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The burden of the Word of the Lord
The dark and bright side of God
’s revelation to mankind
The dark side of the Divine Word. Notice two things--
1. In this aspect it is here called a “burden.” The word “burden” is almost invariably used to represent a calamity. Thus we read of the burden of Babylon, the burden of Moab, the burden of Damascus, the burden of Tyre, the burden of Egypt, etc.
2. In this aspect it bears upon wicked men. The doomed peoples are here mentioned. They are in “the land of Hadrach.” Whether Hadrach here means the land of Syria or the common names of the kings of Syria, it scarcely matters; the people of the place of which Damascus was the capital were the doomed ones. Besides these, there are the men of “Hamath,” a country lying to the north of Damascus and joining the districts of Zobah and Rehub. And still more, there are “Tyrus” and “Zidon,” places about which we often read in the Bible, and with whose history most students of the Bible are acquainted. “Ashkelon,” “Gaza,” and “Ekron,” are also mentioned. These were the chief cities of the Philistines, and the capitals of different districts. All these peoples were not only enemies of the chosen tribe, but enemies of the one true and living God. History tells us how, through the bloody conquests of Alexander and his successors, this “burden of the Word of the Lord” fell with all its weight upon these people. Observe--
(1) That the Bible is heavy with black threatenings to the wicked.
(2) That these black thrcatenings will inevitably be fulfilled.
All the threatenings here against the land of Hadrach, Hamath, Tyrus, Zidon, Gaza, Ekron, Ashkelon, and the Philistines were fulfilled.
II. The bright side of the Divine Word. There is a beam of promise here (Zechariah 9:7-8). The following is Dr. Keil’s translation of these verses: “And I shall take away his blood out of his mouth, and his abominations from between his teeth, and he will also remain to our God and will be as a tribe prince in Judah, and Ekron like the Jebusite. I pitch a tent for My house against military power, against those who go to and fro, and no oppressor will pass over them any more, for now have I seen with My eyes.” The promise in these words seems to be twofold--
1. The deprivation of the power of the enemy to injure. The Bible promises to the good man the subjection of all his foes.
2. Divine protection from all their enemies. The Bible promises eternal protection to the good. (Homilist.)
1. Every fulfilled prophecy is a distinct proof of the truth of the Bible--of its having been “given by inspiration of God,” Prophecy is a miracle. We generally apply the word miracle to supernatural manifestations of power; but it is equally applicable to supernatural manifestations of knowledge. Knowledge of futurity belongs only to God. Jehovah frequently appeals to such foreknowledge of the future as one of His distinctive attributes. The accomplishment of Divine predictions stands out, incontestably, in the records of ancient history.
2. The true value of the evidences of revelation arises from the value of what is revealed. Were it of trivial importance, that would be itself a strong presumptive proof--almost, indeed, a conclusive one--that what professed to be a revelation had no real title to be so regarded. That which revelation does make known has in it to us a value beyond the powers of man or angel to estimate. It “shows unto us the way of salvation.” This is its great discovery. It is no mere republication of the lessons of nature. It is not a mere volume of precepts. It does confirm all that nature teaches. It does set before us a perfect code of morals. But it does more: it addresses us not as creatures merely, but as sinners. It makes provision for us in this capacity--for our deliverance from the guilt, condemnation, and punishment of sin, and our restoration to the favour, the image, the enjoyment of God; and that for the eternity of our being. It is this that stamps every proof of the divinity of the Bible with such importance,--every species of evidence, and every variety of each species. The investigation of the evidence is what every man in his sane mind should feel to be the most momentous inquiry in which he can possibly be engaged.
3. The past fulfilment of prophecy should establish our “faith in God” regarding all that is yet future; and especially our “faith in God” as still in all His providential administration, having His eye upon the Church. His entire, extensive, and complicated administration is ever working out the development of the plan of salvation.
4. The enemies of God and of His people have cause to tremble. He will not leave either Himself or His people unavenged. He that “toucheth them toucheth the apple of His eye.” It may at times be difficult to see on which side lies His favour; in seasons when “the ungodly prosper in the world,” while “waters of a full cup are wrung out” to the faithful. In such seasons, love seems to be hidden, and even as inverting the order of its manifestations, and tempting the Christian to say--“How doth God know? And is there knowledge in the Most High?” But when the whole comes to be set by God, and seen by men in the light of the final judgment, all will be clear. The distinction, then, between His people and His enemies, will be fully, finally, and irreversibly marked; an everlasting separation made, and the “great gulf, fixed between them.” (Ralph Wardlaw, D. D.)
1. The condition of all men is laid open to the eye of God, and He will appoint judgment or mercy according to that condition (Zechariah 9:1).
2. Worldly wisdom is at last greatly inferior to that wisdom, the beginning of which is the fear of the Lord (Zechariah 9:2).
3. However secure nations or men may think themselves in sin, their sin will be sure to find them out. Never has sin more proudly entrenched herself than in godless, but magnificent Tyre. Never has every element of earthly prosperity seemed more completely under control than in her case. And yet they were all swept like chaff before the whirlwind of the wrath of God, when the time for the fulfilment of His threatenings had come. Hence though nations now trample on law and right, and seem long to flourish in their sin, let not the child of God be impatient. Let him remember that two hundred years passed away after the utterance of these threatenings against Tyre, and she seemed stronger than over, and yet when the day of doom had dawned, the galleys that left her on their stated voyages the peerless queen of the seas, when they returned found her but a bare and blackened rock, a lonely monument of the truth, that our God is a consuming fire. If then, God thus executes His threats, even on a mighty commonwealth, in spite of His delay, let not the fact that judgment against an evil work is not executed speedily cause the hearts of the sons of men to be fully set in them to do evil. Let men remember that it is a falsehood to violate a threatening as much as to violate a promise, and that God will not make Himself a liar to save man in his sins (Zechariah 9:3-7).
4. Amidst all the tumults of nations, the true people of God are safe, being guarded by the arm of Almightiness (Zechariah 9:8). (T. V. Moore, D. D.)
Thy King cometh unto thee; He is just and having salvation
This prophecy was generally recognised by the Jews as referring to the Messiah.
First of all, prophecy spoke only of Messiah’s glory. It was not until the era of the Captivity that we find Christ spoken of as the Man afflicted and stricken, the Hind pursued by the buffaloes and dogs, the King lowly, and riding upon an ass. When the prophet declared that Messiah should come riding upon an ass, it was taken as an indication that He should be a prophet-King. In the Talmud it is said for this reason that to dream of an ass is to dream of the coming of salvation. To the Gentiles this, like other features of our Lord’s work, was a constant subject of mockery. The Persian King, Sapor, promised the rabbis that when their Messiah came who should ride upon an ass, he would send Him a horse. It was a common scoff among the Mohammedans that whereas Mohammed was “the rider upon a camel,” Christ was “that rider upon an ass.” Christ only entered Jerusalem riding on an ass, to bring before us a necessary illustration of His character and office.
1. Though He was King of kings, yet He is the Lowly One. The Hebrew word expresses the condition of a man who has been brought low by affliction and sorrow, possessing in himself the fruit of this sorrow in lowliness and submission of mind. In this sense the word is used of Moses, the “meekest of men.” Messiah is “stricken and afflicted.” Our Lord applies this character to Himself, “I am meek and lowly in heart.” And this trait must especially distinguish all who follow Him into His kingdom.
2. Lowliness not only expressed the character of the King, but the character also of the kingship. The victory of Messiah is to be over the very things which are esteemed mighty in the world. As in nature, the brute force of the beast is conquered by the skill of man, and the forces of matter overcome by the power of mind, so in the kingdom of Christ all powers of body and mind are subdued to the power of the Spirit which is made perfect in human weakness. All through the history of Israel, God’s hand had thus been made manifest in the casting down of strongholds. When, therefore, Jerusalem rejected the Messiah, she became like the fallen powers which were before her, a power of this world, aiming at success by the world’s methods, looking forward to the world’s splendour, and receiving the world’s downfall for her reward. She knew not the day of her visitation. Let us not indulge only in pity for the fallen city which opposed itself so madly to the kingdom of Christ. The world--even the Christian world--is very far from this subjection to the kingdom of Christ. When we see how faintly Christian principles as yet influence the policies of nations, our impatient spirit is filled with dismay. We are ready to believe that Christianity has gained extension at the cost of intension, that men have been made Christians at the cost of Christianity, and that it had been better if the conversion of Europe had been slower rather than speedier. If it be so, what remedy is there so effective and so apposite as the intension of Christian claims upon ourselves, individually and now, the realisation now of the severe claim which Christianity makes upon the will and the life of each of us? A country is conquered by the capitulation of one castle after another; even so Christ’s kingdom comes by the yielding up of individual hearts. What a glorious triumph we can make for Christ in our hearts today! With hearts bowed down in lowliest sense of sin, emptied of all self-trust, filled with the sense of God’s love and pass on for the world, we shall be ready then to receive the lowly King, and to be made partakers of the kingly spirit. (H. H. Gower.)
The ideal monarch of the world
I. Here is a monarch, the advent of whom is a matter for rapturous joy. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem.” Christ’s advent to the world was announced by the gladsome music of angelic choirs. “Glory to God in the highest,” etc. Why rejoice at His advent? Because He will--
1. Promote all the rights of mankind.
2. Remove all the calamities of mankind.
II. Here is a monarch the dignity of whom is unapproached. “Thy King cometh unto thee.” “Thy King.” Thou hast never yet had a true king, and there is no other true king for thee: this is “thy” King.
1. The King who alone has the absolute right to rule thee. Thou art His, His property. All thy force, vitality, faculty, belong to Him.
2. The King who alone can remove thy evils and promote thy rights.
III. Here is a monarch the character of whom is unexceptionably good.
1. He is righteous. “He is just.” The little word “just” comprehends all virtues. He who is just to himself, just to his Maker, just to the universe, is the perfection of excellence, is all that Heaven requires.
2. He is humble. “Lowly, and riding upon an ass.” Where there is not genuine humility there is no true greatness; it is essential to true majesty. Pride is the offspring of littleness, it is the contemptible production of a contemptible mind.
IV. Here is a monarch the mission of whom is transcendently beneficent.
1. It is remedial. “Having salvation.” Salvation! What a comprehensive word, deliverance from all evil, restoration to all good. Any one can destroy; God alone can restore.
2. It is specific. “And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim,” etc. He will put an end to the “chariot,” the “horse,” the “battle bow,” of war, and “speak peace” to the nations. Peace! This is what the nations have always wanted. War has been and still is the great curse of the nations.
V. Here is a monarch the reign of whom is to be universal. The language here employed was universally understood by the Jews as embracing the whole world. He claims universal dominion, He deserves it, and will one day have it. Learn--
1. The infinite goodness of God in offering the world such a King.
2. The amazing folly and wickedness of man in not accepting this Divine offer. (Homilist.)
The personal and official character of Messiah
I. Royal dignity. “Thy king cometh unto thee.” The designation is emphatic. “Thy king,” as if they had never had another. That royalty was to pertain to the coming Messiah might be shown from many predictions. He was to “sit” on the throne of David forever. His being a king was anything but an objection to the Jews. But the kind of royalty was not at all to their minds. His kingdom was not to be “of this world.” Its throne was not to be in this world. He was born of royal lineage--born a King; though, strictly speaking, His mediatorial reign did not commence till, having finished His work on earth, the Father said to Him, “Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thy foes Thy footstool.”
II. The righteousness of his character and administration. “He is just.” The designation is to be understood as at once personal and official: for, indeed, were there not the former, there could be little reason to count upon the latter. This attribute is frequently ascribed to Him, as characterising Himself and His government. Jehovah calls Him “My righteous servant.” His throne is founded in the very charter of righteous ness. And His whole administration is conducted on the principles of the purest and most unbending righteousness.
III. His saving grace and power. “Having salvation.” Salvation was the very object of His coming. “The Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.” The very design of His atonement was to render salvation consistent with the claims of righteousness: so that Jehovah might be “a just God and a Saviour.” When He had completed His work, He was to “have salvation,” not only as being Himself delivered from death, but as possessing for bestowal on mankind all the blessings of “salvation”--beginning in pardon and ending in” life eternal.”
IV. The humility and meekness of His character. “Lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” This attribute of character distinguished His entire course; all His intercourse with men--with His friends, and with His enemies. Even His triumphs were lowly--“riding upon an ass”; and not one that had been trained for the use of royalty, but, as would appear, a rough unbroken colt. Although the ass was not the very mean and despised animal there that it is with us, yet comparatively it was so. The horse was the animal used in war; and consequently, in the triumphal processions of kings and conquerors; and on such occasions, arrayed in costly and elegant caparisons.
V. The mode and means of the extension of the kingdom correspond with its spiritual nature. “I will cut off,” etc. This, at the coming of the Messiah, was literally true respecting the civil and military power of the Jewish people. At the very time when they were looking for a Messiah who was to break the yoke from off their neck, establish their temporal freedom and power, and lead them on to universal conquest, their power was finally overthrown and destroyed, their temple and city laid in ashes, and them selves scattered abroad among all nations. Yet the kingdom of the Messiah grew and prospered. This itself showed its true nature. It was not, as the Jews anticipated, to be a Jewish kingdom. It was to have subjects among all peoples. And these subjects were not to be gained for Him with the sword of steel, but by the “Sword of the Spirit,” which is the Word of God. His kingdom consisted of all, wherever His truth spread, whom that truth made free--spiritually free. All thus made free come under willing and happy subjection to His gracious sceptre. Force never made one subject of the King of Zion.
VI. Another characteristic of His reign--“peace.” “And He shall speak peace to the heathen.” This is a feature of His reign frequently celebrated. By His gospel He speaks peace to sinners of mankind. There is no exception.
VII. The extent of His reign. The language employed here was universally understood by the Jews as embracing the whole world. In due time, “the kingdom, of this world shall become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ.” (Ralph Wardlaw, D. D.)
The Saviour King
To us who read this prophecy in the light of its fulfilment in the advent and work and glory of Christ, all is plain and clear. Not so much by our Lord’s particular act in riding into Jerusalem on the occasion, and in the manner described by the evangelists, as by that which, by this act, was symbolised and indicated, namely, His advent to empire, His coming to get for Himself a kingdom, His appearing as the Saviour and King of His Church, and His gathering to Himself a people from among the nations, has this prediction been fulfilled. He came in poverty and humiliation to lay the foundation of His kingdom in obedience and sacrifice. It was from the field of sorrow and of suffering that He ascended to the throne. The crown came after the Cross; the humiliation preceded the glory. All things have been put under His feet, all power and authority have been given Him in heaven and on earth, in the universe He reigns supreme: But it is because He was “obedient unto death” that He has been thus “highly exalted.” His kingdom rests on His propitiatory work; and it is in view of this, though then perhaps but dimly seen, that the prophet here calls upon Zion to behold and hail her King. And now that He hath ascended to the throne of His glory, the “glad tidings of the kingdom” are to be proclaimed to all nations and men of every tongue and clime are to be invited to behold their King, and submit to His righteous and benignant sway. (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)
The lowly King Messiah
The theocracy, or Church, is called to rejoice because of the coming of her King. The kingly office of the Messiah, which was conferred upon Him for the accomplishment of the work of redemption, is often alluded to as ground for rejoicing. Here is given the character of the King, and the extent of His kingdom.
1. He is “just.” The righteousness referred to is not His priestly, but His kingly righteousness, that rigorous justice of His reign in virtue of which no good should be unrewarded, and no evil unpunished. In the unequal allotments of the present, when the good so often suffer, and the bad so often escape, it is surely ground for rejoicing that the King, under whose rule this dispensation is placed, is just, and will render to every man according to his work.
2. He is “endowed with salvation.” The word employed is a difficult one. It is usually taken in a secondary sense, as expressing not simply the reception of a salvation, but its possession as a gift that was capable of being bestowed upon others. The meaning then would be, that God was with Him, in spite of all His lowliness, sustaining Him in the mighty work Be had undertaken, and that this protection was bestowed upon Him not as an individual, but as a King, a representative of His people, so that He would not only enjoy it Himself, but possess the power of bestowing it upon others. Hence, while His inflexible justice might make us tremble in our sin, the fact that He was also endowed with a free salvation, and a salvation which He could bestow as a kingly right, would remove these fears, and enable us to rejoice in this coming King.
3. He was to be “lowly.” If the usual sense of the Word be given, the Church would be summoned to rejoice because of the humiliation of her King. And, however incongruous such a ground of rejoicing may seem to be to men generally, the heart that is crushed with penitence or grief will comprehend the reason of this summons. Had this august King been as sorrowless as He was sinless, had He been a robed seraph, or a crowned monarch, the poor and suffering could never have approached Him with confidence, for He could not have sympathised with them in their sorrows. But when He comes to us as One who can be touched with the feeling of our infirmities, we welcome Him with joy, and understand why we are called to rejoice, because He comes to us as the lowly King. Surely a suffering child of God can understand how blessed a thing it is to have a Saviour King who has known Himself what it is to suffer.
4. He was to be externally in poverty, “riding upon an ass, and upon a foal, the son of the asses.” This is a prediction of poverty, for although in earlier times kings rode on asses, after the time of Solomon they were never so used, horses having taken their place. The employment of the horse in war also made the use of the ass an indication of peace as well as of poverty. The exact fulfilment of this prophecy in the entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, was merely a specific illustration of the general prediction, not the entire object of the prediction itself. Its range was much broader than this single event, and, indeed, would have been substantially fulfilled had this event never occurred. The specific fulfilment, however, rivets the prophecy more absolutely to Christ. (T. V. Moore, D. D.)
How comes the King
The Caesars of the world have come upon strong palfreys, prancing, snorting; from their nostrils there has come fire, and their bits have been wet with foam; how comes the King?--“lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” The more King for that! Some men need their own furniture to set them off; some persons would be nothing but for their entourage: the things that are round about them seem to be so admirable that surely they must be admirable them selves:--such the loose but most generous reasoning of some men in some cases. “Lowly”--”I am meek and lowly in heart.” Why this colt, the foal of an ass? To rebuke the horses of heathenism:--“The Lord will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem”: they are signs of pomp, self-sufficiency, conscious dignity, as who should say, we made ourselves, and we are the builders of the great Babylons of the earth. The Lord will not have it so with His Son, with His Church, with His kingdom. Only meekness has an eternal province. It is so always and everywhere, if you would but learn it. It is so at school. The boy who is going to do everything with a wave of his hand will do nothing; the boy who does not care anything about the examination until the night before it comes off and then gathers himself together in tremendous impotence, comes back the next night a sadder but a wiser boy. It is so in business, it is so in the pulpit, it is so along the whole line of human action: pretence means failure. But there must not be mere meekness of manner; the tiger is sometimes asleep. There is a spurious meekness; there are persons that have no voices at all, and when they speak they are supposed to be so gentle and so modest and so unassuming. Not they! It is for want of hoof, not want of will; they would crush you if they could. This meekness is a quality of the soul, this is the very bloom of greatness, this is the finest expression of power. Meekness is not littleness, insignificance, incompetency; meekness is the rest that expresses the highest degree of velocity. “Riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” All the rabbis have allegorised this ass with painful tediousness. They in very deed have tried to read meanings into the words, but they were so obviously incongruous that they never got into the words. Take it as a type of your King’s meekness, take it as an assurance that His kingdom is not of this world. This world hates all meekness. Mammon never listened to a prayer; Mammon hates even read prayers; Mammon has a distaste for theological conception; Mammon never sung a hymn or a psalm; Mammon never bowed his knees in tender, holy adoration. The eyes of Mammon are greed, the hands of Mammon are felons, the desire of Mammon is possession, though it may be purchased with blood. This world, therefore, will not have true meekness, gentleness, pitifulness; the world will have pomp and show and magnificence and royalty,--one day its heart will sicken at the sight of its own idols. These are the lines that have sudden endings. Truth encircles the universe: all lies, however glibly told, suddenly disappear in the pit. Jesus Christ then comes to set up a kingdom that is moral, subjective, spiritual; a kingdom that is clement, redeeming, sympathetic; a kingdom that rests upon unseen but immovable bases. Whatever He touches He elevates. Take the principle, and do not vex the mind or distract the piety with worthless detail: the principle is this, that when Jesus Christ comes into the world He comes as no other king ever came, that He may do a work which no other king ever dreamed. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The coming of the King of Zion
I. Contemplate Messiah in His title, as a King. There are many senses in which we may contemplate Christ as a King.
1. He has all the ancestral honours, titles, and high-born qualifications of a king. He was descended of a stock of heavenly royalty; He was the first-born of every creature.
2. Christ gave out laws and principles of government as a King. His sermon on the Mount is a beautiful unfolding of the principles of spiritual rule, the righteous awards which would characterise His future administration. Christ then is a King. He defines the terms of our obedience; He lays down the maxims of the spiritual realm; He declares what worship He will accept, and in what way alone His presence can be approached.
3. Christ protects, defends, and counsels His subjects as a King. In the primitive condition of society monarchs were for the most part chosen on account of their possessing, in the estimation of their subjects, some special kingly qualities. He who was the first to go forth with their armies, He who would redeem them from the power of the oppressor, He who was valiant in fight, prompt in action, prudent in counsel, apt to rule, He by one consent would be allowed to be advanced to the throne; and in this sense, Christ ever vindicated His claim to be the King, and “Head over all things to His Church.” And He is King over all His spiritual subjects today. For all the purposes of guidance, help, comfort, and protection, He still reigns.
4. And Christ bestows honours, and gifts, and recompenses, as a King. Christ gives as a King--pardons full and free, grace rich and abounding, crowns bright and glorious.
II. Contemplate Messiah in His character--He is just. The word is to be taken in its largest and highest sense, as comprehensive both of the unblemished sanctity of His personal character, and the perfect righteousness which would distinguish His spiritual government. In all His dispensations of grace and goodness, Christ is ever just.
III. Contemplate Messiah in His power--having salvation. He has that which is to procure salvation. His salvation saves from a great danger, it frees from a great condemnation; it was bought at: a great price; it admits to great and glorious prerogatives. Note also the mild and gentle manner of Christ’s spiritual administration. “He is lowly.” (Daniel Moore, M. A.)
The lowly King
I do not intend to expound the whole text at any length, but simply to dwell upon the lowliness of Jesus. Yet this much I may say: Whenever God would have His people especially glad it is always in Himself. If it be written: “Rejoice greatly,” then the reason is, “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee!” Our chief source of rejoicing is the presence of King Jesus in the midst of us. Whether it be His first or His second advent, His very shadow is delight. His footfall is music to our car. That delight springs much from the fact that He is ours. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion . . . Behold, thy King cometh unto thee.” Whatever He may be to others, He is thy King, and to whomsoever He may or may not come, He cometh unto thee. He comes for thy deliverance, thine honour, thy consummated bliss. He keeps thy company; He makes thy house His palace, thy love His solace, thy nature His home. He who is thy King by hereditary right, by His choice of thee, by His redemption of thee, and by thy willing choice of Him, is coming to thee; therefore do thou shout for joy. The verse goes on to show why the Lord our King is such a source of gladness: “He is just, and having salvation.” He blends righteousness and mercy; justice to the ungodly, and favour to His saints. He has worked out the stern problem--how can God be just, and yet save the sinful? He is just in His own personal character, just as having borne the penalty of sin, and just as cleared from the sin which He voluntarily took upon Him. Having endured the terrible ordeal, He is saved, and His people are saved in Him. He is to be saluted with hosannas, which signify, “Save, Lord”; for where He comes He brings victory and consequent salvation with Him. He routs the enemies of His people, breaks for them the serpent’s head, and leads their captivity captive. We admire the justice which marks His reign, and the salvation which attends His sway; and in both respects we cry: “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!” Moreover, it is written of Him that He is lowly, which cannot be said of many kings and princes of the earth; nor would they care to have it said of them. Thy King, O daughter of Jerusalem, loves to have His lowliness published by thee with exceeding joy. His outward state betokens the humility and gentleness of His character. He appears to be what He really is: He conceals nothing from His chosen. In the height of His grandeur He is not like the proud monarchs of earth. The patient ass He prefers to the noble charger; and He is more at home with the common people than with the great. In His grandest pageant, in His capital city, He was still consistent with His meek and lowly character, for He came “riding upon an ass.” He rode through Jerusalem in state; but what lowliness marked the spectacle! It was an extemporised procession, which owed nothing to Garner-king-at-arms, but everything to the spontaneous love of friends. An ass was brought, and its foal, and His disciples sat Him thereon. Instead of courtiers in their robes, He was surrounded by common peasants and fishermen, and children of the streets of Jerusalem: the humblest of men and the youngest of the race shouted His praises. Boughs of trees and garments of friends strewed the road, instead of choice flowers and costly tapestries; it was the pomp of spontaneous love, not the stereotyped pageantry which power exacts of fear. With half an eye everyone can see that this King is of another sort from common princes, and His dignity of another kind from that which tramples on the poor. According to the narrative, as well as the prophecy, there would seem to have been two beasts in the procession. I conceive that our Lord rode on the foal, for it was essential that He should mount a beast which had never been used before. God is not a sharer with men; that which is consecrated to His peculiar service must not have been aforetime devoted to lower uses, Jesus rides a colt whereon never man sat. But why was the mother there? Did not Jesus say of both ass and foal, “Loose them and bring them unto Me”? This appears to me to be a token of His tenderness; He would not needlessly sever the mother from her foal. I like to see a farmer’s kindness when he allows the foal to follow when the mare is ploughing or labouring; and I admire the same thoughtfulness in our Lord. He careth for cattle, yea, even for an ass and her foal. He would not even cause a poor beast a needless pang by taking away its young; and so in that procession the beast of the field took its part joyfully, in token of a better age in which all creatures shall be delivered from bondage, and shall share the blessings of His unsuffering reign. Our Lord herein taught His disciples to cultivate delicacy, not only towards each other, but towards the whole creation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Palm Sunday lessons
Today is this prophecy fulfilled in your ears. For once the Man of Sorrows was honoured on the earth, for once the despised and rejected of men was welcomed as a King, a Deliverer, a Prophet. But what did that procession on the Mount of Olives really mean? It was a procession of sacrifice. As the Paschal Lamb was brought out solemnly on the first day of the week, so now the true Paschal Lamb was brought out to die. He was welcomed by the Jews as the conqueror of the Romans; they did not understand that He was the conqueror of sin and death. They greeted Him as King of Jerusalem, they did not know that He was King of heaven and earth. How soon the feelings of the people changed, how short-lived were their praises. Let us learn our lesson from the palms. Many people are willing to receive Jesus as a King and a Deliverer, who reject Him as the Man of Sorrows. If He were to tell you to sit down on His right hand, to be proud of your religion, to condemn others, to believe yourselves righteous, then you would cry, “Hosannah.” But if He tells you to learn of Him for He is meek, to judge not, to take the lowest seat, that the servant of the Lord must not strive, that you must forgive your enemies, that blessed are they that mourn,--then you cry, “Away with Him, crucify Him.” Learn from this to avoid a form of religion which is only lip service; it is very easy to talk about sacred things, but pious talk, remember, is not religion. We must show forth our faith not only with our lips but in our lives. Jesus is leading us, as He led the people on Palm Sunday, towards Jerusalem, the vision of peace, and none shall enter there but those who follow Him. (H. J. Wilmot Buxton.)
The coming of the King of Zion
The prophet speaks not of one event merely, but of the whole of our Lord’s gracious conduct to His people. The children of Zion are called to be joyful in their King; for He is ever coming to them “just and having salvation,” and by virtue of the blood of the ever-lasting covenant bringing the prisoners out of the pit, and leading them all to a city of rest.
I. The character under which our King is presented to us.
1. He is just. It is not punitive justice that is here intended, but righteousness.
(1) This character is illustrated by His Divinity. He is just, perfectly and unchangeably--perfectly because He is God; unchangeably, because essentially. It is His nature to be just, and therefore He cannot be otherwise. There is a holiness in the creature; but there is a peculiar holiness in God.
(2) This character is illustrated by His incarnation. All that moral perfection which is in God shone forth from Him. His nature was spotless; and even His enemies gave witness to the immaculate purity of His life on which keen-eyed envy itself could fix no charge. The human nature of Christ was spotless, because the Divine nature into which it was impersonated was perfectly holy. No heresy can be more pestilent than the assertion that the holiness of Christ consists in acts and habits, and not in nature. That only which was perfectly uncontaminated could be united in one person with that which is ineffably holy.
(3) By His death. As a sacrifice for sin. In this we see the most illustrious proof of His essential holiness, and His love of justice.
(4) By His work in the heart of men. His kingdom is in the heart. Whatever rule He has over the outward conduct originates there. His work is to restore man, and exhibit him again as created anew in Christ Jesus.
(5) By His conduct towards His Church. “A sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom.” By this sceptre He tries and governs His visible Church. He is Judge in His Church even now, though the judgment which He administers is not without mercy.
2. He has salvation.
(1) He has it meritoriously. To save is an act to which the benevolence of His Godhead disposes Him; and “judgment is His strange work.” But guilty man is not merely an object of benevolence. He is a subject of moral government. What reason of joy there is in this consideration! The salvation which we need, and which all need, is in His hands. He has purchased the right to bestow it. The work is virtually accomplished, and nothing remains for us but to apply to Him, and avail ourselves of that which He has done on our behalf.
(2) Salvation is the subject, of His official administration. Does He give the Word? It is the promise and the rule of salvation. Does He collect a Church, and denominate it His body? His Spirit fills it, to discover the want of salvation, and reveal the means of obtaining it: to inspire desire, to assist our efforts, to realise within us all that the external Word exhibits to faith and hope. Does He perpetuate the ministry of the Gospel? He is with His servants unto the end of the world, to make them the means of conveying this salvation. Does He appoint His Sabbaths for ordinances? In these the Church is made the deposit and source of salvation to the world. The very sacraments are signs and seals of salvation.
II. The spiritual nature of His kingdom. This is strongly indicated by the circumstances connected with His public and royal entry into Jerusalem. This event was intended to call off His disciples and us from the vain notion of a civil monarchy. They thought He was then assuming it; but even then we see Him rejecting it. There is a tendency in man to look even now, as formerly, for something more than a spiritual kingdom; a kingdom of visible power, and glory, and splendour. He entered this to show that He was a King; but He disappointed their expectation in the very circumstances of this event, in order to show that His kingdom was not of this world. He rode upon an ass, to denote that He was a peaceful sovereign. He returned by night to the Mount of Olives, which He certainly would not have done, had He been about to establish a civil reign. Children celebrated His praises, not the men. The true glory of Christ’s kingdom is, that it erects its dominion in the human mind and heart; spreads its light and power over all the faculties, and principles of our nature; ordaining the praise of God out of the mouth; so that everyone who is brought under its influence becomes the instrument of instructing others, and subduing them to the service of the same Saviour.
III. The extent of this spiritual dominion of Christ.
1. His dominion is to extend “from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.”
2. The state of mankind, it is true, is deeply affecting. It is a state of wretchedness and danger. They are “prisoners,” east into a “pit wherein is no water.” Allusion is to the ancient punishment of criminals, who were sometimes thrown into a pit, and left to die of thirst; and sometimes, after enduring the torments of thirst, were brought forth to execution.
3. Then there follows an address to the prisoners. “Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope.” Only a few had returned from Babylon. Zechariah addresses those who were left behind. In how much higher sense than the Jews are we prisoners of hope. Let such prisoners think of the blood of the covenant of deliverance which has been shed. (R. Watson.)
The coming King
“Rejoice, then, O Zion,” city of God, built not of stones, but of souls of men. “Shout, ye daughters of Jerusalem,” once as the stones of the desert, but now a spiritual seed of Abraham. From yon sepulchre thy King cometh, triumphant over death, and sending forth over all the world the message of reconciliation! Redeemed from bondage, we stand within the city of God, the visible Church. But how much has still to be done ere the temple of God be fully built--ere Christ be reflected in His members on earth! How many things have we each to deplore! The distracting effect of worldly business, want of energy, of love, of prayer. Hence little work for Him, and little fruit from that work, and little comfort. Let us dwell on the truth, “Thy King cometh.”
1. In view of the fact commemorated today. His work of redemption was complete and effectual (2 Corinthians 5:14). He took life unto the dominion of death. Even while the disciples mourned, He was carrying on a work of grace (1 Peter 3:19). He died that He might rise again for our justification.
2. He cometh to each soul, bringing help. In times of darkness or depression, when trials seem heavy, or our work arduous, He reminds us that though we see Him not, we are not beyond His care.
3. He cometh to establish His kingdom, to bring perfected salvation to those who wait for Him. (James F. Montgomery, D. D.)
Joy in the King unrealised
I have read in one of George MacDonald’s novels of a born-blind lamplighter. He illuminated the city at night; but had no sense of what he was doing. So has it been with the land of Israel. She has presented the portrait to the gallery; she has heard the plaudits of the spectators; and she has refused to join in them. In all history there is nothing so unique. It is the enemies of this land that have crowned her world-king; it is the Gentiles that have come to His light. The lamplighter has been blind to the beauty of the throne she has illumined. Palestine has lit up the scene; she has listened to the crowd shouting their applause; and she has wondered why. She has been like a deaf mute in a concert room. She has struck by accident the notes of a harp, and by accident they have burst into music. The audience has cheered the performance to the echo; but the performer knows not her triumph (G. Matheson.)
The Prince of peace
This prediction is of the literal kind, and it was literally and most exactly fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. The prophet doth not coldly inform Jerusalem that her King should come to her, and that when He did come she ought to rejoice. Wrapped into future times, he seems to have been present at the glorious scene. Standing upon Mount Olivet, he hears the hosannahs of the disciples, and beholds the procession approach towards the gates of Jerusalem. Religion, then, hath its joys; a prophet calleth us to exult and shout. The reason assigned why Jerusalem was called upon to rejoice, was the approach of her King. The prophets had promised her a king who should overcome her enemies, and triumph gloriously. When the King came, Jerusalem despised His appearance, and soon nailed a spiritual monarch to a cross. Righteousness, salvation, and humility distinguish the person and reign of Messiah. Righteousness leads the way. This is the name whereby He shall be called--“The Lord our righteousness.” Salvation is the next sign and token whereby to know the King of Zion. He was to execute that part of the regal office which consisteth in rescuing a people from their oppressors. And if tidings of salvation are not tidings of joy, what tidings can be such? What is deliverance from a temporal adversary compared with the salvation of the whole world from the oppression of the spiritual enemy, from sin, and sickness, and sorrow, and pain, and death, and hell? This was the salvation which Jesus undertook to effect; and His miracles declared Him equal to the mighty task. Different to other kings the King Messiah was to be in His appearance and demeanour. He is “lowly.” He appeared, in His first advent, in a state of humiliation. The nature of His undertaking required it, and their own law and prophets are clear upon the subject. The types and prophecies are as positive for His humiliation, as they are for His exaltation: nor could any one person accomplish them all, without being equally remarkable for lowliness and meekness, glory and honour. (Bishop Home.)
His dominion shall be from sea even to sea--
The final triumph of Christianity
I. This triumph is assured by the promises of the Bible. They leave no room for doubt.
II. The divine origin and character of Christianity render it certain. Christianity itself is on trial. If it fails to subjugate the world; if it encounters systems of error, false philosophies, hostile forces, effete civilisations, which it is inadequate to transform and vitalise with its Divine life--then it will be demonstrated that it is not of God, and its high claims are false. A partial and temporary success will not suffice. Is must conquer every race and clime and generation and form of evil and opposition in all the world, or be itself defeated and driven from the field.
III. The measure of success which it has already achieved is a guarantee of its complete ultimate triumph. Christianity is not without its witnesses and signal triumphs in human history. There is nothing comparable with it. It has shown itself, on actual trial of 1800 years, to be “the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation.” It has subdued kingdoms and changed the face of the world. Idolatry, superstition, false philosophy, cannot stand before it. It saves “the chief of sinners.” It elevates the most degraded people. Nothing in the heart of man, or in society, can withstand its power. It is moving steadily and rapidly on to final conquests. “Christianity thus stands committed to the achievement of universal dominion. Its Founder puts it forth into history as the universal religion, foreordained to universal prevalence.” (J. M. Sherwood, D. D.)
As it has been positively demonstrated that the Arctic region was once a blooming garden and a fruitful field, those regions may change climate and again be a blooming garden and a fruitful field. Professor Heer, of Zurich, says the remains of flowers have been found in the Arctic, showing it was like Mexico for climate; and it is found that the Arctic was the mother region from which all the flowers descended. Professor Wallace says the remains of all styles of animal life are found in the Arctic, including those animals that can live only in warm climates. Now, that Arctic region which has been demonstrated by flora, and fauna, and geological argument to have been as full of vegetation and life as our Florida, may be turned back to its original bloom and glory, or it will be shut up as a museum of crystals for curiosity seekers to visit. But Arctic and Antarctic in some shape will belong to the Redeemer’s realm.
By the blood of thy covenant i have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water
The delivered prisoners
Enlarge on the Gospel promise in immediate connection with the text.
It calls on the daughter of Zion to rejoice in the coming of the Saviour. It describes His character; the nature of His kingdom; the means by which it shall be spread; and the extent of it. The deliverance of the Jews from captivity was a step towards the coming of Messiah, and the earnest of it. Just as, through the remembrance of His covenant with Israel by blood, God delivered the Jewish Church, so through the “blood of the everlasting covenant” does He deliver His people under the Gospel.
I. The prisoners and their prison house. “Thy prisoners.” This most aptly describes the state of those who are convinced by the Spirit of God of their lost and undone condition, and who are looking only for wrath. The prison house of such is described as “the pit wherein there is no water”; i.e. no comfort, no peace. No way of escape is apparent, and if the prisoner remain in it, he dies. But, though the pit is deep and horrible, yet the prisoner’s voice can be heard, when he calls for deliverance; and his voice is never unheeded. Therefore let all prisoners cry mightily unto Him that is able to save.
II. The way of deliverance. Justice must be satisfied ere the mouth of the pit can be opened. This is implied in the expression--“the blood of the covenant.” Jesus covenanting to shed His blood for their ransom--the Father covenanting to accept this ransom, and to set the prisoners free on account of it. Enlarge on this covenant as a covenant of promise, the greatness, the freeness, the sureness. How is this belief, this trust in the promise, brought about? Faith by hearing, hearing by the Word--the Spirit of God applying. (John D. Lawe, M. A.)
The blood of the covenant
1. The deeper any of the people of God be in trouble, they lie nearer His heart and help: and He would have them look on the comforts of the kingdom of Christ and the covenant, as especially intended for them, therefore doth He apply the general comforts of Christ’s kingdom to the distressed Jews.
2. As the afflictions of the Lord’s people may be very bitter, and so ordered aa they may be trials indeed; so there will be special notice taken of them when their rods become so insupportable that there is no subsisting under them; for He eyes them, when they are prisoners “in a pit, wherein is no water,” as some time they may be.
3. God entering in a covenant with His people, condescends to take in all their outward necessities, and engages to have a care of them in these as well as in things spiritual; and so all their mercies come by covenant; for it is by “the covenant that the prisoners are sent forth.”
4. The mercies of the Church are not only rich and refreshful in themselves, and in their original, that they come through a covenant of love, but in their purchase, that they are bought, and the covenant concerning them made sure by the blood of the Son of God. “By the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners.”
5. The Lord minds His covenant, and through and for Christ makes the promises of it forthcoming for His people’s good, when they have broken it on their part; for, though for their perfidiousness they were scattered, yet the covenant stands to bring them back. (George Hutcheson.)
What Christ has done for, and what He is to His people
Though this passage may refer to many temporal blessings bestowed upon God’s ancient Church; yet its spiritual significance is immediately connected with the kingdom of Messiah.
I. The ruined state of the Church. “Prisoners in a pit wherein is no water.”
1. The degradation of this state.
2. The pollution of this state.
3. The misery of this state.
4. The hopelessness of our state.
II. The means of accomplishing our salvation.
1. God is the Author of redemption.
2. Redemption was effected by the blood of the covenant.
3. By the covenant blood the circumstances of the Church are altered.
III. The present state of God’s redeemed people according to their names. “Prisoners of hope.”
1. Until delivered they are actually prisoners--to sin, Satan, the law; and they are delivered also from the bondage of a corrupt and stubborn will. Under the Gospel dispensation every vessel of mercy is delivered by the Lord Jesus Christ, and is brought into a lively hope of eternal glory by faith of the operation of the Spirit.
2. Then this hope is in Christ.
3. This hope is according to the Word.
4. It is a sure hope of eternal life.
5. It is a present security to the soul.
IV. Christ is a stronghold to all His people.
1. From error and unbelief.
2. From sin and Satan.
3. To God they turn generally.
4. To God in Christ especially. “I will render unto thee double.”
(1) Pardon and righteousness.
(2) Great peace of mind.
(3) Full assurance of understanding.
(4) Joy here, and certainty of glory hereafter.
(5) Salvation of soul and body, from sin, death, and hell. (T. B. Baker.)
Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope
Imprisoned by hope
In Zechariah 9:8 is the assurance that the Divine blessing specially rests on Israel returned to Jerusalem.
On this assurance is based an earnest plea, addressed to the Jews who were still remaining in Babylon, unwilling to break up their associations, and share with their countrymen in restoring the ancient nation. Zechariah pleads with them to return to the Lord’s land. Jehovah has begun to bless us, come back and share with us.” The prophet fixes on one of their excuses, which was a serious self-delusion. He noticed that the hope of returning “some day,” was keeping them from making a present decision, and responding at once to the claims of duty. Family ties, increasing wealth, business relations, were making their return to Jerusalem only a hope--a hope with which they were deceiving themselves. Not one of these men had refused to return. They intended to return, and quite hoped to return. But they procrastinated. They believed in the “unknown morrow,” in what might happen some day. Procrastination includes hope, and in that lies the subtle slavery of it. But it is a hope that imprisons: it keeps a man easy-minded while he is neglecting his duty. This is the infinite sadness of it.
I. As regards the eternal salvation of our souls, we all have hope. Only in very exceptional cases, and those usually of disease, is hope quite lost.
1. None of us are without some knowledge of our spiritual state and condition.
2. None of us are without occasional impressions of the solemnity of our spiritual condition.
3. Even in calmest moments’ none of us are without an anxious desire to secure the settlement of our eternal interests.
4. None of us have settled it, that we mean to be among the lost. None of us expect to perish everlastingly. All have hope.
II. As regards personal salvation, many of us are imprisoned by our hope. The figure of the text is taken from the peril of a country when its enemy is either passing close by it, or marching through it. Conquering Alexander was pushing his way from Phoenicia to Egypt, and Judaea lay right on his route. The people in the villages might imprison themselves by the hope that Alexander would not come their way. And this hope would keep them from seeking the shelter of the stronghold. All wise people, in such a time of peril, would flee from danger to the security of the walled city. We are saved by hope, but it must be well-grounded hope. When the ancient Israelite had accidentally slain a man, it was imprisoning and imperilling for him to hope that the Avenger of Blood had not yet heard of it, and was not yet upon his track. There was not one moment to lose. At once, delayed by no hopes, or possibilities, or excuses, he must be away, flying to the city of refuge that was nearest at hand. Men do die in their sins. We hope that we shall not be among them. But unless that hope rests on some good and sure foundations, we are imprisoning ourselves in our hopes. Look at some of these imprisoning hopes, and see if any of them can reveal ourselves to ourselves, and be a gracious means of arousing us out of false security.
1. An idea very frequently cherished is this--the next world will provide a milder estimate of our sin than is formed in this world. It is strange how we let a notion of that kind cling to us. “Things may be better in the next life. Nobody knows.” It must be an imprisoning hope, for a man’s life, motives, and conduct must surely look better under the earth shadows than when they are pushed out into the full sunlight of God. In the light of God, Job said, “I abhor myself.”
2. Another idea is, that opportunities for repentance, for turning away from sin, and for seeking the Saviour, will one day be sure to come to us, though we may miss them now. We think God’s time of mercy for us has not yet come, and there is nothing for us to do just now but wait for it, as the lame man in the “Bethesda porch” waited for the moving of the water. Only we never think of ourselves as helpless. We are quite sure that when the moving of the water does come, we shall be perfectly able to step down at once and secure our healing. But what a self-delusion that is! If we do not secure the opportunities of salvation that come to us now, on what ground do we hope that we shall seize some opportunity that may come by and by? Does the power of decision grow with the weakening years? Surely it is an imprisoning hope that keeps us from responding to the offers of Divine grace now, for “now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation.”
III. As regards personal salvation, there is really no hope until we have given up hope. This is a fact of actual and repeated experience. There is no hope for us until we have come, in the sincerity of personal conviction and humiliation, to say, “Myself I cannot save, myself I cannot help.” The very first thing, and the all-essential thing is sweeping away those refuges of lies, our false, our imprisoning, hopes. In various ways God breaks down our self-confidences. There is no hope in God until hope in self is abandoned.
IV. When false imprisoning hopes are gone, we may flee at once to the stronghold. Then the soul is fairly roused and set upon seeking safety at once. Then the intensest interest is felt in the message of Gospel salvation. Then, we may run at once into the safe hiding place of God’s salvation, and there find a hope that will not make us ashamed. Be not then hindered by doubts, or imprisoned by hopes; there is a duty to be done now. “Flee to the mountain, lest ye be consumed.” (Robert Tuck, B. A.)
Good news for prisoners of hope
There is a change in the phraseology of the remaining chapters of this book. Not now the Word of the Lord, but the burden of the Word of the Lord. By this term we are prepared for tidings of sorrow and disaster, which are about to fall on the nations addressed. These burdens lay heavily on the soul of the prophet, who was probably already advanced in years when he announced them. When Zechariah wrote this prophecy, the early troubles of the returned remnant in the reconstruction of temple, city, and state were at an end; but they were hemmed in and pressed by Tyre on the north, and by Ashkelon, Gaza, and Ekron on the south. It was for their encouragement, therefore, that he foretold an approaching invasion, before which their strong and hostile neighbours would be swept away. Though Tyre had built herself a stronghold on an apparently impregnable island, and heaped up silver as the dust, and fine gold as the mire of the streets; and though her counsellors were famous for their wisdom--the Lord would dispossess her, smiting her power in the sea, and devouring her palaces with fire. And the devastation which would befall Damascus and Hadrach (a part of Syria), would extend southwards till the worst fears of Gaza, Ashkelon, and Ekron would be realised in their utter destruction. Philistia would be as a young lion deprived of its prey, whilst the chosen city would be defended by unseen angel forces. “I will encamp about Mine house as a garrison, that none pass through or return; and no oppressor shall pass through them any more; for now have I seen with Mine eyes.” All these predictions were literally fulfilled within a few years by the invasion of the third of the great world conquerors, Alexander the Great. Syria, New Tyre, and the old seaboard, including the cities of Philistia, fell under his arms; but both in going and returning, he spared Jerusalem, being much impressed by a dream, in which he was warned not to approach the city, and by a solemn procession of priests and Levites, headed by Jaddua, the high priest. In Eastern lands, liable to long spells of drought, it is customary to hew cisterns out of the solid rock for the storage of water, that provision may be made against the failure of the rains. These abound in Palestine. “They hewed out for themselves cisterns.” It seemed to the prophet as though Israel might be compared to a terrified peasantry, sheltering in some dark, dry, mountain cistern, far up from the valleys, dreading every day lest their hiding place might be discovered, and themselves dragged forth to dye with their blood the green sward.
I. Thus, in every age God’s people have been imprisoned. You may have been caught in the snare of this world’s evil. You have no sympathy with it, yet somehow you have become involved in the snares and toils of malign combinations. You have no desire for them--they chafe and try you--but you cannot get off. It seems as though some evil spirit has lassoed you, not indeed in your soul, but in your home and circumstances. Or perhaps you have been led captive by the devil at his will. There is no doubt about your sonship; in your better moments, God’s Spirit witnesses clearly with yours that you have been born again; and yet, during long and sad periods of experience, you seem the bound slave of the great enemy of souls; swept before strong gusts of passion. Or, perhaps, you have fallen into deep despondency, partly as the result of ill-health, and partly because you have looked off the face of Christ to the winds and waves. The clear-shining of His love is obscured, and at times it is difficult to believe in anything but the pressure of your own dark thoughts.
II. All such are prisoners, but they are prisoners of hope. There is a sure and certain hope of their deliverance. The clouds might more easily succeed in imprisoning the sun than any of these dark conditions permanently hold one of God’s children. They belong to the light and day; and, though they see it not, Hope, as God’s angel, is standing near, only waiting His signal to open the prison door. The prisoner, on whom the sentence of capital punishment has been passed, and who has no strong, wise friends to interfere on his behalf, may well abandon hope as be passes within the massive walls of the fortress: But where justice and truth are on his side, when he has been the victim of craft and guile, if there be friends to espouse his cause, though he be incarcerated, bound with chains on the Devil’s Island, and though the weary years pass over him, yet he is a prisoner of hope, and shall come forth again into the light of day. All God’s children are prisoners of hope.
III. Their hope rests on the blood of the covenant. “Because of the blood of thy covenant, I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit.” When God entered into covenant relationship with Abraham, the sacred compact was ratified by the mingled blood of an heifer of three years old, a she-goat of three years old, a ram of three years old, a turtle dove, and a young pigeon. And, in after years, when beneath the beetling cliffs of Sinai, Moses acted as mediator between God and the children of Israel, he sent young men, because the order of priesthood was not established, which offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen unto the Lord (Genesis 15:9; Exodus 24:7-8). Similarly, when the new covenant--the provisions of which are enumerated in Hebrews 8:1-13 --was ratified, it was in the blood of Jesus. As He took the cup, He said: “This is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many unto the remission of sins.” “And for this cause He is the Mediator of a new covenant.” The shedding of the blood of the Lamb of God indicates that God has entered into a covenant relationship with Him, and all whom He represents, who are, by faith, members of His mystical body, the Church. On His side, He promises to be a God to us, and to take us to be His people; on our side, Christ promises, on our behalf, that we shall be a people for His own possession, zealous of good works. This covenant embraces all who have believed, shall believe, and do believe in Jesus. It embraces thee, if thou dost at this moment simply believe in Him as thine, and art willing to be evermore His.
IV. Because of the blood of the covenant, God will send forth each of His imprisoned ones out of the pit. That blood binds Him to interpose on their behalf. That they might have strong consolation, He has confirmed His Word by an oath. Suppose two men were bound in the closest, tenderest friendship, not needing to exchange blood from each other’s veins, as the manner of some is, because heart had already exchanged with heart; and suppose one of these, travelling in Calabria or Anatolia, was captured by brigands and carried into some mountain fastness, threatened with death unless ransomed by an immense sum of money: can you imagine his friend at home, in the enjoyment of opulence and liberty, settling down in circumstances of case, and allowing his brother to suffer his miserable fate, with no effort for his deliverance? It is impossible to imagine such a thing! With tireless perseverance he would leave no stone unturned, and the captive might rely on every possible effort being made for his deliverance. So it is with God. Whatever be the sad combination of disaster which has overtaken us, He is bound by the Holy Covenant, sealed by the blood of Jesus, to spare no effort till our soul is escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowler, until the snare is broken, and we are escaped. So, child of God, if you have made Jesus your King, He is sure to succour you. Behold thy King cometh, O prisoner of hope! Is not this the reason why some of us are not delivered? We should be glad enough to accept deliverance, but are not prepared to pay the price. We have not observed the Divine order, and crowned Jesus King of our hearts and lives. We are wishful that He should be our Saviour, but not altogether prepared to accept Him as King. He is first King of Righteousness, before He is Priest after the order of Melchizedek: and it is only when we confess with our mouths Jesus as Lord, that we shall be saved. But do not fear Him. He is lowly, and rides upon a colt, the foal of an ass. No prancing steed, no banner flaunting in the breeze, no long train of warriors. O prisoners of hope, lift up your heads! your salvation is come out of Zion. Turn you to the stronghold! Take up your abode in the stronghold of God’s care and love, in the fortress of His righteousness, in the keep of His covenant. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The sinner’s refuge
God’s children have a place of refuge, and the reason why others have not is, they flee from it instead of fleeing to it.
I. Consider the relief provided. “A stronghold.” Not any stronghold we may fancy, or prepare for ourselves, though the imagination of man is very fruitful in inventions of this kind. When conscience is alarmed, anything is sought to that will afford a little present ease. The physician of souls is neglected, and physicians of no value are applied to. Such has been and still is the conduct of sinful men. Some fly to the absolute and Uncovenanted mercy of God; some to their Church privileges, and others to their good works and religious performances. What refuge does Scripture provide? “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it and is safe.” The perfections of God, His wisdom, power, and goodness, are all engaged for the protection of His people. The covenant of grace, with its glorious provisions and extensive promises, is as a stronghold: here the righteous find safety in a time of danger, and comfort in a time of trouble. The Lord Jesus Christ especially is the refuge of poor sinners, and to Him the preceding verse evidently refers. He is both the foundation on which the believer builds, and the fortress in which he hides.
II. What is implied in our seeking this relief?
1. It supposes that by nature we are turned another way, having not only an indifference, but a dislike to the true way of salvation. We choose to lie under the sentence of condemnation and death, rather than come to Christ for justification and life. Either we do not seek after salvation, or we do not seek it in God’s way. Men by nature are without Christ, having no hope, and without God in the world.
2. It implies a principle of grace implanted in us, by which the mind is renewed and directed to the Saviour. This removes the darkness of the understanding, the perverseness of the will, and the carnality of the affections; so that we are led to form different sentiments, and pursue a different path from what we trod before. A wounded conscience wants ease and rest.
3. It implies the total renunciation of all other refuges as insufficient and vain. The things in which we formerly trusted, and in which we gloried, are now darkened, withered, and consumed.
4. There is now a joining ourselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant never to be forgotten. Being turned to the Saviour, there is a cleaving unto Him with full purpose of heart. The soul that has fled for refuge, to lay hold on the hope set before us, will keep his hold, and never wish to turn back any more. Where there is a real closing with Christ, there will also be a cleaving unto Him.
III. The characters addressed. “Prisoners of hope.”
1. They are considered as prisoners. Satan’s prisoners. Enslaved by their own corruptions and lusts.
2. They are prisoners of hope. All men are so in some sense, while life continues, and the sentence is not executed upon them. Vessels of wrath, till they are filled with wrath, may be made vessels of mercy. Let not the young presume, nor the aged despair. Some are more especially prisoners of hope.
(1) Those who enjoy the means of grace, and to whom the Gospel is preached in its purity and power.
(2) There is hope of such as have frequent convictions of sin, some desires after God, and whose consciences retain a degree of tenderness, so that they neither neglect private duties nor are wholly unaffected by the preaching of the Word.
(3) Those also are prisoners of hope whose chains have been broken, but who, through unwatchfulness, have been led captive by the enemy. Suffer the word of exhortation. O ye distressed sinners and afflicted, deserted saints, suppress your rising fears and your despondent thoughts. An open and effectual door is set before you. (B. Beddome, M. A.)
Hope in the prison
I. A command. “Turn you.” When God calls a sinner to turn, he must turn. Being born again refers to the first turn, but there are the after-turns in the experience of the called Christian, and when grace begins a work in the soul, grace never stops.
II. The thing commanded. “Turn you to the stronghold.” “The name of the Lord is a strong tower, the righteous runneth into it and is safe.”
III. The unction of the gospel. “Ye prisoners of hope.” (J. J. West, M. A.)
Prisoners of hope
There are three classes of prisoners in the moral universe without hope, and there are three classes of prisoners with hope.
1. The angels which kept not their first estate.
2. Men and women who have lived amid Gospel privileges.
3. The men and women in this city who are just as certain to be damned as they live and walk on the face of the earth today.
There are prisoners with hope.
1. The men and women of earth who have taken up “their cross to follow Christ. Prisoners of hope, now hemmed in by the environments of earth, but soon to be God’s freemen in heaven.
2. The man who says, “God knows my heart, I wish I were a better man.” There is hope at the Cross for the weakest man in the world. Then do not be a prisoner without hope, be a prisoner with hope. (Sara. P. Jones.)
Prisoners of hope
This passage unquestionably has to do with our Lord Jesus Christ and His salvation. If you begin to read at the ninth verse you will see that we have, from that place on to our text, much prophetic information concerning our Lord and His kingdom. We read, first, something about His own manner of triumph,--His way of conducting Himself in His kingdom: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” The King of the kingdom of grace is not high and lofty, haughty or proud, but condescends to men of low estate. We have not to set before you a Pharaoh or a Nebuchadnezzar; Jesus of Nazareth is a King of quite another kind. The next verse goes on to describe the weapons by which He wins His victories; or rather, it tells us what they are not. Not by carnal weapons will Christ ever force His way amongst the sons of men, for He says, “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off.” Mohammed may conquer by the sword, but Christ conquers by the sword which cometh out of His mouth, that is, the Word of the Lord. His empire is one of love, not of force and oppression. The same verse reveals to us more concerning the nature of Christ’s kingdom: “He shall speak peace unto the heathen: and His dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.” There have been universal monarchies in the past, but there shall never be another till Christ shall come again. Four times has God foiled those who have attempted to assume the sovereignty of the world; but in due time there shall come One who shall reign over all mankind.
I. A Divine deliverance. This must be a matter of personal experience; and therefore I should like that everyone whom I am now addressing should say to himself or herself, “Do I know anything about this Divine deliverance in my own heart and life? If I do not, I have grave cause to fear as to my condition in the sight of God; but if I do, let me be full of praise to God for this great mercy, that I have a share in this Divine deliverance: ‘As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.’” Do all of you know anything about the pit wherein is no water?
1. Regarding it as a state of spiritual distress, do you understand what it means to be in such a comfortless condition? It was a common custom, in the East, to put prisoners into deep pits which had been dug in the earth. The sides were usually steep and perpendicular, and the prisoner who was dropped down into such a pit must remain there without any hope of escape. According to our text, there was no water there, and apparently no food of any kind. The object of the captors was to leave the prisoner there to be forgotten as a dead man out of mind. Have you ever, in your experience, realised anything like that? There was a time, with some of us, when we suddenly woke up to find that all our fancied goodness had vanished, that all our hopes had perished, and that we ourselves were in the comfortless condition of men in a pit, without even a single drop of water to mitigate our burning thirst. You need to know it, for this is the condition into which God usually brings His children before He reveals Himself to them.
2. The condition of being shut up in a pit wherein is no water is not only comfortless, but it is also hopeless. How can such a prisoner escape? He looks up out of the pit, and sees far above him a little circle of light; but he knows that it is impossible for him to climb up there. Perhaps he attempts it; but, if so, he falls back and injures himself. He lies fallen as a helpless, hopeless prisoner.
3. A man, in such a pit as that, is not only comfortless and hopeless, but he is also in a fatal condition. Without water, at the bottom of a deep pit, he must die. Many of God’s children have known this experience to the fullest possible extent; and all of them have been, in some measure, brought into the pit wherein is no water. But concerning those who have believed in Jesus, our text is true, and God can say, “I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.” Are you out of the pit? Then it is certain that you came out of it not by your own energy and strength, but because the Lord delivered you. Divine power, and nothing hut Divine power, can deliver a poor law-condemned conscience from the bondage under which it groans. There is this further comfort, that if He has set us free we are free indeed. It is only God who can deliver a bondaged conscience; but when it is delivered by Him, it need not be afraid of being dragged back to prison any more. But how has He done this great work? This is one of the principal clauses of our text: “As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.” The people of God are set free from their bondage by the blood of the covenant. I trust that you will never be weary of listening to the doctrine of substitution. If you ever are, it will be all the more necessary that you keep on hearing it until you cease to be weary of it. That doctrine is the very core and essence of the Gospel. “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all With His stripes we are healed.” Nothing can give the soul repose when it is about to meet its God, except the knowledge that Christ was made a curse for us that we might be blessed in Him. No prisoners are set free except by the blood of Jesus; and, as the blood of the covenant is Godward, the means of our coming out of the pit wherein is no water, so it is the knowledge of Christ as suffering in our stead that sets the captive free. I hope I am not addressing any who will remain for a long time in the pit wherein is no water. I did so myself, but I blame myself now for having done so.
II. A Divine invitation given. Do you catch the thought that is intended to be conveyed by these words? Yon have been taken out of the pit, and there, close beside you, is the castle of refuge; so, the moment you are drawn up out of the pit, run to the castle for shelter. The parallel to this experience is to be found in the 40th Psalm, where David says that the Lord had brought him up out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set his feet upon a rock, and established his goings; and now that you are delivered from your prison pit, you are to go and dwell in the fortress, the high tower, which the Lord has so graciously prepared for you. The promises of God in Christ Jesus are the stronghold to which all believing men ought to turn in every time of trouble, and Jesus Christ Himself is still more their Stronghold in every hour of need. Sheltered in Him, you are indeed surrounded with protecting walls and bulwarks, for who is he that can successfully assail the man who is shielded and guarded by the great atoning sacrifice of Christ? Yet you will often feel as if you were still in danger. When you do so feel, turn to the Stronghold directly. Do you mourn your slackness in prayer, and does the devil tell you that you cannot be a Christian, or you would not feel as you do? Then, run to Christ directly. Has there been, during this day, some slip in language, or has there even been some sin in overt act? Then, run to Christ directly; turn you to the Stronghold. So, again, I say to you, never try to combat sin and Satan by yourselves, but always flee away to Christ. Inside that Stronghold, the most powerful guns of the enemy will not be able to injure you. They who have gone the furthest in the Divine life yet do well to walk in Christ just as they received Him at the first.
III. The Divine promise. “Even today do I declare that I will render double unto thee.”
1. First, if you, who have been delivered from the pit wherein is no water, continually turn to Christ, you shall have twice as much joy as ever you had sorrow. The grief that we had before we found Christ was a very mountain of sorrow, but how has it been with you since you came to Jesus? Have you not, after all, had twice as much joy as you have had sorrow? Oh, the unspeakable delight of the soul that has found peace in Jesus after having been long in bondage to sin and Satan! I think I have told you before that I heard Dr. Alexander Fletcher once say, when he was preaching, that on one occasion, passing down the Old Bailey, he saw two boys, or young men, jumping and leaping and standing on their heads, and going through all sorts of antics on the pavement. He said to them, “Whatever are you at?” But they only clapped their hands, and danced more joyously than before; so he said, “Boys, what has happened to you that you are so glad?” Then one of them replied, “If you had been locked up for three months inside that prison, you would jump for joy when you came out.” “A very natural expression,” said the good old man, and bade them jump away as long as they liked. Ay, and when a soul has once been delivered from the pit wherein is no water it has a foretaste of the joy of heaven. The possession of Christ is, indeed, not only double bliss for all its sin, but much more than double.
2. More than that, God gives His servants the double of all that they expect. When we come to our Lord, it is as it was when the queen of Sheba came to Solomon. She said that the half had not been told her; and if you raise your expectations to the highest point that you can reach, you who come to Christ will find them far exceeded in the blessed realisation. He is indeed a precious Christ to all who believe in Him; but He is a hundred times more precious than you can ever imagine. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The condition of sinners
“Prisoners of hope.”
I. All sinners are prisoners. A prisoner implies--
2. Deprivation: society, light, etc.
3. Bondage. A sinner is a slave. His soul himself is enslaved, death cannot free him. Some of the prisoners have--
II. Hope. Some, not all. None in hell. But some on earth.
1. Provision has been made for their deliverance.
2. The vilest of men have obtained deliverance.
3. Deliverance is freely offered to all. (Homilist.)
The place of hope in the Gospel
Fear and hope have two things in common. They are both prospective. They regard the future as possible. We neither hope nor fear that which cannot conceivably affect us. With these two points of resemblance, Hope and Fear are in all else opposite and contradictory to each other. Fear is the apprehension of a future possible evil. Hope is the anticipation of a future possible good. Human life is largely indebted to hope: almost all that redeems it from gloom and misery is, if you look into it, hope more than happiness. Hope, not fruition, is the happiness, while we are in the body, of man that must die. This hope has degrees. One man is full of it. He puts his hand to nothing without intending, expecting, resolving to succeed. And the hope which cheers also strengthens. Expectation is success--unless the calculation has been utterly fanciful, and the sum wrongly added. Certainly the absence of hope is a bar to success. Depression is always weakness. A man is not entirely responsible for it; health, temperament, nature, may alone be to blame. More often there is blame; a man has not braced himself by early discipline: he has let the fibre of character become loose and feeble; he has admitted into the memory, into the conscience, into the life, something of that which is utter weakness--sin. Great things are never done, even small successes are never achieved, where there is no hope. Not to hope is not to have. The Gospel will have a place for hope. We are to ask what it is. How does Christ use this powerful principle? He makes it everything. St. Paul even says, “We are saved by hope.” Of Christ it is said, “For the joy which was set before Him, He endured the Cross.” The anticipation of a blessed future, which is the definition of hope, supported our Lord in working out our redemption. You will find that every thing ever done bravely and effectively in the strength of Christ by His people, has been done in the power of hope. Fear may teach watchfulness. Fear may keep a man to his duty. Fear may constrain a man to combat a sin, or shake off a bad companion, or to resolve to make his life less purposeless, and more decided; but fear, if it stood alone, could make no man a hero, nor a martyr, nor a saint. That is left for hope. We see in education the stimulus of hope. How largely do we use it in every school system that is worth the name! But there is a use of hope which is fallacious and mischievous. Hope is not irrational because it is sanguine. There is no encouragement in man’s life, or in God’s Word, for that kind of hope which either dreams of reaping without sowing, or looks for sudden counteractions of influences wantonly indulged. There are men whose whole life is spent in reckoning upon results to which they have contributed nothing but hindrance. There are men who may call themselves waiters upon providence, but whom God would rather describe as gamblers in chances. It is so in reference to the things of this life; it is so in reference to a more serious thing--the condition of the soul, and the destinies of eternity. Gospel hope has for its object Gospel promise. See some of those future good things which God has promised, and therefore the Christian hopes for. One of these is growth, progress, at last perfection, in holiness. To a Christian person the prospect of becoming holy is the most blessed, most glorious revelation. If it be a revelation, certainly it is a hope. Holiness is sometimes preached as a duty, not preached as a promise. That is not God’s method. Scripture sets holiness before us rather as a gift than as a toil. I have called this one of the objects of a Christian hope, but it is the sum of all. I knit into one the hope of holiness and the hope of heaven. I know indeed that many talk of heaven who have no thought for the way to it. Scum hope to meet there lost friends; some dream pleasantly of the trouble of conflict ended, and the repose of the everlasting unbroken. But all this is vague and unsatisfactory: there is nothing of it in the Bible . . . Then love too well Him who is your hope to count anything too difficult to do, or too precious to sacrifice for Him! Saved by hope, hope to the end. Where He went before, follow after! (C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)
Saved by our hope
The years of the history of the Church which have as yet resisted most successfully the efforts of scientific research are the earliest years. The first century is the most obscure. With or without a history satisfying to modern canons, the Church accomplished in that time a spiritual work which, for present moral effects, for power to attract and subjugate souls of every nation and degree of culture, for inspiring new motives of action to a languid and despairing world, has far surpassed any other change known to us in the history of man. If the question is asked, as it often is, on what does our faith in God and Christ depend, we ought perhaps to reply, on the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, and that His resurrection restored Him as a living leader to His disciples, so that His presence welded them together as one community, zealous of good works, abhorring sin, sure of eternal life. “Never,” says Ewald, “in the whole world has a whole community, through a course of many years, lived so exclusively with all its thoughts in heaven, as that primitive community of Christianity without a visible Christ did actually live.” With this belief we must stand or fall. Christian exclusiveness rests upon a belief in the central doctrine of the resurrection. The firm and sturdy belief that Christ is risen, and that we are risen, will not be replaced by Leibnitz’s immortality of unlimited progress, or by the impersonal immortality of Spinoza, which to the individual soul is hardly more than a promise of nothingness. “The impossibility of a future life is not yet proved. With modern science immortality remains still a problem; and if the problem has not yet received a positive solution, neither has it received a negative one, as is sometimes maintained.” (Archbishop Thomson.)
Prisoners of hope
The prophet exhorts both those who had returned from Babylon and those who continued in Babylon to direct their eyes to the Messiah, to shelter themselves in Him as their stronghold.
I. The characters described. “Prisoners of hope.” Such is the condition of man in general. Still, even these are prisoners of hope. They have not yet crossed the portal on which justice hath graven, “There is no hope.” Still more emphatically are they “prisoners of hope” who feel their bondage and pant for liberty.
II. The direction here given. “Turn ye to the stronghold.” The soul is invited to trust in Christ as the only refute and hope of the guilty.
III. The promise with which the text closes. I will render double unto thee. This expression is used in Scripture to describe a blessedness exceeding all that we can ask or think. Not according to our former sufferings, but double; not according to the punishment we have deserved for our sins, but double; not even the like blessings as were enjoyed by saints of old, but double. (Stephen Bridge, M. A.)
Prisoners of hope
I. The image under which we are addressed. “Prisoners of hope.” Man, in more senses than one, is a prisoner. This earthly body is, in one sense, his prison. He is also a prisoner of sin. We are captives of Satan. But we are prisoners of hope. With the prospect of release and encouragement. Such was the case with Israel’s captives. In this life we are all prisoners of hope. And those who by Divine grace have been brought back to God are in a still more distinct and peculiar manner the prisoners of hope.
II. The admonition given in the text. The language is that of earnest solicitation. Imminent peril is threatened. The flying captives who have escaped their prison are in danger of being seized and retaken by the enemy; and here is an impregnable fortress opened, into which they are invited to turn. We have no hesitation in applying this language to Christ. (D. Wilson, M. A.)
Refuge in God
God is not content with merely promising some refuge for stricken souls, but fascinates our faith with the wealth of imagery by which He declares it. In this verse He calls, “Turn you to the stronghold.” Fortified places were provided generally on the top of some steep mountain, or approached only by a narrow defile where one could withstand a multitude of assailants, and into which the people ran from the villages and fields when the land was invaded. In other passages God is represented as a “hiding place,” where evil cannot even find and attack the soul (Psalms 32:7); a pavilion, where safety is supplemented with comfort and delight (Psalms 27:5); the shadow of a great rock in a weary land, the caves and overhanging cliffs (Isaiah 32:2), beneath which travellers and cattle escape the intense heat. How He assures us that our refuge is not through human expediencies, but Divine interposition in the “Rock that is higher than I”! Indeed, our refuge is something better than even a Divine expediency; it is in God Himself (Psalms 62:7-8 : “My refuge is in God.” Psalms 57:1 : “In the shadow of Thy wings”). Emphasise the personality of the Divine comfort.
I. The completeness of this refuge. From the guilt of sin through the Cross--from the power of sinfulness in us through the Holy Spirit; from fears of all sorts--His promises so many and so varied between us and anticipated evil, like the many stones of the fortress facing outward in every direction; from depression, the cup He gives us “running over”--the spiritual overplus as opposed to the depressive occasion in the flesh or in the circumstances; from the ennui of secular pleasures and business, His revelation lifting our minds to the contemplation of the vast and glorious truths of both His earthly and heavenly kingdom; from unrest--He will keep in perfect peace the mind that is stayed on Him; from the weariness of all selfism, imparting the spirit of love and unselfish devotion, etc.
II. How shall we find this refuge? It is not far away; need not go to Rome for it (Popish pilgrims), nor to Jerusalem (Crusaders’ expectation of finding relief at the Holy Sepulchre): “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart,” etc.
1. It is not a mysterious refuge, or one hard to understand. There is no Esoterism of Christian experience, no favoured few, no especial soul light in theological refinements; Grotius prayed for the faith of his serving man.
2. It is not difficult to attain. “Knock,” “Ask,” “All things are ready.” The great heart of the Eternal is close about us; no whispering gallery so quickly catches sounds as God’s quick intent to bless catches the soul’s desire. (Homiletic Review.)
Message of grace to sinners
The Gospel of Christ is a true friend to the penitent sinner. It is a refuge for the destitute, a shelter for the oppressed, and a defence in all “times of trouble.” It is a “stronghold,” and all that flee into it are safe. The words of the text apply--
1. To the unawakened sinner. You are a prisoner, though unconscious of your captivity. You are the prisoner of Satan, and in bondage to sin. But God, who is a God of mercy, hath provided a great deliverer to interpose in your behalf. He hath opened the doors of the prison house. At His command the chains of bondage fall off.
2. To the awakened sinner. When we perceive a concern for the soul in any one we thank God for His mercies, and pray that the work may be abiding and prosper.
3. To the weak believer. Unbelief hides from your view and from your enjoyment the truths and promises of the glorious Gospel, and keeps your soul still the prisoner of doubt, lest you should not hold out to the end of the journey, and reach in safety the kingdom of heaven. You need the exercise of a more lively faith in the free and finished salvation of the Cross, and a more simple reliance on the redeeming love and power of Christ. Hear, then, the voice of your Lord and Saviour, “Turn to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope.” Look more simply to Jesus. He is a complete and almighty Saviour. (C. Davy.)
The Messiah in the character of a Redeemer
I. The persons whom He comes to redeem. The description is of a mixed nature: it represents a state in the main bad, yet not so wholly bad as to be past recovery. Though this “pit” doth not yield any water, yet water may be brought to it. The description points at those who feel their misery, and earnestly look and long for deliverance. By “prisoners of hope” we understand all sinners who are within reach of Divine mercy, and more especially those who are suing for mercy, under the felt burden of sin and misery. And even they who have obtained mercy may come under this description. The present condition of believers upon earth is neither a state of perfect liberty nor of uninterrupted peace. These are the blessed ingredients which constitute the happiness of the Zion above, but whilst they sojourn in this strange land they are liable to various and painful distresses. There are other prisons besides the pit of an unconverted state; prisons where those who are dear to God may suffer a temporary confinement. There they are “prisoners of hope.”
II. The advice or command addressed to them. By the “stronghold” is meant “the blood of the covenant,” or rather the new covenant itself, ratified and sealed by the blood of Christ. It is an impregnable defence to all who flee to it for refuge. How are we to turn to this stronghold?
1. We must turn our back upon everything else, and abandon all other means of deliverance, as refuges of lies, which will miserably disappoint those who expect relief from them.
2. That we turn our eyes to this stronghold, and narrowly examine the security it affords.
3. That we actually flee to it, and improve it for all the purposes for which it was intended.
III. A gracious and encouraging promise.
1. The promise itself is most gracious. “I will render double unto you.”
2. The comfort of this promise is greatly heightened by the manner of publishing it. “Even today do I declare.” (R. Walker.)
The prisoner of hope
The multitudes in this fallen world need some other place of refuge than that which they have already discovered. If they had already found peace and security, there could be no necessity for directing them to “turn” to any new stronghold or place of defence.
I. The figure under which the text describes the great mass of mankind.
1. “Prisoners.” Even the real servant of God finds much to remind him that he has not yet reached the region of perfect liberty. As to the man of the world, he is altogether a prisoner.
2. They are “prisoners of hope.” All who have fallen from God are to be considered as “prisoners of hope.” To whom shall we deny the privileges of hope? While there is life there is hope.
II. The counsel given in the text.
1. A stronghold is here pointed out to you. By stronghold is meant every refuge which the mercy of God has provided for His guilty creatures. But especially the love, the merits, and the righteousness of the Saviour of sinners, the Son of God, the Redeemer of a lost world.
2. We are directed to turn to the stronghold.
(1) We must be persuaded of the inefficiency of every other.
(2) We must be persuaded of its sufficiency for our safety.
(3) It is essential that we actually take possession of it. Inferences--
1. What a confirmation do topics such as this lend to the authenticity of that faith into which we are baptized.
2. If the provision made in the Gospel for the wants and distresses of human nature be one mark of its Divine origin, let us take care to apply it to the use for which it is so emphatically designed. (J. W. Cunningham.)
Counsel to prisoners
The text primarily alludes to the Jews in captivity.
I. The prisoners of hope. We have in our country at the least three kinds of prisoners.
1. Those upon whom sentence is passed, and they are therefore consigned to further imprisonment, punishment, banishment, or death.
2. Those who are guilty of felony or misdemeanour, but who have not yet appeared before the judge to have their trial; and--
3. Debtors who, in consequence of adversity or prodigality, have been brought into distress and prison.
There are also three kinds of prisoners in a moral or spiritual sense.
1. Those who have died impenitent, and have received sentence of eternal death. These are not prisoners of hope, their state is eternally fixed. They must be banished forever from God. Thanks be to God! this is not our state.
2. All who are living in sin are prisoners. Compare a man shut up in prison until the assizes when he must appear before the judge, and a sinner shut up in the prison of sin until death introduces him into the presence of the Judge of all the earth. The sinner is the bond slave of Satan. A prisoner is liable at any moment to be brought to justice; and so is a wicked man. He is yet a prisoner of hope.
3. There are debtors who often, in consequence of carelessness or prodigality, have brought themselves into sorrow and confinement. This is the case with backsliders. Their case is pitiable, but not desperate. They are prisoners of hope.
II. The stronghold to which these prisoners are exhorted to turn.
1. A stronghold signifies literally a place of safety or defence; figuratively, it is put for the Church of God, and sometimes for the Lord Himself.
2. He is a place of safety and defence to His people. They are shielded from the curse attached to a breach of the holy and righteous law of God.
3. This stronghold is accessible by all kinds of sinners. As soon as ever they come to themselves, and are sensible of their situation, they may find shelter in the love of the Saviour.
III. Enforce the exhortation. “Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope.”
1. Confess and forsake all your sins.
2. It is the will of God that you should thus turn from prison to liberty, from sin to holiness.
3. To return from your prison will be your highest interest, both in this world and in that which is to come.
4. If you refuse to turn to the strong hold you will be destroyed, and that without remedy.
5. Turn now! Delays are dangerous! (B. Bailey.)
The double blessing
In these words are to be noticed--
I. The persons. “Prisoners of hope.” Though all men are prisoners by nature, yet all men are not “prisoners of hope.” Every natural man is a prisoner to sin and Satan, and shut up in unbelief; sin has dominion over him, he lies in the arms of the wicked one. The persons spoken to in the words of the text are the same persons who are mentioned in the verse which precedes the text. The people addressed are a people who were sent forth out of the pit wherein is no water, by which a state of nature doubtless is intended; which is a filthy, dark, wretched, and uncomfortable state, wherein no refreshment can be had. These are called in the text “prisoners of hope,” which they are, not only because they possess hope as a grace of the Spirit in their hearts, but also because it causes its professors to hope for the enjoyment of those things which are promised to the people of God in the Word of God, and which they are not yet put in the possession of. Though these people are sent forth out of the pit of nature, yet they may be called “prisoners,” because their consciences are not yet acquitted of guilt. They are prisoners, but prisoners of hope.
II. The exhortation. “Turn ye to the stronghold.” Christ undoubtedly is intended. It is by turning to Christ, in a way of believing, that guilty consciences can be liberated, and joy and peace experienced. Believing in Christ is also called coming to Him, looking to Him, turning to Him. Those who do this find themselves screened from the curse of the law; the charge of sin; the punishment of it; from Satan’s rage; and from every other enemy.
III. The declaration, “I will render double unto thee.” Either by this the abundance of grace and mercy in Christ is intended; or by the term “double” is meant the pardon of their sins, and acceptance of their persons; or it is a promise of God’s removing guilt from their consciences, and of His restoring peace, which also is a double blessing. The whole of this passage is a display of God’s love and care, which He exercises towards all those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ, in virtue of which it is that God sends them forth out of the pit of nature, and then directs them as prisoners of hope to burn to the stronghold (Christ), and promises to render unto them the double blessings above mentioned. (S. Barnard.)
The prisoners of hope
Turning to the Jews who still remained in Babylon, Zechariah invites them to quit the land of their captivity and hasten to Jerusalem, “Turn you to the stronghold, ye prisoners of hope.” They were in captivity, but that not an interminable captivity; they were prisoners of hope; and were now invited to a place of refuge and security. This is the primary meaning of the passage before us, but the language is suitable in the universal Church of God. The invitation of the Gospel is here addressed to “prisoners.” “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant (slave) of sin.” Many who would justly spurn at the thought of being the slaves of any man are yet in bondage to a master of whose service they have more reason to be ashamed. All men are, by nature, servants of sin and children of wrath, exposed by their past transgressions of the law of God, and by the contrariety of their hearts to it, to His just displeasure I speak to those whose conscience tells them that they have never yet earnestly sought the deliverance that is provided for them. You are indeed prisoners, but you are prisoners of hope. To you the door of mercy is still open. There is an offer of deliverance, an invitation to a refuge, a place of safety. Are there some of you sensible of the danger of your state before God, convinced of sin, and tremblingly alive to its fearful consequences? Turn, then, to the stronghold. Turn to the covenant made by God with believers in Christ Jesus, the sure promise that He will pardon, justify, and deliver from condemnation, sanctify, and keep unto eternal life, those who cast themselves upon His mercy through Jesus Christ as their only hope. Are some of you desirous of turning to the stronghold, and yet know not how to set about your return? See the promise in Isaiah 42:16. You who have fled to the hope set before you in the Gospel may have strong consolation. (M. M. Preston, M. A.)
The ground of Christian confidence
The words of this text may be considered as justly applicable to the great Messiah, as highly expressive of the happiness which those shall enjoy who have recourse to Him for salvation.
I. The character of those to whom the exhortation is addressed. They are “prisoners.” Enter into the feelings of the ordinary criminal prisoner. Consider the tumults of soul which he experiences from the review of his iniquitous deeds. When reviewing the wretched state of a prisoner of this description the reflection irresistibly strikes us,--how happy this man might have been had his conduct been uniformly influenced by the laws of righteousness. All men, by nature, are prisoners. They have all become obnoxious to those fearful judgments which this law hath denounced against its transgressors. The situation of the prisoner is a faint emblem of the wretchedness of the natural man. The prisoner was confined in a dark dungeon; so do clouds and darkness encompass the soul. The prisoner is loaded with fetters. Every man, in his natural state, is shackled by the galling fetters of sin. The prisoner must expect to end his guilty career by a disgraceful death. But these prisoners are called “prisoners of hope.” Dangerous is the state of sinful man, but not desperate. The stroke of death may yet be averted, and they may become heirs of eternal life. Loaded as men may be with iniquities, Omnipotence can easily release them from the oppressive burden. By the term “prisoners of hope” may also be meant those who have felt a deep sense of their misery and danger, who earnestly look for deliverance from the power and guilt of sin. Men of this description are in a most hopeful way. Those also may be included in the term who have already tasted that the Lord is merciful and gracious, but are subject to depression of mind. In the best of men there remains some portion of natural corruption.
II. The import of the exhortation. By the stronghold is here meant the blood of the atonement, or the “blood of the covenant.” Through this blood those spiritual consolations are imparted to men which are so necessary to their happiness. This stronghold is a most impregnable defence to all who flee to it for refuge. The covenant of grace is adequate to all the wants and necessities of sinful men. It is there is to be found unlimited pardon of sin; through it the Divine acceptance has been assured; through it grace is communicated to purify the soul from every stain of corruption; through it that wisdom is conferred which is profitable to direct in all things, and that power which shall enable man to surmount every difficulty. The fulness of the Godhead dwelleth in the Mediator of this covenant, and He becometh to all who believe, “wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and complete redemption.” What is implied by turning to this stronghold, the perfect righteousness and complete atonement of the Redeemer? It means that we renounce every mean or false security. Many are the grounds of false dependence on which unthinking, ignorant men rely. Let all who have hitherto relied on these grounds of false dependence henceforth renounce them forever; and let them betake themselves to the finished work of Jesus, who is the tried precious cornerstone, the sure foundation which God hath laid in Zion. (M. Gait, M. A.)
Christ a stronghold
I. In what sense, or on what account, are mankind represented as prisoners? The prison is of a spiritual description. It is not so much a place as a state of confinement. All men, by nature, are under the curse of God, and the power of sin and Satan. The law, the justice, the truth, the power of God; these are the walls and bolts and bars that confine you. The evil dispositions and passions of men answer all the purposes of chains and bolts, to disable their souls from rising towards heaven, or moving a step in the way of holiness.
II. Why are some called prisoners of hope, and who are they that may be so called? It implies that there are some without hope. The devil and his angels are such. Such also are all those among men who have died without repentance and pardon; and they are a multitude, we fear, greater than any man can number. Who are prisoners of hope?
1. All who are alive upon the earth.
2. Those who possess the means of grace are more particularly to be considered as prisoners of hope.
3. Those who feel religious impressions.
III. What is this stronghold? It is Christ.
1. He secures us from the wrath of God.
2. From the assaults of sin and Satan.
3. From worldly confusion and calamities.
IV. What is implied in turning to this stronghold?
1. You must be thoroughly convinced of Christ’s ability to defend you.
2. You must forsake all other refuges.
3. In order to obtain safety in Christ there must be an actual acceptance of Him, and a steady reliance upon Him for protection.
V. How do we know that Christ is such a stronghold?
1. Consider His Divine perfections.
2. His Divine appointment.
Have you turned to this stronghold? Some have. Some are still secure in Satan’s confinement. Some feel the fetters begin to gall them, and they are sighing for liberty. Be often looking back to your former imprisonment. Adore the grace that provided such a stronghold. And beware of dishonoring this stronghold. This is done when men think it a confinement, and are uneasy under its restraints. (S. Lavington.)
I. How the Saviour may be called a Stronghold. A stronghold implies a place of safety or security, and can only allude to Christ. The Psalmist called Him his castle, his fortress, his tower of defence, the rock of his might--doubtless impressed with the security afforded to the weak who can cleave unto Him. Few terms can be more forcible than the one contained in our text, but we must feel our weakness to appreciate the force of the term, We must feel the necessity of our having a stronghold to turn unto.
2. To whom the term “prisoners of hope” may refer. This evidently applies to the whole world. When Adam sinned he became a prisoner--a slave to sin and evil passions. This slavery he entailed upon all his children. It is the evil nature of man that holds him bound--it withers the germ of life; it destroys all the energies and Divine flowings of the soul; it throws a chain upon the creature that holds him down, so that he cannot get free. We are prisoners in the flesh. The heart of stone rests within. But although a prisoner, still in hope. Prisoners by sin hope in Christ, because Christ gave Himself a ransom for sinners. The penitent sinner has hope because he is awakened by a consciousness of his sin, and by the apprehension of his danger.
III. The promise contained in the text. The exhortation contains a promise of infinite magnitude: “I will render double unto thee.” You shall receive amends for the trouble you have endured, for the miseries of this world are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us. (G. Thompson, M. A.)
Inspiration of hope
In one of the great battles of history the General of the French was approached by an excited officer, who cried, “The battle is lost! Yes,” was the cool reply; “but there is time to win another.” And so it proved, for the retreating troops rallied, and pressed forward in a still fiercer attack because of their temporary repulse, and at night all victory rested on the French banners. No defeat is final, unless you choose to make it so. There is always time to win a victory. Suppose your temper gets the better of you instead of your conquering it. Suppose you yield to the temptation you meant to rout so gloriously. Is that a reason for giving up and throwing down your arms? Not a bit of it. The end has not come yet. There is still time to win another battle. Make your next onset all the fiercer because of that temporary defeat.
The hope of gain in dying
There is a bird that mariners call the “frigate bird,” of strange habits and of stranger power. Men see him in all climes; but never yet has human eye seen him near the earth. With wings of mighty stretch, high borne, he sails along. Men of the far north see him at midnight moving on amid auroral fires, sailing along with set wings amid those awful flames, taking the colour of the waves of light which swell and heave around him. Men in the tropics see him at hottest noon, his plumage all incarnadined by the fierce rays that smite innocuous upon him. Amid their ardent fever he bears along, majestic, tireless. Never was he known to stoop from his lofty line of flight, never to swerve. To many he is a myth; to all a mystery. Where is his perch? Where does he rest? Where was he brooded? None know. They only, know that above the cloud, above the reach of tempest, above the tumult of transverse currents, this bird of heaven, so let us call him, on self-supporting wings that disdain to beat the air on which they rest, moves grandly on. So shall my hope be. At either pole of life, above the clouds of sorrow, superior to the tempests that beat upon me, on lofty and tireless wing, scorning the earth, it shall move along. Never shall it stoop, never swerve from its sublime line of flight. Men shall see it in the morning of my life; they shall see it in its hot noonday; and when the shadows fall, my sun having set, the last they shall see of me shall be this hope of gain in dying, as it sails out on steady wing, and disappears amid the everlasting light. (W. H. Murray.)
Prisoners of hope
This title is not a fanciful one. To the Jew it had a triple significance.
1. He was under the yoke of a foreign despot, and longed to regain his freedom.
2. He was under the yoke of an unfulfilled promise of a coming Messiah, and yearned for the “day star to arise.”
3. He was under the yoke of the unrealised prophecies concerning the glory of the Messiah’s kingdom, and the eternal felicity of His followers. Rightly apprehended, the words of the text are the true designation of every real Christian. In two senses out of the three, however, they are not applicable to us. We are not under an alien yoke. The incarnation is not a hope, but a historic fact. In the third sense only are saints today “prisoners of hope.”
I. We are prisoners to an unredeemed body. In St. Paul’s sense, “Even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:23). Observe, then--
1. There is a sense in which the body is already redeemed. Christ by His contact with human flesh has sanctified it, and separated it from the service of sin; so that now we are exhorted to “present our bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God.”
2. There is another sense in which our bodies are not redeemed.
(1) They are not yet free from manifold infirmities,--nervousness, drowsiness, debility, defects in the organs of sensation.
(2) They are not yet redeemed from sensuous appetites. How soon the sensuous becomes sensual!
3. Hope anticipates the possession of an immortal body--
(1) From which every element of weakness and infirmity is excluded.
(2) In which carnal appetites shall have no place.
(3) Which shall be no more subject to death.
II. We are prisoners to a limited and superficial knowledge. “Now I know in part,”--there is the bondage. “Then shall I know even as I am known,”--there is the freedom.
1. Our knowledge touches not the essence, but only the phenomena of things. What they really are Omniscience only knows. Names are but disguises by which we hide our ignorance. The more we learn, the less we seem to know. “There are two sorts of ignorance. We philosophise to escape ignorance, and the consummation of our philosophy is ignorance. We start from the one, we repose in the other.”
2. Our knowledge reaches men, not as they are, only as they appear. All men are better or worse than they seem to be. The invisible part is the true man.
3. Even this knowledge is limited by the brevity of life and the conditions of its existence. The most profound thinker and the most extensive traveller must lay aside their work at the summons of death.
4. Since human knowledge is so limited, how irrational for human beings to impugn the Divine economy. As wise for the mole to criticise and condemn the landscape under which he burrows. Man’s work is to trust and wait.
5. Hope anticipates the solution of the dark enigma of human life. “Then I shall know even as I am known.” Things will appear as they really are.
6. Even this knowledge is progressive. The finite can never comprehend the infinite. Progress is heaven’s law as well as earth’s.
III. We are prisoners to a circumscribed Christian fellowship. The great family of our Father is sadly dismembered. Whilst one in spirit and faith, our fellowship is ruptured by--
1. Doctrinal divergence. The Jews of bigoted ritualism still have no dealings with the Samaritans of a broader faith
2. Suspicion, the offspring of imperfect knowledge, is another cause of circumscribed fellowship.
3. Social status is a barrier to universal Christian fellowship.
4. Distance and death contribute to the limited measure of fellowship enjoyed by Christians.
5. Hope anticipates the universal and perfect fellowship of saints.
(1) This will include all ages;
(2) and all climes;
(3) and all classes and creeds.
IV. We are prisoners to an imperfect vision of Christ. “Now we see through a glass darkly.” There is the bondage. “Then face to face.” There is the substance of our hope. Yet note--
1. Christ is really apprehended by faith even here. This faith is a spiritual sense, akin to the eye of the body. It invests the invisible Saviour with a real personality.
2. This vision is at best a dim one. A reflected view, as when one beholds a face in a mirror.
3. Human nature in its present state is not capable of a more open vision. (Homiletic Magazine.)
The Lord of hosts shall defend them
God works amongst the nations in the interests of His people
The double recompense which the Lord will make to His people will consist in the fact that He not only liberates them out of captivity and bondage, and makes them into an independent nation, but that He helps them to victory over the power of the world, so that they will tread it down, i.. completely subdue it. The first thought is not explained more fully because it is contained implicite in the promise of return to a strong place, the double only is more distinctly defined, namely, the victory over Javan. The expression, “I stretch,” etc., implies that the Lord will subdue the enemies by Judah and Ephraim, and therefore Israel will carry on this conflict in the power of its God--Keil.
I. That God works amongst the nations of the earth. God is here represented as raising up Zion against Greece. “And raised up thy sons, O Zion, against thy sons, O Greece.” The literal reference, it may be, is to the help which He would render the Maccabees, as the heroic leaders of the Jews, to overcome the successors of the Grecian Alexander, Antiochus Epiphanes, and the other Grecian oppressors of Judah. He works with the Jew and the Greek, or Gentile--the two great divisions of mankind. He is in their conflicts and their battles.
1. He works universally amongst men. He works with the “sons” of Zion and the “sons” of Greece. He operates with all, with the remote and the distant, with the little and the great, with the good and the bad; He is in all human history. All good He originates, all evil He overrules.
2. He works by human agency amongst men. “When I have bent Judah for Me, filled the bow with Ephraim.” God carries out His purposes with man by the agency of man; wicked kings are His tools, obscure saints are His ministers of state.
3. He works manifestly amongst men. “And the Lord shall be seen over them”; or, as Keil renders it, “Jehovah shall appear above them.”
4. He works terribly amongst men. “And His arrow shall go forth as the lightning, and the Lord God shall blow the trumpet, and shall go with whirlwinds of the south.” “Like lightning will His arrow go forth, and the Lord Jehovah will blow the trumpets, and will pass along in storms of the south.”--Keil. He is in the crashings of conflagrating cities, in the booming thunders of contending armies, in the wild whirlwinds of battling kingdoms; with Him there is “terrible majesty” as He proceeds on His march in human history.
II. God works amongst the nations of the earth in the interests of His people.
1. He works for their defence. “The Lord of hosts shall defend them,” or shelter them.
2. He works for their victory. “They shall devour and subdue with sling stones,” etc. “Jehovah of hosts shall protect them, and they shall devour and tread down the sling-stones, they shall drink, they shall be noisy, as those who drink wine; they shall be full as the bowl, as the corners of the altar.”--Henderson. The idea is their complete triumph over their enemies. Hengstenberg observes that there is not the least indication that a spiritual conflict is intended. Quite true, but a spiritual conflict it may illustrate, and its victory too.
3. He works for their salvation. “And the Lord their God shall save them in that day as the flock of His people.”
4. He works for their glory. “They shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon His land.” Or, as Hengstenberg renders it, “For crowned jewels shall they be rising up upon His land.” There is true glory awaiting the good. There is a crown of glory laid up in heaven, etc.
5. He works for their perfection. “For how great is His goodness, and how great is His beauty! Corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids.” We accept the rendering of Keil here, which is not only faithful to the original, but in harmony with the context. The prophet is speaking of the high privileges of God’s people, and not of the excellences of the Supreme. It is an exclamation of admiration of the high privileges of the godly. (Homilist.)
They shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land
The Lord’s people
Here we see--
The dignity of the lord’s people. They are “stones, precious stones,” set in the “crown” of the King of kings. God not only spares, but pardons and justifies them. In His righteousness they are exalted; they are not only saved, but ennobled. With kings are they upon the throne.
II. Here is also them exhibition. These stones of a crown are “lifted up.” They are not to be concealed. Our Saviour compares them to a city set, not in a valley, but on a hill which cannot be hid; and to a candle, placed, not under a bushel, but on a candlestick, that it may give light to all that are in the house. Christians need not be concealed--everything in their religion will bear examination, and challenges the eyes of all, whether infidels or philosophers or politicians or moralists. They ought not to be concealed--everything in their religion is adapted to do good; but for this purpose it must be known. They cannot be concealed,--their principles must operate; the sun cannot shine without showing itself.
III. Here is also their utility,--these stones of a crown are to be lifted up “as an ensign upon His land.” An oriflamme suspended over the royal tent, and designed to attract and aggregate followers to the cause in which he is engaged. Their calling, to hold forth the Word of Life. They are placed and displaced; to reprove, to convince, to excite and encourage others, to seek and serve God. They are witnesses for Him; trophies of the power and greatness and riches of His grace. They proclaim what He is able and willing to do. (William Jay.)
For how great is His goodness, and how great is His beauty!
God’s goodness and beauty
There is no subject of contemplation more delightful to a serious mind than the goodness of the Lord. The prophet had been, in the preceding verses, describing the appearance of Christ as King of Zion, as just, and having salvation. He had been speaking of the blood of the covenant, by which the prisoners of Divine justice are delivered, and invited to turn to the stronghold. He had described the salvation which God should work out for His people by the Messiah, when they should be as the precious stones of a crown, lifted up on high, and God would save and favour them as His jewels and peculiar treasure. The prophet’s heart was so affected with the prospect of this mercy that he breaks out into the joyful acclamation, “How great is His goodness!” Learn that the Divine goodness in our redemption and salvation claims our admira tion and our praise. Here too we see the “beauty” of the Lord. How amicably His perfections shine in the dispensation of the Gospel; so that all who attend to it with serious minds will see and adore them. Here we observe mercy and truth meeting together, righteousness and peace greeting each other. Here, at the Holy Sacrament, we see the King of Zion, the image of the invisible God, in all His beauty, and He appears fairer than the children of men, and altogether amiable and lovely. Here also we see the goodness of the Lord; with what peculiar lustre this perfection of the Divine nature shines in our redemption by Jesus Christ. That goodness appears great if we consider how universally it extends: even to all mankind. Jesus is a propitiation for the sins of the whole world. If we consider the objects of it; mean and miserable mortals, whose goodness cannot extend to Him. This goodness is to terminate in perfect and everlasting glory and felicity. The fountain of all our comforts and hopes is Divine goodness. The streams are plenteous, and various. They enrich, delight, and satisfy the soul, and they flow forever. (Job Orton.)
The glory of Christ
This is manifested throughout all the Holy Scriptures. This is attested both by the Apostles and by our Lord Himself (Acts 10:43; Luke 24:27; John 5:39). In the New Testament He shines like the sun in an unclouded atmosphere. In the Old, though generally veiled, He often bursts forth as from behind a cloud with astonishing beauty and splendour. Nor could the prophet himself forbear exclaiming with wonder and admiration, “How great is His goodness!” etc.
I. The goodness of our Lord. In the context He is set forth as the God of providence and of grace. And in order to behold His goodness we must view Him in both respects.
1. As the God of providence. As all things were created, so are they upheld and governed by Him. To Him we owe the preservation of our corporeal and intellectual powers. We are continually fed by His bounty, and protected by His arm. The meanest creature in the universe has abundant reason to adore Him--His own people in particular may discern unnumbered instances of His goodness in His dispensations towards them. His most afflictive as well as His more pleasing dispensations afford them much occasion for gratitude and thanksgiving (Psalms 119:75).
2. As a God of grace. Jesus is the one fountain of spiritual blessings to His Church (Ephesians 1:22). Neither prophets nor apostles had any grace but from Him (John 1:16). To Him must we ascribe every good disposition that is in our hearts (Philippians 2:13; Hebrews 12:2). What reason, then, have His faithful followers to bless His name! With what gratitude should they acknowledge His continued kindness! Though they have often turned back from Him, He has not cast them off. Yea, rather, He has “healed their backslidings and loved them freely.” Surely every blessing they receive and every victory they gain should fill them with admiring thoughts of His goodness (2 Corinthians 2:14). If we have just conceptions of His goodness we shall be more able to behold--
II. His beauty. The world beholds “no beauty nor comeliness in” the face of Jesus. But the saints of old “saw His glory as the glory of the only-begotten of the Father.” This we also may see if we survey Him--
1. In this Divine character. “We cannot by searching find out the Almighty to perfection.” Little do we know of the greatness of His majesty, or the thunder of His power (Job 26:14). We cannot comprehend His unsearchable wisdom, His unspotted holiness, His inviolable truth and faithfulness. His glory is more than the feeble language of mortality can express.
2. In His human character Here we look at Him, as the Jews at Moses when his face was veiled. And can contemplate Him more easily because He shines with a less radiant lustre. But principally must we view Him during the course of His ministry. What marvellous compassion did He manifest to the souls and bodies of men! Not one applied to Him for bodily or spiritual health without obtaining his request. And when many were hardened in their sins He wept over them (Luke 19:41). His zeal for God was ardent and unremitted. His meekness, patience, fortitude were altogether invincible. Whatever was amiable and excellent in man abounded in Him (Psalms 45:2). Nor, though continually tried in the hottest furnace, was there found in Him the smallest imperfection or alloy (John 14:30).
3. In His mediatorial character. With what readiness did He become a surety for sinful man (Psalms 40:7-8). What astonishing condescension did He manifest in uniting Himself to our nature! How cheerfully did He go forth to meet the sufferings that were appointed for Him. His obedience unto death was the fruit of His love and the price of our redemption. How beautiful is He now in the eyes of those who behold His glory! And how will He “be admired and glorified by all” in the last day! Satan must have blinded us, indeed, if we be yet insensible to His charms (2 Corinthians 4:4). If we be true believers, He cannot but be precious to our souls (1 Peter 2:7). (J. Benson.)
How great is His beauty--
The secret of beauty
The last words of Charles Kingsley were, “How beautiful is God!” Zechariah was thinking of the glory about to be given to Israel, about the prosperity soon to abound in the land, and he knows that it is all the good gift of God, so he cries, “How great is His goodness! How great is His beauty! Corn shall make the young men cheerful, and new wine the maids.” Wise men who have thought about the nature of God have always said that there must be three perfect things in God. There must be perfect truth, perfect goodness, and perfect beauty. By remembering this you may always tell the difference between true and false ideas about God. Every man and every child who worships a God about whom he has hard, cruel thoughts, although a Christian in name, gives only heathen worship to the Most High. All through the Bible God has been teaching men that He is beautiful. The Jews were taught to make their worship beautiful. At last Christ came. He did not seem to bring beauty down to man at once. The word “beauty” is never mentioned in the New Testament. But this was because Christ wanted men to look deeper for beauty than on the face and form. The beauty which Christ brought was beauty of the soul, of the heart, of the life, spiritual beauty which will never fade away with age, will never wither or decay. Here in our flowers today can we not try to see the beauty of God? They teach that His beauty is perfect in little things as well as in great. The tiniest flower is as perfect as the large. And the beauty is not for mere show, but for comfort and use. How often a flower teaches people about God! I have read of a poor sinful woman pressing a white flower to her heart in an agony of tears, because it came to her like the voice of God, telling of His wish for her to be pure and bright. We would like to reveal God to those around us. If so, let us be God’s flowers. Aim at three things in order that we may accomplish this our high task.
1. Let us have the beauty of worship.
2. Beauty of worship must lead to beauty of life.
3. All this will grow into beauty of character.
This is the beauty that lasts forever. To get this will take time. All the best things take time. (H. H. Gowen.)
One by one the various traits of Divine excellence came before the mind of the prophet, and at last he, as it were, generalised them; and the whole vision struck him as one of extreme beauty. The wisdom of God, His justice, His purity, His truth, His love,--all of these, in quality, in quantity, and in harmony, form a symmetric whole, which deserves, if anything deserves it, the epithet “beautiful,” and meets the highest conception, and overreaches the highest aspiration which the human heart has for the element of beauty. Is beauty, then, a reality in the higher spiritual life? Is there in the inward, invisible, and truly spiritual life that which answers to our idea of sensuous beauty? Or is it figurative? I hold that beauty is first spiritual, and afterwards natural and material. I hold that it was Divine; that it inhered in the nature of God, and the nature of spiritual existence. Examine the relation of beauty to moral qualities. As God has created the world, beauty is not a kind of seasoning scattered upon the weightier realities. Men think that the beauty of this natural world is a kind of decoration. Perfectness and beauty are identical. Maturity, whether it be of fruit, or flower, or what not, works by stages towards beauty in the material globe. So that beauty is not an accident. Still less is it the trimming which God gave to the perfected work. It is the Divine idea of a mode of creation. As the human mind is cultivated, it becomes more and more sensitive to this quality. The less culture men have, the further they are from the admiration of beauty; that is to say, the less comprehensive is their admiration. When the human mind develops and grows toward its perfection, it grows toward the sense of beauty. But moral qualities come under this law, just as much as physical qualities do. Fulness, fineness, and harmony--there is the formula. In nature it is called quantity, symmetry: and the equivalent of this in moral elements is fulness, fineness, harmony. Whatever elements the mind produces when it acts so as to give fulness, fineness, and harmonious proportions to the product, are beautiful. That is to say, they produce the sense of beauty in those that look upon them, and tend universally to do it. Right things are commanded in the Bible, but it is not enough that we should be just, conscientious, true, amiable, or benevolent. There is to be fulness in each of these elements, and there is to be harmony among all of them. And here is the formula fulfilled which goes to make social and moral affections beautiful. It would seem enough to say to men, “Be kind, be generous, be benevolent”; but no, Let love be without dissimulation. God loves a cheerful giver. Give without grudging one to another. These are the elements that go to make beneficence; that free it from wrinkles; that give it largeness and generosity. The growth toward ripeness in moral experience is analogous to development in physical nature,--that is toward beautifulness. Just in proportion as any one of our better feelings becomes predominant over the others, men feel that character is growing lovely, attractive, admirable. And these are only step stone words that bring you to the last one, “beautiful.” There is nothing so beautiful in this world as beauty of character. Applications--
1. All the world recognises beauty in the lower grade of qualities. It is the higher moral experience that men lack a knowledge of Devotion is more beautiful than passion. The love of God in the soul is far more beautiful than any love of man can be. The qualities of religion to which we are called are supreme, not alone in importance, but in art even. They are essentially and intrinsically more admirable, more noble, more beautiful than all the lower experiences.
2. How great is the variety of spiritual things in the Christian life! and how few things are gained! How many persons are there that are beautiful in temper? How many whose good nature is anything more than the mere product of good health? How little is the Church beautiful in its grace!
3. The unbeautifulness of Christian life is sadly shown in me popular impression with regard to religion. Men mostly feel that religion is something that may be obligatory, but that there is nothing attractive about it. The true idea is, that a man who goes into a Christian experience, goes into a larger liberty, and goes into a larger joy.
4. Christians should at least be as sensible to spiritual beauty as to physical. All men should love beauty in common things.
5. God is bringing all good men toward that realm, and that indescribable experience which is hinted at in the words of Scripture. The work which is going on in us, we do not ourselves at all appreciate. (Henry Ward Beecher.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Zechariah 9". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany