Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE MESSENGER: HIS PERSONALITY. "Nahum the Elkoshite."
1. His name. "Nahum," signifying "Consolation;" and whilst this scarcely accords with the character of his mission as the proclaimer of Divine judgments, yet, interspersed with the heavy tidings concerning Nineveh, we have here very tender and consolatory words addressed by him to his own afflicted nation (vers. 7, 12, 13-15).
2. His birthplace. He was "the Elkoshite," a native of Elkosh, a village of Galilee. This has been questioned, and a tradition has been appealed to representing that he belonged to the Captivity, and was born at Alcosh, a town near Mosul. It has been urged, however, that much of the phraseology he employs, together with certain familiar references to places, connects him unmistakably with North Palestine.
II. THE CHARACTER OF HIS MESSAGE. "The burden of Nineveh."
1. It was a message to be delivered to a heathen nation. Like the message of Jonah, to which it has been fittingly described as being "the complement and the counterpart," it indicates theft God holds wider relations with mankind than the Jews were prepared to admit; and that all nations and peoples lie within the range of his providence and power.
2. It was a message full of dark forebodings. It told of impending judgment and of national destruction and desolation. The sombre announcements were unrelieved even by a single word of hope being addressed to the guilty nation. The Ninevites had previously recognized the Divine righteousness, and upon their repentance had experienced the Divine clemency; but this had been followed by relapse into the grossest iniquity, and there remained now only the experience of the threatened ruin - the nation should be "utterly cut off." "The burden of Nineveh" was also the burden of Nahum. His few words recorded here addressed to his own people are sufficient to indicate that he was a man of refined susceptibilities; and to such a man his commission must have been indeed oppressive. Yet he would not shrink, but would faithfully fulfil his trust. Whilst the mercy and love of God should be the constant theme of the modern teacher, yet the great and solemn fact of his retributive justice must not be ignored. There is to be declared "all the counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).
III. THE DIVINE AUTHORITY WITH WHICH HE WAS INVESTED. A plain man unfolding such teachings respecting a mighty heathen power might well be required to furnish his credentials. And we have his authority expressed in the words, "the vision of Nahum." A Divine insight had been imparted unto him; there had been given him "visions and revelations of the Lord," and of his terrible doings about to be wrought. Such apprehension of spiritual realities is absolutely essential in order to constitute any man a messenger of God to his age (1 Corinthians 2:10-16; 1 Peter 1:12; 1 John 4:14).
IV. THE PERMANENT RECORD OF HIS SOLEMN TEACHING. "The book of the vision," etc. (ver. 1). This is the only form in which mental thoughts and conceptions can be lastingly perpetuated. The matchless works of the great, masters in painting, sculpture, and architecture, which have excited the admiration of the whole world, can have but a limited existence; no copy equal to the originals can be made; and in the waste and wear of time these must inevitably pass away; whereas the literary productions of men of genius will continue to live on; for time does not impair that, art by which books are reproduced and the circle of their influence extended. The Bible is a collection of books; and the remarkable unity combined with progressiveness traceable therein furnish's very convincing evidence of its Divine origin. Written prophecy forms a most important feature in this development of truth. It was not only necessary that the prophets should labour (as they did so earnestly) to maintain religion amongst the people who had been chosen of God and separated to his praise, but also that, as the work of prophecy advanced, there should be indicated and recorded how that the Lord was working among the nations, Hebrew and heathen alike, and bringing about the fulfilment of his all-wise and gracious purposes. And viewed under this aspect, "the book of the vision of Nahum tim Elkoshite" fills an important niche, whilst its grave words of admonition and warning may well lead evil doers to reflection and penitence, and its occasional words of hope to the pious and God fearing may serve, in troublous times, to keep their hearts in quietness and assurance. - S.D.H.
B.C. 650. The burden of his prophecy is the destruction of Nineveh, which destruction was predicted by Jonah a century before, Nineveh was destroyed about fifty years after this prophecy was uttered, and so complete was its overthrow that the very site where it stood is a matter of conjecture. The prophecy, though divided into three chapters, is a continuous poem of unrivalled spirit and sublimity, and admirable for the elegance of its imagery. "The third chariot is a very striking description of a siege - the rattle of the war chariot, the gleam of the sword, the trench filled with corpses, the ferocity of the successful invaders, the panic of the defeated, the vain attempts to rebuild the crumbling battlements, final overthrow and ruin." The opening words suggest two remarks.
I. THAT THE GREAT SINS OF A PEOPLE MUST EVER BRING UPON THEM GREAT RUIN. The population of Nineveh was pre-eminently wicked. It is represented in the Scriptures as a "bloody city," a "city full of lies and robberies;" its savage brutality to captives is portrayed in its own monuments, and the Hebrew prophets dwell upon its impious haughtiness and ruthless fierceness (Isaiah 10:7, 8). In this book we have its "burden," that is, its sentence, its doom; and the doom is terrible beyond description. It is ever so. Great sins bring great ruin. It was so with the antediluvians, with the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was so with the Jews in the time of Titus. Thirty-seven years after the crucifixion of our Lord, the Roman general, with a numerous army, laid siege to their city, and converted it into a scene of the greatest horrors ever witnessed on this earth. The principle of moral causation and the eternal justice of the universe demand that wherever there is sin there shall be suffering; and in proportion to the amount of sin shall be the amount of suffering. "Unto when,soever much is given, of him shall be much required."
II. THAT THE GREAT RUIN THAT COMES UPON GREAT SINNERS PRESENTS GOD TO THE "VISION" OF MAN AS TERRIBLY INDIGNANT. "God is jealous, and the Lord revengeth; the Lord revengeth, and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies." The passions of man are here ascribed to God. In this form of speech the Eternal Spirit is often represented in the Bible as having feet, hands, ears, mouth; but as he has none of these, neither has he any of these passions. It is only when terrible anguish comes upon the sinner that God appears to the observer as indignant. The God here was the God who only appeared in the "vision" of Nahum - the God as he appeared to a man of limited capacity and imperfect character. Jesus alone saw the absolute God. "No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." The God of Jesus of Nazareth had no jealousy, no vengeance, no fury. He was love. "Fury is not in me, saith the Lord" (Isaiah 27:4) If God has anger, it is the anger of principle, not passion - the anger of love, not malevolence. It is indeed but another form of love: love opposing and crushing whatever is repugnant to the virtue and the happiness of the universe.
CONCLUSION. Beware of sin. Ruin must follow it. "Be sure your sins will find you out." - D.T.
I. LIGHT IS CAST UPON THE NATURE OF THE DIVINE VENGEANCE. Our conceptions of the Divine Being are sometimes assisted by our ascribing to him certain characteristics belonging to the children of men. Analogy, however, in this direction must not be pressed too far, or we may be led to form very erroneous views concerning our God. We have in these verses a case in point. Nothing is more strongly to be condemned in men than the cherishing by them of the spirit of jealousy and of vengeance; yet this is here ascribed to God. "The Lord is jealous, and the Lord revengeth," etc. (ver. 2). But then "jealousy" and "vengeance" mean something very different when applied to man from what is intended when the same terms are used in reference to God. By jealousy on the part of man we understand envy, but by the same word in reference to God we are reminded of his regard for the maintenance of truth, his holy concern for the upholding of righteousness. And by vengeance on the part of man we understand revenge, a determination that satisfaction shall be given for the injury we consider has been done to us; whereas the same word as applied to God carries with it no such idea of vindictiveness, but simply a pure desire that the cause of justice and rectitude may be established and secure complete vindication. Since this brief book of prophecy has almost exclusive reference to the Divine judgments to fall upon the Assyrians, it is all-important that we clearly understand at the outset that Divine vengeance has absolutely no malice in it, and is ever exercised in the maintenance of righteousness. This is indicated in the next verse in three particulars (ver. 3).
1. The Divine slowness. "The Lord is slow to anger." Vindictiveness will not brook delay; human vengeance reckons with its victims at the earliest moment; revenge burns; passion rages; but the Divine vengeance delays, that perchance, through penitence, the blow may not be required to fall.
2. The restraining of Divine power. Man, cherishing the spirit of vindictiveness, sometimes lingers because conscious of his want of power to inflict the penalty; but God "great in power" (ver. 3) restrains his might, holds back his avenging hand, that "space for repentance" may be given, and the fact be made manifest that he "desires not the death of the wicked."
3. The Divine concern for the maintenance of his pure Law. "And will not at all acquit the wicked" (ver. 3). His vengeance is not vindictive, but is exercised in order that the supremacy of his holy Law may be asserted. He has graciously made provision for the forgiveness of sin and the salvation of transgressors from condemnation (Romans 8:1), and they who wilfully persist in iniquity must bear the consequences, which will light upon them, not because God is vindictive, but because the honour of his pure Law must be sustained.
II. THIS ASPECT OF THE DIVINE CHARACTER IS SET FORTH IN GRAPHIC IMAGERY. (Vers. 3-6.) For sublimity and grandeur this passage stands unrivalled. The Divine vengeance is presented to us here:
1. In its irresistibleness. Like the whirlwind, it sweeps everything before it (ver. 3).
2. In its terribleness. In vivid symbolical language all nature is represented as full of terror at the Divine manifestations (ver. 5).
3. In its destructiveness. Desolation is brought about - the sea and the rivers are dried up at the rebuke of the Lord; the rich pastures of Bashan, the beautiful gardens of Carmel, and the fragrant flowers and fruitful vines and stately trees of Lebanon languish (ver. 4); as a devouring fire this vengeance consumes in every direction (vers 5, 6); yea, so mighty is it that the very rocks crumble to pieces when it is put forth (ver. 6).
III. THIS VIEW OF OUR GOD IS PRESSED HOME UPON OUR HEARTS BY EARNEST INQUIRY. "Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger?" (ver. 6). The design of the questions is to quicken conscience. They contain and suggest the answers. Humbled in the very dust of self-abasement, we cry, "Enter not into judgment with thy servants, O Lord; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified" (Psalm 143:2). - S.D.H.
I. HIS PATIENCE ALWAYS IMPLIES GREAT POWER. "The Lord is slow to anger, and great in power." This is a remarkable expression. It seems as if the prophet meant, God is "slow to anger" because he is "great in power;" if he had leas power he would be less patient. A man may be "slow to anger," slow to deal out vengeance, because he lacks power to do so. But God is "slow to anger" because he has abundance of power. In order to see the power revealed in his forbearance towards sinners in this world, think of four things. I. His exquisite sensibility. There are some men "slow to anger" because they have not the susceptibility of feeling an insult or offence; their patience, such as it is, is nothing but a natural stoicism. Many men are lauded for their calmness under insults, who are rather to be pitied for their natural insensibility, or denounced for their moral callousness. But the great God is ineffably sensitive. He is sensibility itself. He is love. He feels everything. Every immoral act vibrates, so to speak, on his heart chord; and yet he is "slow to anger."
2. His abhorrence of sin. It is the "abominable thing" which he emphatically hates. His whole nature revolts from it. He feels that it is antagonism to his will and to the order and well being of the universe.
3. His provocation by the world. Multiply the sins of each man in one day by the countless millions of men that populate the globe; then you will have some conception of the provocation that this God of exquisite sensibility, of an ineffable hatred to sin, receives every day from this planet. One insult often sets man's blood ablaze. Surely, if all the patience of all the angels in heaven were to be embodied in one personality, and that personality were entrusted with the government of this world for one day, before the clock struck the hour of midnight he would set the globe in flames.
4. His right to do whatever he pleases He could show his anger if he pleased, at any time, anywhere, or anyhow. He is absolutely irresponsible. He has no one to fear. When men feel anger there are many reasons to prevent them from showing it; but he has no such reason. How great, then, must be his "power" in holding back his anger! His power of self-control is infinite. "He is Slow... to anger, and of great power." "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
II. HIS PATIENCE PRECLUDES NOT THE PUNISHMENT OF THE IMPENITENT. "And will not at all acquit the wicked." That is, the impenitent wicked. However wicked a man is, if he repents he will be acquitted. "Let the wicked forsake his ways, and the unrighteous man his thoughts," etc. (Isaiah 55:7).
1. To "acquit" the impenitent would be an infraction of his law. He has bound suffering to sin by a law as strong and as inviolable as that which binds the planets to the sun. "The wages of sin is death;" "Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death." Sin leads to ruin: this is a law.
2. To "acquit" the impenitent would be a violation of his word. "The wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God;" "Unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish;" "I will laugh at your calamities, and mock when your fear cometh."
3. To "acquit" the impenitent would be to break the harmony of his universe. If inveterate rebels and incorrigible sinners were acquitted, what an impulse there would be given in God's moral empire to anarchy and rebellion!
CONCLUSION. Abuse not the patience of God; nay, avail yourselves of it. While he forbears, and because he forbears, repent! "Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long suffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" (Romans 2:4). - D.T.
I. AS OPERATING IRRESISTIBLY IN NATURE.
1. It works in the air. "The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet." He is in the "whirlwind" and in the "storm," and has his way in the clouds. As men walk on the dust of the earth, he walketh upon the clouds of heaven. He creates the whirlwind and the storm; he controls the whirlwind and the storm; he uses the whirlwind and the storm. "He maketh the clouds his chariot, and rideth upon the wings of the wind." He awakes the tornado and simoom, he forges the thunderbolts, and he kindles the lightnings.
2. It works in the sea. "He rebuketh the sea, and maketh it dry, and drieth up all the rivers." There is undoubtedly an allusion to the Red Sea and the Jordan. "He holdeth the winds in his fists, and the waters in the hollow of iris hands." His "way is in the sea," and his "path in the great waters." The billows that rise into mountains, as well as the smallest wavelets that come rippling softly to the shore, are the creatures of his power and the servants of his will.
3. It works on the earth. "Bashan languisheth, and Carmel, and the flower of Lebanon languisheth." No spots in Palestine were more fruitful than these three; they abounded in vigorous vegetation and majestic forests. But their life and their growth depended on the results of God's power. All the blades in the fields, all the trees in the forest, would languish and wither did his power cease to operate. Nor is his power less active in the inorganic parts of the world. "The mountains quake at him, and the hills melt, and the earth is burned at his presence, yea, the world, and all that dwell therein." "He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke." He piles up the mountains, and again makes them a plain; he kindles the volcanoes and quenches them at his pleasure. God's power is seen in all the phenomena of the material world. How graphically and beautifully is this presented in Psalm 104:1 The fact that God's power is ever acting in the material universe is:
(1) The most philosophic explanation of all its phenomena. The men who ascribe all the operations of nature to what they call laws fail to satisfy my intellect. For what are those laws?
(2) The most hallowing aspect of the world we live in. God is in all. "How dreadful is this place! it is none other than the house of God." Walk the earth with reverence. "Take your shoes from off your feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground."
II. AS IRRESISTIBLY OPPOSED TO THE WICKED. "Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him." The mightiest rocks are but as pebbles in his hands. "He taketh up the isles as a very little thing; he weigheth the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance" (Isaiah 40:12, 15) His anger, as we have said, is his determination to crush the wrong; and there is no power in the universe that can thwart him in this. Who can stand before this? Were all the creatures in the universe to stand up against it, the attempt would be as feeble and as futile as the attempt of a child to turn back the advancing tides with his little spade. Sinner, why attempt to oppose him? You must submit, either against your will or by your will. If you continue to resist, the former is a necessity. He will break you in pieces like a potter's vessel. The latter is your duty and your interest. Fall down in penitence before him, yield yourselves to his service, acquiesce in his will, and you are saved. - D.T.
strange work;" that whilst his presence fills all space, and his omniscient eye penetrates all, he is concerned, in his watchfulness, that none of the creatures he has formed should lack the blessings his bounteous hand has to bestow; and that as he is eternal in his duration, so the streams of his bounty shall ever continue to flow. "The Lord is good." This inspiring truth was revealed even from the earliest times, and is inscribed in Scripture upon every page. Abram in the vision by night (Genesis 15.), Jacob in his weary wanderings (Genesis 28:10-22), and Moses in "the holy mount" (Exodus 33:19), were alike favoured with special revelations of it. The very thought of God thus woke up within the psalmist the faculty of song, and led him to strike his lyre and to sing with holy fervour, "Thou, Lord, art good and ready to forgive" (Psalm 86:5); "They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness," etc. (Psalm 145:7); "Oh, taste and see," etc. (Psalm 34:8). And prophets unite with psalmists in bearing this testimony (Jeremiah 33:11; Isaiah 63:7). Very different was the conception formed by the heathen. We think of the tyranny, caprice, and revenge supposed to characterize heathen deities, the acts of cruelty ascribed to them, the impurity of heathen rites, and the wearisomeness of heathen penances, and we rejoice that the voice from heaven has spoken unto us, and that the truth which heathen worshippers did not know has been so clearly revealed to us in the bright assurance, "The Lord is good." "The Lord is good." Nature, with bar ten thousand voices, bears emphatic testimony here. Benevolence marks all the operations of the Creator's hands. All his works declare his goodness. The majestic sun, the full-orbed moon, the stars countless in number and sparkling in the vault of heaven, the refreshing and fertilizing shower, the gentle breeze, the woods re-echoing with the notes of little songsters, the varied landscape, the carpeted earth, the tinted flowers, all seem to speak and to say, "The Lord is good." "O Lord, how excellent is thy Name in all the earth!" (Psalm 8:1); "O Lord, how manifold," etc.! (Psalm 104:24). "The Lord is good." As in creation so in providence, the same testimony is borne. Specially is this so in the Divine dealings with men, supplying his wants, ministering to his necessities, scattering blessings in his path, and daily, yea, hourly, sustaining and preserving him from peril and danger. His goodness, too, is seen in that he is "kind even to the unthankful," and bestows his flowers not only upon "the just" but also upon "the unjust," sustaining even these who live in rebellion against him. Nor does the fact that whilst the ungodly often seem to "prosper in their way," "waters of a full cup are wrung out to his people," militate against the declaration of this text; for God's providence takes into account the entire welfare of his servants, and adverse scenes may be necessary in order to the promotion of this; and, the discipline accomplished, deliverance shall be theirs, whilst the arm of the oppressor shall be bracken (vers. 12, 13). "The Lord is good." This truth, impressed upon the pages of the Old Testament, receives its highest exemplification in the records of the New. In him whose advent prophets predicted, and whose work was shadowed forth in type and symbol, and in the free redemption he has wrought; in the seeking and self-sacrificing love and the compassionate mercy and grace of God as thus expressed, we see the noblest, purest, brightest token that "the Lord is good." In this Divine goodness, ever watchful to guard us; almighty, and hence equal to every emergency of our life; immutable too, and therefore an unfailing dependence amidst the mutations and fluctuations of our earthly lot, - let us rest with unswerving trust, until at length, every bond sundered, we, as "the ransomed of the Lord, come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon our heads," there with adoring gratitude to reflect upon the memory of his great goodness, and to praise him for his mercy and grace and love forevermore. - S.D.H.
one that comforteth the mourners (Job 29:25). No service makes a greater demand upon a man than this, yet he has an abundant reward for the self-sacrifice involved, in beholding the objects of his regard no longer in ashes," but raised out of the dust and made comely; no longer with disfigured countenance through grief, but radiant with joy; no longer arrayed in gloom, but clad in the beautiful garments worn on festal days (Isaiah 61:2, 3). Nahum, whilst the minister of condemnation to the Ninevites, was also the minister of consolation to his own people in their sadness and sorrow. Only a few of his words to Israel are recorded, but they are words full of consolation and hope. Here he pointed to God as the Stronghold of his servants. "He is a Stronghold in the day of trouble" (ver. 7). We have here -
I. A COMMON UNIVERSAL EXPERIENCE. "Trouble." Man is born to this. Trials arise; conflicts must be engaged in; the cares and anxieties of life press; hopes are frustrated; injustice triumphs; slander blights; sickness, disease, death, prevail; our best and dearest pass away from our view; graves are opened; the tears fail fast; and immunity from all this is granted to none, each must pass through dark experiences and encounter adverse influences: this is the discipline of life.
"In this vain world the days are not all fair;
II. A DEEP INWARD NEED ARISING OUT OF THIS EXPERIENCE. It is implied here that man circumstanced thus needs help. He knows not how to bear the ills of life unaided and alone. He who has to face the pitiless storm needs to be robed to resist the stress of adverse weather, and he who has to confront the foe requires to be armour clad. This need of the sorrowing heart cannot be supplied by earthly sources. The world's cheer then comes to the man like songs to a heavy heart, and he has no taste for its music. Scepticism can east no bow of promise across the cloud; whilst human philosophy may counsel the cherishing of the spirit of indifference, but which under the pressure it is impossible to cultivate.
III. THIS NEED AMPLY MET IN GOD. "He is a Stronghold in the day of trouble." The figure is a very striking one. There stands the castle with its thick walls and buttresses and its brave defenders ready to resist any attack. The foes attempt a landing, and the inhabitants, old and young, hasten to the fortress. The drawbridge is lifted, the moat is filled with water, and all are safely lodged in the stronghold, and in the day of visitation are securely guarded and safely kept. Even thus is it with the good in "the day of trouble." So David cried, "Thou hast been a Shelter for me and a Strong Tower from the enemy" (Psalm 61:3, 4). God was his "Light and his Salvation" (Psalm 27:1), his "Pavilion" (Psalm 27:5), the Solace of his every grief as well as the Centre of his every joy. He loved him, he trusted him, he knew that the dearest experience in life is the experience of God's love and care. So Hezekiah and his people when threatened by Sennacherib. The Assyrian army gathered in all its strength around "the city of God," and Jerusalem became as a mountain shaken by the swelling of the sea, portions of which were crumbling and falling through the violence of the waves, and the whole of which seemed ready to be borne entirely away; yet the king and his subjects were calm and tranquil; they committed their cause to "the Strong One," and rested in his protection, and cried with holy fervour, "God is our Refuge and Strength," etc. (Isaiah 36.; 37.; Psalm 46.). And let us only realize that Jehovah is to us a living Presence, the Source of our inspiration, the Strength of our hearts and our abiding Portion, and we shall give to the winds all craven fear, and in our darkest seasons shall sing -
"A sure Stronghold our God is he, And were the world with devils filled,
And were the world with devils filled,
personally and individually, not overlooking any of them in the multitude, but regarding thus each and every such trusting heart.
I. THIS TRUTH ADMITS OF AMPLE CONFIRMATION. There is something very wonderful in this thought. Is it not almost past conception that he who has the direction of all worlds dependent upon him, and whose dominions are so vast, should look upon his servants in this small world of ours, separately and with loving regard, and should interest himself in our personal concerns? So too, awed and humbled as we stand in the midst of the vast and mighty works of God, we feel impelled to cry, "When I consider thy heavens." etc (Psalm 8:3) Yet that it is so is abundantly confirmed in the teachings of Scripture.
1. See this truth taught in type. Call to remembrance the breastplate of the Jewish high priest, that splendid embroidered cloth which covered his breast, and in which were set precious stones bearing the names of the tribes of Israel. And did not those precious stones, worn so near the heart of the high priest, symbolize the truth that all sincere servants of God are dear unto him; that he not only bears them up in his arms with an almighty strength, but bears them also upon his heart with the most tender affection?
2. See this truth taught in prophecy. It is therein declared that there is nothing so impossible as that God should forget his trusting children. "Zion said, The Lord hath forgotten me, and my Lord hath forsaken me" (Isaiah 49:14, 15). And in response to this fear the Lord declared that this could never be, and that his love and care are even more enduring than that of mothers. "Can a woman," etc.? (Isaiah 49:15); "I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands" (Isaiah 49:16). Undying remembrance surely! The name is inscribed there, never to be obliterated, a ceaseless memorial before his face.
3. The New Testament unites with the Old in bearing this bright testimony; for does not Christ, as the good Shepherd, declare that "he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out"? do we not read also the assurance, "The Lord knoweth them that are his" (2 Timothy 2:19)? yea, is it not even affirmed that this Divine knowledge and care respecting the good shall be perpetuated evermore (Revelation 7:15-17; Revelation 21:3, 4)?
II. THIS TRUTH IS CALCULATED TO EXERT A STRENGTHENING AND STIMULATING INFLUENCE. This thought, if more intensely realized by us, would prove helpful in many ways.
1. It would render us less dependent than we are upon human supports. What over anxiety is felt by us at times in reference to the success of our plans and projects, or for the continuance to us of those in whom our prosperity, humanly speaking, centres! But if we grasped fully the assurance here expressed, we should be led to depend less upon earthly sources and more upon him who has loved us with an everlasting love; who, though unseen by us, ever encompasses our path, and who, in the season of their deepest extremity, will guide and strengthen all who stay themselves on him.
2. It would give increased reality to the sacred exercise of prayer. We too often draw nigh unto God as though we were seeking One who, because he is invisible, is necessarily at an infinite distance from us, and who may or may not regard our cry, and perhaps it is not too much to say that we sometimes draw nigh without any distinct apprehension of the Being to whom we profess to come, and whose aid we invoke; but then we should indeed feel prayer to be a reality and not a merely formal exercise, and by such intimate and hallowed communion should renew our spiritual strength.
3. It would strengthen and aid us in our conflicts with sin. In this strife we sometimes suffer defeat; and in our endeavours after the Christian character and life we are painfully conscious at seasons of failure. How cheering in such circumstances is the thought that all our aspirations after truth and purity and goodness are known unto our God; that he is acquainted with all tile circumstances of our case; that he is conscious we have not designedly strayed from him; and that he follows us, with loving regard, in all our wanderings, with a view to bringing us back to his fold! - S.D.H.
(1) between the characters of men, and
(2) between the lines of Divine procedure in relation to them. Here we have -
I. TWO OPPOSITE TYPES OF HUMAN CHARACTER.
1. Here we have the friends of God. There is here a twofold description of them.
(1) "They trust in him." This is the universal character of the good in all ages. Instead of placing their chief confidence in the ever-changing creature, they centre it in the immutable Creator. They trust his love ever to provide for them, his wisdom as their infallible guide, and his power as their strength and their shield. "Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord."
(2) He acknowledges them. "And he knoweth." This means that he recognizes them as his loyal subjects and loving children, his people. In Hosea 13:5 he saith, "I did know thee in the wilderness," which means, "I did acknowledge thee, and took care of thee!" The words imply the cognizance of special sympathy with the just. He knows them; they are always in his mind, his heart. "Can a mother forget her sucking child," etc.?
2. Here we have the enemies of God. "Darkness shall pursue his enemies." The men who misrepresent our characters, oppose our expressed wishes, seek to undermine our influence, and are ever in association with those who are opposed to us - such men, whatever may be their professions of regard and friendship, we are bound to regard as enemies. Is it not so with men in relation to God? Those who pursue a course of life directly opposite to the moral laws of Heaven, whatever they may say, are his enemies. How numerous are God's enemies! These two great classes comprehend the human race today. The race may be divided into very numerous classes on certain adventitious principles, but on moral grounds there are but two - God's friends and God's enemies.
II. TO OPPOSITE LINES OF DIVINE PROCEDURE. God's procedure is very different towards these two opposite classes of men.
1. He affords protection to the one. When the hosts of Sennacherib were approaching Jerusalem, Hezekiah the king, under Divine inspiration, said to the people, "Be strong and courageous, be not afraid nor dismayed for the King of Assyria, nor for all the multitude that is with him: for there be more with us than with him: with him is an arm of flesh; but with us is the Lord our God to help us, and to fight our battles. And the people rested themselves upon the words of Hezekiah King of Judah" (2 Chronicles 32:7, 8). Thus it is ever. God is always the Refuge and Strength of his people in times of tribulation. As a Refuge, he is:
(1) Ever accessible. However suddenly the storm may come, the refuge is at your side, the door is open. "I will never leave thee," etc.
(2) Ever secure. The sanctuary once entered, no injury can follow. Amidst the most violent convulsions of nature, the wreck of worlds, the shatterings of the universe, there is no endangering the security of those who avail themselves of this refuge.
2. He sends destruction to the other. "But with an overrunning flood he will make an utter end of the place thereof, and darkness shall pursue his enemies." The image of a flood which breaks through every barrier is not unfrequently used in the Bible to represent overwhelming armies of invasion. The primary allusion here, no doubt, is to the way which Nineveh was captured by means of the Medes and Babylonians. A flood in the river, we are told, broke down the wall for twenty furlongs. The rolling tide burst its barriers, bore away the defences of the city, and opened an easy and unexpected way for the invading armies. On all finally impenitent men destruction must come as irresistibly as a flood. The destruction, however, of existence, conscience, or moral obligations would be the destruction of all that would make existence worth having.
CONCLUSION. The grand question of every man is - How do I stand in relation to God? If I am his friend, his procedure is in my favour, it guards me and blesses me every step. It I am his enemy, his procedure is not in my favour, not because he changes, but because I put myself against him, and it must be my ruin if I change not. As he proceeds in his beneficent and undeviating march, he showers blessings on the good, and miseries on the evil, and this forever. - D.T.
Isaiah 37:36). That memorable event, it would appear, was present to his mind and is referred to in these verses, although his thoughts were also carried on to the future and to the complete and final overthrow of the Assyrian power in the destruction of the capital, and which forms the theme of the succeeding chapters. The latter part of this first chapter may be regarded as introductory to the description to be given of the ruin of Nineveh; and in the mind of the seer, as he wrote these verses, the events which had recently transpired and darker events yet to come were associated together. The significance of the conflicts waged by Sennacherib against Hezekiah lies very materially in the fact that his enterprises were designedly antagonistic to the God of the Hebrews. It is not simply an ambitious sovereign seeking to extend his dominions and to spread his conquests that is presented to us here, but a mortal man, invested with regal honour, resolved upon measuring his strength with that of the Supreme Ruler. The historical records we possess bearing upon the career of this Assyrian king present him to us as one who thought he could "outwit Divine wisdom, and conquer omnipotence itself" (2 Kings 19:10-13; Isaiah 36:13-20); and viewed thus they become suggestive to us of important teachings bearing upon that moral antagonism to God and his authority which unhappily prevails in every age. Concerning this opposition to the Most High and his rule, note -
I. ANTAGONISM TO GOD HAS ITS ORIGIN IN A DEPRAVED HEART. Evil thoughts and vain imaginings, self-sufficiency and self-conceit, revellings and drunkenness, all betoken an evil heart, and these are here associated with the action of Assyria. "For thou art vile" (ver. 14); "a wicked counsellor" (ver. 11), etc. So in every age. Men with hearts alienated from all that is true and right desire not the knowledge of his ways, and say unto him, "Depart from us;" and "they set themselves against the Lord, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and let us cast away their cords from us" (Psalm 2:2, 3).
II. ANTAGONISM TO GOD REVEALS ITSELF OPENLY IN THE ACTIVE OPERATIONS OF EVIL MEN. As here:
1. Unprincipled leaders are forthcoming (ver. 11).
2. Combinations are formed. "Though they be entire, and likewise many" (ver. 12); "While they be folden together" (ver. 10).
3. Plots are conceived. "They imagine evil against the Lord" (ver. 11).
4. Mischief is wrought. "The yoke" of Assyria was upon Judah, and because of the threatened invasion the hearts of the good Hezekiah and his subjects failed, and were in sore distress. The Assyrians were as "thorns" to Judah (ver. 10). And so evil men, antagonistic to God and to the principles of his rule, are ever a blight and a curse.
III. ANTAGONISM TO GOD CAN ONLY END IN DEFEAT AND DISHONOUR. In the case of Assyria this discomfiture was:
1. Divinely inflicted. "I will make thy grave" (ver. 14).
2. Sudden - so far as the proud, vaunting Sennacherib and his hosts were concerned (Isaiah 37:36).
3. Complete. "He will make an utter end" (ver. 9).
4. Permanent. "The Lord hath given a commandment concerning thee, that no more of thy name be sown" (ver. 14). "So let all thine enemies perish, O Lord; but let them that love him be as the sun when he goeth forth in his might" (Judges 5:31). - S.D.H.
Judges 19:22:13; 1 Samuel 2:12); and in the New Testament as a synonym for Satan (2 Corinthians 6:15). The term was here (ver. 11) applied to Sennacherib; and the deliverance of Judah from the vauntings and oppressions of this mighty and evil Assyrian monarch described in these verses (8-15) may be taken as serving to illustrate the spiritual deliverance of men. There is thus suggested -
I. DELIVERANCE FROM SERVITUDE. Assyria had been a bitter scourge to Judah. Through the action of his predecessors, Hezekiah found himself the vassal of this heathen power, and his. attempts to free himself from the yoke had only resulted in his fetters being fastened the more securely; until now, by Divine interposition, the power of the oppressor was broken (ver. 13). So sin yielded to becomes a tyranny, It gains an ever-increasing power over its subjects. The fetters of habit become forged about them that they cannot release themselves. There is no slavery like that of sin - only the grace of God can sunder the fetters and free us from the galling yoke; but "made free" thus, we become "free indeed" (John 8:34-36).
II. DELIVERANCE. FROM SORROW. "Affliction shall not rise up the second time" (ver. 9); "Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more" (ver. 12). The promise was conditional. The people humbled themselves before God in penitence, and it was implied that they should not be afflicted again if they continued in God's ways. In this they failed - the reformation proved but partial; still, God never afflicted them again through Assyria. So suffering is disciplinary, and "made free from sin" there accompanies this deliverance from sorrow. The character of life's trials become changed to the good; they are not looked upon as harsh inflictions, but as lovingly designed by the All-wise and All-gracious.
III. DELIVERANCE RESULTING IN PRIVILEGE. "O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows"(ver. 15). Whilst under the yoke of Assyria, there had been the restriction of their religious privileges, but now these could be renewed and enjoyed without restraint, and the ransomed of the Lord could return to Zion with songs, and pay their vows unto the Lord, and keep the sacred festivals. Spiritual freedom is with a view to holy and joyous service. The Emancipator becomes enthroned in the hearts of the enfranchised; they love him supremely; his service is their delight; they become bound to him in loving loyalty and devotion forever.
IV. DELIVERANCE PROCLAIMED IN THE SPIRIT OF HOLY GLADNESS. (Ver. 15.) Let the countenance be lighted up with joy as the announcement of the "good tidings" is made. With a glad heart let the proclamation be published that, through the abounding mercy and grace of God, it is possible for sinful men to become delivered from condemnation and freed from the slavery of sinful habit, and to soar to that higher and holier realm where God is, and to exchange the miserable chains of evil for those golden fetters which only bind to the holy and the heavenly. There can be no more exalted or joyous service than that engaged in by the man who stands upon the mountains ringing this great bell, that, guided by its sum,d, the imperilled traveller may make his way across the snowy wastes, to find in Christ a sure and safe retreat from the storm and tempest. "Behold upon the mountains," etc. (ver. 15; Isaiah 40:9). - S.D.H.
I. THE ESSENCE OF SIN IS SUGGESTED; IT IS HOSTILITY TO GOD. It is something directed against the Lord: it is opposition to the laws, purposes, spirit of God. "The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Romans 8:7). It involves:
1. The basest ingratitude; for to him we owe everything.
2. The greatest injustice; for he has supreme claims to our devotion and obedience.
3. Impious presumption. Frail worms raising their heads against the Infinite!
II. THE SEAT OF SIN IS SUGGESTED: IT IS IN THE MIND. "What do ye imagine against the Lord?" Sin is not language, however bad; not actions, however apparently wicked. Words and deeds are no more sin than branches are the sap of the tree. They are the mere effects and expression of sin. Sin is in the mind - in the deep secret, mute thoughts of the heart. God's legislation extends to thought, reaches it in the profoundest abyss. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). Christ, in his sermon on the mount, taught this. Adultery, robbery, murder, are all perpetrated on the arena of the heart. How necessary the prayer, "Create within us clean hearts, O God"!
III. THE FOLLY OF SIN IS SUGGESTED: IT IS OPPOSITION TO OMNIPOTENCE. "What do ye imagine against the Lord? He will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up a second time." "How mad is your attempt, O Assyrians, to resist so powerful a God! What can ye do against such an Adversary, successful though ye have been against all other adversaries? Ye imagine ye have to do merely with mortals, and with a weak people, and that so you will gain an easy victory; but you have to encounter God, the Protector of his people" (Fausset). In opposing him:
1. He will completely ruin you. "He will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up the second time." The literal meaning of this is that the overthrow of Sennacherib's host was so complete that Judah's affliction caused by this invasion would never be repeated. The man who opposes God will be utterly ruined.
2. He will completely ruin you, whatever the kind of resistance you may offer. "For while they be folden together as thorns, and while they are drunken as drunkards, they shall be devoured as stubble fully dry." You may be combined like a bundle of thorns, offering resistance; you may have all the daring and temerity of drunkards, albeit you "shall be devoured as stubble fully dry." All this was realized in the destruction of his enemy. Oh the folly of sin! Fighting against God is a mad fight. "What do ye imagine against the Lord," then? Sinners, submit. - D.T.
I. HUMAN KINGS ARE SOMETIMES TERRIBLY CORRUPT. "There is one come out of thee, that imagineth evil against the Lord, a wicked counsellor." This evidently means Sennacherib, the King of Nineveh. He was one of the great moral monsters of the world. "He invaded the land of Judah with an immense army, besieged Lachish, and having reduced that city, threatened to invade Jerusalem itself. Hezekiah, dreading his power, sent him an obsequious embassy, and by paying three hundred talents of silver and thirty talents of gold, purchased an inglorious peace. But no sooner had Sennacherib received the money than, disdaining his engagements, he prosecuted the war with as much vigour as if no treaty had been in existence, sending three of his generals and a powerful army to besiege Jerusalem. Being informed that Tirhakah King of Ethiopia joined by the power of Egypt, was advancing to assist Hezekiah, he marched to meet the approaching armies, defeated them in a general engagement, ravaged their country, and returned with the spoil to finish the siege of Jerusalem. Hezekiah, in the extremity of his distress, implored the succour of Heaven; and the insolence and blasphemy of Sennacherib drew upon the Assyrians the vengeance of God. And, in perfect accordance with the prophecy of Isaiah, the sacred historian informs us that the angel of the Lord slew, in one night, one hundred and eighty-five thousand of the Assyrian army." Such is a brief and very partial sketch of this monster. Alas! he is only a type of the vast majority of men who have found their way to thrones! They have been in all ages the chief devils of the world. There are kings that have powers ordained of God; but such kings, and those only, are "a terror to evil doers and a praise to those that do well." We are commanded to honour the king; but such a king as this Sennacherib, who can honour? A king, to be honoured, must be honourworthy; he must be just, ruling in the fear of the Lord.
II. CORRUPT KINGS OFTEN RUIN THEIR KINGDOMS. "Though they be quiet, and likewise many, yet thus shall they be cut down, when he shall pass through. Though I have afflicted thee, I will afflict thee no more." These words seem to be addressed to Judah concerning the utter destruction that will befall their enemies, and their consequent deliverance from all fear from that quarter. It was here said they should be destroyed:
1. Notwithstanding their military completeness. "Though they be quiet." The word "quiet" means complete. No doubt the military organization, discipline, and equipment of Sennacherib's mighty army, as he led them up to attack Jerusalem, were as complete as the intelligence, the art, and the circumstances of the age could make them. Notwithstanding this, ruin befell them.
2. Notwithstanding their numerical force. "Likewise many." Their numbers were overwhelming, yet how complete their destruction! They were "cut down," and their name ceased. Nineveh has been long since blotted from the earth. The account given of the destruction you have in 2 Kings 19:35, "And it came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses." Then followed, in due course, the complete destruction of Nineveh itself by the forces of the Medes and Babylonians. So utterly was it destroyed, that even the references of classical writers to it are to a city that is long since extinct. It was a wonderful city; it stood, according to the account of some, on an area ten times the size of London; its walls a hundred feet high, and so broad that three chariots could be driven on them abreast. It bad fifteen hundred towers, each two hundred feet in height. In 1842 Botta began to excavate, and three years afterwards Layard commenced his interesting and successful explorations. The remains which were discovered by these excavators filled the world with astonishment. "A city, an empire, had risen from the silent slumber of ages; its kings could be numbered, and its tongue mastered; while its history, manners, customs, and dwellings formed an unexpected revelation, wondrous in its variety and fulness." Who brought all this ruin on this grand old city? Sennacherib, a ruthless despot and a bloody warrior, and his successors, as savage as himself. And what cities and empires have been rained by such men in all ages! Who broke up ancient dynasties? Despots. And in modern times who has brought all the suffering, the disorder, and the spoliation that has befallen France during the last sixty years? Despots. Until despotism is put down, such will continue to be the case.
III. THE RUIN OF CORRUPT KINGDOMS IS A BLESSING TO THE OPPRESSED. "For now will I break his yoke from off thee [that is, 'thee, Judah'], and will burst thy bonds in sunder." "Yoke" here refers to the tribute imposed upon Hezekiah King of Judah by Sennacherib (2 Kings 18:14). And so it ever is - when despotism has fallen, the oppressed rise to liberty. What teeming millions of men are groaning, not only in Asiatic countries, but in European countries, under the tyranny of despots! These arrogant, haughty autocracies must fail, as Assyria and other ancient despotisms fell, before the yoke shall be taken from the neck of the oppressed, and their bands burst asunder.
1. Realize the truth of prophecy. When Nahum uttered these fearful predictions in relation to Nineveh, Nineveh shone in unabated splendor, and stood in unabated strength; but after a very few generations had passed away the predicted ruin came, and Nineveh has long since been buried in the oblivion of centuries. Have faith in the Wont of God. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but not one jot or tittle of his Word shall fail to be accomplished.
2. Realize the importance of promoting education among the people. By education I do not mean what is merely technical or scientific, but chiefly moral. The education that teaches the people the sense of personal independency and responsibility, the duty of self-respect, the inalienable right of private judgment, and a liberty of action circumscribed only by the rights of others. It is when such an education as this spreads among the peoples of the world that despotisms will moulder to dust. When men shall know the moral truth, the moral reality, then the truth shall make them free,
"It's coming yet for a' that,
Isaiah 52:7 to the message of peace brought to the world through Jesus Christ. There are three things here worthy of note.
I. PEACE PROCLAIMED. "Behold upon the mountains the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace." Glorious to the ears of the men of Jerusalem must have been the intelligence that their great enemy was destroyed, that the Assyrian hosts were crushed, and now peace was come. A proclamation of peace is indeed "good tidings." A proclamation of national peace is "good tidings." What country that has been engaged in a bloody campaign, in which its commerce has been all but ruined, the flower of its manhood destroyed, and its very existence imperilled, does not hail with rapture the proclamation of peace? But the proclamation of moral peace is still more delightful. Paul quotes these words, and applies them to the ministers of the gospel. "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!" (Romans 10:15). As there is no war so painful, so terrible, as a moral war, the war of a soul with itself, with the moral instincts of the universe, and with the will of its God; so no tidings are so delightful to it as the tidings of peace, peace brought through Jesus Christ, the "peace that passeth all understanding." "My peace I give unto you,... not as the world giveth give I unto you."
II. WORSHIP ENJOINED. "O Judah, keep thy solemn feasts, perform thy vows." "During the Assyrian invasion the inhabitants of Judah were cut off from all access to the metropolis; now they would be at liberty to proceed thither as usual, in order to observe their religious rites, and they are here commanded to do so." Observe:
1. War disturbs religious observances. War, which had been called the totality of all evil, is an enemy to the progress of religion. It not merely arrests the march of the cause of truth and godliness, but throws it back. It is said in Acts 9:31, "Then had the Churches rest throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria, and were edified; and walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied." The storm of persecution which Stephen had invoked and Saul aided had abated, and the Christian religion advanced. As peace in nature is the time to cultivate your ground and sow your seed, peace in the nation is the time to promote growth in religion and virtue.
2. In war men are disposed to make religious vows. When dangers thicken around, and death seems close at hand, the soul naturally turns to Heaven, and vows that, if life is preserved, it shall be devoted to God. When peace comes they are called upon to "perform" their "vows." But alas! how often are such vows neglected! and we are told (Ecclesiastes 5:5) it is better not to vow, than to vow and not pay. Worship is a duty ever binding.
III. ENEMIES VANQUISHED; "For the wicked shall no more pass through thee; he is utterly cut off." Here is encouragement. Sennacherib is gone; Nineveh is in desolation. They will "no more pass through thee." The time will come with all good men when their enemies shall be utterly vanquished. "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly." What a blessed time for the world, when the wicked shall no more "pass through" it! This will be its millennium.
"Peace is the end of all things - tearless peace;