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How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in ms anger.
1. It is our duty to strive with ourselves to be affected with the miseries of God’s people.
2. The chastisements and corrections that God layeth upon His Church are most wonderful.
(1) The Lord will in His own servants declare His anger against sin.
(2) He seeth afflictions the best means to frame them to His obedience.
(3) His ways are beyond the reach of flesh and blood.
3. God spareth not to smite His dearest children when they sin against Him.
(1) That He may declare Himself an adversary to sin in all men without partiality.
(2) That He may reduce His servants from running on headlong to hell with the wicked.
4. The higher God advanceth any, the greater is their punishment in the day of their visitation for their sins.
(1) To whom much is given, of them must much be required.
(2) According to the privileges abused, so is the sin of those that have them greater and more in number.
5. The most beautiful thing in this world is base in respect of the majesty and glory of the Lord.
6. God’s anger against sin moveth Him to destroy the things that He commanded for His own service, when they are abused by men. (J. Udall.)
The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob.
1. It is the hand of God that taketh away the flourishing estate of a kingdom (Daniel 4:29).
2. As God is full of mercy in His long-suffering, so is His anger unappeasable when it breaketh out against the sons of men for their sins (Jeremiah 4:4).
3. God depriveth us of a great blessing when He taketh from us our dwelling places.
4. There is no assurance of worldly possessions and peace, but in the favour of God.
5. God overthroweth the greatest strength that man can erect, even at His pleasure.
6. It is a mark of God’s wrath, to be deprived of strength, courage, or any other necessary gift, when we stand in need of them.
7. It is the sin of the Church that causeth the Lord to spoil the same of any blessing that she hath heretofore enjoyed.
8. These being taken away in God’s anger, teacheth us that it is the good blessing of God to have a kingdom, to have strongholds, munitions, etc., for a defence against their enemies.
9. The more God honoureth us with His blessings, the greater shall be our dishonour if we abuse them, when He entereth “into judgment” with us for the same. (J. Udall.)
He hath cut off in His fierce anger all the horn of Israel.--
1. Strength and honour are in the Lord’s disposition, to be given, continued, or taken away at His pleasure.
2. When God’s favour is towards us, it is our shield against our enemies; but when He meaneth to punish us, He leaveth us unto ourselves.
3. Though God’s justice be severe against sin in all men, yet is it most manifest in His Church, having sinned against Him.
(1) All men’s eyes are most upon God’s Church.
(2) God doth declare Himself more in and for His Church than the world besides. (J. Udall.)
He hath bent His bow like an enemy.
God as an enemy
If God is tormenting His people in fierce anger, it must be because He is their enemy--so the sad-hearted patriot reasons. First, we have the earthly side of the process. The daughter of Zion is covered with a cloud--a metaphor more striking in the brilliant East than in our habitually sombre climate. There it would suggest unwonted gloom--the loss of the customary light of heaven, rare distress, and excessive melancholy. But there is more than gloom. A mere cloud may lift, and discover everything unaltered by the passing shadow. The distress that has fallen on Jerusalem is not thus superficial and transient. She herself has suffered a fatal fall. The Language is now varied; instead of “the daughter of Zion” we have “the beauty of Israel.” The use of the larger title, Israel, is not a little significant. It shows that the elegist is alive to the idea of the fundamental unity of his race, a unity which could not be destroyed by centuries of intertribal warfare. It has been suggested with probability that by the expression “the beauty of Israel” the elegist intended to indicate the temple. This magnificent pile of buildings, crowning one of the hills of Jerusalem, and shining with gold in “barbaric splendour,” was the central object of beauty among all the people who revered the worship it enshrined. Its situation would naturally suggest the language here employed. Still keeping in mind the temple, the poet tells us that God has forgotten His footstool. He seems to be thinking of the mercy seat over the ark, the spot at which God was thought to show Himself propitious to Israel on the great day of atonement, and which was looked upon as the very centre of the Divine presence. No miracle intervenes to punish the heathen for their sacrilege. Yes, surely God must have forgotten His footstool! So it seems to the sorrowful Jew, perplexed at the impunity with which this crime has been committed. But the mischief is not confined to the central shrine. It has extended to remote country regions and simple rustic folk. The shepherd’s hut has shared the fate of the temple of the Lord. All the habitations of Jacob--a phrase which in the original points to country cottages--have been swallowed up. The holiest is not spared on account of its sanctity, neither is the lowliest on account of its obscurity. The calamity extends to all districts, to all things, to all classes. If the shepherd’s cot is contrasted with the temple and the ark because of its simplicity, the fortress may be contrasted with this defenceless hut because of its strength. Yet even the strongholds have been thrown down. More than this, the action of the Jews’ army has been paralysed by the God who had been its strength and support in the glorious olden time. It is as though the right hand of the warrior had been seized from behind and drawn back at the moment when it was raised to strike a blow for deliverance. The consequence is that the flower of the army, “all that were pleasant to the eye,” are slain. Israel herself is swallowed up, while her palaces and fortresses are demolished. The climax of this mystery of Divine destruction is reached when God destroys His own temple. The elegist returns to the dreadful subject as though fascinated by the terror of it. According to the strict translation of the original, God is mid to have violently taken away His tabernacle “as a garden.” At the siege of a city the fruit gardens that encircle it are the first victims of the destroyer’s axe. Lying out beyond the walls they are entirely unprotected, while the impediments they offer to the movements of troops and instruments of war induce the commander to order their early demolition. Thus Titus had the trees cleared from the Mount of Olives, so that one of the first incidents in the Roman siege of Jerusalem must have been the destruction of the Garden of Gethsemane. Now the poet compares the ease with which the great, massive temple--itself a powerful fortress, and enclosed within the city wails--was demolished, with the simple process of scouring the outlying gardens. The deeper thought that God rejects His sanctuary because His people have first rejected Him is not brought forward just now. Yet this solution of the mystery is prepared by a contemplation of the utter failure of the old ritual of atonement. Evidently that is not always effective, for here it has broken down entirely; then can it ever be inherently efficacious? It cannot be enough to trust to a sanctuary and ceremonies which God Himself destroys. The first thing to be noticed in this unhestitating ascription to God of positive enmity is the striking evidence it contains of faith in the Divine power, presence, and activity. The victorious army of the Babylonians filled the field as completely in the old time as that of the Germans in the modern event. Yet the poet simply ignores its existence. He passes it with sublime indifference, his mind filled with the thought of the unseen Power behind. He knows that the action of the true God is supreme in everything that happens, whether the event be favourable or unfavourable to His people. Perhaps it is only owing to the dreary materialism of current thought that we should be less likely to discover an indication of the enmity of God in some huge national calamity. Still, although this idea of the elegist is a fruit of his unshaken faith in the universal sway of God, it startles and shocks us, and we shrink from it almost as though it contained some blasphemous suggestion. Is the elegist only expressing his own feelings? Have we a right to affirm that there can be no objective truth in the awful idea of the enmity of God? In the first place, we have no warrant for asserting that God will never act in direct and intentional opposition to any of His creatures. There is one obvious occasion when He certainly does this. The man who resists the laws of nature finds those laws working against him. The laws of nature are, as Kingsley said, but the ways of God. If they are opposing a man, God is opposing that man. But God does not confine His action to the realm of physical processes. His providence works through the whole course of events in the world’s history. What we see evidently operating in nature we may infer to be equally active in less visible regions. Then, if we believe in a God who rules and works in the world, we cannot suppose that His activity is confined to aiding what is good. It is unreasonable to imagine that He stands aside in passive negligence of evil. And if He concerns Himself to thwart evil, what is this but manifesting Himself as the enemy of the evil-doer? It may be contended, on the other side, that there is a world of difference between antagonistic actions and unfriendly feelings, and that the former by no means imply the latter. Still, for the time being, the opposition is a reality, and a reality which to all intents and purposes is one of enmity, since it resists, frustrates, hurts. Nor is this all. We have no reason to deny that God can have real anger. We must believe that Jesus Christ was as truly revealing the Father when He was moved with indignation as when He was moved with compassion. His mission was a war against all evil, and therefore, though not waged with carnal weapons, a war against evil men. The Jewish authorities were perfectly right in perceiving this fact. They persecuted Him as their enemy; and He was their enemy. This statement is no contradiction to the gracious truth that He desired to save all men, and therefore even these men. If God’s enmity to any soul were eternal, it would conflict with His love. But if He is at the present time actively opposing a man, and if He is doing this in anger, in the wrath of righteousness against sin, it is only quibbling with words to deny that for the time being He is a very real enemy to that man. (W. P. Adeney, M. A.)
The Divine anger
1. Where God is angry, there is nothing to be looked for but destruction and ill success in all things.
2. God punisheth sin in His children in this world as severely as ii they were reprobates.
(1) To declare that He is not partial, but hateth sin in those whom He most of all loveth.
(2) That it may appear what great wrath remaineth for the ungodly (1 Peter 4:17).
3. Though God show all outward signs of enmity against His Church, yet is His love everlasting thereunto.
4. God’s anger is never in vain, but effecteth punishment upon them with whom He is angry.
5. God regardeth not the most precious things that are amongst the sons of men, in respect of declaring His justice against sin. (J. Udall.)
The Lord was as an enemy.
I. This oft repeating of one thing teacheth that it is hard to persuade God’s people rightly to judge of and he afflicted with the afflictions that are upon them.
(1) The ways of God are high beyond the reach of the sons of men.
(2) We axe naturally of a blind and dull disposition, with much ado brought unto any good thing.
2. God hath no need of any people, but all have need of Him.
3. God will increase His plagues upon His children, where sin without repentance is increased.
4. God giveth many causes of sorrow when He punisheth His people.
(1) He giveth a token that He is displeased, which is cause of greatest grief unto His children.
(2) His punishments do usually cross our affections in the things that they are much set upon.
(a) Labour with ourselves that we may be affected with the crosses that are upon us.
(b) Seek to Him alone for succour in the time of our sorrow. (J. Udall.)
He hath violently taken away His tabernacle.
Jehovah is here represented as throwing down His own temple, as treating it as if it were a temporary shelter, as disregarding all its glory, and merely throwing it from Him as men might tear down and east away a shed from an orchard, a garden, or a field. Who can set a measure to the wrath of God? Continually does the Lord assert that He will have nothing to do with mere form or ceremony, with mere locality or consecration; He will only accept living obedience, living faithfulness, living sacrifice. He will have no mercy upon polluted temples and polluted altars; nor will His own Book be spared ii men have used it as an idol: He will destroy and utterly drive away everything that once was sacred if it has been perverted to unholy purposes. Let not men say that they will be safe in God’s temple from God’s wrath, because when law has been violated there is no sanctuary where God will regard man as safe from the visitation of His penal sword. How living and real does all this make the providence of heaven! How near does this bring God to our daily life and conduct! (J. Parker, D. D.)
God destroying His own ordinances
1. It is the Lord alone that giveth safety unto His Church, or layeth His people open to spoilers (Isaiah 5:5-6; Psalms 80:12-13).
2. No place on earth hath any holiness in it, or promise of a continuance, further than it is holily used.
3. God is angry with His own ordinances, and layeth a curse upon them, for the sins of those that abuse them (Psalms 74:5-7; Isaiah 1:13; Isaiah 6:10).
4. The Church of God on earth is not always visible and apparent to the eyes of men (Revelation 12:14).
5. When God will afflict a people, He will spoil them of the means of their peace and comfort (Isaiah 3:1-5).
6. It is a grievous plague of God for a people to be spoiled of their rulers; and to enjoy them is a great blessing.
7. It is the heaviest judgment that God’s Church can have falling upon her in this life, to be deprived of that holy ministry which should build her up in true religion (Psalms 74:9; Micah 2:6). (J. Udall.)
The Lord hath cast off His altar.
1. It is the duty of God’s people to labour their affections, that they may be rightly touched with the loss of the outward exercises of religion.
2. When God is angry with His people, He will take from them the outward signs of His favour.
3. When God’s people grow obstinate in their sins, He spoileth them of all those things wherein they trust.
4. when the Church is spoiled, the commonwealth cannot go free.
5. The wicked could never prevail against the godly, but that God giveth them into their hands.
6. God giveth the wicked (for the sins of His people) occasion to blaspheme His name and to deride His holy ordinances. (J. Udall.)
The Lord hath purposed to destroy the wall . . . of Zion.--
Privileges no protection
1. No privilege can free the impenitent sinners from the plague that God meaneth to bring upon them, though they persuade themselves otherwise (Jeremiah 7:4).
2. The ruins of kingdoms and strong cities come to pass only by the immutable decree of God; and not by fortune, man’s power, or any other thing (Daniel 4:22; 1 Samuel 15:26; 1 Samuel 15:28).
3. The Lord doth both decree his judgments and also determine the measure of them (Daniel 4:29).
4. The dumb and senseless creatures do mourn according to their kind when we are punished in them for our sins (Romans 8:22).
5. The sin of men bringeth strongest things to nothing when God calleth them to an account (Isaiah 13:19-20).
6. God’s hand prevaileth as easily against the strongest and most as the weakest and fewest. (J. Udall.)
Her gates are sunk into the ground.--
1. When God punisheth His people, He will especially destroy those things wherein they put most confidence.
2. When God meaneth thoroughly to afflict a people, He will spoil them of the means of their peace and comfort.
3. When God by punishments showeth His anger against a people, He especially plagueth their princes and rulers,
4. It is a grievous punishment unto the godly to live with or to serve them that are wicked (Psalms 120:4-5).
5. It is a fearful judgment to have the ministry of the Word that heretofore we enjoyed, taken away from us (Psalms 74:9; Mark 6:10-11). (J. Udall.)
The desolations of Zion
I. The present desolate and miserable state of the Hebrew nation. No people, since the creation, are in so anomalous a state as the Jews--without a country or a city, a temple or a service, a priest or a sacrifice, worthy of the name. Enter a Jewish synagogue, and you will see “Ichabod is written on its walls”--“the glory has departed”: it is no longer the “house of God” or “of prayer,” but “a house of merchandise,” if not worse.
II. For such stupendous evils “is there not a cause”? If the heinousness of sin he in proportion to the favours which the sinner has received, or to the light against which it has been committed, no ingratitude seems to be so great as that of the Jewish nation.
III. The only remedy. God, by the prophet Hosea, after charging Israel with complicated guilt, gives a gleam of hope and a ray of mercy. “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself; but in Me is thy help.” This is the burden of my message today, that “with God there is mercy, yea, plenteous redemption”; and that, though others can neither profit nor deliver, He can and shall “redeem Israel from all his sins.”
IV. Answer objections. One says, “This is not the time.” But who, I ask, is God’s time keeper? Times and events are in God’s hands; and it is neither in our power, nor would it be for our good, to know them. Who, then, can say what is not, when he confessedly knows not what is the time? Again I ask, “For what is it not the time?” For reaping?--for triumph? We never led you to expect it was; but, for breaking up the ground it is always opportune. Again, “we shall probably never live to see any fruits of our labours.” This we cannot know for certain; and if we could, it is as selfish and ungenerous, as it is unwise, to use such an argument. We may set up the hoard, or erect the scaffolding, or lay the foundation: another generation may carry up the walls; and a third may put the finishing stroke with shoutings, songs, and triumphs. “After all,” says another, “you will do no real good you may make hypocrites of your converts, and those only of the poorest, but you will not make Christians: the prejudices of the Jew are too deeply rooted to be removed by a tract, or even by the New Testament; your labour will therefore be in vain.” Formidable as this objection is, it is as flimsy as it is false. We make Christians! We make no such pretensions: it is not in us: this is God’s work--His high and exclusive prerogative. Believers “are God’s husbandry, and God’s building.” “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” is a key which will open any lock which unbelief shall place in its way. One class of objectors, of all others the most to be lamented and feared, is that who say, respecting the Jews, “Let them alone: do not meddle with them: they will not attend to your instructions, nor have they any wish to change their religion; besides, what need? one religion is as good as another, if a man does but act up to that he has, and does as well as he can! Bigotry and intolerance will do them more harm than good.” To this specious reasoning I reply, It is criminal indifference, and cruel inhumanity, to let men live and die in sin. True charity will make an effort to save those it loves. We know, from bitter experience, in our own cases, that, if left to themselves, the Israelites will not attend to us but God, who commanded, has promised his blessing on our labours. Sinners must not be left to themselves. (J. W. Niblock, D. D.)
Her prophets also find no vision from the Lord.--
Prophets without a vision
In deploring the losses suffered by the daughter of Zion, the elegist bewails the failure of her prophets to obtain a vision from Jehovah. To understand the situation, we must recollect the normal place of prophecy in the social life of Israel. The great prophets whose names and works have come down to us in Scripture were always rare and exceptional men--voices crying in the wilderness. Possibly they were not more scarce at this time than at other periods. This was not an age like the time of Samuel’s youth, barren of Divine voices. Yet the idea of the elegist is that the prophets who might be still seen at the site of the city were deprived of visions. These must have been the professional prophets, officials who had been trained in music and dancing to appear as choristers on festive occasions, the equivalent of the modern dervishes; but who were also sought after like the seer of Ramah, to whom young Saul resorted for information about his father’s lost asses, as simple soothsayers. Such assistance as these men were expected to give was no longer forthcoming at the request of troubled souls. The low and sordid uses to which everyday prophecy was degraded may incline us to conclude that the cessation of it was no very great calamity, and perhaps to suspect that from first to last the whole business was a mass of superstition affording large opportunities for charlatanry. But it would be rash to adopt this extreme view without a fuller consideration of the subject. The prophets were regarded as the media of communication between heaven and earth. It was because of the low and narrow habits of the people that their gifts were often put to low and narrow uses which savoured rather of superstition than of devotion. The belief that God did not only reveal His will to great persons and on momentous occasions, helped to make Israel a religions nation. That there were humble gifts of prophecy within the reach of the many, and that these gifts were for the helping of men and women in their simplest needs, was one of the articles of the Hebrew faith. When we have succeeded in recovering this Hebrew standpoint, we shall be prepared to recognise that there are worse calamities than bad harvests and seasons of commercial depression; we shall be brought to acknowledge that it is possible to be starved in the midst of plenty, because the greatest abundance of such food as we have lacks the elements requisite for our complete nourishment. As we look across the wide field of history, we must perceive that there have been many dreary periods in which the prophets could find no vision from the Lord. Now what is the explanation of these variations in the distribution of the spirit of prophecy? Why is the fountain of inspiration an intermittent spring, a Bethesda? We cannot trace its failure to any shortness of supply, for this fountain is fed from the infinite ocean of the Divine life. Neither can we attribute caprice to One whose wisdom is infinite, and whose will is constant. It may be right to say that God withholds the vision, withholds it deliberately; but it cannot be correct to assert that this fact is the final explanation of the whole matter. God must be believed to have a reason, a good and sufficient reason, for whatever He does. Can we guess what His reason may be in such a case as this? It may be conjectured that it is necessary for the field to lie fallow for a season in order that it may bring forth a better crop subsequently. Incessant cultivation would exhaust the soil. The eye would be blinded if it had no rest from visions. Until we have obeyed the light that has been given us, it is foolish to complain that we have not more light. Even our present light will wane if it is not followed up in practice. But while such considerations must be attended to, they do not end the controversy, and they scarcely apply at all to the particular illustration of it that is now before us. There is no danger of surfeit in a famine; and it is a famine of the word that we are now confronted with. Moreover, the elegist supplies an explanation that sets all conjectures at rest. The fault was in the prophets themselves. Addressing the daughter of Zion, the poet says: “Thy prophets have seen visions for thee.” The visions were suited to the people to whom they were declared--manufactured, shall we say?--with the express purpose of pleasing them. Such a degradation of sacred functions in gross unfaithfulness deserved punishment; and the most natural and reasonable punishment was the withholding for the future of true visions from men who in the past had forged false ones. There is nothing so blinding as the habit of lying. People who do not speak truth ultimately prevent themselves from perceiving truth, the false tongue leading the eye to see falsely. This is the curse and doom of all insincerity. It is useless to inquire for the views of insincere persons; they can have no distinct views, no certain convictions, because their mental vision is blurred by their long-continued habit of confounding true and false. Then, if for once in their lives such people may really desire to find a truth in order to assure themselves in some great emergency, and therefore seek a vision of the Lord, they will have lost the very faculty of receiving it. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
The elders . . . keep silence.
1. The wisest of God’s servants are at their wit’s end, or fall into despair, if they be deprived of their hope, in the promise of God’s assistance (Psalms 119:92).
2. Bodily exercises do profit to further lamentations in the day of heaviness, but are no part of God’s service in themselves.
3. The extremity of God’s judgments do for the time overwhelm God’s dearest children in the greatest measure of grief that can be in this life (Psalms 6:3; Psalms 22:1).
4. The most dainty ones are made to stoop when God’s hand is heavy upon them for their sins. (J. Udall.)
Mine eyes do fail with tears.
The miseries of the Church taken to heart
1. The true ministers of God do take the miseries of the Church to heart in the greatest measure.
2. Our sorrow, humiliation, earnest prayer, and all other means of extraordinary calling upon God, must increase in us, so long as God’s heavy hand is upon us.
3. Hearty sorrow for spiritual miseries distempereth the whole body.
4. The sorrows of the soul will easily consume the body.
5. A lively member is grieved with the hurt of the body, or any member thereof.
6. The ministers of Christ should have a tender affection to the members of the Church, as a man hath to his daughter.
7. There is no outward thing so much cause of sorrow, as the miseries laid upon our children in our sight. (J. Udall.)
Compassion for sinners
It is the missionary with the fountain of pity that reaches the deepest place in the native’s heart. When Livingstone was found dead on his knees in the heart of Africa, his head was resting over his open Bible, and his finger was pointing to the last words he ever penned in his diary: “Oh, God, when will the open sore of the world be healed?” That was the profound pity which commenced the redemptive work in Africa, and which lives in emancipating influence today. (Hartley Aspen.)
They say to their mothers, Where is corn and wine?--
1. It is the greatest grief that can be, to have them whom we would gladly pleasure, seek that at our hands which we cannot help them unto.
2. When God would have us profit by any work of His, He will let us see the true cause of it.
3. The grief that is seen with the eye is the heaviest unto us of all other things that fall upon our friends.
4. When God meaneth to humble us, He will use most effectual means to bring it to pass. (J. Udall.)
What thing shall I take to witness for thee?--
Ministers must be studious in the Word, to find out everything that may fit the Church’s present condition (Isaiah 50:4; Matthew 13:52).
2. It is the greatest grief that can be, to fall into a trouble that hath not been laid upon others before.
3. That minister loveth us best, that dealeth most plainly with us.
4. The visible state of the Church of God may come to be of a desperate condition, every way vexed more and more. (J. Udall.)
Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee.
The crying fault of the prophets is their reluctance to preach to people of their sins. Their mission distinctly involves the duty of doing so. They should not shun to declare the whole counsel of God. It is not within the province of the ambassador to make selections from among the despatches with which he has been entrusted in order to suit his own convenience. One of the gravest possible omissions is the neglect to give due weight to the tragic fact of sin. All the great prophets have been conspicuous for their fidelity to this painful and sometimes dangerous part of their work. If we would call up a typical picture of a prophet in the discharge of his task, we should present to our minds Elijah confronting Ahab, or John the Baptist before Herod, or Savonarola accusing Lorenzo de Medici, or John Knox preaching at the court of Mary Stuart. He is Isaiah declaring God’s abomination of sacrifices and incense when these are offered by blood-stained hands, or Chrysostom seizing the opportunity that followed the mutilation of the imperial statues at Antioch to preach to the dissolute city on the need of repentance, or Latimer denouncing the sins of London to the citizens assembled at Paul’s Cross. The shallow optimism that disregards the shadows of life is trebly faulty when it appears in the pulpit. It falsifies facts in failing to take account of the stern realities of the evil side of them; it misses the grand opportunity of rousing the consciences of men and women by forcing them to attend to unwelcome truths, and thus encourages the heedlessness with which people rush headlong to ruin; and at the same time it even renders the declaration of the gracious truths of the Gospel, to which it devotes exclusive attention, ineffectual, because redemption is meaningless to those who do not recognise the present slavery and the future doom from which it brings deliverance. (W. F. Adeney, W. A.)
1. False teachers are as grievous a plague as can be laid upon a people. They bring with them inevitable destruction (Matthew 15:14).
2. They that refuse to receive the true ministers, God will give them over to be seduced by false teachers and to believe lies (2 Chronicles 36:15; Proverbs 1:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
3. It is a certain note of a false prophet, to speak such things in the name of the Lord as are untrue, or misalleged to please the carnal desires of the people (Jeremiah 14:13-15).
4. It is not sufficient for a true minister not to flatter; he must also discover the people’s sins unto them (Eze 13:4; 1 Kings 18:18; Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:8; Matthew 14:4).
5. The only way to avoid God’s plagues is gladly to suffer ourselves bitterly to be reproved by God’s ministers.
6. The falsehood that is taught by false prophets, and believed by a seduced people, is the cause of all God’s punishments that light upon them. (J. Udall.)
False spiritual guides lead to ruin
A short time back the papers told of a vessel that had a most unfortunate trip. The captain became blind three days after leaving St. Pierre-Martinique and no one on board was capable of navigating the ship. The mate did his best and after drifting about for twenty-seven days came in sight of Newfoundland, where some fishermen saw her signals of distress and piloted her into port. If a ship with a blind captain is poorly off, what of a nation, a church, a village, where blind men are in charge: some born blind and by nature unqualified: others blind through worldly interests and a false learning! “Blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” (Footsteps of Truth.)
An that pass by clap their hands at thee.
Deriding the distressed
1. God is wont to whip His children for their sins, by the multitude of unbelievers that hate the truth (Isaiah 10:5-6; Jeremiah 25:9; Exodus 1:13-14).
2. It is a property of a wicked heart, to insult over the distressed, whom we should pity and relieve (Psalms 35:15; Psa 79:4; 2 Samuel 16:7-8; Matthew 27:39).
3. The wicked seeing the godly afflicted, take occasion thereby to blaspheme God and His truth (Psalms 74:10; Psalms 74:18; 2 Kings 18:30; 2 Kings 18:35; 2 Kings 19:12).
4. There only is true joy and excellency where God’s truth is rightly preached, and His name called upon (Psalms 50:2; Ezekiel 47:8-9; Ezekiel 47:12). (J. Udall.)
Exultation over the fallen
Men are always ready to remind the fallen of the days of prosperity. It is hard to pass by a man who is thrown down without telling him what he might have been, what he once was, and how foolishly he has acted in forsaking the way in which he found prosperity and delight. We must expect this from all men. It is not in their nature to heal our diseases, to comfort our sorrows, to sympathise with us in the hour of desolation. The Psalmist complained, “Thou makest us a by-word among the heathen, a shaking of the head among the people.” Wonderful things had been spoken of Zion in the better days. In proportion to our exaltation is our down throwing. “Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion,” etc. “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.” “How great is His goodness! and how great is His beauty! “But all this will go for notching where there has been moral apostasy, spiritual disobedience, or spiritual idolatry. Decoration is vanity. All that men can do in the beautifying of their lives is as rottenness if the heart itself be not in a healthy condition. Add to the bitterness of self-remorse the triumphant exultation of enemies who pass by, and say whether any humiliation can be deeper or more intolerable. Where, then, is hope to be found? In heaven. The God whom we have offended must be the God who can forgive us. Do not let us seek to placate our enemies, or turn their triumphing into felicitation: we have no argument with them; not a word ought we to have to say to such mockers; we must acquaint ourselves with God, and make ourselves at peace with heaven, and if a man’s ways please the Lord, the Lord will make that man’s enemies to be at peace with him. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The call to prayer
This is not the first occasion on which the elegist has shown his faith in the efficacy of prayer. But hitherto he has only uttered brief exclamations in the middle of his descriptive passages. Now he gives a solemn call to prayer, and follows this with a deliberate full petition, addressed to God. This new and more elevated turn in the elegy is itself suggestive. The transition from lamentation to prayer is always good for the sufferer. The trouble that drives us to prayer is a blessing, because the state of a praying soul is a blessed state. Like the muezzin on his minaret, the elegist calls to prayer. But his exhortation is addressed to a strange object--to the wall of the daughter of Zion. This wall is to let its tears flow like a river. Browning has an exquisitely beautiful little poem apostrophising an old wall; but this is not done so as to leave out of account the actual form and nature of his subject. Walls can not only be beautiful and even sublime, as Mr. Ruskin has shewn in his Stones of Venice; they may also wreath their severe outlines in a multitude of thrilling associations. This is especially so when, as in the present instance, it is the wall of a city that we are contemplating. Such a wall is eloquent in its wealth of associations, and there is pathos in the thought of its mere age when this is considered in relation to the many men and women and children who have rested beneath its shadow at noon, or sheltered themselves behind its solid masonry amid the terrors of war. The walls that encircle the ancient English city of Chester and keep alive memories of medieval life, the bits of the old London wall that are left standing among the warehouses and offices of the busy mart of modern commerce, even the remote wall of China for quite different reasons, and many another famous wall, suggest to us multitudinous reflections. But the walls of Jerusalem surpass them all in the pathos of the memories that cling to their old grey stones. In personifying the wall of Zion, however, the Hebrew poet does not indulge in reflections such as these, which are more in harmony with the mild melancholy of Gray’s “Elegy” than with the sadder mood of the mourning patriot. He names the wall to give unity and concreteness to his appeal, and to clothe it in an atmosphere of poetic fancy. But his sober thought in the background is directed towards the citizens whom that historic wall once enclosed. Let us look at the appeal in detail. First the elegist encourages a free outflow of grief, that tears should run like a river, literally, like a torrent--the allusion being to one of those steep watercourses which, though dry in summer, become rushing floods in the rainy season. This introduction shews that the call to prayer is not intended in any sense as a rebuke for the natural expression of grief, nor as a denial of its existence. The sufferers cannot say that the poet does not sympathise with them. There may be a deeper reason for this encouragement of the expression of grief as a preliminary to a call to prayer. The helplessness which it so eloquently proclaims is just the condition in which the soul is most ready to cast itself on the mercy of God. The first step towards deliverance will be to melt the glacier. The soul must feel before it can pray. Therefore the tears are encouraged to run like torrents, and the sufferer to give himself no respite, nor let the apple of his eye cease from weeping. Next the poet exhorts the object of his sympathy--this strange personification of the “wall of the daughter of Zion,” under the image of which he is thinking of the Jews--to arise. The weeping is but a preliminary to more promising acts. The sufferer must be roused if he is to be saved from the disease of melancholia. He must be roused also if he would pray. True prayer is a strenuous effort of the soul, requiring the most wakeful attention and taxing the utmost energy of will. Therefore we must gird up our loins to pray just as we would to work, or run, or fight. Now the awakened soul is urged to cry out in the night, and in the beginning of the night watches--that is to say, not only at the commencement of the night, for this would require no rousing, but at the beginning of each of the three watches into which the Hebrews divided the hours of darkness--at sunset, at ten o’clock, and at two in the morning. The sufferer is to keep watch with prayer--observing his vespers, his nocturns, and his matins, not of course to fulfil forms, but because, since his grief is continuous, his prayer also must not cease. Proceeding with our consideration of the details of this call to prayer, we come upon the exhortation to pour out the heart like water before the face of the Lord. The image here used is not without parallel in Scripture (see Psalms 22:14). But the ideas are not just the same in the two cases. While the Psalmist thinks of himself as crushed and shattered, as though his very being were dissolved, the thought of the elegist has more action about it, with a deliberate intention and object in view. His image suggests complete openness before God. Nothing is to be withheld. The sufferer should tell the whole tale of his grief to God, quite freely, without any reserve, trusting absolutely to the Divine sympathy. The attitude of soul that is here recommended is in itself the very essence of prayer. The devotions that consist in a series of definite petitions are of secondary worth, and superficial in comparison with this outpouring of the heart before God. To enter into relations of sympathy and confidence with God is to pray in the truest, deepest way possible, or even conceivable. Even in the extremity of need, perhaps the best thing we can do is to spread out the whole case before God. It will certainly relieve our own minds to do so, and everything will appear changed when viewed in the light of the Divine presence. Perhaps we shall then cease to think ourselves aggrieved and wronged; for what are our deserts before the holiness of God? Passion is allayed in the stillness of the sanctuary, and the indignant protest dies upon our lips as we proceed to lay our case before the eyes of the All-Seeing. We cannot be impatient any longer; He is so patient with us, so fair, so kind, so good. Thus, when we cast our burden upon the Lord, we may be surprised with the discovery that it is not so heavy as we supposed. The secret of failure in prayer is not that we do not ask enough; it is that we do not pour out our hearts before God, the restraint of confidence rising from fear or doubt simply paralysing the energies of prayer. Jesus teaches us to pray not only because He gives us a model prayer, but much more because He is in Himself so true and full and winsome a revelation of God, that as we come to know and follow Him our lost confidence in God is restored. Then the heart that knows its own bitterness, and that shrinks from permitting the stranger even to meddle with its joy--how much more then with its sorrow?--can pour itself out quite freely before God, for the simple reason that He is no longer a stranger, but the one perfectly intimate and absolutely trusted Friend. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Arise, cry out in the night.
Methinks I might become a Jeremiah tonight, and weep as he, for surely the Church at large is in almost as evil a condition. Oh, Zion, how hast thou been veiled in a cloud, and how is thy honour trodden in the dust! Arise, ye sons of Zion, and weep for your mother, yea, weep bitterly, for she hath given herself to other lovers, and forsaken the Lord that bought her. We leave Zion, however, to speak to those who need exhortation more than Zion does; to speak to those who are Zion’s enemies, or followers of Zion, and yet not belonging to her ranks.
1. It is never too soon to pray. You are lying on your bed; the gracious” Splint” “ whispers--“Arise, and pray to God.” Well, there is no reason why you should, delay till the morning light; in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord.” Need we remind, you that “delays are dangerous”? Need we tell you that those are the workings of Satan? For the Holy Ghost, when He strives with man, says, “Today, if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart.”
2. Again, it is not too late to cry to the Lord; for if the sun be set, and the watches of the night have commenced their round, the mercy seat is open. There have been some older than you can be; some as sinful and vile, and heinously wicked, who have provoked God as much, who have shined against him as frequently, and yet they have found pardon.
3. We cannot pray too vehemently, for the text says, “Arise, cry out in the night.” God loves earnest prayers. He loves impetuous prayers--vehement prayers. “Arise, cry out in the night,” and God will hear you, if you cry out with all your souls, and pour out your hearts before Him.
4. We cannot pray too simply. Just hear how the Psalmist has it: “Pour out your hearts before Him.” Not “pour out your fine words,” not “pour out your beautiful periods,” but “pour out your hearts.” Pour out your heart like water. How does water run out? The quickest way it can; that’s all. It never stops much about how it runs. That is the way the Lord loves to have it. Pour out your heart like water; pour it out by confessing all your sins; pour it out by begging the Lord to have mercy upon you for Christ’s sake; pour it out like water. And when it is all poured out, He will come and fill it again with “wines on the lees, well refined.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)
“Pull the night bell.” This is the inscription we often see written on the doorpost of the shop in which medicines are sold. Some of us have had our experiences with night bells when sudden illness has overtaken some member of our households, or when sickness has rapidly grown worse. How have we hurried through the silent streets, when only here and there a light glimmered from some chamber window! How eagerly have we pulled the night bell at our physician’s door, and then, with prescription in hand, have sounded the alarm at the place where the remedy was to be procured. Those of us who have had these lovely midnight walks, and have given the summons for quick relief, know the meaning of that text, “Arise, cry out in the night.” (T. L. Cuyler.)
Behold, O Ford, and consider to whom Thou hast done this.
1. The only way of remedy in our greatest miseries is to call upon God in fervent prayer.
(1) It declareth that we are humbled and our pride broken, in confessing no power to be in ourselves, and seeking help elsewhere.
(2) He is of greatest power, and none else can help us.
(3) He will have all the glory of our deliverance (Psalms 50:15).
2. By this vehement kind of speech we learn that in right prayer to God the frame of our words must be according to our affection.
3. The chief reason to move the Lord to pity us is the remembrance of His covenant of mercy in Christ.
4. God’s wrath overturneth the course of nature in those against whom it is bent.
5. There is sufficient cause and matter in all the infants of God’s people, why God should in His justice destroy them (Psalms 51:5).
6. Cruelty exercised by the hands of the wicked upon children and ministers is a special means to move God to hear us when we pray for them.
7. There is no privilege of peace that can free us from punishment when we sin against the Lord. (J. Udall.)
The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets.
1. When God punisheth a people for sin, He spareth neither age nor sex.
2. It is a sign of God’s anger upon a people, when they want decent burial (Psalms 79:3).
3. The wicked will do most barbarous things, when God bridleth them not.
4. As God is full of mercy in His longsuffering, so is His anger unappeasable when it breaketh out. (J. Udall.)
Thou hast called . . . my terrors round about.
The wicked instruments of punishment
1. God raiseth up the wickedest, and employeth them to punish His own servants when they sin (Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 8:7).
2. None can escape God’s punishments, whom He meaneth to punish (Psalms 139:7).
3. The children of impenitent sinners are often taken away, and prosper not to their comfort. In God’s displeasure all things are accursed unto us (Deuteronomy 28:15). (J. Udall.)
The ministry of terror
At Dunkeld there is a high rock, forming a conspicuous feature in the landscape, It is covered at the top with pine trees, which stand out like spears against the skyline, and only here and there can you see the grey face of the rock itself, showing how steep and dangerous it is. At one time the rock was perfectly bare; and one of the Dukes of Athole, who had a perfect passion for planting trees everywhere, wished to cover it like the other heights around with wood. But it was found impossible to climb up to the crevices and ledges of the huge rock, in order to plant the young trees. One day, Alexander Naismith, the father of the great engineer, paid a visit to the duke’s grounds; and when told about his grace’s wish to adorn the rock with trees, he suggested a plan by which this might be accomplished. In front of the duke’s castle he noticed an old cannon, which had been used for firing salutes on great occasions. He got this cannon removed to a convenient point near the rock; and then putting a large quantity of the seeds of pine and fir trees into a round tin canister, he rammed it into the mouth of the cannon with a charge of gunpowder, and fired it at the top of the rock. The canister, when it struck the rock, broke into bits and scattered the seeds in every direction. A great many of them fell into the nooks and crannies of the rock, where a little moss or soil had gathered; and with the first showers they began to sprout and send up their tiny shoots, which took firm hold of the rock. After years of slow and steadfast growth, for they had exceedingly little soil, they became trees which completely clothed the naked rock and made it one of the most picturesque parts of the landscape. Now, this was a very strange use to make of a cannon, and a very strange way of sowing seed. A cannon is usually employed to cause death and destruction. But on this occasion it was used to do good, to clothe a naked rock with beauty and fertility, to bring life out of death. It made a loud terrifying noise; it broke the rock in splinters, it burst the canister into fragments, but it scattered the seeds of life where they were wanted. Never was gunpowder employed in a more beneficent work! Now, God sometimes sows his seeds of eternal life by means of a cannon; He persuades men by terror. He says, indeed, of Himself, “Fury is not in Me.” It is contrary to His nature; for He is love. And yet He is sometimes obliged to do things that terrify for His people’s good. There are proud, lofty natures, full of conceit and self-sufficiency, that rise above their fellows in their own esteem, and lord it over them, and yet are bare and barren of any spiritual good thing, neither profitable to God nor man. If the seed of eternal life is to be sown at all in such lofty, inaccessible natures, it must be by means of a cannon. They must be persuaded by terror. God must thunder forth to them His warnings and invitations. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Lamentations 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17