Prepare you war against her; arise, and let us go up at noon. Woe to us! for the day goes away…
Woe unto us! for the day goeth away, for the shadows of the evening are stretched out. It is not thus that we are wont to welcome the going away of the day, the quiet peaceful hours of eventide. How beautiful, even in its outward aspect, is oftentimes the evening hour, the gradual subsidence of the varied sounds of the busy day, the glorious sunsets, the rich radiance of the evening sky, the exquisite tints and colorings of the hills as the mellow light of evening falls upon them, the ruby glow which adorns, glorifies, and almost transfigures the sun-clad peaks of mountainous lands! Yes, eventide is an hour of beauty, in which Nature puts on her almost loveliest garb now that the "garish day" has gone. It is a scene on which the eye delightedly rests. And it is the hour of reunion also. From the scattered districts where one and another have pursued their daily toil, the members of the family, the household, the village, come home, and in pleasant converse talk over the events of the day, and forecast the events of tomorrow. The hearts of the children turn to the fathers, and the heart of the fathers to the children, in the happy intercourse which is only possible on the blessed Sunday or at the evening hour. And it is the hour of rest. The plough stands still in the furrow, for the ploughman has gone home; the toil-worn horse roams in his pasture or feeds peacefully in his stable. The man of business has shut up his ledger, and left the city and the office, and rests quietly amid his family at home. The night has come, in which no man can work. And if we take the symbolic meaning of the day and regard it as telling of the day of life, even then the ideas of calm, rest, and serene quiet gather around it. What a beautiful old age is that described in the seventy-first psalm - beautiful for its confidence in God, for its humility and meekness, for the vigor of its desire for God's glory, and for its bright onlook into the future! And such beauty often belongs to old age, so that "at eventide there is light." We probably all of us know of some on whom the shadows of evening are falling fast, because the day of their life "goeth away;" but how calm, how serene, how peaceful, how bright, is their old age! They do not say, nor I do others say concerning them, "Woe unto us for the day," etc. But in the text we have a precisely opposite feeling, one of dismay and sore grief because of the day's departure. And this lamentation is one uttered, not alone by those of whom the prophet wrote, but by many others also. Therefore let us -
I. LISTEN TO THOSE WHO MAKE THIS LAMENTATION. And:
1. There were those o whom Jeremiah wrote. The Chaldeans, who were about to invade Judaea and Jerusalem. The text occurs in a vivid description of the troubles they would bring upon his people. He is representing their eagerness, their furious haste to assail and capture the doomed city. Hence the interruption of nightfall is fiercely resented by them. They would lengthen out the day if but they could. Like as Joshua bade the sun stand still (Joshua 10.), that he might complete the overthrow of his enemies, so would these Chaldeans like that the sun should stand still, that they might complete the overthrow of theirs. And because that cannot be, therefore they exclaim, "Woe unto us!" etc. What a lesson these Chaldean soldiers give to the professed soldiers of Christ! Would that we had the like zeal in our endeavor to win the kingdom of heaven! But it is only the violent, those who are in real earnest and put forth all their "force," who shall take it.
2. But if we take the day as referring to the day of life, we shall often hear in Holy Scripture the like lamentation. The saints of the Old Testament, how they shrank from death: "Oh, spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and be no more;" "The dead praise not thee, neither any that go down into silence;" "The living, the living, shall praise thee, as I do this day." The overflowing gratitude of the hundred and sixteenth psalm is because of deliverance from the dreaded death. How Hezekiah (Isaiah 38.) piteously wept and prayed that he might not die! They knew not that to depart was far better; death was to them only gloomy, silent, dark, and where fellowship with God was not. Hence this "Woe unto us!" etc., expresses the common feeling of Old Testament times at the going away of the day of life.
3. But there are those who still make like lamentation. Let us listen to them.
(1) Those from whom the day of opportunity is going away. We none of us like to miss opportunities. Even to miss a train vexes us. How much more when we see slipping fast from us the power of gaining and doing great good! The scholar who has let slip the opportunities of winning the knowledge which would fit him for his life's work, but now must go forth all ill equipped, and so must with shame take a lower place. The youth or man who has failed to win the confidence of those about him, and now has to leave them without the great advantage which their confidence would have given him. The professed disciple of Christ who has some child, some companion, some one over whom he had influence, leaving him for a distance, or, more grievous still, by death, and he has never used his opportunity of speaking to him on behalf of Christ. This is a woe indeed, a reflection bitter to have resting upon one's conscience. The brother or sister, the husband or wife, the companion or friend, who have let go opportunities of showing kindness, of comforting and helping those who looked to them for such comfort and help, and now it is too late. Ah! that is a dreadful thought, to think of what you might have done for them and ought to have done but did not, and now can never do. All these are instances in which those from whom the day of opportunity is going away will often lament, "Woe unto us!" It is with a bitter pang that we see "the shadows" of that "evening stretched out."
(2) Those from whom the day o prosperity is going away. Listen to the patriarch Job (Job 29:3): "Oh that I were as in months past, as in the days when God preserved me!" And all through the chapter he continues his sad lament over happy days gone by. And so now to see the like befall ourselves - health, wealth, friends, dear children, or those even dearer still, all going from us, what wonder that such say, "Woe is us 1" etc.? But sometimes it is on account of the going away of the day of spiritual prosperity. The mournful retrospect of days of purity, peace, strength, enjoyment of God, delight in his worship, usefulness in his service; but these now all gone or fast disappearing. Ah! the backslider, the man who suffers himself to lose his religion, has many bitter moments of regret and remorse. How he curses the sinful folly which led him to lend-an ear to the deceitful suggestions of the wicked one, and which have brought him to this wretched pass! Yes, it is a terrible thing to see the day of spiritual prosperity going away and the shadows of its evening stretched out.
(3) Those from whom the day of a life lived without God is going away. This must be dreadful indeed. They have drunk up all that the cup of this world has to give them; there is not a drop left, and there is no provision made for the eternity to which they are hastening. With what intensity of bitterness will the "Woe unto us!" of such be uttered! For though such perceive that eternity is near, and God's awful judgment bar, yet how difficult, how all but impossible do they find it to hurry on their preparations as they would fain do! The lips unused to pray cannot pray. The habits of unbelief and worldliness won't be broken. Faith will not come. They have so long turned away from Christ that now they cannot turn to him. Pride holds back the confession which their repentance would make, that all their past life has been one melancholy mistake. Such are some of the great difficulties which stand in the way of him who, at the close of a long life lived without God, would then turn to God. And as he sees that now this world is lost to him, and the next not won and all but impossible to be won, how inevitable the exceeding bitter cry, "Woe unto us!" etc.! But now -
II. LET US ENDEAVOR TO LIGHTEN THIS LAMENTATION, AND TO COMFORT THOSE WHO SAY, "WOE UNTO US!"
1. Those who lament the going away of the day of opportunity. Remember that all opportunity is not gone. "Why should a living man complain?" "A live dog is better than a dead lion." (Illustrate from Foster's essay on 'Decision of Character.' Story of a spendthrift who had lost a vast estate suddenly resolving that he would regain it, and at once setting about to earn money, though ever so little, and at length, by dint of prolonged, hard, and often degrading toil and of rigid economy, accomplishing his resolve. Such victories have been won in spite of temporal loss.) Remember all is not gone. And where spiritual opportunities have been let got sad as such loss is, others yet remain. "Sleep on now, and take your rest;" that was our Savior's way of telling his unwatchful disciples that they had lost the opportunity of ministering to him as he had asked them. But in the next breath he says, "Rise, let us be going: behold, he that betrayeth," etc.; that was his way of telling them that there were opportunities for other service yet awaiting them. Peter, when he went out after his denial of his Lord, and wept bitterly, thought that nevermore would he have opportunity of doing aught for that dear, dear Lord whom he had so shamefully denied. But 'twas after that the Lord said to him, "Feed my lambs," "Feed my sheep." Therefore waste not time in mere brooding over lost opportunities. Confess your faithlessness, and seek forgiveness, and then ask the Lord to show you what yet remains that you may do for him. And be sure that he will graciously deal with you as he did with his apostle of old.
2. Those who lament the going away of the day of prosperity. If you are. not a believer in Christ - one born again of the Holy Ghost unto him, then I know not how to comfort you or how to lighten your lamentation. I can only counsel you to kneel and pray that this loss of temporal good may lead you to him who waits to give you eternal good, in the gain of which all earthly loss will be forgotten. God grant you may follow this counsel. But if you are a child of God, then remember Christ will be with you in your trial. Was there not another with the three Hebrew youths in the furnace of fire, so that its fierce flames burned them not, and they walked up and down as if beneath the cool shade of the trees of Paradise? Manifold and great good to you and through you is undoubtedly designed by letting such trial come to you. To give you holy skill and blessed tenderness in ministering to other troubled souls; to impart to you deeper knowledge of yourself; to make you the means of making known to others what Divine grace can do. This was why God suffered Job to be so tried, and why the Lord pat the faith of the Syro-phoenician woman to so severe a strain. Did not our Lord himself become the "Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?" What do we not all owe to that? And so through his people becoming more or less men of sorrows and acquainted with grief, large blessing shall flow down to others. Then do not think it all "woe" if the day of your earthly prosperity does seem to be "going away," and the shadows of its evening be stretched out.
3. Those who lament the going away of the day of a life lived without God. To such we would say that it is a rare mercy that they are distressed at all. For many die as they have lived, indifferent and unconcerned about God and things eternal. But if alarm and fear have been awakened, that is a token of mercy. The dying robber on the cross beside our Lord, at that last hour turned to him, and was not refused the mercy he craved. Christ "saves to the uttermost all that come unto God by him." Give glory to him by even now turning to him, as he bids you do. But let none presume on the possibilities of such repentance at the very last. "The Gospels tell of one such, that none may despair; but of only one, that none may presume." "Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth."
"To Jesus may we fly
Swift as the morning light,
Lest life's young golden beams should die
In sudden endless night." If we be found in him, then the exceeding bitter cry of our text will never be heard from us. The day of opportunity will not leave us. If the day of earthly prosperity do leave us, then it will be because the Lord hath provided some better thing for us. And- when the day of life goeth away and we with it, it will be but "to depart and be with Christ, which is far better." - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Prepare ye war against her; arise, and let us go up at noon. Woe unto us! for the day goeth away, for the shadows of the evening are stretched out.