This is not a sneer. If it were a sneer it would not be worth quotation. No mere sneer can live long, or be of any true weight and influence in human judgments and human progress. There are no contemptuous remarks in all literature, so far as we can discover, equal to the contemptuous criticisms that are to be found in Holy Scripture. Go to the Bible for specimens of contempt—go to the Bible for everything. There is only one Book. It has been broken up into many volumes, but there is only one Book of true Wisdom of Solomon, true goodness, true life. How the Bible can torment its adversaries!—mock them, contemn them, dash them in pieces like a potter"s vessel. Yet it is never mere contempt. The contempt of the Bible is the penal side of a profound philosophy. Its contempt is as necessary as its gospel—nay, more, its gospel renders its contempt necessary. Our God is a "consuming fire," "God is love," "the wrath of the Lamb." These are contradictions in words—contradictions which the little critic delights in. Poor soul! he feels as if granted a rare boon when he finds such contradictions as these. With what rude skill he handles them! How he shows them!—lifts them up, sets them down, evokes laughter concerning them. Not knowing that under all there lies a spirit of reconciliation and unity which does not show itself to his impertinent vision.
So when Pharaoh-Necho—mighty man—is called by the contemptuous term of "noise" no mere sneer is employed. This is a righteous judgment, a moral estimate, a correct representation of things as they are in reality, not of things as they appear to be. In all judgments we must have regard to distance, proportion, perspective. A thing is not great simply because it is near. That is a commonplace which the preacher finds it almost impossible to drive into the consciousness of his hearers: they will have it that that which is nearest is biggest. You would say that they would instantly acknowledge the necessity of distance, proportion, and perspective as elements in true and copious judgments; but they do not in reality. Hence they have a base proverb—it seems to be so wise and yet is so foolish—"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." I know not of any vulgarer sophism or more patent lie than that. Yet it is quoted as if Solomon had written it in his most pious moments. Take a map of London. What a huge sheet is required for the display of this infinite labyrinth of thoroughfares and streets. Take a map of England—where is London? There!—a large spot of black ink like the body of a spider in a large network or webwork. That is not the London you showed me just now? Yes, the very same London. How can it be? In reality. But here in this map of England it is only a drop of ink, in the other sheet it was a great city. Take a map of Europe—where is England? You have young eyes, come, find it. That must be it, I think—that rough triangle there. Take your microscope and see if that be so. But that is not the England you showed me just now on a great sheet! That is the very same England. Where is London? Gone! Take a map of the globe—where is Europe? Take a map of the solar system, and where is what the poet calls "the great globe itself"? In that moment he was inspired by size, and he called this earth—that is only eight thousand miles through the very heart of it—from edge to edge about eight thousand miles—"the great globe itself." Ask the nearest star where it Isaiah, and the nearest star never heard of it; and if it were blotted out, the nearest star would not know that a sparkle of light had been taken from the sum-total of things. So we must have regard to distance, proportion, perspective, colour, and relation, before we can settle the bulk, the value, and the influence of any quantity or any life. Pharaoh king of Egypt, with horses, chariots, swords, spears, hosts of men, is a terrific power; but to a man standing in the quiet of the divine sanctuary, "Pharaoh king of Egypt is but a noise"—a waft of wind, a curl of smoke dying whilst it rises. If men would but consider this law of proportion the whole estimate of life would undergo an instantaneous and complete reversion.
The text brings before us the great subject of religious judgments—by religious judgments I mean estimates. We must call religion into the house if we would take a true appraisement of what we possess. Only religion, as interpreted in Holy Scripture, can tell you what you are and what you are worth. They tell me that a man died not long ago worth three millions sterling. Nothing of the kind, it is impossible.
With regard to those religious estimates or judgments, note how fearless they are. They are not judgments about personal manners, social etiquette, little and variable customs; they challenge the whole world. We are moved by their heroism. Religious judgments do not fritter away our time and patience in discussing little questions and petty problems: they summon kings to their bar and call nations to stand back and be judged. The tone itself befits the purpose of the revelation. There is no timidity here. "Why do the heathen rage?"—mark the challenge! "Why do the people imagine a vain thing?"—observe the call to judgment! This is not a discussion of petty questions, small controversies, as to whether this should be done before the clock strikes or immediately after. There is a sound of eternity in the cry. The Book excites one with the noblest expectation, stirs the soul with the noblest emotion, challenges the mind to the loftiest intellectual tasks. The Bible is never afraid. It takes up the isles as a very little thing; the nations before it are as a drop of a bucket; verily, it is the voice of him who sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and before whom the inhabitants thereof are but as grasshoppers. Get into the rhythm of the Bible; commit yourselves to its astronomical sweep and swing of thought and utterance, of gospel and judgment, and then tell me what man invented it. We must have in life the heroic judge; we must have a book somewhere that dare tackle nations. There is a national entity as well as a personal individuality. Blessed is the voice that fills a nation; grand is the gospel that spreads itself over the whole world. We cannot do without the heroic element, the heroic judgment, the broad estimate, the complete arbitrament, that takes within its purview and decision everything concerning individual life and general civilisation. So many of us can judge one another, so many of us are clever upon little points, who know exactly whether we should put a comma or a semicolon there; but the great scheme of things cannot be managed by that petty ingenuity. You must have the great call, the sublime challenge, the heroic appeal, the white throne that stretches itself from horizon to horizon, and before which kings are as little men and little men as kings—the grand astronomical pomp and majesty before which all else settles into its right relation. That you have in the Bible, and nowhere else. There are times when we feel this profoundly; there are occasions when the Bible is the only book that can fill up the cavity. For a long time other books may serve us, other voices may be sufficient; we may say to our most ardent preachers, "You need not speak so loudly: we can hear you"—as if the mere hearing were enough because hearing is degraded into a mechanical exercise. But there are other times when you want the trumpet and the thunder and all the host of heaven; there are times when truth must be crowned with adequate pomp and righteousness proclaimed with proportionate circumstance. In those hours the Bible takes the foremost place, and all competitors shrink behind it, saying, "Thou alone art worthy."
The judgments of the Bible are rational as well as fearless. Under all contempt there is a rock of logic. Why does the Bible contemn things? Because of their proportion. It knows the exact proportion which everything bears to the sum-total of things and to the sovereign purpose of the divine government. The Bible stands at the centre and is not deceived by nearness or by distance. It knows precisely the relation of every living thing to the Life out of which it first sprang; therefore its judgments are rational. They are not the less rational that they sometimes appear to be excited and tempestuous. Excitement and tempest are words we do not understand in cold blood. Ice cannot understand Fire. It is only now and then in our highest moments of perception, when the mind becomes like a pointed spear that can force its way into the centre of things, that we really touch the sublimity and the poetry of those great hurricanes of judgment which seem to tear the firmament in twain and to deluge and drown the little earth. We are not always on the same height: we must allow for level; we must not drag things Biblical down to our coldness, but endeavour to excite ourselves, by religious ministries and exercises, to the temperature of things divine. Then the judgments of the Bible are rational because the matter or element of duration is continually present to the minds of the inspired writers. That which seems to be very large today will tomorrow be cut down and cast into the oven. There is a sad temptation to forget this element of durableness. What staying power is there in a man? That is the question we ought to ask. We have seen some men almost beyond competition in walking the first mile. They give quite a wrong impression to their fellow-traveller. How brisk they are! "Come on!" say they, with a kind of patronising contempt of your lame, crippled style of walking. I will watch the lame man; I will keep my eye upon the man who does not make much fuss during the first mile. He is a terrible competitor; I know him well. He seems, at first, as if he would be soon obliged to go home. Not he! The first mile is about done—and so is the brisk walker! The lame man says, "Well, shall we go farther? I think we might try another;" and at the end of seven miles he is stronger than when he began. He is a fearful competitor! So with regard to all things: what about their staying power? What about their durableness? What have they behind? Do they bank in eternity? or do they move upon the spasm of a momentary excitement? Blessed the soul to heavenliness of joy that can say to God, "All my springs are in thee," The Bible makes small work of our heavens and our earth. We are quite oppressed by them because we do not stand at the right centre. We call them very great and glorious; whereas the inspired fisherman says, "All these things shall be dissolved." That never entered into any fisherman"s head of his own wit, or dream, or nightmare; that is not a fisherman"s idea—to look at the bright sun and the countless stars and the green earth, and say, "All these things shall be dissolved." The fishermen of that day have left no successors if they invented that stupendous dream. There are some thoughts to which we cannot lay any credit of our own. We speak them, and it requires Christ to tell us where they came from. They flash from our minds; but Christ said, "Flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." So the Biblical writers are not so impressed, after all, with our palaces, and castles, and royalties, and pomps, and armies, and Caesars, and Pharaohs. The inspired writer has been locked up with God, and turning away from that glory all other things become as the baseless fabric of a vision. If we could see God we should be filled with contempt regarding all things, in so far as they affected to hinder us by their greatness or overpower us by their solidity.
Then the judgments of the Bible are fearless, rational, and they are also critical. They are very dainty in their expression: they take the right word with an inspired ingenuity. "Pharaoh king of Egypt is but a noise." You cannot amend that comment. Try to amend anything Jesus Christ ever said. There are the parables, there are the reported discourses—words picked up from his own lips, never written by his own fingers—amend them! As well amend a dewdrop; as well paint the lily. And the nations, according to the Biblical estimate, are but "a wind" that cometh for a little time and then passeth away; and our life is but "a vapour," dying in its very living. You are skilled in the use of words—amend these expressions, put shorter words in their places. A shorter word than "noise"? Or wind? or smoke? You cannot reply. These are the condensations of Omniscience; these are the sharpened points whetted in eternity; these stand incapable of amendment.
But "fearless," "rational," "critical"—is there no word that comes nearer to my own necessity? Yes, there is a word that touches us all today: these religious judgments are inspiring. Man wants inspiration every day. The Bible was not inspired once for all, in the sense of having its whole meaning shown in one disclosure. Inspiration comes with every dawn, distils in every dew-shower, breathes in every breeze; it is the daily gilt of God. How are these judgments inspiring? Because they enable a man who is right in his spirit and purpose to say, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" "It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth?" "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God"s elect?" Then the positive declaration of safety and security, on the part of God"s people, is made the more positive by the statements which are uttered against the wicked: "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree." I went away and said, "What a great power he Isaiah," and all our little missionaries, and preachers, and Sunday-school teachers, they must go down before that man—great power, "spreading himself like a green bay tree." What can our little Bible women and Bible readers do in the presence of so huge an antagonism? "Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him,"—I had spade and mattock, and I sought him,—"but he could not be found." "The triumphing of the wicked is short, and the day of the hypocrite but for a moment.... He shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found: yea, he shall be chased away as a vision of the night." "The arms of the wicked shall be broken." Kind Book! condescending Book! It puts the case positively and negatively in relation to the righteous, in relation to the wicked; and its combined testimony amounts to this: they that fear the Lord need have no other fear. "Commit thy way to the Lord." Would we could do that. It would be well with us if we could simply say, "Lord, the case is thine; I want to be right and to do right, and I am opposed by this mighty king, with all his horses, and armies, and helmets, and spears; and I know not what to do." He would say, from his great heaven, "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him"; "Pharaoh king of Egypt is but a noise."
Almighty God, Father of our spirits, thou knowest what we need. We need not plead with thee, because thy love doth anticipate all our want, yet it hath pleased our Father to bid us pray, as if he knew nothing, us if he would hear the tale of want and pain and sorrow from our own lips. Our life is one long need; today cannot stand for tomorrow; we cry unto thee hour by hour, yea, moment by moment, for there is no cessation to our want: but the river of God is full of water; the summer sun does not dry up that infinite stream. Thou givest, and behold thou hast as much as before; if thou wert to withhold it would not tend to thine enrichment Look upon us, then, and read our life, see our want, consider our estate, and out of the fulness of thy love send us answers of peace. We dare say all this because we say it at the Cross. Otherwhere we have no right, otherwhere we are dumb because we are guilty before God and have no defence; but at the Cross our guilt is answered, Jesus suffered the just for the unjust that he might bring us to God; he made an open way, a radiant road. In obedience to his welcoming love we come to our Father"s throne to seek our Father"s blessing. We rejoice that our life is of consequence to thee; we will not call ourselves by names of degradation when we know that thy love is fastened upon us even to the degree of dying for our redemption: in thy purpose we are great, in thine intent we are kings and priests and princes unto God: may we sometimes realise thy thought concerning us, and rise to all the responsibilities which that thought imposes. Lead us, guide us; wert thou to drive us we should be scourged to death: we pray therefore to be led, to be gently led, to be led by a way that we know not; then the way will not be long, for in thy companionship there is no monotony. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 46". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany