And to this people you shall say, Thus said the LORD; Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death.
Even amid all the thick, impending horrors indicated in the previous passage, a clear and immediate way of escape is indicated for the individual. Every one going over promptly and resolutely to the Chaldeans would be at least safe. What might be reserved for him in the future it was not proper to say. Enough for him to know that he had security for the present. He who is made safe may expect further communications of positive blessing in due time. We are not, indeed, to suppose that every one who remained in the city, exposed to sword, famine, and pestilence, would assuredly perish. That can hardly have been the case. But this certainly is meant, that every one so remaining would have to take a tremendous risk. Whereas every one who took the suggestion as to what is here called the way of life, found that the great Preserver of life had thereby entered into a special covenant with him.
I. THE PLACE LEFT FOR INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY. God is dealing with a whole nation. His representative and the representative of this nation's king have just been in conference. His dreadful, necessary decision as to the nation's fate is communicated. But now each individual is impressively informed that God is thinking also of him. The individual must, to some extent, share in the suffering of his people. How far he shall share depends, however, on his own choice. We cannot be dragged into the worst experiences of human life merely as sufferers from the wrong-doing of others. The worst pains, the gloomiest hours of life, can only come from our own wrong-doing. Whatever faithful remnant there might now be in Jerusalem had a great chance given to them. Complete exemption from suffering was not possible; but they were offered a kind of shelter, where the great storm of God's wrath would leave them untouched, however much it might affect their temporal belongings.
II. ALL THAT THE BEST OF MEN MUST EXPECT FOR THE PRESENT IS A MITIGATION OF SUFFERING. Whatever advantages come from our connection with the temporal body politic must be accepted with the risk of corresponding disadvantages. Even while Israel was in this doomed degenerated state it was the medium of benefits to those who could use it aright. No Israelite needed to regret that he had belonged to Israel; if only he had the wisdom to accept all uncomfortable experiences as part of a discipline that would work out unmixed and abiding good in the end. Those here addressed had much reason to Be thankful that at such a terrible crisis God did so much to make their position safe. He who has got safe to land from the sinking ship would be reckoned a monster of ingratitude if he did nothing but grumble because all his property was lost. He may still have the opportunity of a prosperity as great as he had in the past, or even greater.
III. THIS REQUIREMENT GAVE A SEARCHING TRIAL TO THE FAITH OF THE BELIEVING. If any good was to come out of the proposition it must be by acting on it at once. And such action could not but have some appearance of cowardice and desertion. Indeed, under certain circumstances, it would have been cowardice and desertion. If Israel could have been looked on as a human state and nothing more, if the Chaldeans had been a human enemy and nothing more, then such a departure, self-prompted, would have been nothing less than apostasy from national duty. The sentiment is a noble one: better to die a freeman than to live a slave. This aspect of things vanishes, however, when we recollect that Jerusalem was divinely doomed. This Chaldean army was nothing less than the sword of God, and a timely surrender to the Chaldean was really a timely surrender to him. To go over to them might look questionable enough on a mere hasty, superficial glance; but time would show that it was the right, trustful, obedient course. The real bravery is to withstand the taunts and misrepresentations of unbelieving men; enduring "as seeing him who is invisible." Some, indeed, who escaped to the Chaldeans did so, we doubt not, in a really cowardly spirit. But the Lord knows who are his; and their motives would be revealed in the end. A bravo heart cannot be forever misrepresented; and a mere outward appearance of obedience will have to pass through that fire which tries every man's work, of what sort it is. - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: And unto this people thou shalt say, Thus saith the LORD; Behold, I set before you the way of life, and the way of death.