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The section on which we now enter—the great "parenthesis," as I have called it, of Ezekiel's prophetic work—contains messages to the seven nations that were most closely connected with the fortunes of Israel and Judah. These were
(1) Ammon (Ezekiel 25:1-7);
(2) Moab (Ezekiel 25:8-11);
(3) Edom (Ezekiel 25:12-14);
(4) Philistia (Ezekiel 25:15-17);
(5) Tyre (Ezekiel 26:1-19);
(6) Zidon (Ezekiel 28:20-24);
(7) Egypt (Ezekiel 29:1-32).
A prophet's work was hardly complete without such a survey of the Divine order of the world so far as it came within the horizon of his thoughts; and Ezekiel had before him the example of like groups of prophecies addressed to the heathen nations with which Israel was brought into contact, in Isaiah 13-23. and Jeremiah 46-51. It was natural that the two contemporary prophets should be led to address their messages to the same nations, and so we find Ezekiel's seven named together with others in Jeremiah 25:15-26, and five of them (Egypt and Philistia being excepted) in Jeremiah 27:1-4; while we have fuller and special prophecies for Egypt (Jeremiah 46:1-28.); Philistia (Jeremiah 47:1-7.); Moab (Jeremiah 48:1-47.); Ammon (Jeremiah 49:1-6); Edom (Jeremiah 49:7-22), with the addition of Damascus (Jeremiah 49:23-27); Kedar (Jeremiah 49:28-33); Elam (Jeremiah 49:34-39); Babylon (Jeremiah 1:1). What is remarkable in Ezekiel is that he has no message for Babylon, which for Isaiah and Jeremiah was the leading representative of the world-powers considered in their antagonism to the Divine kingdom. This may, in part, be explained by supposing that he omitted it in order to keep to his number of seven nations as the symbol of completeness; but a more probable hypothesis is that he was led, as Jeremiah had at one time been (Jeremiah 29:1-7), to see in the Chaldean monarchy the appointed minister of the Divine judgments on Jerusalem and on the other nations. For his immediate purpose it was fitter that the exiles for whom he wrote should "seek the peace" of the people among whom they dwelt rather than that they should exult in its future downfall. He, like Jeremiah, may have been personally favored by Nebuchadnezzar and his officials; and Daniel, whom he mentions with honor (Ezekiel 14:14), and whom he may have known personally, was the king's chief minister. There was, we may well believe, a sufficient reason for this exceptional reticence.
Set thy face against the Ammonites. The main facts that are essential to a right understanding of the message to this people, not to speak of their long-standing enmity against Israel for many centuries, are
(1) that they formed part of Nebuchadnezzar's army, as allies or tributaries, against Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:2);
(2) that afterwards they, with other neighboring nations, intrigued with Zedekiah against the Chaldean king (Jeremiah 27:3), so that it was an open question whether his first act of vengeance should fall on Rabbath-Ammon or Jerusalem (Ezekiel 21:20). In Ezekiel 21:28-32, written not long before, Ezekiel had uttered his prediction of the coming judgment. Here we read that when they saw that Jerusalem had been laid waste, they, like Edom (Psalms 137:7), exulted in her downfall. Earlier traces of cruelty and outrage are found in Psalms 83:7; —Amos 1:13-15; Zephaniah 2:8-11. We learn from Jeremiah 40:14 that the name of the Ammonite king at this time was Baalis.
Ezekiel 25:4, Ezekiel 25:5
The men of the east; Hebrew, children of the east. The name is applied in Genesis 29:1; 1 Kings 4:30; Job 1:3; Judges 6:3, Judges 6:33; Judges 7:12; Judges 8:10, to the nomadic tribes, Midianites and others, which roamed to and fro in the wilderness east of Ammon and Moab, after the manner of the modem Bedouins, with their sheep and camels, and were looked upon as descendants of Ishmael. Palaces; better, with the Revised Version, encampments, or tent-villages. The word is found, in this sense, in Genesis 25:16; Psalms 69:25; Numbers 31:10. This was, probably, the immediate result of Nebuchadnezzar's march. Rabbah was left undefended, and became a stable for the camels of the Midianites and other tribes (Judges 6:5). The prediction has been slowly fulfilled. Under the Greece-Egyptian rule the city revived, was named after Ptolemy Philadel-phus, and was flourishing under the Roman Empire. Remains of temples, theatres, houses, are still found on its site, but its present desolate condition agrees with the picture drawn here by Ezekiel and in Jeremiah 49:2. The language of Jeremiah 49:6 implies captivity and a partial return from it.
A spoil to the heathen. The noun for "spoil" is not found elsewhere, but probably means "food." The Hebrew Keri, i.e. its marginal reading, gives the same word as that rendered "spoil" in Ezekiel 27:5. The meaning is substantially the same whichever word we choose. Ezekiel, it will be noticed, says nothing about the return of the Ammonites, but contemplates, as in Ezekiel 21:32, entire destruction. The moaning of Rabbah ("great" or "populous"), the mother-city of Ammon, gives greater force to the prophecy of desolation.
Moab and Seir. "Seir" stands elsewhere for Edom, but here appears as distinguished from it, the latter nation having a distinct message in Ezekiel 25:12. A possible explanation is found in 2 Chronicles 20:23, where we find Moab and Ammon joined together against the inhabitants of Mount Seir. The Moabites may have retained possession of it, and so Ezekiel may have coupled the two names together. Their sin also, like that of Ammon, is that they exulted in the fall of Jerusalem. It was come down to the level of other cities, no longer exalted above them by the blessing of Jehovah. The Moabite Stone, found in the ruins of Dibon ('Records of the Past,' 9.165), on which Mesha, King of Moab, narrates his conquests over neighboring nations, including Israel, testifies to the strength of the kingdom, and in Isaiah 15:1-9. and 16. it is represented as conspicuous for its pride. They too, like the Ammonites, served in Nebuchadnezzar's army (2 Kings 24:2).
I will open the side of Moab; literally, the shoulder, i.e. the slopes of the mountain of Moab (Joshua 15:8, Joshua 15:10). For Beth-jeshimoth (equivalent to "House of wastes"), see Numbers 33:49; Joshua 12:3; Joshua 13:20. It had been assigned to Reuben, but had been seized by the Moabites. It has been identified by De Sauley with the ruins now known as Suaime, on the northeastern border of the Dead Sea. Baal-moon (Numbers 32:38), more fully Beth-baal-meon (Joshua 13:17), or Beth-moon (Jeremiah 48:23). The name is found in ruins of some extent, known as the fortress of Mi'un or Maein, about three miles south of Heshbon ('Dict. Bible,' s.v.). Kiriathaim. The dual form of the name (equivalent to "Two cities") implies, perhaps, the union of an old and new town, or two towns on the opposite sides of a brook or wady. The name appears in Genesis 14:5; Numbers 32:37; Joshua 13:19; Jeremiah 48:1, Jeremiah 48:23. It has been identified with El-Teym, about two miles from Medeba (Burckhardt), and with Kurei-yat, on the south side of Jebel Attarus. Eusebius ('Onom.,' s.v.) describes it as about ten miles from Medeba, and close to the Baris, lint nothing is known as to the last-named place. The three cities all belonged to the region which Sihon and Og had conquered from the Moabites before Israel obtained possession of them, and they were afterwards claimed as belonging to the Israelites by right of conquest (Judges 11:23), and them may therefore be a touch of irony in Ezekiel's language describing them as Moabite cities. Collectively they were the glory of the country, the region known as the Belka, in which they were situated, giving the best pasturage, then as now, in Southern Syria. Havernick quotes a Bedouin proverb, "There is no land like Belka". Kirjath and Baal-meon appear in Mesha's inscription on the Moabite Stone.
Unto the men of the east with the Ammonites. The Authorized Version is obscure. What is meant is that the Moabites as well as the Ammonites were to be given to the nomadic tribes, the "children of the east," for a possession. The doom that Ammon was to be no more remembered (Ezekiel 21:32) was to be carried out to the uttermost, and the children of the east were to complete what Nebuchadnezzar had begun. The utter destruction of Ammon was, as it were, uppermost in the prophet's thoughts, and that of Moab was but secondary. Historically, the words received a partial fulfillment in Nebuchadnezzar's conquests five years after the destruction of Jerusalem, but the Ammonites were still an important people in the time of the Maccabees (1 Macc. 5:6, 30-45) and Justin Martyr.
Ezekiel 25:12, Ezekiel 25:13
Because that Edom hath dealt against the house of Judah, etc. The statement receives many illustrations, notably in Psalms 137:7, and at an earlier date in Amos 1:11; Obadiah 1:11. What had been malicious exultation (the ἐπιχαιρεκακία, which Aristotle describes as the extremest type of evil) passed in the case of Edom into overt acts of hostility. The moment of Judah's weakness was seized on as an opportunity for gratifying what Ezekiel elsewhere (Ezekiel 35:5) calls the "perpetual hatred" of the people against Israel, for taking vengeance for the primal wrong which Esau had suffered at the hand of Jacob (Genesis 27:36). (For other prophecies against Edom, see Numbers 24:18, Numbers 24:19; Isaiah 11:14; Jeremiah 49:7-12; Joel 3:19.) Teman. The name, which signifies "South," was probably applied to a district—twice, here and in Jeremiah 49:7, Jeremiah 49:8, coupled with Dedan. In Jeremiah 49:20, Jeremiah 49:21 the cry of the inhabitants of Teman is said to have been "heard in the Red Sea," and this determines its geographical position, as being, in accordance with its name, the southern region of Edom. In Job 2:11 we have Eliphaz the Temanite as one of the patriarch's friends, and the same name appears as that of a son of Esau (Genesis 36:11). In Jeremiah (loc. cit.) Teman is named as famous for its wisdom. Dedan is named as a grandson of Cash in Genesis 10:7, and of Abraham by Keturah in Genesis 25:3. It has been inferred from this that there were two branches of the nation, one on the shores of the Persian Gulf, nomadic and trading, as in the "travelling companies" of Dedanim (Isaiah 21:13; Ezekiel 27:15, Ezekiel 27:20); the other settled in the territory of the Edomites ('Dict. Bible'). The latter is that to which Ezekiel refers. A various punctuation gives, with a better sense, "From Teman even unto Dedan they shall fall by the sword."
By the hand of my people Israel: The words received a fulfillment in the conquest of Edom by John Hyrcanus, who compelled its people to receive circumcision (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 13.9. 1). In Amos 9:12 its subjugation is connected with the Messianic prophecy that the fallen tabernacle of David should be raised up. There is an obvious emphasis in the repetition of the word vengeance. The law of a Divine retribution will work out its appointed purpose-vengeance to those who sought vengeance. They (the Edomites) shall reap as they have sown, and shall know that the vengeance of Jehovah is more terrible than their own.
The sin of the Philistines is virtually the same as that of the Edomites. They also had a perpetual hatred. Century after century they had been, with various fortunes, the enemies of Israel—defeated (to confine ourselves to more recent history) by Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 17:11) and Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:6), formidable under Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:16) and Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:18), repressed by Hezekiah (Isaiah 14:31), combining with Amalek, and Ammon, and Tyre, and Assyria against Jerusalem (Psalms 83:7).
The Cherethims. The name appears, coupled with the Philistines, in Zephaniah 2:5, and has been supposed to be connected with Crete as the region from which they came, or in which they afterwards settled. By many writers both names are identified with the Cherethites and Pelethites, who appear as David's body-guard in 2 Samuel 8:18; 2 Samuel 15:18, et al; and who are supposed to represent a body of mercenary or subject troops formed out of the two nations. Both Ezekiel and Zephaniah connect the Cherethims with a paronomasia, the verb I will cut off being almost identical in sound with it. (For other prophecies, see Isaiah 11:14; Isaiah 14:29-31; Jeremiah 47:1-7.; Joel 3:4; Amos 1:6-8; Zephaniah 2:4-7; Zechariah 9:4-7.)
The judgment of the nations.
This verse introduces a new series of prophecies, which contain successive utterances of judgment against foreign nations, extending over the following chapters to the end of the thirty-second. The whole series is deserving of consideration, both for the sake of its common character and in order to note the distinctions of the several parts.
I. GOD RULES OVER THE WHOLE EARTH. The prophet has not ended his mission when he has delivered his message to the Jews. He has a new oracle to utter. The word of God comes to him again with fresh, full, distinct declarations, and the whole of these declarations concern foreign nations. Seven nations are specified. The number is suggestive; the typical number of completeness, it implies that the nations named are not the only ones over whom God exercises jurisdiction, but that those nations, being the nearest to Israel, are selected as prominent specimens. The Hebrew prophets repeatedly extended their gaze far beyond the hills of Palestine. The Moabites might regard Jehovah as the tribal God of Israel, in the same sense in which Chemosh was their God (see the Moabite Stone), and Jephthah might use language which appeared to recognize this position (Judges 11:24), but the inspired prophets made no such mistake. They knew that the one God was Lord over the whole earth. God is now concerned with the heathen. He is also concerned with the godless at home. Men may ignore, renounce, or oppose him, but they cannot elude his notice or escape from his authority.
II. GOD EXERCISES HIS JUDGMENTS AGAINST WICKEDNESS OVER THE WHOLE EARTH. Those seven nations were called to account by God, charged with wickedness, and threatened with destruction. They were heathen nations, but that fact did not exonerate them from blame or protect them against just punishment. Christ announced a judgment of all the nations to follow that of Israel (Matthew 25:32). St. Paul spoke to the Athenians of God's judgment of all men (Acts 17:30, Acts 17:31), and pointed out to the Romans that the heathen would be subject to it (Romans 1:18). These and other expressions show us that those people who had not light and law would not be judged by the high standard of the more instructed, but that their own consciences would be the measure of their guilt. The heathen know sin. Unbelievers cannot deny their own misconduct in daily life, though they may deny the doctrines of Scripture. As sinners, just like other men, if not as unbelievers, will they be judged. We cannot escape the consequences of our sins by repudiating religion.
III. GOD VISITS NATIONAL SINS WITH NATIONAL JUDGMENTS.
1. Each nation is judged as a whole. There is and there will be separate, individual judgments. Of this Christ spoke (Matthew 25:32). But while the New Testament is individualistic, the Old Testament is national. It more frequently takes a nation as a corporate unit. There are national sins,
(1) sins which are committed by many in the nation, and so become characteristic of it, as drunkenness among Teutonic nations; and
(2) sins committed by the people as a whole through its government. For such sins the nation is punished. England will be punished as a nation for England's sins.
2. Each nation is judged separately. A distinct judgment is pronounced against each of the seven nations. God is discriminating in his judgment of communities as well as in his judgment of individuals. All have not sinned in the same way, therefore all will not be punished on the same scale. The Judge of all the earth will do right.
In conclusion, note that God, who rules over all the nations, and will judge them all, has sent his Son to be the Savior of all. The gospel is as broad as the judgment (Romans 5:20).
The scoffing nation.
The first nation selected for denunciation is the Ammonite, situated on the east of the Jordan and to the north of Moab, with its further border towards the Syrian desert. Its scoffing at the sacred things of the Jews, and its cruel mockery of their calamities, are to be followed by a dreadful destruction. Scoffing and mockery are dangerous practices for those who indulge in them.
I. THE CRUEL SCOFFING.
1. An insult to religion. "Thou saidst, Aha! against my sanctuary when it was profaned" (Ezekiel 25:3). No doubt the sanctuary was regarded as a mystical center of the power of the Jews. When the sacred edifice was overthrown, the talisman was destroyed, the spell was broken. This was a matter of delight to an enemy. Thus scoffing is itself a testimony to the power of religion, though that power may be apprehended in a very ignorant and superstitious way. But to rejoice in the downfall of religious influence is to proclaim one's self an enemy of God. It is fair, however, to see that scoffing at religion may be provoked by the misconduct of its champions. Much of the scoffing of unbelievers at Christianity is not inspired by hatred to the gospel, but by disgust at the unworthy conduct of Christians. The sins of the Jews led to dishonor to their temple. The sins of Christians invite insults against Christ.
2. The love of destruction. The Ammonites scoffed "against the land of Israel when it was desolate." The northern nation had been already destroyed and scattered, but the waste and ruined condition of the deserted land was a delight to the jealous neighbors on the eastern border. There is a fierce joy in the idea delenda est Carthago. But this is heathenish and wicked. Sin that works for death creates a delight in destruction. The Christian idea is the opposite to this—not breaking a bruised reed, but helping on the time when "the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad; and the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose" (Isaiah 35:1).
3. A pleasure in cruelty. The Ammonites scoffed at the contemporary calamity of the southern kingdom—"the house of Judah, when they went into captivity." The earlier destruction of Israel is a source of wild, fiendish joy. "Thou hast clapped thine hands, and stamped with the feet, and rejoiced in heart with all thy despite against the land of Israel" (Ezekiel 25:6). There is no more Satanic wickedness than joy springing from the contemplation of the misery of others.
II. THE NATIONAL DOOM. This is to be very similar to that of Israel and Judah, so that what the Ammonites rejoiced to see in their neighbors shall come on their own heads, but still with certain variations determined by their situation and character.
1. Subjection to others. Ammon had rejoiced over the downfall of her western neighbors. She in turn shall be overrun by people from the cast. The destruction was to come from Babylon, but "the men of the east," i.e. the Arabs, would follow it, and like vultures pounce on the prey left by the advancing Chaldean army. Cruelty makes many enemies and no friends. The scoffer must expect to be scoffed at.
2. Reduced civilization. Rabbah, the proud capital, will become a pasture for camels, and the once populous land of Ammon a sheep run. National punishment lowers a people in the scale of social life.
3. National destruction. The Ammonites are to "perish out of the countries." This old-world nation did cease to exist. Though individuals may remain, the corporate life of the nation is destroyed. As the wages of individual sin is individual death, so a nation's sin is punished by national destruction. The wicked Roman Empire was destroyed. It depends on our national conduct whether the same fate will come on the British Empire.
The skeptical nation.
The sister nation of Moab, lying just to the south of Ammon, comes second in the order of the peoples whose doom is pronounced by the prophet of Jehovah. It has its characteristic sin, and it will have its characteristic punishment.
I. THE RECKLESS SCEPTICISM. "Moab and Seir do say, Behold, the house of Judah is like unto all the heathen." This utterance expressed unbelief in regard to the peculiar privileges of Judah. The Jews had given themselves out as the chosen people of God, and their claim was disputed by Moab.
1. The skepticism was prompted by jealousy. Moab was vexed at the pretensions of the Jews. What right had one little nation to arrogate to itself the favor of Heaven? The same jealousy leads those who are outside the Christian profession to depreciate the privileges of the Church. But in the latter case there is far less excuse, because the doors of the Church are open for all to enter it. There is no exclusiveness in Christianity. Judaism was narrow, and while men of most heathen nations could only enter the covenant by becoming Jews, i.e. by renouncing their own nation, an express provision was made to rigorously exclude Moabites and Ammonites (Deuteronomy 23:3).
2. The skepticism was encouraged by the sins of the Jews. Unhappily there was a sting of truth in the taunt which the Moabites had flung at the degenerate Jews. As a fact, Judah had become only too like the heathen. Her separateness was based on a distinction of faith and morals; but alas! this distinction was fast melting away, and both in the practice of idolatry and in a departure from the high ethical standard of the Law, the Jews were assimilating themselves to their pagan neighbors. In the same way, the sins of Christians sow seeds of skepticism in the world. The Church is too much like the world, and the consequence is that the world doubts the high pretensions of the Church.
3. This skepticism was grounded in error. The view of the Moabites was superficial. They saw the glaring faults of the Jews, they observed the external likeness of Judah to heathen people, but they did not look beneath the surface to certain great spiritual truths. They did not see "the remnant" of the faithful, in which the prophets detected the germ of the future and recognized already the true Israel of God. They failed to note that a people may fall grievously from its mission, and yet may not utterly lose its vocation. It is the same with the world's judgment of the Church. In the darkest ages there has ever been a remnant of true Christians with whom could be found the sacred deposit of truth and grace. Even when the Church had sinned greatly, "the root of the matter" may still be in her, so that after heavy chastisement she may learn to repent and be restored. Moreover, the real Christian privileges which distinguish the true and faithful people of God from the world, the privileges of membership in the kingdom of heaven, fellowship with God, etc; are not perceived by the worldly, for they are "spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14), and "eye hath not seen … the things which God hath prepared," etc. (1 Corinthians 2:9).
II. THE JUST PUNISHMENT. This is assimilated to the guilt. There is to be nothing distinctive in the punishment of Moab, only a repetition of that of Ammon. Denying the distinction of the Jews, the Moabites are not to be distinguished in their doom. Refusing to admit the unique national destiny of Israel, they themselves are to cease to be remembered among the nations. Now look at the just irony of history. In course of time, the skeptical nation melts out of memory, while the people of God grow into a greater distinction and fulfill a higher destiny than they ever anticipated.
A forgotten people.
"That the Ammonites may not be remembered among the nations." We have the name of this little nation preserved, but even that only reaches us through its connection with Israel; or if archaeologists can point it out to us on ancient inscriptions, no history of value, nothing to identify the race, remains. It is, indeed, a forgotten people. Let us consider how a nation may bring upon itself this fate of oblivion.
I. IT MAY CEASE TO EXIST. Though the Jewish nation was broken up eighteen centuries ago, the Jewish people remain among us to this day as a numerous, marvelously energetic, and quite distinct section of mankind. But where are the Ammonites? We do not hear of Ammonite bankers, Ammonite newspaper editors, or the admission of the Ammonites to Parliament. Neither in Europe nor in their ancient Syrian plains and uplands are those long-lost people ever mentioned except as a race of antiquity. Now, how comes it that a people thus ceases to exist? A nation can only withstand the shock of invasion, conquest, and deportation to foreign parts without the loss of separate existence if its members are inspired and bound together by the possession of one common great idea. It is the Hebrew idea that retains the Jewish name and race as a separate entity independent of geographical boundaries and political revolutions. If the English are not to become an extinct people, they must depend on more than a strong navy and a well-equipped army; for no one can predict the chances of war. If we continue distinguished in our mission as a civilizing, Christianizing people, we can never cease to have our part in the great world's history. The Church will ultimately cease to exist if she eliminates all that is distinctive in Christian truth, and thinks to prosper simply on account of the strength of her organization and the wealth of her vested interests. But if she retains her sacred tradition of truth, she can outlive all revolutionary attacks on her worldly status.
II. IT MAY FAIL TO EXERT INFLUENCE. Each nation has its own peculiar privileges and vocation. However small a people may be, if it truly appreciates its privileges and honestly fulfils its vocation, it cannot well be forgotten. Achaia was a small state, yet as long as civilization endures it can never be forgotten. The Greeks contributed permanent elements to the world's civilization; and since Greek thought has passed into universal culture, it is impossible for Hellas to fall out of the memory of man, unless man degenerates to barbarism. The memory of Israel is greater than her present appearance and immediate influence. The Jews gave us the Bible, and with the Bible the eternal foundation of our faith. Therefore the Jews can never be forgotten. But what have the Ammonites given to the world? Contributing nothing, they deservedly sink into oblivion. If England is to live in history and in the world's continuous course, she must do her part and contribute her elements towards the progress of the race. The Church of the apostolic era was too fruitful ever to be forgotten. The Church of the nineteenth century will live or be forgotten according as it contributes to the spread of the kingdom of heaven and the help of man in his higher thought and life, or fails in this mission and sinks back into ignominious inactivity, frivolous formalism, and unspiritual self-complacency.
The revengeful nation.
The Edomites are characterized as an especially revengeful people, because they watched for their opportunity, and, when the Jews were crushed and prostrate beneath the cruel Chaldean invasion, rushed in to smite their fallen foe.
I. THE WICKED REVENGE.
1. Vengeance is presumptuous. There is a right recompense for sin, but this lies with God. "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord" (Romans 12:19). He who seizes the weapons of vengeance usurps the authority of God.
2. Vengeance is cruel. Divine vengeance is a just punishment. There is no vindictive pleasure in it. But human vengeance springs from an evil appetite, that seeks a personal satisfaction in the sufferings of its victim. Such vengeance is distinctly wicked. Indeed, the self-elected minister of vengeance is forced into this dilemma—either his vengeance is a delight to him, or it is not. If it is a delight, the joy is wicked, devilish; if it is no delight, why does he practice it, for the plea that he is urged by a sense of public duty is delusive? Directly that becomes the motive, revenge vanishes and punishment takes its place.
3. Vengeance is unchristian. It is to be noted that this vengeful spirit was charged as a great wickedness against the Edomites. They lived in the pre-Christian days, and they were a heathen nation. Much more, then, is revenge sinful in a Christian. We have the clearer New Testament light; we have also the wonderful example of Christ to deter us from revenge. For us to behave as the Edomites is to merit their doom twice over.
4. Vengeance is mean-spirited. Apart from all the above-named considerations, when the question is approached on the lowest ground, vengeance bears a despicable aspect. The Edomites waited till the Chaldean power had overthrown Judah; then they rushed in to complete the destruction. This was behaving like the jackals, who cannot destroy big game, but who are mad to devour the carrion that the lion has left. Revenge knows no honorable laws of war. It has the degraded spirit of the assassin.
II. THE NATURAL PUNISHMENT. There is generally a resemblance between sin and its penalty. The punishment is just the fruit of the sin. Thus the vengeful conduct of the Edomites brings vengeance on the head of the vindictive people.
1. Revenge does not end a quarrel. This is the mistake of it. It is foolish and short-sighted, for, in return for its own brief, wild delight, it rouses fresh enmity and provokes retaliation. The too stern treatment of the French by the Germans left a rankling spirit of vengeance in the breasts of the defeated people. The vendetta in Corsica keeps up a feud for generations—each member on one side provoking one in return from the other side. Shylock speaks of the mutual vengeance of race-hatred, "if a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Revenge."
2. Revenge provokes the most bitter punishment. This comes from the wronged victim. Judah takes vengeance on Edom. Possibly this happens indirectly through the Chaldean invasion predicted by Jewish prophets, or Jews may have some direct hand in the work. Vengeance makes enemies. This form of self-protection is a fatal failure. The true victory over one's enemies is by forgiveness, the heaping coals of fire on his head (Proverbs 25:21, Proverbs 25:22).
The hating nation.
The Philistines are signalized by an ugly preeminence in hatred, and they are to be punished with an extremity of Divine vengeance.
1. THE PRE-EMINENT HATRED. Partly through her own mischief-making, but largely on account of unwarrantable jealousy, the favored land of Israel had been troubled with the enmity of most of her neighbors. But no people had shown such bitter and long-cherished animosity as the little fishing and farming community on its southwestern border. From the days of the judges, the Philistines appear as the hereditary enemies of Israel. Possibly the fact that they were hemmed in between the hill country of Judah and the sea, and so were cramped for room and had their access to the east and the west cut off from them, made them jealous of their more prosperous and expansive neighbors. Be that as it may, hatred characterizes the relations between the two peoples. Close contact does not produce friendship if sympathy or its worldly substitute, mutual interest, be lacking. The most bitter quarrels are those between near neighbors. Family feuds are proverbially rancorous. Means of communication will not bring "peace on earth" and "good will towards men." Commerce does not abolish war. Railways have not made friends of France and Germany. Hatred must be conquered by deeper means than worldly advantage.
II. THE DREADFUL DOOM.
1. It is a Divine vengeance. This must always be fearful; but there are degrees in the execution of it determined by varieties in the character and conduct of men. Here it is described as peculiarly heavy—"great vengeance," "with furious rebukes." There is nothing that God prizes so highly as unselfish love, the queen of all virtues; and accordingly there is nothing that he so deeply hates as hatred. This is a sin that most surely provokes the wrath of Heaven.
2. It is seen in destructions. The Philistines had been named "Cherethims"—"extirpated" from their old land when they came as exiles across the Levant and settled on its eastern shore. Now they will deserve that name a second time, for they must be extirpated outright. This thing has been accomplished. The Philistines have ceased to exist. A similar doom had been threatened against the other nations, but with Philistia it was most impressive, as coming most directly from the hand of God.
3. It is experienced after long delay. For generations the Philistines had been the incessant enemies of Judah, a perpetual thorn in her side, sometimes utilized for purposes of needful castigation, often slumbering in impotent inactivity, but never truly reconciled to the Jews. Their punishment was long delayed, but it was not outlived. It is a fearful thing to suffer from accumulated punishment. Awful must be the doom of the aged sinner. Yet it is never too late to return. Even penitent Philistines will be pardoned.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The prophet, having been enjoined to silence for a season with regard to Israel, turns to the several heathen nations by which his countrymen were encompassed. His mission to them must have been one very painful to discharge; for he was called upon to rebuke their sins and to denounce against them the anger of an omniscient and righteous Ruler. Between Ammon and Israel there was ancient feud. But the day of Ammon's judgment was now at hand.
I. THE NATURE OF MALIGNITY. The children of Ammon are charged with malevolence and malignity. They wished harm to their neighbors, the children of Israel; and, when evil came upon them, they rejoiced in their neighbors' calamities. When Judah's sanctuary was profaned, when the land was laid waste and desolate, when Judah's sons were carried captive, they said, "Aha!" they clapped their hands, they stamped with their feet, and rejoiced with all the despite of their soul. All these actions were manifestations of a vile disposition and habit of mind leading to satisfaction in the ills and adversity befalling others. The reality of such a vice as malignity cannot be questioned.
II. THE BASENESS OF MALIGNITY. There are sins into which men fall through the pressure of temptation arising from their natural constitution, and through the circumstances of life providentially permitted. We recognize in such sins signs of the frailty of human nature, and we make allowances for the strength of the temptation to which the sinner has yielded. But the sin of which the Ammonites were guilty was of a different kind. What were called by Lord Shaftesbury, the author of the 'Characteristics,' the "unsocial passions," are of all the most blamable and inexcusable. They are those habitual emotions known as malice, envy, jealousy, malignity. It is wrong to seek our own pleasures overmuch; but it is worse to seek and to delight in the suffering and the ruin of our fellow-creatures. Inasmuch as we are members of one race, of one body, and partakers of one nature, we are peculiarly bound to sympathy, benevolence, and mutual helpfulness. The Christian law is one of great beauty both in substance and in expression, "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, weep with them that weep." The malignity displayed by the children of Ammon was not only neglect and violation of the natural law of sympathy, it was in exact opposition to that law. This is a sin not even now extinct; traces of its presence may be found even in Christian communities, though decency may compel those who are guilty of it to conceal it with a thin disguise. But it is a sin which every conscience must condemn, and in defense or even extenuation of which no word can be uttered.
III. THE EXPLANATION OF MALIGNITY. This habit of mind may have originated in a state of society in which every man's hand was against his neighbor, in which, consequently, suspicion and distrust were prevalent. In such a state of social life the strength of a neighbor was a source of danger and fear to a people conscious of their own weakness; and any calamity which diminished a formidable neighbor's power to harm would awaken satisfaction and rejoicing, as presaging peace and the opportunity of progress and prosperity. The emotion may survive the circumstances in which it arose. But this can be no excuse for the cherishing of malevolence and malignity in ordinary states of society, in which it is an unjustifiable expression of the worst tendencies of human nature.
IV. THE CONDEMNATION AND PUNISHMENT OF MALIGNITY. The sentence issued against Ammon is one of awful severity; the sin must have been inexcusable and even horrible to call for such a punishment as is here published. They were to be conquered and spoiled; strangers were to possess their land and enjoy its produce; and as a people they were to be blotted out from amongst the nations, and to be no more. The displeasure of the Eternal could not be more powerfully exhibited. And there is every reason for believing that the same sin is ever regarded with the same disapproval and meets with a similar retribution. Malignity reached its deepest depths when the holy Jesus was hated by scribes, Pharisees, and religious leaders, who found in his goodness the reproach of their sin. Israel rejected Israel's noblest Son, nay, the Son of God himself. And in rejecting Christ the ancient people of God brought upon themselves the condemnation which has from that day to this remained upon the scattered and homeless sons of Abraham. How awful and how instructive are the lessons concerning God's hatred of sin embodied in the history of mankind!—T.
The blasphemy and the punishment of Moab.
Although Ezekiel, speaking as the prophet of the Lord, has words of upbraiding and of threatening for the several nations from whose hostility Israel suffered, it is not the case that these words are words of indiscriminate application. On the contrary, they have special reference to the circumstances of the several peoples and to their peculiar relations with Israel. In the case of Moab, the prophet urges a peculiar charge, which is not, indeed, supported by detailed facts, but which he was nevertheless assured was a just charge and a heinous offence.
I. THE PECULIAR OFFENSE. Moab was convicted of saying, "The house of Judah is like unto all the nations." The prophet knew, and we know, that the descendants of Jacob were a separated, chosen, and peculiar people. And to assert the contrary, as Moab had done, was to cast a slur upon the revelation of God, upon the vocation with which his people were called, upon the purpose which Divine wisdom had in view in conferring upon them special privileges.
II. THE MORAL ENORMITY OF THE OFFENSE. It is only when the character of this sin of Moab is carefully considered, with all that it involves, that the guilt of Moab appears in its proper blackness.
1. It involves the classing of the holy and ever-blessed Jehovah with the idols which were the expression of human injustice, cruelty, caprice, and lust.
2. It involves the confusion of the righteous laws of Moses with the regulations and observances which obtained in heathen communities, some just and some unjust, and many of them superstitious and impure.
3. It involves the confusion of the Divine ordinances of sacrifice, of priesthood, of religious service, of sacred festivals, with the debasing rites practiced among the unenlightened idolaters.
4. It involves the classing together of the people consecrated to Jehovah with those who had abandoned themselves to systems of selfishness, worldliness, or superstition. All this was just calling darkness light, and light darkness. It, indeed, reminds us of what our Lord has said regarding blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. We cannot, therefore, look upon this offence of the Moabites as something which has no application to ourselves. The offence of calling evil good and good evil is an offence which, in various forms, is committed in our own day, and against which, therefore, men need still to be warned. There are blemishes in the Church of Christ as it actually exists upon earth; but still it is the Church of Christ, and it must not, therefore, be confounded with institutions of human origin, and to speak of it as we might speak of other organizations and institutions is to sin somewhat after the manner of the sin of Moab in the days of the Captivity.
III. THE PUNISHMENT OF THE OFFENSE. In the case of Moab this was terrible indeed. The territory was to be laid open to the incursions of the Eastern foe, the cities were to be taken by a foreign force, judgments were to be executed upon the people, and, like the Ammonites, they were to be overtaken by speedy and irremediable ruin. The very thought of such infliction is enough to make the sinner tremble, to induce him to repent of his evil words and actions, and to seek, in God's own way, reconciliation with the authority which he has despised, Silence, contrition, and true submission of heart are the true way of peace.—T.
The hostility add the curse of Edom.
Often in the course of Old Testament history do we meet with references to the inhabitants of Edom, and usually they are exhibited as taking an attitude of hostility towards the chosen people. It is certainly remarkable that Ezekiel, in his Eastern captivity, should concern himself with these border states. But it is evident that he was at the time very deeply impressed with the great principle of national responsibility and national retribution; and that it was revealed to him that this principle had application, not to the Jews alone, but to all the nations of the earth. The Edomites, upon the eastern frontiers of the southern tribes, were often a source of annoyance to the inhabitants of Judah and their neighbors. They were regarded as the foes, not of Israel only, but of Israel's God. And against them the prophet utters words of reproach and of threatening.
I. THE MANIFESTATION OF EDOM'S HOSTILITY AGAINST JUDAH. The attitude of opposition which Edom assumed had an especial character; it was designated "vengeance," "revenge." This implies a standing feud, and the bitterness which is bred of repeated acts of enmity and injustice.
II. THE GROUND AND CAUSE OF THIS HOSTILITY. We are not expressly informed upon this point; but we shall not err in assigning this enmity to the repugnance entertained by the Edomites to the religion of Judah, and to the worship and prescribed rites and observances which were so much in conflict with the idolatrous religion professed and practiced by the children of Edom.
III. THE GUILT OF THIS HOSTILITY. This is apparent both from the nature of the ease itself, and from the retribution which Divine justice deemed necessary in its chastisement.
IV. THE PECULIAR FORM OF PUNISHMENT WITH WHICH EDOM WAS VISITED. This is perhaps the most striking figure in the passage. Retribution was to be wrought upon Edom "by the hand of my people, Israel." The sufferers were the instruments of punishment. The power of Judah may have seemed scarcely adequate to the task. But it was appointed by the King of nations that the Edomites should pay the penalty of sin; and, not only so, but that those whom they had hated and reviled should be the scourge by which the smiters should be smitten. The hand of God's people Israel was God's own hand, and, when the Edomites felt it, they knew by bitter experience the righteous vengeance of the Lord.—T.
The old hatred.
Between the Israelites, the children of light, and the Philistines, the children of darkness, there existed for centuries almost uninterrupted hostility. Their position upon the coast, their powerful cities, their formidable warriors, their imposing yet debasing religion, concurred to make them mighty. And the immediate neighborhood of the descendants of Abraham brought the two peoples into frequent collision. The Philistines were sometimes used as the means of humiliating the unfaithful and disobedient children of Israel; and bitterly was the discipline felt when the Philistines rejoiced over them. For the Philistines on the west, as well as for the Ammonites and Edomites upon the east, the day of reckoning was at hand.
I. THE HATRED OF THE PHILISTINES TOWARDS ISRAEL WAS ANCIENT, PERENNIAL, AND UNDECAYING. This may be illustrated from the historical books of the Old Testament Scriptures.
II. THIS HATRED HAD ITS POLITICAL ORIGIN IN THE SETTLEMENT OF THE ISRAELITES IN CANAAN.
III. AND ITS RELIGIOUS ORIGIN IN THE CONTRAST BETWEEN THE PURE WORSHIP OF JEHOVAH AND THE DEGRADING RELIGION PRACTICED IN PHILISTIA.
IV. THIS HATRED DISPLAYED ITSELF OFFENSIVELY IN THE TIME OF ISRAEL'S DEPRESSION AND HUMILIATION.
V. THIS HATRED BROUGHT DOWN UPON THE PHILISTINES THE INDIGNATION AND THE RETRIBUTIVE RECOMPENSE OF THE MOST HIGH.
VI. THIS HATRED THUS FURNISHED AN OCCASION FOR THE VINDICATION BY GOD OF HIS OWN RIGHTEOUS GOVERNMENT AND IRRESISTIBLE AUTHORITY.
1. There is such a thing as national morality. Apart from the character and conduct of individuals, a nation by its collective action proves itself to possess a certain moral unity.
2. There is such a thing as national responsibility. The people sin, and the people suffer; the people repent and call upon God, and the people are saved.
3. There is especial scope for the display of national virtues, and for the right use of national opportunity and probation, in the relations which subsist between different and sometimes rival communities.
4. National pride, power, and prosperity are of no avail in God's sight, if injustice and malevolence are exhibited by nations in their intercourse and transactions with each other. "The righteous Lord loveth righteousness."—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The tribunal of nations.
The Hebrews in captivity might, with probability, suppose that, since God had employed other armies to chastise Israel, such nations were without sin, or else their sins had been condoned by God. Nothing of the sort. God is no Respecter of nations. Righteousness everywhere is acceptable to him. Unrighteousness anywhere is offensive. And touching the degrees of iniquity, he claims to be Supreme Judge and the wise Punisher. Because he employs men in his service, he does not allow this to be a criterion of their acceptance. Internal character, not external service, is the only passport to heaven. "The just shall live."
I. THE SUPREME AUTHORITY AMONG NATIONS. Never yet have the nations of the world combined to elect a common tribunal, before which international disputes may be heard. We may hope for such in the future. Yet a Supreme Authority there is—a King of nations! Undoubtedly, the God of heaven takes note of every national delinquency, deals with every nation in a method consonant with its present development, and visits it with reward or punishment according to its desert. "The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." And not individual persons only, but societies and empires, are weighed every day in the balance of Divine justice. A fierce light, not only from human eyes, but from the Divine eye, bends upon every throne.
II. THE INDICTMENT. The indictment brought against the neighbors of Israel was twofold.
1. Rancorous hatred. The people of Ammon and others were chiefly incensed against Israel because of their peculiar religion. For a long period, Israel had maintained a great distinction, in that they scorned idol-deities. By virtue of their allegiance to the true God they had gained their triumphs over the degenerate Canaanites. Hence this dislike of Israel was, at its root, a dislike of Jehovah; and dislike of Jehovah meant dislike of righteousness.
2. Spiteful revenge. The nations whom God employed to humble Israel had gone beyond their commission. They had fostered the lowest animal passions, and had given way to fiercest revenge. So far as a nation wages war in defense of its rights, it may be approved. Yet if, in the prosecution of its task, it inflicts needless suffering, or rejoices in mere destruction, that nation, in its turn, has violated the rights of humanity, and will be punished. Even if God has given to a nation the clearest command to invade and to conquer, that command is circled round with the requirements of righteousness. Personal feeling must be repressed. Public advantage alone must be promoted. Otherwise that nation so employed becomes a criminal.
III. THE SENTENCE.
1. It is equitable. Edom had dealt vengeance "against the house of Judah." Therefore the sentence is, "I will lay my vengeance upon Edom." The Philistines had "taken vengeance with a despiteful heart." Therefore, said God, "I will execute great vengeance upon them." Retribution is complete. The same word that describes the sin describes also the penalty. Every sin contains in its womb the embryo of chastisement.
2. The sentence includes desolating war. "They that take the sword, perish by the sword." The successful warrior teaches his enemies how to handle spear and shield. His personal strength does not abide forever, nor yet his personal influence. His watchful, sleepless foes wait in secret for their opportunity of revenge. Violence naturally begets violence. In return for reckless destruction on others, their lands were to be desolated—productiveness to cease, cities to be razed, and their palaces to be occupied by the foe!
3. Annihilation of empire and name. The justice of God is far more sweeping than anything that we can conceive. "The Ammonites shall not be remembered among the nations." "I will cause thee to perish out of the countries." Men find a pleasure in posthumous fame. They love the anticipation of living again in their children and in their children's children. To know in their lifetime that this prospect is cut off is a serious loss of enjoyment. One great source of pleasure is destroyed. One great inspiration to effort is extinguished.
IV. A GRACIOUS RESPITE. The simple fact that Jehovah's prophet fore-announced these things was an act of kindness. It gave the people an occasion and an urgent reason for repentance. This is not after the manner of men. In human jurisprudence there is no place for repentance. But God's agencies are every way superior to man's. As it was with Nineveh in Jonah's day, so might it have been with Moab and Edom and Philistia. God's patience and pity are wonderful. Yet, at length, justice strikes the avenging blow.
V. THE FINAL AIM. "They shall know that I am the Lord." This conviction of God's existence and God's active righteousness will surely come at length, but in many cases will not come in time to avert the great catastrophe. Every such national overthrow will be a monument to God's power and God's veracity. "Being dead, these nations yet speak." The mounds ransacked today for treasures produce eloquent demonstrations of the truthfulness of ancient prophecy and of the certainty of Divine retribution. There is a knowledge that saves; there is a knowledge that does not save.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
The sin and judgment of the Ammonites.
"The word of the Lord came again unto me, saying, Son of man, set thy face against the Ammonites," etc. For a time the mouth of Ezekiel was closed in relation to his own countrymen; he was to be to them as a dumb man, or at least dumb as a prophet (Ezekiel 24:27). But having already proclaimed the judgment of God upon Israel and Judah by various figures and with much reiteration, he proceeds to declare that judgment against the neighboring heathen nations. "Judgment indeed begins at the house of God; but if the Father of the household does not spare the sons, how soon must it alight upon the others! This doctrine first of all shines forth from the connection of this chapter with the preceding chapters. Then, also, we see here how, with all the special solicitude wherewith God interested himself in Israel, he still by no means lets the heathen out of his sight, since he must show himself to be a God also for the heathen." Of these nations the prophet first addresses himself to the Ammonites. They were related to the Israelites, being the descendants of Ben-ammi, the son of Lot by his younger daughter. Yet they were inveterate enemies to Israel. "They had joined Eglon, had oppressed Israel in the time of Jephthah, had fought against Saul, David, Jehoshaphat, and Jotham. They had joined the Moabites in Nebuchadnezzar's army, when he besieged Jerusalem in the reign of Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:2). And they exulted in the miseries of Israel and Judah. The date of this prophecy is uncertain. Hengstenberg says that "the date in Ezekiel 24:1 applies to this also. What was predicted in Ezekiel 24:1-27. regarding the immediate future of Judah is here presupposed as already accomplished; so that the point of view is ideal." But the 'Speaker's Commentary' supposes "that this prophecy was delivered immediately after the capture of the city by Nebuchadnezzar." We have in the text—
I. AN EXHIBITION OF THE SIN OF THE AMMONITES.
1. Exultation in the miseries of others. "Thou saidst, Aha! against my sanctuary, when it was profaned; and against the land of Israel, when it was made desolate; and against the house of Judah, when they went into captivity." "They were," says Greenhill, "the neighbors bordering upon them; they were their confederates, in league with the King of Egypt, as the Jews were; they were their half-brethren, descending from Lot; and upon these accounts should have sympathized with the Jews, wept with those that wept (Romans 12:15), been sensible of their great adversities (Hebrews 13:3); but they insulted over them, mocked at them, were despiteful against them, and added coals to the fire, weight to their burdens, and more chains to their bonds" (cf. Lamentations 1:2). They rejoiced when Shalmaneser King of Assyria invaded Israel, desolated the land, and carried the people into captivity (2 Kings 17:1-6). Again, they exulted in the miseries of the people of Judah when they were conquered and carried into exile in Babylon (2 Kings 24:10-16; 2 Kings 25:1-11). They triumphed in the national ruin and sore calamities of the Jews (cf. Ezekiel 21:28; Lamentations 2:15, Lamentations 2:16; Zephaniah 2:8). Such derision and insultation are directly opposed to the will of God, especially when, as in this ease, the mockers are themselves also guilty of the sin which brought down the distresses. When some suffer sore calamities, God's will is that others should be thereby stimulated to consider their ways and repent of their evil doings (cf. Luke 13:1-5). Moreover, in exulting over the fallen and mocking the miserable there is Satanic malevolence and shocking cruelty. Sometimes saintly men have severely suffered by reason of such mockery. David smarted under it (Psalms 35:12-16), But the guilt of the Ammonites was darker even than this. They rejoiced in the desecration of the temple of God. "Thou saidst, Aha! against my sanctuary, when it was profaned." They looked upon that as the overthrow of the religion of the Jews, and probably declared that Jehovah was unable to defend either his temple or his worshippers. Thus they were guilty of blasphemy against the Lord God.
2. Exultation in the miseries of others with cruel animosity. "Thou hast rejoiced with all the despite of thy soul against the land of Israel" (Ezekiel 24:6). They rejoiced "with the soul, with passion, therefore with the whole heart's contempt of which" they were capable. They triumphed with revolting malignity.
3. Exultation in the miseries of others with cruel animosity in unrestrained expression. "Thou hast clapped thine hands, and stamped with the feet," etc. (Ezekiel 24:6). Their bitter rejoicing knew no bounds of moderation or even of common decency. Such was their grievous and inhuman sin.
II. A DECLARATION OF THE PUNISHMENT OF THE AMMONITES.
1. Their land should be given to others. "Therefore, behold, I will deliver thee to the children of the east for a possession, and they shall set their encampments in thee, and make their dwellings in thee; they shall eat thy fruit, and they shall drink thy milk." In the fifth year after the destruction of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar made war against the Ammonites, and brought them under subjection (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 10.9. 7). "After this the land was subjected to various masters" But at length it fell to the Arabians, who are spoken of by the prophet as "the children of the east." This was a common designation of the wandering tribes of the desert (cf. Judges 6:3). "They encamp now periodically in the land of Ammon. They have continued to do so for centuries. They, and they only, eat up the fruits of the land." Thus the children of Ammon, who had exulted in the expatriation of Israel and Judah, were despoiled of their own country.
2. Their metropolis should become a desolation. "And I will make Rabbah a stable for camels, and the children of Ammon a couching-place for flocks." When this judgment was fulfilled we know not. But that it has been fulfilled is placed beyond dispute by the ruins of what was once a flourishing city. That city entered upon an era of marked prosperity under Egyptian rule. It was rebuilt or restored by Ptolemy Philadelphus, and was called Philadelphia, after his name. It existed for some centuries afterward with varying fortunes. "As far down as the fourth century (of the Christian era) it was esteemed one of the most remarkable and strongest cities of the whole of Coele-Syria." And now amidst its ruins may be traced the remains of a magnificent theatre, an ancient castle, temples, mausoleum, and other buildings. The doom has been fulfilled, and Rabbah, "the populous" (as the name signifies), is now a desolation and without an inhabitant. Dr. Kitto brings forward several witnesses to the fulfillment of the word of the Lord by the prophet in Ezekiel 24:5. "Dr. Keith, in the last edition of his ' Evidence from Prophecy,' states that Lord Claud Hamilton told him that ' while he was traversing the ruins of the city the number of goats and sheep which were driven in among them was exceedingly annoying, however remarkable as fulfilling the prophecies.' Lord Lindsay found bones and skulls of camels moldering in the area of the theatre, and in the vaulted galleries of this immense structure. He says, ' The valley stinks with dead camels, one of which was rolling in the stream; and although we saw none among the ruins, they were absolutely covered in every direction with their dung. That morning's ride would have convinced a skeptic. How says the prophecy? "I will make Rabbah a stable for camels." He adds, "We met sheep and goats by thousands, and camels by hundreds, coming down to drink, all in beautiful condition." Mr. George Robinson also testifies, 'The space intervening between the river and the western hills is entirely covered with the remains of private buildings, now only used as stables for camels and sheep. There is not a single inhabitant remaining: thus realizing the prophecy respecting this devoted city.' These testimonials have occurred since attention has been called to the subject of the literal fulfillment of local prophecies. We add that of Mr. Buckingham, which is all the more valuable as being of anterior date. He halted for the night with a tribe of Arabs which he found encamped among the ruins, in a hollow behind the top of the theatre. Next morning he writes in his journal, 'During the night I was almost entirely prevented from sleeping by the bleating of flocks, the neighing of mares, and the barking of dogs.' "Thus literally and minutely has the prediction of the prophet been accomplished.
3. Their existence as a people would be terminated. "Therefore, behold, I have stretched out my hand upon thee, and will deliver thee for a spoil to the nations; and I will cut thee off from the peoples, and I will cause thee to perish out of the countries: I will destroy thee; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord." These expressions indicate utter and total, destruction. In this respect the judgment of the Ammonites was more severe than that pronounced upon Israel. For the latter there was hope and a future; but for the former the prophetic message closes darkly, even as their history has closed. As a tribe the Ammonites "disappear wholly at last in the Arabians."
CONCLUSION. "Whoso mocketh the poor reproacheth his Maker: and he that is glad at calamity shall not be unpunished" (Proverbs 17:5). "He that maketh others' calamities the object of his gladness stirs up God to be the Author of his destruction" (Greenhill).—W.J.
The sin and punishment of the Moabites.
"Thus saith the Lord God; Because that Moab and Seir do say, Behold, the house of Judah is like unto all the heathen," etc. The Moabites were the descendants of Moab, the son of Lot by his elder daughter. They occupied the fertile district east of the Dead Sea, and south of the territory of the Ammonites. The condition of the Moabites may be gathered from Isaiah 15:1-9; Isaiah 16:1-14; and Jeremiah 48:1-47. The latter prophecy was pronounced about "ten or twelve years before the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar by which Jerusalem was destroyed;" so that it may be taken as setting forth their condition in the time of our prophet. That condition is well stated by Sir George Grove, in Dr. Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible: '"The nation appears in them as high-spirited, wealthy, populous, and even to a certain extent civilized, enjoying a wide reputation and popularity. With a metaphor which well expresses at once the pastoral wealth of the country and its commanding, almost regal, position, but which cannot be conveyed in a translation, Moab is depicted as the strong scepter, the beautiful staff, whose fracture will be bewailed by all about him, and by all who know him. In his cities we discern a ' great multitude' of people living in 'glory,' and in the enjoyment of great 'treasure,' crowding the public squares, the house-tops, and the ascents and descents of the numerous high places and sanctuaries where the ' priests and princes' of Chemosh or Baal-peor minister to the anxious devotees. Outside the towns lie the 'plentiful fields,' luxuriant as the renowned Carmel—the vineyards and gardens of 'summer fruits;' the harvest is being reaped, and the ' hay stored in its abundance,' the vineyards and the presses are crowded with peasants, gathering and treading the grapes, the land resounds with the clamor of the vintagers. These characteristics contrast very favorably with any traits recorded of Ammon, Edom, Midian, Amalek, the Philistines, or the Canaanite tribes. And since the descriptions we are considering are adopted by certainly two, and probably three, prophets—Jeremiah, Isaiah, and the older seer—extending over a period of nearly two hundred years, we may safely conclude that they are not merely temporary circumstances, but were the enduring characteristics of the people. In this case there can be no doubt that, amongst the pastoral people of Syria, Moab stood next to Israel in all matters of material wealth and civilization." Our text presents to our notice—
I. A SIN SEEMINGLY SLIGHT, BUT ESSENTIALLY HEINOUS. "Moab and Seir do say, Behold, the house of Judah is like unto all the heathen." In these words we have:
1. A decrial of the superiority of the Jews over their heathen neighbors. In many respects they were their superiors. God had granted to them the clearest revelation of his character and will, his temple also, and the ordinances of his worship. His mighty hand had frequently been stretched out in glorious deeds on their behalf. He had assured them of many blessings and of a bright future. Jerusalem "was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces." But now that Nebuchadnezzar has quite vanquished them, taken their famous city, and destroyed their holy and beautiful temple, the Moabites say, "The house of Judah is like unto all the nations." By this they probably meant:
(1) They are no better in their character. 'By their idolatries and idolatrous customs, and by their political treacheries, the Jews had given their enemies too much occasion to say this. Yet the religion which was prescribed to them was incomparably superior to those of their heathen neighbors; and there was at least a small remnant that was faithful to that religion.
(2) They are no better in their condition. When the Chaldeans came against them, they were no more able to resist them than any heathen people would have been. And these things were said by the Moabites, not sorrowfully, but scornfully. Like the Ammonites, they rejoiced over the miseries of the people of Israel and Judah (Zephaniah 2:8). Hence the Prophet Jeremiah cries, "'Moab shall be in derision. For was not Israel a derision unto thee? … for as often as thou speakest of him thou waggest the head" (Jeremiah 48:26, Jeremiah 48:27).
2. A denial of the superiority of the Lord Jehovah over heathen gods. This aspect of the sin of the Moabites is clearly and forcibly presented by Hengstenberg: "The guilt consists in the denial of the true Deity of the God of Israel; for only on this ground could Israel be placed on the same level with all other nations. The pretence for this denial they take from the misery of Israel, which they derive, not from their guilt, but from the feebleness of their God, and discern therein a palpable proof against his true and full Deity. Their God Jehovah, the absolutely pure Being, the primeval Ground of all things, the absolutely certain Helper of his people, is a mere fancy: otherwise must they soar above, and not sink beneath. This full Deity, against whose historically extant evidence they rashly close their eyes, they must now discover by their own destruction. The transgression is seemingly small; but it is that by which the nations perish even to the present day. As each takes its stand towards God, who is historically revealed in his Church, so is its destiny measured out." Thus "Moab magnified himself against the Lord" (Jeremiah 48:26).
II. A PUNISHMENT CORRESPONDING TO THEIR SIN.
1. The Moabites had rejoiced in the overthrow and exile of the Jews, and they also should be overthrown and their land possessed by others. "Therefore, behold, I wilt open the side of Mesh from the cities, from his cities which are on his frontiers." He would expose Moab to the assaults of its enemy. Certain cities are mentioned, and are appropriately described as "on his frontiers." They lay to the north of the river Amen, which was the proper boundary of Moab (Numbers 21:13). Again, these cities are called "the glory of the country." The tract in which they were situated, "belonging to the district called by the Arabians Al Belka, has been at all times highly valued on account of the excellence of its pastures for cattle. Among others, Bochart writes, ' As the pasturage in Belka is far better than in the rest of Southern Syria, there has been a continual struggle among the various Arab tribes as to who should secure it. The Bedouins are accustomed to say, "Thou canst find no land like Belka" (Havernieh) ('Speaker's Commentary'). Moreover, their country was ultimately to pass away from them into the possession of "the children of the east," the wandering Arab tribes. Like Ammon, the land was ravaged by hostile armies, and at last was left unoccupied except by the Bedouins.
2. The Moabites had denied the superiority of Jehovah over heathen gods, and they should be brought by painful experience to know his supremacy. "And I will execute judgments upon Moab; and they shall know that I am the Lord." Says Hengstenberg, "Through the judgments under which Moab falls, it is forced to acknowledge the true Deity of Jehovah, which it did not willingly accept." (See our notes on Ezekiel 6:7, Ezekiel 6:10; Ezekiel 7:4.)
1. Let those who are avowedly followers of Christ take heed that they do not give occasion to sinners to blaspheme the Name or the cause of God. Let them show "all good fidelity, that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in all things;" "Walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called."
2. Let those who are not Christians take heed that they do not bring upon themselves the anger of the Lord by speaking against his cause or his people.—W.J.
The judgment of Edom; or, the sin and punishment of revenge.
"Thus saith the Lord God; Because that Edom hath dealt against the house of Judah by taking vengeance," etc. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, who settled in Mount Seir immediately after the death of his father Isaac. The country in which they dwelt was called Edom, or Idumaea. It was situated south of the territory of Moab; and "it only embraced the narrow mountainous tract (about a hundred miles long by twenty broad) extending along the eastern side of the Arabah, from the northern end of the gulf of Elath to near the southern end of the Dead Sea." Of their religion little is known; but that they were idolaters appears from 2Ch 25:14, 2 Chronicles 25:15, 2 Chronicles 25:20, and Josephus, 'Ant.,' 15.7. 9. Consider—
I. THE HEINOUS SIN OF THE EDOMITES. "Thus saith the Lord God; Because that Edom hath dealt against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and hath greatly offended, and revenged himself upon them." Notice:
1. The sin itself. Revenge is the sin with which the Edomites are here charged. Distinguish between revenge and vengeance. "Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance, of justice; injuries are revenged, crimes are avenged" (Johnson). Vengeance is righteous, calm, majestic; revenge is wicked, cruel, malignant. The accusation against the Edomites is revenge. Schroder translates, "Because Edom exercises vindictive revenge upon the house of Judah." The hatred of Esau towards his brother Jacob for fraudulently depriving him of his blessing seems to have run down through all his generations. And it was increased by what the Edomites afterwards suffered in conflict with the descendants of Jacob (cf. 1 Samuel 14:47; 1Ki 11:15, 1 Kings 11:16; 2 Chronicles 25:11, 2 Chronicles 25:12); although Hengstenberg says "that Edom brought upon himself, by his own conduct, what he formerly, particularly under David, suffered from Judah. For only on this supposition was the revenge sinful." Revenge was prohibited by the holy Law of God as declared in the Old Testament (cf. Leviticus 19:18). And much more so as expressed in the New Testament (cf. Matthew 5:44-48; Romans 12:17, Romans 12:19; Ephesians 4:31).
2. The manifestation of this sin. Joel, who probably prophesied in the early years of the reign of King Uzziah, predicts that "Edom shall be a desolate wilderness, for the violence done to the children of Judah, because they have shed innocent blood in their land" (Joel 3:19; see also Amos 1:11, Amos 1:12). But probably the reference in our text is chiefly to the action of Edom during the Chaldean invasion of Judaea. "When Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, the Edomites joined him, and took an active part in the plunder of the city and slaughter of the poor Jews. Their cruelty at that time seems to be especially referred to in the hundred and thirty-seventh psalm: "Remember, O Lord, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Raze it, raze it, even to the foundation thereof!" Their conduct at that time is described by the Prophet Obadiah (Obadiah 1:10-14).
3. The aggravations of their sin. They were kinsfolk of Israel and Judah. In joining Nebuchadnezzar against Judah, they were uniting with a foreigner against those who had descended from the same ancestor as themselves. Moreover, in former times the Israelites had made distinctions in their favor. When they marched to the conquest of Canaan, they were commanded not to contend with the Edomites (Deuteronomy 2:4, Deuteronomy 2:5); and they observed that command. The Lord also commanded them not to hate the Edomites (Deuteronomy 23:7). Yet the Edomites hated the Jews, and rejoiced in revenging themselves upon them.
II. THE RIGHTEOUS RETRIBUTION OF THE SIN OF THE EDOMITES. "Therefore thus saith the Lord God; I will also stretch out mine hand upon Edom, and will cut off man and beast from it," etc. (Obadiah 1:13, Obadiah 1:14).
1. The judgment inflicted. Two chief elements of it are mentioned by the prophet—slaughter by the sword, and the laying waste of the land. It is also intimated that the judgment should, pass over the whole land. "And I will make it desolate from Teman; even unto Dedan shall they fall by the sword." Or, as some would punctuate, "From Teman even unto Dedan they shall fall by the sword." Teman was a district in the south of Edom, and Dedan was in the north; so that "from Teman unto Dedan" signifies over the entire country. Not in one event alone may we trace the fulfillment of this prediction, but in several. In the time of the Maccabees, Judas the Maccabee slew more than forty thousand Edomites (1 Macc. 5:3; 2 Macc. 10:15-23). About thirty years afterwards, John Hyrcanus turned his forces against Edom, completely subdued the country, and compelled the people to submit to circumcision and to conform to the Jewish religion, or to suffer expatriation. And they were so desirous of remaining in the country of their forefathers, that they yielded to his conditions, and, as Josephus says, "they were hereafter no other than Jews" (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 13.9. 1). So complete was their incorporation with the Jews "that the name of Idumaea appears no more in history as a separate kingdom." As Schroder remarks, "The vengeance of God could not in a more marked retribution manifest itself upon Edom than by the extirpation of his nationality, and that precisely in the form of an absorption by Israel." The desolation of the land was at length accomplished by the Mohammedans. "In the seventh century," says Dr. J. L. Porter, "the Mohammedan conquest gave a death-blow to the commerce and prosperity of Edom. Under the withering influence of Mohammedan rule, the great cities fell to ruin, and the country became a desert. The followers of the false prophet were here, as elsewhere, the instruments, in God's hands, for the execution of his judgments." And so "the Edom of prophecy—Edom considered as the enemy of God and the rival of Israel—has perished for ever: all, in that respect, is an untrodden wilderness, a hopeless ruin; and therein the veracity of God's Word finds its verification."
2. The instruments for the infliction of the judgment. "I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel," etc.; "And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble," etc. (Obadiah 1:18). The prophecy points to Judas the Maccabee and his army, and yet more to John Hyreanus, who completely subjugated the country of Edom, and annihilated the nationality of the Edomites.
3. The retributory character of the judgment. "Because that Edom hath dealt against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and hath greatly offended, and revenged himself upon them; therefore thus saith the Lord God … I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel, and they shall know my vengeance, saith the Lord God." The Edomites inflicted vindictive revenge upon the Jews; and for so doing they must suffer the vengeance of the Lord Jehovah. "Revenge for revenge." "The Lord is a God of recompenses; he shall surely requite" (Jeremiah 51:56).
CONCLUSION. Our subject addresses to us:
1. Warning against estrangement or want of love amongst relatives. When kinsfolk or former friends become hostile to each other, they are much more embittered than strangers in a similar condition. "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and such contentions are like the bars of a castle" (Proverbs 18:19); "Love one another with a pure heart fervently."
2. Warning against encouraging any feeling of revenge. Such feelings turn the heart which entertains them into a hell; and the entertainment of them awakens the stern displeasure of the Most High. Our Lord says," Love your enemies, and pray for them that persecute you," etc. (Matthew 5:44, Matthew 5:45). And St. Paul writes, "Bender to no man evil for evil … Avenge not yourselves, beloved, but give place unto wrath," etc. (Romans 12:17, Romans 12:19-21).—W.J.
The heinous sin and severe punishment of the Philistines.
"Thus saith the Lord God; Because the Philistines have dealt by revenge," etc. This paragraph treating of the Philistines is similar in its prominent features to those which dealt with the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites, especially the last. In each case there is a setting forth of the sin and an announcement of the punishment. And there is a close resemblance between the Edomites and the Philistines, both in their sin and in their punishment. With this similarity of essential character in the paragraphs of this chapter, it is not easy to suggest variety of homiletical treatment for each paragraph. In our text we have—
I. A BRIEF STATEMENT OF A LONG COURSE OF HEINOUS SIN. "The Philistines have dealt by revenge, and have taken vengeance with despite of soul to destroy it with perpetual enmity." Mark the gradations of their sin as they are indicated in the text.
1. The sin of the Philistines was hatred against the Jews. They were a powerful people, occupying territory to the south-west of Judah, and were unvarying in their hostility to the Israelites. Their sin was the very opposite of that love which God commands as the supreme duty of man to his fellow-man: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Leviticus 19:18). And in Christian ethics their sin is equivalent to murder: "Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer" (1 John 3:15).
2. Their hatred was intense and scornful, it was no superficial emotion. They took "vengeance with despite of soul." They were hearty and passionate and zealous in their enmity to the Jews.
3. Their hatred was inveterate. "The old hatred," or "perpetual enmity." A glance at their history shows this. In the time of the judges "they vexed and oppressed the children of Israel" (Judges 10:7, Judges 10:8). Near the close of the career of Eli they defeated Israel in battle with great slaughter, and seized the ark of God (1 Samuel 4:10, 1 Samuel 4:11). They were conquered by the Israelites under Samuel, and were kept in check all his days (1 Samuel 7:7-14). But in the days of Saul they again became troublesome, and brought Israel in a measure into subjection to them (1 Samuel 13:19, 1 Samuel 13:20). In the battle in which Saul and his sons were slain, they inflicted a disastrous defeat upon Israel (1 Samuel 31:1-13.). They were vanquished by David. But in after-times they caused much trouble and damage to Judah (2 Chronicles 21:16, 2 Chronicles 21:17; 2 Chronicles 28:18). And they showed their old animosity by acts of hostility at the time when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. Their hatred was ancient and persistent.
4. Their hatred was habitually active. "The Philistines have dealt by revenge, and have taken vengeance." Their enmity existed not simply as an emotion, but found vigorous expression. And it expressed itself, not simply in hostile and bitter words, but in malignant deeds, in revengeful actions. And these deeds were not occasional, but habitual. They "dealt by revenge," as if it had been their trade or occupation. "A perpetually enduring war," says Schroder, "is the standing feature of the relation, while fixed hostility was the root of it."
5. This hatred was destructive in its design. "Have taken vengeance with despite of soul to destroy it with perpetual enmity." The aim of the hostile Philistines was to bring the Jewish nation to an utter end. This was their steadfast purpose. One aspect of hatred is very conspicuous in this brief delineation, and it is as admonitory as it is conspicuous, viz. its tendency to continuance and growth. If animosity be not resisted, if it be not combated by the presentation of prayer to God and by the cultivation and expression of kindness towards men, especially towards the object of our aversion, it will increase in depth and intensity. Hence it is of the utmost importance to check the beginnings of hatred. "Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and railing be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, even as God also in Christ forgave you."
II. A STARTLING ANNOUNCEMENT OF SEVERE PUNISHMENT FOR PROTRACTED AND HEINOUS SINS. "Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will stretch out mine hand upon the Philistines," etc. (Verses 16, 17). We see here:
1. Punishment of great severity. "I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes." Who can conceive the dread severity of the great vengeance of the Almighty with furious rebukes? They who had dealt by revenge and taken vengeance on Israel should suffer the great vengeance of the God of Israel. After the destruction of Jerusalem, when Nebuchadnezzar turned his mighty forces against Egypt, "the result was specially disastrous to the Philistines: Gaza was taken by the Egyptians, and the population of the whole plain was reduced to a mere 'remnant' by the invading armies."
2. Punishment ending in destruction. "I will cut off the Cherethites, and destroy the remnant of the sea coast." The name "Cherethites" is given "to the whole of the Philistines, for the sake of the paronomasia." The name signifies "cut off," or "extirpated," and it was to find its fulfillment in their doom. "The destruction of the remnant points to this," says Hengstenberg, "that they shall be destroyed to the last man, as in fact the Philistines have utterly disappeared. It is the great privilege of the people of God, that how heavy soever the judgments of God may be upon them, never will it be said of them, 'I will destroy the remnant.' "They who had made it their object to destroy the Jewish nation should themselves be destroyed by the Almighty. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you."
3. Punishment from the hand of God. "Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will stretch out mine hand upon the Philistines," etc. The Chaldeans and others were but as weapons in the hands of the supreme Sovereign and righteous Judge of all.
"The Lord sitteth as King for ever:
He hath prepared his throne for judgment.
And he shall judge the world in righteousness,
He shall minister judgment to the peoples in uprightness."
And if men will not be brought to know him by the sweet influences of his grace, then by the stern severities of his vengeance they shall know that he is the Lord.—W.J.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 25". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany