And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month…
The exact date is given as a voucher for truthfulness. The prophet committed to writing at once what had occurred. The people are yet divided by distance - part dwell in Judaea and tart in Chaldea. In a spirit of vain curiosity the eiders of the exiled part approach the prophet to inquire after the destined fortunes and fate of their nation. Had they sought for guidance or help to amend their lives, their prayer had been successful. God does not pander to a spirit of curiosity.
I. DISTRESS USUALLY DRIVES MEN TO SEEK GOD. The bulk of men are self-confident. They will not seek God until they discover their insufficiency to meet misfortune or death. As the sailor does not seek harbour until driven by tempest, so men avoid God. Yet, in the hour of peril or pain, an inborn instinct leads them to rest on an arm mightier than theirs. Sorrow is God's home call.
II. PRAYER LEADS TO THE RESURRECTION OF OUR SINS. It is impossible to do good to a man so long as he stifles the voice of conscience; and the first duty of a true prophet is to bring sin to our remembrance. Unrepented sin is man's chief foe, and to dislodge this foe from the heart's citadel is God's prime endeavour. The barrier that shuts out the light of heaven is the shutter of our own impenitence. The obdurate man destroys his own hope. He bars heaven's door against himself; he writes his own failure. It is kindness on God's part to show us our sins, for his hops is that we may loathe them and abandon them.
III. THE HISTORY OF OUR FATHERS' SINS OFTEN BECOMES THE HISTORY OF OUR OWN SINS. He who hears of his father's sin and does not hate it soon adopts it as his own child. The history of the past is compressed into our own experience. The Fall in Eden is repeated in our own history. All the history and development of a tree is condensed into each fruit kernel; so the moral history is incorporated in us. We may use it for our profit or for our injury. If we continue the same line of conduct as our guilty forefathers, we re-enact their sins, we endorse their guilty deeds. The entailment of moral qualities is a pregnant truth. On this ground it was that all the martyrs' blood, from Abel downward, accumulated upon the men in our Lord's age.
IV. NEGLECT OF DIVINE ADMONITION IS FRESH SIN. The knowledge of past admonition adds to our responsibility. Warnings addressed to our ancestors are warnings addressed to us. Every item in the revelation of God's will is intended for our profit; for revelations of the eternal God have an abiding force. If we are not moved or awed by judgments passed upon our ancestors, ours is the greater sin. As our light is greater than was our forefathers', so is our sin, unless we repudiate it by repentance.
V. GOD'S PERMISSIONS ARE OFTEN CHASTISEMENTS. "Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live." The self-blindness and obduracy of men is such that oftentimes God cannot give them the best laws: such would be above their comprehension - above their appreciation. Good law can never be much in advance of a people's moral condition. God allowed Lot to retire to Zoar, but the permission became a curse. God yielded to the Jews' demand for a king, but their kings led them to civic strife and idolatry. Jesus Christ yielded to the demand of the Gadarenes to leave their province, but their loss was great. How much need have we to merge our wills in God's will!
VI. GOD'S MEMORY OF OUR MISDEEDS NEVER FAILS. We may forget, or regard as trivial, some deed of the past; yet it lives, in complete reality, in the memory of God. Likely enough these elders were astounded with this long recital of their evil deeds. This, however, is a sample of God's treatment of all men. The reappearance of our old sins - the reappearance before the public gaze - will be one element in our punishment. The future publicity of our follies will form a great ingredient in our shame. The world already knows the aggravated sins of the Hebrews.
VII. GOD'S WILL OVERREACHES AND OVERMASTERS MAN'S WILL. "And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen!" Man resolves; God overrules. Mighty as man's will is, it is feeble in comparison with God's will. It may be as iron, but even iron is treated as a plaything by the electric force. Even wickedness shall be restrained of God. Satan shall be bound with chains. Many men are guiltier than the measure of their deeds. There are murderers that never slew a man, felons that never stole. The intention is as guilty as the act. Man's intended wickedness shall be held in check.
VIII. GOD'S REGARD FOR HIS NAME IS COINCIDENT WITH MAN'S BEST WELFARE. "I wrought for my Name's sake." One great purpose our God has in view, in all his government among men, is to reveal himself - to unfold the qualities of his character. This is essential to the highest good of his creature man. He will be patient and tender, or judicial and severe, in order to bring into view all the excellences of his majestic character. The more his saints see of his personal characteristics, the more they admire him, the more they become like him. No one will conclude that the human family has yet seen all the aspects of God's character or all the perfections of his nature. Without doubt, eternity will be spent in spelling out the meaning of that great Name. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and sat before me.