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Set thy face against the Ammonites.
Prophecies against foreign nations
At the outset it must be understood that prophecies of this kind form part of Jehovah’s message to Israel. Although they are usually cast in the form of direct address to foreign peoples, this must not lead us to imagine that they were intended for actual publication in the countries to which they refer. A prophet’s real audience always consisted of his own countrymen, whether his discourse was about themselves or about their neighbours. And it is easy to see that it was impossible to declare the purpose of God concerning Israel in words that came home to men’s business and bosoms, without taking account of the state and the destiny of other nations. Just as it would not be possible nowadays to forecast the future of Egypt without alluding to the fate of the Ottoman Empire, so it was not possible then to describe the future of Israel in the concrete manner characteristic of the prophets without indicating the place reserved for those peoples with whom it had close intercourse. Besides this, a large part of the national consciousness of Israel was made up of interests, friendly or the reverse, in neighbouring states. We cannot read the utterances of the prophets with regard to any of these nationalities without seeing that they often appeal to perceptions deeply lodged in the popular mind, which could be utilised to convey the spiritual lessons which the prophets desired to teach. It must not be supposed, however, that such prophecies are in any degree the expression of national vanity or jealousy. What the prophets aim at is to elevate the thoughts of Israel to the sphere of eternal truths of the kingdom of God; and it is only in so far as these can be made to touch the conscience of the nation at this point that they appeal to what we may call its international sentiments. Now, the question we have to ask is, What spiritual purpose for Israel is served by the announcements of the destiny of the outlying heathen populations? Speaking generally, prophecies of this class had a moral value for two reasons. In the first place, they re-echo and confirm the sentence of judgment passed on Israel herself. They do this in two ways: they illustrate the principle on which Jehovah deals with His own people, and His character as the righteous judge of men. Wherever a “sinful kingdom” was found, whether in Israel or elsewhere, that kingdom must be removed from its place among the nations. But again, not only was the principle of the judgment emphasised, but the manner in which it was to be carried out was more clearly exhibited. In all cases the pre-exilic prophets announce that the overthrow of the Hebrew states was to be effected either by the Assyrians or the Babylonians. These great world powers were in succession the instruments fashioned and used by Jehovah for the performance of His great work in the earth. Now it was manifest that if this anticipation was well founded, it involved the overthrow of all the nations in immediate contact with Israel. The people of Israel or Judah were thus taught to look on their fate as involved in a great scheme of Divine providence, overturning all the existing relations which gave them a place among the nations of the world, and preparing for a new development of the purpose of Jehovah in the future. When we turn to that ideal future we find a second and more suggestive aspect of these prophecies against the heathen. All the prophets teach that the destiny of Israel is inseparably bound up with the future of God’s kingdom on earth. What men needed to be taught then, and what we need to remember still, is that each nation holds its position in subordination to the ends of God’s government; that no power or wisdom or refinement will save a state from destruction when it ceases to serve the interests of His kingdom. The foreign peoples that come under the survey of the prophets are as yet strangers to the true God, and are therefore destitute of that which could secure them a place in the reconstruction of political relationships of which Israel is to be the religious centre. And whether any particular nation should survive to participate in the glories of that latter day depends on the view taken of its present condition and its fitness for incorporation in the universal empire of Jehovah soon to be established. We now know that this was not the form in which Jehovah’s purpose of salvation was destined to be realised in the history of the world. Since the coming of Christ the people of Israel has lost its distinctive and central position as the bearer of the hopes and promises of the true religion. In its place we have a spiritual kingdom of men united by faith in Jesus Christ, and in the worship of one Father in spirit and in truth--a kingdom which from its very nature can have no local centre or political organisation. Hence the conversion of the heathen can no longer be conceived as national homage paid to the seat of Jehovah’s sovereignty on Zion; nor is the unfolding of the Divine plan of universal salvation bound up with the extinction of the nationalities which once symbolised the hostility of the world to the kingdom of God. This fact has an important bearing on the question of the fulfilment of the foreign prophecies of the Old Testament. As concrete embodiments of the eternal principles exhibited in the rise and fall of nations, they have an abiding significance for the Church in all ages; but the actual working out of these principles in history could not, in the nature of things, be complete within the limits of the world known to the inhabitants of Judaea. If we are to look for their ideal fulfilment, we shall only find it in the progressive victory of Christianity over all forms of error and superstition, and in the dedication of all the resources of human civilisation--its wealth, its commercial enterprise, its political power--to the advancement of the kingdom of our God and His Christ. (John Skinner, M. A.)
I shall be replenished, now she is laid waste.
Designs of avarice defeated
All their (the Tyrians) care was to get estates and enlarge their trade, and they looked upon Jerusalem not as an enemy, but as a rival. Tyre promised herself that the fall of Jerusalem would be an advantage to her in respect of trade and commerce, that now she shall have Jerusalem’s customers. To be secretly pleased with the death or decay of others, when we are likely to get by it, with their fall when we may thrive upon it, is a sin that does most easily beset us. This comes from a want of that love to our neighbour as to ourselves which the law of God so expressly requires, and from that inordinate love of the world as our happiness which the love of God so expressly forbids. And it is just with God to blast the designs and projects of those who thus contrive to raise themselves upon the ruins of others; and we see they are often disappointed (M. Henry.)
I am against thee, O Tyrus.
On the importance of having God for our friend
That vengeance belongs unto God is emphatically declared in the book of God (Romans 12:19). And exemplary is the vengeance with which the Almighty has from time to time visited, not only those who had either arrayed themselves in hostility against Himself, His Word, or His servants; but those who had, without His sanction, either assailed or oppressed His people Nor individuals merely, but assemblages of men,--nay, cities,--and even nations, have often, in a sudden and calamitous overthrow, borne memorable testimony to the truth of these remarks. My text refers to an occasion of the kind. The Tyrians, so called from their chief city, Tyre, but also known by the name of Phoenicians, were at one time the most commercial, most opulent, and, at the same time, proudest people of the oriental world. Shipbuilding was prosecuted to a vast extent at this celebrated place. The carrying trade, too, of most of the mercantile world was in the hands of the Tyrians; besides which the city was the grand depot for the rarest and richest productions of distant nations. Gold, spices, and precious stones from Ethiopia, and the coast of Arabia;--emeralds, fine linen and embroidery work, coral, agate, and wool of delicate hue as well as texture, from Damascus and other parts of Syria;--chests of cedar for bestowing fragrancy on splendid apparel, and splendid apparel itself in ample quantity, from Mesopotamia and other bordering countries;--wheat, honey, oil, and balm, as well as wrought iron, steel, and aromatic gums, from various quarters of Palestine;--silver, iron, tin, and lead, from Tarshish, a place itself of considerable maritime trade;--brazen vessels, and, alas! slaves, from Ionia;--lambs, with other creatures used as provisions, from Arabia;--and ivory from sundry parts of the east:--all these commodities, useful, ornamental, costly, elegant, and various, brought in abundance into Tyre, were sold in her fairs and markets; whence they were exported, or otherwise dispersed, into different and distant countries, cities, and provinces. The consequence was, that Tyre spread itself till it was nearly twenty miles in circumference; containing, ‘tis probable, nearly one million of souls. Further, such was the luxurious prodigality that sprung from the opulence which flowed in upon Tyre from her vast commerce, that not only were the people very generally clad in costly stuffs, dyed of the richest hues--among the rest the far-famed Tyrian purple--but even the very sails of their ships were “of fine linen, with embroidered work from Egypt.” This minuteness in description has appeared scarcely less than necessary to a proper comprehension of the force of that declaration in the text: “I (God) am against thee, O Tyrus.” Having learned from the detail how commercial, great, and splendid, how strong, opulent, and well-peopled a city Tyre was, we can easily deem how it was that the Tyrians, lifted up with pride, and full of self-confidence, had, in their hearts, set at nought the power of Almighty God, thinking that their mountain stood too strong for even His arm to shake. It was, in effect, we conclude, through such a spirit as this that they vaunted themselves over the Jewish people, and spoke scornfully of Jerusalem; though fully aware, at the same time, that the former were under the special patronage of God, and that the latter was the most favoured seat of His majesty and glory on earth. Such, then, as has been described, was the famous city of Tyre when the prophet Ezekiel was commanded to denounce it as marked out for particular judgment by the Most High. The reason is given in verse
2. Jerusalem had been taken and sacked by Nebuchadnezzar; but this should have been far, very far from ministering to the Tyrians occasion of self-gratulation and triumph. Yet did the latter not confine themselves to the manifestation of a selfish and brutal joy at the misfortunes of their Jewish neighbours--to a mere rejoicing over the circumstance that the trade of Jerusalem would from that time flow in Tyrian channels. There is but too full evidence of the fact that they went further than this--that they became ready purchasers of all the spoil which could be wrung from the unhappy people; and, not content even with thus abetting the cruelty and rapacity of others, bought with avidity the wretched Jews themselves--bought them in great numbers, and either kept or transferred them as slaves. “Therefore, thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I am against thee, O Tyrus.” On the particulars of the denunciation that follows, a very long and awful one, I need not dwell. My design next carries me to view the accomplishment of those predictions of vengeance which Ezekiel was thus commissioned to pour forth against the devoted city. “Passing,” says a celebrated traveller, “by Tyre, from curiosity only, I came to be a mournful witness of the truth of the prophecy that Tyre, the queen of nations (queen of the sea, too, was she styled); that Tyre, the queen of nations, should be a rock to fishers to dry their nets on: two wretched fishermen with miserable nets had just given over their occupations.” “On the north side of Tyre,” says another traveller, Maundrell, “there is an old Turkish ungarrisoned castle; besides which you see nothing here but a mere babel of broken walls, pillars, vaults, etc.; there not being so much as one entire house left. Its present inhabitants are only a few wretches harbouring themselves in the vaults, and subsisting themselves chiefly upon fishing; who seemed to be preserved in this place by Divine Providence, as a visible argument how God has fulfilled His word concerning Tyre.” Has not God then shown Himself indeed “against Tyrus”? Be it our endeavour, next, to inquire into the use which we should ourselves, with God’s help, make of this interesting piece of Bible history.
1. First, then, we may the more clearly discern the force of that scripture that “vengeance belongs to God” alone; to whom it must be left to repay evils or injuries done, derived, or wished against His people. The people of God are to repose their cause in the hands of God. And why are they so to act? Why, when the injuries which they receive are great and unquestionable, may they not themselves endeavour to take an adequate revenge? Because the truly religious temper, which only God can approve, is a temper that can have no affinity with a revengeful disposition. Neither is the retribution that God inflicts at all allied to revenge. It is the righteous chastisement of a lawgiver, whose statutes, holy, just, and good, have been inexcusably transgressed, and His authority set at nought, by those on whom the visitations fall.
2. We are taught from our subject that God will not fail to avenge, as far as shall be proper, His people, of their inveterate and irreclaimable adversaries.
3. We are taught by this scripture the severity of the Divine vengeance, when once the long-suffering of God has reached its limit, as well as the absolute impossibility of anyone’s escaping or avoiding the terrible effects of the aroused anger of the Almighty Jehovah. Long may His patience be tried, ere that holy anger be excited, but when once kindled, how resistless and destructive is its power. Dreadful, truly, is their condition who, being still in their sins, have God “against” them. Alarming would be the danger of that traveller who, unarmed, should discover a lion advancing towards him, in a path out of which he could not turn to escape the terrible beast; with which again, personal contest would be to all appearance hopeless. Yet would some possibility of escape in such a case exist. Aid, unknown to the stranger, might be at hand. To another object, a different kind of prey, the attention of the savage creature might be drawn off. Presence of mind, aiding the happy execution of some sudden thought, might render the jeoparded stranger victorious, or put him in unlocked for safety. Nay, the lion might, unstung by hunger, or with the magnanimity that some have been fond of ascribing to this animal, allow the other, unhurt, quietly to pass him. Such things have indeed happened. But no probabilities exist--no possibility exists, that he against whom God cometh as an avenging adversary, will be able to avoid encountering Him, and perishing in the encounter. None. His purposes change not; their execution nought can hinder. And as for God’s not troubling Himself about the evil that He cannot but see--think what is His own character. First, is He not of an infinite wisdom, purity, and holiness? Then think what He has done for sinful man, when a believer, repentant, and reformed; not because of man’s own merit in being such, but when he is such;--given to him, that is, everlasting life in happiness and glory. Think of these things, and then let common sense answer the question, whether this all-holy and all-beneficent Being will or will not take notice of--will or will not tremendously punish--the unbelieving, impenitent, and unholy? (W. M. Wade.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 25". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany