The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Moreover the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,Mount Seir
Ezekiel 35, Ezekiel 36
Mount Seir represents Edom; Edom represents Esau. Idumea and Edom, found in this chapter, are one and the same, to all practical intents. Edom was the enemy of Israel: the record of their associations is a record of hatred and blood. We have in the third verse what may be termed the severe aspect of God. Behold the goodness and the severity of God! We would gladly curtain off the frowning countenance, and ignore it, and say, God is love; his mercy endureth for ever, and his face is brighter than the shining of the sun, there is no cloud in all the lustre of his countenance. We might talk so: we should talk ignorantly, superstitiously, falsely. We had better, as wise men, take in the whole case; our testament will lose nothing in music and in grandeur by retaining in it the words "the wrath of the Lamb." We would rather not have such words, if we were to consult our sentiment, our feeling; but we are to consult history, philosophy, the right of things, and the reality of the economy under which we live. We are, therefore, forced to say, that God can be severe in aspect, terrible in judgment, that his hand is weighty, and when it falls upon the nations they are crushed like a moth.
What a blast of fire is this? When God is against a mountain or a city or a man, what is the issue? These are the words:—
"I will stretch out mine hand against thee, and I will make thee most desolate. I will lay thy cities waste, and thou shalt be desolate" (Ezekiel 35:3-4).
That is what God means by being "against" a man. Here is an instance of sublime personification. The mount stands for the nation, the people, the whole idea Edomitish. Yet is there not something contemptuous in the personification? He makes all the people into a mountain—a heap of mud. What else is a mountain when viewed physically and materially? He turns the people one upon another, so to say, and having made a great mountain of them, he addresses the mountain as impersonal, and says, "I am against thee." The language itself is full of suggestion. "I am": there is life; life against matter; life against materialism; the living God against the dead mountain. He will tear it to pieces. Life can tear to pieces anything it can lay its hands upon. A child could waste a mountain. Its little fingers could carry it all away; give it time enough, and the mountain cannot withstand the child. Herein, as we have often had occasion to see, man is greater than any mountain. Measured in stature, where is the man? Far away, all but invisible; yet the man says to the mountain, I will climb thee, I will stand on thy top and wave the banner of victory, and will tunnel thee and drive fire and iron right through the heart of thee. What must it be then when God is against a man, a mountain, a nation? He has so many resources; we cannot calculate his armoury; the weapons of war at the disposal of God are more than the number of his chariots, and they are set down at twenty thousand. He can blight the mind, he can baffle the memory, he can make the feeling callous: he can so work upon the parent's eyes that the parent shall not know his own child when they stand face to face; he can waste wealth, he can take the sunshine out of prosperity, he can separate chief friends. To God there are no giants; the mightiest of the Samsons of the world is as a frail insect.
It is, therefore, one of two things: God is either for us or against us. Is not the place and relation occupied by man to God largely determined by the man himself? Does not God plead for friendship? does he not ask for alliance? Hath it not pleased the Eternal to assume the attitude of a suppliant, and to say, Why will ye die? why will ye not live? why will ye not come unto me and have life? I wait to be gracious: behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man open the door I will come in? God does relieve man of responsibility. It may please man to have some crabbed and intricate theory, some metaphysical conception of human will, that enables him to relieve the pressure of the sense of responsibility, and to take refuge in the roofless hut of destiny and fate, to be lost and damned: but the Lord never consents to that reasoning. The Lord's speech to obdurate man is always a speech involving a challenge or involving a remonstrance and a persuasion. God never says to any man, Thou art fated to be damned, and therefore I will not plead with thee. Taking the Bible as the basis of our evidence, we have God evermore pleading with man, as if man were of consequence to him, as if when he lost man he lost part of himself.
Does God give no reason for his frowning? Is his anger arbitrary? Is he a God of moods, so that we know not in what temper he will awake? It hath pleased the Lord to give an account of himself, and to say when he is against any man why he assumes the attitude and the policy of hostility.
"Because" [this is the reason, and the reason always covers the necessity of the case. Peril is no bigger than sin]—"because thou hast had a perpetual hatred, and hast shed the blood of the children of Israel by the force of the sword in the time of their calamity, in the time that their iniquity had an end: therefore, as I live, saith the Lord God, I will prepare thee unto blood, and blood shall pursue thee: sith thou hast not hated blood, even blood shall pursue thee" (Ezekiel 35:5-6).
Here is reason, here is justice, here is the husbandman who will reap the harvest which he sowed with his own hands. Be not deceived, God is not mocked: with what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again; whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap; with what judgment ye judge ye shall be judged. Your case shall be determined, as it were, by yourself; as ye have done to others, so shall it be done unto you. Here in the original grammar there is a play upon words. It hath pleased God in the inscrutableness of his speech to man to mock man with his own verbs and substantives; it hath pleased God to make a caricature of man's grammar by sneering at him through his own syntax. "Edom" means red, the red of blood; God says, As thou hast been Edom, so shall all others be Edom to thee, red for red, blood for blood: "I am against thee." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!
The Lord knew the argument which Edom had conducted in his own soul. The Lord quotes our own words against us. We have whispered them in confidence; the Lord has heard them every one, and he thunders them from the housetop: "Because thou hast said, These two nations and these two countries shall be mine, and we will possess it... Therefore—" Why can we not have one hour's conference in absolute secrecy and exclusion from God? Why may we not whisper "murder"? What is this in the very air that hates the secrecy of blood, and that says, I am listening, and every drop of blood you pledge yourselves to take I shall speak of with thunder and lightning?
Why was God so jealous lest Edom should take Judah and Israel? The reason is given in Ezekiel 36:10 : "Whereas the Lord was there." Edom thought to take the two nations, Judah and Israel, and do as he pleased with them. The Lord will not have sacrilege without punishing it. You cannot take away the true Church without having to account for it in some form; because God is in it. We should be very careful how we touch places that have been consecrated by noble usage, by high custom, by solemn prayer; it may be right sometimes to take them down stone by stone or to remove them elsewhere, but we should do so with reverent thought and with reverent hands. Edom said he would take Judah and Israel, forgetting mayhap that "the Lord was there," and that he had to reckon with the Lord. That is what man always forgets; that is to say, man always forgets the divine element, the supernatural presence—the mysterious element in life that will not be measured, that cannot be touched,—imponderable, invisible, immortal, inevitable. The rich fool said, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry": but God said Never forget that—a monologue is but a one-sided talk, and that one-sided talk is out or place in a universe that is governed by a living Sovereign, an ever-present, ever-watching, ever-listening Father. Men want to wrest things out of the hands of God; men try to invert destiny or to reverse providence. This miracle lies beyond the reach of human power. He is foolish who ignores election. Everything is settled and determined as to the purpose of God, but that purpose is a purpose of love and inclusion and universal blessing, if men will accept the overtures of condescending and gracious Heaven. We believe in the election of nations; we believe in the call of men to do particular work; we believe in the destiny of the race. God is Judge and Sovereign, Father and Ruler. The days of our years are appointed; the bounds of our habitation are fixed; the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord; the very hairs of your head are all numbered. God is not a God on one aspect or side of his character; he is always God, never less than God: the Lord reigneth.
What miracles of consolation there are! When God says "I am for you," what does he mean? Will he give us an account of his favour as he has given us an account of his opposition? We have that account in Ezekiel 36 :—
"I will turn unto you, and ye shall be tilled and sown: and I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, even all of it: and the cities shall be inhabited, and the wastes shall be builded." [Will he do anything more?] "And I will multiply upon you man and beast; and they shall increase and bring fruit." [Aught more?] "And I will settle you after your old estates." [Aught more?] "And will do better unto you than at your beginnings...." [He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think."] "Yea, I will cause men to walk upon you, even my people Israel; and they shall possess thee, and thou shalt be their inheritance, and thou shalt no more henceforth bereave them of men" (Ezekiel 36:9-12).
When does God give short measure? When did he give otherwise than pressed down, heaped up, running over? This is the consolation of Heaven; this is the measure of the divine benison. That blessing is to be physical: "Ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit." God does not fear to associate his name with our daily food. Why should we eat bread unblest by our own thanksgiving and prayer? God is not ashamed to have his name connected with the daily loaf and with the daily goblet of water. When we go to the harvest-field we should think we are going to church; when we go to the well of springing water we should think we are going to a fountain rising in heaven. Your harvests are God's; your fields are the green ways leading up to his sanctuary. Blessed are they whose bread and whose water are blessed, whose bed is an altar, whose home is a church. Not only physical, but social: "I will multiply men upon you,... and the wastes shall be builded." God would have all the earth inhabited. He would build men into organisations and brotherhoods; he would establish fraternities of souls. The Lord is never ashamed to associate himself with social economy, social purity, social progress. Not only physical and social, but municipal "And the cities shall be inhabited." Cities have not a good history; cities had a bad founder. The foundations of cities were laid by a murderer. But it hath pleased God to accept many human doings, and to purify them and ennoble them and turn them to purposes sanctified and most beneficial. The Lord never set a king over anybody with his own real consent. He gave the people the desire of their hearts, and plagued them every day since they got the answer, So he accepts the city, and he will do what he can with the municipalities, to inhabit them, and direct them, and purify them. Here is the area within which this divine consolation is to operate; it is physical, it is social, it is municipal: at every point God touches us with his rising light.
The Lord never concludes simply within the letter. At the last he invariably says something that opens up a distant and ever-receding because ever-enlarging horizon. He says in this instance, "I will do better unto you than at your beginnings." He is able, let us say again with rising thankfulness, to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. The Church constantly exclaims, Thou hast kept the good wine until now! We never can get in advance of God. When we have reaped our most abundant harvest, he says, This is only an earnest of the harvest you shall one day possess; I will do more for you and better unto you than at your beginnings. When does God move backwards? When does God give less and less to the children that love him and obey him? Whenever did the Lord cry, It is enough; further blessing you cannot have? Take all the types and illustrations supplied in Biblical history, and we shall ever find that the supply on the part of God never failed. Bring forth vessels now, said the prophet, and fill them: and they came to the last but two, the last but one, the very last of all, and when it was full, then the oil ceased,—plenty of oil for the vessels, none for the floor; plenty for use, none for waste. It is our vessels that give out, it is not the oil of the divine love that is exhausted. I will do better—better—better. It is the refrain of the divine song of divine government We never touch the horizon; as we approach, it recedes: so we never touch the fulness of the divine blessing. Answered prayer is only another promise that the next prayer shall have a larger answer if itself represent a larger capacity and a larger love.
Then let us grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us be no longer thoughtless; let us no longer limit the Holy One of Israel, saying, The Lord hath made an end of his revelation, the Lord hath no more grace to give, no more love to show; he has given us the Cross. Paul says, If he has freely given us the Cross,—it is not an end, it is a beginning,— with the Cross he will also freely give us all things. In one sense the Cross is the culmination of love; in another sense it is the genesis of God's affection. The Lord cannot be exhausted. His providence is ascending, expanding, deepening. This is the way of the Lord. Oh that we had hearkened unto his commandments and kept his law! then had our peace flowed like a river, and our righteousness had been as the waves of the sea.
We have not begun to know what God does for us; we have been too prone to yield ourselves to the seducer and the tempter when he told us that the age of miracles was past. That tempter waits to persuade us that all the great epochs of history are closed: the miracles are closed, inspiration is closed, communion with God in a very endearing sense of presence is closed. Why, then, it were better to have lived in the days of the prophets than in the days of the apostles, and better to have lived in the days of the apostles than to live under the full dispensation of the Holy Spirit. Is God's a narrowing policy, a self-withdrawing, self-depleting economy? or does it move out in the other way, enlarging, expanding, heightening, advancing? Let those testify who have lived with God. We do not here at this particular juncture of the argument want the critic's opinion; he ought not to have any opinion about such subjects, he is a dog in the sanctuary: when we come to these great heights and these close applications and inquiries we want the testimony of experience. When, therefore, we ask the question, Does God enclose himself in ever-narrowing paths, or does he pursue his gracious way in ever-expanding courses of graciousness and kindness? we await not the evidence of the critic, but the experience of the man who daily lives with God.