Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE POWERS OF THE WORLD ARE UNDER THE CONTROL OF GOD. East and west, north and south, all the world over, God is supreme. He is the Lord of all forces, the Ruler of all events, the Arbiter of all destinies. War, famine, pestilence, may be the result of natural causes, but, all the same, they are his servants; they come and go at his command; they accomplish what he pleases.
"Happy the man who sees a God employed
II. THE POWERS OF THE WORLD ARE CONTROLLED BY GOD IN THE INTEREST OF CHRISTIANITY. God takes a direct and living interest in his people. He is Enemy of their enemies, and the Friend of their friends. "All things work together for good to them who love God." And there is nothing arbitrary in this. God is not partial, but just. As he is God, he must act as God. The true and the righteous and the holy must ever receive the protection and the blessing of the True and the Righteous and the Holy One. God's government is marked by immutability of counsel, variety of method, universality of range, sovereignty of sway, and beneficence of result. How grand and benign must be the end that satisfies the mind of the Eternal! "Quieted my spirit." - F.
1. He sees four chariots. It does not say expressly whether they were chariots of war bearing the warrior out to battle or home in triumph, or whether they were chariots used for private or public conveyances; but it is implied that they were war chariots.
2. He saw these four chariots proceeding from two mountains. These were not mountains of earth or intone, but mountains of brass; mountains, therefore, having peculiar solidity and strength.
3. He saw these chariots drawn by horses of different colours. In the first chariot we have red horses; in the second, black; in the third, white; and in the fourth, grisled or piebald grey. Now, the prophet seemed utterly unable to understand the meaning of these objects. But he is anxious to do so, and he addresses the interpreting angel, and says, "What are these, my lord?" Here is the answer: "And the angel answered and said unto me, These are the/bur spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth," etc. The chariots, then, are the four "spirits," or winds, as the margin has it. Some translate the word, "celestial spirits," and suppose that angels are referred to. The "four winds" probably represent the invisible agencies by which the Almighty is pleased to carry on the government of the world. These spirits stand before the Lord of all the earth, and are in his presence, at his disposal, ever ready to execute his behests. My purpose in these sketches is not speculative, but practical. Were it speculative, I should find a wide and fertile field for hypothetical thought. For example, a large variety of opinions exist concerning the four chariots and horses and their charioteers. Some suppose that they represent the great monarchies of the ancient world - the Chaldean, the Grecian, and the Roman. Some, indeed, have supposed them to refer to the four Gospels. And some have supposed them to refer to the history of the Church after Constantine - the first, to the wars of invaders of the Roman Empire, and the wars of controverted doctrines and opinions; the second, to the blackness of darkness, the ignorance, oppression, and misery of papal domination; the third, to the light and knowledge, the joy and triumph, of the Reformation; and the fourth, to the mixed condition of things, the confusion of false doctrine and true, right and wrong precepts, holy and unholy rites of worship, subsequent to that great revolution. But I take the vision to illustrate God's government of the world; and it illustrates four facts concerning that government - its variety, immutability, universality, and supremacy.
I. VARIETY. This is suggested by the colour of the steeds that bear onward the chariots of his plans. The "red horses," emblem of war and bloodshed. The "black," emblem of calamity, distress, and mourning. The "white," emblem of gladness and prosperity. The "grisled and bay," or piebald, a mixture of events, prosperity and adversity, friendship and bereavement, sorrow and joy, etc. Has not this variety characterized the providence that is over man from the beginning until this hour? It is not only seen in every page of the history of nations and Churches and families, but in the history of individuals. The experience of every man is more changeable than the weather. There is a constant alternation - the red, the black, the white, the mixed. These changes are useful.
1. They break the monotony of life. They tend to keep the heart of humanity on the alert. There is but little opportunity for moral sleep.
2. They create a desire for a state of certainty. They prompt a search for a "city that hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God." This is not our rest.
II. IMMUTABILITY. These chariots move between two "mountains of brass." Though they are borne by a variety of steeds, and move rapidly towards every point of the compass, and carry a variety of events wherever they go, they are overshadowed and hedged in by the immutable, represented by mountains of brass. God's immutable counsels of decrees keep all the motions and commotions, all the convulsions and revolutions of the world in their place. As the ocean, amidst all its ebbings and flowings, rage and fury, is bound to obey the moon, which remains serenely settled in her orbit, so all the agitations of the earth are bound to obey the immutable decrees of Heaven. Thank God, that in this changing world of ours there are mountains of brass, things that cannot be shaken. "All flesh is grass,... but the word of our God shall stand forever;" "My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure."
III. UNIVERSALITY. These chariots, borne by these varied coloured steeds, rolled towards every point of the globe, some to the north and some to the south. They walked "to and fro through the earth." Yes; through the earth - through every part of it. Not a spot unvisited or ignored. God's providence embraces all, matter and mind, great and small, good and evil. All we have, and all that every creature has, is borne to us in these chariots; they bear to us our trials and our joys. Hence we should bow with resignation under all our sorrows, and shout with gratitude in all our enjoyments. Hence, too, we should practically realize our dependence upon him in every moment of our life. "Give us this day our daily bread," etc.
IV. SUPREMACY. "These are the four spirits of the heavens, which go forth from standing before the Lord of all the earth." He is at the head of all. No evil spirit moves without his permission and control; no good spirit without his inspiration and guidance. He is the Lord of all the earth. How great must he be who manages all things!
"All good proceedeth from him, as sunbeams from the sun;
I. THE COMING MAN OF THE AGES. "Branch." Lowliness, and yet dignity. The heathens fabled that the Titans were sons of heaven and earth. Here is what they vainly imagined. "Grew up." Natural development. Perfection of humanity. Long the cry was, "He cometh." We see his shadow in every sacrifice. Find his presence in every prophecy. Hear his footfall in every promise. He was the Hope of Israel, and the Desire of all nations.
II. CHARGED WITH THE NOBLEST MISSION. "Build" - personally and instrumentally. Many whom he honours as "fellow workers." Temple slowly rising. Grandeur and beauty gradually unfolding. Implies the union and fellowship of men as "living stones" in the great temple of humanity.
III. DESTINED FOR THE GRANDEST EMPIRE. "The glory."
1. Priest. Power with God. "Forever, after the order of Melchizedek."
2. King. Power with men. The rule of righteousness and love.
IV. DESIGNATED FOR IMMORTAL HONOUR. Heaven is the perfect state. What do we see there? Let St. John declare (Revelation 5:6). Even on earth, what honour to Christ! Every day, and especially on the Lord's day, what prayers in his Name! what offerings to his praise and glory! In how many lands, by what various voices, with what measureless love, is his name breathed forth! "Behold the Man!" Let each heart answer, with adoring gratitude and joy, "My Lord and my God!" - F.
I. THAT HE IS ONE WHOM HEAVEN COMMANDS THE PEOPLE TO HONOUR. "And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Take of them of the Captivity, even of Heldai, of Tobijah, and of Jedaiah, which are come from Babylon, and come thou the same day, and go into the house of Josiah the son of Zephaniah; then take silver and gold, and make crowns, and set them upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest." The prophet is commanded to go to certain of the more distinguished men who had returned from Babylonian captivity, representative men and envoys it may be. He was to take these men, whose names are here given, who were entertained in the house of another distinguished man, here called Josiah the son of Zephaniah. From that house the silver and gold which they had brought from Babylon were to be taken, with which crowns were to be made and placed upon the head of Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest. By the general consent of expositors, this was a mere symbolical transaction - a transaction pointing to some great Man whom Heaven will require all men to crown with the highest dignity. The spirit of hero worship is so strong in human nature that the servile multitudes of all times have been ready to fall down and render homage to most unholy characters. They hoist flags, ring bells, shout hurrahs, in honour of the laurelled butchers, crowned despots, and gorgeous millionaires. This is one cf the worst features of human depravity, one of the greatest obstructions to the progress of men and nations. But here is a character symbolized by the name of Joshua, to whom the people are called upon by God himself to render honour. Who is this Man? Can you find him anywhere amongst the millions of your contemporaries in any land, or on the page of the history of the people of any time? anywhere but in the records of the four evangelists - the Man Christ Jesus? "When he bringeth in the First Begotten into the world, he saith, Let all the angels of God worship him." And all heaven worships him. "I heard the voice of angels round about the throne," etc.
II. THAT HIS PEDIGREE WAS STRIKINGLY SINGULAR, "Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the Man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord." He is a "Branch;" he has root somewhere; he has life, and he grows. It is here said, "He shall grow up out of his place." The reference is to some Man who grows on the earth, who is not of the earth. What man on the earth can be said to have grown out of his place? The earth is the place of all men during their stay here. It is their native home. Only one such Man we know of - the illustrious "Son of Mary." He came down from heaven and tabernacled on this earth, which was not his place. And here he grew in body and mind, in the favour of God and man. Though there was nothing congenial with his Spirit here, still he grew and became the Prince of life, the Conqueror of death, and the moral Commander of the race. A great soul, dominated by a supreme sympathy with the Supremely Good, can grow anywhere, in its place or out of it. It can subordinate the most. hostile external elements and forces to its own will and interests.
III. THAT HE IS ONE WHOSE MISSION IS SUBLIMELY GLORIOUS. "He shall build the temple of the Lord," etc. Zerubbabol was now engaged in the work of rearing the material temple at Jerusalem; and a more glorious work than this is not given to man than to promote the public worship of God. The progress of nations is dependent upon morality, and morality is the growth of genuine religion. Philanthropy springs from piety; it is only as philanthropy grows that humanity can advance. Hence no work so transcendently important as that of promoting public worship, building temples, etc. Hence it is added here, "He shall bear the glory." The true promoter of public worship bears with him in every honest effort the glory, compared with which the glory of every other department of human labour pales into dimness. The building of the material temple is but the emblem of the rearing of the great spiritual temple And the Man here referred to is the Builder of that. There is one and only one, and that is Christ. He is not only the Builder, but the Creator of the materials, and himself the Foundation of the whole. "Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, that is Jesus Christ." In doing this he bears the glory. "Now is the Son of man glorified." God is glorified in him. "God hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name," etc. St. Peter gives a beautiful description of this temple when he says, "To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." Christ is the great Builder of the moral temple of the world, and no one else.
IV. THAT HE IS ONE WHOSE POSITION AND FUNCTIONS ARE TRANSCENDENTALLY EXALTED. He is on a throne. "He is exalted far above all heavens." But he is there:
1. As a priestly King. On behalf of humanity before God, he holds the reins of universal dominion.
2. As a glorious Reconciler. "The counsel of peace shall be between them both." What does this mean? Not that there is a covenant of peace between him and his Father. They were never at variance. And to suppose any contract or covenant between them is to derogate Infinite Majesty. The "counsel of peace" between the Infinite Father and his alien and rebellious children. He is the Mediator between God and man. He is the Reconciliation, the Atonement. (But see in the Exposition (ver. 13) another explanation, and one more conformable to the context.)
V. THAT HE IS ONE WHOSE POWER TO ATTRACT OTHERS TO HIS ENTERPRISE IS IMMENSELY GREAT. "And they that are far off shall come and build in the temple of the Lord, and ye shall know that the Lord of hosts hath sent me unto you." "There can," says Dr. Wardlaw, "be no doubt here; to you who were far off, and to them that were near are the very terms of distinction between Gentile and Jew, which, in addressing the former, the apostle uses. 'I will bring my sons from far,' says Jehovah, 'and my daughters from the ends of the earth.' The Gentiles were to be themselves stones in the building, and agents in the rearing of it. And this was fulfilled in the beginning of the gospel, in the ministerial activity and usefulness of many a Gentile convert; and it is fulfilling to this day in every Gentile nation where Christianity has formed a settlement, and in every heathen country to which missionaries are carrying the message of salvation, and gathering sinners into the Church of God. For that Church of God is his temple (the members of it, how widely soever scattered, being all 'builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit'), in which 'spiritual sacrifices' will be offered to him - 'acceptable through Jesus Christ,' in all time and forever!"
CONCLUSION. "Behold the Man!" What manner of man is he? He stands alone, the majestic cedar amongst the saplings of the race, the sun amidst the satellites. He is the "Wonderful." - D.T.