Of the two main divisions of this chapter, the first (Ezekiel 39:1-20) depicts the greatness of the overthrow of Gog; the second (Ezekiel 39:21-29) records the impression made by it upon Both Israel and the heathen, and adds a closing promise to the former.
In the first main division Ezekiel repeats the substance of what has already been advanced concerning the defeat of Gog (verses 1-8), after which he strives to represent its completeness (verses 9-20), by setting forth
The chief prime of Meshech and Tubal; or, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal (see on Ezekiel 38:2).
I will … leave but the sixth part of thee. The word שְׁשֵּׁאתִיךָ is derived either from the numeral six, שֵׁשׁ, or from the root שָׁשָׁא, the import of which is uncertain, although a cognate root in Ethiopic suggests the idea of "going on" or "proceeding"—a meaning Havernick also finds in the Hebrew. The former derivation has been followed by the Authorized Version, which renders in the margin, "I will strike thee with six plagues," or "draw thee back with a hook of six teeth," and by Hengstenberg, With whom Plumptre agrees, "1 will six thee," i.e. "afflict thee with six plagues," viz. those mentioned in Ezekiel 38:22. The latter derivation, presumably the more correct, is adopted by the LXX. ( καθοδογήσω), the Vulgate (educam), the Revised Version ("I will lead thee on"), and by modern expositors generally. Hitzig and Smend approve of Ewald's translation, "I entice thee astray, and lead thee with leading, strings."
I will smite thy bow out of thy left hand. Bows and arrows were characteristic weapons of the Scythians, whom Herodotus (4:46) styles ἱπποτοξόται (comp. Jeremiah 5:16; Jeremiah 6:23; and see note on Ezekiel 38:15).
I will give thee unto ravenous birds of every sort; or, wing. The language depicts an army on the march, followed by jackals, vultures, and other birds of prey, ready to feast upon the corpses of slaughtered men (comp. Ezekiel 33:27; 1 Samuel 17:46; and Homer's 'Iliad,' 1.4, 5). In addition to destroying Cog, causing him to fall upon the mountains of Israel and upon the open field; literally, upon the face of the field, Jehovah engages to carry the fire of war and generally of devastation (cf. Ezekiel 33:22; Amos 2:2, Amos 2:5; Revelation 20:1-15 :29) into Cog's own land, Magog (see on Ezekiel 38:2), and among them that dwell carelessly (better, securely) in the isles; or, coast-lands (Ezekiel 27:7); i.e. not merely the merchants of Tarshish or the "isles" of the trading nations mentioned in Ezekiel 38:13, as Hengstenberg and Plumptre prefer, but, as Smend, Schroder, and Keil explain, all the distant peoples of the coast-lands from whom Gog's armies were drawn (Ezekiel 38:5, Ezekiel 38:6), and in whom were many of Gog's sympathizers.
Behold! it is come. "The words which a man might speak on he-holding his purpose accomplished are, with Ezekiel's Bold anthropomorphism, put into the mouth of Jehovah" (Plumptre).
Ezekiel 39:9, Ezekiel 39:10
set forth as the first proof of the greatness of Gog's overthrow the immense booty in the shape of weapons of war which should be obtained by the inhabitants of the cities of Israel. So huge should be the quantity of weapons left behind by the slain, that the Israelites should burn them with fire seven years. This burning of the weapons has been explained by Havernick, on the ground that weapons of war, as incompatible with Messianic times, should be no more required (cf. Isaiah 2:4); by Ewald, as in accordance with the custom of the Hebrews (Isaiah 9:5) and other ancient peoples (Livy, 38.23; Virgil, 'AEneid,' 8.562); by Hitzig and Smend, as prompted by the consideration that Israel, for whom Jehovah had fought, should have no further need of weapons; by Schroder, as indicating that for Israel these warlike instruments should then so completely lose their power to terrify that they might be looked upon simply as so much firewood; and by Keil, as designed to annihilate the enemy and remove every trace of him. Kliefoth appears nearest the mark, in suggesting that the emphasis lies upon the length of time the burning should continue; and that this was intended, by conveying an idea of the vastness of the spoil, to represent the thoroughness of Gog's destruction and of Israel's deliverance. That the whole delineation is symbolical appears from the number of years the weapons are said to serve for fuel, viz. seven, and from the character of the weapons themselves, which, if not entirely wooden, were at least all combustible. Of the "armor" generally ( נֶשֶׁק, "something joined," from a root signifying "to join") the pieces mentioned—the shields and the bucklers (see Ezekiel 38:4), the bows and arrows (see Ezekiel 39:3), the hand-staves, or, javelins (margin), perhaps, as Hitzig and Smend suggest, the staff with which a horseman strikes his beast (see Numbers 22:27), and the spears—were mostly composed of timber. When all should have been given to the flames, it would then appear that on their late owners the lex talionis had worked out its literal avengement, that they who had intended to despoil Israel were themselves spoiled; and they who hoped to plunder Israel were themselves plundered (comp. Isaiah 17:14).
Contain a second proof of the completeness of Gog's destruction, viz. the length of time occupied in burying the slain and cleansing the land.
Gog, who should invade Israel in the hope of acquiring the entire mastery of her land, would obtain at Jehovah's hands only a place there of graves, i.e. either, as Hitzig, Ewald, Keil, and Smend suggest, a place where a grave might be possible—a place large enough to receive his slaughtered carcasses; or as Havernick proposes, "an altogether special grave as no other in Israel;" or as Schroder interprets, "a place where there is a grave for him and nothing else." Concerning both the designation and the site of this divinely provided sepulcher controversy has arisen.
In the present verse הָעֹבְרִים may signify either
Ezekiel 39:12, Ezekiel 39:13
The time that should be occupied in Gog's funeral should be seven months—so great should be the number of the dead—the sacred number seven recalling the seven years consumed in the burning of the weapons (Ezekiel 39:9), and reminding one of the "seven times heated" furnace into which the Hebrew children were cast, and of the "seven times" of Nebuchadnezzar's humiliation (Daniel 3:19; Daniel 4:23). The parties who should conduct his obsequies should be the house of Israel, even all the people of the land, indicating the common joy occasioned by the barbaric chieftain's overthrow. The motive which should impel them in their work would be a desire to cleanse the land from the defilement it had contracted from the corpses of the slain (comp. Numbers 19:11,Numbers 19:22; Numbers 31:19; Numbers 35:33); and the end should be that the work should be to them, not for "a remembrance" (Ewald), but a renown, not because they should have helped to bury Gog (Hengstenberg), or through burying Gog should have proved themselves his conquerors (Smend), and in virtue of Jehovah's protection the possessors of his grave (Hitzig), but because in the day when Jehovah glorified himself through Gog's destruction, he (Jehovah) should also be glorified by their (Israel's) zeal "to show themselves a holy people by sweeping all uncleanness away" (Keil).
When the work of burying Gog should have gone on for seven months, at the end of that time the Israelites should sever out (comp. Deuteronomy 10:8) men of continual employment; literally, men of con-t/nuance; i.e. persons hired for a continuous work or devoted to a constant occupation, whose business it should be passing through the land to bury with the passengers those that remain—or, as the Revised Version reads, to bury them that pass through, that remain—upon the face of the land. Here, again, the old play upon the word "passengers" recurs, and with it two or three difficulties.
describes the method of procedure these "searchers" and "buriers," should follow. If these were distinct from each other, the "searchers"—if they were the same, any others—on discovering a man's bone should set up a sign by it; literally, build near it a pillar; erect a heap of stone to call the attention of the butlers, who, on coming to the spot, should inter it in the valley of Hamon-gog.
As another mark to distinguish Gog's tomb, a city should arise in its vicinity, bearing the name Hamonah, or "Multitude" (comp. Isaiah 19:18, "the city of destruction"), though Schmieder thinks it must have been "a city of graves," since a city of houses could not exist in such a valley of the dead, and indeed the LXX. gives as the city's name πολυάνδριον, by which later Greek writers were accustomed to call the common ground in a cemetery as distinguished from its paternal sepulchers. If quite improbable that Bethshan or Scythopolis near Megiddo was Ezekiel's Hamonah, it is possible the actual city may have been named after the ideal. Plumptre cites as a modern parallel the English town of Lichfield (or "Field of corpses"), which, according to tradition, commemorates the destruction of the Danes. When the work of the buriers should be finished, the land would be completely cleansed.
exhibit in a third way the severity of Gog's overthrow by setting forth the bloody carnage which should attend it.
Expanding the thought of Ezekiel 39:4, and borrowing the imagery of the older prophets, Isaiah (Isaiah 34:6; Isaiah 56:9) and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 46:10; Jeremiah 1:1-19 :29; Jeremiah 51:40), Ezekiel represents Gog's destruction as a great sacrifice—literally, slaying; hence a sacrificial feast or simply banquet (as in Genesis 31:54)—upon the mountains of Israel, prepared by Jehovah for the fowls of the air and the beasts of the field, which he, therefore, invites to come from all quarters to eat flesh and drink blood.
specifies the victims whose flesh and blood should form their banquet, viz. the mighty, as in Ezekiel 32:12, Ezekiel 32:27, and the princes of the earth, meaning the nobles and other dignitaries in Gog's army, who, in accordance with the symbol of a feast, are spoken of as "rams," "lambs," "goats," "bullocks," and "fatlings of Bashan" (comp. Psalms 22:12). "Per haec animantium, quae in saarificiis usurpari solebant, nomina varii hominum ordines intelliguntur, principum, ducum, militum, quod et Chaldaeus observat" (Grotius. Comp. Revelation 19:17, Revelation 19:18). In Zephaniah 1:7 the heathen are the guests, and his people the victims, at Jehovah's banquet.
record the impression Gog's overthrow should make upon both Israel and the heathen.
The house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God from that day forward. What should convince them of this would be their triumph and deliverance through Gog's annihilation.
Ezekiel 39:28, Ezekiel 39:24
And the heathen shall know. The special lesson for them should be not so much teaching concerning God's supremacy over them, or concerning their relation to Israel, as concerning the principles of God's dealings with Israel. They should learn that if Israel had for a season been abandoned to the sword and driven into exile, it was not because of Jehovah's inability to protect them, but because of their wickedness which had caused him to hide his face from them—an expression which in Ezekiel occurs only here and in verse 29, though it is found in the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy 31:17, Deuteronomy 31:18) and in the older prophets (Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 54:8; Isaiah 57:17; Isaiah 64:7; Jeremiah 33:5).
This section Hengstenberg regards as the close of the whole system of prophecies of a predominantly comforting character from Ezekiel 33:21 onwards;" Keil views it as the proper conclusion to the prophecy concerning Gog and the series of predictions from Ezekiel 35:1 onwards. It is in substance a recapitulation of God's gracious promise to bring again the captivity of Israel, of which the prophet had just been reminded in verse 23, and to which accordingly he now in thought goes back. It traces the whole course of the Divine dealings with the nation from the point of the exile onwards.
I will bring again the captivity of Jacob. (For the use of "Jacob" as a designation of the people, see Ezekiel 28:25; Ezekiel 37:25.) The promise goes back to Deuteronomy 30:3; Jeremiah 29:14; Jeremiah 30:3; Jeremiah 31:23; Jeremiah 32:44; and other passages. That its fulfillment began with the return from Babylon is not inconsistent with the view that its fulfillment will terminate with the final ingathering of Israel out of the nations by her conversion to Christianity, and her consequent admission to the Church. That its first cause will be "mercy" to the whole house of Israel will not prevent that cause from being at the same time a jealous regard for the Divine holiness (comp. Ezekiel 36:21, Ezekiel 36:22).
After they have borne their shame (comp. Ezekiel 16:52, Ezekiel 16:54; Ezekiel 32:24, Ezekiel 32:30; Ezekiel 34:29; Ezekiel 36:6). The captivity of Israel would not be brought back until her people had been thoroughly chastised for their iniquities, and that chastisement had wrought in them a spirit of penitence and a disposition towards obedience. Then should Jehovah interpose for their deliverance by gathering them out of their enemies' lands and leading them back to their own land; and these two experiences, the Captivity and the Restoration, the driving out and the bringing in, should complete their conversion to Jehovah, and secure their perpetual enjoyment of Jehovah's favor.
I have poured out my Spirit upon the house of Israel. Already Jehovah had promised to put his Spirit in his people (Ezekiel 36:27; Ezekiel 37:14); now the fact that he has implemented that promise by a copious effusion of the same he cites as a proof that Israel shall no more forfeit his favor because no more shall she forsake his ways (comp. Isaiah 59:21). The same promise had been previously given by Joel (Joel 2:28), and was afterwards renewed by Zechariah (Zechariah 12:10). The citation of Joel's words by Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:17) shows that he regarded the remarkable effusion of the Holy Ghost on that memorable occasion as a fulfillment of the premise here recorded by Ezekiel. Yet the promise was not then exhausted. Rather it has often since been implemented, and will doubtless receive its consummation in the New Jerusalem. "No historical Church, Jewish or Gentile," writes Plumptre, "has ever yet realized the picture here sketched by Ezekiel. We ask, as before—Will it ever be realized on earth? or must we look for it only in the heavenly city whose Builder and Maker is God?"
NOTE.—In addition to what has been stated at the beginning of this prophecy (Ezekiel 38:1) with reference to the general significance of this invasion by and overthrow of Cog, that it points to some tremendous conflict in the latter days between the powers of the world and the Church of Christ, a few words may be offered in support of the preposition that nevertheless there is no reason to expect that this conflict will take the form of an actual invasion of the land of Israel or of a real fire-and-sword battle with the Church, or that Gog will step upon the field as a veritable flesh-and-blood personality, and his armies find a grave in the manner sketched by the prophet. That the whole delineation is symbolic, and embodies spiritual truths under material emblems, will hardly be doubted by one who impartially weighs the following considerations, which have been admirably brought together by Fairbairn.
1. The designation given to the great assailant of the latter times—Gog, which discovers itself to be an ideal name, if by nothing else by the manner in which it has been formed.
2. The composition of his army, which is drawn from the four quarters of the globe, in fact, from the extremities of the earth, and consists of peoples not only remote from one another, but "the most unlike naturally to act in concert for any particular purpose."
3. The object of his attack—the land of Israel, a territory so small that it is inconceivable a host so great should have been required to capture it, and so poor that had the invaders got all it contained it "could not have served to maintain them for a single day."
4. The fruits of Israel's victory—firewood for seven years out of the enemies' weapons, and seven months of labor in burying their corpses. "It would be but a very moderate allowance, on the literal supposition, to say that a million of men would thus be engaged, and that on an average each would consign two corpses to the tomb in one day; which for the hundred and eighty working days of the seven months would make an aggregate of three hundred and sixty millions of corpses! Then the putrefaction, the pestilential vapors arising from such masses of slain victims, before they were all buried. Who could live at such a time?"
5. The impossibility of harmonizing prophecy on the hypothesis that Ezekiel's picture must receive a literal interpretation, since Isaiah (34.), Joel (Joel 3:12, Joel 3:14), and Zechariah (14), who all appear to depict the same conflict as Ezekiel portrays, each pitches its scene in a different locality.
6. The gross carnality of the whole picture on the assumption that it must be literally interpreted, which is wholly inconsistent with that spirituality one associates with the Messianic times. "Persons," writes Fairbairn, "who in the face of all these considerations can still cling to the literal view of this prophecy, must be left to themselves; they are incapable of being convinced in the way of argument."
God's purpose accomplished.
The prophet does not dream dreams of idle fancy, build castles in the air, or terrify men with nightmares of unreal judgments. The Word of God comes true. The predicted day arrives, the promised action is performed—"It is come, and it is done."
I. IN CREATION. God spake, and it was done. He said, "Let there be light; and light was." The creative word was with power. Men plan great things, but they are quite incompetent to carry the best of them out. The greater the artist is the more he must feel that his execution falls lamentably short of his design. It is not so with God. When he carries out his idea in his work it can be said of each stage of creation, "And God saw that it was good." He is mighty to perform all his will.
II. IN REDEMPTION. This new creation was a harder work than the first creation. No human agent could accomplish it, and God's own arm brought salvation. But though it involved the sacrifice of his Son, he carried out his great design of redeeming the lost world. The dying Jesus exclaimed, "It is finished!" The application of this redemption is not yet complete. The promise concerning this is, "He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied" (Isaiah 53:11). But St. Peter looked forward to the grand restitution of all things, when all shall be brought in subjection to Christ (Acts 3:21). We know that he who has begun a good work in us is able to finish it (Philippians 1:6).
III. IN JUDGMENT. If God accomplishes his designs in creation and redemption, it cannot be supposed that he will fail to carry them out in regard to judgment. Delay is no proof of failure, for the long-promised Messiah was slow to appear, yet in due lime Christ was born. The mercy of God is no sign of the failure of judgment, for God was as merciful when he threatened wrath as he will be when the time comes for executing the threat. The day of judgment, that dreadful "day of the Lord," as the prophets called it, came to the nations and to Israel with fearful calamities. Assuredly it will come, and its work will be done also among all sinners.
IV. IN PROVIDENCE. God made great promises to Abraham, and the patriarch did not live to reap their accomplishment. Yet God was true to his word. All the might of Egypt could not frustrate God's gracious designs. He has great purposes for his people now. Satan may oppose the execution of them; sin, unbelief, and worldliness may rise up against them. Yet God will not desert his own inheritance. Indeed, he does now accomplish his gracious providential designs in spite of all opposition.
V. IN OBEDIENCE. There is one region in which the purpose of God is more slow to realize itself. That is the region of human will. There man is free to resist its demands for obedience. God's kingdom has not yet fully come, his will is not yet done on earth as it is in heaven. But we pray for this glorious consummation. It is our duty to labor to help it on. If God's design is accomplished in every other respect, it is monstrous for man's stubborn will to hold out against it. The spirit of the life of Christ—"Lo, I come to do thy will, O God"—is the spirit which should animate his people.
God's glory among the heathen.
I. GOD IS CONCERNED FOR HIS GLORY AMONG THE HEATHEN. It may be a light thing to us that his Name is unknown or dishonored among the heathen; but it is no light matter m the sight of God. He does not confine his gaze to the little spot of light where he is recognized and loved. He is the Creator of the universe, and he is concerned with what happens everywhere throughout his dominion. Consider why he desires his glory to be spread among the heathen.
1. For its own sake. God cares for his glory and desires to be glorified. Such a conception applied to a man would suggest selfishness. This is not the case with God, because his glory resides in his goodness. The spread of his glory is the vindication of righteousness. The eternal claims of holiness demand assertion. To suppress them is to give the victory to sin; to spread the glory of God is to assert them.
2. For the sake of the heathen. Ignorance of God's glory is their loss. To know God is life eternal. It is for the supreme good of men that they should understand their heavenly Father. "Acquaint now thyself with him, and be at peace" (Job 22:21).
II. GOD HAS MEANS FOR SPREADING HIS GLORY AMONG THE HEATHEN.
1. In judgments. This seems to be the method suggested in the chapter now under consideration. The restoration of Israel and the accompanying overthrow of her enemies will strike dismay into the host of the enemy, and so impress them with the might and majesty of the true God. This is a fearful process in the eyes of the heathen, and yet it is educational, and may help to lead them out of superstition and foolish opposition to wiser ways. God arrests the careless now by his judgments.
2. In the gospel. When the gospel is preached to the heathen God's glory is revealed among them—surely the happier method of making it known. This was already foreshadowed in Old Testament times (Isaiah 52:15). It was in part accomplished by the labors of St. Paul. Now, we must ever bear in mind that this is God's work. Though human agents preach the gospel, God himself shows forth his glory in his truth. He too awakens the souls of the hearers by his Spirit. All perception of the glory of God comes from his own revelation of himself.
III. CHRISTIANS SHOULD TAKE PART IN SPREADING GOD'S GLORY AMONG THE HEATHEN. We sometimes hear missionary enterprises described as quixotic schemes of amiable fanatic, and so-called practical people tell us that we had much better spend our money and our energies in endeavoring to better the condition of the poor of our own cities. "These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone" (Matthew 23:23). It is Christ's command that his gospel should be preached to all people, and whether our wisdom commend the command or not, if we are true Christians it is our plain duty to render unquestioning obedience (Matthew 28:19). But the heathen need the knowledge of the truth of Christ. Experience proves that the most ignorant and the most cultivated can both receive it and profit by it. There is no more practical work than that of wise labor in the missionary field. It is the bounden duty of all Christians to support it. The Church that has no missionary spirit is not Christian, for it has not the Spirit of Christ.
Ezekiel 39:23, Ezekiel 39:24
Sin and its consequences.
I. THE DREADFUL EVIL OF SIN. Pain is a mystery, but sin is a darker mystery. We instinctively shrink from death as the last dread enemy, but death is not so great a foe as sin. We must go to the Bible for a revelation of sin in its extent and its depth. The Greeks were acute thinkers on most subjects connected with human experience, but they were singularly obtuse to moral distinctions. In the Bible we see a true mirror held up to the world's sin. There we discover that events, which the secular historians would ascribe to political causes, have moral causes behind them. Thus the Captivity would seem to the eye of ordinary observers to be a natural result of the fanatical patriotism of a little mountain kingdom—the Montenegro of antiquity—when opposed to the irresistible march of a great conquering empire. But more lay behind. The corruption of the Jews made them an easy prey to their enemy, and their sin deprived them of the providential protection of God. This sin is seen in four aspects.
1. In relation to righteousness. It is iniquity. It is falling short of what is right, an unjust treatment of life, a living lie. The sinner is unequal. He does not truly balance his life. His whole being is corrupted and distorted.
2. In relation to God. It is a trespass against him. The prodigal confesses that he has sinned against Heaven, as well as in his father's sight (Luke 15:21). David even describes the murder of Uriah as a sin against God only, so utterly does the transgression of God's Law swallow up all other considerations (Psalms 51:4). Whenever we sin we directly rebel against our Father. Sin always has this ugly personal feature.
3. In relation to purity. Uncleanness.
4. In relation to law. Transgression.
II. THE DISMAL CONSEQUENCES OF SIN.
1. The loss of the vision of God. "Therefore hid I my face from them." This is the first consequence of sin. It is reaped immediately the soul falls away from God. Without holiness it is impossible to see him (Matthew 5:8). To some it may seem a light penalty. Like Adam and Eve, they may even try to hide themselves from God. But the attempt is vain, because, though we may easily lose sight of God, he never ceases to behold us. Moreover, though we may not be aware of our loss, it is not the less great. But to the sensitive soul this spiritual consequence of sin is most bitter to endure. Such a one will beseech God not to hide his countenance, and will cry, "Take not thy Holy Spirit from me" (Psalms 51:11). All joy and hope vanish from the Christian life when the sweet vision of God is darkened by sin.
2. Fearful external ruin. "And gave them into the hand of their enemies: so fell they all by the sword." If men do not care for the present spiritual consequences of sin, other more easily recognized consequences will follow. The most blunt and hardened soul can be made to quake under the wrath of God.
In conclusion, observe that all this was to be known to the heathen,
The glorious restoration.
I. THE PEOPLE WHO ENJOY IT.
1. The people of God. This is promised for the Jews, the ancient people of God. God does not forget his people in their captivity any more than he forgot them in their Egyptian bondage. Now, we know that God regards the whole human race as one family (Acts 17:26). Though many reject him and many know him not, he cares for all. As all belong by right to their heavenly Father, so the perfect restoration in Christ is now offered to all men.
2. Sinners. This gracious promise is not only for the unfortunate—like the Hebrews in Egypt; it is for the guilty who were driven into captivity on account of their own wickedness. This fact shows
II. THE MEANS BY WHICH IT IS BROUGHT ABOUT.
1. God's saving work. God brought back the captivity of Israel. If Nebuchadnezzar was his servant for punishment, Cyrus was even his "Messiah" for restoration (Isaiah 45:1). The great restoration of souls is God's work. He does not wait for men to regenerate their own characters, and then consent to give them a welcome home. He himself effects the regeneration. It was God's thought to send his Son to be the Savior of the world. This Divine action springs
God is most glorified in saving his people. Righteousness is most honored not by the punishment of sin, but by the cure of it.
2. On condition of confession. "And they shall take upon them their shame, and all their trespass which they have committed against me." The restored Jews will own the guilt of the sin that drove them into captivity. Thus the chastisement will produce its bitter but wholesome fruit. God only forgives sin on condition of man's confession (1 John 1:9). When the penitent takes the shame of his sin God removes the guilt of it.
III. THE BLESSINGS WHICH IT BRINGS.
1. Return to the old home and its privileges. The Jews came back to Palestine from their captivity. Redeemed man is restored to the true human inheritance which he has lost by sin. Science, art, literature, social and domestic life, etc; will be enjoyed at their best when men are regenerated in heart. The earth will never yield her choicest increase until the people of God inherit it. But with these secular advantages, and far above them, is restoration to the spiritual home—to the kingdom of heaven here, to the glory of heaven hereafter.
2. Peace and security. "When they dwell safely in their land, and none make them afraid." This suggests a striking contrast to the former position, when Israel was harassed by enemies on every side—not the least being those of their own household in the long feud between the northern and the southern kingdoms. That feud was now ended forever. Still, the subsequent time was scarcely one of solid security. We must look to the spiritual restoration for the perfect accomplishment of the happy vision. The redeemed people of God enjoy peace and safety. Christ said, "My peace I give unto you" (John 14:27).
3. Closer communion with God. Then they shall know God better than before, with the knowledge of experience, and enjoy the never-failing light of his countenance. This is the Christian's highest privilege.
The restored vision of God.
This is a great; we may say the supreme and final, result of the restoration of Israel. While the people are eagerly craving a return to their farms and villages, with temporal prosperity, the prophet teaches them that, though these advantages are to be received in the good time coming, a better blessing wilt be the restored vision of God enjoyed by means of the pouring out of his Spirit upon the house of Israel. This is the best, the highest, the most spiritual, result of Christ's redemption of the world.
I. THE BEATIFIC VISION OF GOD. God will no more hide his face.
1. The restoration of God's favor. The averted countenance signifies disapproval. God hides his countenance when he refuses to hold communion with those of his creatures with whom he is angry. Therefore we are here reminded that sin leads to an action on God's part—to his veiling his bright countenance. There m then a need, not only for man to be reconciled to God, but for God to change his grieved and wrathful attitude towards man. This is an essential element in the atonement, which is suggested by the word "propitiation" (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2). When God ceases to hide his countenance he looks favorably on his people.
2. The enjoyment of God's presence. The favor of a king secures many privileges, and the favor of God the best privileges; but no gift of God can equal in value the enjoyment of his own presence To behold his countenance is to have the greatest of blessings.
3. An eternal blessedness. God will not hide his face any more. The hiding was an abnormal thing. The words before us suggest the idea that it is natural for God to reveal himself, and that the hiding was something temporally superinduced by man's sin. Not to know God is a monstrously defective experience. When the black cloud has been dispelled the sun will shine out in unwaning splendor. There is no fading of the glory of heaven. The blessedness of God's restored people is eternal.
II. THE INSPIRATION THAT RESTORES THE VISION OF GOD. This vision has been lost, and God now promises a restoration of it, indicating the means by which the happy result will be brought to pass. It is because God has poured out his Spirit upon the house of Israel. Revelation is a result of inspiration. This is the process in prophecy. God reveals his will through prophets, i.e. by means of inspired men. Here we see that the spiritual revelation of the saint, who may learn no new truth, but who is brought into the enjoyment of the favor of God and into communion with him, is also a result of inspiration.
1. Christ's redemption leads to a bestowal of the Spirit of God. John the Baptist promised that he who came after him would baptize with the Holy Ghost (Matthew 3:11). Christ promised the Spirit as "the Comforter" (John 14:16, John 14:17). Pentecost followed the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Christ has ascended up on high to give gifts unto men; and the best of his gifts, the gift that includes all others, is that of the Holy Spirit.
2. The bestowal of the Spirit of God unveils the countenance of God.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The Lord's care for His own Name.
In several passages of his prophecies, Ezekiel lays stress upon the honor shown to the Name of Jehovah. He does this especially in connection with the predictions of Israel's deliverance, and of the defeat and humiliation of the foes of Israel and of God. The idiom is a Hebrew one, and deserves attention; while the broad moral lessons conveyed are of a nature to strengthen our faith in the providential government of God.
I. WHAT IS GOD'S NAME? An examination of the passages in Old Testament Scripture in which the expression occurs will convince the student that by the Name we are to understand the attributes and the character of God. It is generally held that the name Jehovah signifies the self-existing Being; and it might be argued that all Divine perfections are involved in and may be developed from the very definition. But it will be found that when "the Name" of God is used, as in this passage, it calls attention to these two attributes of Deity.
1. He is righteous in his judgments.
2. He is faithful to his promises.
II. AMONG WHOM WOULD GOD MAKE HIS NAME KNOWN? To whom would he have his attributes and the characteristics of his moral government revealed with clearness and unmistakable power? The text gives an explicit answer to this question.
1. Among the Hebrews: "In the midst of my people Israel." These, his people, had been prone to forget or to misunderstand his Name, and needed that their attention should be recalled to the revelation which Jehovah had given of himself.
2. Among the heathen: "The heathen shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel." In this case it was not a revival of knowledge that had lapsed or grown dim; it was a fresh communication. Those who had trusted in their false gods should have their foolish confidence shaken; those who had thought lightly of Jehovah should learn to revere his power, and (better still) should learn to contemplate the moral attributes of the Supreme Power, and thus receive a special illumination, which might be for their spiritual good.
III. HOW WOULD GOD EFFECT THIS END, AND MAKE HIS NAME KNOWN?
1. By delivering his people. The dangers threatening Israel were great, and their foes were formidable. All the more marvelous was the interposition wrought upon their behalf. The Name of God, as the great Deliverer, was manifested and glorified by the experience of the rescued and saved.
2. By destroying the enemies of his people. In this manner the fame of the Most High, the God of hosts, was spread abroad, so that distant nations were impressed by the revelation of his power, by the proof of his universal sway.
APPLICATION. The preacher and teacher of religion should never lose sight of the fact that his one great aim is the honor and exaltation of the Name of God. This is often utterly misrepresented, either through the childishness or the malice of the enemies of religion, and it is affirmed to involve an unworthy conception of the Deity, as though in vanity God delighted in the adulations of men. This is anthropomorphism indeed. The Name of God is truth, righteousness, holiness, and love. To manifest and extol his Name is to display the supremacy of his glorious attributes. And than this man can have no higher object at which to aim. If man's chief end is to glorify God, if human life does not find its law and its aim in itself, then it is evident that the exaltation of the Divine Name is a worthy and most noble end for the Christian man, and for the Christian minister, to set before him.—T.
The spoiler spoiled.
There is something very picturesque and impressive in this prediction. The foes of Israel, under the leadership of Gog, are represented as defeated, scattered, and slain. Their bodies are strewn over the soil which they came in their haughty self-confidence to conquer and to possess. The dwellers in the cities of Israel are depicted as going out upon the plains to gather the weapons of war—the shields, the bows, and the spears—which lie upon the ground where the mighty have fallen, and as collecting them that they may use them as fuel. The Israelites spare their own forests, and use the weapons of their enemies in place of the firewood they have been accustomed to cut. Thus for seven years their necessities in this respect are supplied! The spoiler is spoiled, and those who robbed them are robbed in turn. This poetical hyperbole sets forth the utter confusion of the enemies of God's people, and the signal and complete character of Jehovah's interposition and delivering power and mercy. It is impossible to confine such statements as these to any event which has ever happened or ever will happen in any particular time or place. They enunciate a principle of world-wide and lasting application. Sin is the great spoiler that has entered into the world with the view of robbing and mining mankind, and Christ is the great Deliverer, who spoils the spoiler, leads captivity captive, and rescues from the threatened destruction.
I. THIS FACT IS ENTIRELY CONTRARY TO HUMAN UNDERSTANDING AND EXPECTATION.
II. THIS FACT IS AN EXEMPLIFICATION OF A DIVINE PRINCIPLE THAT THE BATTLE. IS NOT TO THE STRONG,
III. THIS FACT IS A PROOF OF GOD'S CARE AND SOLICITUDE FOR HIS OWN.
IV. AND OF GOD'S UNIVERSAL GOVERNMENT AND CONTROL.
V. THIS FACT IS AN EARNEST OF FINAL AND EVERLASTING SECURITY AND VICTORY FOR THOSE WHOM GOD DELIVERS AND REDEEMS.
APPLICATION. In preaching the gospel of Christ, stress should be laid upon the Lord's power, as well as upon his love. Christ, in his resurrection, was proved to be "the Son of God with power." The same might which was then manifested is ever exercised for the protection and preservation of all sincere Christians. They who adhere faithfully to the Savior need to be encouraged by the assurance that Omnipotence is upon their side. Enemies and opposition they may have to encounter; but the Lord will deliver their foes into their hands. They shall be more than conquerors through him that loved them. There is therefore no ground for fear or for depression. The Lord shall fight for them, and they shall hold their peace. In returning and in rest they shall be saved. They shall pass through victory to rest.—T.
Ezekiel 39:23, Ezekiel 39:24
The Divine reason for Israel's captivity.
Israel is in prophecy the representative of mankind, of the "new humanity" that God has redeemed to himself and appointed to everlasting life. In every dispensation, in all God's dealings with men, there has been the manifestation of wisdom. Nothing that God has done has been done without a purpose, an intention. Faith convinces us of this. And Scripture sometimes, as in this passage, gives us an insight into the Divine counsels, and points out to us the particular reasons by which the action of Eternal Wisdom has been actuated in the treatment which we have received, especially in so far as we have sinned against God and done wickedly.
I. THE FACT OF ISRAEL'S SIN. Various terms are employed to set this forth: "iniquity," "trespass," "uncleanness," "transgression." By these various terms the Lord, speaking by his prophet, denotes our attitude in respect to God, in respect to moral law, in respect to the ideal of perfect human conduct. Nationally and individually, Israel transgressed and sinned.
II. THE DIVINE DISPLEASURE WITH ISRAEL. The Lord expresses this by a remarkable idiom: "I hid my face from them." The metaphor is simple. As favor is denoted by an open, radiant, smiling countenance, so the veiling or averting of the face which is clouded with a frown denotes censure and dissatisfaction. Making proper allowance for the imperfections of human speech, and the impossibility of using adequate language when referring to the Supreme, we may assuredly say that there is nothing in this representation derogatory to God. It is no infirmity, but a perfection of our Divine Ruler, that he is not indifferent to the moral conduct of his subjects. He is angry with the' wicked every day. He cannot look upon sin.
III. ISRAEL'S ENEMIES THE MINISTERS OF DIVINE RETRIBUTION. "I gave them into the hands of their adversaries;" "According to their transgressions did I unto them." There were many forms of chastisement from which Israel suffered. This was perhaps the sorest. David entreated the Lord that, whatever might happen to him, he might not be delivered into the hands of his enemies. It was an enfeebling and an humiliating form of chastisement which God's people were called upon to endure The attacks of the foe may not have been in themselves justifiable, but the Ruler of nations (as is shown nowhere more effectively than in this book) employs instruments to fulfill his purposes that are animated by no desire for justice and for the kingdom of God. The surrounding nations were employed as the scourge by which the culprits were chastised.
IV. ISRAEL'S CAPTIVITY AS PUNITIVE DISCIPLINE. It is remarkable that the chosen people of Jehovah, whose nationality was cradled (so to speak) in the bondage of Egypt, were called upon, centuries afterwards, to endure the hitter humiliation of exile and captivity in the East. They "went into captivity for their iniquity." Punishment is thus declared to be a characteristic of Divine government when dealing with the sinful and rebellious. There were certain ends answered by the special form which Israel's punishment and humiliation assumed; it is well known that, when the people returned, they returned free from the taint of idolatry and from all temptation to return to the heathen practices into which they had been misled. Still, it was punishment which they endured—punishment for past offences, as well as correction with a view to future Obedience and subjection. They learned by bitter experience that "the way of transgressors is hard."—T.
Israel's restoration a proof of Divine mercy.
The reader of this passage cannot but be impressed with the conviction that it has reference, not only to Israel, but to the redeemed race of man. His interest in it is not merely historical; it is personal and moral. There is a largeness, a fullness, in the promises given, which can scarcely be exhausted by the immediate reference to the return from the Oriental captivity.
I. DELIVERANCE AND RESTORATION ARE WROUGHT BY THE SAME POWER THAT DECREED CAPTIVITY. "He that scattereth Israel shall gather." The Father who smites has pity; and he who wounds is he also who heals. The righteous Ruler and Judge who visits transgression with penalties proves himself to be the God to whom belong forgivenesses. He is not indifferent to sin; yet he delights in mercy. Men are wont to picture to themselves a Deity all wrath or all benignity. But revelation shows us, in that Supreme Being who hates sin and who corrects the sinner, "the Savior of all men, specially of them that believe."
II. TEMPORAL BLESSINGS, SECURITY AND PROSPERITY, ARE ASSURED TO THE RESTORED. To Israel the promise was given that they should, upon their return, dwell safely in their land, and none should make them afraid. We know that this promise was only partially realized, and that it must accordingly, so far as it refers to Israel, be considered as comparative; the people enjoyed a measure of security and peace beyond what they had experienced or could expect to experience. It is right to regard prosperity and all external blessings as the gift of God s goodness. And whether enjoyed now in this Christian dispensation or in the period of millennial happiness to which the Church looks forward, it must ever be considered as the gift of Divine bounty and the expression of Divine love.
III. SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS ARE PROMISED AS THE CHOICEST EXPRESSION OF GOD'S FAVOR TO THE RESTORED.
1. These blessings are conveyed by the outpouring of the Spirit of God. It is impossible to do other than refer this event to the Day of Pentecost, and to the dispensation of the Spirit which was then inaugurated. Other prophets concurred with Ezekiel in this prediction; and Peter authoritatively recognized the fulfillment of such prophetic words in the bestowal of the promise of the Father, and in that effusion which commenced at Pentecost, but which has never ceased.
2. These blessings are equivalent to the manifestation of the Divine favor. The Lord's promise was no more to hide his face from his restored ones. We know that Israel passed through many afflictions subsequently to the restoration; and that, on account of the rejection of the Messiah, Israel was condemned to endure Divine displeasure. We are therefore constrained to refer this promise to the accepted people of God, to whom is no con-detonation, and who walk in the light of his countenance.
3. These blessings are the occasion of the acknowledgment and of the hallowing of the Lord's Name. As is ever the ease, God is himself made the End of all. All things are of him and to him.
IV. IMPRESSION FOR GOOD IS TO BE PRODUCED UPON THE NATIONS. In former times Israel was a lesson for the world, as is the Church of Christ in these latter days. In the favor shown to God's people, his Divine hand is recognized. He is glorified both by the affliction and by the elevation of his own. All nations and all ages are summoned to behold the work of the Lord, to submit to his power and to adore his wisdom. His treatment of his own people does not end with them; it is designed for the instruction and for the highest benefit of mankind. There shall thus be made known by the Church the manifold wisdom of God.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The terrible doom of rebels.
We may regard it as certain that this prophecy has in view the final conflict between good and evil in this world. Already, in the preceding prophecies, Ezekiel has been portraying the prosperous times of Messiah's reign; and now he has a vision of an age still more remote, when shall come the final clash of arms between God and a rebel world. We may take it that Satan, or Apollyon, will be the real leader in this final onset. All the forces of infidelity, and superstition, and v?, and earthly pomp, and carnal force will be led against the kingdom of Emmanuel. The conflict will be terrible, and defeat of the world-power will be complete and irreparable. The description of Ezekiel is most vivid and impressive. It was thrown in this parabolic form in order to meet the exigencies of that particular age.
I. MARTIAL AGGRESSION IS GOD'S SNARE FOR DESTRUCTION. When a man resists every friendly counsel of God, God allows him to pursue his own way, and removes even the restraints which before impeded his ruin. In a similar way he deals with kings and with nations. "Ephraim is joined to his idols: let him alone!" Thus God dealt with Pharaoh. In the first stages of Moses' intercourse with Pharaoh, we read, "And Pharaoh hardened his heart." But as the negotiation proceeded, and the proud king grew more obstinate, we read, "The Lord hardened Pharaoh's heart." It is true that "God tempteth no man," that is, allures no man into sin. Yet, by taking out of the way former barriers or ceasing to remonstrate, God helps on the final catastrophe. There is no advantage in prolonging the crisis. There is great disadvantage. Give a bad man full scope for his vile passions, and he soon rushes into the pit of ruin. In this way God purposes to deal with Gog: "Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against thee." Nevertheless, God continues to say, "I will cause thee to come up and will bring thee upon the mountains of Israel." Worldly success is only a covered snare.
II. HUMAN WEAPONS ARE POWERLESS AGAINST GOD'S KINGDOM. "I will smite thy bow out of thy left hand, and will cause thine arrows to fall out of thy right hand." Neither material instruments of assault nor human violence of any kind can injure the kingdom of Christ. That kingdom is spiritual, and has its foundations in the spiritual natures of men, so that ordinary weapons of war are pointless. The Jewish rulers imagined that they had uprooted the cause of Jesus when they nailed him with iron spikes to the tree; but three days later they discovered how powerless they were, and how deathless his kingdom was. If falsehood shall prove itself mightier than truth; if rebellion shall show itself mightier than loyalty; if wrong can develop a greater power than right;—then, and then alone, will God's kingdom succumb. In this great contest weapons must be suitable, or they will break in the warrior's hand and leave him dismayed and defeated.
III. WAR MATERIAL CONVERTED INTO BLESSING. "The shields and bucklers, the bows and arrows, the handstaves and the spears," served as household fuel for seven years. The period mentioned is intended to denote a sacred completeness. Not once merely, but often, the weapons of infidelity have been changed into instruments of righteousness. The devil's artillery has been turned against himself. Lord Lyttelton and Mr. West undertook to explode Christianity, and sat down to prepare their weapons; but they came from the armory with a splendid defense of the Christian faith. Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to assail the infant Church; but on the way he changed sides, and sharpened all his weapons for the defense of the gospel. The death-bed of Voltaire was enough to drive all his followers into the ranks of King Jesus. Tom Paine's writings were so coarse and scurrilous that present-day infidels am put to shame by them. The faggots of martyr-fires have kindled a light which has led many into heaven.
IV. GOD'S FOES ARE DOOMED TO A TERRIBLE DESTRUCTION. The prophet's delineation of the overthrow of proud antagonists is graphic and harrowing. The keen sword of death is used with terrific force. The numbers of the dead become a peril to health and to life. A considerable valley is set apart as a necropolis. Seven months, i.e. a whole cycle of time, is required for the sickening work of sepulture. So terrible and. complete is the carnage that the whole population of the land employs itself in burying the dead. Not a single soldier among the foe survives to tell to posterity the tale of woe. It is an unsparing slaughter. Thus shall perish all who refuse to serve their Maker and to work righteousness. Obedience is life; rebellion is death—death without alleviation.
V. BASEST DISHONOR IS ADDED TO DESTRUCTION. With the eye of a prophet Ezekiel foresees the contempt and dishonor in store for the slain. Their dead bodies shall become a banquet for the brutes. Birds of prey shall feed upon human flesh. Wild beasts from the forest shall quench their thirst in the blood of warrior-kings. The doom, though severe, is equitable. These slaves of wickedness—braggarts it crime—had degenerated to a level lower than the beasts of the field, and lower than the beasts shall be their final portion. As men fear dishonor more than they fear death, so, with thoughtful kindness, God would deter them from sin by the prospect of coming shame.
VI. GOD'S TERRITORY SHALL BE PURIFIED. "That they may cleanse the land." Whatever measures are required to purge God's universe from sin, these measures shall, sooner or later, be employed. Our God has transcendent patience with men; but no advantage can accrue to an undue prolonging of probation. When measures of restoration to virtue have been well tried, then the earth shall be swept of its impurities with the besom of death. The God of holiness will not allow his house to be defiled forever. The evil of sin shall cease. God shall be "all in all." The final triumph of God is certain. As surely as this globe was created this globe shall be purified. The same voice that said, "Let there be light," has said also, "There shall be no more death." To the eye of the inspired prophet this grand terminus of evil was visible. "It is done! saith the Lord God;" and Gods promise is as sure as its performance.—D.
God's revelation of himself a fount of blessing.
Ignorance of God and strength of animal appetite are the two primal founts of ungodliness. Animal appetite is, in order of time, the first source of vice; but as the understanding opens to receive knowledge, this source of evil may be checked. To this end God deigns to make himself known. A clear vision of God is a strong antidote to evil propensity. Faith in God is the great regenerative principle. Therefore, through the procession of the ages, God has been revealing his qualities and excellences to our race. From this passage we learn—
I. THAT GOD REVEALS HIMSELF AS THE ACTIVE RULER IN HUMAN AFFAIRS. Such men in Chaldea as had faith in their idols would attribute the prosperity of their kingdom and their success in war to the power of their deities. Others, and probably the larger portion, would conclude that military fortunes were matters of chance, and that the gods took little, if any, interest in the affairs of men. Human industry, sagacity, and courage,—these seemed then, as now, the main factors in success. The general impression was that the gods lived in remote serenity, sublimely indifferent to the needs and strifes of men. Unbelief, violence, and stoicism followed. Our God took pains to dispel this mistake. The living God takes a Fatherly interest in every man—in his personal, domestic, and national concerns. Not a hair of his head can be touched without the cognizance of God. He administers joy and sorrow, success and disappointment, with judicious care. The God of heaven manifests a friendly activity in all human affairs, as great as if this globe were the sole object of his care. "In all our afflictions he is afflicted."
II. THAT GOD REVEALS HIMSELF AS THE REAL FOUNT OF ALL BLESSING. It Was God's endeavor to make it clear to the world that Israel's prosperity was Jehovah's gift; that Israel's exile was the effect of Jehovah's anger. When Israel escaped from Egyptian bondage, plainly it was by the interposition of Jehovah. Their successful march through the desert was due to the leadership of God. Their triumphal march through Canaan was widely attributed to the personal power of Jehovah. As often as they loyally served him he smiled upon their fields and gave them prolific harvests. As often as they forsook him disaster befell them. If they asked his guidance he directed them in the choice of a King. From his hand they had personal liberty, just laws, beneficent government, agricultural plenty, national security, and the joys of ennobling religion. He taught their "hands to war, their fingers to fight." Unless the Hebrews were as blind as a door-post, they must have perceived that every good they had came from the liberal hand of Jehovah. To them he was the Fountain of life.
III. THAT GOD REVEALS HIMSELF TO THE WORLD AS THE WORKER OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. "The heathen shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity." We must never lose sight of the fact that God had raised up Israel specially to reveal to the world the righteousness of God. The Hebrews were ordained to educate the world in the truths and principles of righteousness. They were appointed to be par excellence a moral people, a nation in whom conscience was highly developed. The gods of paganism were renowned for strength and for cunning. The idea of righteousness they had not deified. Hence Jehovah was concerned to be known as essential purity. To him sin is intolerable—the root of all discord and all misery. The exile was no haphazard. It was Divine punishment for grievous sin. Defeat in war was the rod of God's righteous anger. Hence also the Jewish subjugation would not be permanent. The element of life was in the people still; and, as soon as repentance and moral renovation appeared, return to independence and to Palestine followed. It was a moral discipline.
IV. THAT PREVIOUS REVELATIONS OF GOD WERE PREPARATORY TO THE GREAT REVELATION OF HIS GRACE. "Therefore thus saith the Lord, Now will I… have mercy upon the whole house of Israel, and will be jealous for my holy Name." The glory of God is his compassion—pure, unstinted, self-sacrificing love. To Moses, who craved to see God's glory, the responding voice proclaimed, "The Lord God, merciful and gracious." Micah asked, in profound surprise, "Who is a God like unto thee?" In what respect did he mean? In the splendors of his kingly state? In the might of his arm? In the range of his government? Nay. "Who is a God like unto thee, that pardoneth iniquity, transgression, and sin?" Herein lies the central excellence of Jehovah, viz. that, providing for the violated interests of justice by his own suffering, he freely forgives, renovates, and uplifts the guilty sons of men. Men have not seen the full significance of his Name, nor conjectured the dazzling radiance of his goodness, until they have seen his mercy—seen him as the Healer of the fallen. But his mercy is a righteous mercy. Whom he pardons, he purifies. Righteousness is the foundation on which he erects the magnificent structure of his grace. So far as we know at present, this is the climax of his self-revelations.
V. THAT THE PERPETUAL ENJOYMENT OF HIS FAVOR IS GUARANTEED BY THE GIFT OF HIS SPIRIT. "Neither will I hide my face any more from them; for I have poured out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord God." The possession of prosperity and blessing outside a man depends upon the state of feeling and desire within a man. And a right state of mind Godward is secured to the genuine Israelite by the indwelling of God's mighty Spirit. If men cannot withstand temptation in their native and unaided state, God will not leave them to themselves. As the supreme culmination of all blessing, God will impart himself to humble, suppliant men. He will weave his own Spirit into our spirit. He will unite himself with us by indissoluble bonds—will pour his life into the empty channels of our nature. His great salvation is first internal, then external. We cannot miss our highest destiny if God, by his Spirit, be within us. Then, surely, we have the highest guarantee of safety, elevation, and noble joy. We shall be renovated in the very root-principles of our nature, molded into a higher life by the silent workmanship of his Spirit. His mercy will never forsake us.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
God would smite the bow out of the left hand and cause the arrows to fall out of the right hand of the impious invader. He would disarm him; he would interpose to break his purpose, to arrest him in his evil course. We have here—
I. GOD'S RIGHTEOUS INTERPOSITION. God Permits evil—in the form of bad institutions, wicked governments or powers, unprincipled men—to go certain lengths, and when they think they have finally established themselves he lays his hand upon them, takes away their weapons, reduces them to helplessness and humiliation. "A fool doth not understand it," but the very prosperity of the wicked is only a preparation for their utter and irrecoverable downfall; "When the workers of iniquity do flourish, it is that they shall be destroyed forever" (Psalms 92:6, Psalms 92:7). God interposes to smite the weapons out of the hand of the disloyal and of the mischievous when:
1. He causes death to overtake the guilty before his time. And he is continually doing this; for under the action of his laws, which are at once severe and beneficent, the vicious man is the victim of his vice and the violent man of his violence. The one can sow no more of his pernicious seed, and the other can do no more of his lawless harm, because God has smitten them, and their weapons fall from their hand.
2. He makes the unprincipled adventurer to suffer an irretrievable disaster; when the man who has climbed to a throne by usurpation and bloodshed, and wielded authority in the exercise of despotic power, suffers some disaster which sends him to the lonely rock or to the quiet country house for the rest of his days.
3. He breaks the schemes of the wily plotter; when some dissatisfied, and consequently malignant and even murderous citizen determines to wreak his vengeance on those whom he takes to be his enemies, and when, in the midst of his machinations, his plans are discovered and overthrown.
II. GOD'S GRACIOUS RESUMPTION. He who "smites the bow out of the hand" of the enemy is the One who gently and graciously takes the sword out of the hand of his own soldiers, that he may place on their head the "crown of righteousness," the "crown of life." When God sends the feebleness which can do no more active work below, or when he comes to us in death, he resumes the weapon he once put into our hands, and either (in the one case) bids us wait his time and our reward, or (in the other) he takes us where a stronger and a wiser hand will wield a far better weapon in a much nobler sphere.—C.
Falling on the field.
"Thou shalt fall upon the open field." These words are clearly to be taken as—
I. A SERIOUS PENALTY. The hosts of the invader should encounter those whom they thought to defeat, and be by them defeated and slain; they would perish where they fought, beneath the heavens, on the open field. Now, a life of sin is only too likely to lead to such a death as men would not willingly die, and such a death "on the open field" of battle is fitted to suggest:
1. A death of violence, or in some way that is unnatural. Sin begets strife, hatred, jealousy, the dominance of some evil passion; and in how many cases does this lead to the loss of life by some unnatural means! Instead of passing peacefully away, according to the order of nature, dying under his own roof and in his own chamber, a sinful man, more especially if he be a man who indulges in the greater transgressions, is likely enough to die an unnatural death in some form or other.
2. A death in loneliness. The hosts of Cog were to be stretched in the valley, and, though they would indeed keep one another company, how different is the near neighborhood of wounded and dying soldiers from the presence of the nearest and dearest of human kindred and of beloved friends! How often has a sinful course led the erring one to die a lonely death, far from a father's grasp, from a mother's ministry, from the sympathy and succor of dear ones at home!
3. A death in the midst of life. It is not the aged, but the strong and the young, who go forth to battle and die on the open field. The army of the slain in the open field is a large company of men who have perished before their time; their days are incomplete; they have been cut off from many (or from some) of the possibilities of life, of its engagements and achievements. This, too, is the frequent, the continually recurring, consequence of an evil course. They who enter upon it may reckon that their life will not hold all, or nearly all, the blessings which are the heritage of the holy and the wise.
4. A death without the consolations of piety. These are seldom, indeed, found "on the open field;" and they are usually absent from the experience of the man who abandons himself to an evil life. But while these words are meant as a penalty, they may be regarded, on the other hand, as—
II. AN ACCEPTABLE PROMISE. For the Christian workman would most willingly "fall upon the open field" of sacred usefulness. There is no vision of death more welcome to an earnest spirit than that of an end arrived at in the very midst of useful and fruitful activities. Good it may be to spend some months in retirement and contemplation before the eyes close in death and open in immortality; yet shall we not say that it is better to work on, in untiring and joyous devotion, building up the kingdom of Christ, cheering and comforting the feeble, raising up the fallen, leading the undecided into the fold of the good Shepherd, striking strong and faithful blows for righteousness and heavenly wisdom, and, "falling on the field" of spiritual conflict, pass from the battle-ground of earth to the peaceful shores and the blessed scenes of heaven?—C.
Degradation and reversal.
The scene before us is painful; it hardly befits description; we cannot dwell upon it without turning from it with repulsion. But we may so far realize it in our thought as to learn two lessons respecting the issue of evil, the sad and painful consequences of sin. These are—
I. DEGRADATION. The unclean birds of the air and the foul beasts of the field eating the flesh and drinking the blood "of the princes of the earth"! To what a miserable and shameful death has human greatness, human dignity, fallen! For those who had sat on the loftiest seats of honor, and moved in the highest spheres of action, to lie unburied on the enemy's soil, and to furnish a meal for carrion birds and for "four-footed beasts"! Could dishonor or degradation go further than this? And is not degradation the constant end of persistent wrong, of willful and wanton disobedience to the Word of God? And shall we not acknowledge, when we think of it, that some of those things which seem to most men allowable, and some which seem even honorable and desirable, are, in the sight of God, deplorable and condemnable, because they are really a degradation and a descent? This is so when:
1. The powers of the human soul are exhausted upon very small things; when men seek their chief satisfaction, not in their relationship to God, in their service of Christ, but in the petty honors and conventional proprieties, and sensuous gratifications of this passing world. To allow the things of utter unimportance to absorb the manifold and noble powers of heart and mind, leaving no room for the heavenly and the Divine, is surely a pitiful degradation. Men do not know, they cannot see, how they are lowering their life, how they are dishonoring themselves. Similarly and more obviously when:
2. The lower passions tyrannize over the soul; when covetousness, or the craving for alcoholic or for social excitement, or the demon of lust, or jealousy, or overweening and maddening ambition, possesses the soul and leads it astray; any one of these passions wilt lead a man down into very dark depths; he has become the prey of the spoiler.
3. Human life is reduced to a pursuit of mere amusement or passing gratification.
4. The forces of a country are employed, not in the enrichment and the elevation of the people, but in fighting the armies and despoiling the strength and wealth of neighboring powers.
II. REVERSAL. Ordinarily and naturally birds and beasts provide the sacrifice for men. Here, however, the case is reversed, and men provide a sacrifice for them. Properly, men sit down to the table on which bird and beast are set forth for food; here, however, men are placed upon the table, and bird and beast are the partakers. What a strange and pitiful reversal! But under the dominion of sin, what do we look for but anomalies and reversals?
1. Instead of man moving constantly upward, we find him moving steadily downward.
2. Instead of habit being the faithful and valuable servant of man, it becomes its tyrannous and unrelenting master.
3. Instead of asking how we can serve men at every turn and in every possible way, we ask how we can use them, how we can make them serve us.
4. Instead of our seeking God with the eagerness that will not be denied, we hold aloof or wander away, and he is seeking us with a patience that does not fail and that follows us through many rebellious years.
5. Instead of the felt nearness of God being a heritage and a joy, it becomes an inconvenience and an intrusion.
6. Instead of death being regarded as the beginning of the larger and better life, it is treated as the melancholy end of the life on earth. But Christ comes to revolutionize and reverse the anomalies and the reverses of sin; and thus to bring again the primeval blessedness. Happy they who learn of him and follow him, for they will be restored to the truth and the life which they have lost!—C.
God his own Interpreter.
The final result of this great conflict between Gog and the people of Jehovah will prove to be that God's Name is hallowed as it never was before. There had been great misconstruction of his ways and mistake as to his purpose, but all should be made clear.
I. GOD MUCH MISUNDERSTOOD. How seriously and sadly God has been and is misunderstood is seen in the facts that
II. GOD IMPERFECTLY EXPLAINED. Many, indeed, have been the interpreters who have undertaken to "justify the ways of God to men;" and very unsatisfactory have their explanations been. They may have given a measure of comfort to a few and for a brief time. But as the world has moved on, and "the thoughts of men have widened," most of these solutions have gone their way, and given place to others which in their turn have been exploded and have disappeared.
III. GOD INTERPRETING HIMSELF. Cowper's line is true enough—
"God's his own Interpreter."
He does make plain that which was inexplicable and perplexing. Thus we find that (Ezekiel 39:21-24) the heathen nations were in time made to see that the Jews were not taken captive by them because (as they once ignorantly supposed) Jehovah was unable to protect them, but because he was determined to punish them for their transgressions. And we find further (Ezekiel 39:28, Ezekiel 39:29) that Israel at length understood that he who sent them into captivity and then brought them forth therefrom was in very deed and truth "the Lord their God," whom they should serve, and in whose service they would find security and peace. We find ourselves perplexed by many insoluble problems; serious difficulties respecting our own human life, and the dealings of our Divine Father with ourselves; more serious difficulty and perhaps distressing darkness as to God's government of the human world. We wonder why he permitted this and that; why he does not act when and how we should expect that he would; how he can be both just and kind when such and such things are as they are and as they ought not to be, etc. Let us:
1. Remember that in the light of the present we can understand much of the once-mysterious past.
2. Be assured that in the light of the future we shall perfectly understand that which is troubling and even burdening us now. God will interpret himself, as he has been doing all through the ages of human history. We shall see one day what we now believe, that "all his paths are mercy and truth."—C.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 39". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany