How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger.1. It is our duty to strive with ourselves to be affected with the miseries of God's people.
2. The chastisements and corrections that God layeth upon His Church are most wonderful.(1) The Lord will in His own servants declare His anger against sin.(2) He seeth afflictions the best means to frame them to His obedience.(3) His ways are beyond the reach of flesh and blood.
3. God spareth not to smite His dearest children when they sin against Him.(1) That He may declare Himself an adversary to sin in all men without partiality.(2) That He may reduce His servants from running on headlong to hell with the wicked.
4. The higher God advanceth any, the greater is their punishment in the day of their visitation for their sins.(1) To whom much is given, of them must much be required.(2) According to the privileges abused, so is the sin of those that have them greater and more in number.
5. The most beautiful thing in this world is base in respect of the majesty and glory of the Lord.
6. God's anger against sin moveth Him to destroy the things that He commanded for His own service, when they are abused by men.
The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob1. It is the hand of God that taketh away the flourishing estate of a kingdom (Daniel 4:29).
2. As God is full of mercy in His long-suffering, so is His anger unappeasable when it breaketh out against the sons of men for their sins (Jeremiah 4:4).
3. God depriveth us of a great blessing when He taketh from us our dwelling places.
4. There is no assurance of worldly possessions and peace, but in the favour of God.
5. God overthroweth the greatest strength that man can erect, even at His pleasure.
6. It is a mark of God's wrath, to be deprived of strength, courage, or any other necessary gift, when we stand in need of them.
7. It is the sin of the Church that causeth the Lord to spoil the same of any blessing that she hath heretofore enjoyed.
8. These being taken away in God's anger, teacheth us that it is the good blessing of God to have a kingdom, to have strongholds, munitions, etc., for a defence against their enemies.
9. The more God honoureth us with His blessings, the greater shall be our dishonour if we abuse them, when He entereth "into judgment" with us for the same.
He hath cut off in His fierce anger all the horn of Israel1. Strength and honour are in the Lord's disposition, to be given, continued, or taken away at His pleasure.
2. When God's favour is towards us, it is our shield against our enemies; but when He meaneth to punish us, He leaveth us unto ourselves.
3. Though God's justice be severe against sin in all men, yet is it most manifest in His Church, having sinned against Him.
(1) (2) (J. Udall.)
(2) (J. Udall.)
He hath bent His bow like an enemy.
(W. P. Adeney, M. A.)
1. Where God is angry, there is nothing to be looked for but destruction and ill success in all things.
2. God punisheth sin in His children in this world as severely as ii they were reprobates.(1) To declare that He is not partial, but hateth sin in those whom He most of all loveth.(2) That it may appear what great wrath remaineth for the ungodly (1 Peter 4:17).
3. Though God show all outward signs of enmity against His Church, yet is His love everlasting thereunto.
4. God's anger is never in vain, but effecteth punishment upon them with whom He is angry.
5. God regardeth not the most precious things that are amongst the sons of men, in respect of declaring His justice against sin.
The Lord was as an enemyI. This oft repeating of one thing teacheth that it is hard to persuade God's people rightly to judge of and he afflicted with the afflictions that are upon them.(1) The ways of God are high beyond the reach of the sons of men.(2) We axe naturally of a blind and dull disposition, with much ado brought unto any good thing.
2. God hath no need of any people, but all have need of Him.
3. God will increase His plagues upon His children, where sin without repentance is increased.
4. God giveth many causes of sorrow when He punisheth His people.(1) He giveth a token that He is displeased, which is cause of greatest grief unto His children.(2) His punishments do usually cross our affections in the things that they are much set upon.
(a) (b) (J. Udall.)
(b) (J. Udall.)
He hath violently taken away His tabernacle.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
1. It is the Lord alone that giveth safety unto His Church, or layeth His people open to spoilers (Isaiah 5:5, 6; Psalm 80:12, 13).
2. No place on earth hath any holiness in it, or promise of a continuance, further than it is holily used.
4. The Church of God on earth is not always visible and apparent to the eyes of men (Revelation 12:14).
5. When God will afflict a people, He will spoil them of the means of their peace and comfort (Isaiah 3:1-5).
6. It is a grievous plague of God for a people to be spoiled of their rulers; and to enjoy them is a great blessing.
The Lord hath cast off His altar1. It is the duty of God's people to labour their affections, that they may be rightly touched with the loss of the outward exercises of religion.
2. When God is angry with His people, He will take from them the outward signs of His favour.
3. When God's people grow obstinate in their sins, He spoileth them of all those things wherein they trust.
4. when the Church is spoiled, the commonwealth cannot go free.
5. The wicked could never prevail against the godly, but that God giveth them into their hands.
6. God giveth the wicked (for the sins of His people) occasion to blaspheme His name and to deride His holy ordinances.
The Lord hath purposed to destroy the wall...of Zion.1. No privilege can free the impenitent sinners from the plague that God meaneth to bring upon them, though they persuade themselves otherwise (Jeremiah 7:4).
3. The Lord doth both decree HIS judgments and also determine the measure of them (Daniel 4:29).
4. The dumb and senseless creatures do mourn according to their kind when we are punished in them for our sins (Romans 8:22).
5. The sin of men bringeth strongest things to nothing when God calleth them to an account (Isaiah 13:19, 20).
6. God's hand prevaileth as easily against the strongest and most as the weakest and fewest.
Her gates are sunk into the ground1. When God punisheth His people, He will especially destroy those things wherein they put most confidence.
2. When God meaneth thoroughly to afflict a people, He will spoil them of the means of their peace and comfort.
3. When God by punishments showeth His anger against a people, He especially plagueth their princes and rulers,
4. It is a grievous punishment unto the godly to live with or to serve them that are wicked (Psalm 120:4, 5).
I. THE PRESENT DESOLATE AND MISERABLE STATE OF THE HEBREW NATION. No people, since the creation, are in so anomalous a state as the Jews — without a country or a city, a temple or a service, a priest or a sacrifice, worthy of the name. Enter a Jewish synagogue, and you will see "Ichabod is written on its walls" — "the glory has departed": it is no longer the "house of God" or "of prayer," but "a house of merchandise," if not worse.
II. FOR SUCH STUPENDOUS EVILS "IS THERE NOT A CAUSE"? If the heinousness of sin he in proportion to the favours which the sinner has received, or to the light against which it has been committed, no ingratitude seems to be so great as that of the Jewish nation.
III. THE ONLY REMEDY. God, by the prophet Hosea, after charging Israel with complicated guilt, gives a gleam of hope and a ray of mercy. "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thy help." This is the burden of my message today, that "with God there is mercy, yea, plenteous redemption"; and that, though others can neither profit nor deliver, He can and shall "redeem Israel from all his sins."
IV. ANSWER OBJECTIONS. One says, "This is not the time." But who, I ask, is God's time keeper? Times and events are in God's hands; and it is neither in our power, nor would it be for our good, to know them. Who, then, can say what is not, when he confessedly knows not what is the time? Again I ask, "For what is it not the time?" For reaping? — for triumph? We never led you to expect it was; but, for breaking up the ground it is always opportune. Again, "we shall probably never live to see any fruits of our labours." This we cannot know for certain; and if we could, it is as selfish and ungenerous, as it is unwise, to use such an argument. We may set up the hoard, or erect the scaffolding, or lay the foundation: another generation may carry up the walls; and a third may put the finishing stroke with shoutings, songs, and triumphs. "After all," says another, "you will do no real good you may make hypocrites of your converts, and those only of the poorest, but you will not make Christians: the prejudices of the Jew are too deeply rooted to be removed by a tract, or even by the New Testament; your labour will therefore be in vain." Formidable as this objection is, it is as flimsy as it is false. We make Christians! We make no such pretensions: it is not in us: this is God's work — His high and exclusive prerogative. Believers "are God's husbandry, and God's building." "Is anything too hard for the Lord?" is a key which will open any lock which unbelief shall place in its way. One class of objectors, of all others the most to be lamented and feared, is that who say, respecting the Jews, "Let them alone: do not meddle with them: they will not attend to your instructions, nor have they any wish to change their religion; besides, what need? one religion is as good as another, if a man does but act up to that he has, and does as well as he can! Bigotry and intolerance will do them more harm than good." To this specious reasoning I reply, It is criminal indifference, and cruel inhumanity, to let men live and die in sin. True charity will make an effort to save those it loves. We know, from bitter experience, in our own cases, that, if left to themselves, the Israelites will not attend to us but God, who commanded, has promised HIS blessing on our labours. Sinners must not be left to themselves.
(J. W. Niblock, D. D.)
Her prophets also find no vision from the Lord.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
The elders...keep silence.1. The wisest of God's servants are at their wit's end, or fall into despair, if they be deprived of their hope, in the promise of God's assistance (Psalm 119:92).
2. Bodily exercises do profit to further lamentations in the day of heaviness, but are no part of God's service in themselves.
4. The most dainty ones are made to stoop when God's hand is heavy upon them for their sins.
Mine eyes do fail with tears.1. The true ministers of God do take the miseries of the Church to heart in the greatest measure.
2. Our sorrow, humiliation, earnest prayer, and all other means of extraordinary calling upon God, must increase in us, so long as God's heavy hand is upon us.
3. Hearty sorrow for spiritual miseries distempereth the whole body.
4. The sorrows of the soul will easily consume the body.
5. A lively member is grieved with the hurt of the body, or any member thereof.
6. The ministers of Christ should have a tender affection to the members of the Church, as a man hath to his daughter.
7. There is no outward thing so much cause of sorrow, as the miseries laid upon our children in our sight.
They say to their mothers, Where is corn and wine?1. It is the greatest grief that can be, to have them whom we would gladly pleasure, seek that at our hands which we cannot help them unto.
2. When God would have us profit by any work of His, He will let us see the true cause of it.
3. The grief that is seen with the eye is the heaviest unto us of all other things that fall upon our friends.
4. When God meaneth to humble us, He will use most effectual means to bring it to pass.
What thing shall I take to witness for thee?Isaiah 50:4; Matthew 13:52).
2. It is the greatest grief that can be, to fall into a trouble that hath not been laid upon others before.
3. That minister loveth us best, that dealeth most plainly with us.
4. The visible state of the Church of God may come to be of a desperate condition, every way vexed more and more.
Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee.Savonarola accusing Lorenzo de Medici, or John Knox preaching at the court of Mary Stuart. He is Isaiah declaring God's abomination of sacrifices and incense when these are offered by blood-stained hands, or seizing the opportunity that followed the mutilation of the imperial statues at Antioch to preach to the dissolute city on the need of repentance, or Latimer denouncing the sins of London to the citizens assembled at Paul's Cross. The shallow optimism that disregards the shadows of life is trebly faulty when it appears in the pulpit. It falsifies facts in failing to take account of the stern realities of the evil side of them; it misses the grand opportunity of rousing the consciences of men and women by forcing them to attend to unwelcome truths, and thus encourages the heedlessness with which people rush headlong to ruin; and at the same time it even renders the declaration of the gracious truths of the Gospel, to which it devotes exclusive attention, ineffectual, because redemption is meaningless to those who do not recognise the present slavery and the future doom from which it brings deliverance.
(W. F. Adeney, W. A.)
1. False teachers are as grievous a plague as can be laid upon a people. They bring with them inevitable destruction (Matthew 15:14).
3. It is a certain note of a false prophet, to speak such things in the name of the Lord as are untrue, or misalleged to please the carnal desires of the people (Jeremiah 14:13-15).
5. The only way to avoid God's plagues is gladly to suffer ourselves bitterly to be reproved by God's ministers.
6. The falsehood that is taught by false prophets, and believed by a seduced people, is the cause of all God's punishments that light upon them.
(Footsteps of Truth.)
An that pass by clap their hands at thee.1. God is wont to whip His children for their sins, by the multitude of unbelievers that hate the truth (Isaiah 10:5, 6; Jeremiah 25:9; Exodus 1:13, 14).
(J. Parker, D. D.)
muezzin on his minaret, the elegist calls to prayer. But his exhortation is addressed to a strange object — to the wall of the daughter of Zion. This wall is to let its tears flow like a river. Browning has an exquisitely beautiful little poem apostrophising an old wall; but this is not done so as to leave out of account the actual form and nature of his subject. Walls can not only be beautiful and even sublime, as Mr. Ruskin has shewn in his Stones of Venice; they may also wreath their severe outlines in a multitude of thrilling associations. This is especially so when, as in the present instance, it is the wall of a city that we are contemplating. Such a wall is eloquent in its wealth of associations, and there is pathos in the thought of its mere age when this is considered in relation to the many men and women and children who have rested beneath its shadow at noon, or sheltered themselves behind its solid masonry amid the terrors of war. The walls that encircle the ancient English city of Chester and keep alive memories of medieval life, the bits of the old London wall that are left standing among the warehouses and offices of the busy mart of modern commerce, even the remote wall of China for quite different reasons, and many another famous wall, suggest to us multitudinous reflections. But the walls of Jerusalem surpass them all in the pathos of the memories that cling to their old grey stones. In personifying the wall of Zion, however, the Hebrew poet does not indulge in reflections such as these, which are more in harmony with the mild melancholy of Gray's "Elegy" than with the sadder mood of the mourning patriot. He names the wall to give unity and concreteness to his appeal, and to clothe it in an atmosphere of poetic fancy. But his sober thought in the background is directed towards the citizens whom that historic wall once enclosed. Let us look at the appeal in detail. First the elegist encourages a free outflow of grief, that tears should run like a river, literally, like a torrent — the allusion being to one of those steep watercourses which, though dry in summer, become rushing floods in the rainy season. This introduction shews that the call to prayer is not intended in any sense as a rebuke for the natural expression of grief, nor as a denial of its existence. The sufferers cannot say that the poet does not sympathise with them. There may be a deeper reason for this encouragement of the expression of grief as a preliminary to a call to prayer. The helplessness which it so eloquently proclaims is just the condition in which the soul is most ready to cast itself on the mercy of God. The first step towards deliverance will be to melt the glacier. The soul must feel before it can pray. Therefore the tears are encouraged to run like torrents, and the sufferer to give himself no respite, nor let the apple of his eye cease from weeping. Next the poet exhorts the object of his sympathy — this strange personification of the "wall of the daughter of Zion," under the image of which he is thinking of the Jews — to arise. The weeping is but a preliminary to more promising acts. The sufferer must be roused if he is to be saved from the disease of melancholia. He must be roused also if he would pray. True prayer is a strenuous effort of the soul, requiring the most wakeful attention and taxing the utmost energy of will. Therefore we must gird up our loins to pray just as we would to work, or run, or fight. Now the awakened soul is urged to cry out in the night, and in the beginning of the night watches — that is to say, not only at the commencement of the night, for this would require no rousing, but at the beginning of each of the three watches into which the Hebrews divided the hours of darkness — at sunset, at ten o'clock, and at two in the morning. The sufferer is to keep watch with prayer — observing his vespers, his nocturns, and his matins, not of course to fulfil forms, but because, since his grief is continuous, his prayer also must not cease. Proceeding with our consideration of the details of this call to prayer, we come upon the exhortation to pour out the heart like water before the face of the Lord. The image here used is not without parallel in Scripture (see Psalm 22:14). But the ideas are not just the same in the two cases. While the Psalmist thinks of himself as crushed and shattered, as though his very being were dissolved, the thought of the elegist has more action about it, with a deliberate intention and object in view. His image suggests complete openness before God. Nothing is to be withheld. The sufferer should tell the whole tale of his grief to God, quite freely, without any reserve, trusting absolutely to the Divine sympathy. The attitude of soul that is here recommended is in itself the very essence of prayer. The devotions that consist in a series of definite petitions are of secondary worth, and superficial in comparison with this outpouring of the heart before God. To enter into relations of sympathy and confidence with God is to pray in the truest, deepest way possible, or even conceivable. Even in the extremity of need, perhaps the best thing we can do is to spread out the whole case before God. It will certainly relieve our own minds to do so, and everything will appear changed when viewed in the light of the Divine presence. Perhaps we shall then cease to think ourselves aggrieved and wronged; for what are our deserts before the holiness of God? Passion is allayed in the stillness of the sanctuary, and the indignant protest dies upon our lips as we proceed to lay our case before the eyes of the All-Seeing. We cannot be impatient any longer; He is so patient with us, so fair, so kind, so good. Thus, when we cast our burden upon the Lord, we may be surprised with the discovery that it is not so heavy as we supposed. The secret of failure in prayer is not that we do not ask enough; it is that we do not pour out our hearts before God, the restraint of confidence rising from fear or doubt simply paralysing the energies of prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray not only because He gives us a model prayer, but much more because He is in Himself so true and full and winsome a revelation of God, that as we come to know and follow Him our lost confidence in God is restored. Then the heart that knows its own bitterness, and that shrinks from permitting the stranger even to meddle with its joy — how much more then with its sorrow? — can pour itself out quite freely before God, for the simple reason that He is no longer a stranger, but the one perfectly intimate and absolutely trusted Friend.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Arise, cry out in the night.
1. It is never too soon to pray. You are lying on your bed; the gracious" Splint" " whispers — "Arise, and pray to God." Well, there is no reason why you should, delay till the morning light; in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord." Need we remind, you that "delays are dangerous"? Need we tell you that those are the workings of Satan? For the Holy Ghost, when He strives with man, says, "Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart."
2. Again, it is not too late to cry to the Lord; for if the sun be set, and the watches of the night have commenced their round, the mercy seat is open. There have been some older than you can be; some as sinful and vile, and heinously wicked, who have provoked God as much, who have shined against him as frequently, and yet they have found pardon.
3. We cannot pray too vehemently, for the text says, "Arise, cry out in the night." God loves earnest prayers. He loves impetuous prayers — vehement prayers. "Arise, cry out in the night," and God will hear you, if you cry out with all your souls, and pour out your hearts before Him.
4. We cannot pray too simply. Just hear how the Psalmist has it: "Pour out your hearts before Him." Not "pour out your fine words," not "pour out your beautiful periods," but "pour out your hearts." Pour out your heart like water. How does water run out? The quickest way it can; that's all. It never stops much about how it runs. That is the way the Lord loves to have it. Pour out your heart like water; pour it out by confessing all your sins; pour it out by begging the Lord to have mercy upon you for Christ's sake; pour it out like water. And when it is all poured out, He will come and fill it again with "wines on the lees, well refined."
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
(T. L. Cuyler.)
Behold, O Ford, and consider to whom Thou hast done this.1. The only way of remedy in our greatest miseries is to call upon God in fervent prayer.(1) It declareth that we are humbled and our pride broken, in confessing no power to be in ourselves, and seeking help elsewhere.(2) He is of greatest power, and none else can help us.(3) He will have all the glory of our deliverance (Psalm 50:15).
2. By this vehement kind of speech we learn that in right prayer to God the frame of our words must be according to our affection.
3. The chief reason to move the Lord to pity us is the remembrance of His covenant of mercy in Christ.
4. God's wrath overturneth the course of nature in those against whom it is bent.
5. There is sufficient cause and matter in all the infants of God's people, why God should in His justice destroy them (Psalm 51:5).
6. Cruelty exercised by the hands of the wicked upon children and ministers is a special means to move God to hear us when we pray for them.
7. There is no privilege of peace that can free us from punishment when we sin against the Lord.
The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets.1. When God punisheth a people for sin, He spareth neither age nor sex.
2. It is a sign of God's anger upon a people, when they want decent burial (Psalm 79:3).
3. The wicked will do most barbarous things, when God bridleth them not.
4. As God is full of mercy in His longsuffering, so is His anger unappeasable when it breaketh out.
Thou hast called...my terrors round about.1. God raiseth up the wickedest, and employeth them to punish His own servants when they sin (Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 8:7).
2. None can escape God's punishments, whom He meaneth to punish (Psalm 139:7).
3. The children of impenitent sinners are often taken away, and prosper not to their comfort. In God's displeasure all things are accursed unto us (Deuteronomy 28:15).
(H. Macmillan, D. D.).