Therefore I stretched out My hand against you and reduced your portion. I gave you over to the desire of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd conduct.
Imagery borrowed from nature and human society, to set forth Israel's sin, is at the best feeble and imperfect. If it is possible for God to make some impression on man's guilty conscience, he will do it. What is more abominable among men than adultery? Yet connivance with idolatry is a sin blacker yet. It is adultery, ingratitude, robbery, treason, rolled into one crime!
I. MARK THE ROOTS OF THIS SIN.
1. The first root mentioned is pride. "Thou didst trust in thy beauty." Love of admiration led her astray. The desire to obtain alliance and friendship with neighbouring nations paved the way. Pride is a bewitching sin. It is often the first rift in the lute that spoils the music of the life.
2. Another root was ingratitude. "Thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth." The Hebrew nation forgot its singular origin. If God had not called Abraham out of Chaldea, there would have been no Hebrew nation. Had God not appeared again and again to defend them, they would have perished. They were singularly indebted to God, and they were singularly ungrateful. This comes of a stony heart. Be shocked at the first appearance of ingratitude, whether towards man or towards God.
3. Another root was irresolution - a lack of firnmess and courage. "How weak is thy heart!" Feeble minds often go astray. Indolence is incipient sin. The neglect of sound moral culture in youth is a fount of sin, a fount of misery. To be safe, there must be robustness in every virtue, vigour in every good quality. A weak man becomes vain, and is the dupe of the first temptation.
II. THE BRANCHES OF THIS SIN.
1. A multiplicity of idols. "Thou pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by." The taste of every inhabitant was indulged. They had "lords many and gods many: According to thy cities are thy gods, O Israel!" He who refuses to be ruled by one Supreme Father soon becomes the slave of a thousand tyrants.
2. Sacrilege. "Thou hast also taken thy lair jewels, of my gold and my silver...and madest to thyself images of men." This was a vile desecration of Jehovah's property. "What have we that we have not received?" Every endowment of mind, every organ of body, every item of material substance, belongs to God by right inalienable. They are his by right of creation, by right of sustentation, by right of purchase. They are "redeemed by precious blood." Every coin of silver or of gold has God's image impressed on it. To use any such treasure in the service of idols is basest sacrilege, is wanton felony.
3. Foul murder. "Thou hast slain my children." Idolatry of every sort is cruel in its spirit and desolating in its effects. Religion is the truest philanthropy. In proportion as we love God we love our children, love our fellow men. Idolatry reverses all the machinery of human nature and poisons all its springs of affection. It changes life to death.
4. Utter shamelessness. "Thou hast made thee a high place in every street." Every eminence, yea, every shady grove, they had consecrated to some stupid idol. Not content to have a whorish heart, Israel had a whore's forehead. She did not blush for her sin. Worse, she gloried in her depravities. Stupor of conscience is a foul branch in this upas tree.
III. THE FRUITS OF THIS SIN.
1. Unprofitableness. "Thou givest a reward, and no reward is given unto thee." As a rule, men yield to sin because they think it will bring them some temporary advantage. But idolatry brings no gain. It is imbecile to expect any boon from a senseless idol. It is expenditure with no return; hard ploughing and no reaping.
2. Discontent. "Thou couldst not be satisfied." The more gods they bad, the more they wanted. Idolatry excites desire; it does not appease the craving. Discontent is incipient hell.
3. Famine. "I have diminished thine ordinary food." God tried lesser chastisements before he employed the greater. A good physician will cut off a limb if thereby he can save a life. If the people had had a ray of light in their understanding, they would have discovered that Jehovah alone had the power to bestow good or to inflict evil.
4. Thraldom. "I have delivered thee unto the will of them that hate thee." Here is the culmination of disgrace and sorrow and ruin. To fall into the power of a malicious foe is slavery, which sends its fetters into the soul. Better death than this; for this is perpetual crucifixion. Under this brand of righteous indignation the land of Israel still continues. - D.
I have stretched out My hand over thee, and have diminished thine ordinary food, and delivered thee unto the will of them that hate thee.
To be "delivered unto the will of them that hate us" — this seems given as amongst the most oppressive of calamities — the judgment which God, after having long striven with the unrighteousness of a nation, selects from the stores of His retributive appointments. Suppose one person knew another to be his rancorous enemy, bent on doing him every kind of injury, and causing him every kind of pain; it may be that this enemy had left the kingdom and gone to foreign parts, so that it did not seem likely that he would again cross the path of the object of his bitter dislike. But the individual himself may be called to quit his home, and navigate distant seas; and he himself, falling amongst pirates, may find that, though life is spared, liberty is gone, and that he is to be sold as a slave on reaching the land. Who can tell the anguish of his soul? The endearing recollections of his native shores crowd thickly upon him; and he thinks that not only shall he never again meet the friends of his youth, but that he shall drag out the remainder of his days in subjection to some tyrant whose delight will be to torment. Yet perhaps not so! It is a galling thing that he — a freeborn man — should stand in the slave market, exposed for sale like a mere beast of burden; but it may be that, through this degradation, he shall recover all that he has lost. He therefore waits with trembling eagerness to know who his purchaser shall be. On a sudden his eye rests on his ancient enemy; he cannot be mistaken. He knows that form; it will not allow him to doubt. Oh! that he might hide himself! But in vain! His foe has purchased him; he has paid down the demanded price. Tell me! did the man till this moment feel himself utterly wretched? Now, the case would be much the same with a community or nation as with the individual. If a nation must yield to a foreign power, it would desire that it might not be to a power by which it had always been held in dislike, and with which it had often been at war. The galling thing would be, not merely that we were subdued, but that we were subdued by those to whom we knew ourselves to be objects of inveterate hatred, and who cherished against us deep-rooted antipathy. Now, whilst these may be thoroughly accurate illustrations of our text, they are not those which cause the passage to be surveyed under its most instructive aspects. The text, when separated from its local and temporary application, may justly be considered as describing the state to which the human race was reduced when, by the first rebellion against God, it severed the links which had heretofore associated the Creator and the creature. We all admit that through the apostasy of Adam, Satan acquired a dominion over the globe which he never could have held had our first parents remained firm in their allegiance, He became, in the language of St. Paul, "The God of this world." If it were to be said of the Jews that God "delivered them unto the will of them that hated them," it is easy to be said of man in general that God surrendered him to the hands of the devil. Though never let it be for a moment forgotten that whilst He thus allowed judgment to fall on sin, and caused the disobedient to "eat of the fruit of their own ways," He was providing for the emancipation of our race — arranging that His blessed Son should be "manifested" for the express purpose of "destroying the works of the devil." And you are yet to be told the worst feature in this our natural condition. Not only are we slaves, but they that "hate" us are they that rule over us. There can be nothing darker, if we may judge from the scattered touches of Scripture, than the character of apostate angels. Fallen from the very summit of created glory, their debasement seems to bear proportion with their original eminence; and they move to and fro burning with the fiercest animosity against God, and eager for nothing but to drag down others to share their sufferings and their shame. It may have been that it was hatred to man which first moved Satan to attempt his destruction. That haughty spirit, chafed by his defeat, and furious at his own exile from happiness, could not endure to look on the purities and felicities of Paradise. Man was innocent, and that made him hateful; man was happy, and he was therefore instinctively detested. And if we may speak of man as an object of hatred to Satan whilst he held fast his allegiance, what may we suppose him now — now that, seduced into apostasy, he hath been rescued by the interference of "God manifest in the flesh"? Was the lofty angel to be passed by and this inferior being taken note of? And was it to be the result of Satan's machinations against the inmates of Paradise that a richer than that rich garden was to open to them all its loveliness, and a deeper than the happiness they then enjoyed be placed within reach as their everlasting portion? This surely were sufficient to account for a hatred the most intense and inveterate on the part of the devil toward man! Again, Satan must hate man, so that whosoever is the servant of this chief of fallen angels is accurately in the condition described in our text; and every one of you is that servant, on whom there has not passed the great moral change of conversion. Oh! that we could bring all that imagery which was furnished by the slave market, or the horrors of an invasion, and force those who are yet indifferent to religion to recognise in it a delineation of themselves! He who really feels that the devil is both his master and his enemy is not far from embracing Christ as his Redeemer and his friend. But it in no degree alters the fact of your being ruled by one who hates you that you are blind to your condition, and not even conscious of being ruled at all: it does but make that condition all the worse. Why, suppose that when the inveterate enemy has entered the slave market, and possessed himself of the wretched being who actually quails before his look; — suppose he should speak soothingly to his victim, easing his chains as he leads him away, promising him abundance and enjoyment, and all because he knows a generous friend of the poor captive is waiting on the road, and will be attracted by a cry of disquietude or a shriek of distress; — suppose this, and you suppose precisely the policy of Satan, who, if he can only prevent a man from feeling that uneasiness which would prompt an appeal to the Saviour, is quite content to defer the season for giving swing to all his malice and wreaking all his vengeance. But that season will come. It is little, it is nothing to say that imagination is utterly incompetent to the giving to such season its due measure of horror. We pretend not to lift the veil which shrouds from human gaze the future, with its direful retribution. But we may venture to say that in the brief description of our text is condensed whatever tongue can express, or thought compass, of the wretchedness which must be the portion of the lost. We do not attempt to carry the description further; we have adventured thus far only in hopes that the terrors of the future may scare some of those who, if they were this instant to die, must have these terrors for their own. Why shrink ye from our picture of the man sold to be a slave — a slave to his bitter enemy, who has long sought opportunity of indulging all the vengeance of a fierce and implacable nature? Wherefore are ye moved by this imagined wretchedness? Wherefore is the cheek pale, and wherefore the blood cold, as you fancy that you hear the clanking chain and the stifled cry, and behold the oppressor grinding down the captive? Wherefore is it? Because there is a consciousness which you cannot repress, of being in the power of one who hates you. This is supreme misery in itself, and such a finishing stroke to all others as leaves nothing for imagination to add. It is, indeed, to one who hates you that you are making yourselves slaves in following the course which the God of this world prescribes to the children of disobedience. That the devil hates you witness what he has already done to make mankind wretched. Witness a devastated earth; witness every grave; witness every tear. He was a murderer from the beginning; and to his foul machinations we owe all our woe. Oh! shall it then be that you will so live that, when you come to die, there will remain nothing but that you go down to the prison house of woe, to experience all the terribleness of the saying — a saying from which the most hardened amongst you instinctivley recoils when it is exhibited as brought to pass on earth; — the saying that when God has a vast vengeance to inflict, and a vast retribution to exact, He appoints for the guilty — what: — that they be "delivered unto the evil of them that hate them?"
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