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The section on which we now enter, with its companion picture in Ezekiel 23:1-49; forms the most terrible, one might almost say the most repellent, part of Ezekiel's prophetic utterances. We have, as it were, his story of the harlot's progress, his biography of the Messalina of the nations. We shudder as we read it, just as we shudder in reading the sixth satire of Juvenal. The prophet speaks, like the satirist, of things which we have learnt, mainly under the teaching of Christian purity, to veil in a reticent reserve, with a Lucretian and Dante-like vividness. The nearest parallel, indeed, which literature presents to it is found in the 'Epistola ad Florentinos' of the latter poet. We need to remember, as we read it, that his standard was not ours, that those for whom he wrote had done or witnessed the things which he describes, that there was in them no nerve of pudicity to shock. He did not write virginibus puerisque, but for men to whom the whole imagery was a familiar thing. It is obvious, however, that the interpreter lives under ether conditions than the prophet, and cannot always follow him in the minuteness of his descriptions.
The thought that underlies Ezekiel's parable, that Israel was the bride of Jehovah, and that her sin was that of the adulterous wife, was sufficiently familiar. Isaiah (Isaiah 1:21) had spoken of the "faithful city that had become a harlot." Jeremiah (Jeremiah 2:2) had represented Jehovah as remembering "the kindness of her youth, the love of her espousals." What is characteristic of Ezekiel's treatment of that image is that he does not recognize any period in which Israel had been as a faithful wife. But even here he had a forerunner in Hosea, who, in order that his own life might be itself a parable, was ordered to take to himself "a wife of whoredom," one, i.e; whose character was tainted before her marriage (Hosea 1:2). Ezekiel would seem to have dwelt upon that thought, and to have expanded it into the terrible history that follows.
Thy birth and thy nativity, etc. A prosaic literalism (as e.g. in interpreters like Hitzig and Kliefert) has seen in Ezekiel's language the assertion of an ethnological fact. "The Jebusite city," the prophet is supposed to say," was never really of pure Israelite descent. Its people are descended from Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, and are tainted, as by a law of heredite, with the vices of their forefathers." So taken, the passage would remind us of the scorn with which Dante (ut supra) speaks of the cruel and base herd of Fiesole, who corrupted the once noble stock of the inhabitants of Florence (so also 'Inf.,' 15.62). Rightly understood, it is believed that Ezekiel's words imply the very opposite of this. As Isaiah (Isaiah 1:10) had spoken of "the rulers of Sodom, and the people of Gomorrah;" as Deuteronomy 32:32 had spoken of the vine of Israel becoming as "the vine of Sodom;" as our Lord speaks of the Jews of his time as not being "the children of Abraham" (John 8:39); so Ezekiel, using the strongest form of Eastern vituperation, taunts the people of Jerusalem with acting as if they were descended, not from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but from the earlier heathen inhabitants of what was afterwards the land of Israel. It is not necessary to enter into a history of the three nations whom he names. Briefly, the Canaanites represented the dwellers in the lowland country west of the valley of the Jordan—the plains of Philistia, Sharon, Esdraelon, and Phoenicia; and their leading representatives in Ezekiel's time were the cities of Tyre and Zidon. The Amorites were people of the mountains, at first, west of the Jordan, on the heights over the Dead Sea and as far as Hebron, but afterwards, under Sihon, on the high tablelands east of the Jordan. The Hittites, on whose history much light has been thrown by recent Egyptian and other discoveries, appear first in the history of the purchase of the cave of Macphelab, at Kirjath-arba, or Hebron, and that history implies commerce and culture. Esau's marriage with the daughters of two Hittite chiefs implies, perhaps, a recognition of their value as allies (Genesis 26:34). They are always numbered with the other six nations, whom the Israelites were to conquer or expel (generally in conjunction with the Canaanites and Amorites as the three first, though not always in the same order, Exodus 3:8; Exodus 13:5; Exodus 33:2; Exodus 34:11). And this fact obviously determined Ezekiel's choice. In the later historical books they appear but seldom. One Hittite captain, Uriah, occupies a high position in David's army (2 Samuel 11:3). The kings of the Hittites trade with Solomon, and give their daughters to him in marriage (1 Kings 10:29). They meet us for the last time as possible allies of the kings of Judah (2 Kings 7:6), and in the list of the older nations in Ezra 9:1 and Nehemiah 9:8. Then they disappear from the page of history till the discovery and decipherment of Egyptian records in our own time shows them to have been among the mighty nations that have passed with their rulers into the Hades of departed kingdoms.
As for thy nativity, etc. We ask, as we interpret the parable, of what period in the history of Israel Ezekiel speaks. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are ignored by him, and he starts from a time of misery and shame. It is obvious that the only period which corresponds to this is that of the sojourn of Israel as an oppressed and degraded people in the land of Goshen. He paints, with a Dantesque minuteness, the picture of a child just born, abandoned by its mother and neglected by all others from the very moment of its birth. It lies unwashed and foul to look upon. No woman's care does for it the commonest offices of motherhood. For to supple, read, with the Revised Version, to cleanse. The practice still met with in the East of rubbing the newborn child with salt may have rested partly on sanitary grounds (Jerome, in loc. Galen, 'De San.,' 1.7), partly on its symbolic meaning (Numbers 18:19). When this was done, the child was wrapt in swaddling clothes (Luke 2:7), but these too were wanting in the picture which Ezekiel draws. The whole scene may have been painted from the life. Such a birth may well have been witnessed during the march of the exiles, when the brutality of their Chaldean drivers allowed no halt, and the child was left to perish of neglect, and the thought may then have flashed across Ezekiel's mind that the pity which he felt for the deserted infant was a faint shadow of that which Jehovah had felt for Israel in the degradation of their heathen bondage.
For to the loathing of thy person, read, with the Revised Version, for that thy person was abhorred.
For polluted, read, with the Revised Version, weltering, the primary meaning of the verb being that of stamping or treading, and omit "when thou wast," as weakening the condensed force of the original. The marvel of that unlooked for pity is emphasized by the iteration of the word of mercy, Live. The commentary of the Chaldee Targum is sufficiently curious to be quoted: "And the memory of my covenant with your fathers came into my mind, and I was revealed that I might redeem you, because it was manifest to me that ye were afflicted in your bondage, and I said unto you, 'I will have compassion on you in the blood of circumcision,' and I said unto you, 'I will redeem you by the blood of the Passover'" (Rosenmuller). The thought underlying this strange interpretation is that blood might be the means of life as well as of pollution, and in that thought there is a significance at once poetical and profound, almost, as it were, anticipating the later thoughts that the blood of Jesus cleanseth from all sin (1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5), that we make our robes white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14). There is no reason, however, for believing that such thoughts were present to the prophet's mind.
The tenses should be in the simple historic past: I caused; thou didst increase and wax great; thou attainedst, and so on (Revised Version). In the word "multiply" (Exodus 1:7) the figure passes into historical reality. To excellent ornaments; Hebrew, to ornament of ornaments. The word is commonly used of jewels, trinkets, and the like (Exo 33:4; 2 Samuel 1:24; Isaiah 49:18). So Vulgate, mundus muliebris. Here, however, the external adorning comes in Ezekiel 16:10, Ezekiel 16:11, and instead of the plural we have the dual. Hitzig is, perhaps, right in taking the phrase to refer to tide beauty of the cheeks, which are themselves the ornaments of the golden prime of wroth. The LXX; following either a different reading or paraphrasing, gives, "to cities of cities." The two clauses that fellow point to the most obvious signs of female puberty. For whereas, read, with the Revised Version, yet, etc; as describing, not as the Authorized Version seems to do, a state which trod passed away, but one which still continued even when full-grown girlhood would have demanded clothing.
The words point to the time of the love of the espousals of Jeremiah 2:2, interpreting the parable, when Israel had grown to the maturity of a nation's life, and gave promise, in spite of previous degradation, of capacities that would render it worthy of the love of the Divine Bridegroom. I spread my skirt over thee. Garments were often used as coverlets, and the act described was therefore, as in Ruth 3:9, the received symbol of a completed marriage (comp. Deuteronomy 22:30; Deuteronomy 27:20). The historical fact represented by the symbol here was probably the formal covenant between Jehovah and Israel (Exodus 24:6, Exodus 24:7). It was then that he became her God, and that she became his people.
The "washing" and "anointing" were part of the customary preparations for the marriage union (Ruth 3:3; Esther 2:12; Judith 10:3). The mention of blood receives its explanation, not in the facts of Ezekiel 16:6, but in the ceremonial rules of Leviticus 15:19-24
Broidered work; the "raiment of needlework" of Psalms 45:14; Judges 5:30; Exodus 35:35; Exodus 38:23. The word meets us again in Ezekiel 27:24, as among the imports of Tyre from Egypt. Curiously enough, the Hebrew verb (rakam) has passed through Arabic into tide languages of Western Europe, and we have the Italian ricamare, the Spanish recamare, the French recamer, for" embroidering." Badgers' skin. Elsewhere in the Old Testament the word is found only in the Pentateuch (Exodus 28:5; Exodus 26:14; Numbers 4:6, Numbers 4:8, Numbers 4:10, et al.). It has been commonly taken as meaning the skin of some animal—badger, dolphin, or porpoise, or, as in the Revised Version, seal, which was used for sandals. All the older versions, however, take it as a word of colour, the LXX. giving ὑακίνθον ("dark red"); Aquila, Symmachus, and Vulgate, ianthino ("violet"). Possibly the two meanings may coalesce, one giving the material, the other the tint which met the eye. Fine linen. The byssus of Egyptian manufacture (Exodus 25:4; Exodus 26:1; Exodus 39:3, et al.). Silk. The Hebrew word (here and in Ezekiel 27:13) does not occur elsewhere. The word so translated in Proverbs 31:22 is that which we find here and elsewhere for "fine linen." Silk, in the strict sense of the term, had its birthplace in China, and there is no evidence that even the commerce of Tyre extended so far; but the context points to some fine texture of the lawn or muslin kind, like the Coan vestments of the Greeks. So the LXX. gives τριχαπτόν, as though it were made of fine hair; the Vulgate, subtilia. It is significant that three out of the four articles specified are prominent (as the references show) in the description of the tabernacle and the priestly dress, in Exodus 28:1-43; Exodus 39:1-43. The dress of the bride symbolized the ritual and cultus of Judaism.
Ornaments. Same word as in Ezekiel 16:7, but here taken in its more usual sense. (For bracelets, see Ezekiel 23:42; Genesis 24:22, Genesis 24:30; Numbers 31:50. For chain, Genesis 41:42).
A jewel on thy forehead; better, with the Revised Version, a ring upon thy nose. The word has the same meaning in Genesis 24:47 ("earring" in the Authorized Version); Isaiah 3:21 (where the Authorized Version gives "nose jewels"); Proverbs 11:22. Jerome, however, notes (in loc.) that the Syrian women of his time wore pendants or lockets that hung from the forehead to the nostrils. The crown, or diadem (LXX; στέφανος καυχήσεως), the thin circlet of gold confining the hair, completed the catalogue of ornaments. The Chaldee Targum continues its spiritual interpretation: "I gave the ark of my covenant to be among you, and the cloud of my glory overshadowed you, and the angel of my presence led you in the way." And, if we assume, as we legitimately may assume, that Ezekiel, above all others, the prophet of symbolism, did not fill up his picture with details which were only meant to fill it up, this seems a not unfitting interpretation.
Thou didst eat fine flour, and honey, and oil. From the dress of the bride we pass to her luxuries in the way of food. The things named might, of course, be only chosen as the delicacies for which the land of Israel was famous (Deuteronomy 32:13, Deuteronomy 32:14), which in the prophet's own time were in demand in the markets of Tyre (Ezekiel 27:17). Cakes of flour and honey were in common use in various forms of Greek ritual, and are probably referred to in Jeremiah 44:19, but in that of the Jews (Le Jeremiah 2:11) honey takes its place, side by side with leaven, as a thing forbidden. Thou didst grow into a kingdom. History crops out through the parable, and points to the stage which it has now reached, i.e. that of the magnificence of the kingdom under Solomon.
It was perfect, etc. (compare the phrase, "perfection of beauty," in Psalms 1:2; Lamentations 2:15, as applied to Jerusalem). The prophet, in the words, my comeliness—majesty (Revised Version)—lays stress on the fact that that "perfection" was itself the gift of God.
We enter on the history of the apostasy, and the root evil was that the bride of Jehovah had been unfaithful to her Lord. She looked on her glory as her own, and did not recognize that everything in it was the gift of God (Hosea 2:8). The words obviously point to the policy which Solomon had initiated, of alliances with the heathen and the consequent adoption of their worship. This, as from the earliest days of Israel, was the "whoredom" (Revised Version) of the unfaithful with (Exodus 34:15, Exodus 34:16; Le Exodus 17:7; Deuteronomy 31:16; Judges 2:17; Isaiah 1:21; Jeremiah 2:20; Hosea 1:1-11, Hosea 2:1-23). And it was, so to speak, a promiscuous whoredom. Every passer by was admitted to her embraces, every nation that offered its alliance had its worship recognized and adopted. In the closing words of extremest scorn, the prophet adds, his it was. Jerusalem was, as I have said, the Messalina of the nations.
(For high places, see note on Ezekiel 6:6.) The words imply that the shrines upon them were decked with hangings of many coloured tapestry, presenting an appearance like that of a Persian carpet, as in 2 Kings 23:7, of the image of the Asherah. Those hangings were, as in Proverbs 7:16, the ornaments of the adulterous bed. The "high places" are named first, as the earliest form of idolatry. The like things shall not come. The words are obscure, and the text probably corrupt. As they stand, they seem to say that the world would never again witness so shameful an apostasy. The Vulgate, Sicut non est factum neque futurum est; extends the comparison to the past. Possibly, though it is a strain upon the grammar, the words may be rendered, "such things should not come, should not be."
Images of men, etc.; Hebrew, as falling in with the symbolism of the history, "male images." The words point to the teraphim, the penates, or household gods, of which we read in Genesis 31:19; Judges 18:14; 1 Samuel 19:13; Hosea 3:4; and which, like the statues of Baal-peor, may have exhibited the phallic type of idolatry.
Ezekiel 16:18, Ezekiel 16:19
Mine oil and mine incense. This, as afterwards in Ezekiel 23:41, was the crowning aggravation of the guilt. The very gifts of God, designed for his worship, were prostituted to that of his rivals. The "oil" is that of Exodus 30:23-25, perfumed and set apart for sacred uses. The act of covering the idol was, as in Exodus 30:8, the symbol of the marriage union. In the sweet savour we have the familiar phrase of Ezekiel 6:13. The scene brought before us is that of a sacrificial feast, in which cakes of flour, honey, and oil were eaten whilst incense was offered. So we have the "adored liba" of Virgil, 'AEneid,' 7.109, or more fully in Tibullus, 'Eleg.,' 1.7, 53, 54, the "thuria honores," the "liba … dulcia melle." Thus it was, etc. As in verse 16, the description seems to rouse an instinctive abhorrence in the prophet's mind, which finds utterance in this form: "Yes, it was even so." The words are, however, taken by the LXX; Vulgate, and Luther as opening the following verse: "And it came to pass that."
The next stage of idolatry is that of Moloch worship, which never wholly ceased as long as the monarchy of Judah lasted (2 Kings 16:3; Psalms 106:37; Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah 7:32; Jeremiah 19:5; Micah 6:7; Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2). It will be noticed that the words, "the fire," are in italics, i.e. are not in the Hebrew, the verb "to pass through" having acquired so technical a meaning that it was enough without that addition. This, as the closing words indicate, was the crowning point. As though idolatry in itself was a small matter, it was intensified by infanticide.
Thou hast not remembered. The words gain a fuller significance when we recollect those of Ezekiel's master (Jeremiah 2:2). The husband remembered "the love of her espousals;" the faithless wife forgot from what a life of shame and misery she had then been rescued.
Woe unto thee, etc.! The interjectional parenthesis, half anathema and half lamentation, looks forward rather than backward. Up to this point Ezekiel had dwelt on the forms of idolatry which were indigenous to Canaan and the nations in immediate contact with it. Now he enters on the later forms of evil which had been adopted from more distant nations. We pass from the time of Solomon to that of Ahaz and Manasseh.
An eminent place; lofty (Revised Version); but the word strictly points to the form of a vault, with the added meaning, as in the LXX; οἵκημα πορνικόν, and the Vulgate, lupanar, of its being used for prostitution. It is, at hast, a curious fact that the Latin fornicari and its derivatives, take their start from the fornices, the vaults or cells which were the haunts of the harlots of Rome. Looking to the fact that all the worst forms of sensual evil came to Rome from the East, and specially from Syria—
"Jampridem in Tiberim Syrus defluxit Orontes"
(Juv; 'Sat.', 3.62)
—it seems probable that the practice was a survival of the custom to which Ezekiel refers. As in the Mylitta worship at Babylon (Herod; 1.262; Bar; 6:43), and that of Aphrodite at Corinth, prostitution assumed a quasi-religious character, and the harlot sat in a small cell, or chapel, inviting the passers by, and treating her hire as, in part, an offering to the goddess whom she served. Such chapels of prostitution were to be found naturally in the "high places" of Judah (the word, however, is not that commonly so translated), and in the crossways of intersecting roads. To such a harlot Ezekiel compares the daughter of Judah, and proceeds to paint her life with a terrible minuteness, even to the very attitude that invited to sin.
With the Egyptians. The words point to political and commercial alliances, in themselves a whoredom (Isaiah 23:17; Nahum 3:4), such as Zedekiah, like some of his predecessors, had trusted in, as well as to the adoption of Egyptian worship, such as we have seen in Ezekiel 8:10, the one leading naturally to the other. The words, great of flesh, may point, as we interpret the parable, to the supposed strength of the stout and stalwart soldiers, the chariots and horses of the Egyptians, but possibly also may be a euphemism for the mere animal vigour which stimulated passion.
Have diminished thine ordinary food. The husband was bound to provide his wife with food and raiment (Exodus 21:10). Here his first discipline for the unfaithful wife is to place her on a short allowance. Jehovah, to interpret the parable, had placed Israel under the discipline of famine and other visitations that involved a loss of wealth and power. Hosea 2:9, Hosea 2:10 supplies a striking parallel. The daughters of the Philistines. So in verse 57. The phrase, like "the daughter of Zion," indicates the Philistine cities. These had been, from the days of Samuel to those of Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:18), among the most persistent enemies of Judah (comp. Amos 1:6; Amos 3:9; Joel 3:4; Isaiah 9:12; Isaiah 14:29). In the words, were ashamed of thy lewd way, the prophet points, as his master had done (Jeremiah 2:10), to the fact that other nations had at least been faithful to their inherited religion, while Judah had forsaken hers.
With the Assyrians. Here also the words include political alliances like that of Ahaz with Tiglath-Pileser (2 Kings 16:7), as well as the adoption of idolatrous worship. The latter probably followed under Ahaz as a consequence of the former, and afterwards spread through the influence of the Assyrian colonists—each nation with its own deities—in Samaria (2 Kings 17:24). The culture of the queen of heaven (Jeremiah 44:17), i.e. of the Assyrian Ishtar, may have had this origin. Yet couldest not be satisfied. One is reminded once more of Juvenal ('Sat.,' 6:130).
In the land of Canaan, etc. The words at first seem to give the nearest and furthest points of the intercourse of Israel with foreign nations. I incline, however, with Smend and the margin of the Revised Version, to take Canaan in its secondary sense as "the land of traffick," Chaldea being in apposition with it (comp. Isaiah 23:8; Hosea 12:7; Zephaniah 1:11, for a like use of the Hebrew word). Chaldea thus comes in its right place as closing the list of the nations with whom the harlot city had been unfaithful.
How weak, etc.! The weakness is that expressed in the Latin impotens libidinis, with no strength to resist the impulses of desire. The word imperious (perhaps masterful would be better) is that of one who is subject to no outward control. One is reminded of Dante on Semimlnis ('Inf.,' 5.56). The strange renderings of the LXX. (τὶ διαθῶ τὴυ θυγατέρα σου) and the Vulgate (in quo mundabo cor tuum) are difficult to account for, but probably indicate that the present text is corrupt.
In that, etc. It is better to take the words as beginning a fresh sentence: "when thou didst build," etc. The historical survey of the harlot's progress is brought to a close, and the prophet points with bitter scorn to what aggravated its degradation. Other nations, like Tyre and Zidon, had risen to prosperity and eminence through their intercourse with foreigners. To Judah it had brought only subjection and the payment of tribute. She had given gifts to all her lovers, instead of receiving from them the rewards of her shame. She was as the adulterous wife who forsakes her husband, and gives what belonged to him to strangers. The conduct of Ahaz in stripping the Temple of its gold and silver to pay tribute to Assyria (2 Kings 16:8), gives an apt illustration of what the prophet means (comp. Hosea 12:1; Isaiah 30:6).
From the task of painting the guilt of Judah the prophet proceeds to that of denouncing its punishment.
Thy filthiness; literally, thy brass; probably as alluding to the tribute referred to in the previous verses, "brass" being taken as used scornfully for money generally. Possibly, however, as in Jeremiah 6:28, the word stands for the symbol of shame and vileness (compare our brazen faced), and so justifies the rendering of the Authorized Version and Revised Version. Thy nakedness discovered; i.e. interpreting the parable, the intercourse of Judah with foreign nations had simply exposed the points that were moot open to attack (Genesis 42:9). By the blood of thy children. The words may refer specially to the Moloch sacrifices of Jeremiah 6:21, but may also include the lavish waste of life as well as treasure which had been the consequence of the foreign alliances. The harlot city is indicated as being also a murderess.
I will gather all thy lovers, etc. Interpreting the parable, the" lovers" are the nations with which Judah had allied herself, and whose religion she had adopted. In that confederacy of Moabites, Ammonites, Syrians, Philistines, Edomites and Chaldeans them should be small difference between those whom she had loved and those whom she had hated. All alike would exult in her shame and her fall (comp. Psalms 137:7; 2 Kings 24:2).
The bloodshed may refer, as in Ezekiel 16:36, to the Moloch sacrifices, or may include also other crimea, assassinations and judicial murders (Jeremiah 2:34). Strictly speaking, the punishment of the adulteress was death by stoning (Le Ezekiel 20:2, Ezekiel 20:10; Deuteronomy 21:21; Deuteronomy 22:21; John 8:5). Did Ezekiel think of the stones cast against the city from the catapult engines of the Chahleans as a literal counterpart of that punishment? In the last clause read, with the Revised Version, I will bring upon thee the blood of fury and jealousy; sc. the death which was inflicted by the indignation of Jehovah as the Husband against whom Judah had sinned.
(For eminent place and high place, see notes on Ezekiel 16:24.) These the Chaldean conqueror treated as local sanctuaries, and laid them waste. The clothes and the jewels are, of course, all outward tokens of stateliness and prosperity. The (or a) holy city, the perfection of beauty, should be as "some forlorn and desperate castaway" (comp. Lamentations 1:1-10 for a companion picture).
The punishment of stoning was, as a rule, inflicted by the "congregation" (Numbers 15:36), or by the men of the city (Le Ezekiel 20:2). Other forms of punishement for impurity were those of the sword and burning, as in Le Ezekiel 20:14; Ezekiel 21:9. The thrusting through (better, hewing; the word is not found elsewhere) probably points to mutilation after death, as in the case of Agog (1 Samuel 15:33 : comp. Judges 19:29; Daniel 2:5; Daniel 3:29). in this case the "congregation" or "company" is the army of the Chaldeans, and each form of punishment has its counterpart in the various agencies which they employed for the punishment of the city.
They shall burn thine houris with fire, etc.. The women stand for the "cities" which looked on, with awe or exultation, at the destruction of the guilty. Possibly, however, the words may include a literal sense, as in Lamentations 2:10.
So will I make my fury, etc.; read, with the Revised Version, will satisfy. The words are not primarily words of comfort. They speak of the satisfaction of the jealous husband's righteous anger, and therefore of a completed punishment. And vet that thought was, as the sequel shows (Ezekiel 16:53, Ezekiel 16:60-63), the beginning of hope for the future, as the prophet thought of his people. For here the forms of punishment were not final The daughter of Zion survived the stoning, the sword, and the burning. And so, when wrath had done its work of retribution, it might become corrective and purgatorial. The injured husband, in the bold anthropomorphic language of the parable, would be no more angry. The Lord God of Israel would remember his covenant, and forgive.
Because thou hast not remembered (comp. Jeremiah 2:2). There is, so to speak, a certain dawn of tenderness in the new form of reproach, as compared with the sternness of what had gone before, and this in itself implies the pity which is the ground of hope. Fretted. Ezra (Ezra 5:12) uses the same word, there rendered "provoke." Had Ezekiel's use of it stamped it as the right word for confession? Thou shalt not commit, etc. The Vulgate follows a reading which gives, "I have not done according to thy lewdness," etc.; i.e. the guilt had deserved a greater punishment. The Revised Version margin gives, "Hast then not committed," etc.? The word for "lewdness" ("lewd way" in verse 27) is specially characteristic of Ezekiel, who uses it eleven times. Elsewhere it is translated "wickedness" (Le Ezekiel 18:17, et al.), "lewdness" in Judges 20:6; Jeremiah 13:27. It conveys always the sense of a guilt that revolts and shocks us.
Every one that speaketh proverbs, etc. As in Ezekiel 18:2, we have an example of the tendency of the Eastern mind to condense the experience of life into the form of proverbial sayings. Here the proverb expresses what we call the doctrine of heredite. We say, in such cases, "Like father, like son;" but the feeling of the East recognized, especially in the case of daughters, that the mother's influence was predominant.
Ezekiel returns to the thought of the spiritual parentage of Jerusalem and Judah, as in verse 3. Reading between the lines, we find something like an anticipation of St. Paul's thought that Jehovah was the God of the Gentiles as well as of the Jews (Romans 3:29). The Hittites and Sodom and Samaria, to whom she is compared, had all alike been guilty of unfaithfulness to their husbands. Their idolatry was therefore, like hers, an act of apostasy. Jehovah was their husband also, their children were his children (verse 21). He claimed them as his own, had entered with them also into a relation which, though less close than that with Israel, was as that of the husband to the wife. The thought expands, as we shall see, in the sequel of the chapter.
No very adequate reason appears for the assignment of the respective ages of the two sisters. Historically, Sodom, as the oldest representative of evil, would have seemed to claim precedence. Samaria may have had this position assigned to it as more closely connected with Judah. The left and right hands indicate respectively a position to the north and south of Jerusalem, the observer of the heavens looking east, as, we may note, the temple did (Ezekiel 8:16). The comparison with Samaria is developed more fully in Ezekiel 23:1-49. The daughters are, as elsewhere, the cities dependent on Sodom and Samaria respectively.
The words in italics indicate, as usual, a difficulty. A better construction gives, Thou hast not … done after a small measure only. So the Vulgate, Neque secundum scelera earum fecisti pauxillum minus. The LXX. connects the words with the clause that follows: "Thou wast all but (παρὰ μικρὸν) corrupted more than they."
Ezekiel 16:49, Ezekiel 16:50
It is noticeable that what we commonly speak of as the specific sin of the cities of the plain is not mentioned here. The prophet fixes on the point which made Sodom a luxurious and sensual city, the graver evil being just hinted at in the word abominations, and as the outcome of the evil tendencies. So in like manner the special sin of Samaria, the worship of the calves, is not named, but taken for granted. (For fulness of bread, see Proverbs 30:9 : Hosea 13:6; Deuteronomy 8:12.) Prosperity and luxury in her case, as in that of other wealthy cities, hardened the hearts of men against the poor and needy. There was probably a sufficient reason for the omission which has been pointed out. It was wiser to dwell on the sins which were common to the two cities rather than on the vice which, though it existed in Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:7), was probably not prevalent there. As I saw good; better, according to what I saw. The word "good" is not in the Hebrew, and the words apparently refer to Genesis 18:21.
Ezekiel 16:51, Ezekiel 16:52
Thou hast justified, etc. The word has a touch of sarcasm. Sodom and Samaria might claim a verdict of acquittal ("justify," in its technical sense) as compared with Judah. They had not presented, as she had done, a confluence of all the worst idolatries. The words find something like an echo in our Lord's teaching Matthew 10:15; Matthew 11:24. And, as is common m such eases," she had judged," i.e. had passed sentence of condemnation on those who were more righteous than herself. The Revised Version changes both meaning and punctuation: Bear thine own shame, in that thou hast given judgment for thy sisters; through thy sins that thou hast committed more abominable than they, they are more righteous than thou; but the Authorized Version seems preferable. It may be questioned whether the word for judged is ever used of an acquittal. The point of the sentence is that Judah condemned those who were less guilty than herself (comp. Romans 2:17-23).
When I shall bring again; better, with the Revised Version, both here and in Ezekiel 16:55, and I will turn again. The Authorized Version reads like a sentence of hopeless and perpetual condemnation, as per impossible. When Sodom and Samaria should be pardoned, then, and not till then, should there be hope for Judah. But all that follows in the chapter shows that what is meant is a promise of restoration, not for Judah only, but also for her less guilty sisters. Ezekiel sees a far off hope for his own nation, and he cannot limit the mercy of God in bringing them also, as she was to be brought, to repentance. For them also punishment was a means to an end beyond itself, corrective, and not merely retributive. The language of Isaiah (Isaiah 19:23-25) as to Egypt and Assyria presents a striking parallel, and may have been in Ezekiel's thoughts.
Even in that restoration, however, there should be a further clement of humiliation. Judah should be a comfort (see Ezekiel 14:22) to those who should see her placed lower than themselves, content, at last, to lake the lowest place, humbling herself that she might be (Ezekiel 16:61) afterwards exalted.
Read and for when, as in Ezekiel 16:53.
Thy sister Sodom, etc. The golds are obscure. The most tenable interpretation may be expressed by a paraphrase. The name of Sodom was not in the lips of Judah in the days of her prosperity. It was too vile for utterance, except as a byword of reproach. Isaiah (Isaiah 1:9, Isaiah 1:10) had in vain reminded her that she had made herself like them. Her fate could never be like theirs. Now, in the day of the discovery (the uncovering, or laying bare) of her wickedness (verse 57), she had learnt the lesson.
For thy reproach, read, with the Revised Version, the reproach. The words point primarily to the disasters, not of Judah, but to those that fell on the cities of Syria and Philistia—the Assyrian and Chaldean invasions. (For the grouping of the two nations as enemies of Judab, see Isaiah 9:12; and for special acts of hostility, 2 Kings 15:37; 2 Kings 16:6; and 2Ch 28:18, 2 Chronicles 28:19.)
Thou hast borne, etc. Judah, i.e; had received the full measure of its punishments. The righteousness of God had been adequately vindicated. And so, if the punishment led to repentances, there was room for pardon (compare for the thought, Isaiah 40:2).
Ezekiel 16:59, Ezekiel 16:60
I will even deal with thee, etc. The law of retribution is stated in all its fulness. Falling back upon the idea of the espousals of Israel in the covenant made at Sinai (Leviticus 26:42, Leviticus 26:45; Deuteronomy 29:11, Deuteronomy 29:12), Ezekiel presses home on Judah the thought that she had broken that covenant. She must suffer as though it no longer existed. She must "dree her weird" and "accept her punishment" (Leviticus 26:41). And then Jehovah would show that he had not really been unmindful of his part in it. tie bad remained faithful in spite of her unfaithfulness. And so in the day of her repentance he will not only renew it, but will give it a higher and more permanent character. The "new covenant" of which Ezekiel's master had spoken (Jeremiah 31:31) should not be as the old, decaying and vanishing away, but should be foreverlasting.
Then thou shalt remember thy ways, etc. The pardon which God gives is not, as men sometimes dream, a water of Lethe, blotting out the memory of the evil past. Ezekiel represents that memory as quickened to a new intensity in the very hour of restoration. The shame which it brings with it is necessary as the safeguard of the new blessedness. Thy sisters, thine elder and thy younger. It is significant that, as in the Revised Version, both the adjectives are now in the plural. What was possible for Sodom and Samaria was possible also, as for the cities more immediately connected with them, so also for other nations of the heathen world. They to should be admitted into fellowship, not now as alters, but as daughters, acknowledging, i.e; her superiority. The limitation which follows, not by thy covenant, asserts, as it were, the restored prerogative of Judah, much as St. Paul asserts it in Romans 9-11. Those who are within the covenant of Israel, including, as it does, those who are the heirs of the faith of Abraham as well as his children according to the flesh, are in a closer relation to him than others who share in what have been called (the phrase, perhaps, taking its origin from these very words) the "uncovenanted mercies" of God.
That thou mayest remember. The words paint vividly the attitude of the penitent adulteress, humble, contrite, silent, ashamed (Hosea 3:3-5), and yet with a sense that she is pardoned, and that the husband against whom she has sinned is at last pacified. Revised Version, when I have forgiven thee. The Hebrew verb so rendered is that which expresses the fullest idea of forgiveness, and which marked both the "day" and the "sacrifice" of atonement (Numbers 8:12; Le Numbers 23:27, et al.). This, according to the received etymology, was represented in the mercy seat, the ἱλαστήριον, of the ark of the covenant (cophereth, as from caphar). So the prophet closes with the wet, Is of an eternal hope what had at first seemed to heal up to nothing but eternal condemnation. How far the prophet expected a literal fulfilment in the restoration of Sodom and Samaria, we cannot define with certainty; but the ideal picture of the purification of the waters of the Dead Sea in Ezekiel 47:8 suggests that it entered into his vision of the future. For us, at least, it is enough to pass from the temporal to the eternal, from the historical to the spiritual, and to see in his words the noblest utterance of mercy prevailing over judgment—a theodikea, a "vindication of the ways of God to man," like that of Romans 11:33-36.
The Jews boasted of their descent from Ahraham, but Ezekiel told them that they were children of the Canaanite aborigines of their land, because it was from those people that they drew their present character.
I. ORIGINAL PARENTAGE MAY BE LOST. A man may inherit the throne of a great king, but if he has a mean and servile disposition, and inherits no kingly nature, he is not a true son of his father. Titles and estates may pass from men of high powers to imbeciles. The good name of a worthy Christian man may be borne by a worthless descendant. We cannot entail character. No man can be certain that his children will follow his example, however good and attractive that may be, and when it is not followed the true man is not represented by his children. Thus Christ would not permit his contemporaries to call themselves Abraham's children (John 8:39-41). This does not mean that he disputed their genealogical records. Apart from those prosaic tests of pure blood were the more serious signs of apostasy and disinheritance. In like manner, it is possible to lose the status of Divine sonship, although by nature we are all God's children. It may even be surmised that Ezekiel had lost the recollection of the true origin of the Israelites, and had come to regard them as descendants of the Canaanites.
II. A NEW PARENTAGE MAY BE ACQUIRED. The Jews were not Amorites and Hittites by natural descent. But though on their entering Canaan there was an express understanding that they were to drive out the inhabitants of the land and form no league with them, they lolled in that enterprise, leaving many of the original inhabitants in their midst, from whom they contracted habits of idolatry. We are all more or less influenced by our surroundings, and it is therefore of great importance that we should not choose hurtful companions. But there is a way of resisting a bad example when we cannot escape from its physical proximity. To yield to it is a sign of weakness and sin. The result is to make us spiritually the children of those we follow. The most vital inheritance is that of character. Though the blood of Abraham flowed in the veins of the apostate Jews, the spirit of Amorites and Hittites had possession of their minds and hearts. Therefore the chief part of their lives was derived from the adopted ancestors. A natural Christian parentage is of little account if a spiritual parentage of sin has been accepted by the degenerate children.
III. THE EXCHANGE OF AN ORIGINAL WORTHY PARENTAGE FOR A NEW EVIL PARENTAGE IS AN UNSPEAKABLE DISGRACE. Israel had been accustomed to despise the Canaanites. To have to own a father and mother among those effete subject races was a shame for the proud conquerors of Canaan. But a worse disgrace lay in the abandonment of the lofty spirit of the patriarchs and the adoption of the degraded character of the heathen. It is a shame when the children of Christian parents sink into the condition of children of this world. They know better; they have seen worthy examples; they have been trained under good influences; they have received high privileges. We expect the sow to wallow in the mire, but when a person of higher origin follows her example he degrades himself far below the shameful state of the unclean animal.
The glory of redemption.
Under the similitude of a wretched child cast off by its mother and picked up by a passer by, Israel is shown to have been found by God in a miserable condition and cared for and blessed by him. Tins idea may be carried further as a symbol of the redemption of the Church by Christ.
I. THE FIRST CONDITION IS ONE OF POLLUTION AND NEGLECT. Israel was in a miserable condition in Egypt when God had pity on his people. But the spiritual state of souls in sin is more wretched and forlorn.
1. It is a condition of pollution. Sinners lie in the defilement of their own sinfulness, and their wretched plight is the direct consequence of their own moral corruption.
2. It is a condition of neglect. Until God interfered, Israel in Egypt was friendless. No kindred Semitic tribe cared or dared to rescue the nation of slaves. No being came to save the world before God made bare his arm.
II. THE FIRST STEP TO RECOVERY SPRINGS FROM THE PITY OF GOD. The good Samaritan is a type of our great Father. There is no beauty in sinful man to attract the attention of God. It is not our claim, but his pity, that moves God to save the world. The love of Christ, not the worth of man, brought our redemption. Pity—commiseration for the wretched—lies at the root of the gospel. God is love, and therefore he comes to the miserable in supreme compassion.
III. THE REDEMPTION BEGINS IN CLEANSING. Sin must be washed away before the soul can be received into the privileges of the family of God. Even this early process is preceded by God's adoption of the wretched castaway, and the cleansing is done by God himself. It is as when a miserable child of the street has been taken by a charitable person into his own home. The child cannot make itself clean. But the first act of the kind rescuer is to wash it. Christ cleanses from sin with his own blood.
IV. THE REDEMPTION IS CROWNED WITH SPLENDOUR. The poor wastling is not treated as a workhouse child or put to low drudgery. She is clothed in purest apparel and decked with rarest ornaments. So the prodigal is to wear the best robe and to have a ring on his hand. God does not save grudgingly or by halves. He does not content himself with plucking the brand from the burning. He gives royally of his best to the miserable sinners whom he has redeemed. The gospel promises glory as well as grace.
V. THE RESCUE AND REDEMPTION ESTABLISH A NEW RELATION WITH GOD. According to the richly illustrative picture of Ezekiel, when the poor abandoned infant is grown up, her rescuer makes her his bride. God is often regarded as the Husband of his people. But here the picture is not of God marrying any human soul, but of his marrying the most abandoned. This illustrates his marvellous condescension. At the same time, it shows the supreme duty of fidelity to God on the part of the Church that has been rescued from so dire a fate and then raised to so great an honors.
The renown of Israel.
I. THE NATURE OF THIS RENOWN.
1. The renown of great deliverance. The fame of the escape from Egypt and of the overthrow of Pharaoh's host in the Red Sea spread over the neighbouring lands, so that when the wandering tribes reached the borders of Canaan, they were known as a people marvellously favoured by God. The renown of the redemption by Christ is less appreciated by those who do not share in that redemption. Still it exists. It is a great thing to be among those on whom God's pity has taken effect, and who have been saved from spiritual destitution.
2. The renown of glorious victory. Israel had made her way safely through the wilderness in spite of the arrows of Amalek and the wiles of Moab. She had crossed the Jordan and conquered Canaan. Since then, though often in adversity, she had ill the main triumphed over her enemies. The history of the Church is a history of victory over opposition and persecution. Often the faithless people of God have had to suffer shame for their sins. Still, on the whole, there has been success and victory.
3. The renown of acquired splendour. It is the beauty of the bride that is renowned. The wealth and wisdom of Solomon brought renown to Israel. For us the renown of Israel is that of her religion—the revelation of God that comes to us through her, and the beautiful stories of her saints and heroes. The Church of Christ has won such a renown through her "noble army of martyrs," and the charity and holiness of her less conspicuous children.
II. THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS RENOWN.
1. It redounds to the glory of God. The bride of Ezekiel's parable had been a wretched castaway. All her splendors of jewels and raiment came from the kindness of her rescuer. All the beauty of holiness in the saints of God is due to the grace of him who has redeemed them from a state of sin and ruin.
2. It attracts the admiration of men. Israel was envied and admired by the nations in the days of her prosperity. The true beauty and greatness of the Church win men to Christ, as her sin and shame hinder them. The gospel is preached by the renown of Christian lives. A good biography thus declares the truth on which the life it describes has been built.
3. It aggravates the shame of unfaithfulness. That so beautiful and famous a bride should degrade herself, and exchange renown for infamy by proving herself false to her husband, is most shameful. The old renown of beauty adds notoriety to the present disgrace of sin. Israel's apostasy was the more scandalous because her previous condition had been famous. The fall of the Church would be doubly shameful after the glorious history of past achievements. Men who have borne a high character before the world will be marked with a stigma of the greatest contempt if they fall into notorious wickedness.
4. It preserves an ideal for restorations. The former glory may be recovered. We see in Christian history Types of character to which we should seek to restore the Church. Christ's redemption will confer a higher beauty than that which was lost by Israel's apostasy.
(first clause, "Thou didst trust in thine own beauty")
Trust in beauty.
I. THE POSSESSION OF BEAUTY TEMPTS TO UNREASONABLE SELF-CONFIDENCE.
1. It is felt to be a pleasant endowment. The national beauty of Israel could not but please the people. Bodily grace and mental gifts are naturally valued by those who own them, for undoubtedly in themselves they are good.
2. It is flattered with admiration. The beautiful bride is renowned (see Ezekiel 16:14). This implies that her beauty was much spoken of. Such a fact could not but be pleasant to one who loved admiration. But the pleasure of receiving flattery is dangerous and deceptive. The person admired is likely to attach too much weight to it.
3. It is seen to be a means of influence. There is power in beauty. Admiration rules the admirer. The person who is fawned upon by flattering neighbours seems to exercise a certain power over them.
II. THIS TRUST IN THE POSSESSION OF BEAUTY IS DECEPTIVE.
1. The beauty is not an original possession. The beauty of the bride was developed through the kind treatment of her rescuer. The gifts and possessions of Israel were not won by her powers, but conferred by the providence of God. Christian attainments are all endowments of Divine grace. To trust these things to the neglect of him from whom they come, and even to claim them as original resources, is to lean upon a falsehood. This must fail.
2. The beauty is fleeting. Nothing is so fragile. When it is most needed it may be found to have departed. To trust it is to lose it (see Ezekiel 16:39).
3. The beauty is feeble. Beauty is not strength. A gorgeously clad army may suffer ignominious defeat in the day of war. Grace and attractiveness in speech and bearing do not signify strength of character. The most winning people may be the most helpless when energy and determination are in requisition.
III. TRUE SECURITY IS FOUND ONLY IN LOOKING AWAY FROM SELF TO CHRIST.
1. It must come from the abandonment of self-trust. Even though we are flattered into believing great things of ourselves, taken at the very best, human strength and goodness fail before the assaults of sin. We have to learn that we are "miserable and blind and naked," and to give up the Pharisee's boast for the publican's only plea, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" owning that "all our righteousness is as filthy rags."
2. The needed security will be found in Christ. He is strong to save. even though he appears before us in the weakness of human suffering, and with the shame of his cross. At first we may exclaim, "He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him" (Isaiah 53:2). But in the end we can believe the promise, "Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty" (Isaiah 33:17). For if we begin by trusting Christ's saving strength in this world of sin and need, we shall afterwards behold his beauty and glory in the world of light.
("How weak is thine heart!")
A weak heart.
I. THE NATURE OF A WEAK HEART. It has certain characteristics.
1. Coldness of affection. The first ardor of love is forgotten, and has given place to a Laodicean indifference. It cannot be said that the soul has lost all interest in God. But the old passion has faded and left only the dull embers of a listless devotion.
2. Lack of energy. The weak heart beats feebly, and the person who is afflicted with it does not feel equal to any great exertions. There are souls in this condition of torpor.
3. Readiness to give way. The weak heart may be overstrained; its action may be depressed; or it may be excited to unhealthy palpitation. The soul that is similarly affected lacks stability.
II. THE SIGNS OF A WEAK HEART.
1. Yielding to evil influences. If the heart were true to God, temptation would be harmless. It is the feeble soul that first falls. When a little fear depresses us, and a little worldly joy distracts from the love of God, the heart cannot be strong in its affection. The stout heart will stand out bravely against the agonies of martyrdom. Thus with the Christian, sin is always a sign of weakness in the first instance.
2. Failure in service. Apparent failure may indicate no weakness in God's true servant. The best seed sown by the best sower will fail of fruitfulness if it fall by the wayside or on stony ground. Real failure is in ourselves—it is the giving up of earnest, faithful endeavour. This only comes from a weakness of love. When the heart beats strong and true to God, the service of the life does not flag.
3. Inability to repent. The true servant of God is sometimes found in sin. But he grieves over it, and seeks forgiveness with tears of anguish. When he despairs of recovery or will not exert himself to repent, he proves that his love is cold and his heart feeble.
III. THE SINFULNESS OF A WEAK HEART. We have every reason to love God with all our heart, and with a warmth and decision of character that nothing can shake, for we are embraced by his infinite love. The strong heart of God has cared for us in trouble and redeemed us in sin, and we can only measure his love by the preciousness of the gift of his Son. In view of the great love of Christ, proved to us by his death and Passion, any love short of the warmest and strongest sinews ingratitude on our part. Note, further, that weakness of heart is sinful on certain definite grounds.
1. God expects love in the heart, not merely obedience in the life.
2. God is not satisfied with measured devotion; he seeks a whole-hearted love.
3. Sin in the heart leads to sin in the life; for "out of it are the issues of life."
IV. THE DANGER OF A WEAK HEART.
1. It provokes the wrath of God. It is an insult to the wonderful love of God that we should receive it with a half-hearted response. Christ says to all Laodiceans, "I would thou wert either cold or hot." In some respects weak-hearted devotion is worse than ardent enmity; for it confesses an obligation it does not satisfy.
2. It leads to death. The weak heart will become the heart of stone (Ezekiel 11:19). This degeneracy cannot stay in its present stage. When love to Christ cools, it is on its way to extinction.
The shameful sin of apostasy.
Apostasy is repeatedly compared to adultery by the Old Testament prophets, but the comparison is nowhere so full and powerful and even appalling as in this long sixteenth chapter of Ezekiel, which consists in an elaborate indictment of Israel on that terrible charge. A mealy mouthed modern fastidiousness resents this style of describing sin as though to name it were more shameful than to commit it, for the fact of apostasy from God is by no means excluded when the old name for it is condemned as too coarse for polite society. It may be well for us to brace up our nerves to endure the strong words on the sin of unfaithfulness to God which the inspired messengers of Jehovah felt themselves impelled to utter. In what respects, then, may apostasy be compared to that shameful thing, adultery?
I. IT PRESUPPOSES A MARRIAGE RELATION BETWEEN GOD AND HIS PEOPLE. That relation has been described with graphic pictures in the preceding verses. God had. chosen Israel in her forlorn condition as a miserable castaway chard, reared her in kindness, and then adorned her with splendour and taken her home to himself as his bride. In like manner, all God's people have been first found by him, and then brought into the closest bonds of union with himself. Such a union with God is like marriage, because it implies
(2) close fellowship;
(3) a sacred and indissoluble tie.
II. IT CONSISTS IN UNFAITHFULNESS TO GOD. The people of God are not at liberty to leave him whenever they choose.
1. Love should bind them. There is no such thing as innocent "free love" under any circumstances; for love always implies obligations. Its bonds may be soft and silken, but they are strong and sacred. God's love to us, accepted by us, carries with it a duty of gratitude and loyalty.
2. The pledges of faith must ever bind God's people to the duty of cleaving to him. When we accept the blessings of the gospel we enter into a covenant relation like that of marriage vows.
III. IT SPRINGS FROM YIELDING TO A LOWER LOVE. God's people do not forsake him from weariness or without motive. But some fatal fascination lures the heart of the foolish wife from her true husband. In the case of Israel this was the sensuous and florid idolatry of the Canaanites, with its coarse, cruel, lustful charms. Anything that draws us from God by counter attractions is an "idol of the heart." Money, pleasure, power, success, may thus deceive and destroy. Yet a prior condition of unfaithfulness is the failing of love to God. "How weak is thine heart!"
IV. IT IS A GREAT SIN. Adultery is confessedly a black and awful sin, standing side by side with murder, as a horror of great wickedness. So, according to the Hebrew prophets, is unfaithfulness to God. As we are not free to forsake hint who has inn chased us at the great cost of his own Son, and to whom we are doubly bound by the ties of our own vows, to "change our mind" in this matter and fling up our religion is not a light affair of private convenience. In the sight of God it is adultery.
V. IT IS A PECULIAR SOURCE OF SHAME AND SORROW. No sin is so shameful as that of adultery, and none brings in its train such heart-rending sorrow.
1. It is shameful to be unfaithful to God; for it outrages the deepest instincts of the soul and violates the secret sanctuary of life.
2. It is certainly a source of bitter sorrow, if not now, yet hereafter; for it means banishment from the home of heaven, with the pangs of remorse to gnaw like a worm, long after the short pleasures of sin have sunk to ashes.
How God's anger ceases.
I. IT CANNOT CEASE WHILE THE CAUSE FOR IT REMAINS. An irascible person is provoked to wrath by slight causes; but inasmuch as his anger springs chiefly from his own fiery disposition, the cooling of passion allays the rage of wrath, even though circumstances remain unchanged. But God is "slow to anger" (Psalms 103:8); he is not wrathful by nature, because in essence he is love. But the anger which is slow to begin is the more deep and terrible, as it does not arise without adequate reason. Further, a weak person may tire of his anger, even though the cause of it remains unchanged. An explosion of wrath exhausts him. He has not the energy for sustained anger. The fire simply burns out. But this cannot be the case with the great, the unexhaustible nature of God. God is ever the same, always true, just, active. Therefore so long as the cause for anger is unchanged, the anger too must remain. "God is angry with the wicked every day" (Psalms 7:11). As long as men continue in sin, so long must God abide in wrath. An eternity of sin must, be accompanied by an eternity of Divine anger.
II. IT WILL CEASE WHEN THE OBJECTS OF IT ARE DESTROYED. This appears to be the terrible goal of the text. Gracious as it reads in word, the purport of it is most fearful. It stands between passages of denunciation and condemnation; it cannot describe a kindly cessation of wrath. The anger of God will burn till it has nothing further to consume. Then his fury will rest. Thus it was with Israel nationally. The people were swept away, consumed off the land. Only a "remnant" was spared, a mere stump of the old tree, from which new growths could sprout. We see no more of God's anger against a man when he has been killed. If nothing were interposed for the saving of his soul, the natural consequence of sin run out to its extremity would be destruction. Then God would cease to be angry with the sinner, for the plain reason that there would be no sinner left against whom his wrath would be called forth.
III. IT WILL CEASE WHEN THE CAUSE FOR IT CEASES. There is another way by which the anger of God may be allayed. He is not desirous to see his children destroyed, for he is merciful and gracious. When sin is pardoned, God's fury towards the sinner rests and his jealousy departs. But this pardon does not depend only on the will of God, or he would forgive all his children.
1. It is dependent on repentance. So long as the soul persists in impenitence, God's anger cannot cease to burn. It is not simply a question of the amount and guilt of the sin which first provoked God's wrath. The continued impenitence is virtually a prolongation of the guilt. But when the sinner truly repents, God's anger abates.
2. It is also dependent on Christ's atonement. We are able to read the words of Ezekiel with a more hopeful meaning than that which the prophet seems to have put upon them, because "we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the Propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1, 1 John 2:2). We read that "the mercy of the Lord eudureth forever," but never that the anger of the Lord endureth forever. On the contrary, "He will not always chide, neither will he keep his anger forever" (Psalms 103:9). Still, God only ceases to be angry either because sin destroys the sinner or because God destroys the sin.
Remembering the days of youth.
I. IT IS NATURAL TO REMEMBER THE DAYS OF YOUTH. The fact that Israel has not done so is remarked on as something strange and unbecoming. Memory is a marvellous possession at which the materialist stumbles, for it involves that mystery, personal identity. We can not merely recall the scenes of bygone years, but, what is more wonderful, we can detect the connecting link of personality that runs through those scenes. Each one of us can say, "I was there in that dreamlike past." Now, while all memory thus recalls the personal past, the memory of our early days does this with peculiar vividness. As time runs out while intermediate scenes are but faintly impressed on the mind and tend to fade off rapidly, the early days remain stamped upon the memory with indelible portraiture. Thus the old man looking across the near past with growing forgetfulness, is able to call up the most vivid recollections of his childhood, as one may look across a valley that lies wrapped in mist, and see the mountains in the far distance rising beyond it sharp and clear. Whatever else we forget, it is most unnatural not to remember the days of our youth.
"Sweet memory, wafted by thy gentle gale,
Oft up the stream of time I turn my sail
To view the fairy haunts of long lost hours,
Blest with far greener shades, far fresher flowers." (Rogers.)
II. IT IS WISE TO REMEMBER THE DAYS OF YOUTH. There is no use in simply lamenting lost happy days, especially as we are likely to view them in the delusive glamour of a fond affection. There can be little good in exclaiming, with Coleridge—
"When! was young!
When I was young! Ah, woful when!"
But there is a wise and helpful use of the memories of youth.
1. In thankfulness. It was the sin and shame of Israel that she forsook her Deliverer, not remembering those days of her youth when he had found her forlorn and destitute, and bad saved her from destruction. She forgot the deliverance from Egypt. We have had many mercies from our youth up. It is right to remember them with thankfulness.
2. In warning. Remembering Egypt should have kept Israel from the danger of Babylon. Forgetfulness of the old bondage led to a heedless encounter with the new captivity. It is well to remember the sad scenes of youth. Some of these may be burnt into the memory beyond hope of forgetfulness. "If cutting off this hand," said a great speaker, holding out his right hand, "would blot out all memories of my misspent youth, I would gladly lose it." But he who orders our lives knows that even these terrible memories may be converted into helpful warnings for the future. Certainly it would be far better if we bad not done the deeds which created such memories and necessitated such warnings.
3. In humility. Israel's recollection of her old abject condition should humble her. Proud in her later prosperity, she scorned to remember the pit from which she was digged. People who have risen in society do not like to be reminded of their lowly youth. Yet the humility that comes from knowing how feeble we once were is wholesome.
4. In encouragement. When in the most abject wretchedness Israel was saved by God. That was a glorious fact to be ever treasured up in the memories of youth. The recollection of such a deliverance should cheer with hope of similar mercy in future times of need.
The salvation of Sodom.
That the notoriously wicked cities of the plain should come under the saving grace of God would seem to be one of the greatest paradoxes of redemption, and the more so as those cities had been utterly destroyed and the very sites of them obliterated. A reference to such an event opens up to us a marvellous vista in the deep possibilities of the future.
I. THEY WHO ARE EQUAL IN SIN WILL BE EQUAL IN REDEMPTION. There is even some comfort to us in the sight of the great wickedness of the Jews, or rather in what is based upon it. We read of repealed promises of restoration for Israel. Now, if the chosen people had been exceptionally virtuous, or but mildly culpable in comparison with the rest of the world, it might well have been surmised that the salvation which was possible for Israel could not be stretched to reach others of greater wickedness. But if the "Jerusalem sinners" are equal to the worst of the world's wicked people, if Jerusalem is sister to Samaria and Sodom in evil, the salvation which touches the one class of sinners may extend to the other. God is no respecter of persons. He has no favouritism. Redemption is as wide as sin.
II. CHRIST'S REDEMPTION AIMS AT EMBRACING ALL SINNERS. His redemption is universal in two respects.
1. In extent. As the Lamb of God, he came to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29), not the sins of a certain nation, or those of one section of society. He commanded that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his Name among all nations" (Luke 24:47). If the gospel is to be offered to all, it must be that the salvation is effective for all. Nothing less could satisfy the heart of Jesus, and "he shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11).
2. In intensity. Not only are sinners of all nations and of all sections of society included in the redeeming love of Christ; sinners of blackest guilt are also within its merciful and mighty embrace.
(1) Christ is willing to save the worst, even the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah; for there is no limit to his pity.
(2) He is able to save the worst; for he is "able to save unto the uttermost all that come unto God by him." To doubt that the worst can be saved is either to malign his love or to insult his power.
III. CHRIST'S REDEMPTION SHOULD BE APPLIED TO ALL SINNERS. It is not sufficient that he has died for the sins of the whole world, nor that he is willing to save all—Jerusalem, Samaria, Sodom, the very worst. For only they are effectually saved who have personally partaken of the grace of Christ.
1. It must be offered to all. Herein lies the duty of universal missionary agency. The gospel should be preached to the most remote nations, to the most degraded savages, to the most abandoned sinners. It is not for us to say that any are beyond its saving grace. But how of the heathen dead? how of Sodom, that has been utterly destroyed? how can Sodom be redeemed? Sodom may stand typically for the.worst contemporary sinners. Yet the truth of the text will be most completely satisfied if we deem it possible that Christ's preaching to the spirits in prison extended to the men of Sodom (1 Peter 3:20).
2. It needs to be taken by all. Christ died to redeem all, even the worst sinners, yet none share in his redemption save through penitence and faith.
The everlasting covenant.
God's relations with his people are repeatedly described as determined by covenants. Adam, Noah, Abraham, and the nation of Israel, all had their covenants with God, and Christ established a new covenant.
I. THE COVENANT RELATION.
1. It originates in God. The covenant is not an agreement made by two parties who meet on equal terms. It cannot be compared to the bond which seals a bargain after mutual concessions. It is rather an institution of God which man accepts. We cannot determine or in any way modify the conditions of God's covenant. As the Giver of blessing and the Lord of service, God offers us his settled covenant.
2. It must be accepted by man. The covenant relation has two sides. When we desire to share its privileges we must ourselves enter into it. We must freely accept it.
3. It involves mutual obligations.
(1) God graciously undertakes to do certain things for man, even condescending to bind himself with promises.
(2) We are bound to loyal obedience, and the seal of the covenant ratifies those obligations. Thus it gives man a right to "covenant mercies," and God a right to "covenant service."
II. THE OLD COVENANT. God had covenant relations with Israel in ancient days. The sinful people had violated the conditions of the covenant, and so, while excluding themselves from its privileges, they had brought its penalties down upon their heads (Ezekiel 16:59). God might therefore only remember his covenant in order to carry out its penal clauses. But he is seen to remember it on its gracious side. This could not be because he held himself bound to its promises, for the Jews had forfeit, d all rights in those promises. Therefore God's remembrance of the covenant is his merciful calling to mind of previous happy relations. God is not ready to forsake his people with whom he made a covenant in the olden times. It may be the same with the individual souls. There are men who followed God in their childhood, perhaps learning to love him from a mother's teaching, and entering into solemn promises to live for him in the hopeful days of youth. They may have forgotten those fair times of the long deal past. But God remembers them, and in his wonderful, enduring love he delights to revive them, and therefore he calls his erring children back to the forsaken paths.
III. THE NEW COVENANT.
1. Its necessity.
(1) On account of the failure of the former covenant. The old covenant being broken and having proved ineffectual, a new one must be instituted.
(2) On account of the new needs of new times. The new wine must not be put into the old bottles. The Jewish Law which suited ancient Israel is not adapted to Christendom.
2. Its origin. It is based on the old covenant. God remembers that old covenant in granting a new one. The New Testament rests on the foundation of the Old Testament. Christ came to fulfil the Law by establishing the gospel (Matthew 5:17). The same Divine grace, which in its dawn shone through the earlier dispensation, in its noon glorifies the later one.
3. Its stability. It is to be an everlasting covenant. The old covenant was local, temporary, and fragile on the human side, though firm as adamant on God's side. The new covenant must have other characteristics to make it more enduring.
(1) It is an inward, spiritual principle (Jeremiah 31:33).
(2) It is sealed by the blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:25), is bound to the cross by his sacrifice and our love.
Confounded by memory.
I. IT IS POSSIBLE TO BE CONFOUNDED BY MEMORY.
1. Memory of sin. We desire to forget our sin; but even if no recording angel wrote it down in the books of Divine judgment, the tooth of conscience would bite the memory of it into the very fibre of our hearts. We may succeed in drowning the hideous recollection for a time, but it seems to be proved that the forgotten past may be revived, and that all our life may be brought to mind in an awful flash of recollection, as in the experience of drowning men, or as we all find in the unexpected reminders of old associations suddenly encountered. When our hideous old sins thus glare upon our startled gaze, surely we must be confounded!
2. Memory of mercy. We may not note the favours of providence with which we are daily visited, and we may be accepting them with ingratitude and even abusing them with disobedience. But some day the goodness of God in our past will rise up in memory and accuse our ill reception of it.
3. Memory of opportunity. When the day of service is past and the night wherein no man can work has fallen upon us, it will be useless to plead our lack of opportunity for following God. Many a warning voice, many an appealing invitation, many an open door, many a day of grace, will confront our guilty souls.
4. Memory of the lost. If we have not been true or kind to those near to us, we shall remember the wrong, when, alas! it is too late to make amends, and the recollection will be confounding.
II. TO BE CONFOUNDED BY MEMORY WILL BE A JUST PUNISHMENT,
1. It will be a punishment. Many consequences of sin may be met with a brazen face, but not this. We may even cherish the memory of our evil past with a bad affectionateness, but when it meets us to confound us, all our bravado will be killed, and nothing will remain but shame and anguish and remorse. To be confounded means to have our career arrested, to be put to confusion, to be east down in dismay, to make shipwreck of life. When we fully face the memory of our evil past, impenitent and unpardoned, no less a result can follow. This sin is its own chastisement. The serpent of evil inflicts a deadly wound with its own fangs. There is no necessity for heavenly thunderbolts to dash the sinner to destruction. No demon tormentors need be summoned from Tartarus to torture his guilty soul. His own memory will strike him, his own thoughts will burn and tear and rack his miserable conscience. "Unnatural seeds do breed unnatural troubles."
2. This punishment will be just. It will be the direct consequence of sin. There can be no pretence that the accusation is false. No man can set up the plea of an alibi against the charges of his own memory. Here is a witness who cannot be upset by the most rigorous cross-examination, nor discredited by the bitterest opprobrium. Accused by his own memory, the sinner cannot but be speechless. There is no conceivable escape when the court of justice is a man's own breast and when witnesses, judge, jury, and executioner are all found in his own thoughts.
"To be left alone
And face to face with my own crime, had been
These terrible thoughts are not written to drive us mad, but to urge us to amendment. When there is no door of escape from the awful chamber of self-judgment the great necessity is to seek a new heart and a Divine pardon that we may never be "confounded by memory."
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Undeserved and lavish kindness.
The Prophet Ezekiel was a prophet of reproach. His ministry largely consisted in rebuke and denunciation. His lot fell upon the time of his country's calamity. Defection and apostasy were punished by national disaster; for whilst the exiles endured the ills of banishment, the remnant in Jerusalem and in Judah endured the horrors of siege. That all the evils inflicted upon. the Hebrew people were of the nature of righteous punishment is apparent from the record of their departure from God. It is this point which the prophet presses in this chapter—one of the most painful in the inspired volume. The distinguishing favour, bounty, and forbearance of God are described as aggravating the national guilt. That a people so favoured should forsake him to whom they owed everything, and should addict themselves to the worship and service of idols, was guilt of no ordinary kind, entailing no ordinary chastisement. The figure under which the prophet sets forth the Divine favour towards Jerusalem, and Jerusalem's disloyalty to God, is a very bold and effective figure; and if it were less painful and distressing it would be less just. Jerusalem is represented first as a low born, neglected babe, taken under the kindly protection of the Lord, and by him nourished and trained to lovely womanhood, and taken for his own spouse. Ungrateful for this kindness, Jerusalem is pictured as unfaithful to him to whom she owed everything, as prostituting herself to her idolatrous neighbours, indulging her own passions, and dishonouring her rightful Lord. In plain and pungent language her monstrous guilt is exposed, and its due punishment is threatened. Yet, in his amazing compassion, the Lord does not abandon and repudiate her whom he had chosen, but invites her to repentance, and promises to renew the covenant of his loving kindness. In the early part of the chapter the goodness and pity of God towards Jerusalem are portrayed in terms the most touching and affecting.
I. GOD'S GRACIOUS KINDNESS APPEARS FROM THE RECORD OF THE ORIGIN AND EARLY STATE OF JERUSALEM. In verse 3 the prophet reminds Jerusalem whence she had sprung. Her native place was the land of Canaan, a land notorious for the cruelty and vileness of its inhabitants. Her father was an Amorite, and her mother a Hittite—an ancestry of which she could not be vain. There was, accordingly, nothing in the birth and breeding of Jerusalem which could commend her to the Divine regard; that regard must have been altogether disinterested, benignant, and compassionate.
II. GOD'S SPARING MERCY APPEARS FROM HIS TREATMENT OF JERUSALEM IN THE TIME OF HER WORTHLESSNESS AND WRETCHEDNESS. Under the graphically depicted figure of a deserted newborn child, the condition of Jerusalem is portrayed as one of neglect, destitution, and friendlessness. When in such a state she was seen and pitied by the Benevolent One, who rescued her from death, who nurtured her gently, and provided for her all that could minister to her health, her growth, her vigour, her beauty. Whatever was justly written in praise of Jerusalem, in her fairest and brightest days, must be read in connection with this authoritative statement of the grace and kindness of God her Saviour. She had nothing which she did not receive from him who made her to differ.
III. GOD'S LOVING KINDNESS APPEARS IN THE COVENANT INTO WHICH HE ENTERED WITH JERUSALEM. In the eighth and following verses is described in glowing language the favour which God had to Jerusalem in the day of her espousals. The covenant of love was entered into, and the bride was arrayed in magnificent and costly attire, indicative of the bounty and kindness of her Lord. The poet prophet rises to his highest strain in singing of the beauty and majesty of the elected spouse of Jehovah. "Thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper unto royal estate. And thy renown went forth among the nations for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my majesty, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God."
IV. GOD'S GRACE APPEARS IN THE EXALTATION OF JERUSALEM TO A POSITION OF FAVOUR AND HONOUR. The wealth and splendour, the power and renown, of Jerusalem, especially in the reign of Solomon, are matters of history. The fame of Jerusalem was spread afar: she was "the joy of the whole earth." And this was the explanation: "The Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for an habitation." "I," said the Lord—"I sware unto thee, and thou becamest mine."—T.
Universal consent accounts that woman vile who, married to a kind and honourable husband, in order to gratify her own unchastened desires, commits adultery with her neighbours and acquaintances, and expends her husband's substance in rewarding her numerous and profligate admirers. The guilt of Jerusalem must indeed have been great if it could only be adequately set forth under the similitude of guilt so flagrant and abominable as that described in this most appalling chapter. Passing away from the figure to the reality, we have to trace the unfaithfulness of Jerusalem to him who had saved her from death, distinguished her by favour, and exalted her to honour.
I. JERUSALEM'S DISLOYALTY ORIGINATED IN HER ASSUMING AS HER OWN WHAT WAS REALLY THE GIFT AND GRACE OF GOD. What a lesson is there in the striking expression, "Thou didst trust in thine own beauty"!—thine own, as if for that beauty thou hadst to thank thyself; as if it were aught else than the gift of Divine bounty and the token of Divine favour! We are far less likely to abuse our position and our possessions if we do but remember that they are not ours, save by God's kindness, and that we are not our own.
II. DISLOYALTY ORIGINATED IN FORGETFULNESS OF DIVINE GRACE AND COMPASSION. Very touching is that expression in Ezekiel 16:22, "Thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth." Here is the radical error. It is pride and self-confidence that leads men astray. They who are forgetful of God are in danger of being unfaithful to him. Jerusalem said, "I sit a queen!" And saying so, she fell. It is a too common experience. The Christian may learn to cultivate the spirit of complete dependence upon God; for the consciousness that he owes all to God will help to bind him to loyal allegiance and constant service.
III. DISLOYALTY WAS MANIFESTED IN THE ADOPTION OF THE IDOLATRY OF SURROUNDING NATIONS. In Jerusalem and the neighborhood the deities of the several peoples to the east, north, and south of Palestine had their deluded votaries; and not only so, idolatry was openly practised. With spiritual wantonness the citizens of the great and glorious city admitted and embraced every form of idolatry, and that even within sight, if not within the precincts, of the very temple of Jehovah.
IV. DISLOYALTY LED TO CONFORMITY TO ALL THE VILE PRACTICES WHICH ARE CONNECTED WITH IDOLATRY. Cruel and lustful rites, it is well known, were associated with heathen worship. In Ezekiel 16:20 and Ezekiel 16:21 reference is made to the practice, connected with the worship of Moloch, of causing sons and daughters to pass through the fire. This was but one of the abominable and reprehensible practices encouraged by heathen priests. When these practices are compared with the observances of the Law of Moses, who can avoid the conclusion that, whereas the former were the invention of sinful men, the latter bear marks of appointment by a pure and merciful God? Once let men abandon the true religion, and "go after false gods," and none can tell into what excesses of iniquity they may be led.
V. DISLOYALTY WAS CARRIED TO AN EXTENT EXTRAVAGANT AND MONSTROUS. Jerusalem is compared with Samaria and with Sodom, and is represented as "corrupted more than they in all her ways!" Indeed, had not the abominations wrought in Jerusalem been flagrant, the language of this chapter would not have been justified. The abuse of the best is ever the worst. The greater the height from which the fall, the severer is the hurt received. The Lord was aggrieved by the lengths to which the disobedient proceeded, the riot of iniquity into which they ran.
VI. FORBEARANCE WITH DISLOYALTY GAVE PLACE TO DIVINE DISPLEASURE, INDIGNATION, AND WRATH. The conduct of Jerusalem is nut unobserved and is not uncensured, Mercy has been defied, and just authority has been set at naught. It is not possible that infidelity so flagrant can be overlooked. Severe and righteous is the resolution of the almighty King, "I will judge thee;" "I will even deal with thee as thou hast done." Not only has Jerusalem to reckon with justice that cannot be perverted and with wisdom that cannot be eluded; it has to reckon with power that cannot be resisted. When God arises to judgment and calls the nations before him, a righteous sentence is pronounced, to which all must submit, and which none can question.
VII. THOSE WHO TEMPTED JERUSALEM TO DISLOYALTY WERE MADE INSTRUMENTS IN JERUSALEM'S PUNISHMENT. The lovers are called in to minister punishment to the adulteress; the surrounding nations, especially the Assyrians and Chaldeans and the Egyptians, were made instrumental in chastising the people that had permitted themselves to be deluded and seduced by their vile idolatries. Jerusalem's sin was great in proportion to her privileges, and her affliction was as her sin. And there was an awful appropriateness in the employment of the heathen people to chastise those who should have witnessed against their follies instead of being partakers of their sins.—T.
It is not possible to conceive a more sudden and extraordinary change than that which occurs in passing from the fifty-ninth to the sixtieth verse of this chapter. From an exposure of the vilest treachery and threats of condign and awful punishment, the Lord, speaking by the mouth of his prophet, passes to promises of the most gracious and tender character. It is a wonderful revelation of the Divine heart. As the moral Governor, the Administrator of the affairs of nations, the Lord protests against his people's defection, and denounces upon them the just punishment of their sins. But he does not forget that they are his people. He foresees that the discipline through which they are to pass will not be lost upon them, that their heart will be wrung by contrition, and that their life will witness to their repentance. He promises that he will be pacified towards them, and that reconciliation shall take the place of rebellion and of punishment.
I. ON GOD'S SIDE MERCY IS REMEMBERED IN THE MIDST OF WRATH. The King pities his subjects even when they are in insurrection against him. It is their own interests that they are jeopardizing, their own sentence of condemnation that they are writing. The Lord of all, whilst he is displeased with the ingratitude and disobedience of his subjects, still retains his own character; there is no vindictiveness in his government; he ever delights in mercy.
II. ON THE SIDE OF JERUSALEM THERE IS SINCERE REPENTANCE AND SHAME. While God remembers his covenant, Jerusalem remembers her ways, and the memory awakens shame and confusion. The poignant appeal has not been made in vain. The mirror has been held up before the face of the sinful and abandoned, and the guilty heart has been conscious of its sin. Conduct, which has been the outcome of unrestrained passion or of an unreflecting yielding to external influence, is now seen in its true light. Deliberate wickedness is deliberately regretted and deliberately loathed. "To us belong shame and confusion of face."
III. THERE IS RE-ESTABLISHMENT OF THE BROKEN COVENANT. This covenant dates back from the time of Jerusalem's youth; her infidelity has indeed cancelled it; but God, in his grace, is willing to overlook and forgive all that is past, and to renew the sweet and happy relations of other times. It is a miracle of mercy. God's ways are not as our ways. Human magnanimity, in its noblest exercise, falls short of this action of the holy God. Here is a revelation of the Divine character which may well bring comfort and hope to the sinner who has forsaken and defied his God, but who sees and repents his folly and his guilt. In the light of the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ the language is infinitely encouraging. There is a covenant of grace into which the righteous God admits, not Israel only, but mankind—a covenant in which all the giving is on God's side, and all the receiving is on ours.
IV. THERE IS AN ASSURANCE OF ACCEPTANCE AND PACIFICATION. The false prophets had proclaimed a false peace; a true peace comes only from him who is the God alike of righteousness and of mercy. When he declares, in the language of the text, "I am pacified toward thee," then it is well. When he giveth peace, who can give trouble? The transgressions of other days are forgotten; the estrangement of other days has given place to concord and harmony. Reverence and love are offered by those who were once in rebellion. And favour and everlasting love are revealed by him who but lately uttered words of reproach, and inflicted chastisement and punishment. It is the happy experience of the justified and accepted believer in Christ which breaks forth into the joyful exclamation, "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The main difficulty in producing a moral reformation among men is to convince them of their degradation—of the low level to which they have sunk. The first thing to be done is to hold up to their view some bright mirror, in the which they may discern clearly what manner of men they are. Such a mirror is provided in the chapter under consideration. We have pictured here—
I. A FORMER LOATHSOME CONDITION. Sin is not merely resistance against proper authority, it is also personal pollution—a defilement of the soul.
1. A base origin. "Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother was a Hittite." It is often edifying to look "to the rock whence we were hewn"—to the meanness of our earthly parentage. The ancestors of the Hebrews were idolaters—a branch of that very race whom they despised and drove out. They had no superior dignity from their forefathers. All the superiority they enjoyed, had come from the special favour of Jehovah.
2. Their neglected condition. The kindness of common humanity had been denied to them in their infantile state. Their ancestors, the Amorites, cared nothing for them; yea, treated them as aliens in the land. Again and again Abraham was driven away by famine, and had to find sustenance by favour in the land of Egypt. At length, in the days of Jacob, "they were cast out into the open field," i.e. into the land of Egypt. They soon had no protection nor security from the Egyptian government. They were reduced to thraldom; their lives were made bitter.
3. They were even loathsome to all. To the Egyptians they were an abomination. They were hated of all men. It may have been on account of pusillanimity and mean-spiritedness—the effect of long servitude. It may have been on account of their peculiar customs—their clannishness. It may have been because of their peculiar religion, so different from all the nations. Yet there was the fact that no nation would make alliance with them.
4. Their forlorn and abandoned state. As a female child is often, in Eastern lands, abandoned on the hills—left to perish from want, or to be devoured by wild beasts—so, as far as human protection was afforded, Israel was exposed to early death. The Egyptians did their utmost to exterminate the race. The Amalekites and the Edomites followed in the same track. Israel was isolated in the world—treated as a foe by all.
II. GENEROUS TREATMENT BY GOD. Dispossessed of all natural attractions, God chose to show to this abandoned child special favour. The only explanation is, "So it seemed good in his sight." He giveth not to men a reason for his doings.
1. There was a look of love. The extreme helplessness of a little child often moves to pity the heart of a stolid man. Unless friendly help be at once afforded by the passer by, the puny child must perish. So the time of Israel's desolateness was the time of Jehovah's love. No other sentiment came into play then but the royal sentiment of love. The very heart of God looked out through his eye.
2. There was kindly protection. True love is not content with sentiment, nor yet with smiles, nor yet with words: it goes out in practical deeds. The best thing to be done was done at once. "I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness."
3. There was appropriate cleansing. As soon as the imperilled life was secured, the health and comfort of the child became Jehovah's concern. "I washed thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood." The God of heaven condescended to do this menial work. His real glory is seen in his amazing humility. He deigns to wash us still—to wash the soul from all its foulness.
4. There was the forthputting of vital power. "I said unto thee, Live!" The voice of God is a resistless energy. God's word is creative: "He speaks, and it is done." He who spake to the primitive chaos, "Let there be light!" and light was, speaks also to the soul dead in sin, and says effectually, "Live!" However near the brink of doom, they shall live, if God speaks the quickening word. "Is not this a brand plucked from the burning?"
5. Multiplication of life. He made the one into many. "I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field." He who in the beginning of creation ordained that every plant should produce seed after its own kind, ordained that Israel should be fruitful above the ordinary measure of mankind. "As the stars of heaven, so shall thy seed be," was the promise to Abraham. And the promise was fulfilled. "They of the city flourished as the grass of the earth." Growth of population is an accepted sign of national prosperity.
6. A gracious alliance. "I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine." Though other nations refused to make alliances with Israel, Jehovah did so of his own accord. He treated them with most favourable consideration. He dealt with them as with free men—men endowed with reason and judgment. He made a compact with them, by which he bound himself to befriend them, on condition that they would loyally serve him. This was an act of stupendous grace. God dealt with them as if they were his equals. It gas a voluntary marriage.
7. There was also splendid adornment. "I clothed thee also with broidered work," etc. This once abandoned child was not only rescued, but was raised to dignity and honour. Her clothing was costly; her beauty set off to the greatest advantage. From the lowest grade of human life she was lifted to the very highest. Her person was adorned with richest ornaments, embellished with jewels and gold. Her dowry was magnificent, princely. Her condition was made by God a condition of luxury and splendour.
8. There was conferred on her queenly honour and renown. "I put a beautiful crown upon thy head." "Thou didst prosper into a kingdom." To this rescind child no earthly good was denied. She had more than heart could desire. Other countries were despoiled to enrich her. She was exalted to a place of high renown. Foreign rations became her servants, and kings her ministers. On the summit of earthly glory she sat enthroned, the wonder and the envy of the world. Which thing is an allegory. From the mire of moral pollution we have been raised: we have been put among God's sons. "And if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ;" "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom."—D.
Idolatry is spiritual adultery.
Imagery borrowed from nature and human society, to set forth Israel's sin, is at the best feeble and imperfect. If it is possible for God to make some impression on man's guilty conscience, he will do it. What is more abominable among men than adultery? Yet connivance with idolatry is a sin blacker yet. It is adultery, ingratitude, robbery, treason, rolled into one crime!
I. MARK THE ROOTS OF THIS SIN.
1. The first root mentioned is pride. "Thou didst trust in thy beauty." Love of admiration led her astray. The desire to obtain alliance and friendship with neighbouring nations paved the way. Pride is a bewitching sin. It is often the first rift in the lute that spoils the music of the life.
2. Another root was ingratitude. "Thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth." The Hebrew nation forgot its singular origin. If God had not called Abraham out of Chaldea, there would have been no Hebrew nation. Had God not appeared again and again to defend them, they would have perished. They were singularly indebted to God, and they were singularly ungrateful. This comes of a stony heart. Be shocked at the first appearance of ingratitude, whether towards man or towards God.
3. Another root was irresolution—a lack of firnmess and courage. "How weak is thy heart!" Feeble minds often go astray. Indolence is incipient sin. The neglect of sound moral culture in youth is a fount of sin, a fount of misery. To be safe, there must be robustness in every virtue, vigour in every good quality. A weak man becomes vain, and is the dupe of the first temptation.
II. THE BRANCHES OF THIS SIN.
1. A multiplicity of idols. "Thou pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by." The taste of every inhabitant was indulged. They had "lords many and gods many: According to thy cities are thy gods, O Israel!" He who refuses to be ruled by one Supreme Father soon becomes the slave of a thousand tyrants.
2. Sacrilege. "Thou hast also taken thy lair jewels, of my gold and my silver …and madest to thyself images of men." This was a vile desecration of Jehovah's property. "What have we that we have not received?" Every endowment of mind, every organ of body, every item of material substance, belongs to God by right inalienable. They are his by right of creation, by right of sustentation, by right of purchase. They are "redeemed by precious blood." Every coin of silver or of gold has God's image impressed on it. To use any such treasure in the service of idols is basest sacrilege, is wanton felony.
3. Foul murder. "Thou hast slain my children." Idolatry of every sort is cruel in its spirit and desolating in its effects. Religion is the truest philanthropy. In proportion as we love God we love our children, love our fellow men. Idolatry reverses all the machinery of human nature and poisons all its springs of affection. It changes life to death.
4. Utter shamelessness. "Thou hast made thee a high place in every street." Every eminence, yea, every shady grove, they had consecrated to some stupid idol. Not content to have a whorish heart, Israel had a whore's forehead. She did not blush for her sin. Worse, she gloried in her depravities. Stupor of conscience is a foul branch in this upas tree.
III. THE FRUITS OF THIS SIN.
1. Unprofitableness. "Thou givest a reward, and no reward is given unto thee." As a rule, men yield to sin because they think it will bring them some temporary advantage. But idolatry brings no gain. It is imbecile to expect any boon from a senseless idol. It is expenditure with no return; hard ploughing and no reaping.
2. Discontent. "Thou couldst not be satisfied." The more gods they bad, the more they wanted. Idolatry excites desire; it does not appease the craving. Discontent is incipient hell.
3. Famine. "I have diminished thine ordinary food." God tried lesser chastisements before he employed the greater. A good physician will cut off a limb if thereby he can save a life. If the people had had a ray of light in their understanding, they would have discovered that Jehovah alone had the power to bestow good or to inflict evil.
4. Thraldom. "I have delivered thee unto the will of them that hate thee." Here is the culmination of disgrace and sorrow and ruin. To fall into the power of a malicious foe is slavery, which sends its fetters into the soul. Better death than this; for this is perpetual crucifixion. Under this brand of righteous indignation the land of Israel still continues.—D.
It is a great kindness done by any one if he disclose to us the real nature of our sin. Light from any quarter should be welcomed. To demonstrate to the Hebrews that their idolatry was the worst form of adultery was an act of condescension on the part of God. By their own state law they knew that this sin incurred the penalty of death. With all the circumstance of judicial solemnity, the Supreme Judge summons the attention of the culprit: "O harlot, hear the word of the Lord!"
I. THE JUDICIAL SUMMING UP. The accusations against Israel were twofold.
1. Conjugal infidelity. The covenant made between Jehovah and Israel—the covenant more sacred than between bridegroom and bride—had been wantonly broken. Of this proof was furnished in abundance. It was openly displayed. Shameless publicity marked the dead.
2. Murder of children. The children created by God, and on whom he had set peculiar affection, were cruelly sacrificed unto the insatiable idols. It was murder of the worst sort—murder of innocent and helpless victims. No language of man could exaggerate or over colour the crime.
II. THE RIGHTEOUS SENTENCE. "I will judge thee, as women that break wedlock and that shed blood are judged."
1. The criminal is condemned to public shame. She had openly beasted of her sin; she shall be openly exposed. She shall be made a spectacle to the world. Care shall be taken to bring her companions and paramours to the sight. The most secret intrigue shall be set in the clear light of day. Friends and foes alike shall witness the disgrace.
2. Forfeiture of all possessions. "They shall take thy fair jewels." All the instruments of sin shall be sequestered. The illicit gains of iniquity soon turn to loss. "The wages of sin is death."
3. Summary death. "They shall stone thee with stones." This was the penalty assigned to adultery in the Jewish code. This was the penalty for an individual culprit. But for a community, the punishment ordained was the sword. Therefore it is added, "They shall thrust thee through with their swords." In God's world neither adultery nor idolatry shall long be tolerated.
4. It was an equitable recompense. "I will recompense thy way upon thy head." The entire punishment proceeded in the most natural way; ay, it proceeded in the way of nature. No strange portent appeared in heaven or earth. To the carnal eye no hand nor sword of God was manifest; yet full execution of the sentence was done. As at the creation every plant had the latent power to propagate itself, equally every sin carries in itself suitable and adequate punishment. Death is only ripe sin.
5. It was a satisfaction to eternal righteousness. "I will be quiet, and will be no more angry." The righteousness of God is a force of tremendous energy, and can only be quieted by adequate repentance or adequate retribution. As the sea cannot be calm while a tempest of wind sweeps over its surface, no more can the justice of God be complacent while sin is rampant. But when sin is atoned for, there is profoundest peace—an eternal calm.—D.
Sin seen in the light of comparison.
If men are so encased in worldliness that they cannot see their sin in the light of God's perfect righteousness, they may yet discover some features of their sin in the light of others' conduct, in the light of others' doom. God has employed manifold methods for convincing men of sin.
I. SIN MAY BE SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF ANOTHER'S FALL. In the case of Israel it might have been seen in a parent's disaster and doom. For their idolatries, and the vices bred of idolatry, the Amorites and Hittites were swept out of the land; yea, swept out by the sword of Israel. They had seen the judgments which God had brought upon idolatry. It was a fact indissolubly linked with their own history. For them to fall into the same sin is inexplicable; it is the climax of depravity.
II. SIN MAY BE SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF PRIVILEGE. The Hebrews had seen the result of idolatry in the sister kingdom of Samaria. The calves erected at Dan and Bethel had not availed to save Israel from defeat and ruin. They in Judaea had greater privilege. The visible presence of Jehovah was in their holy of holies. They had the priesthood and the daily sacrifice and the smoking altar of incense in their midst. If some kind of excuse could be framed on behalf of Israel's lapse, no such excuse could be framed for Judah. They knew the better course, yet they chose the worse.
III. SIN MAY BE SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF REPEATED WARNING. The disaster which fell upon Samaria and upon Sodom was in the nature of warning to them. It was the clearest warning, written in largest characters. Beside these matter of fact warnings, they were rebuked by a succession of messengers from God. The sin which was great prior to Samaria's fall was greater still after that fall. To continue in sin after repeated warning is to contract fresh sin. Contumely and insubordination are now added. Warning despised is itself a sin.
IV. THE MEASURE OF SIN IS SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF ITS INJURIOUS INFLUENCE ON OTHERS. The inhabitants of Jerusalem had encouraged others to commit idolatry. Other peoples were cloaking themselves under Israel's name. All sin (like some diseases) is terribly contagious. The Jews were inducing others to say, "Well, if these sticklers for an invisible God betake themselves to idols, there must be a reason. Their Jehovah must have failed them. After all, idolatry must be at least permissible." "Thou hast justified thy sisters in all thine abomination."
V. THE DOOM OF SIN MAY BE SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF GOD'S CONSISTENT JUSTICE. "When thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters, shall return to their former estate … then thou and thy daughters shall return to your former estate." God has not one tribunal for the Jews and another for the Canaanites. Out of one statute book all shall be alike judged. Human conduct in every land and in every age shall be measured by one standard rule. As God has dealt with transgressors in former ages, so assuredly will he deal with transgressors in times to come. Other things may change, but God and law and righteousness never.—D.
A rift in the stormcloud.
Human life is a season of probation. Far better to be chastised here, however severely, than to hear the sentence of doom at the last assize. Present corrections have a merciful design. Above the moral tempest calmly beams the star of mercy. To restoration repentance is needful.
I. THE SOURCE OF REPENTANCE. "I," said God, "will remember my covenant with thee." Although God may severely punish, he does not cast off, if there be a vestige of hope. Though they bad forgotten God, God had not forgotten them; nor had he forgotten his covenant. Though gleams of anger were in his eye, and vengeance bared his arm, the love of his heart had not dried up. He ploughed up the field deeply, that the rain of his grace might penetrate the soil. It is pure love that originated the covenant, and pure love that maintains it.
II. THE NATURE OF TRUE REPENTANCE. "Thou shalt be ashamed." Repentance comes from reflection. Sin is the effect of slumber of mind, callousness of conscience. When the real man awakens and reflects, he is filled with shame. He sees himself in the mirror of truth, and his emotional nature is pained, wounded, abashed. He loathes himself. He is willing to give anything, to hear anything, if only he might undo the guilty deeds. A sense of shame is self-inflicted punishment. It is not simply remorse because the sin has been discovered. It is change of mind with respect to sin itself. It is dislike for all sin.
III. THE PROOFS OF REPENTANCE. Great humility is an evidence of repentance. The old pride is sapped and eradicated. Old prejudices and antipathies disappear. Better still, there springs up concern for others—an ardent desire to bless our rivals and our foes. Sodom and Samaria should be received as daughters. The good we obtain we long to share with the worst of men. Generous and benevolent affection is good. evidence of repentance. "Then will I teach transgressors thy ways."
IV. THE EFFECTS OF REPENTANCE. Two effects are mentioned.
1. Intimate friendship with God. "They shall know that I am the Lord." There is meant here, not simply intellectual knowledge, but strong conviction, intimate acquaintance, familiar friendship. This knowledge will increase and ripen into life eternal.
2. Greater self-restraint. "Thou shalt never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame." This indicates great tenderness of conscience; yea, a sensitive dread of offending God. The more we know of God the more reverence we have for him, and the stronger becomes our desire to please him. As is our knowledge, so is our humility—ay, our self-extinction.
The more thy glories meet my eyes,
The humbler I shall lie;
Yet while I sink, my joys shall rise
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
A picture of human depravity and destitution, and of Divine condescension and favour.
"Again the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations," etc. "We have here," says Hengstenberg, "one of the grandest prophecies of Ezekiel. The prophet surveys in the Spirit of God the whole of the development of Israel, the past and the future." In this development we have the following stages: The condition in which the Lord found his people; the condition to which he raised them; their shameful departures from him; his severe judgments upon them; and their restoration to his favour. Each of these developments of Israelitish history may be viewed as an emblem of man's moral condition or relations with God, or of God's dealings with man. It seems to us that it would be unwise to attempt to deal with the chapter as a whole in one homily. We shall therefore consider its chief paragraphs separately. In the section before us we have two graphic pictures.
I. A PICTURE OF HUMAN DEPRAVITY AND DESTITUTION, OR OF THE CONDITION IN WHICH THE LORD FOUND HIS PEOPLE.
1. Their depraved moral parentage. "Thus saith the Lord God unto Jerusalem; Thy birth and thy nativity is of the laud of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite." The people of Israel are hero designated "Canaanites," to indicate their degraded moral character and condition. "The Amorites and the Hittites are two chief Canaanitish tribes, that elsewhere so often represent the whole of the Canaanites; the Amorites already, in Genesis 15:16, where they specially represent the Canaanitish people in their sinfulness." Moral character and conduct are often viewed as indicative of moral parentage. "When men live according to the courses, natures, manners of others, they are styled their sons, or children." Thus the Jews are called "sons of the sorceress," etc. (Isaiah 57:3). The Jews in the time of our Lord's ministry upon earth claimed to be "Abraham's seed They said unto him, Abraham is our father." But Jesus said unto them, "Ye are of your father the devil" (John 8:33-44). And St. Paul, filled with the Holy Ghost, called Elymas the sorcerer a "child of the devil" (Acts 13:10). The tendency to sin which characterizes human nature indicates sinful parentage. The doctrine of original sin has often been stated in a very objectionable mariner. But there is a basis of fact underlying that doctrine. It is certain that human beings manifest in early life a proclivity to sin. The modern scientific teaching as to inherited tendencies conducts to the conclusion that we inherit a depraved moral nature.
2. Their destitute moral condition. "And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut," etc. (Genesis 15:4, Genesis 15:5). These verses point to the condition of Israel in Egypt, where the family grew into a nation, or the nation may have said to have been born. There was nothing there to foster the moral life and health of the young nation. Nay, more, their physical condition was one of cruel oppression and bitter persecution (cf. Exodus 1:7-22). They were abhorred, afflicted, and brutally ill treated. But the verses illustrate man's spiritual condition apart from the grace of God and the provisions of that grace. Man is morally unclean as an unwashed infant, morally neglected as an uncared for infant, left to live or die, no one taking an interest in its condition, and being completely incapable of self-help. Is not that a picture of man's spiritual state apart from the grace of God? We inherit a sinful nature. We cannot convert or sanctify ourselves, or even do anything with a view to such results without Divine influence. We cannot repent except as we are summoned and strengthened to do so from heaven. And man cannot save us if he would; forevery man is a sinner, and needs salvation himself. Neither can angels save us. Their utmost wisdom, love, and might are inadequate to the difficult task. God alone has pity enough and power enough for this work. If he leaves us we must perish. If we are to be saved he must begin and carry on the gracious work. And we rejoice to know that he does not leave any people to perish without witness of himself, or without some gracious influences from him (cf. Acts 14:17; Romans 1:19, Romans 1:20; 1 Timothy 2:4).
II. A PICTURE OF DIVINE CONDESCENSION AND FAVOUR, OR THE CONDITION TO WHICH THE LORD RAISED HIS PEOPLE. (Genesis 15:6-14.) Here, as Fairbaian observes, "everything is fragrant with the matchless grace and loving kindness of God."
1. God graciously regarded them in their outcast condition. "I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted [Revised Version, 'weltering,'] in thine own blood." He looked compassionately upon the Israelites in their afflictions and sorrow in Egypt. "The Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt," etc. (Exodus 3:7-10). He saw our race ruined by sin, and of his own free and unmerited grace he had pity upon us. We had no claim upon his compassion or assistance. By our sin we had forfeited every title to his favour. We had no grace or beauty to commend us to his regard. We were rather, as in the picture drawn by the prophet (Genesis 15:3-6), fitted to awaken repulsion. Yet God looked upon us in mercy; and he did so of his own good pleasure. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us," etc. "God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
2. God conferred life upon them. "I said unto thee in thy blood, Live!" He saw the Israelites in Egypt as it were naked, abhorred, and perishing, and he designed them for life, and caused them to live, notwithstanding the cruelty, of their oppressors. And it is God of his grace, through Christ Jesus and by his Word and Spirit, who quickens dead souls into life. "God being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, quickened us together with Christ," etc. (Ephesians 2:4-10; cf. Colossians 2:13; John 3:5-8).
3. He blessed them with growth and increase. "I caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field," etc. The explanation of this verse is in Exodus 1:7, Exodus 1:12. The great increase of the children of Israel excited the fears of the Egyptian monarch, and led him to oppress them; "but the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew." Their growth was of God, and accorded with his great purposes concerning them. Spiritual growth in the individual is the product of Divine influences. God quickens and sustains and increases the life of the soul. Hence St. Paul prays "that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power by his Spirit in the inner man," etc. (Ephesians 3:16-19). The increase of the Church also is of him. "The Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved" (Acts 2:47). "I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase" (1 Corinthians 3:6).
4. He took them into union with himself. "Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee," etc. (Exodus 1:8). The child is represented as having now arrived at womanhood. The casting of the skirt over her is an action indicative of taking her under one's protection with a view to betrothal (cf. Ruth 3:9). And keeping up the figure, the espousals are indicated by the words, "Yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee,… and thou becamest mine." This covenant was entered into at Mount Sinai (cf. Exodus 19:3-8; Exodus 34:27). "What grace when the Holy and Almighty One condescends to enter into covenant with so sinful and miserable a people!" And still God graciously enters into covenant with all who heartily believe on his Son Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrews 8:6-13). In this covenant we give ourselves to him as loyal subjects and servants; and in addition to many other blessings, he gives himself to us as the crowning blessing of the covenant. And if we are in this covenant, we may without presumption address him as our Father and our God (cf. John 20:17). "The Lord is my Portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him."
5. He sumptuously clothed and adorned them. "Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee," etc. (Exodus 1:9-14). The washing and anointing (Exodus 1:9) are suggested by the custom in the East of purifying the bride for her royal husband (cf. Esther 2:12). Israel is represented as having been thoroughly cleansed and anointed as the bride of the Lord. Then the prophet speaks of the dress and jewellery of the bride.
(1) The clothing and adorning were glorious. "I clothed thee also with broidered work," etc. The reference is to the condition of the people daring the reigns of David and Solomon, before the kingdom was divided, when they were at the height of prosperity and power. God clothes his people with "the beauty of holiness." They have "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit." "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation," etc. (Isaiah 61:10; and cf. Luke 15:22).
(2) The clothing and adorning were admired. "Thy renown went forth among the nations for thy beauty." The renown of the Israelites and their king is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 17:8, 1 Chronicles 17:21. When men are clothed with the beauties of moral excellence they awaken the admiration of the world. Men respect genuine religion when they see it embodied in human lives.
(3) The clothing and adorning were of God. "It was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God." The prosperity, power, and glory of Israel came from him. And Christians have not a righteousness of their "own, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." He arrays them in glories like his own. "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us." Spiritual, unfading, and eternal are the garments and glories in which God invests his people.—W.J.
Leading sinners to a knowledge of their sins.
"Son of man, cause Jerusalem to know her abominations."
I. THAT SIN IS ESSENTIALLY VILE IN ITS CHARACTER. The sins of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were "abominations" in the sight of God. David says of the wicked, "They are corrupt, they have done abominable works;" "Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity." And Jehovah said to the Jews, "Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate!" In its own nature sin "is an evil thing and a bitter" It is a polluting thing, defiling the soul; it is a degrading thing, dishonouring the soul. It is an infraction of the order of God's universe, and is inimical to its true interests. Sin is evil "in every respect—hateful to God, hurtful to man, darkening the heavens, burdening the earth."
II. THAT SINNERS OFTEN FAIL TO RECOGNIZE THEIR OWN SIN. The inhabitants of Jerusalem at this time were sadly corrupted by sin, but were so oblivious to the fact that the prophet is summoned to bring them to a knowledge of their abominations. David did not recognize as his own the foul crimes which he had committed when they were set before him parabolically. It was not until the Prophet Nathan said unto him, "Thou art the man!" that he saw himself to be the sinner he really was (2 Samuel 12:1-14). The Pharisees in the time of our Lord's ministry were really great sinners, but they regarded themselves as the excellent of the earth. We are quick to behold the mote that is in our brother's eye, but we take no notice of the beam that is in our own eye. This failure of sinners to recognize their own sin may arise:
1. From the subtlety of sin. Sin approaches the soul in dangerous disguises. "Were the vision of sin seen in a full light, undressed and unpainted, it were impossible, while it so appeared, that any one soul could be in love with it, but all would rather flee from it as hideous and abominable." Wickedness veils itself in the garb of what is harmless, respectable, or excellent. Avarice hides its hard and hungry features under the name of economy. Harsh censoriousness wears the cloak of honest plain spokenness, etc.
2. From the proneness of men to excuse sin in themselves. Until man is brought to see and feel his sins aright, he is ready to palliate or to extenuate them. Men are cruelly indulgent to themselves in this respect. And in some cases pride and self-flattery blind men to their own offences.
III. THAT THE MINISTERS OF GOD SHOULD ENDEAVOUR TO BRING SINNERS TO A KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR SINS. To this duty Ezekiel was summoned in our text. And this is incumbent on the ministers of Jesus Christ.
1. For the conversion of the sinners. "Without the knowledge of sin, repentance and conversion are not to be thought of." "As a physician, when he wishes to heal a wound thoroughly, must probe it to the bottom, so a teacher, when he wishes to convert men thoroughly, must first seek to bring them to a knowledge of their sins."
2. For the deliverance of their own souls. (Cf. Ezekiel 3:17-21; Ezekiel 33:7-9.)
3. For the vindication of the Law and government of God. Sin is an outrage of his holy Law, and it should be exhibited as such. Persistence in sin calls down Divine punishment, and the sin should be set forth unto men, that they will recognize the righteousness of the punishment. If sin be not properly estimated by men, how shall the Divine dealings in the punishment of it be justified unto them? Therefore the ministers of Jesus Christ should endeavour to cause sinners to know their sins.—W.J.
A picture of flagrant apostasy from God.
"But thou didst trust in thine own beauty, and playedst the harlot because of thy renown," etc. The prophet row passes from what God had done for his people Israel to set forth how they had requited him. He had shown how, under his fostering care, the outcast child had grown into a beautiful maiden, whom he had espoused and arrayed in robes and ornaments of beauty, until she had become renowned amongst the nations. Now he exhibits the apostasy of the people under the figure of the gross unfaithfulness of this wife to her husband, with whom she had entered into solemn covenant, and to whom she owed everything good and valuable that she possessed. Idolatry is frequently set forth in the Scriptures under the similitude of fornication or adultery (cf. Jeremiah 3:20). The chief point of the comparison is perhaps this, that, as the marriage covenant is an endearing and sacred one, and the violation of it is therefore a heinous sin, so the covenant between God and his people is intimate and holy, and to violate it is to incur the darkest guilt. The wife is under the most solemn obligations not to turn aside from her husband to another man, or to allow any one to rival him in her affections. And those who have entered into covenant with God ought not to allow any person or thing to compete with him for the supreme place in their hearts. We can only view this representation of the people's apostasy "generally," as Fairbairn observes, "and with respect to its leading features; as from the very nature of the image it is impossible to be minute, without at the same time falling into indelicacy."
I. THE BASE BEGINNINGS OF THIS APOSTASY.
1. Forgetfulness of the past. "In all thine abominations and thy whoredoms thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polltuted in thy blood." The Israelites forgot the helpless and afflicted condition in which the Lord found them in Egypt, and how he had championed their cause, delivered them from their oppressors, and raised them into an independent, prosperous, and powerful nation. Had they remembered these things, the recollection would have bound them to him by the tender and tenacious ties of gratitude.
"They remembered not the multitude of thy mercies.
They soon forgot his works.
They forgot God their Saviour,
Which had done great things in Egypt."
(Psalms 106:7, Psalms 106:13, Psalms 106:21.)
A lively recollection of what God has done for us, and of how much we owe to him, will prove a powerful preventive to our departing from him.
2. Confidence in themselves and their possessions. "Thou didst trust in thine own beauty." The things which God had enabled them to acquire—position, prosperity, power—they had abused by making them occasions of sin. They reposed in them the trust which they should have reposed in God alone. How often have men abused their prosperity in a similar manner! A man by the blessing of God succeeds in his business undertakings, and then attributes all his success to his tact, perseverance, and energy, and places his supreme confidence in those powers or in himself. How vain is such confidence (cf. Proverbs 28:26; Jeremiah 9:23)! And another, who has prospered in his worldly affairs, places his trust in his riches. This also is vain (cf. Psalms 49:6, Psalms 49:7; Psalms 52:7; 1 Timothy 6:17). "He who has a high opinion of himself has no desire for grace; and the more he trusts in himself, the more quickly will he squander gifts and blessings. Self-exaltation leads from grace, just as self-knowledge leads to grace" (Schroder).
3. Perversion of the position which they had attained through the favour of God. "And playedst the harlot because of thy renown." The eminence which they had attained by means of his blessing they turned into an occasion of exalting themselves against him. "God made this people above all nations," says Greenhill, "in praise, in name, in honour, that they might be a holy people unto him (Deuteronomy 26:19); their renown should have encouraged them to holiness, and it was an incentive unto looseness. Solomon had great renown abroad in the nations (1 Kings 4:31); that drew the princes to bestow their daughters upon him (1 Kings 11:3); he had seven hundred wives, princesses; his name made way for unlawful marriages, and they made way for unlawful gods." Their prosperity and fame they thus perverted in saddest, sinfullest manner.
II. THE DREAD PROGRESS OF THIS APOSTASY. The apostasy itself consisted of the worship of idols, or the giving unto idols the homage which was due to God alone, and the formation of forbidden political alliances, or reposing in nations the confidence which should have been placed alone in God. The beginning of the apostasy seems to have been in the latter part of the reign of Solomon, when his heathen "wives turned away his heart after other gods" (1 Kings 11:4-8). It entered upon another stage when the ten tribes under Jeroboam began to worship the true God by means of the images of the calves which were set up at Dan and Bethel. Afterwards the people began to adopt the vile idols of their heathen neighbours. But in the paragraph before us the chief stages of this apostasy are:
1. The manufacture and worship of idols. (Ezekiel 16:16-18.)
2. The building of chambers for their idolatrous practices. (Ezekiel 16:24, Ezekiel 16:25.) Not content with the high places, or natural heights, set apart for worship, they erected these vaulted chambers in the thoroughfares of the city. "The natural heights," says Hengstenberg, "are too far from the people hungering after idols. They wish to plant idolatry in the city thoroughfare, and so build for themselves artificial heights. We must distinguish between the thought end its clothing. The thought is that the objects of idolatry became the prime impulse of the popular life, by which is to be understood much less religious than political adultery, though both went hand in hand."
3. The sacrifice of their children to Moloch. (Ezekiel 16:20, Ezekiel 16:21.) From Ezekiel 20:26 it appears that they offered their firstborn to this revolting heathen deity. The god was supposed to be present in the fire, and the children who were made to pass Through it were devoured by it. Aben Ezra says that "to cause to pass through" is the same as "to burn." And the Jews did this notwithstanding the most solemn and stern warnings against it. "The offender who devoted his offspring to Moloch was to be put to death by stoning; and in case the people of the land refused to inflict upon him this judgment, Jehovah would himself execute it, and cut him off from among his people (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5)." But they had become guilty even of this atrocity. The Lord calls these children whom they so cruelly sacrificed, his children. "Thou hast slain my children." They were his because he is "the Father of spirits." His also because they were born under the covenant, and bore in themselves the mark of the covenant. So these people had gone from bad to worse until their sins were now calling loudly for vengeance. There is no standing still in sin. When man has departed from God, unless means be used and efforts be made to return unto him, he will depart ever to a greater distance; the breach between them will grow wider until it becomes a great and awful gulf. Beware of the first faint alienation of the heart from him. Stop the very beginnings of departure from him. Keep dose to him in true and tender affection, and loyal and loving service.
III. THE SORE AGGRAVATIONS OF THIS APOSTASY.
1. Their extreme readiness to depart from God. (Verses 25-34.) The nations
"My gold and my silver … mine oil and mine incense … my meat also I gave thee,"—these things he charges them with having applied to idolatrous uses. The 'Speaker's Commentary' points out an illustration of this in its notes on verse 33: "The picture is heightened by the contrast between one who as a prostitute receives hire for her shame, and one who as a wife is so utterly abandoned as to bestow her husband's goods to purchase her own dishonour. The conduct of Ahaz in purchasing aid from the King of Assyria with the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord (2 Kings 16:8) is an excellent illustration, and may perhaps be referred to in this very passage." And very often still men abuse the gifts of God to his dishonour, as in the employment of their abilities for base or unworthy purposes, the use of riches for vain or sinful objects, etc.
3. Their resolute persistence in departing from him. Nothing stopped them in their apostasy; or, if checked for a time, it was speedily resumed again. The bestowment of many and precious favours upon them did not bind them to the Lord. They actually made these (as we have seen) an occasion of apostasy. Nor did the infliction of chastisement effectually restrain their great and persistent unfaithfulness. Such chastisement is spoken of in verse 27. The blessings which God had promised to his people on condition of their fidelity to the covenant, and which in former times had been so abundantly bestowed (cf. verses 9-14), he diminished as a punishment for their sins. By their religious and political unfaithfulnesses they had been great losers "in land, and people, and influence, and splendour;" but still they were bent upon backsliding from him. Neither mercies nor judgments, rewards nor punishments, availed to secure their fidelity to the Lord their God. "My people are bent to backsliding from me." Their hearts were "fully set in them to do evil."—W.J.
A picture of righteous retribution because of apostasy.
"Wherefore, O harlot, hear the word of the Lord: Thus saith the Lord God; Because thy filthiness was poured out," etc. The scope and meaning of this paragraph is clearly and forcibly stated in the 'Speaker's Commentary:' "The punishment of Judah is represented by the same figure as her sin. She has been portrayed as an adulteress and a murderess. She is now represented as undergoing the punishment adjudged to an adulteress and murderess. The scene is a court of justice, before which the Lord himself appears to arraign the guilty woman. There are present those who are now her lovers, and those whom she has loved and deserted (the idolatrous nations with whom Judah has had guilty intercourse), to witness, to share, or to exult in, her disgrace. In proportion to her former honour shall be her present shame. As a woman suspected of infidelity to her husband had her head uncovered by way of disgrace, so this convicted adulteress shall be stripped bare, exposed to utter shame, shall be stoned and slain, and her house shall be made desolate. Only in her utter destruction shall the wrath of the Lord, the jealous God, cease." In our text—
I. THE SINS OF WHICH THE PEOPLE OF JERUSALEM WERE GUILTY ARE STATED. These have been set forth at length in the preceding paragraph, and we have considered them here. And, indeed, all the important points in the section now before us have come under our notice in earlier portions of the writings of Ezekiel, most of them more than once; a brief consideration of them will therefore be sufficient in this place. The sins of which the people are here convicted are these.
1. Sinful forgetfulness of their early history. "Thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth" (verse 43; cf. verse 22). They forgot the low estate in which the Lord found them in Egypt, and from which he had raised them into a condition of national life, prosperity, and power. This forgetfulness involved base ingratitude.
2. Shameful apostasy from God. "Thus saith the Lord God; Because thy filthiness was poured out, and thy nakedness discovered," etc. The "filthiness" of the Authorized Version should be "brass." The word is used either "for metals of all kinds, or goods and chattels generally, or money in particular It is put instead of the 'whoredoms' of verse 15, because, according to verse 33, these were purchased by means of presents" (Schroder).
3. The idolatrous and cruel sacrifice of their own children. "The blood of thy children which thou didst give unto them" (verse 36; cf. verses 20, 21).
II. THE SENTENCE ON ACCOUNT OF THESE SINS IS PRONOUNCED.
1. The end of their prosperity and the destruction of their city. "I will also give thee into their hand, and they shall throw down thine eminent place," etc. (verses 39, 41). There is unmistakable reference here to the siege of Jerusalem, and to the destruction, loss, and misery connected therewith. The people had abused their prosperity to the dishonour of God, and he would completely strip them of prosperity, deprive them of power, and leave them naked and bare as they were when the Lord first interposed for them (verse 7). "The unfaithful use of the gifts of God inevitably brings on their loss. God cannot be mocked."
2. Their violent death for their spiritual adultery and physical murder. "I will judge thee as women that break wedlock and shed blood are judged; and I will give thee blood in fury and jealousy They shall also bring up a company against thee," etc. (verses 38, 40). According to the Law of Moses, adultery was to be punished with death by stoning (Le Ezekiel 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:24; John 8:5); death was also the penalty of murder (Exodus 21:12). Such were the judgments of adulteresses and of murderers; and in the siege and capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar such judgments were inflicted upon the guilty people of that city.
3. Their violent death in the presence of and inflicted by the nations with whom they had sinned. (Verses 37, 41). The "many women" of verse 41 are the neighbouring nations. These nations should behold the downfall and degradation, the shame and misery, of the apostate people; and the Chaldeans should be the instruments for accomplishing their overthrow, into whose hands they were given by the Lord. It is often so ordered, in the providence of God, that the companions of sinners in their sins become the weapons by which they am punished for those sins. "This is the curse of sin," says Schroder, "that those with whom we have sinned make common cause with our enemies for our punishment …. Friends may in certain circumstances be the most painful rods in God's hand."
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE SENTENCE IS INDICATED. "I will recompense thy way upon thine head, saith the Lord God" (verse 43). The Revised Version is more correct: "I also will bring thy way upon thine head." Sinners "are dealt with not only as they deserved, but as they procured. It is the end which their sin, as a way, had a direct tendency to," which God will bring upon their head.
CONCLUSION. Our subject utters solemn warning against sin, especially on the part of those who have been much blessed by God; for the heinousness of sin is proportionate with the greatness of privilege, and the severity of punishment will correspond with the heinousness of sin.—W.J.
A picture of comparative iniquity.
"Behold, every one that useth proverbs shall use this proverb against thee, saying. As is the mother, so is her daughter," etc. The following observations are suggested by this paragraph.
I. THE HEINOUSNESS OF SIN IS PROPORTIONATE TO THE POSITION AND PRIVILEGES OF THE SINNERS. "The more mercies people enjoy, the greater are their sins if they answer not those mercies." It is by the application of this principle that the people of Judah are pronounced greater sinners than they of Sodom or Samaria. Judah was immeasurably richer in moral and religious advantages than Sodom. "They had Moses and the prophets;" they had a clearer and fuller revelation of the Divine will; they had more frequent warnings and exhortations from holy prophets of the Lord; they had regular religious ordinances, and other aids to a true and righteous life, which Sodom possessed not. The people of Judah had greater privileges than Samaria also, in having the temple of God in their midst, and in having kings of the line of David to reign over them, some of whom were eminent for their piety. Because of their grievous sins, notwithstanding their superior privileges, they are accounted more guilty than the people of Sodom and Samaria (Ezekiel 16:46-48). The sins of Sodom are specified by the prophet. "Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread," etc. (Ezekiel 16:49, Ezekiel 16:50). Her grossest, foulest sin is not mentioned here. Before it was destroyed, Sodom had become a moral plague spot upon the face of God's fair earth. And the sins of Samaria, or of the ten tribes, were many and dark. Yet the highly favoured people of Judah were accounted guiltier than either Sodom or Samaria, because they had committed their sins despite the greatest advantages and privileges. Their wickedness had became proverbial. It was common to say of them, "As is the mother, so is her daughter," etc. (Ezekiel 16:44, Ezekiel 16:45; and cf. Ezekiel 16:3). The principle with which we are dealing was clearly and explicitly stated by our Lord (Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48). Viewed in this light, how heinous are the sins of Great Britain! This land has been must richly blessed by God with civil and religious freedom, with a splendid literature, a noble ancestry, an open Bible, a weekly day of rest and religious service, abundant provision for public worship, and countless Christian ministries. And if these great advantages be not truly prized and improved, a darker, deeper guilt will be ours than that of less favoured peoples.
II. THE MORE HEINOUS SINS OF A MORE FAVOURED PEOPLE JUSTIFY THE SINS OF PERSONS OF INFERIOR PRIVILEGES. "Thou hast justified thy sisters in all thine abominations which thou hast done" (Ezekiel 16:51). "The justification is a comparative one: in relation to thee, Sodom and Samaria must appear as righteous." Great sins appear small when compared with greater ones. Thus professedly religious people, when they give way to sin, cause those who make no profession of religion to think less gravely, or even lightly, of sin. When religious people have a low standard of practical life and conduct, they thereby lower the standard of those who are about them. Sin in those who occupy the place of the people of God seems to excuse sin in those who occupy a lower position, and in this way affords encouragement to wickedness. Let those "who profess and call themselves Christians" take heed that they so live as not in any way or degree to justify or countenance sin in others.
III. THE GREATEST SINNERS ARE SOMETIMES MOST READY TO JUDGE OTHER SINNERS. "Thou also hast judged thy sisters" (Ezekiel 16:52). "Judah had concurred from the heart in the Divine judgment on Sodom and Samaria, and exalted herself above them on this account, as the Pharisee in the Gospel." They had spoken harshly of their fellow countrymen who were in exile, and with self-righteous assertion of their own privileges (Ezekiel 11:15). Yet in some respects, as we have seen, they were the greatest sinners. And still it is not the holy, but the wicked, who are most ready to condemn sin in others, and to judge others with rigorous severity. But mark the teaching of our Lord on this matter (Matthew 7:1-5; John 8:2-11).
IV. THE GREATEST SINNERS WILL MEET WITH THE SEVEREST PUNISHMENT. "Thou also, which hast judged thy sisters, bear thine own shame for thy sins that thou hast committed more abominable than they," etc. (Ezekiel 16:52). Punishment is proportionate with guilt. Terrible were the judgments of God upon Jerusalem (cf. Ezekiel 5:9-12; Lamentations 4:4-11). Jeremiah cries, "The punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater thou the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her." "Sodom's punishment was sharp but short; Jerusalem's was sharp and long." "We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth." "The righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds."
CONCLUSION. Even the greatest sinners may obtain free and full forgiveness through the infinite mercy of God. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts," etc. (Isaiah 55:6, Isaiah 55:7).—W.J.
A picture of reviewed favour.
"Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth," etc. There is perhaps a reference here to the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon to their own land. But it seems beyond doubt that the prophet points to the gospel covenant and its spiritual blessings. Two facts seem to us to afford conclusive proof of this.
(1) That this new covenant is more fully described by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34); and
(2) that this passage from Jeremiah is directly applied to the Christian covenant in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 8:8-12). The renewed favour of God to his people is seen not so much in temporal as in spiritual blessings.
I. THE RENEWED FAVOUR OF GOD TOWARDS HIS PEOPLE ORIGINATED WITH HIMSELF. "Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant." Notwithstanding their breach of the covenant, and their countless and enormous sins, God will return to them in blessing. And he will do so of his own unmerited and unsought grace. When Jesus Christ came into our world he came without any solicitation from man. "He came unto his own possessions, and his own people received him not." "God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The contrast between God and the Jews in respect to the covenants shows that the existence of the new one was entirely owing to his grace.
1. They forgot him and the covenant into which they entered with him. But he says, "I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth." He does not forget the engagements into which he enters, or the promises which he makes. "If we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself."
2. They outrageously broke the covenant. "Thou hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant" (verse 59). But the Lord says, "I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant." Clearly this was not of their merit, but of his mercy. "By grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, that no man should glory."
II. THS RENEWED FAVOUR OF GOD TO HIS PEOPLE AWAKENS WITHIN THEM PENITENT RECOLLECTIONS. "Then shalt thou remember thy ways, and be ashamed." This remembrance is not mere recollection, but recollection and reflection upon the things remembered. Moved by the grace of God, the Jews would recall to mind their sinful ways, and consider them, and take to themselves shame because of them. Like the psalmist—
"I thought on my ways,
And turned my feet unto thy testimonies," etc.
(Psalms 119:59, Psalms 119:60.)
Like the prodigal also: "When he came to himself he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare!" etc. (Luke 15:17-19). There is no real repentance without this remembrance and consideration of our ways; again, there is no real repentance except when such remembrance and consideration lead to shame and self-reproach. Now. according to our text, it is the grace of God which produces this desirable condition of mind and heart. "Law and terrors do but harden." "The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance." Unmerited kindness is like coals of fire melting the hearts of sinners. When the mercy of God is realized by man it leads to loathing of sin, and sincere sorrow, because we have been guilty thereof, and lowly love towards him.
III. THE RENEWED FAVOUR OF GOD EXPRESSED IN THE BESTOWMENT OF RICH BLESSINGS. The blessings mentioned and referred to in the text are those of the new covenant which God would make with man. "I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant And I will establish my covenant with thee" (verses 60, 62; and cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34).
1. These blessings are spiritual. The knowledge of God is one of them. "And thou shalt know that I am the Lord." We have frequently read of their knowing him as a consequence of his judgments. Now we come to their knowing him as a result of his grace. This knowledge is more true and tender, more intimate and influential, than that. This is a saving acquaintance with him. "This is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ." The forgiveness of sin is another of the blessings mentioned in the text. "When I am pacified towards thee for all that thou hast done" (verse 63), should be, as in the Revised Version, "When I have forgiven thee all that thou hast done." "I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). Says Schroder, "As the covenant springs from pure mercy and faithfulness, so in its inmost essence it consists in forgiveness of sins." What a blessing this is] But the chief blessing of the covenant is not expressly mentioned by Ezekiel. God gives himself as the crowmng blessing of the covenant. "I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jeremiah 31:33). Having him for our Portion, we have all good in him.
2. These blessings are universal. "Thou shalt receive thy sisters, thine elder and thy younger." By these sisters probably Samaria and Sodom are meant (cf. verse 46). But they must he taken, in connection with Jerusalem, as representing the world wide extent of the blessings of the new covenant. The gospel is not for one nation or people, but for humanity, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;" "He died for all;" "Who gave himself a ransom for all;" "The living God is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe." And our Lord sent forth his servants into all the world to preach the gospel to the whole creation. Judah is said to receive these sisters, and they are said "to be given to her for daughters, because through her they should attain to the inheritance of blessing." "Salvation is of the Jews;" "Of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh." The first Christians were Jews. The apostles who offered the blessings of the new covenant unto the Gentiles, and received those of them who believed into the Church, were Jews.
3. These blessings are perpetual. "I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant." The first covenant was said to be "everlasting" (Genesis 17:7); and it was so in the sense that it led the way to and was fulfilled in this one. And this covenant shall never be abolished. With all its wealth of blessings it abides perpetually. God, the Supreme Blessing of it, is the soul's unchangeable and eternal Portion. "God is the Rock of my heart and my Portion forever."
IV. THE RENEWED FAVOUR OF GOD PRODUCES MOST DESIRABLE EFFECTS.
1. Sincere repentance for sin. "That thou mayest remember, and be confounded." The repentance which consists in abhorrence of sin, and grief because we have sinned against so gracious a God and Father, and in love to him and to all goodness, is not decreased by the reception of his forgiveness and favour, but rather increased. The more we know of God and the more we enjoy of his grace, the more base and wicked will sin appear unto us. "Sanctified knowledge will produce sanctified shame, sorrow, and tears. When we apprehend God to have taken us into covenant with him, to be our God, to have done great things for us, to have promised great things to us, and to have been very good to us, then the remembrance of our wretched ways causeth a holy shame and a holy sorrow" (Greenhill).
2. Devout submission to his will. "And never open thy mouth any more" in murmuring, or complaint, or rebellion against him. It is the silence of trustful acquiescence in his will. "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it." "Thus Divine grace received into the heart produces gracious results in the lives of those who receive it."—W.J.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 16". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany