Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. AGREEABLE TO OUR CIRCUMSTANCES. Dependent. In want. Instinctively turn turn God. We have his Word to cheer us; the record of his deeds to comfort us; the testimony of his saints to encourage us.
II. CONDITIONED BY THE NECESSITY OF THINGS. There are limits. Plainly there are things which it would be reasonable, and others which it would be unreasonable and foolish, to ask. "Pray ye that your flight be not in the winter," said our Lord. The flight was a necessity, but the time and manner were within the ravage of things unsettled. This seems hinted at here by the condition, "in the time of the latter rain."
III. SHOULD BE SUBORDINATED TO OUR SPIRITUAL GOOD. The soul is more than the body. It may not be necessary for us to live, but it is necessary that we should abide in the love of God and do his will. "Rain" is symbolic of spiritual blessings. Only God can give rain, and only God can give the quickening, invigorating, sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God."
IV. SHOULD BE OFFERED IN HUMBLE SUBMISSION TO THE WILL OF GOD. He is infinitely wise and holy and good. Let us trust him, for he cannot will us aught but good.
V. SHOULD BE ACCOMPANIED BY EARNEST USE OF ALL LAWFUL MEANS. It is an old saying that "God helps those who help themselves." Prayer without work is fanaticism and folly; but prayer and work is the highest wisdom and the surest way to success. "Wherefore criest thou unto me?" said the Lord to Moses. "Speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward" (Exodus 14:15). - F.
I. MAN'S GREAT NEED. Without rain the ground is impoverished and dead. So is the soul without God. No good fruit.
II. MAN'S GREAT RESOURCE. Not idols or enchantments, not human devices or philosophies, but appeal to God. He will withhold no good from them that walk uprightly.
III. MAN'S GREAT CONSOLATION.
1. Sweet. (Cf. Deuteronomy 32:2.)
2. Timely. God does not give in an arbitrary way, but according to his own wise and holy laws When rain is most needed, it is most appreciated. So in spiritual things (cf. Psalm 44:3).
3. Abundant. "Showers." Rains sometimes slight, partial, or temporary. Here promise of "abundance of rain" (1 Kings 18:41), meeting the needs of all, reaching to the furthest limits of the parched land.
4. Invigorating and fertilizing. "To every one grass in the field." Calls for thankfulness and joy. - F.
I. HE ATTENDS TO THE PRAYERS OF GOOD MEN. "Ask ye of the Lord rain in the time of the latter rain; so the Lord shall make bright clouds, and give them showers of rain." The abundance of corn promised in the last clause of the preceding chapter depends upon rain, and this rain God will give in answer to prayer. Observe:
1. God gives rain. A pseudo-science would ascribe "rain" and "clouds" and "showers" to what they call the laws of nature; but what these laws are, and how they operate, they cannot tell. The Bible, giving us at once an adequate and an intelligible cause, is more philosophical than any meteorological science. "He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is eatisfied with the fruit of thy works. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart" (Psalm 104:18-15). "Thou visitest the earth, and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. Thou waterest the ridges thereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows tPsalm 65:9-11).
2. The God who gives rain attends to human prayer. This is wonderful, but not absurd. Wonderful, that the God who created nature, and presides over it, should condescend to listen to the supplications of such an insignificant creature as man. But it is not absurd, because:
(1) Man is greater than material nature.
(2) Prayer is a settled law of the Divine government. To cry to the Almighty in distress is an instinct of the soul. Prayer, instead of interfering with the laws of nature, is a law of nature.
II. HE ABOMINATES THE CHARACTER OF RELIGIOUS IMPOSTORS. "For the idols [the household gods] have spoken vanity, and the diviners have seen a lie, and have told false dreams; they comfort in vain: therefore they went their way as a flock, they were troubled, because there was no shepherd. Mine anger was kindled against the shepherds, and I punished the goats." This stands in contrast with the former verse, and is a reason for the duty there enjoined. Their false prophets - attaching themselves to idols and seducing the people to their worship, and those of them who, speaking in Jehovah's name, said, "Thus saith Jehovah," when Jehovah had not spoken, putting in his lips and clothing with his authority the "lies" and "false dreams" by which they sought to entice them from him and from his ways - had ever given promises and "vain comfort," all ending in bitterness and vexation of spirit. They had proved shepherds that only starved and scattered and exposed their flocks, instead of feeding and tending, gathering and protecting, them. "Thus, under such misleading guides, such selfish and unprincipled shepherds, the flock was driven about and 'troubled.' They had 'no shepherd,' no truly faithful shepherd, who took a concern in the well being of the flock" (Wardlaw). Now, against such impostors, Jehovah says, "Mine anger was kindled." "That the shepherds and the goats," says Hengstenberg, "are the heathen rulers who obtained dominion over Judah when the native government was suppressed, is evident from the contrast so emphatically pointed out in the fourth verse, where particular prominence is given to the fact that the new rulers whom God was about to appoint would be taken from the midst of the nation itself." Are there no religious impostors now, no false teachers, no blind leading the blind, no shepherds fleecing the flocks?
III. HE WORKS IN ALL FOR HIS PEOPLE. "Out of him came forth the corner, out of him the nail, out of him the battle bow, out of him every oppressor together." The words teach that all their help came from him. "Out of him came forth the corner," or cornerstone, that upon which the whole building stands firmly. It means that from him comes stability. All stability in moral character, in social order, and political prosperity, is from God. "Out of him the nail." With us a nail is a small thing; but with the Orientals it is not so. It is a large peg in the inside of the room, wrought into the wall when the house was built, and on which are hung the utensils of the household. It means, therefore, support. "Out of him the battle bow." This word is used synecdochically, to represent all effective weapons of war; power to conquer comes from him. "Out of him every oppressor together," or, as Keil renders it, "from him will every ruler go forth at once." Thus God is all in all to the true. Whatever we need comes from him. "Every good and every perfect gift cometh down from the Father."
CONCLUSION. What a sublime view of the Almighty have we here! He is over all nature, yet listening to the prayers of the true; indignant with religious imposters, yet tolerating their existence and permitting their pernicious influence; sending out from himself all that true souls require to fight bravely and triumphantly the great moral battle of life. - D.T.
I. HIS CONCERN FOR THEIR WELFARE.
II. HIS PURPOSE TO DO THEM GOOD.
III. HIS DELIGHT IN THEIR HEALTH AND PROSPERITY. Wordsworth gave as a motto for a dial, "Light, come, visit me." So we should lay open our souls to the coming of God, and welcome his visits. - F.
I. CAPABLE RULERS. "Cornerstone," on which the fabric rests. The stability of the whole depends on the foundation.
II. JUST ADMINISTRATION. "Nail" - what binds and fixes. The laws must not only be just, but justly applied. Forms of government vary according to the circumstances and needs of the people. There is much truth in Pope's saying, "Whate'er is best administered is best."
III. AMPLE RESOURCES. "Battle bow" may stand for implements of war. Means of defence. The weapons are nothing compared to the men who wield them. True citizens, devoted to the right, giving themselves and their all for the defence of truth and liberty, and for the advancement of the general good.
IV. NATIONAL INDEPENDENCE. Enlightenment. Love of freedom and justice. Purity of domestic life. Superiority to passion and vain glory. Courage in duty. Power not only to hold their own, but to bear themselves generously towards the vanquished, and to overcome evil with good.
"What constitutes a state?
I. CONFLICT RESULTING IN VICTORY.
II. VICTORY RESULTING IN UNION. This does not always happen. There have been wars that have bred more wars, and victories that have left strong hates and bitter memories prolonged for generations. Besides, union may be based on defeat in the interest of the conqueror and not of the conquered; more formal than real, more a thing of covenants and legal fictions than the free choice of the people. But here it is real and true. The middle wall of partition has been taken away. Enmity has given place to love. Jealousy and strife, to brotherhood and peace.
III. UNION RESULTING IN HAPPINESS. There have been examples of union with various results. The union of England and Scotland has been productive of the highest good to both countries. The union with Ireland has not been so happy. We see a beautiful example of prosperity under just covenants and laws in the United States of America. Here the highest and best results are foreshadowed.
1. Increase of strength.
2. General freedom.
3. Abounding prosperity. - F.
victory, unification, and blessedness.
I. VICTORY. "And they shall be as mighty men, which tread down their enemies in the mire of the streets in the battle: and they shall fight, because the Lord is with them, and the riders on the horses shall be confounded." Or, as Hengstenberg renders it, "And they will be like heroes, treading street mire in the battle: and will fight, for Jehovah is with them, and the riders upon horses are put to shame." "Though the Jews were forbidden by the Law to multiply horses in battle (Deuteronomy 17:16), they themselves figuratively are made Jehovah's war horses (Psalm 20:7), and so on foot tread down the foe, with all his cavalry (Ezekiel 38:4; Daniel 11:40). Cavalry was the chief strength of the Syro-Grecian army." This victory was:
1. Complete. The enemies were trodden down as "mire in the streets," and were utterly discomfited.
2. Divine. "Because the Lord is with them." They became victorious through him.
3. Reinvigorating. "I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them." They would be strengthened by their victory, not only in wealth and security, but in courage.
4. Extensive. "And they of Ephraim shall be like a mighty man, and their heart shall rejoice as through wine: yea, their children shall see it, and be glad; their heart shall rejoice in the Lord." "The prophet had," says Hengstenberg, "occupied himself first of all with Judah, the centre of the people of God. In ver. 6 he proceeds to speak of Judah and Ephraim together. In this verse, and those which follow, he fixes his attention peculiarly upon Ephraim, which looked in the prophet's day like a withered branch that had been severed from the vine. He first promises that descendants of the citizens of the former kingdom of the ten tribes will also take part in the glorious conflict, and then announces the return of the ten tribes from their exile, which was to be the condition of their participating in the battle. Now, all these facts connected with this victory apply to that victory the grandest of all - the victory of all true souls over error and wrong. That victory will be complete. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." That victory will be Divine. It is the Almighty himself that bruises Satan under their feet. That victory will be reinvigorating. Some savages have the belief that the strength of the creature they destroy passes into themselves, and gives new vigour to their frames. Every victory we achieve in morals adds new energy to our souls. This victory will be extensive. Millions in heaven have achieved it; millions on earth are achieving it now; the moral conquerors will at last be more numerous than the stars of heaven, or perhaps the sands that gird old ocean's shores.
II. UNIFICATION. "I will hiss for them, and gather them," etc. There is no sufficient reason for regarding this regathering, recollecting of the world scattered Hebrews as pointing to that far distant period which some believe in, viz. the universal restoration of the Jews to their own country. Observe:
1. The ease with which the regathering will be effected. "I will hiss [or, 'whistle '] for them." The word is understood as referring to a particular whistle used by the shepherd for calling his scattered flock together, or by those who have the care of bees, to bring them into the hive. "As sheep flock together at the well known call of the shepherd, as bees follow in swarms the shrill note of the bee master, so should the Lord, by his own means, gather his scattered people from their dispersions, how widely soever distant, and bring them to himself and to their heritage." With what ease God does his work - a mere look, a breath, a word! "He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth; he toucheth the hills, and they smoke."
2. The regions to which the regathering will extend. "And I will sow them among the people [or, as some render it, 'Though I have scattered them among the nations']: and they shall remember me in far countries [distant regions]; and they shall live with their, children, and turn again." They had been scattered, not only through Egypt and Assyria. It does not say that all Jews shall return, but a great multitude is implied.
3. The scene at which the regathering will take place. "I will bring them again also out of the land of Egypt, and gather them out of Assyria," and I will bring them into the land of Gilead and Lebanon. This describes the whole of Palestine, with its two boundaries - the eastern, Gilead beyond Jordan; and the northern, that is, Lebanon. Large as that district is, there will not be room for all. "Place shall not be found for them."
4. The national catastrophes which the regathering will involve. "And he shall pass through the sea with affliction, and shall smite the waves in the sea, and all the deeps of the river shall dry up." There is evidently an allusion here to their first deliverance from Egypt; and it means that something similar to that event will occur in the course of their regathering (see Exodus 14:4-14). "And the pride of Assyria shall be brought down, and the sceptre of Egypt shall depart away." The idea probably is that as "the haughty boastings of Sennacherib and the sceptred power of Pharaoh proved alike feeble and unavailing against the might of Jehovah in former days, so should all the combined opposition of the most inveterate enemies prove in days to come. Before him - when he had a purpose to fulfil or promise to his people to accomplish - all pride should be abased, all power baffled, all counsel turned to foolishness." Now there is a unification, of which this is but a faint emblem - the unification of the good of all ages. "They shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down with Isaac and with Jacob." What a blessed union is this! What countless millions will it include, and what overturning of the kingdoms of the world will its full realization involve!
III. BLESEDNESS. Here is the highest strength. "And I will strengthen them in the Lord."
1. Whether this refers to their national strength, their security in their own country, or moral strength - strength of faith in him - or all, one thing is clear, that to be strengthened in the Lord is the highest strength we can have. The greatest blessing of life is strength: physical strength, to do with ease and to endure with patience; intellectual strength - strength to master with ease all the great problems of life, and to reach a theory of being in which the understanding can repose tree from all disturbing doubt. These strengths are blessings; but moral strength - strength to resist the wrong, to pursue, the right, to serve Almighty God with acceptance, and to bless the race of man with beneficent influences - this, indeed, is the perfection of our blessedness. This strength, which implies unbounded confidence in the procedure and an unconquerable love for the character of God, is the strength we all need. "Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might, says Paul. He giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might he increaseth strength."
2. Here is the highest exercise. "They shall walk up and down in his Name, saith the Lord,"
(1) All living men must walk the road that is "up and down" Human life is made up of "ups" and "downs;" the road is not smooth and level, but rugged and hilly, sometimes up and sometimes down; up today and down tomorrow.
(2) This road can only be walked happily by walking it in the "Name" of the Lord. A practical recognition of his presence, and of his claims to our supreme reverence and worship. Alas I how few walk this road in the Name of the Lord! They walk it in the name of pleasure, of greed, or of ambition, or, it may be, of intellectual research. Dreary and dangerous is this road without God.
CONCLUSION. Let us battle for this victory, cease not a stroke until the foe is beneath our feet; let us hail this grand unification of souls, hail the time when God shall meet and mingle with all noble and Heaven-born spirits. Meanwhile, let us walk this "up-and-down" road of life in the Name of the Lord. "For all people will walk every one in the name of his god, but we will walk in the Name of the Lord" (Micah 4:5). - D.T.
I. IN THEIR LONG DESCENT. Origin of nations is generally obscure. As difficult to find as the source of the Nile. The Jews are like their own Jordan. They are the only people that can trace their descent. "Children of Abraham." Two friends were visiting the museum at Berlin. One said how strange it was to look at the intellectual features of Julius Caesar, and to think of his triumphal march northward when the Britons were but roving barbarians. "Speak for your own ancestors," answered the other, who was a Jew; "as for mine, they were singing the psalms of David, and worshipping God as members of his true Church on earth, centuries before Julius Caesar was born!"
II. IN THE VICISSITUDES OF THEIR HISTORY. "As the modern traveller surveys the remains of the arch of Titus at Rome, he feels bewildered in endeavouring to realize the distant date of its erection; and yet it commemorates only the last of a long series of Jewish dispersions. You read of the fragments of antiquity dug up from the ruins of Babylon, and your mind is carried still further back than by the Roman arch; but the Jew possibly formed that Babylonian brick, and imprinted on it those arrow-hearted characters. The pyramids of Egypt take your imagination still further back; the Jew not improbably helped to build the oldest of them. Time was young when God said to Abram, 'I will make of thee a great nation'" (Dr. Harris). In the various dispersions we see the fulfilment of Scripture (Deuteronomy 28:64-67) and the preparation for the gospel of Christ (Acts 2:5, 9-11).
III. IN THE PERMANENCY OF THEIR CHARACTER. From Jacob down to our own day we see the same prevailing elements of character. Their very physiognomy is that painted on the walls of Thebes. They are still a separate people. Their purity of blood, their education and training throughout the ages, have raised them high physically and intellectually. In the struggle for existence, they seem an instance of the survival of the fittest.
IV. IS THE GREATNESS OF THEIR DESTINY. Preserved - but why? Surely for some great purpose. Witnesses for God. Servants of righteousness. Ministers of the cross (Romans 11:1-27). - F.
I. THE GATHERING. So now under the gospel. From far and near they come. At the call of Jesus they gather under the banner of the cross.
II. THE PASSAGE. (Ver. 11.) Like children of Israel - pilgrims in the wilderness Manifold trials. Educated by adversity and prosperity. Course ever onward, under the hand and guidance of God.
III. THE SETTLEMENT. Canaan. Future glory of the Church - in increase and prosperity. "Place not found." - F.
I. SELF-MASTERY. Reason must rule, and not passion. The Spirit, not the flesh.
II. DIVINE INVIGORATION. Need constant aid. The plant thrives by commerce with the sun, so the soul gains energy from God. The prayer of all true men is that favourite one of David, "Quicken thou me."
III. DEVOTION TO THE RIGHT. Doing evil is dissipation of strength. Doing good brings its own recompense. The Sandwich Islanders believed that the souls of the braves slain in war pass into those who slay them, and that therefore the more a man kills the stronger he becomes. This is true spiritually. It was fabled of the giant Antares that when he touched the earth he renewed his strength; so when we touch right we are renewed after the image of God.
IV. ASSOCIATION WITH THE NOBLEST. To be allied with the bad is not only criminal, but ruinous. Fellowship with the good elevates and ennobles.
V. GROWING NOBLENESS OF CHARACTER, There is the consciousness of advance. Settled principles. Enlarged experience. Progress in faith and godliness. All this prophesies of victory. Peter was far stronger at Pentecost than when he made his great confession; when he wrote his Epistles than when Paul had to withstand him to the face for dissembling at Antioch.
VI. HOPE OF IMMORTALITY. The strength won will never be lost. The life given by God in Christ is everlasting.
Whene'er right feelings fire thy languid heart,
I. HOLY CONSECRATION. "In the Name of the Lord." Sincere and thorough renewal of consecration essential to increase of faith and holiness.
II. HARMONIOUS DEVELOPMENT. "Walking" implies health, freedom, activity. Necessary to the right development of the soul. Not in part, but in all its powers.
III. SPIRITUAL USEFULNESS. Time, talent, opportunity, rightly employed. "Up and down" zeal and diligence in all good.
IV. HAPPY ASSOCIATIONS. We are continually forming associations in life. Places and persons. The result may be good or evil, sad and painful or bright and exhilarating.
V. DELIGHTFUL PROSPECTS. Not only memories to cheer, but the outlook of the future, bright with hope up to the very gates of heaven. - F.