This is an oracle concerning Egypt: Behold, the LORD rides on a swift cloud; He is coming to Egypt. The idols of Egypt will tremble before Him, and the hearts of the Egyptians will melt within them.
B.C. 720, has been made out from Assyrian inscriptions; and, again, the conquest of Egypt by Esarhaddon in B.C. 672, who divided the land into twenty small tributary kingdoms. The chapter may refer to this event, and it may not (see Cheyne's Introduction to the chapter).
I. THE ADVENT OF JEHOVAH. "He rideth upon a swift cloud" (comp. Psalm 18:10, "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly;" comp. Psalm 104:3). To study those magnificent winged figures, which pass generally under the name of griffins, in our museums and works of art, and as they are described by Ezekiel in the land of captivity (1.), may be the best way to realize the significance of this poetry. We must throw ourselves into that mood of mind in which all life and movement in nature is symbolic of the infinite power and majesty of the Divine Being - audibly the wind, visibly the strong gathering cloud upon the horizon. This picture, then, is a hint
(1) of the majesty of Jehovah;
(2) of his ascendency in the world of spirit.
The "not gods" of Egypt shall shake before him. He comes to judge them. The God of Israel is on his way to punish the teeming multitudes of Memphis, Pharaoh, and Egypt, and their gods and kings. The idols are to be destroyed, their images are to cease; and the secular power, which has been supported by a false religion, shall be laid low (comp. Exodus 12:12; Jeremiah 46:25; Ezekiel 30:13). A striking contrast is suggested between the pure sublime religion of Jehovah and the debased worship of the Egyptians, whose reverence for cats, and bulls, and crocodiles, and onions attracted the satire of later times. How could such worshippers do other than tremble, their heart melting within them at the approach of the light that reveals and judges the voluntary darknesses and confusions of the mind? As Calvin remarks, we should behold the same thing exemplified in all revolutions of kingdoms, which proceed solely from the hand of God. If the heart melts and the strength fails in men who are usually brave, and who had formerly displayed great courage, this ought to be ascribed to the judgment of God.
II. THE JUDGMENTS DESCRIBED.
1. Internal dissension. One canton is set against another. There will be the feud of brother with brother, fellow with fellow, city with city, and kingdom with kingdom. Men's hearts are in the hand of God. Whenever we see in a nation social dissension setting in, unity and co-operation no longer possible, it is a sign that a new force is at work, that a new light has come in, that existing customs are being criticized, in short, that "God has awoke to judgment." Such times are times for self-scrutiny, for thoughtful study, for earnest prayer.
2. The sense of the hollowness of existing institutions. Terrible is it when a nation suddenly awakens to find its strongest ideals reduced to empty and mocking delusions; terrible also for the individual. The "heart made empty." Sometimes it is a "science falsely so called;" sometimes a spurious faith, which is suddenly found to be a leaking cistern, and the water of life has fled. Under these conditions there will be a feverish outbreak of old superstition. Men will resort to the "not gods" and to the "spiritualists" - the "mutterers," who pretend to give voices and messages from the other world. So men have done in our time. The history of the heart repeats itself from age to age. If men have not genuine religion, they must have the counterfeit of it; and they will love the lie and cling to the cheat when the possibility of the truth is no longer within reach.
3. Subjection to the tyrant. The land will be shut up into the hand of a hard lord, and a fierce king shall rule over them. And is not tyranny the last sign of Divine displeasure, as viewed from another side it is the last sign of degeneracy and weakness in a nation's manhood? "Hence we see how great is the folly of men who are desirous to have a powerful and wealthy king reigning over them, and how justly they are punished for their ambition, though it cannot be corrected by the experience of every day, which is everywhere to be seen in the world" (Calvin). - J.
The burden of Egypt.
Behold, the Lord rideth upon a swift cloud
(J. Parker, D. D.)
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