My people has been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains…
This chapter was written for the comfort of exiles in Babylon. They were told that their oppression was not to be forever. "God giveth songs in the night." He will not utterly cast down. But before he gives comfort he clearly shows the people their sin. And one chief part of that sin was that they had forgotten their resting places. So many generations had lived and died in the neglect of God, their Resting place, that he had become forgotten by them. The habit of resorting to him was broken; other gods had been chosen instead. And now, in the sorrow of their exile, they knew not where to turn. Treating the subject generally, we note -
I. A PRECIOUS TRUTH IMPLIED. There is a Resting place provided for us. Weary we often are, by reason of conscience and temptation and earthly trouble and fear. But there is a resting place for us. "We who have believed" in the Lord Jesus Christ "do enter into rest." His one sacrifice gives rest as to the past, his intercession ensures grace sufficient for all the present and the future too, and his resurrection is the pledge that "he will redeem" my "life from destruction, and crown" me "with loving kindness and tender mercy."
II. A SAD ACCUSATION MADE. That we "have forgotten," etc. Now, this is very grievous; for:
1. It involves deep ingratitude. Think at what a cost our rest was purchased for us. Our pardon, peace, sanctification, and life eternal were not the result of a mere wish on the part of God, but they cost the life and death of the Son of God. Ponder that vast price paid for redemption, and think what must that heart be that forgets all this - what Christ has done for us, is doing, and will do. "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass," etc. (Isaiah 1:3).
2. And it is such folly. For no more surely do we need the bread that perisheth for our bodily life than we do "the Bread of life," which is Christ, for the sustenance of our spiritual life. And this not mere theory, but all who have ever known him as our Rest, know what a Rest - how gracious, how perfect, how constant and sure! - he is. And to neglect, abandon, forget that! - "Can the force of folly further go?" It is an exchange of Eden for the wilderness, of the father's house for the swine feeding and the husks, light for darkness, life for death.
3. It causes such misery. See the picture in the verse. It is that of a hunted, worried sheep. If that were the condition of such sheep, instead of being led by the shepherd by green pastures and lying down there by the still waters, what would its life be worth? And so with our souls; their misery betrays itself in the haggard look or the flippant laugh, or the hideous attempt to stifle all thought and memory in the wild pursuit of pleasure, of business, or - worst of all - of sin. Conscience will rebuke; memory will recall bitter times and moan, "Oh that it were with me as in times past!" Prayer and the means of grace seem unable to help; we are powerless for good; and the scorn of men of the world. Yes; thus to forget is misery indeed.
4. And the danger is very great. For if we do not return, we are lost. The terrible words of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 6:4-6) will be fulfilled in us, and then all hope is gone. "O ye children of God, ye have a Resting place; how is it that ye can forget it? Touch upon the things of nature, how they chide you! Bring to your remembrance the birds of the air, the beasts of the forest, the dumb driven cattle accustomed to the yoke, and let them chide you; for they forget not their resting place. Carried away to the city the other day, the dove was taken from its cage, and they let it loose, fastening to it the message that was to be sent. It mounted aloft, it whirled around awhile, that it might see Where it was. It was far, far away from the dove cote; it was found hundreds of miles away; but whither did it fly? Swift as an arrow from the bow, it sought its resting place with the infallibility of affection; it found its nearest way to the cote where it had been reared, and brought its message safely there. And even the dog which thou despisest, taken away from its master, carried many miles away, in darkness too, so that it might not know its way, has been known to swim rivers, cross byways it could not have known, and then is found barking for admission at its master's door; oh, so happy when it hears its master's voice again. It could not rest elsewhere. O my heart, wilt thou let the pigeon outstrip thee in affection? art thou more doggish than a dog? Dost thou forget thy Lord, when dogs remember well their masters? Let us learn from them and forget our Resting place nevermore" (Spurgeon).
III. EARNEST INQUIRY SUGGESTED.
1. As to the source of such forgetfulness. Sometimes it arises from mere thoughtlessness. Cf. the seed that fell by the wayside (Matthew 13.). Or from the unsubdued heart, which likes not to retain the memory of God. Or from the cares of this world. The children of Israel when in Egypt could not listen to Moses by reason of the bitterness of their bondage. And yet more often from wicked worldliness. The hurry and drive, the everlasting rush of business, and the setting aside of everything that stands in its way, the determination to be rich at all hazards. Unbelief is also another cause, the materialistic doubts, the questioning that arises as to the truth of there being any such resting place at all. And the bewilderment caused by sin. The soul is stunned, dazed, and has lost its powers.
2. As to its cure. "Let the wicked forsake," etc. (Isaiah 55:7). - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their restingplace.
WEB: My people have been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray; they have turned them away on the mountains; they have gone from mountain to hill; they have forgotten their resting place.