Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE CALL IS FOUNDED ON GOD'S ABSOLUTE RIGHT TO OBEDIENCE. "Lord of hosts." Sublime title. Thrice used, to give the greater impressiveness. Implies that God's rule is wide as creation. Mark the "host" of stars (Isaiah 40:26). Higher, behold the "angels and principalities and powers" (Psalm 103:20, 21). God is Lord of all, and it is this God that claims our homage. To turn from him is folly and ruin; to turn to him is the highest wisdom and blessedness.
II. URGED BY GOD'S JUDGMENTS ON TRANSGRESSORS. Israel is our "ensample" (1 Corinthians 10:11). The sun dues not ripen the corn more surely than God's favour attended the Jews when they were steadfast to walk in his ways; nor are thorns and briars more certain to spring up in a neglected field than God's judgments to fall on Israel when their hearts were set in them to do evil. God is not changed. The world is governed now on the same principles as in the past.
III. ENCOURAGED BY GOD'S PROMISES. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." So of God's Word. It reveals his heart. There is no bar on God's part to the sinner's return. He himself has opened the way, and his promise is to those who turn to him. "I will turn unto you." Here is hope held out, help graciously offered, joyful welcome assured. We have not only doctrines, but facts. Great cloud of witnesses, who can say each for himself, like Paul, "I obtained mercy."
IV. ENFORCED BY THE EXPERIENCES OF LIFE. Every man's life is separate. But much common. The brevity of life. Delay is dangerous. The confessions of life. God's Word is truth. Faithful are his promises and his threatenings. The monitions of life. Voices of the past, of the good, and of the evil, of earth and heaven, all combine and cry with awful and convincing force, "Repent!" - F.
Nehemiah 12:4). He commenced his prophetic labours in the second year of Darius Hystaspes, B.C. 520. The most remarkable portion of the book consists of the first six chapters, where we have a record of a series of extraordinary visions, all of which seem to have been vouchsafed to the prophet during one night. The two succeeding chapters (7 and 8.) contain an answer to a question which the inhabitants of Bethel proposed, reelecting the observance of a certain fast. The remaining six chapters contain a variety of predictions. The authenticity of these chapters is denied by some scholars, and doubted by many more. His style is varied, sometimes almost colloquial; at other times sublimely poetic, abounding with gorgeous symbols. The subject suggested by these words is - the importance of repentance. There are three grounds in this passage on which this subject is urged.
I. FROM THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE TOWARDS THE IMPENITENT MEN OF THE PAST. "The Lord hath been sore displeased with your fathers." This "may be interpreted as bearing reference to the whole of their previous history. They had all along shown a mournfully strong and inveterate propensity to depart from God and from his ways. They had needed incessant repetitions of Divine admonitions, entreaties, promises, and threatenings; and many a time all had proved unavailing. Jehovah bound them to himself with 'cords of love.' But 'they brake the bands asunder, and cast away the cords from them.' They chose their own ways; they followed the wicked devices of their own hearts. They thus provoked him to anger; they drew down upon themselves his judicial visitations. From one of these visitations the people whom the prophet now addressed had but recently, in the faithfulness and mercy of a covenant keeping and compassionate God, been delivered. And I cannot doubt that to that most recent manifestation of the Divine displeasure Zechariah specially referred. Their fathers had by their sins brought that heavy seventy years' judgment upon themselves. And he who in justice had executed the judgment, had returned in mercy, and rescued them from their second bondage" (Dr. Wardlaw). Now, the displeasure of God to sinners of the past is here referred to in order to induce the Jews to repent of the selfish negligence which they had evinced concerning the building of the temple (Haggai 1:2-7). The argument here is the kind called enthymeme, in which one premiss only is expressed, and the consequent proposition is left to be supplied by the reader. It means this: the great God has been displeased with your fathers on account of their sins, and he will be displeased with you except you repent. This is an argument that preachers may well urge at all times. They may call up to their hearers the judgments that have fallen on the wicked of the past ages, in order to urge reformed life on the existing generation.
II. FROM GOD'S ASSURANCE OF A WELCOME TO ALL THAT TRULY REPENT, "Say thou unto them, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of hosts." Blessed truth this! Proved:
1. By his invitation to the impenitent. "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord," etc.; "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord," etc.; "Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." The infinite Father is infinitely more ready to welcome true penitence than the father of the prodigal to welcome the return of his long lost son.
2. By the experience of mankind. Manasseh, David, Saul, Bunyan, and millions more returned to him, and he not only received them, but rejoiced over them. This being the case, how powerful is the exhortation here, "Be not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets have cried, saying," etc.! Your fathers, who rejected the call of my prophets of the past, bad as they were, would not have met with their terrible fates had they returned to me. Be not like them; Take warning from the past.
III. FROM THE TRANSITORINESS OF HUMAN LIFE, WHETHER WICKED OR GOOD, "Your fathers, where are they? and the prophets, do they live forever?" By "the fathers" here undoubtedly reference is to those spoken of in the former verses with whom the Almighty is displeased. These have disappeared; they have vanished from the earth. The prophets, too, the good men who spoke to them and whose call they rejected, useful men as they were, they did not live forever. The impenitent hearers and their faithful preachers are both gone. How solemnly true this is! All pass away from the stage of life, whether good or had, useful or mischievous. The life of a generation is but a vapour that will endure for a little and then vanish away. What an argument this:
1. For the wicked to repent! Impenitent hearers of the gospel, you will soon be gone. Ere another century passes over this globe, your bodies will be in the dust and your spirits in the awful Hades of retribution; therefore listen and repent. Ye preachers of the gospel, what an argument this:
2. For faithfulness and for persevering zeal! You will soon have finished your mission. A few more sermons, and all will be over. "The prophets, do they live forever?" etc. "Fathers," the ungodly men of the past, where are they? Ah! where are they? Echo answers, "Where?" - D.T.
I. "FATHERS" IMPLIES SUCCESSIVENESS. Changes are constant. Not a whole generation together, but men go, as they come, one by one. Seems common to all existences. Necessary also. If all lived on, there would not be room for the ever-increasing multitudes. Part of God's great plan for the education of the race.
II. "FATHERS" IMPLIES INTERDEPENDENCE. There is a close relationship between fathers and children. Physically, mentally, and even morally, we are to a large degree what others have made us. "How shall a man escape from his ancestors, or draw off from his veins the black drop which he drew from his father's or his mother's life?" (Emerson).
"Tis law as steadfast as the throne of Zeus,
III. "FATHERS" IMPLIES RESPONSIBILITY. "Be not as your fathers." There should be reflection and choice of the good, Whether we are better or worse is a difficult question. The term "fathers" is indefinite. We should fix some point for comparison. But where? Our immediate fathers, or those of earlier times? Besides, difficult to get evidence for a fair comparison. History defective. Tradition unreliable. The "fathers" stand out like hills enshrouded in mist, or as stars that take a glory from being far. Besides, who are to judge? Ourselves. Then risk of partiality. We naturally lean to the party to which we belong. Suppose you take the old. They are apt to side with the past. Their day is over. Their vigor is gone. They dwell on what has been done. Rarely will you find an old man who does not say, "The former days were better" (Ecclesiastes 7:10). Suppose you take the young. They side with the present. The world is all before them. They are eager for the strife. "Yearning for the large excitement that the coming years would yield." But in any case, our judgment is liable to be affected by circumstances. Our own state, the love of society, the spirit of the age, influence us largely (cf. Elijah, 1 Kings 19:4). Are we better than our fathers? There is no question but we ought to be. Progress is the law. We have the higher advantages. The great thoughts and the great deeds of others should inspire us. We are the "heirs of all the ages," In some respects we are certainly better. As to food, clothing, habitations, means of education, political and social rights, intercourse with other nations, and so forth, there has been an immense advance. But what availeth this, if morally and spiritually we stand, not higher, but lower than our fathers? "Christ is our Hope." Individually we are bound to strive after a better life, and thus we can best influence society. There may be much in our past that is bad; but it is past; and let us take hope. If there are sins, they are forgiven. If there are bad habits, they have been broken off. It there are failures, they have been retrieved. We can look on. Stirred with a holy ambition, sustained by precious promises, animated by noble examples, we can press on to the brighter and better days to come. Our standard should be, not the conventional standard of the Church or the day, but the perfect law of Christ (Matthew 5:20-48). - F.
I. COMPARED WITH THE PERMANENCE OF THE EARTH. Objects of nature remain. There are changes, but they are not so great within the limit of our brief lives as to attract much notice. "One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever" (Ecclesiastes 1:4).
II. COMPARED WITH THE CONTINUITY OF THE RACE. The individual withers; families disappear; kingdoms decay and fall; but the race of man remains. Our life is as a tale that is told, but the story of the generations of the past reaches back beyond our ken.
III. COMPARED WITH THE IMMENSE LABOUR BESTOWED ON MEN. What a preparation going before! What long and arduous toils there have been to fit us for our place and our work! and then how short the time we have for accomplishing anything! How often early promise fails, and the dear hopes cherished are disappointed!
IV. COMPARED WITH THE EXPECTATIONS FORMED. What plans, schemings, enterprises! What high ambitions! And yet how little is achieved! Man's promise is always better than his performance. Once, perhaps, we took a forward place; our names were on the lips of many - looked to win great fame. But the end is "vanity."
V. COMPARED WITH THE IMMORTALITY OF GOD'S WORD. Fathers and prophets alike pass away. They cannot continue by reason of death. "All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the Word of the Lord endureth forever. And this is the Word which by the gospel is preached unto you" (1 Peter 1:24, 25). - F.
II. THE PURSUIT. The sinner followed. He feels that God knows all, and that the day of reckoning will come. Memory, conscience, Law, Scripture, prophecy of judgment. The officer of justice is on the sinner's track. Any moment he may feel his hand on his shoulder, and hear the awful words, "You are my prisoner."
III. THE OVERTAKING. Certain, for good or for evil. In the day of conviction, of true penitence, or of righteous retribution - amidst the songs of rejoicing angels or the weeping and wailing of lost souls. What has been our experience? God's Word "takes hold," as truth of the intellect, as righteousness of the conscience, as love of the heart. Mark Augustine in the garden at Milan (Romans 13:13, 14); Luther painfully climbing the church steps at Rome (Romans 1:17). Study Bunyan's 'Grace Abounding.' So of all the redeemed. Happy are we when we recognize that God's Word comes, not as a foe, but as a friend; not to compel by force, but to constrain by love; not to drag us with fear and trembling before the Judge, but to draw us gently to the cross and the Saviour. - F.
one night. And this night, we are told, was in the twenty-fourth day of the eleventh month, i.e. "the month Sebat, in the second year of Darius." Exactly five months before this night the rebuilding of the temple would be resumed. Amongst the various manners in which God revealed himself to men of old, visions were perhaps the most frequent and impressive. He sometimes employed articulate sounds, sometimes the Urim and Thummim, sometimes the apparitions of the dead, sometimes internal suggestion. In some direct way he touched the springs of thought. But here in one night he appears to the prophet in many distinct visions. The visions were marked by these four characteristics. They were:
1. Mental. Unlike all other creatures on the earth, so far as we know at present, man has an inner visual organ; he can see with his mind. This is seen in poets, such as Milton, Spenser, etc.; allegorists, such as Bunyan, etc.
2. Symbolic. Strange and grotesque objects were seen. These objects were all symbolic; they had a spiritual significance.
3. Divine. All men, unless they are utterly destitute of the poetic sentiment, have visions sometimes, not only sleeping but waking visions. But seldom, perhaps, are these visions Divine.
4. Prophetic. They point here to the future of God's moral kingdom upon the earth. Men of lofty, sanctified genius often in their visions have a glance of "things that are to come." This vision seems to give us a look into God's moral government of the world. It takes us behind the veil of phenomena, and shows us principles and agencies that move, fashion, and control all. Three facts are suggested in relation to God's government in the world.
I. IT CARRIED ON IN CONNECTION WITH MYSTERIOUS AGENCIES. What did the prophet see? "I saw by night, and behold a man riding upon a red horse, and he stood among the myrtle trees that were in the bottom; and behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white." It is idle to attach special ideas to each of these objects; the grand idea is that God has ministers in his empire fully equipped for his work, and prompt to obey his behests. Who are these? Unfallen angels. These by millions stand near his throne, ready to do his bidding. In relation to these agents two thoughts are suggested.
1. That they are under the command of a transscendent mind. Most expositors regard the man on the red horse, and who stood among the myrtle trees, as no less a personage than the Angel of the covenant, the great Messiah. The subsequent verses sustain this idea. This same man appeared to Abraham in the plains of Mamre, to Jacob before his meeting with Esau, to Moses at the burning bush, to Joshua at Jericho, with the sword drawn in his hand. Here he is on the "red horse," emblem of war. He is a great moral Chieftain.
2. That there are varied orders. "Behind him were there red horses, speckled, and white." This is the troop that followed the man. When the eyes of Elisha's servant were opened, he beheld a "mountain full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." Horses are emblems of force and fleetness. In Christ's army there are hosts, mighty in power and swift in motion. "Are they not all ministering spirits?" How infinitely varied are God's ministers - varied in kind and measure of faculty, in experience, attainment, and aspect too - thrones, principalities, powers, and dominions!
3. That the whole world is their sphere of action. "These are they whom the Lord hath sent to walk to and fro through the earth."
(1) They "go to and fro" through the earth. They are ever journeying; some are swift as lightning in their speed; some of them are "full of eyes," and see all things.
(2) They know the state of the world. "We have walked to and fro through the earth, and, behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest." "At rest," not in the rest of righteousness, not in the repose of goodness, but in carnal security and sin.
II. THAT IT HAS NOT ONLY DIFFICULTIES, BUT AN INTERPRETER ALSO. "Then said I, O my lord, what are these?" Observe:
1. The difficulties of God's government. "What are these? The prophet understood not these strange appearances; and in amazement he exclaims, What are these?" What thoughtful man has not asked such a question as this concerning the Divine government over and over again? "What are these? What are these elements, forces, laws, existences, events? What are they? Are they messengers of mercy or of justice? O my lord, what are these?" We are all moving in mystery.
2. The interpreter of God's government. Who answered the question? "The man that stood among the myrtle trees answered and said, These are they." Some other creature, the angel that talked with him, was asked first; but the answer came not from him, but from the Man Christ Jesus. In Revelation 5:2 "a strong angel" is represented as crying with a loud voice concerning the mysteries of God's government, inquiring who was worthy to "loose the seals;" but no one was found in heaven, in earth, or under the earth, able to "open and read the book." There was only one found: "It was the Lamb in the midst of the throne." Christ is the only Interpreter of God. He is the Logos.
III. THAT IT IS ESPECIALLY CONCERNED IN THE INTERESTS OF HIS PEOPLE. His people are supposed to be here represented by the "myrtle trees." The Jewish Church at this time was not like a forest of stately cedars, but a grove of myrtles, fragile and obscure.
1. These seem to be the centre of Divine operations on the earth. Now, in the myrtle trees is the man "riding upon a red horse." And in the myrtle trees were the "red horses, speckled, and white" - the whole troop was there. The "myrtle trees" seemed to be the centre of all the agents. From it they started on their mission, and to it they returned. The true Church is the temple, the residence of God himself.
2. The object of special intercession. "Then the angel of the Lord answered and said, O Lord of hosts, how long wilt thou not have mercy on Jerusalem, and on the cities of Judah, against which thou hast had indignation these three score and ten years?" The duration of their captivity in Babylon. Who is the angel that makes this appeal? It was he that "ever liveth to make intercession for us." "If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous."
3. The subjects of the Divine communication. "The Lord answered the angel that talked with me with good words and comfortable words." The prophet is here commissioned to proclaim:
(1) God's zeal on behalf of Jerusalem. "Cry thou, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts."
(2) His displeasure for the enemies of Jerusalem. "I am very sore displeased with the heathen." His merciful purpose was to bestow blessings on Jerusalem. "Therefore thus earth the Lord," etc.
CONCLUSION. Though we are far enough from presuming to have given a correct interpretation of the passage, or of maintaining that the thoughts we have suggested are contained in it, we conscientiously believe that the ideas are scriptural, and adapted for spiritual usefulness. The subject of God's government in the world is one of the sublimest that can engage the human mind, and is beset with difficulties that often baffle the profoundest thinkers. It is our happiness to know that, small as is our planet in comparison with millions of other orbs that people immensity, and insignificant as are its human tenants, the infinite Father superintends it in wisdom and. in love. - D.T.
I. THE BIDDEN RICHES OF THE CHURCH. "Myrtle in the bottom" symbolizes the Church in a low condition. Obscure, despised by the world; but fresh, fragrant, and beautiful in the sight of God. The object of increasing care. Grand future.
II. THE GLORY OF THE CHURCH'S HEAD. Christ supreme. All forces are under his control. The resources of heaven and earth are at his disposal. He is ever on the watch. He scans the horizon with clear, far seeing eye. He is always quick to do what he deems best for the defence and good of his people. Here is comfort for times of depression and fear. We have our personal troubles. We are distressed because of the state of the Church, and the slow progress of religion in the world. But let us take courage. Christ is Head over all things for the Church. In the darkest hour, when we pray, the heavens are opened. We behold Christ on the throne, and cry with the holy angels, "Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth" (cf. Ephesians 1:16-23). - F.
i.e. secure, proud, and licentious, as if there were no God in heaven (Wordsworth). May be taken to illustrate a common state of mind as to religion. Indifference seems wonderful when we consider -
I. THE VAST INTERESTS AT STAKE. What questions so deep and urgent as those that concern God and truth and immortality?
II. THE BRIEF TIME FOR DECISION. Life is short. Delay, and youth is gone; delay, and manhood is past; delay, and all is lost. Besides, what uncertainty and what constant interruptions and claims of other things! "The world is too much with us."
III. THE GREAT IMPORTANCE OF EARNESTNESS. See how men act in other matters. Firm and decided. "The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light."
IV. THE CEASELESS ACTIVITY OF THE POWERS OF EVIL. (1 Peter 5:8.)
V. THE URGENT APPEALS OF GOD. How much of Holy Scripture is taken up with calls, and pleadings, and remonstrances, and beseechings! Then, how often does the voice of God in providence give the deeper force and significance to the warnings of his Word! Surely what lies so near the heart of God should be the chief thing for us. Surely what moved the eternal Son to come to earth should be the supreme interest with us. His mind should be our mind, and our highest blessedness should be to consecrate ourselves, like him, to the service of God and of humanity. - F.
I. GOD'S WRATH IS THE HIGHEST IN CASES. It is not a mood or passion; not the outburst of arbitrary power; but the calm expression of the Eternal Mind. He who does wrong identifies himself with the wrong, and so far must be an object of indignation. God feels towards things as they are. How different the wrath of man (cf. James 4:1)!
II. GOD'S WRATH IS THE PUREST JUSTICE. Law must stand. Government and order must be maintained. Else anarchy. But nothing will be done beyond what is necessary for the ends of justice. God's wrath is just, in measure and duration. How different with the wrath of man! Often carried beyond the bounds of right, and becomes oppression. Often continued beyond the limits of justice, and becomes revenge (Isaiah 47:6).
III. GOD'S WRATH IS THE HOLIEST LOVE. There is much in the ways of God that we cannot understand, but we should never forget what he himself has taught us as to his Spirit and purpose (cf. Ezekiel 33:11). God's wrath is consistent with pity for the sufferer, mercy for the penitent, and deliverance for the oppressed. In his hand pains are disciplinary, trials are remedial, chastisements are benedictions in disguise. "The end of the Lord is merciful." But with men how often is wrath pitiless and cruel, working evil instead of good, rejoicing in destruction instead of deliverance!
"Father and Lover of our souls
I. THE POWERS OF EVIL. Beasts dimly seen. "Horses" indicate the strength and malice of the world powers. The results are terrible. The unity of Israel is broken. Strength dissipated in party conflicts. Gored and tossed and sore oppressed by their enemies. Dispirited, "so that no man did lift up his head." But man's extremity is God's opportunity. Let us feel and confess in true humility our sin, and the justice of our sufferings, and cry mightily to God; then deliverance will surely come.
II. THE POWERS OF GOOD. (Vers. 20, 21.) Cf. Elisha and his servant (2 Kings 6:17). So here. "Carpenters; workmen."
1. Equal in number. Four indicates completeness. There will be sufficiency for God's purpose, and yet the number will not be in excess of that on the other side, as if the victory were to be obtained by might and not by right.
2. Greater in authority. Law at their back. Ministers of justice. Power not usurped or wrongly used, but employed under the authority of God.
3. Completer in equipment. (Ezekiel 21:36.) Men of free souls, sympathetic hearts, and invincible courage. Men of trained intelligence and executive ability. The right men in the right time. - F.
Amos 6:13). The horns here represent possibly those worldly kingdoms which had been, or were to be, opposed to the Jewish people, namely, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. These four were symbolized in the colossal figure which filled the imagination of Nebuchadnezzar in his dream. Whom do the "four carpenters" symbolize, or, as some translate it, the "four smiths"? Undoubtedly, those instruments by which the moral Governor of the world overcomes all the enemies of truth and right. The interpreting angel says, in relation to these four smiths, or workmen, that they had "come to fray," or terrify and cast down, the hostile powers represented by the horns. This vision presents to us the cause of right on the earth, and suggests two thoughts in relation to it.
I. THAT THE CAUSE OF RIGHT ON THE EARTH HAS STRONG ANTAGONISTS. Here are four horns, four mighty powers, all of which are in dead hostility to the covenant people. They are represented as those who have "scattered Judah, so that no man did lift up his head." The enemies of the true scatter and crush. Though Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome have long since passed away, the horns, or the mighty powers of evil, are still here, and are at work. What are they? Reigning materialism is a horn; practical atheism is a horn; intolerant superstition is a horn; and dominant selfishness is a horn. All these mighty forces are ever at work in order to destroy the cause of right and truth upon the earth. They are the "principalities and powers of darkness," against which all that is righteous, true, and pure upon the earth have to wrestle for existence.
II. THAT THE CAUSE OF TRUTH UPON THE EARTH HAS DIVINE DEFENDERS. Here are four carpenters, or smiths, who appear to "fray them, to cast out the horns of the Gentiles." Mark, the defenders were:
1. Men, not angels. God saves man by man. Who were the first apostles?
2. Working men. Toilers, labourers. It is man as man, not philosopher, poet, king, millionaire, that has to battle for the right. The greatest moral victories have been won by men in the lower walks of life.
3. They were skilled men. These men had a trade; they were craftsmen; they had been trained to the work they undertook. There is a skill required in order to strike effectively at the errors and wrongs of life. Stupid men, however good their intentions, accomplish but little, if anything, in the noble cause. They must be men of good natural sagacity, and that sagacity trained by the Spirit of God. A man to convert souls must have as much aptitude for the work as the carpenter has in order to shape the wood to his purpose, or the smith to mould and shape the metals.
CONCLUSION. Thank God that if the "horns" are here, there are carpenters here also to bring them to ruin, and to build up the blessed kingdom of truth and righteousness. - D.T.