The word of the Lord came again, etc. The section that follows, ending with Ezekiel 30:18, is exceptional as standing without a date. It may be either
Howl ye. The words read like an echo of Isaiah 13:6, and find a parallel also in Joel 1:11, Joel 1:13; Zephaniah 1:7, Zephaniah 1:14. Woe worth the day! It may be well to note that the familiar phrase is a survival of the Anglo-Saxon verb weorthan (German werden), "to become," so that its exact meaning is "Woe be to the day""
The day of the Lord. Here, as everywhere (see note on Ezekiel 13:5), the words stand for any time in which the Divine judgments manifest themselves in the world's history. Of it Ezekiel says, following in the footsteps of Joel (Joel 2:2), that it shall be a day of cloud, i.e. of darkness and trouble; a day of the heathen, i.e. a time in which the heathen who had exulted in the punishment of Israel should know that the Lord was their Judge also, that he had his "day" appointed for them.
Great pain shall be in Ethiopia. The words point to the extension of the invasion of Egypt—by Nebuchadnezzar in the first instance, and afterwards by other conquerors—to the upper valley of the Nile. They shall take away her multitude. The word is taken by Keil, Smend, and others of things rather than persons, the multitude of possessions. Hengstenberg renders "tumult" in the sense of the stir of a crowded city. The foundations are probably to be taken figuratively of the bases of the prosperity of Egypt, its allies and mercenaries, rather than of actual buildings (comp. Psalms 11:3; Psalms 82:5).
Libya. Here the Authorized Version gives (rightly enough, though inconsistently) the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Phut, which is reproduced in the Revised Version. The Lydians, in like manner, stand for Lud; but we have to remember, as before (Ezekiel 27:10), that they are the African, and not the Asiatic, people of that name. In Jeremiah 46:9 the two nations are named among the auxiliaries of Egypt. Possibly the similarity of name may have led to the term being used also for the Lydian and Ionian forces enlisted by Psam-metichus I. (Herod; Jeremiah 3:4); but there seems more reason for including these in the mingled people that are next mentioned. Chub, or Cub (Revised Version), is found here only, and has consequently given occasion to many guesses Havernick connects it with the Kufa, a district of Media, often named in Egyptian monuments; Michaelis, with Kobe on the Ethiopian coast of the Indian Ocean; Maurer, with Cob, a city of Mauretania; Gesenius, Ewald, and Bunsen suggest the reading Nub, and identify it with Nubia; Keil and Smend adopt the form Lub, found in the Lubim of 2 Chronicles 16:8 and Nahum 3:9. On the whole, there are no adequate data for the solution of the problem. The men of the land that is in league. Here, again, we are in a region of many conjectures.
They that uphold Egypt. The words include the allies named in Ezekiel 30:5; but also embrace the rulers, generals, perhaps the idols, of Egypt itself. From the tower of Syene. As before, in Ezekiel 29:10, "from Migdol to Syene."
In that day shall messengers, etc. The whole passage seems an echo of Isaiah 18:2. The ships are those that bear the tidings of the conquest of Lower Egypt to the upper valley of the Nile. The careless Ethiopians are so named as confiding in their remoteness from the scene of action. They thought themselves safe, and were lulled into a false security (comp. Isaiah 32:9-11 and Zephaniah 2:15, for a like rendering of the verb). As in the day of Egypt. As Isaiah (Isaiah 9:4) refers to "the day of Midian," so Ezekiel points to the memorable time when like tidings of the judgments that fell on Egypt carried dismay into the hearts of the surrounding nations (Exodus 15:14, Exodus 15:15).
Ezekiel 30:10, Ezekiel 30:11
By the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. Hitherto (on the assumption that Ezekiel 29:17-21 stands by itself, and that we are still in the prophetic message of Ezekiel 29:1-16) the predictions have been general. Now Ezekiel, following in the footsteps of Jeremiah (Ezekiel 46:1-24.), specifies the Chaldean king and his people, the terrible of the nations (as in Ezekiel 28:7; Ezekiel 31:12, et al.), as those who were to execute the Divine judgments.
I will make the rivers dry. The rivers are the Nile-blanches of the Delta, and their being dried up points, perhaps, literally to a failure in the inundation of the Nile on which its fertility depended; figuratively to a like failure of all its sources of prosperity.
Noph, or, as in Hosea 9:6, Moph, is a form of the Egyptian M'noph, the reek Memphis (so in the LXX.), the capital of Lower Egypt, the chief center of the worship of Phthah, whom the Greeks identified with Hephaestos. Hence the special mention of the idols and images.
(For Pathros, see note on Ezekiel 29:14.) Zoan—joined with Noph in Isaiah 19:11, mentioned in Numbers 13:22 as older than Hebron—is the Tanis of the Greeks, situated on the Tanitic branch of the Delta of the Nile. No; or, as in Nahum 3:8, No Amon (equivalent to "the abode of Ammen"), the sacred name of the Egyptian Thebes. The LXX. gives Diospolis; the Vulgate, by a curious anachronism, Alexandria.
Ezekiel 30:15, Ezekiel 30:16
Sin. The name signifies "mire," like the Greek Pelusium (so the Vulgate), from πήλος. The modern name Pheromi has the same meaning. The remains of an old fortress near the town are still known as Tineh, the "clay" of Daniel 2:41. The fortress stood on the eastern branch of the Nile, surrounded by swamps, and its position made it, in modern phrase, the "key" of Egypt. Suidas and Strabo (ut supra) describe it as an obstacle to invaders from the East. Ezekiel, in describing it as "the strength of Egypt," must have known its local characteristics. The multitude of No; in the Hebrew, as in Jeremiah 46:25, Hamon-No. Did the prophet, after the manner of Micah 1:10-14, indulge in a play on the full name of the city as given in Nahum 3:8? The LXX. as before, gives Diospolis, and the Vulgate Alexandria. Noph shall have distresses daily. So the Vulgate, angustiae quotidianae. Hitizig and Keil, however, take the words as "troubles in the day-time." The city should be attacked, not by night (Obadiah 1:5), but in open day (compare "the spoiler at noonday" of Jeremiah 15:8). The LXX. emits the name of the city, and renders, "waters shall be poured out." For Sin the LXX. here gives, following a different reading, "Syene."
The young men of Aven; the "On" of Genesis 12:1-20 :45, the "house of the sun" of Jeremiah 43:13, the Heliopolis of the LXX. and Vulgate. The form Aven (Hebrews for "a vain thing!" as in Hosea 4:15; Hosea 10:5) was perhaps chosen as a word of scorn pointing to the idolatry of the city. Pibeseth; LXX; Bubastos. The city situated on the Suez Canal, begun by Necho and finished under Ptolemy II. (Herod; 2.59). It derived its name from the eat-headed goddess Pasht, and was the chief seat of the home which was named after it. It was destroyed by the Persians (Diod. Sic; 15.51), but the name lingers in Tebbastat, a heap of ruins about seven hours journey from the Nile.
At Tehaphnehes; the Tabapanes of Jeremiah 2:16; Jeremiah 42:7; Jeremiah 44:1; Jeremiah 46:14; (where it appears as having a royal palace); the Taphnae of the LXX.; the Daphne of Herod; 2.30. It was another frontier-fortress in the neighborhood of Pelusium, built by Psammetichus. It may, perhaps, be represented by the modern Tel-ed-Defenne, about twenty-seven miles southwest of Pelusium. The day shall be darkened. The normal image for the departure of the sunshine of prosperity, as in Jeremiah 46:3 and Ezekiel 32:7 (comp. Amos 5:20; Amos 8:9; Isaiah 5:30; Jeremiah 13:16, etc.). The yokes of Egypt. Commonly, as in Ezekiel 34:27; Le Ezekiel 26:13; Jeremiah 27:2; Jeremiah 28:10, Jeremiah 28:12, the phrase would imply the deliverance of Egypt from the yoke of oppression suffered at the hand of others. Here that sense is clearly inappropriate. The LXX. and Vulgate give "the scepters" of Egypt, which implies a different reading, and this is adopted in substance by Ewald and Smend, the latter preferring rendering it by "supports" or "props," the "red" being used as a "staff" rather than as a "scepter" (comp. Ezekiel 19:14; Jeremiah 43:8; Jeremiah 48:17). The pomp of her strength. The phrase meets us again in Ezekiel 33:28, and includes what we speak of as the parade of power, here probably with a view to the foreign forces that garrisoned both Daphne and Pelusium. The daughters may be literally the women of the city, who were to share the usual fate of their sex on the capture of a city; or as in Ezekiel 26:6, Ezekiel 26:8; or probably as in Ezekiel 16:53, Ezekiel 16:55, for the villages and towns dependent on the strong city. On the whole, looking to the mention of the "young men" in Ezekiel 16:17, the literal meaning seems preferable.
In the eleventh year, etc. Assuming that the whole section, Eze 29:17-30:19, were a later insertion, that which follows was written in April, B.C. 586. Its contents show that it was written at or about the time of the abortive attempt of Pharaoh-Hophra to come to the relief of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 34:21; Jeremiah 37:5-7). This was the breaking of the arm of Egypt, of which the next verse speaks.
I have broken the arm. The metaphor was in itself one of the most familiar (Ezekiel 17:9; Ezekiel 22:6; 1 Samuel 2:31; Jeremiah 48:25). What is characteristic in Ezekiel is the way in which he follows the figure, so to speak, into its surgical details. A man with a broken arm might be cured and fight again; but it was not to be so with Pharaoh. His arm was not to be bound with a roller (the equivalent of the modern process of putting it in "splints"). The Hebrew word for "roller" is not found elsewhere, and Ezekiel's use of it is one of the instances of his knowledge of surgery. The corresponding verb is used by him of the bandages or swaddling-clothes of infancy (Ezekiel 16:4).
The strong, and that which was broken. The image is pressed yet further. A warrior whose sword-arm was broken might go on fighting with his left. Hophra might continue to struggle, though with diminished strength. Ezekiel's words shut out the hope of any such struggle. The left arm also should be broken as the right had been. The Chaldean king should wax stronger and stronger. The sword of Nebuchadnezzar should be as truly "the sword of Jehovah," as that of Gideon had been ( 7:18). Figuratively, he should stand before him groaning as a man wounded to the death. So in Jeremiah 43:9; Jeremiah 44:30; Jeremiah 46:26, we have allusions to an invasion of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar, which was to end in his sitting on his throne in the stronghold of Tahapanes.
Ezekiel 30:25, Ezekiel 30:26
The imagery is slightly varied. The arms of the Egyptian king are described, not as broken, but as feeble. They hang down by his side instead of wielding the sword. I will scatter, etc. The prophet dwells once more, repeating the very words of Ezekiel 30:23 and Ezekiel 29:12 with all the emphasis of iteration, on the dispersion which was the almost inevitable sequel of an Oriental conquest. There in the land of exile they should see that they had been fighting against God; and so the prophet ends the chapter with his ever-recurring formula, They shall know that I am Jehovah (Ezekiel 28:26; Ezekiel 29:21).
A cloudy day.
As in the case of Tyre, the denunciation of Divine Judgments against Egypt is succeeded by a lamentation for the doleful results of those judgments. Pity follows wrath. The terrible condition that fills the prophet's mind with dismay is full of more pressing warning when it is such as to excite the deepest commiseration. The advent of Divine chastisement is always a cloudy day.
I. PROGNOSTICATIONS OF A CLOUDY DAY. The dreadful day has not yet come; but the prophet foresees it in the near future. The newspapers furnish us with weather forecasts. The prophets supplied the Jews with premonitions of approaching changes in the political and social atmosphere. We have no gifted seers to take their place in the present day. But we have hints and warnings that should aid us in this direction.
1. The laws of God are changeless and eternal. Spiritual meteorology may appear to be as fickle as English weather. But as clouds and rain come and go by fixed Divine ordinances, in spite of their apparent waywardness, so the darkness and storms that afflict human life are really directed by God's inflexible principles of righteousness. Therefore, if any people are in the condition that drew down clouds of judgment on Israel or Egypt centuries ago, they will assuredly repeat the dreadful process today.
2. Clouds do not come without producing causes. They seem to sail up like ships from the sea, coming and going at their own will But we know that they are produced by certain causes. Mountains and forests attract rain-clouds. Clouds of calamity are not uncaused. Sin and folly collect the heaviest of them. Some may come in mercy, like cooling clouds that refresh the traveler who is fatigued with the heat and glare of the day; others, thunder-clouds of judgment, charged with fatal fires, are gathered by an evil condition of life. When the cause is present we may well expect its consequence.
II. THE EXPERIENCE OF A CLOUDY DAY. This would mean more in the sunny East than it seems to imply to inhabitants of our cloud-girt island.
1. A cloudy day is dark. Instead of the familiarly brilliant noon, men see only gloom at midday. In cloudy days of human life joy vanishes and the soul is plunged into sadness.
2. A cloudy day obscures the heavens. A curtain of inky clouds covers the blue sky and hides the sun. The saddest hours are those in which the vision of heaven is lost, when doubt and despair destroy our consciousness of God, when faith in the Unseen is drowned in spiritual darkness.
3. A cloudy day blots out the beauty of earth. The loveliest prospect is sobered and saddened in heavy weather. The whole aspect of the world is changed by a transformation of its sky. We cannot be independent of heavenly influences. Oar present earthly life is colored and shaded by our spiritual experiences. A clouded soul will see nothing but gloom in the fairest of external fortunes.
III. THE CONSEQUENCES OF A CLOUDY DAY.
1. The cloudy day may usher in a storm. Thus was it for Egypt and the other nations warned by Ezekiel. The cloud from the north was to burst in the troubles of Nebuchadnezzar's invasion. Threatening days may be followed by days of real calamity. God does not speak in vain. He holds the thunderbolt, and he throws it also. There are tempests of Divine wrath. "Woe worth the day" when such a tempest bursts! It will come upon every impenitent soul.
2. The cloudy day may break in refreshing showers.
3. The cloudy day may be followed by a bright day. No sunshine is so sweet and bright as that which follows rain. No joy is so sunny as that which accompanies a penitents restoration.
I. TROUBLE SPREADS.
1. In the individual. The first mischief in Egypt comes from the sword of the invader; but this is quickly followed by other ills. After Nebuchadnezzar's invasion the "abundance" is taken away, and the "foundations" are broken down.
2. Among communities of men. Cush follows the fate of Egypt, and other nations also fall under the wide sweep of judgment. We are members one of another, and when one member suffers all the members suffer. No people can afford to ignore the ruin of their neighbors. Selfish indifference is ultimately punished by a man's being compelled to share the sad consequences of the troubles of those whom he has neglected.
II. ASSOCIATION IN SIN WILL BE FOLLOWED BY ASSOCIATION IN PUNISHMENT. Cash was joined to Egypt in wickedness; she will be joined to the greater nation in suffering. He who walks in the way of sinners will come to the end of sinners. There is no assurance against the fatal consequences of wickedness that can be effected by means of association. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished" (Proverbs 11:21).
III. THERE IS NO PROTECTION IN OBSCURITY. Poor Cush and Phut and Lud are obscure, unimportant, and remote. Yet they share the fate of better-known Egypt-No one can hide his sin under the cloak of his own insignificance. No ferret is so keen as a man's own sin when the time comes for it to find him out.
IV. ALLIANCE WITH GREAT SINNERS WILL NOT AFFORD ANY PROTECTION. These other nations were joined to great Egypt. But this alliance did not save then. On the contrary, the grandeur of Egypt attracted Nebuchadnezzar to their neighborhood. Had there been no rich and famous Egypt, he would not have troubled himself to attack Cush and Phut and Lud. We gain nothing by the power or prestige of influential connections when we are called to judgment for our sins.
V. THEY ARE GUILTY OF SIN WHO AID AND ABET IT. These neighboring nations uphold Egypt. They will share her fate. From Migdol on the Delta to the granite-quarries of Syene far away to the south on the borders of the Soudan—five hundred miles—the ruin of great Egypt will extend; it will also spread to the people who support her policy and contribute to her prosperity. He who makes others to sin is himself the greatest of sinners. Fagin the trainer of child-thieves is himself a monstrous thief, though he never steals a handkerchief with his own fingers. People who encourage opium-eating, drunkenness, or profligacy, by supporting the causes of those evils, are guilty of them. The mercenaries of Egypt share the fate of their wealthy mistress. There are too many mercenaries of sin in the present day. For the sake of gain men will carry on a business which they know is directly ministering to the ruin of their fellow-creatures. They attempt to defend themselves with the excuse that they do not force those whom they supply with the means of self-destruction to avail themselves of it. This is true; but, on the other hand, they tempt the miserable victims by affording facility for fatal indulgence. That is the sin of Satan.
Egypt is to be desolate in the midst of countries that are desolate, and her cities laid waste in the midst of other ruined cities. A picture of widespread and general desolation.
I. THERE IS A DESOLATION OF LANDS AND CITIES. Having lived free from the ravages of an invader ever since the Norman conquest, we find it impossible to imagine the agonies of war among the people who suffer from them. The excitement of battle may drown those horrors for a season. But when that excitement is over, the consequent distress is deep and hitter, widespread and lasting. War is a demon of destruction. It literally ravages a country. No incursion of wild beasts from the forest, no pestilence or famine, can bring about evils equal to those of war. It is the duty of all Christian people to band themselves together into a league of peace. The war-mongers often raise cries of "British interests in danger!" The country should learn that the greatest British interest is peace.
II. THERE IS A DESOLATION OF HOMES.
1. This happens in bankruptcy, which is often brought about by wicked devices of cunning men. The successful promoter of a company entraps unwary people, pockets a rich premium, escapes before the crash, and leave his victims to ruin and misery. Gambling ruins multitudes of homes. If a man considered his duty to his wife and children, he would see that this terribly prevalent national vice is selfish and cruel.
2. This happens in external prosperity. Drunkenness makes a home desolate even before it has brought poverty, and no home can be more wretched for the children than that of drunken parents. Therefore the self-indulgence of intemperance is brutally cruel. Quarrelling desolates a home. Many a house that is envied by the ignorant for its affluence and luxury is a very prison of misery. When love departs, the best-appointed home is desolate. Dreary souls then drag out a beclouded existence among the melancholy ruins of wasted affection.
III. THERE IS A DESOLATION OF CHURCHES.
1. This may be physical. The Mohammedans simply stamped out the relics of a decaying and quarrelsome Christianity in North Africa—the home of Tertullian, Cyprian, and Augustine, The seven Churches of Asia have nearly all disappeared. If we are not true and strong in the Christian life, our candlestick will at length be taken away from us.
2. It may be spiritual. The ruined abbeys of England are famed for their beauty, and few may regret their present condition when admiring the relies of architectural splendor. But there is a worse desolation for Churches than roofless naves and crumbling walls. A Church is indeed desolate when the Spirit of Christ has forsaken her. She may seem to flourish in numbers, finance, and mechanical enterprise. But in the sight of Heaven she is a moldering ruin.
IV. THERE IS A DESOLATION OF SOULS.
1. This may come in great sorrow. When "the desire of his eyes" is taken from a man, how can he be other than desolate? Job was desolate indeed when his children were killed. Rizpah was desolate when she sat by the corpses of her two sons to drive off the foul birds of prey (2 Samuel 21:10), and Naomi when she returned to Bethlehem a childless widow. But God can comfort this desolation and fill its victim with heavenly peace.
2. The worst desolation is in sin. The soul is a wreck. Its very constitution is a ruin. God is driven from his seat in conscience. Here is the most dire and dreadful desolation—that of the prodigal, who feeds swine in a far country, and who would fain fill himself with the husks that the swine cat! It reaches its climax in pitiless solitude—"and no man gave unto him" (Luke 15:16).
The careless Ethiopians.
These people who were heedless of the coming danger that threatened them in common with great Egypt may serve as a type of the careless generally.
I. THE PREVALENCE OF CARELESSNESS. These "careless Ethiopians" are not rare specimens of an obscure class. We have not to go to Africa, nor to antiquity, for the like of them. The genus to which they belong is far from extinct even in this age of anxiety and energy. Note the various forms which carelessness takes.
1. In regard to danger. This was the condition of the easy-going Ethiopians. They would not consider the approaching danger of the Chaldean invasion. Men will not see risks to health till they suddenly break down; then they discover them, perhaps, too late. Soul-danger is ignored by thoughtless sinners.
2. In respect to guilt. The pilgrim felt the weight of his burden, but most of the inhabitants of the City of Destruction seem to have had no thought of their sins. Many men sin recklessly. They add up the score of guilt without a thought.
3. In reference to duty. Multitudes live as though they were only to be expected to please themselves. The sacred word "duty" has no meaning for them. They may be very anxious about their business and what will be profitable, but they are quite careless as to what they ought to do.
4. In connection with other men. Dives is careless as to the condition of Lazarus. The Church is too negligent of the state of the heathen world. In great cities people think little of their next-door neighbors. It is possible to starve in a land of plenty, and for no one to give heed till too late.
5. In relation to God. He is our Father and Master, and it is our first duty and our highest interest to regard his will. Yet many act as if he did not exist. They care neither for his love nor for his wrath.
II. THE EVIL OF CARELESSNESS. The "careless Ethiopians" are to share in the great deluge of general calamities that is about to sweep over the nations. Their carelessness does not protect them. Carelessness is evil on many accounts.
1. Because of its folly. This is more than childish. It is the stultification of mind. Man is made in the image of God, a thinking being. To renounce thought is to abdicate the throne of supremacy over the lower creation.
2. Because of its negligence. This carelessness is willful. It springs from an idle refusal to take the trouble of thinking, or from an insane infatuation with superficial interests. It is our duty to consider our ways, to consider the poor, and to remember our Creator. Negligence is sin.
3. Because of its danger. The danger is not in any degree lessened because we decline to consider it. The recklessness of an engine-driver about red lights does not annihilate obstructions on the line. The wages of sin will be paid punctually and to the full, whether we expect the day of recompense or never anticipate it.
Observe, in conclusion, that there is a way of being saved from care. This is not to be found in carelessness, however. We can quench worldly care with trust. Other anxieties may be softened and ultimately abolished when we seriously set ourselves to seeking God's favor and doing his will.
Egypt was a land of innumerable idols. In the general desolation that was approaching, not only would these idols prove themselves useless protectors, they themselves would share the fate of their patrons. The idols are destroyed in the ruin of the idolaters.
I. THERE IS NO DEFENSE IN IDOLS. This is a lesson for the heathen. But not only pagans who worship images of wood and stone need to learn it; men who despise the superstitions of heathendom have their own superstitions and practice their own idolatry, and the lesson is also for such people.
1. Every substitute for God is an idol. What a man loves supremely and trusts in absolutely is his god. One man thus idolizes his money, believing that he has only to draw a check to frighten away the most dreadful calamity. Another makes an idol of his own ability, his skill, energy, or cleverness, proudly supposing that he is equal to any emergency. A third worships a theory, and imagines, say, that the general course of evolution will assuredly bring all right. A fourth idolizes his own religious experience, and, instead of trusting God, puts his faith in his own saintliness.
2. No idol will preserve its worshipper. Money, ability, theory, saintliness, all fail in the hour of trial, as surely as the sacred hawks and eats of Egypt proved useless in face of the march of the Chaldean army.
II. GOD WILL DESTROY IDOLS. The idols of Egypt were to be destroyed in the general havoc of the invasion. The Philistine god Dagon fell down and was broken before the ark of the Lord (1 Samuel 5:4). The false hope will be laid low. It may be done speedily; if so, we may thank God for a merciful deliverance. It may be long delayed, and not even seen during the present life. Dives lives clad in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously till the end of his days. The rich fool is not disillusioned till the very night of his death. But in the next world, if not in this, men must see things in their true light. A happier destruction of idols comes through the revelation of their vanity in the light of God's truth. This is the Christian method of iconoclasm. The missionary will do little good if he simply rails at the folly and sin of idol-worship. But if he makes men know of the existence of the one spiritual God, the idols will disappear without his taking any trouble to hew them down. Idols vanish from the soul when the vision of Christ is received.
III. THE DESTRUCTION OF HIS IDOLS IS FOR THE SALVATION OF THE IDOLATER. There is redemption in the Divine iconoclasm. Idols delude men, hold them in bondage to superstition, degrade their souls, and blot out the view of the true heavens. God, seeing a rich man worshipping gold, snatches the fatal idol away and plunges the man into poverty that there he may learn to search for the true treasure of the kingdom of heaven. Earthly loss is often thus sent to clear away obstructions that hide us from seeing what are our souls' true possessions. But the mere destruction of idols is not itself a salvation. It is remarkable that Christian and European education is rapidly destroying the native idolatry of India; but it is questionable how far this is a gain if nothing is substituted but a hard and scornful agnosticism. When the idols are cast out of our lives, we need that the Christ shall come in and bring his new life.
Pharaoh's arms are to be broken, while the arms of the King of Babylon are to be strengthened. This metaphor describes the condition of the great empires that is consequent on the shock of conflict. The broken arm is suggestive of loss of power.
I. IT IS A CALAMITY TO LOSE POWER. This is felt to be so physically. So it is spiritually; for there are broken-armed Churches and broken-armed souls.
1. Men suffer great inconvenience who have broken arms. They cannot work. They are helplessly dependent on others. What can be a more pitiable picture of helplessness than a man with both arms broken? Weak Churches are helpless; i.e. when spiritual activity fails. Weak souls are in a miserable plight.
2. Broken arms may be found on healthy men. There is no disease, only the result of an act of violence or of an accident. Spiritual failure may be suddenly brought about, possibly by a sudden fall into temptation.
3. Broken arms may be seen on strong men. The muscle is stout, but the bone has snapped. So there are men who display great energy and resources. But they lack stamina. They cannot hold up against any strain. They have plenty of spiritual muscle, but the spiritual bones are brittle. Hence they sink into worse than a molluscous state.
II. THE LOSS OF POWER MAY COME AS A DIVINE JUDGMENT. Egypt is not only robbed of honor, possessions, etc. Her arms are broken. She loses power. This must be a bitter trouble for a great, proud people. God punishes nations by crippling their resources. If they have not used their powers well, these are taken from them. Thus the Roman empire was weakened in its corruption. It is the same with individuals. The misused talent is taken away. Sin destroys a man's best powers. It weakens the soul; often it weakens the mind also. This result may be quite unexpected—a sudden outbreak of war, a sudden attack of paralysis, a sudden failure of spiritual power.
III. POWER GROWS WITH USE. The arms of the King of Babylon are strengthened. Muscles become stout and tough with exercise. Brains grow strong with thinking. Souls become vigorous by service. The battles of the Lord are not cruel and desolating like those of man. The soldier of Jesus Christ leaves no ruins in his wake. The martial virtues of spiritual service are without alloy. It is well to gain renown and strength in the noble warfare against the world's sin and misery. If Nebuchadnezzar, doing God's will unwittingly, is still rewarded for the service, much more shall God's true, willing servants not fail of their recompense. The best reward is not to lie on beds of ease, but to receive more strength for more arduous service and sterner warfare in the future. The wages of God's servant is to have his arms strengthened.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The day of the Lord.
There is in this expression, which occurs in various parts of this book of prophecy, a certain vagueness which is not inconsistent with grandeur and sublimity. The prophet's own mind was evidently impressed with the fact that, whilst every day is an occasion for the manifestation of the Divine presence among men, there are days which are peculiarly the Lord's, because connected in an especial manner with the purposes of the Eternal with regard to the sons of time.
I. THE DAY OF THE REVELATION OF THE LORD'S POWER. Memorable are such days as those which witness a great king's accession to the throne, a great battle deciding the fortunes of nations, the passing of a great measure affecting the welfare of millions, the sending forth of a religious mission to a heathen community. But, whilst every day upon which some grand deed is wrought, or some noble institution founded, is in a sense a day of the Lord, there are days in which Divine providence signally asserts or vindicates itself, in which the might of the Omnipotent is convincingly displayed; and such days are emphatically designated by the term employed in the text.
II. THE DAY OF THE EXECUTION OF THE LORD'S RECOMPENSE AND JUDGMENT. Judging by the language here employed by the prophet, the day of the Lord he announces seems especially of this character. "Howl ye! Woe worth the day!" are expressions which surely betoken the coming of the Lord in vengeance—"a day of clouds," "the time of the heathen." Long-deferred correction is now to be inflicted; threatenings often repeated are now to be fulfilled. Forbearance is exhausted, and the day of the Lord shall see him arise to judgment.
III. THE DAY OF THE REDEMPTION OF THE LORD'S PEOPLE. The defeat and confusion of the adversaries is accompanied by the deliverance and exaltation of the friends of God. When the day comes which shall see the destruction of Israel's foes, Israel shall go free and shall rejoice in her liberty, with the shout, "Now is the day of salvation!" "Lift up your heads, for the day of redemption draweth nigh!"
IV. THE DAY WHICH DISPELS THE NIGHT OF HUMAN MISUNDERSTANDING AND DOUBT. The day of man is the day of ignorance and of fear, and is little better than the night when compared with the brightness which God's presence brings. To Christians, the day of the Lord is the day of their Savior's birth and coming to this world of sin. "The people which sat in darkness saw a great light." Then the errors and hopelessness of long ages were rolled away, like mists before the rising of the Sun of Righteousness, with healing in his wings.
V. THE DAY WHICH SHALL MANIFEST THE LORD'S GLORY AND FULFILL HIS PURPOSES. The day of the Lord has interest and significance for men; but the very term implies that its central meaning is not human, but Divine. The fools who have said in the heart, "There is no God!" the hypocrites and formalists, who have professed belief in God, but to whom the meaning of such belief is limited to words; the defiant and rebellious sinners, of whom it may justly be said, "God is not in all their ways; "—all these are addressed with power, and are aroused from their infidelity, when the day of the Lord breaks upon the world, and when the Lord himself draws near.—T.
The fate of the allies.
Egypt was not alone in her forgetfulness of the principles of righteousness, in her defiance of God; and she was not alone in her chastisement and desolation. She had allies, who were included by the prophet in the denunciation he was directed to utter against Pharaoh and his people.
I. POLITICAL AND NATIONAL ALLIANCES ARE OFTEN BASED UPON INTEREST RATHER THAN UPON MORAL PRINCIPLES. The weak seek the support of the strong; the strong would be stronger through the support of their neighbors. A common hope of profit and aggrandizement in many cases accounts for the leagues into which states enter with one another.
II. SUCH ALLIANCES ARE EASILY DISSOLVED WHEN THEIR OBJECTS ARE FOUND INCAPABLE OF REALIZATION. They do not deserve to endure, and as a matter of fact they do not endure. There is no guarantee of permanence in such combinations, and it is well for the world that this is so. The political center of gravity shifts, and the instability of alliances based upon interest is made apparent.
III. CONJOINT HUMAN POWERS ARE EVER VAIN WHEN THEY OPPOSE THE PURPOSES OF GOD. Such was proved to be the case with regard to the alliances between Egypt and the neighboring states mentioned by the prophet. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished." Add together as many finites as you will, and you are no nearer the Infinite; and all the resources of all the nations upon earth are as nothing, are less than the dust of the balance, when weighed against the incalculable, inexhaustible, irresistible power of the Omnipotent. "Why do the nations rage, and the peoples imagine a vain thing?"
IV. THOSE WHO SHARE IN SIN SHALL SHARE IN PUNISHMENT. "They also that uphold Egypt shall fall." "All her helpers are destroyed." The leagues of the righteous and godly shall contribute to the common strength; the measure of the Church's influence in the world is determined by the Church's unity. But as there is no cohesion in wickedness, the blow which falls dissolves the superficial combination, and overwhelms all the elements in a common destruction. Notwithstanding all recrimination, there is no escape and no consolation; confidence is destroyed, succor there is none; one ruin overtakes all.
V. A COMMON FATE IMPRESSES THE SAME LESSON UPON SOCIETY. The downfall of one proud, self-confident nation is impressive and instructive; but when a league is dissolved, and disaster comes upon those who have encouraged one another in injustice and impiety, the attention of the world is arrested, and men are the more disposed to ]earn how vain are all merely human projects, how unstable are all alliances based upon worldly principles, and how utterly powerless are the nations when they array themselves together against the truth, the Word, the Church, of the living God. When God arises, his enemies are scattered. There is none that can stand before him. Might is feebleness, wisdom is folly, and unions fall to pieces, when they are directed against him who is mighty to punish as he is mighty to save.—T.
It is well known, from the records of ancient history, and from the explorations and studies of Egyptologists of our own century, that the land of the Pharaohs was the seat of idolatry of the most deeply rooted, widespread, and at the same time most debasing and contemptible kind. It was not possible that the prophet of the Lord, in rebuking Egypt, should confine himself to the region of polities; he could not but deal with the religion and the religious practices which prevailed in the land of immemorial superstition. His words upon this matter are few, but they are clear, direct, and powerful. "Thus saith the Lord God, I will also destroy the idols, and I will cause their images to cease from Noph."
I. THE VANITY AND INABILITY OF IDOLS TO HELP THOSE WHO TRUST IN THEM.
II. THE HELPLESSNESS OF THEIR DEVOTEES TO RETAIN FOR IDOLS THE ALLEGIANCE OF THEIR WORSHIPPERS.
III. THE CERTAINTY THAT PROVIDENTIAL OCCURRENCES WILL SHAKE THE CONFIDENCE OF IDOLATERS IN THEIR IDOLS, AND WILL BRING IDOLATRY TO NAUGHT.
IV. THE DIVINE PROVISION THAT, AS IDOLS ARE CONFOUNDED, THE TRUE AND ONLY GOD WILL BE EXALTED.
1. The principles underlying this prophecy are a great encouragement to all those who labor for the propagation of the gospel among the heathen; their labors shall, sooner or later, meet with a full success and recompense.
2. There is here an implicit counsel as to the replacing of idolatry by true religion. It is one thing to destroy, another thing to construct. In our Indian dominions at the present time, education is shaking the faith of the native population in their idols and idol-worship. But in very many instances, education has done nothing to supply the place made vacant by the exorcism of superstition. Hence the importance of philosophical and historical instruction in connection with Christian missions; so that provision may be made for the deep-seated needs of the spirit of man, so that a reasonable faith in the Supreme may be encouraged, and so that the evidences of supernatural Christianity may be presented in a convincing and satisfying form. It should be the aim of the Church, in her missionary capacity, to replace idolatry, not by an irrational atheism or a degrading secularism, but by intelligent and scriptural Christianity.—T.
One strengthened and another weakened.
Historians chronicle the events which take place among the nations, and especially those which bring about the transference of supremacy, hegemony, from one people to another. The great empires of antiquity succeeded one another in a movement both picturesque and instructive. Ezekiel, in this passage, describes the defeat and humiliation of Egypt, and the victory and exaltation of Babylon. But he does more than this; as a religious teacher and prophet he affords us an insight into the moral, the religious, principles which underlie all political changes.
I. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CHANCE IN HISTORY. Men often suppose themselves to account for events when they attribute them to fortune, to caprice, to chance. But chance is no cause, it is the name for our ignorance of causes—a useful name if its signification is not transformed, and if in its use men do not impose upon themselves.
II. THE OPERATION OF DIVINELY INSTITUTED LAWS EFFECTS CHANGES IN THE PROSPERITY AND POWER OF NATIONS. Some of these laws are physical, some intellectual, others moral. They are of the greatest interest to the historian, who traces their action and interaction, their cooperation and conflict, as these are manifested in the rapid or gradual, the unobserved or conspicuous, changes which take place in the relations of great communities, and in the succession of one people to another in the development of the great drama of humanity.
III. YET TO THE THOUGHTFUL MIND LAW IN ITSELF IS INSUFFICIENT TO ACCOUNT FOR HISTORY. The mind craves, not indeed for something competing with law, but for something behind law, expressing itself by means of law. Law in its phenomenal manifestations is mere uniformity. Now, just as our actions may be accounted for on their phenomenal side by physical laws, whilst yet we know that purpose, intention, thought, do really and in the highest sense govern our actions, and that we are therefore moral and responsible beings; so in human history religion teaches us to look through facts and laws to Mind beyond them all, controlling, inspiring, and governing them all, in a word, accounting for them all. That is to say, we are taught by the prophet to see God in history. And reflection shows us how reasonable and justifiable is this view.
IV. A GENERAL DIVINE PURPOSE RUNS THROUGHOUT HUMAN HISTORY. It is God who raises one nation and humiliates another. These changes may for the most part be justified by the well-informed and thoughtful student. It is admitted that there are cases which occasion us the greatest perplexity. But the obscure must be interpreted by the plain. We should never forget that we are ignorant, short-sighted, and very fallible beings, and should avoid dogmatizing upon individual cases. But the reflecting and pious man will make a point of recognizing the Divine hand in the affairs of nations, and in the continuity of human history. This lesson has been taught most effectively by modern philosophers of history, from Herder to Hegel, and from Hegel to Bunsen.
V. OUR ACCEPTANCE OF THIS PRINCIPLE DOES NOT INVOLVE THE APPROVAL OF HUMAN PASSIONS WHICH IMPEL TO MANY HISTORICAL CHANGES, OR THE DELIGHT IN HUMAN SUFFERINGS WHICH FOLLOW UPON THEM. As a matter of fact, God in his wisdom makes use of many agencies and instrumentalities of a character which cannot be approved. The ambitions, jealousies, envies, etc; which animate nations and rulers are overruled by the Lord of all to secure ends which appear good and desirable to him. "He maketh the wrath of man to praise him." It is not for a moment to be supposed that the King of heaven takes any delight in the bereavements and desolations which befall the innocent as a consequence of those wars which are incident to the achievement of great, historically important ends. We can only reconcile much that happens with our highest view of the Divine character by remembering that God has a higher end before him than human enjoyment, and that in the execution of his purposes he is not limited by the horizon of time.
VI. ALL THE EVENTS WHICH TRANSPIRE AMONG THE NATIONS SHALL ULTIMATELY BE SEEN TO SUBSERVE MORAL AND RELIGIOUS ENDS, ESPECIALLY THE GLORY OF DIVINE RIGHTEOUSNESS. This is the faith of the godly, and is encouraged by revelation. Faith shall be justified. "The day shall declare it."—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The Lord's day in Egypt.
The Lord's day is the day in which God comes nearest to men and manifests himself. Whether he will come as our Friend or as our Foe depends on our state of mind towards him. He has not abandoned the race of men. They are on trial, undergoing discipline. Now and again he comes near, either in his radiant robes of grace or in solemn aspect as an impartial Judge. Even when he approaches nations in the latter character, he gives premonitions of his coming, and this is an act of grace. In all his doings righteousness and love are sweetly blended.
I. THE CAUSE OF DIVINE JUDGMENTS IN EGYPT. This is explicitly stated, "I will also destroy the idols, and I will cause their images to cease." Idolatry is not merely a system of error; it is a fount of immorality, it is a seed-bed of moral corruption. In the realm of religion you cannot separate theory from practice. Theories of atheism today become habits of sensuality tomorrow. Where God is ignored, every vice will speedily appear. The depravities of Egypt had tainted all the nations round about.
II. THE SEVERITY OF DIVINE JUDGMENTS. It is impossible for the wisest man to estimate the demerit of sin. No human jurist can place a competent penalty against transgression of the Law of God. He alone who created man and imposed law can determine adequate punishments. We can leave God to do what is wise and right. Usually, the sky over Egypt is transcendently bright; now that clear sky shall be covered with a cloud.
1. A foreign sword shall invade the land. "It shall be the time of the heathen." A sharp sword wielded by a fierce enemy was ordained to mow down the people.
2. Desolation was decreed. So great was the decimation to be, that populous cities would be silent, and death-like desolation would prevail throughout that once prosperous land. Like the deserts which envelop Egypt round—barren and dreary—so was Egypt itself to become!
3. Fire was to complete the overthrow. "I will set fire in Egypt." Her mansions and cottages, built of most combustible material, would be ready food for flames; and, for lack of water, towns and villages would speedily disappear. How vulnerable on every side was this renowned empire!
4. Her very foundations would be rooted up. Under this language there is portrayed, not the removal of material substructions of cities, but the demolition of imperial and. national foundations. The throne should be completely undermined; the government should pass into other hands.
5. The overthrow should be coextensive with Egypt. No part was to be excepted. Beginning at the first stronghold—the tower of Syene—the devastation should sweep throughout the land. Flourishing cities are mentioned by name as devoted to doom. One calamity shall befall one; some other calamity is prepared for another. God calls to his service ten thousand agents.
III. THE INSTRUMENT OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. In this ease God has announced beforehand what instrument he will employ. The main leader in this great tragedy was Nebuchadnezzar King of Babylon. Some good reason prevailed with God why he should be selected. To be the tool of a bad man is a great dishonor, but to do any service for our righteous King is a substantial honor. Sometimes God has seen fit to employ material forces to execute his vengeance, as in the eases of Lisbon and Pompeii. Sometimes he has employed an angel, as when he discomfited Sennacherib, as when he smote the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Yet, if the human instrument be not himself righteous, he shall also in his turn be chastised. God gives to men rewards on earth to whom he is bound to deny the possession of heaven.
IV. THE CERTAINTY OF DIVINE JUDGMENTS. It is made sure by the testimony of Jehovah. "Thus saith the Lord;" "I the Lord have spoken it." Not even the actual overthrow of Egypt made the event more certain than it was made by the word of Jehovah. His declarations are as good as his performances. His words are deeds. As soon as he speaks the event begins to evolve, although we only perceive the final stroke. Our business, therefore, is simply to ascertain whether God has spoken; if he has, we may conclude that the word will become fact. Between his word and its fulfillment there is an iron link of necessity. It must be done.
V. THE COLLATERAL EFFECTS OF DIVINE JUDGMENTS. "The men of the land that is in league, shall fall with them by the sword." Allies shall suffer along with the principal offenders. To prop up a rotten throne is a crime. Judicious care is needed in the choice of friends, whether public or private. By thoughtlessly identifying ourselves with bad men, we become "partakers of their sins." Such overwhelming judgment as this in Egypt would strike terror into the hearts of neighbors. "In that day shall messengers from me make the careless Ethiopians afraid." All who dwell in the vicinity shall be awed by the great catastrophe. If such disaster overtook the Egyptians, might it not also overtake them? Had they no sin to be chastised? If the Egyptians were unable to buy off, or resist, the foe, what could they do in the day of visitation? Well may all wrongdoers tremble! "When thy judgments are abroad in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness."
VI. THE FINAL PURPOSE OF DIVINE JUDGMENT. "They shall know that I am the Lord." In their death they shall be convinced of a truth which they refused to acknowledge during life. In the crisis of the conflict between Jehovah and the idols men shall learn on which side the real strength lies. So is it still—when too late to reverse the course of life, too late to change character—men discover that there is a God in the earth, and that they must pass through the crucial process of judgment. Yet how slow are the nations still to recognize and revere Jehovah! What patience and forbearance cloth our God show! Nevertheless, it is true—men shall confess that Jehovah is Lord. Is it not wiser to learn the lesson forthwith?
VII. SENTIMENTS PROPER TO THE NEAR APPROACH OF JUDGMENT. "Howl ye! Woe worth the day!" It is an impressive proof of the tender love of God that he employs all suitable means to warn us of the gradual approach of doom. Of him it is not true that the "gods have feet of wool." The noise of his chariot-wheels is heard in the distance. He sends messengers of various kinds in advance, to prevent, if possible, the threatened disaster. What gratitude ought to break forth from our hearts! And with what awe should we hear the thunderous tread of his footsteps! Verily, men are as the small dust of the balance Compared with the majesty of God. For the creature to contend with his Creator is folly inexpressible! While yet the day of opportunity lingers, let counsels of wisdom prevail!—D.
The broken arm.
It is marvelous that men do not realize as a fact how completely dependent they are upon the unseen God. In theory, the bulk of men are theists; in practice, atheists. It would produce a blessed revolution in society if believers in God's nearness lived up to their beliefs. How differently would kings and statesmen act, compared with their ordinary conduct! What a scene of order and quietness would our earth become!
I. THAT A CONFLICT BETWEEN NATIONS MAY BE REGARDED AS A PERSONAL COMBAT. The bulk of an army are tools, who, for considerations of pay, fight the battles of their sovereign king. It would often be more just, and more advantageous, if the persons who pick a national quarrel would personally and singly fight it out. Yet even the military equipment of a king is simply his arm magnified. Hence we call weapons of war arms. They are the artificial arm of the monarch. In almost every ease the cause of war is a personal matter between two sovereigns, or their representatives. The nation is expected to identify itself, willingly or unwillingly, with their sovereign, and act as his confederates.
II. THAT IN SUCH PERSONAL COMBAT THE ARM IS AN ESSENTIAL INSTRUMENT. As many animals are furnished by God with weapons of defense, so the human arm, so skillfully constructed, is man's chief instrument in battle. Without question, it was designed to serve other purposes. It is more adapted for industrial pursuits than for martial engagements. Yet, as self-existence is a law of nature, the right arm has an unspeakable value in defending one's self against a foe. In armament it is man's masterpiece. Shield and sword are reduced to uselessness unless there be a brawny arm.
III. THAT THE CREATOR OF MAN CAN WEAKEN OR STRENGTHEN MAN'S ARM AT PLEASURE. No part of man's nature has been constructed by himself. No part can be maintained in vigor by himself. He is, in every part and through every moment, dependent on his Maker. As man cannot make an arm, neither can he maintain its life and energy. The strength of that arm depends on occult forces of nerve and ligament, that mail knows little about. He is just discovering some of the channels and laws through which his Divine Creator works: so far he can act with God; but still the Fourth of life is in God alone. Wisely did King David recognize that it was God who "taught his hands to war, and his fingers to fight." The maintenance of vitality rests with God. Every increment of strength is due to him. His favor invigorates us; his frown makes us weak. The man of giant strength is but an infant in God's hands. Without his upholding power our arms would fall at once, paralyzed at our side.
IV. THAT IF GOD BREAKS THE ARM OF ANY COMBATANTS DEFEAT ENSUES. How completely is God the Arbiter in every battle! Very clearly, we are told, God inter poses, in a hundred different ways, to decide the wage of war. If a spirit of timidity or fear fills the hearts of rank-and-file, the arm on which the monarch depended is broken. If treachery lurks in any department of the military service, or even in one man's breast, the arm of the king is broken. On the other hand, God has a sword of his own, and there are times when he places this in the hand of a combatant. There are times when God gives extraordinary strength, or skill, to a human arm. For wise reasons his assistance is not seen, his action is not discovered. Men put down the result to chance or to the fortunes of war. It is a common failing to forget God. We may always have God's strength in our arm if we will. If we keep closely at his side, and calmly do his will, he will surely be on our side if we are forced into battle. Then we shall feel that the battle is not ours; it is the Lord's.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Ezekiel 30:1-3, Ezekiel 30:7
The day of desolation.
To what extent we are to take the prophet's description of the "woe" that was to overtake Egypt in a strictly external sense must (as said before on Ezekiel 29:16) depend on our principle of biblical interpretation, together with our reading of ancient history. For the purpose of religious edification it is enough that we accept these words as a picture of the desolation to which a course of guilt, whether national or individual, may be expected to lead.
I. NATIONAL DESOLATION. Of this Ezekiel furnishes, in the whole chapter, a most graphic picture.
1. Prosperity (fullness) departs, and there is no more boast of its great population (Verse 10).
2. Violent death lays numbers of its people low; the land is "filled with the slain" (Verses 4, 11).
3. Its hope, in the person of its young men, is slain (Verse 17).
4. Its beauty, its pride, in the person of its daughters, is removed (Verse 18).
5. Its physical resources are dried up (Verse 12).
6. Its natural leaders are lost to it (verse 13).
7. Its religious institutions are broken up (Verse 13).
8. Its allies and dependencies are dragged down with it to the ground (Verses 5, 6); "its yokes are broken" (Verse 18).
9. Its people are stricken with dismay; instead of its ancient pride and pomp (Verse 18), fearfulness fills the heart of its inhabitants (Verse 13); a cloud of dire misfortune throws the whole country into dark shadow (Verses 3, 18). The final, comprehensive touch is in the language of the text.
10. Desolation in the midst of desolation. It does not appear that Egypt ever presented so desperate a scene as this; and we may understand either
II. THE DESOLATION OF THE SPIRIT.
1. In what it is found. Spiritual desolation is experienced when all that is really precious to the human soul is broken up and has departed. When
2. How it may be averted. "None of them that trust in him shall be desolate," says the psalmist (Psalms 35:22). The fear of God, walking in the light of his truth, communion with Jesus Christ and association with his friends and followers, the daily prayer for the restraining and the prompting influences of the Spirit of God,—this will secure the soul from loss and from decline. He who lives thus will not enter even the outer shadow of this calamity.
3. The way of deliverance. Men once thought that there was no way for a human soul to ascend from the pit of spiritual ruin to the lofty levels of holy service and sacred joy and immortal hope. We think thus no more now that he has spoken to us who has said, "I am the Way."—C.
"I shall break there the yokes of Egypt." There are many yokes which are laid on men's shoulders from which they may well wish to be freed; and there is one yoke concerning which no such thought need be cherished for a moment. There is the yoke of—
I. HUMAN OPPRESSION. The sad story of the human race is, to a very large extent, the history of human oppression. "Man's inhumanity to man ' may well "make us mourn" as we dwell upon it. And among his various cruelties and wrongs we have to give oppression a prominent place—political, domestic, personal oppression. It includes the denial of the rights of manhood and of womanhood, the exacting of hard and burdensome labor, or of heavy and excessive tribute, or of a dishonoring and hurtful homage, the inflicting of pain and suffering of many kinds. It seems to be in the nature of sin to harden men's hearts against one another, until they not only endure but positively enjoy the sight of the oppression they impose. Ezekiel speaks of" the yokes of Egypt." No doubt that country, in the plenitude of its power, exacted tribute, enforced labor, laid heavy burdens upon many of its own subjects or (as in an earlier time, when Israel was under its heel) on other peoples. But when the Babylonian power came up and subdued it, its hard hold on these had to be relaxed, its yoke was broken in twain. This, in the providence of God, has frequently happened. Power becomes wealthy; wealth leads to luxury and indulgence; indulgence leads to effeminacy and decline; weakness succumbs to some other power that has arisen; and then and thus its "yoke is broken."
II. THE SERVITUDE OF SIN. "Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants [slaves] ye are to whom ye obey? Ye were the servants [slaves] of sin" (Romans 6:16, Romans 6:17). Sin conducts, by sure steps, to spiritual bondage; it lays a hard and heavy yoke upon the soul; it may be that of a grasping selfishness, or of an absorbing worldliness, or of a degrading vice, or of such a fatal habit as that of procrastination. But it is a hard bondage, a cruel yoke, which must be broken if there is to be spiritual liberty and eternal life. God, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, can and does break this deadly yoke.
1. He fills the soul with a sense of shame, and with a holy, renewing sorrow.
2. He leads the awakened soul to a Divine Savior, in whoso love and service the bond is broken.
3. He gives to the seeking, trustful soul the cleansing, liberating power of his Holy Spirit; and thus the yoke is broken and the man is freed. There is another yoke of an entirely different nature; it is in—
III. THE SERVICE OF JESUS CHRIST. "Take my yoke," he says; "my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." In that which is the service of love and of righteousness there is real liberty and lasting joy.—C.
Ezekiel 30:21, Ezekiel 30:22, Ezekiel 30:24
The broken and the strengthened arm.
"I have broken the arm of Pharaoh King of Egypt;" "I will strengthen the arms of the King of Babylon." These words suggest to us three things.
I. GOD'S ACTION ON ALL THE NATIONS. God was in an especial sense "the God of Israel," but certainly not in an exclusive sense. He was, as he is, the God of all the nations. He was observing, directing, overruling everywhere. If Egypt fell, it was because he "broke the arm of Pharaoh;" if Babylon triumphed, it was because he made it strong in the day of battle. Statesmen and warriors were supposing that all events were the outcome of their policy and of their strategy; but, in fact, there was a power behind them and all their schemes, laying low or raising up, bringing into humiliation or causing to succeed. And there has been no age of the world, as there has been no part of the earth, in which the Divine hand has not been engaged either in breaking or in building.
II. THE BROKEN ARM OF INIQUITY. We may truly say that God is continually occupied in "breaking the arm" of wrong and sin. He does so in one of two ways.
1. Either by his direct active interposition; so touching the chain of events at one of its links, as to bring about disaster; intervening at some point by the introduction of some factor which makes all the difference in the end.
2. Or by the steadfast action of his wise and holy laws—those laws which compel all wrong-doing to others and all violation of what is due to ourself to lead down to weakness, to misery, to death. Iniquity often seems very strong; it is sustained by stone fortresses, by armies and navies, by high rank, by great wealth, by numbers, by deep-rooted customs, by venerable institutions. Nevertheless, it is on its way to overthrow and ruin. For God has designed to "break its arm." He may do so by unexpected means; he may take longer time than we wish he would take in the process; but he will accomplish it. He will bring Divine justice, Divine wisdom, Divine penalty, to bear upon and against it, and its power will be broken. It is a vain thing to be on the side of prevailing wrong; for if we are, God is against us, and, sooner or later, we shall "be confounded."
III. THE STRENGTHENED ARM OF RECTITUDE. It may be that God will "strengthen the arm … of Babylon," of some "power" or of some man who has no claim on the ground of righteousness, doing this for the accomplishment of some wise and holy purpose. But there is no promise to unrighteousness. Those who regard not the works nor the Word of the Lord need not expect that he will "build them up" (see Psalms 28:5). It is those who fear him, who seek to do his will and to follow in the footsteps of his Son,—it is they who may hope to have "their arm strengthened," their work crowned with success, their hopes fulfilled. Not, indeed, that all good men will receive from God all that they would like to have; for we cannot "choose our own inheritance" with any deep wisdom, and it is well for us that many things on which we set our heart should be, as they are, denied us of God. But, making all needful exceptions, the soul that earnestly seeks God's face and strives to live his life will find that his Divine Lord will "strengthen his arm" by;
1. Directing his course in ways of competence and peace.
2. "Strengthening him with strength in his soul," and thus fitting him for all duty, trial, and temptation.
3. Making him the source of blessing to those whom he seeks to serve in the fields of sacred usefulness.—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 30". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Easter