For from the least of them even to the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness…
The extent to which corruption prevailed is suggested when even the prophets and priests share the general apostasy: "Every one dealeth falsely."
I. THE DUTY IT HAD TO FULFIL. The priest dealt with ritual, the prophet with moral and doctrinal questions in religion. They had to act as the spiritual guides and overseers of the people of God. Here they are represented as behaving like quack doctors in cases of grave injury or disease. They were appointed for the spiritual health and well-being of men. Circumstances in the condition of their flocks would determine the manner in which they should exercise their functions, and the special direction in which their attention should be directed. Israel had fallen into serious wickedness. It was no isolated acts of transgression of which she was guilty; her whole spiritual state was one of alienation from God. In such a case the utmost faithfulness and severity were required; as the surgeon has to probe the wound, and use sharp instruments for excising the part that is diseased; or the physician has to make a thorough diagnosis of a patient, and in desperate sickness to use desperate remedies. Here an opposite course had been pursued. The gravity of the "hurt" was overlooked or ignored, and merely outward signs of amendment were regarded as complete reconciliation with God.
1. That which separates men from God is no slight matter. It is a deadly thing. If it continues, it must inevitably destroy. The observances of religion will be nullified until it is put fight. Men must be told of their sin, not merely in a round and general manner, but judiciously, and according to the specialties of individual or class peculiarities. The unbelief of the natural man is the parent of his misdeeds and sin, and keeps him from any real communion with God.
2. The minister of religion is bound to be discerning and faithful.
3. It is only through a real and spiritual repentance that reconciliation can be effected. At such a juncture spiritual religion ought to have been insisted on, and the enormity of the offence exposed. Preliminary acts of contrition; experiences and discoveries of the heart such as conviction of sin, etc.; the necessity of love, obedience, and faith ought not to be slurred over.
II. FAILURE IN THIS DUTY AND ITS CAUSES. The root-cause is undoubtedly the share which the religious teachers had in the general depravity. There was also a consequent lack of spiritual discernment. The greatness of the fall from the former position occupied by Israel was not appreciated, and the nature of true religion was not understood. A ministry under court patronage and a merely popular ministry are alike subject to the temptations to please rather than to deal honestly with the evils of individuals, society, and the state, and to rectify them. "They who live to please must please to live." There is such a thing always as a making of religion too easy either in its moral conditions or its doctrinal realizations. It is fearfully wrong to say a man is a Christian when he is not a Christian; or so to deal with him in pastoral relations that he fancies himself in possession of salvation and spiritually secure when he is in heart and life far from God. Flattery has a thousand forms, and there is no falsehood to which it contributes that is more insidious or wide-reaching than this.
III. THE RESULTS. These are terrible in the extreme. From the authority of office they are credited in their declarations, and national and individual offences are condoned and perpetuated. Possible for a man to be deceived on this most vital question; to think himself a child of God when he is in reality a child of Satan. Death-bed repentances.
1. The divorce of morality from religion.
2. The intensified wrath of God at hypocrisy and sham religion.
3. Eternal death and irretrievable loss. - M.
Parallel VersesKJV: For from the least of them even unto the greatest of them every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely.