burnt offerings were entirely devoted to God. They might be precious in quality, like "calves of a year old," or multiplied in quantity ("thousands of rams," etc.). These burnt offerings were designed to denote God's right to our entire surrender, but could be no substitute for that surrender. They might be signs of eager desire for acceptance, though at a high price. But in themselves they could bring no sense of access to God and of peace with him. Then comes the suggestion of a sacrifice infinitely more costly("my firstborn," etc.). To a parent a child's life is more precious than his own. If the sinner can be forgiven and accepted only at such a price, shall it be paid? Terror-stricken, deluded consciences have answered, "Yes;" but the peace has not come. While some of these proposals are detestable to God, all of them are worthless. Unless the man himself is right with God, no sacrifice can avail. Yet many would rather sacrifice health, life, wife, child, than give up sin which is the great separator. Sinful man can ask such anxious questions as these, but he cannot answer them. His suggestions land him in deeper guilt, or at the best leave him in blank despair.
II. REASSURING ANSWERS. (Ver. 8.) These come from God himself. Every fragment of gospel - news of good, is news from God. It was given not now for the first time. God had spoken at sundry times and in divers manners by Moses and the earlier prophets. All previous revelations of Law and grace were means of showing men "what is good." In regard to man himself, God from the beginning has testified that his only real "good" is real godliness. This was the sum of his requirements (see Deuteronomy 10:12, 13, etc.). He did not seek for something from themselves, but for themselves and for the fruit of his Spirit within them. There were false methods by which "that which is good" was sought, such as heathen sacrifices and austerities. There were inadequate methods, such as God's own appointed system of sacrifices and services, when emptied of the spirit of self-surrender they were designed to foster and of the teaching they contained of the need of "better sacrifices" (Hebrews 9:23). These symbolical educational sacrifices were but part of a process which was to issue in man's acceptance by God, that thus man might render to God what he required, and might know and "prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (cf. Hebrews 10:1-10, 19-25). Looking closely at ver. 8, we see a summing up of both Law and gospel.
1. "To do justly. Elementary morality is here linked with all that is Divine. To do justly is not only to do what is just, but because it is just, and with an earnest desire to be right with God. The righteousness" which "the righteous Lord loveth" (Psalm 11:7) is more than the outward act. And yet these most elementary acts of righteousness were neglected by many then (vers. 10-12 and Micah 7:3) as well as now, who proposed anxious questions about their acceptance with God or even professed to have found satisfactory answers to them.
2. "To love mercy." Mercy is more than justice, just as "a good man" is more than a merely "righteous" one (Romans 5:7). The lack of it may arise from hardness of character, or from never having passed through the temptations by which some have fallen. To cultivate the love of mercy will bring us nearer to God, and will make it easy for us to scatter blessings around our path, even to the unthankful and the evil (Proverbs 21:21; Matthew 5:7; Luke 6:32-36). Such a disposition is incompatible with spiritual pride. But lest a just and benevolent man should be tempted to pride himself and to rely on his outward conduct, we are reminded of God's last requirement.
3. "To walk humbly with thy God." Here the first table of the Decalogue and the law of the gospel are combined. "Walk with God." How can the sinner, except he be reconciled (Amos 3:3)? Hence the need of peace in God's appointed way. This way to us is not the way of self-righteousness or the way of ceremonies and sacraments, but it is the way of faith in God's own appointed and accepted atonement (Romans 4:4, 5; 1 John 3:23). To "submit" to this righteousness of God requires a humbling of many a proud heart. And if we have welcomed reconciliation as God's free gift through Christ, we shall ever after walk humbly with our God as his grateful, happy children. Such a humble walk will make justice and mercy easier to us. When Luther was asked what was the first step in religion, he replied "Humility;" and when asked what was the second and the third, answered in the same way. Therefore walk humbly, as a learner; as a pensioner; as a pardoned and joyous child, "looking for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life" (Titus 2:11-14). - E.S.P.
I. THE ANXIOUS INQUIRY. "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God?" Whether men wish to do so or not, they are bound by the inexorable laws of God to appear before him. They may come as sinners, casting themselves upon his mercy, as David and the publican came; but they must come, on the last great day, as responsible creatures, to give an account of the deeds done in the body, whether they are good or bad. It is not as a race, or even as families, that judgment will be received by men, but by each in his individual capacity. Hence the wise man asks himself," Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?"
1. This implies belief in a personal God. There is no conception here or elsewhere in Scripture of the world being ruled by an impersonal Power, by a tendency which makes for righteousness. Such theories are in the long run destructive of the sense of personal accountability, and therefore fatal to the basis on which moral law rests.
2. This implies conviction of sin. Else why this nameless dread, and this notion of sin offering? It matters not how it is aroused, whether by tender touches of Divine love or by fervid appeals by inspired messengers; nor is it of consequence whether the sins were those of omission or of commission; but in some form, and by some means, a sense of sin is aroused in most men by the power of the Holy Spirit, whose office it is to "convince the world of sin, of righteousness, and of a judgment to come."
3. This implies willingness to make some sacrifice. Even the heathen have had the innate consciousness that without the shedding of blood there is no remission. The Jews had a divinely ordained and most elaborate system of sacrifice, which kept this idea before their minds, in all the changeful conditions of life. But they were taught that it was not these outward and visible offerings which atoned for sin. "Thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it," etc. "Lebanon is not sufficient to burn" etc. "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise".
II. THE SATISFACTORY ANSWER. With ever increasing fulness it came, until at last the voice of the Lord Jesus was heard saying, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me."
1. Christ Jesus has offered an atonement for us. "Once, in the end of the world, he hath appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself," He has not repealed the morel law; he has not abolished the necessity for means of moral culture; he has not quenched the Divine wrath; but he has revealed (not created) the Divine purpose, and has commended (not purchased) the Divine love. "God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
2. Christ Jesus has brought God near to us. In him God is manifest in the flesh. "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father."
(1) By seeing him we can understand what God is. The unseen power which pulsates through this boundless universe is too vast for our appreciation; but revealed in the Lord Jesus, we know him to be a Person, speaking to us in wisdom and love.
(2) Through Jesus we know that God is love. He inspires hope and trust in those who are alienated and afraid. A display of Divine glory would terrify us; but we are encouraged to draw near by One who appeared as the Babe of Bethlehem, as the patient Teacher of the disciples, as the gracious Friend of the sinful and distressed.
3. Christ Jesus attracts us to God. Arousing gratitude and confidence, he is the great magnet of human hearts. "And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me."
III. THE DIVINE REQUIREMENT. "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." This is not required as a means of our Justification, but as an evidence of it. It does not exclude the work of Christ, but presupposes it. But, on the other hand, it effectually refutes the notion that the elect can live as they list. They are only "predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son."
1. "To do justly involves the discharge of fairly demanded duties both towards God and towards man. We are unjust in our dealings with God when we withhold time and wealth and influence which we are able to devote to him. We are unjust as servants when we render mere eye service; unjust as employers when we look only on our own things." Buyers and sellers, statesmen and diplomatists, need all hearken to this law.
2. "To love mercy is to go beyond the strict rights which others may claim of us in the exercise of generosity and pity. Blessed is he that considereth the poor," etc.; "If thine enemy hunger, feed him."
3. "To walk humbly with God implies fellowship, constant and real. Reverence and seriousness in the treatment of the Divine revelation; consciousness of the infinitude of truth, and our incapacity to grasp it; lowly submission to our Father's will, when it is contrary to our own wishes; and steadfast progress in the Christian life, as we walk hand in hand with him; are all involved in walking humbly with our God.
Walking in reverence
I. THAT A LOVING FELLOWSHIP WITH THE GREAT GOD IS THE ONE URGENT NEED OF HUMANITY. "Wherewith shall I come before the Lord?" The language is that of a soul convinced of its sin, and roused to a sense of the importance of friendship with the Almighty. "Wherewith shall I come?" Come I must; I feel that distance from him is my great sin and misery.
1. Loving fellowship with the great God is essential to the happiness of moral intelligences. Reason suggests this. All souls are the offspring of God; and where can children find happiness but in the friendship, the intercourse, and the presence of their loving Father? Conscience indicates this. Deep in the moral souls of all men is the yearning for intercourse with the Infinite. The hearts of all "cry out for the living God." The Bible teaches this. What means such utterances as these: "Come now, and let us reason together;" "Return to the Lord;" "Come unto me," etc.? Not more impossible is it for a planet to shine when cut off from the sun, a river to flow when cut off from the fountain, a branch to grow when severed from the root, than for a soul to be happy apart from God. "In thy presence is fulness of joy;
2. Man, in his unregenerate state, is estranged and far away from God. He is represented as a lost sheep wandering in the wilderness away from the fold, as the prodigal son remote from his father's house and in a far country. How far is the human soul, in its unregenerate state, from God? How far is selfishness from benevolence, error flora truth, pollution from holiness, wrong from right? The moral space or gulf that lies between is immeasurable.
II. THAT SACRIFICES THE MOST COSTLY ARE UTTERLY INSUFFICIENT TO SECURE THIS FELLOWSHIP. "Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old?" Such offerings were presented under the Law (Leviticus 1., etc.). "Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil?" This also was enjoined in Leviticus. Oil was to be poured on the meat offering. "Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" The Jews offered many human sacrifices in the valley of Hinnom. They caused their children to pass through the fire in honour of Moloch. The idea is - Are there any sacrifices I can make, however costly and however painful, in order to commend me to the favour and friendship of Almighty God? The interrogatory implies a negative - No. Offer the cattle upon a thousand hills: can they be a satisfaction for sin? Can they commend you to Infinite Love? All are his. How men came at first to suppose that human sacrifices could be acceptable to God is one of the greatest enigmas in history. "Though a man give his body to be burned, without charity he is nothing." Two things are here presented.
1. The great cry of a sin-convicted soul is for God. No sooner is conviction of sin struck into the human soul, than it turns itself away at once from the world to God: "I want God; I have lost him; God I must have; oh that I knew where I might find him!"
2. Worldly possessions, in the estimation of a sin-convicted soul, are comparatively worthless. He is prepared to make any sacrifices. Holocausts, thousands of rams, ten thousands of rivers of oil; what are they? Nothing in comparison with the interests of the soul "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world," etc.? It feels this when convicted of sin.
III. THAT MORAL EXCELLENCE IS THE ONE METHOD BY WHICH THIS FELLOWSHIP CAN BE OBTAINED. "He hath showed thee, O man [Hebrew, 'Adam,' the whole race, Jew and Gentile alike], what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" This moral excellence consists of two parts, social and religious.
1. That which refers to man.
(1) "Do justly;" "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them?" "Render to all men their due."
(2) "Love mercy." Mere justice is not enough, there must be tender commiseration for the suffering; the poor and the distressed must be remembered. Mercy must not only be shown, but loved. To help the needy must be delight.
2. That which refers to God. "Walk humbly with thy God." Walking with God implies consciousness of the Divine presence, harmony with the Divine will, progress in Divine excellence. This is moral excellence - the moral excellence that God has revealed to all men, Jew and Gentile, the entire race, and which he requires from all; and this is the condition of fellowship with him. How is this moral excellence to be attained? it may be asked. Philosophically, I know but of one way - faith in him who is the Revelation, the Incarnation, the Example of all moral excellence Jesus Christ.
CONCLUSION. Learn from this what religion is - how transcendent! It is the soul going away from sin and the world to God. Not merely to temples, theologies, ceremonies, but to God; and to him, not through intellectual systems or ceremonial observances, but through a true life, both in relation to man and God. - D.T.
the voice of the rod. Notice -
I. THE SINS THAT CALL FOR IT. In the context many of the chief national sins are once more enumerated, such as ill-gotten gains (ver. 10), false weights and measures (vers. 10, 11), oppression of the poor by the petty magnates of the city (ver. 12), habitual fraud and falsehood (ver. 12). Apply these illustrations to some of England's national sins. But as though these were not enough, there were added thereto the sins of the darkest period of the northern kingdom, viz. from Omri to Jehu (see ver. 16 margin, "He doth much keep," i.e. does diligently keep such statutes as these rather than the statutes of Jehovah, which his people are exhorted diligently to keep, Exodus 15:26, etc.). These sins included the establishment of idolatry and all the immoralities associated with Baal worship, the persecution of God's faithful servants (1 Kings 18:13; 1 Kings 19:10; 1 Kings 22:27), and oppression even by the highest (e.g. Naboth). In the days of Ahaz the kingdom of Judah sank to such a level as this. All these evils were concentrated at Jerusalem, so that it is to this city the rod appeals.
II. THE MESSAGES IT BRINGS. Some elements of distinct retributive justice are discernible.
1. Uneasiness, from consciousness of guilt, while pursuing and seeking to enjoy their nefarious courses (ver. 11 margin," Shall I be pure," etc.?). Conscience may be like an Elijah confronting Ahab in Naboth's vineyard. Illust.: Shakespeare's Richard III.
2. As they defrauded the poor, so should they be bitterly disappointed when seeking the fruit of their own labour (ver. 14; Ecclesiastes 6:1, 2).
3. Their labour would be for the benefit of others, and all their efforts to secure it for themselves would be as much frustrated as were the toilsome labours of those whom they had defrauded (vers, 14, 15). For they can save nothing from the hand of God.
4. Thus their wounds would be incurable (ver. 13), and their ill-gotten gain a treasure of wrath (James 5:1-4).
5. These luxurious and delicate ones should become a scandal and a reproach to all around them (ver. 16).
III. THE SPIRIT THAT WILL SILENCE IT.
2. Listening to God's voice speaking through it. Their great sin in the past has been the disregard of God's voice (Isaiah 48:18; Jeremiah 13:15-17). The voices of entreaty and warning were not heard, so now the voice of chastisement speaks. Yet even in the time of such chastisement there might be hope (Proverbs 1:24-27, 33; and see Leviticus 26:40-45).
3. Honouring God's Name. "The man of wisdom shall see thy Name." God's Name declares his character, and it is his character as a holy God that requires the punishment of the unrighteous (Exodus 34:7). So long as men persist in sin, they must remain under the wrath of God. Sinning and punishment are inseparable. Till sinners "see God's Name" by recognizing its meaning and learning that they can honour it by nothing but a renunciation of sin, the voice of the rod must be heard even through the ages of eternity. - E.S.P.
I. THAT GOD HAS A "VOICE" TO CITIES. "The Lord's voice crieth unto the city." The city meant here is Jerusalem. He speaks to a city:
1. Through its commerce. The failures that follow fraud, indolence, chicanery.
2. Through its morality. The funeral processions that darken the streets, the cemeteries that lie within and around.
3. Through its churches. The sermons that are preached, the agents that are employed to enlighten the ignorant, to comfort the distressed, reclaim the lost. Heavenly Wisdom "standeth at the corner of the streets; she crieth aloud," etc.
II. THE WISE IN CITIES RECOGNIZE THE VOICE. "The man of wisdom shall see thy Name." "And wisdom has thy Name in its eye" (Delitzsch). "And he who is wise will regard thy Name" (Henderson). The idea seems to be this - that the wise man will recognize God's voice. Job says, "God speaks once, yea twice, and they perceive it not." The crowds that populate cities are deaf to the Divine "voice." The din of passion, the hum of commerce, the chimes of animal pleasures, drown the voice of God. But the wise man has his soul ever in a listening attitude. Like young Samuel, he says, "Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth." Abraham heard the voice of God concerning Sodom, Daniel concerning Babylon, Jonah concerning Nineveh, Jeremiah concerning Jerusalem. "I will hear what the Lord God will say" - this is the language of wise men.
III. THE JUDGMENT OF CITIES IS IN THAT VOICE. "Hear ye the rod, and who hath appointed it." The rod is the symbol of judgment. "O Assyrian, the rod of my anger, the staff in their hand is my indignation "(Isaiah 10:5).
1. God warns cities.
(1) He warns them of ultimate temporal ruin. All cities must go - go with Nineveh, Greece, Babylon, Rome, Jerusalem. London, Paris, Petersburg, New York, etc., all must go as these have gone. It is only a question of time.
(2) He warns them of spiritual danger. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." This is his voice to every citizen. Here is the "rod" - the warning over all cities.
2. His warning should be attended to. "Hear ye the rod." The only way to escape is attention. Hear it, and flee for refuge; hear it, and thunder it abroad to alarm the careless; hear it before it is too late. "If thou hadst known the things that belong to thy peace in this day! but now are they hid from thine eyes" (Luke 19:42).
"Heaven gives the needful, but neglected, call.
civic sins, or the sins of a city.
I. THEIR VARIETY.
1. Here is fraud. "Are there yet the treaures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is abominable?" "Are there still in the house of the wicked treasures of wickedness and the scanty ephah?" (Henderson). This sin is described in Amos 8:5, "When will the new moon be gone, that we may sell corn? and the sabbath, that we may set forth wheat, making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit?" Fraud is one of the most prevalent crimes in all cities. Perhaps in no city was it ever more prevalent than it is in London to-day. Our commercial immorality is that at which thoughtful men stand aghast.
2. Here is violence. "The rich men thereof are full of violence." Strong in every age has been the tendency of rich men to oppress the lower classes by unrighteous exactions of service, by oppressive enactments. Wealth has a tendency to make men arrogant, haughty, heartless, often inhuman. The tyrant in man, as a rule, grows with the increase of his wealth.
3. Here is falsehood. "The inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth." Unveracity is a crime, and a crime most prevalent in all cities. There is scarcely a trade or profession carded on without deception. Fortunes are made by lies. Men are everywhere deceiving each other. Such are samples of the crimes prevalent in Jerusalem.
II. THEIR RETRIBUTION. All these crimes are offensive to the Ruler of the universe, and by the law of retribution bring dire results upon the population. God says," Shall I count them pure with the wicked balances?" It is said in Psalm 18:26 that with the "pure Godwill show himself pure; but with the froward he will show himself froward," And what are the results? Several are here specified.
1. Disease. "Therefore also will I make thee sick in smiting thee." Crime is inimical to physical health and strength. The diseases that prevail in cities are, in most cases, traceable to their crimes. In every sin there is a germ of physical disease, a something which tends to disturb the nerves, taint the blood, and sap the constitution.
2. Desolation. "In making thee desolate because of thy sins." What is desolation? It is not the mere loss of property, friends, or the external means of physical enjoyment. A man may have all these and yet be desolate. It is the awful sense of lonesomeness desertion. A desolate man is one who neither loves nor is loved; and sin produces this state. Few states of mind are more awful or more crushing than the sense of aloneness.
3. Dissatisfaction. "Thou shalt eat, but not be satisfied." Of whatever a sinful man partakes, however delicious the viands, however choice and costly the provisions, he has no satisfaction of soul. He has in connection with, and in spite of, all a hunger deep, gnawing, unappeasable. Sin and satisfaction can never coexist.
4. Disappointment. "Thou shalt sow, but thou shalt not reap; thou shalt tread the olives, but thou shalt not anoint thee with oil; and sweet wine, but shalt not drink wine." A sinful soul can never get out of its labour that which it expects. He toils hard for enjoyment, but all the tolls are fruitless; enjoyment is not won. The autumn comes, and the fruits are gathered in - the wheat, the olives, the sweet wine; but they do not bring him what he has struggled for - true enjoyment. He has laboured for that which satisfieth not.
5. Destruction. "Thy casting down shall be in the midst of thee; and thou shalt take hold, but shalt not deliver; and that which thou dellverest will I give up to the sword." Henderson's translation of this seems to me good: "Thou shalt be inwardly depressed; thou mayest remove, but thou shalt not rescue, or what thou rescuest I will give to the sword."
CONCLUSION. Mark the law of retribution. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap;" "Be sure your sin will find you out." Not more certain is it that the rivers flow to the ocean, the planets follow the sun, than that suffering follows sin. Sins brings with it disease, desolation, dissatisfaction, disappointment, destruction. - D.T.
1 Kings 16:30), through blood and slaughter took possession of the throne of Israel, which he held polluted and disgraced for twelve long years. He built Samaria and made it the capital of the ten tribes. Ahab was his son and his successor, and rivalled even his father in immorality and impiety. He established the worship of Baal as the national religion. I draw three lessons from this passage.
I. THAT THE RELIGIOUS SENTIMENT IN MAN IS OFTEN TERRIBLY PERVERTED. Omri and Ahab were not only idolaters themselves, but established idolatry in their country. They worshipped Baal, the god that was worshipped by the Carthaginians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and others - the, god, it is supposed, who is sometimes called Moloch, to whom the Ammonites made their cruel and bloody sacrifices. For the service of this god Ahab established a numerous hierarchy of priests. The religious sentiment in man is perhaps the fundamental element of his nature. Man is made to worship, and to worship the one true and living God only. But so blinded is his intellect, so debased his nature, so utterly corrupt, that, instead of worshipping the infinitely Great, he falls down before the infinitely contemptible. The perversity of the religious sentiment:
1. Explains the errors, crimes, and miseries of the world. Man's strongest love is the spring of all his activities, the fontal source of all his influence. When this is directed to an idol, the whole of his life is corrupted.
2. Reveals man's absolute need of the gospel. There is nothing but the gospel of Christ that can give this sentiment a right direction.
II. THAT OBEDIENCE TO HUMAN SOVEREIGNS IS SOMETIMES A GREAT CRIME. The worship of Baal was enacted by the "statutes" of Omri and enforced by the practice of Ahab. If the establishment of a religion by law can make it right, it was right that the people should worship Baal. But it was not right; it was wrong. A human law, enacted by the greatest sovereign in the world with the sanction of the most illustrious statesmen, if it is not in accord with the eternal principles of justice and truth, as revealed in God's Word, should be repudiated, renounced, and transgressed. "Whether it is right to obey God rather than man, judge ye."
III. THAT THE CRIMES OF EVEN TWO MEN MAY EXERT A CORRUPTING INFLUENCE UPON MILLIONS IN FUTURE GENERATIONS. The reigns of Omri and Ahab were ages before the time when Micah lived. Notwithstanding, their enactments were still obeyed, their examples were still followed, and their practices were still pursued. The wickedness of these two men was now, ages after, perpetrated by a whole nation. How great the influence of man for good or evil! Verily one sinner destroyeth much good. From one corrupt source may flow a stream of polluting influence that shall roll down all future times, widen and deepen in its course, and bear thousands on its bosom to crime and ruin.
Our many deeds, the thoughts that we have thought,