I will go before you, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass…
If we be Zion's pilgrims, heavenward bound, we shall find the need of such promises, in their spiritual fulfilment, as God here gave to Cyrus.
I. GOD'S PRELIMINARY WORK in "going before His people, making for them crooked places straight, breaking in pieces gates of brass, and cutting in sunder bars of iron."
1. The first promise lays a foundation for all the rest; "I will go before thee." How great must those difficulties be which need God Himself to go before us in order to overcome them! Surely they must be insuperable by any human strength. If we are rightly taught, we shall feel a need for the Lord to go before us, not only now and then, but every step of the way, for unless led and guided by Him, we are sure to go astray. How strikingly was this the case with the children of Israel. You may apply this promise to a variety of things.
(1) It is applicable not only to spiritual, but to temporal trials and perplexities — to His going before us both in providence and grace.
(2). But the words apply to the manifestation of His holy and sacred will.
(3) It is especially in the removal of obstructions that the Lord fulfils this part of the promise.
2. "And make crooked things straight." This promise springs out of the former, and is closely connected with it; for it is only by the Lord s going before that things really crooked can be straightened. But what is meant by crooked places, and whence come they?
(1) Some are inherently crooked, that is, it is in their very nature to be so. Thus crooked tempers, dispositions, desires, wills, lusts are in themselves inherently crooked, because being bent out of their original state by sin, they do not now lie level with God's holy will and Word.
(2) But there are crooked places in the path of God's family, which are not inherently crooked as being sinful in themselves, but are crooked as made so by the hand of God to us. Of this kind are afflictions in body and mind, poverty in circumstances, trials in the family, persecution from superiors or ungodly relatives, heavy losses in business, bereavement of children, and, in short, a vast variety of circumstances curved into their shape by the hand of God, and so made. "crooked things" to us. Now, the Lord has promised, to make "crooked things straight." Taken in its fullest extent, the promise positively declares that from whatever source they come, or of whatsoever nature they be, the Lord will surely straighten them. By this He manifests His power, wisdom, and faithfulness. But how does He straighten them? In two ways, and this according to their nature. Sometimes by removing them out of the way; and sometimes by reconciling our minds to them.
3. But the Lord also promised Cyrus that He would, by going before him, break in pieces the gates of brass, &c. Cyrus longed to enter the city of Babylon; but when he took a survey of the only possible mode of entrance, he saw it firmly closed against him with gates of brass and iron. Can we not find something in our experience which corresponds to this feeling in Cyrus? There is a longing in the soul after a certain object. We press forward to obtain it, but what do we find in the road? Gates of brass and bars of iron. Look, for instance, at our very prayers. Are not the heavens sometimes brass over our heads, so that, as Jeremiah complains, "they cannot pass through"? Nay, is not your very heart itself sometimes a gate of brass, as hard, as stubborn, and as inflexible? So the justice, majesty, and holiness of God, when we view these dread perfections of Jehovah with a trembling eye under the guilt of sin, stand before the soul as so many gates of brass. The various enemies, too, which beset the soul; the hindrances and obstacles without and within that stand in the path; the opposition of sin, Satan, self, and the world against all that is good and godlike — may not all these be considered "gates of brass" barring out the wished-for access into the city?
4. But there are also "bars of iron." These strengthen the gates of brass and prevent them from being broken down or burst open, the stronger and harder metal giving firmness and solidity to the softer and weaker one. An unbelieving heart; the secret infidelity of the carnal mind; guilt of conscience produced by a sense of our innumerable wanderings from the Lord; doubts and fears often springing out of our own want of consistency and devotedness; apprehensions of being altogether deceived, from finding so few marks of grace and so much neglect of watchfulness and prayer — all these may be mentioned as bars of iron strengthening the gates of brass. Now, can you break to pieces these gates of brass, or cut in sunder the bars of iron? Here, then, when so deeply wanted, comes in the promise, "I will break," &c.
II. THE GIFTS WHICH THE LORD BESTOWS UPON THEM, when He has broken to pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron, here called "treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places."
1. "Treasures of darkness." But is not this a strange expression? How can there be darkness in the city of Salvation of which the Lord, the Lamb, is the eternal light? The expression does not mean that the treasures themselves are darkness, but that they were hidden in darkness till they were brought to light. The treasures of Belshazzar, like the Bank bullion, were buried in darkness till they were broken up and given to Cyrus. It is so in a spiritual sense. Are there not treasures in the Lord Jesus? Yet, all these are "treasures of darkness," so far as they are hidden from our eyes and hearts, till we are brought by His special power into the city of Salvation.
2. But the Lord promised also to give to Cyrus "the hidden riches of secret places," that is, literally, the riches of the city which were stored up in its secret places. But has not this, also a spiritual meaning? Yes. Many are "the hidden riches of secret places" with which the God of all grace enriches His believing family. Look, for instance, at the Word of God. But observe, how the promises are connected with "crooked places," "brazen gates," and "iron bars," and the going before of the Lord to remove them out of the way. Without this previous work we should be ignorant to our dying day of "the treasures of darkness"; we should never see nor handle "the hidden riches of secret places."
III. THE BLESSED EFFECTS PRODUCED by what the Lord thus does and thus gives — a spiritual and experimental knowledge, that "He who has called them by their name is the God of Israel." Observe the expression, "I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name." What an individuality it stamps on the person addressed! How it makes religion a personal thing! But what is produced by this special, individual, and personal calling? Knowledge. What knowledge? Spiritual, heartfelt, and experimental. Of what? "That the Lord who called them by name is the God of Israel." It is as "the God of Israel" that He manifests mercy and grace; that He never leaves nor forsakes the objects of His choice; that He fulfils every promise, defeats every enemy, appears in every difficulty, richly pardons every sin, graciously heals every backsliding, and eventually lands them in eternal bliss. Now, perhaps, we can see why God's people have so many gates of brass and bars of iron, so many trials and severe temptations. This is to bring them into personal acquaintance with God, the covenant God of Israel; to make religion a reality.
(J. C. Philpot.)
Parallel VersesKJV: I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron: