You which rejoice in a thing of nothing, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?
Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength? "Horns" are signs and symbols of power; here they stand for the military resources with which they fancied that they could conquer every foe. "These delusions of God-forgetting pride the prophet casts down, by saying that Jehovah, the God of hosts, will raise up a nation against them, which will crush them down in the whole length and breadth of the kingdom. This nation was Assyria" (Delitzsch). What these ancient Hebrews did is an evil prevalent in all times and lands - rejoicing in the things of nought, taking pleasure in the unreal, the empty, and the fleeting.
I. TO REJOICE IN WORLDLY WEALTH is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." Rich men everywhere are always disposed to rejoice in their wealth. Houses, lands, and funded treasures, of these worldly men are ever boasting, in these they proudly exult. But what is earthly wealth? It is, in truth, so far as the possessor is concerned, "a thing of nought." It was not his a few years ago, and may not be his tomorrow. "Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle towards heaven" (Proverbs 23:5). Wealth, at best, is a most unsubstantial thing; it is a mere air bubble rising on the stream of life, glittering for a moment, and then departing forever. Great fortunes are but bubbles; they vanish before a ripple on the stream or a gust in the atmosphere. "Wealth," says old Adams, "is like a bird; it hops all day from man to man as the bird from tree to tree, and none can say where it will roost or rest at night."
"Go, enter the mart where the merchantmen meet,
Get rich, and retire to some rural retreat:
Ere happiness comes, comes the season to die;
Quickly. then will thy riches all vanish and fly.
Go, sit with the mighty in purple and gold;
Thy mansions be stately, thy treasures untold;
But soon shalt thou dwell in the damp house of clay,
While thy riches make wings to themselves and away."
II. TO REJOICE IN PERSONAL BEAUTY is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." Nature has endowed some with personal charms which it has denied to others - finely chiselled features, a radiant countenance, commanding brow, symmetrical form, majestic presence. He who is thus blest has many advantages; he commands admiration and exerts an influence upon human hearts. But is this beauty a thing to rejoice in? Those who possess it do rejoice in it; many pride themselves on their good looks and fine figures. But what is beauty? It is "a thing of nought." Why rejoice in that for which we can take no credit? Does the moss rose deserve praise for unfolding more beauty and emitting more fragrance than the nettle? Who can make one hair white or black, or add one cubit to his stature? Why rejoice, too, in that which is so evanescent? Socrates called beauty "a short-lived tyranny;" and Theophrastus, "a silent cheat." One old divine says it is like an almanac - it "lasts for one year, as it were." Men are like the productions of the fields and the meadows. In the summer the variety is striking, some herbs and flowers appear in more stately form and attractive hues than others; but when old winter comes round, who sees the distinctions? Where are the plants of beauty? They are faded and gone. "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof as the flower of the field."
"Beauty is but a vain and doubtful good,
A shining gloss, that fadeth suddenly;
A flower that dies, when first it 'gins to bud;
A brittle glass, that's broken presently:
A doubtful good, a gloss, a glass, a flower,
Lost, faded, broken, dead within an hour.
"And as good lost is seldom or never found,
As fading gloss no rubbing will refresh,
As flowers dead lie withered on the ground,
As broken glass no cement can redress,
So beauty, blemished once, forever's lost,
In spite of physic, painting, pain, and cost."
III. TO REJOICE IN ANCESTRAL DISTINCTION is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." There are those who are constantly exulting in their pedigree. Some who in this country can go back to the days of William the Conqueror, how delighted they are! But who were the men that William brought over with him, and between whom he divided this England of ours? Cobblers, tailors, smiths, plunderers, men of rapine and blood, most of them destitute alike of intellectual culture and morality. But even had we come from the loins of the intellectual and moral peers of the race, what cause in this is there for rejoicing? it is truly "a thing of nought." Our ancestry is independent of us; we are not responsible for it. It is not a matter either of blame or praise. Each man is complete in himself - an accountable unity, a moral cause. A prime minister has a number of earnest servile lackeys - they are printers, jewellers, clothmakers, tailors, and such-like; in the zenith of his power he rewards them by causing them to be titled "sir," "lord," "baron," etc. In this their children rejoice. But is it not "a thing of nought"? What is there in it? Nothing.
"Knighthoods and honours borne
Without desert, are titles but of scorn."
IV. TO REJOICE IN MORAL MERITORIOUSNESS is to "rejoice in a thing of nought." There are many who rejoice in their morality. Like the Pharisee in the temple, they thank God they are not as "other men," They consider they are "rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing," whereas they are "wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked." Moral merit in a sinner is a baseless vision, a phantom of a proud heart. The man exulting in his own self-righteousness acts as foolishly as the man who endeavours to secure himself from the scorching rays of the sun under his own shadow. He seeks to bring his shadow between him and the sun, but cannot. If he runs, the shadow is before or behind him; if he falls down, the shadow falls with him, and leaves him in contact with the burning beam. No; our righteousness is "a thing of nought;" it is "filthy rags."
"Beware of too sublime a sense
Of your own worth and consequence.
The man who deems himself so great,
And his importance of such weight,
That all around, in all that's done,
Must move and act for him alone,
Will learn in school of tribulation
The folly of his expectation."
CONCLUSION. Ah me! how many on all hands are rejoicing in "a thing of nought"! Wealth, beauty, ancestry, self-righteousness, - what are these? Fleeting shadows, dying echoes. They are clouds without water; to the eye they may for a minute or two appear in gorgeous forms, but before a breeze they melt into thin air and are lost. Rejoice in the real, the spiritual, the eternal, the Divine. - D.T.
Parallel VersesKJV: Ye which rejoice in a thing of nought, which say, Have we not taken to us horns by our own strength?