Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE DARK SIDE. "Burden." Word of ill omen to God's enemies. God's eye is on all. Storm gathering. Will soon burst in fury, just, universal, overwhelming. None so small as to be overlooked. None so great as to secure immunity. The wisdom of the wise, the resources of the rich, and the fame of ancient days will prove as vanity.
II. THE BRIGHT SIDE. Eye of kindness. Hand of gracious interposition. Incorporation of Jews and Gentiles in one glorious Church.
1. Divine protection. "Encamp," etc.
2. Righteous freedom. No more taskmasters, as in Egypt.
3. Grateful service. - F.
bright side of God's revelation to mankind. Here are threatenings and promises. The Bible, in relation to humanity, is something like the mystic pillar in the wilderness, as it appeared on the Red Sea; it threw a radiance on the chosen tribes as they advanced, and a black cloud upon their pursuing foes, overwhelming them in confusion. Notice, then -
I. THE DARK SIDE OF THE DIVINE WORD. Notice two things.
1. In this aspect it is here called a "burden." The word "burden" is almost invariably used to represent a calamity. Thus we read of the burden of Babylon, the burden of Moab, the burden of Damascus, the burden of Tyre, the burden of Egypt, etc. The general meaning is a terrible sentence. God's sentence of condemnation is indeed a terrible thundercloud.
2. In this aspect it bears upon wicked men. The doomed peoples are here mentioned. They are in "the land of Hadrach. Whether Hadrach here means the land of Syria or the common names of the kings of Syria, it scarcely matters; the people of the place of which Damascus was the capital were the doomed ones. Besides these, there are the men of Hamath," a country lying to the north of Damascus and joining the districts of Zobah and Rehub. And still more, there are "Tyrus" and "Zidon," places about which we often read in the Bible, and with whose history most students of the Bible are acquainted. "Ashkelon," "Gaza," and "Ekron" are also mentioned. These were the chief cities of the Philistines, and the capitals of different districts. All these peoples were not only enemies of the chosen tribe, but enemies of the one true and living God. History tells us how, through the bloody conquests of Alexander and his successors, this "burden of the word of the Lord" fell with all its weight upon these people. Observe:
(1) That the Bible is heavy with black threatenings to the wicked. It has not one word of encouragement to such, but all menace; not one gleam of light, but a dark mass of cloud. (Quote passages.)
(2) That these black threatenings will inevitably be fulfilled. All the threatenings here against the land of Hadrach, Hamath, Tyrus, Zidon, Gaza, Ekron, Ashkelon, and the Philistines were fulfilled.
II. THE BRIGHT SIDE OF THE DIVINE WORD. There is a beam of promise here. "And I will take away his blood out of his mouth, and his abominations from between his teeth: but he that remaineth, even he, shall be for our God, and he shall be as a governor in Judah, and Ekron as a Jebusite. And I will encamp about mine house because of the army, because of him that passeth by, and because of him that returneth: and no oppressor shall pass through them any more: for now have I seen with mine eyes." The following is Dr. Keil's translation of these verses: "And I shall take away his blood out of his mouth, and his abominations from between his teeth, and he will also remain to our God, and will be as a tribe prince in Judah, and Ekron like the Jebusite. I pitch a tent for my house against military power, against those who go to and fro, and no oppressor will pass over them any more; for now have I seen with my eyes." The promise in these words seems to be twofold.
1. The deprivation of the Tower of the enemy to injure. "I will take away his blood from between his teeth," etc. "The Philistines and other enemies of the Jews," says Scott, "world be deprived of their power to waste them any more; and the spoils they had taken by violence and the most abominable rapine would be taken away from them as prey from a wild beast." The Bible promises to the good man the subjection of all his foes. "The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly;" "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."
2. Divine protection from all their enemies. "I will encamp about mine house," etc. "They were not to be injured," says Henderson, "by the army of Alexander, on its march either to or from Egypt - a promise which was fulfilled to the letter, for while that monarch punished the Samaritans, he showed great favour to the Jews. Nor was any foreign oppressor to invade their land, as the Assyrians and Chaldeans had done, during the period that was to intervene before the advent of the Messiah. predicted in the verse immediately following. They were, indeed, subject to much suffering, both from the Egyptian and the Syrian kings, especially from Antiochus Epiphanes; but their nationality was not destroyed; and the evils to which they were exposed only paved the way for the Maccabean victories and for the establishment of the Asmonean dynasty. For this preservation they were indebted to the providence of God, which watched over them for good. This is emphatically expressed in the last clause of the verse." The Bible promises eternal protection to the good. "God is our Refuge and Strength," etc. - D.T.
I. BEAUTIFUL VISION. Poets in rapt moments have had glimpses of the highest (Psalm 45:72). The character, the life and work of a true King, have passed before them as things fair to see. But where is the reality? "Find me the true king or able man, and he has a Divine right over me" (Carlyle).
II. PASSIONATE LONGING. The heart yearns for what is best. The need presses. Circumstances now and again arise that intensify the feeling and the cry. There is so much to be done - evils to remove, wrongs to be redressed, rights and liberties to be secured. Oh for the coming of the true King! "What he tells us to do must be precisely wisest, fittest, that we can anywhere or anyhow learn, the thing which it will in all ways behove us, with right loyal thankfulness and nothing doubting, to do. Our doing and life were then, so far as government would regulate them, well regulated" (Carlyle).
III. IMMORTAL HOPE. There have been kings, good, bad, and indifferent. Some began well, but did little. The best have come far short of the highest standard. The true King "not yet." Still hope. Faith in the possibilities of human nature; above all, faith in the promise of God.
"Ring out false pride in place and blood,
1 Kings 1:40). But there may be disappointment. The early promise may fail, and the first joys end in bitterness. Not so with Messiah. The better he is known, the more he is loved. The longer experience of his reign, the greater the satisfaction.
I. THE GREATNESS OF HIS NATURE. Son of man. Son of God. Dignity commanding the highest homage.
II. THE BEAUTY OF HIS CHARACTER. Everything in him that is true and fair and good. He is altogether lovely.
1. Just. Fulfils all righteousness.
2. Merciful. Stoops to the lowest. Kind to the poorest. Equitable to all.
3. Humble. Meek and lowly.
III. THE GLORY OF HIS REIGN.
1. Empire spiritual. His kingdom is "within." He writes his Jaws upon the heart.
2. Based on the free convictions and love of the people. His subjects do not bow the knee in form, but in truth. They honour him not with mere lip service or state ceremonials, but with the homage of the heart.
3. Characterized by righteousness and peace. "Salvation" is brought by him to all. He not only pardons the rebel, but converts him into a loyal subject. He not only emancipates the slave, but binds him forever to himself in grateful devotion. He not only rescues the lost, but unites them with all the redeemed in one holy and loving brotherhood.
4. Destined to universality and immortality. Of his kingdom there shall be no end. - F.
Matthew 21:1-5 and John 12:12-16 contribute not a little to the confirmation of this opinion. Anyhow, the words depict a Monarch the like of whom has never appeared amongst all the monarchs of the earth, and the like of whom is not to be found on any throne in the world today - a Monarch, the ideal of whom is realized in him whom we call with emphasis the Son of man and the Son of God. There are five things here suggested concerning this Monarch.
I. HERE IS A MONARCH THE ADVENT OF WHOM IS A MATTER FOR RAPTUROUS JOY. "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem." What sincere, thoughtful man, in any kingdom on the face of the earth, has any reason to look forward today with rapture to the successors of any of the monarchs of the earth? In most cases there are sad forebodings. Christ's advent to the world was announced by the gladsome music of angelic choirs. "Glory to God in the highest," etc. Why rejoice at his advent? Because he will
(1) promote all the rights of mankind;
(2) remove all the calamities of mankind.
II. HERE IS A MONARCH THE DIGNITY OF WHOM IS UNAPPROACHED. "Thy King cometh unto thee." "Thy King." Thou hast never yet had a true king, and there is no other true king for thee: this is thy King.
1. The King who alone has the absolute right to rule thee. Thou art his - his property. All thy force, vitality, faculty, belong to him.
2. The King who alone can remove thy evils and promote thy rights.
III. HERE IS A MONARCH THE CHARACTER OF WHOM IS EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD,
1. He is righteous. "He is just." The little word "just" comprehends all virtues. He who is just to himself, just to his Maker, just to man, is the perfection of excellence, is all that Heaven requires. 2 He is humble. "Lowly, and riding upon an ass." Where there is not genuine humility there is no true greatness; it is essential to true majesty. Pride is the offspring of littleness; it is the contemptible production of a contemptible mind. No man ever appeared in history whose humility approached the humility of Christ. "He was meek and lowly in heart;" he "made himself of no reputation." How different is this righteous, humble character from that of human monarchs! How often have their moral characters been amongst the foulest abominations in the foulest chapter of human history!
IV. HERE IS A MONARCH WHOSE MISSION IS TRANSCENDENTLY BENEFICENT.
1. It is remedial. "Having salvation." Salvation! What a comprehensive word! Deliverance from all evil, restoration to all good. Worldly monarchs often bring destruction. They have never the power, and seldom the will, to bring salvation to a people. Any one can destroy; God alone can restore.
2. It is specific. "And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall he cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen." He will put an end to the "chariot," the "horse," the "battle bow," of war, and "speak peace" to the nations. Peace! This is what the nations have always wanted. War has been and still is the great curse of the nations. Here is a King who speaks peace to the nations. His words one day shall be universally obeyed. "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid," etc. (Isaiah 11:6-9).
V. HERE IS A MONARCH THE REIGN OF WHOM IS TO BE UNIVERSAL. "And his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth." The language here employed was universally understood by the Jews as embracing the whole world. He claims universal dominion; he deserves it, and will one day have it. "The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ," etc.
1. The infinite goodness of God in offering to the world such a King. It is the world's great warn.
2. The amazing folly and wickedness of mad in not accepting this Divine offer. Not one tenth of the human population have accepted him. What ingratitude is here! and what rebellion! Yes, and folly too. It is his characteristic and his glory as a King that he does not force his way to dominion. He submits himself to the choice of mankind. This monarchy is a moral monarchy, a monarchy over thought, feeling, volitions, purpose, mind. - D.T.
I. SELF-RUINED. Joseph, Daniel, Jeremiah, were cast into "the pit" by wicked hands. The sinner has himself to blame. if there is gloom, chains, and misery, it is because of revolt from God. It is not the body but the soul that is "in prison," and no soul can be imprisoned save by its own deed and consent.
II. GOD-PITIED. Though we have cast off God, he has not cast off us. He is long suffering and merciful. His voice to us is fall of pity and inspires hope. "Prisoners of hope." Why? Specially:
1. As called of God.
2. Roused to a sense of danger.
3. Encouraged to seek deliverance.
III. CHRIST-RESCUED. Refuge is provided. "Stronghold."
2. Open to all.
3. Ample for the reception and defence of all who come.
Hence the urgent and loving appeal, "Flee" Happy they who have responded, "who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the Hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:19)! - F.
I. HERE IS A STATE OF WRETCHEDNESS WHICH REMINDS US OF MAN'S MISERABLE CONDITION AS A SINNER. "As for thee also" - that is, as for thee, daughter of Zion and Jerusalem - "by the blood of thy covenant" - that is, according to the covenant vouchsafed to thee on Mount Sinai, and ratified by the blood of sacrifices (Exodus 24:8) - "I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water." The Jewish people are here represented as having been prisoners in a pit without water. "Dungeons were often pits without water, miry at the bottom, such as Jeremiah sank in when confined (Genesis 37:24; Jeremiah 38:6). This image is employed to represent the misery of the Jewish exiles in Egypt, Greece, etc, under the successors of Alexander, especially under Antiochus Epiphanes, who robbed and profaned the temple, slew thousands, and enslaved more. In Zechariah's time, the time of the Persian rule, the practice was common to remove conquered peoples to distant lands, in order to prevent the liability to revolt in their own lands." Very fairly may this be taken as an illustration of that miserable moral condition in which all unregenerate men are found. They are in a "pit" of ignorance and depravity, shut out from the true light, and destitute of true liberty. It is a "pit" in which the soul is. A man's body may be in a "pit," and yet he may possess light and liberty within. Men have sung in dungeons ere now. But when the soul is in "a pit," the man himself is enthralled in darkness and bondage.
II. HERE IS AN ADMONITION WHICH REMINDS US OF MAN'S DUTY AS A SINNER. "Turn yea to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope." The prisoners here undoubtedly signify the Jewish exiles who were in bondage in Egypt and Greece and other countries, and whose restoration is here promised. Though they were prisoners, they were "prisoners of hope." God was on their side, and had made to them the promise of redemption.
1. All sinners are "prisoners of hope. Though bound by the chains of guilt and corruption, there is hope" for them; means of deliverance have been provided, and millions upon millions of prisoners have reached to the full enjoyment of that deliverance. There is hope; for -
"While the lamp holds out to burn, 2. They are "prisoners of hope for whom a stronghold has been provided. If these exiles would return to Jerusalem, they would be safe. Jehovah himself would be their Guard and Defence. Christ is the Stronghold" of sinners; he is their "Refuge and Strength;" "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth;" "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!" 3. They are "prisoners of hope who should flee to the Stronghold at once. Even today." When the prospect seems most gloomy, when the cloud of despair seems spreading over the heavens, and things are at the worst, "even today." This is the "accepted time," today is the "day of salvation." III. HERE IS A PROMISE THAT GIVES ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE SINNER. "I will render double unto thee." As if Jehovah had said to the daughter of Zion - Great as has been thine adversity, thy prosperity shall be doubly greater (Isaiah 61:7). "Turn you to the Stronghold," and you shall not only be saved, but more than saved. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. God's boundless mercy is to sinful man
2. They are "prisoners of hope for whom a stronghold has been provided. If these exiles would return to Jerusalem, they would be safe. Jehovah himself would be their Guard and Defence. Christ is the Stronghold" of sinners; he is their "Refuge and Strength;" "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all ye ends of the earth;" "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!"
3. They are "prisoners of hope who should flee to the Stronghold at once. Even today." When the prospect seems most gloomy, when the cloud of despair seems spreading over the heavens, and things are at the worst, "even today." This is the "accepted time," today is the "day of salvation."
III. HERE IS A PROMISE THAT GIVES ENCOURAGEMENT TO THE SINNER. "I will render double unto thee." As if Jehovah had said to the daughter of Zion - Great as has been thine adversity, thy prosperity shall be doubly greater (Isaiah 61:7). "Turn you to the Stronghold," and you shall not only be saved, but more than saved. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
God's boundless mercy is to sinful man
I. THE MARSHALLING OF THE FORCES. The "trumpet" calls to arms. On one side are the armies of heaven, and on the other the hosts of darkness.
II. THE TERRIBLENESS OF THE STRUGGLE. Characterized by:
1. Might, as of a storm carrying havoc far and wide.
2. Fury, as of wild beasts raging and ravening.
3. Deadliness, as of arrows that strike quick, and with fatal effect.
III. THE SPLENDOUR OF THE VICTORY. Complete overthrow of God's enemies. Establishment of his people as a flock, in unity and peace. Human agency, but Divine efficiency. Everything here to rouse ardour, to quicken flagging energies, and to nerve the soul to the highest endeavours, under the eye of the great Captain of our salvation. - F.
i.e. completely subdue it. The first thought is not explained more fully because it is contained implicite in the promise of return to a strong place, the 'double' only is more distinctly defined, namely, the victory over Javan. The expression, 'I stretch,' etc., implies that the Lord will subdue the enemies by Judah and Ephraim, and therefore Israel will carry on this conflict in the power of its God" (Keil). Referring our readers for minute criticisms on this passage to such authors as Henderson, Hengstenberg, Pusey, and Keil we note the great facts which it contains.
I. THAT GOD WORKS AMONGST THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH. God is here represented as raising up Zion against. Greece. "And raised up thy sons, O Zion, against thy sons. O Greece." The literal reference, it may be, is to the help which he would render the Maccabees, as the heroic leaders of the Jews, to overcome the successors of the Grecian Alexander, Antiochus Epiphanes, and the other Grecian oppressors of Judah. He works with the Jew and the Greek, or Gentile - the two great divisions of mankind. He is in their conflicts and their battles. Three remarks are suggested concerning his work amongst men.
1. He works universally amongst men. He works with the "sons" of Zion and the "sons" of Greece. He operates with all, with the remote and the distant, with the little and the great, with the good and the bad; he is in all human history. All good he originates, all evil he overrules.
2. He works by human agency amongst men. "When I have bent Judah for me, filled the bow with Ephraim." Ephraim and Judah, which here represent the whole Jewish people, are, by a strong figure of speech, spoken of as the bows and arrows of Jehovah, the military weapons which he would employ in crushing the Grecians under Antiochus Epiphanes. God carries out his purposes with man by the agency of man; wicked kings are his tools, obscure saints are his ministers of state.
3. He works manifestly amongst men. "And the Lord shall be seen over them;" or, as Keil renders it, "Jehovah will appear above them." What thoughtful student of human history has not felt disposed to exclaim, as he has passed from page to page, "This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes"? We say, "thoughtful student;" for it is only manifest to the spiritually thoughtful. The hearts of others are so thickly veiled with depravity and wickedness that they see him not; they neither recognize ills hand nor hear his voice.
4. He works terribly amongst men. "And his arrow shall go forth as the lightning: and the Lord God shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south." "Like the lightning will his arrow go forth, and the Lord Jehovah will blow the trumpets, and will pass along in storms of the south" (Keil). "Is there evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?" (Amos 3:6) - done it by permission? He is in the crashings of conflagrating cities, in the booming thunders of contending armies, in the wild whirlwinds of battling kingdoms; with him there is "terrible majesty" as he proceeds on his march in human history.
II. GOD WORKS AMONGST THE NATIONS OF THE EARTH IN THE INTERESTS OF HIS PEOPLE.
1. He works for their defence. "The Lord of hosts shall defend them;" or, "shelter them." He guards his saints; they are as the apple of his eye; he is their Shield and Defence.
2. He works for their victory. "They shall devour, and subdue with slingstones," etc. "Jehovah of hosts shall protect them, and they shall devour and tread down the slingstones, they shall drink, they shall be noisy, as those who drink wine; they shall be full as the bowl, as the corners of the altar" (Henderson). The idea is their complete triumph over their enemies. Hengstenberg observes that there is not the least indication that a spiritual conflict is intended. Quite true, but a spiritual conflict it may illustrate, and its victory too. In such a conflict we are all engaged, and God has promised, if we are faithful, to make us more than conquerors.
3. He works for their salvation. "And the Lord their God shall save them in that day as the flock of his people." They shall be restored to the fold and guarded by Jehovah as their Shepherd. God works for the entire salvation of his people - salvation from all evil, salvation to all good.
4. He works for their glory. "They shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land;" or, as Hengstenberg renders it, "For crowned jewels shall they be rising up upon his land." There is true glory awaiting the good. There is a crown of glory laid up in heaven, etc.
5. He works for their perfection. "For how great is its goodness, and how great is its beauty! Corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids." We accept the rendering of Keil here, which is not only faithful to the original, but in harmony with the context. The prophet is speaking of the high privileges of God's people, and not of the excellences of the Supreme. It is an exclamation of admiration of the high privileges of the godly.
CONCLUSION. As much of the writings of this prophet admit of so many interpretations, and are perhaps impossible fully to understand, we have thought, not only the most useful, but the safest way of treatment to be the employment of statements and phrases to illustrate those spiritual realities which are important to man in all times and places. It is true that God works amongst men, and it is true that he works amongst men in the interests of those who love and serve him. May we be of that number, and thus realize in our experience the fact that "all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose"! - D.T.