Would God it were even!
This chapter is an awful communication: it threatens the Israelites with every conceivable evil if they departed from serving the Lord their God; it leaves them absolutely without hope unless they turned with all their hearts, and repented them of their disobedience. So the Israelites entered Canaan and took the lands of the heathen into possession, not without much to sober their prides and to make them not high minded, but fear. The severe judgments spoken of ill this chapter declare also another great law of God's providence, that "to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required." It was because the Israelites were God's redeemed people, because He had borne them on eagle's wings and brought them to Himself; because He had made known to them His will, and promised them the possession of a goodly land, flowing with milk and honey; it was for these very reasons that their punishment was to be so severe if they at last abused all the mercies which had been shown to them. For theirs was to be no sudden destruction, to come upon them and sweep them away forever: it was a long and lingering misery, to endure for many generations, like the bush which burned, but was not consumed. We know that Ammon, Amalek, Moab, Assyria, and Babylon have long since utterly perished; the three former, indeed, so long ago, that profane history does not notice them; its beginnings are later than their end. But Israel still exists as a nation, however scattered and degraded; they have gone through for ages a long train of oppressions, visited on them merely because they were Jews. Nay, even yet the end is not; however much their condition is bettered, still, taking them the world through, they have even now much to bear; their hope is still deferred, and as far as their national prospects are concerned, the morning dawns on them with no comfort, the evening descends upon them and brings no rest. This is one remarkable part in their history; and there is another which deserves notice. It is declared in this chapter that amongst the other evils they should suffer for disobedience, they should endure so long a siege from their enemies as to suffer the worst extremities of famine (ver. 56). Now, this has, in fact, befallen them twice over. Of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar we have, indeed, no particulars given; it is only said, in general terms, that after the city had been besieged for eighteen months the famine prevailed in it, and there was no bread for the people of the land, so that the king and all the fighting men endeavoured to escape out of the town as the only resource left them. But of the second siege, by Titus and the Romans, we have the full particulars from Josephus, a Jew, who lived at the time, and had the best authority for the facts which he relates. And he mentions it as a horror unheard of amongst Greeks or barbarians, that a mother, named Mary, the daughter of Eleazar, from the country beyond Jordan, was known to have killed her own child for her food, and to have publicly confessed what she had done. Now, we know that the horrors of war have been felt by many nations; but such an extremity of suffering occurring twice in the course of its history, and under circumstances so similar, as in the two sieges of Jerusalem, there is hardly another nation, so far as I am aware, that has experienced. Indeed, the history of the calamities of the last siege of Jerusalem, as given by Josephus, is well worthy of our attentive consideration: it is a full comment on our Lord's words (Luke 23:28, 30
; Matthew 24:22
). Eleven hundred thousand Jews perished in the course of the siege, by the sword, by pestilence, or by famine. I do not believe that the history of the world contains any record of such a destruction within so short a time, and within the walls of a single city. I said that this dreadful story was well worth our studying; and it is so for this reason. These miseries, greater than any which history mentions, fell upon God's Church, upon His chosen people, with whom He was in covenant, to whom He had revealed His name, while all the rest of the world lay in darkness. To us, each of us, belongs in the strictest sense the warning of the text. For us, each of us, — if we do fail of the grace of God, if Christ has died for us in vain, if, being called by His name, we are not walking in His Spirit, — there is reserved a misery of which, indeed, the words of the text are no more than a feeble picture. There is a state in which they who are condemned to it shall forever say: "In the morning would God it were even," etc. There is a state in which the tender and delicate woman shall hate those whom once she most loved; in which they who lived together hero in friendship wherein God was no party, will have their eyes evil against one another forever. For when selfishness has wrought its perfect work, and the soul is utterly lost, there love is perished forever, and the intercourse between such persons can be only one of mutual reproaches and suspicion and hatred. An eternal restlessness and eternal evil passions mark the everlasting portion of the enemies of God; just as an eternal rest and a never-ending life of love and peace are reserved for those who remain to the end His true children.