Consider helping today!
The absence of any fresh date, and the fact that it is simply tacked on to the previous chapter by the copulative conjunction, shows that what follows belongs to the same group. The use of the phrase, the word of the Lord came unto me, shows, however, that there was an interval of silence, perhaps of meditation, followed by a fresh influx of inspiration; and, so far as we may judge from the more lyrical character of the chapter, a more intense emotion.
An end, etc. The iteration of the word once more gives emphasis. The words read like an echo of Amos 8:2. The four corners (Hebrew, "wings") were probably, as with us, the north, east, south, and west. The phrase had been used before in Isaiah 11:12, and the thought meets us again, in the form of the "four winds," in Daniel 11:4; Zechariah 2:6; Matthew 24:31; Mark 13:27. The "end" in this case is either that of the siege of Jerusalem, or that of the existence of Israel as a nation. It was now drawing nigh—was, as we say, within measurable distance.
Now is the end upon thee, etc. We note the repetition of this and Ezekiel 7:4 in Ezekiel 7:8, Ezekiel 7:9, as a kind of refrain in the lamentation. Stress is laid, and for the time laid exclusively, on the unpitying character of the Divine judgments. And this is followed as before, in Ezekiel 6:14, by "Ye shall know that I am the Lord." Fear must teach men the lesson which love had failed to teach.
Thine abominations shall be in the midst of thee, etc. These are, of course, primarily the idolatries of Israel. The people are to reap what they have sown. Their sins should be recognized in their punishment.
An evil, an only evil, etc. The words imply that the evil would be unique in character, attracting men's notice, not needing repetition. Cornill, however, following Luther, gives "evil after evil," changing one letter m the Hebrew for "one," so as to get the word "after." For is come read, with the Revised Version, it cometh. It is the nearness, not the actual arrival, of the end, that is in the prophet's thoughts. He writes in B.C. 595-4. Jerusalem was not taken till B.C. 588.
It watcheth for thee; better, with the Revised Version, it awaketh against thee. So the LXX; Vulgate, Luther. The Hebrew presents a paronomasia between the noun and verb—hakketz, hekitz—which cannot be reproduced in English. The destined doom is thought of as rousing itself to its appointed work. The word is cognate with that rendered "awaketh" in Psalms 78:65.
The morning is come unto thee, etc. In the only other passage in which the Hebrew noun occurs (Isaiah 28:5), it is translated "diadem," the meaning being strictly a circular ornament. Here the LXX. gives πλοκὴ, something twirled, out of which may come the meaning of the changes of fortune. Possibly, as in the familiar "wheel of fortune," that thought was involved in the circular form by itself. In the Tahnud it appears as the name of the goddess of fate at Ascalon (Furst). On the whole, I follow the Revised Version, Keil, and Ewald, in giving "thy doom." The "morning" of the Authorized Version probably rises from the thought that the dawn is, as it were, the glory and diadem of the day. The Vulgate gives contritio. The day of trouble; better, with the Revised Version, of tumult. The word is specially used of the noise of war (Isaiah 22:5; Amos 3:9; Zechariah 14:3). Not the sounding again upon the mountains. The first noun is not found in the Old Testament, but a closely allied form appears in Isaiah 16:9; Jeremiah 25:30; Jeremiah 48:33, for the song of the vintage. Not that, the prophet says, shall be heard on the mountains, but in its place the cry of battle and the noise of war. The LXX. "not with travail-pangs," and the Vulgate non gloriae montium, show that the word was in both cases a puzzle to the translators.
Ezekiel 7:8, Ezekiel 7:9
The verses repeat, like the burden of a lyric ode, but end more emphatically, ye shall know that I am Jehovah that smiteth.
It is come. Read, as before, it cometh; and for morning, doom (see note on Ezekiel 7:7). The rod hath blossomed, etc. The three verbs imply a climax. The "doom" springs out of the earth; the rod of vengeance blossoms (the word is the same as that which describes the blooming of Aaron's rod (Numbers 17:8), and the phrase was probably suggested by the history); pride (either that of the Chaldean ministers of vengeance, or of Israel as working out its own punishment; I incline to the latter) buds and bears fruit. In Isaiah 27:6 the word follows on "blossom," and therefore seems applicable to the formation of the fruit rather than the flower. (For the image of the rod, comp. Psalms 110:2; Isaiah 10:26; Micah 6:9.)
Violence is risen up, etc. The "violence" admits of the same twofold interpretation as the "pride" of Ezekiel 7:10. None of them shall remain. The interpolated verb, though grammatically necessary, weakens the force of the Hebrew. "None of them; none of their multitude; none of their wealth." Neither shall there be wailing for them. The noun is not found elsewhere. Taken, as the Authorized Version takes it, the thought, like that of Ezekiel 24:16 and Jeremiah 16:4, is that the usual rites of burial would be neglected, and that there would be "no widows to make lamentation" (Psalms 78:64). The Revised Version "eminency" implies the loss of all that constituted greatness. Cornill and the LXX. ("beauty" or "gaiety") practically agree with this. The Vulgate gives requies, and Furst "a gathering, or tumult of the people." Probably the text is corrupt.
Let not the buyer rejoice, etc. We have to read, between the lines, the story of Ezekiel's companions in exile. They belonged, it will be remembered, to the nobler and wealthier class (2 Kings 25:19). They, it would seem, had been compelled to sell their estates at a price which made the "buyer rejoice and the seller mourn." In each ease the joy and the sorrow would be but transient. Wrath had gone out against the whole multitude. In Micah 2:2 and Isaiah 5:8 we have parallel instances of the advantage taken by the rich of the distress of the old tree holders. In the story of Jeremiah 32:6-16 we have, though from a very different point of view, the history of a like purchase, while the city was actually surrounded by the Chaldeans. The neglect of the sabbatic year (Jeremiah 34:8-17) makes it probable that the jubilee year also (if, indeed, it had ever been more than an ideal) had fallen into desuetude, and that the buyers comforted themselves with the thought that the land they had got, on cheap terms, weald belong to them and their children forever.
For the seller shall not return, etc. At first the thought seems only to add to the sorrow of the seller. He is told that he, at least, shall not return to his old estate. Even though they should be alive at the year of jubilee, their exile had to last its appointed time, Ezekiel's forty (Ezekiel 4:6) and Jeremiah's seventy years (Jeremiah 25:11). This, however, did not exclude the return of their children (Jeremiah 32:44), and in the mean time all private sorrow would fall into the background as compared with the great public woe of the destruction of the holy city. The vision is touching, etc. The noun is used as a synonym for prophecy, as elsewhere (Isaiah 1:1; Nahum 1:1; Habakkuk 2:1). It may be noted that it is specially characteristic of Ezekiel (seven times) and Daniel (eleven times). For the Authorized Version read with the Revised Version, none shall return, or better (with the Vulgate and Keil), the vision touching the whole multitude shall not return, i.e. shall go straight onward to do its work (comp. Isaiah 55:11). So taken, there is a kind of play upon the iterated word: "The seller shall not turn his footsteps back, neither shall the prophecy." Vestigia nulla retrorsum shall be true of both. I take the other words, with the Revised Version, no man in the iniquity of his life shall strengthen himself, noting the fact that the word for "strengthen" is that which enters into Ezekiel's name. It is as though he said, "God is the only true source of strength to thee, as thy very name bears witness."
They have blown the trumpet. The word for "trumpet" is not found elsewhere, but the corresponding verb is used continually in connection with the trumpet of war, and Ezekiel seems to have coined the corresponding substantive, not, perhaps, without a reminiscence of Jeremiah 6:1. There may possibly be an allusion to the trumpet blowing with which the jubilee year (see Jeremiah 6:13) was ushered in. The trumpet should sound, not for each man's return to his own estate, but for the alarm of war. and even then the consciousness of guilt will hinder men from arming themselves for battle (comp. Leviticus 26:36; Deuteronomy 28:25; Deuteronomy 32:30).
The sword is without (see Ezekiel 5:12; Ezekiel 6:12). Here there seems a more traceable fitness in assigning the pestilence as well as the famine to those who are shut up in the besieged city.
They that escape, etc. The sentence is virtually conditional. They that escape shall, it is true, in one sense, escape the immediate doom; but if so, it shall only be to the mountains. These were, in all times, the natural refuge for those who fled from danger, but even this should fail those of whom the prophet speaks. They should be like the doves of the mountain gorges, that are fluttered at the appearance of the eagle or the fowler, and seem by note (Isaiah 38:14; Isaiah 59:11) and gesture (Nahum 2:7), to be mourning forevermore. There also they shall lie, every man in his iniquity, and wailing for its punishment. We are reminded of Dante's similitudes in 'Inf.,' 5.40, 46, 82.
All knees shall be weak as water; literally, shall flow with water. So the Vulgate. The LXX. is yet stronger, shall be defiled, etc. The words may point to the cold sweat of terror which paralyzes men's power to act. The phrase is peculiar to Ezekiel, and meets us again in Ezekiel 21:7. The thought finds a parallel in Isaiah 13:7; Jeremiah 6:24.
They shall also gird, etc. The words become more general, and include those who should remain in the city as well as the fugitives. For both there should be the inward feelings of horror and shame, and their outward symbols of sackcloth (Genesis 37:34; 2Sa 3:31, 2 Samuel 3:32; 2 Kings 6:30; Isaiah 15:3; Jeremiah 4:8, et al.) and baldness (Isaiah 3:24; Isaiah 15:2; Isaiah 22:12; Amos 8:10).
They shall cast their silver, etc. The words remind us of Isaiah 2:20 and Isaiah 30:22, with the difference that here it is the silver and gold as such, and not the idols made of them, that are to be flung away. They had made the actual metal their idol, and their confidence in it should be powerless to deliver them (Zephaniah 1:18). Their gold shall be removed; better, with the Revised Version, as an unclean thing. The word implies the kind of impurity of Ezekiel 18:6; Ezekiel 22:10; Ezekiel 36:17; Isaiah 30:22. Instead of gloating, as they had done, over their money, men should shrink from it, as though its very touch brought pollution. The Vulgate gives in sterquilinium, "to the dunghill." They shall not satisfy their souls. In the horrors of the siege, with everything at famine prices (2 Kings 6:25), and little or nothing to be had for them, their money would not stop the cravings of hunger. It is characteristic that he applies to riches as such the very same epithet, stumbling block of their iniquity, as he had applied before (Ezekiel 3:20) to actual idolatry (comp. Colossians 3:5).
As for the beauty of his ornament. The latter word is commonly used of the necklaces, armlets, etc; of women (Exodus 33:4-6; Isaiah 49:18; Jeremiah 2:32; Jeremiah 4:30). So again in Ezekiel 16:7, Ezekiel 16:11; Ezekiel 23:40. The singular is used of the people collectively, or of each man individually, like German man or French on. He set it in majesty; better, he—or to give the sense they—turned it to pride. Wealth and art had ministered, as in Isaiah 2:16, first to mere pride and pomp; then they made out of their ornaments the idols which they worshipped, and which were now, the same emphatic word being repeated, as a pollution to them.
I will give it. The "it" refers to the silver and gold, the "beauty of the ornaments" thus desecrated in their use. The strangers, i.e. the Chaldean invaders, should in their turn pollute (better, with the Revised Version, profane it) by making it their prey. For them the idols which Israel had worshipped would be simply as booty to be plundered.
My secret place. The work of the spoiler would not stop at the idols of silver and gold. Jehovah would surrender his own "secret place", that over which he had watched, sc. the sanctuary of his temple, to the hands of the spoiler. In Psalms 83:4 the same adjective is used of persons, the "hidden" or protected ones of God. In the name of Baal-zephon, "Lord of the secret place," we have possibly a kindred thought. In Psalms 17:14 we have "hid treasure."
Make a chain; better, the chain. The word is not found elsewhere, but a kindred form is thus translated in 1 Kings 6:21. Looking to the force of the verbs from which it is formed, its special meaning is that of a coupling chain, such as would be used in the case of captives marched off to their place of exile (Nahum 3:10). All previous sufferings were to culminate in this. The φυρμόν of the LXX. and the fac conclusionem of the Vulgate show that the word perplexed them. Full of bloody crimes. The only passage in the Authorized Version of the Old Testament in which the English noun occurs. Literally, judgments of blood. The words may be equivalent either
(1) to "blood guiltiness" (compare the "judgment" in Jeremiah 51:9), or
(2) to judgment perverted into judicial murder. The latter finds support in Ezekiel 9:9. In either case it is noticeable that Ezekiel points not only to idolatry, but to violence and wrong, as the sins that had cried for punishment (comp. Jeremiah 22:17 as a contemporary witness).
The worst of the heathen; literally, evil ones of the nations—with the superlative implied rather than expressed. For the thought, comp. Deuteronomy 28:50; Lamentations 5:11-13; Jeremiah 6:23. The Chaldeans were probably most prominent in the prophet's thoughts, but Jeremiah 35:5 and Psalms 137:7 suggest that there was a side glance at the Edomites. The pomp of the strong, etc. Another echo of Leviticus 26:1-46. (Leviticus 26:31). The "pomp" is that of Judah trusting in her strength. The "holy places" find their chief representative in the temple, but, as the word is used also of a non-Jehovistic worship (Ezekiel 28:18; Amos 7:9), may include whatever the people looked on as sanctuaries—the "high places" and the like. The Vulgate gives possidebuut sanctuaria; the Revised Version margin, they that sanctify them; but the Authorized Version is probably right in both cases. Luther renders ihre kirchen, which reminds us of Acts 19:37.
They shall seek peace, etc. The noun is probably to be taken in its wider sense as including safety and prosperity, but may also include specific overtures for peace made to the Chaldean generals.
Mischief … turnout. The combination reminds us of the "wars and rumours of wars" of Matthew 24:6. The floating uncertain reports of a time of invasion aggravate the actual misery (comp. Isaiah 37:7; Jeremiah 51:46; Obadiah 1:1). They shall seek a vision of the prophet, etc. The words paint a picture of political chaos and confusion. The people turn in their distress to the three representativtes of wisdom—the prophet as the bearer of an immediate message from Jehovah, the priest as the interpreter of his Law (Malachi 2:7), the "ancients" or "elders" as those who had learnt the lessons of experience,—and all alike in vain. (For illustrative facts, see Jeremiah 5:31; Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 21:2; Jeremiah 23:21-40; Jeremiah 27:9-18; Jeremiah 28:1-9, and generally Micah 3:6; Amos 8:11; 1 Samuel 28:6; Lamentations 2:9.)
The king shall mourn, etc. The picture reminds us of Jehoram in 2 Kings 6:30. The action of Zedekiah in Jeremiah 21:1 and Jeremiah 34:8 makes it probable enough that it was actually reproduced. A solemn litany procession like that of Joel 1:13, Joel 1:14 and Joel 2:15-17 would have been quite in keeping with his character. The prince shall clothe himself, etc. The noun is specially characteristic of Ezekiel, who uses it thirty-four times. In Ezekiel 12:12 the "prince" seems identified with the "king." Here it may mean either the heir to the throne, or the chief ruler under the king. The people of the land, etc. The phrase is perhaps used, as the Jewish rabbis afterwards used it, with a certain touch of scorn, for the labouring class. All the upper class had been carried away captive with Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:14). Compare Ezekiel's use of it in Ezekiel 33:2; Ezekiel 46:3, Ezekiel 46:9. I will do unto them, etc. The chapter, or rather the whole section from Ezekiel 1:1 onwards, ends with an iterated assertion of the equity of the Divine judgments. Then also they shall know that I am the Lord, Almighty and all-righteous.
The end is come.
I. THE END THAT SURELY COMES. Time is broken into periods; and every period, long or short, has its certain end. The tale of life is written in many chapters, each with its own appropriate conclusion; in some cases the conclusion is violent, abrupt, and startling. We are surprised out of an old settled course. The mill stops suddenly, and then the silence is alarming. There are the greater epochs of life, when a whole volume of experience is closed, and another must be opened, till at length we reach Finis. But every day has its sunset. Every year runs out to December and dies its wintry death, in spite of all the festivities of Christmas. Youth is fleeting; its sweet springtime fast melts, its blossoms fade and fall. Life itself runs out and reaches an end. As each period goes it vanishes, never to return. Thus Christina Rossetti writes—
"Come, gone,—gone forever;
Gone as an unreturning truer;
Gone as to death the merriest liver;
Gone as the year at the dying fall,
Tomorrow, today, yesterday, never:
Gone once for all."
1. There is an end to the day of work. "The night cometh, wherein no man can work." The opportunity will pass. Let us make the most of our strength and time while we have them.
2. There is an end to the freedom of sin. The orgies of mad self-indulgence will not last forever. They burn themselves out in folly and shame. Then comes the end, and after that the reckoning.
3. There is an end to the discipline of sorrow. The pain will not last forever. The doubt and mystery and darkness are not eternal. The Christian pilgrimage is long and weary, but it is not an infinite, endless course. The wilderness is wide, and the goal far off. But the way will end at last in the heavenly city, the home of the soul.
II. THE END THAT SHOULD COME. There are some things which we should do welt to end, yet still they are with us.
1. An end should come to our life of sin. The old sin has been our companion for years, a bad companion, corrupt and corrupting. It is time we and it parted. It is time we turned over a new leaf and began a better way. The old self has lived too long. Let it die and be buried.
2. An end should come to our indecision. "How long halt ye between two opinions?" This hesitation has lasted too long. "Choose you this day whom ye will serve."
3. An end should come to the gloom of doubt, the coldness of half-hearted service, the lethargy and paralysis of an unspiritual religion. "The night is far spent; the day is at hand;" "Awake, thou that sleepest!"
III. THE END THAT MAY COME. We contemplate possible endings which we would fain avert, but which seem to be approaching.
1. Some of these endings are within our power, and should be kept off. We should guard against an end to our early faith and zeal. Ephraim's goodness, which was like the morning cloud, was soon dissipated. Of some it must be said the end has come to their fervent devotion and self-sacrificing service. Once they were bright lights of the Church, but they have waned, and are approaching spiritual night.
2. Some of these endings are beyond our control. The home circle may be broken, the dear countenances of the loved may smile upon us no more. For the old fulness of friendship we may have left only blankness and vacancy, and a bitter sense of loss. The very freshness of our soul may be lost too, and thee we look back to the old sweet years, and wonder how we could have taken them so quietly.
IV. THE END THAT WILL FEVER COME.
1. There will never be an end to the righteous Law of God. Right and truth are eternal. We can never outlive their claims. If we continue forever in opposition to them, their pains and penalties must be always ours.
2. The love of God will never end. Modes of Divine operations may change as circumstances alter, and new dispensations may succeed to old dispensations—new covenants taking the place of old covenants. But God does not change. There is no end to him. He abideth faithful. In the wreck of the universe the Rock of Ages remains unshaken. Love in his essence, God never wearies in helping and blessing. There is no end to his grace. "The mercy of the Lord endureth forever." Whenever the helpless, penitent prodigal returns, he will find his Father waiting to welcome him.
3. The eternal life can have no end. The body dies. Happily there will be an end to that. But the life in God abides forever. In that life many things thought to be ended here on earth will be recovered and will revive. Thus our past experience is not utterly lost. It lives in memory and in what it has made us. A German poet writes -
"Yesterday I loved;
Today I suffer;
Tomorrow I die.
But I shall gladly,
Today and tomorrow
Think on yesterday."
The day is come.
This chapter opened with a prophecy of "an end." It now proceeds to the annunciation of a new beginning. No end is absolutely final. In the night which sees the death of one day a new day is born.
I. THE FUTURE BECOMES PRESENT. The much anticipated day at length arrives. We are thus forever overtaking the future. However far the future event may be, it will surely be reached, if time is the only impediment to be got over. The day of death may be far ahead, but most assuredly it will come. The dreaded day will come only too swiftly. The hoped for day will also dawn, though we become weary in waiting for it. God's great day of doom will arrive, though the sinner mock at its tarrying. Christ's glorious day of triumph will also appear, though the Church grow faint and wonders at its slow approach.
II. THE NEW DAY WILL BE REVEALED BY ITS OWN ADVENT. No prediction can exactly describe the coming day, for no words can paint the thing that has not been. We vainly try to anticipate the future, and we blunder into the greatest mistakes. We cannot know what sorrow is till the day of sorrow breaks, nor can we understand the joy of the Lord till a glad day of heavenly love smiles upon us. We shall not know death till we are in the day of death. When the new day of the life beyond dawns we shall know its meaning as we can never guess now.
III. THE COMING DAY WILL HAVE A NEW CHARACTER. No two days are exactly alike. Ezekiel was announcing a day of doom. The awful thunders of that day are to roll over the heads of guilty and impenitent men with a surprise and a horror never anticipated in easier times. Thus it was in the doom of Israel under the Babylonian invasion. But there are brighter days to anticipate. There is the day of light after the night of doubt; the day of joy's sunshine succeeding the night of sorrow's weeping; the day of penitent new beginnings after the night of sin; the day of busy service after the night of rest and waiting. Carlyle writes—
"Lo! here hath been dawning
Another blue day:
Think, wilt thou let it
Slip useless away?
"Out of eternity
This new day is born;
At night will return.
"Behold it aforetime
No eye ever did;
So soon it forever
From all eyes is hid."
IV. THE CHARACTER OF THE NEW DAY IS DETERMINED BY OUR CONDUCT IN THE OLD DAYS. The day of doom is not the day of fate. It is a day of judgment, i.e. of examination, discrimination, and consequent decision. Therefore it is determined by the character of the old days it judges. The new day may come to us as a surprise, but it will not fall out by chance as one of storm or one of sunshine. When it arrives we shall see that, in its deepest character, it bears the record of our own past.
Buyer and seller.
I. RELIGION HAS A RIGHT TO BE CONCERNED WITH COMMERCE. Religion is spiritual, but it aims at filling the secular sphere, as the soul fills the body. The Church may be its centre, as the brain is the centre of the soul's consciousness; but every region of life is a scene for its operation, as every limb of the body is for the action of the soul. Religion claims a place in the shop, in the factory, in the mine, on the highway of the sea, in the noisy streets and markets of the city. She does not claim this place as a mere spectator or guest, to be respected in name, but not followed with obedience, like the statue of a deceased citizen set up in a public place to honour his memory, although his principles are derided and travestied by the throng of present day men who crowd about it. Religion claims to be a living presence, guiding and controlling commerce. The relations of buyer and seller are too often treated on the ground of pure self-interest—self-interest of the lowest kind, mere money profit. Religion should inspire higher motives.
1. A respect for truth and justice. A Christian merchant's word should be as good as his bond in his counting house as well as in his home. It is scandalous that "trust" can only go with "security." Christian honour should pay the debt that cannot be exacted by law. The bankrupt who listens to the teachings of Christ will not be content to scrape through the courts by the aid of technicalities which only enable him to cheat his creditors. The Christian seller will not deceive the buyer, nor the Christian buyer take advantage of the difficulties of the seller to drive an unfair bargain. Justice means more than keeping the law—it means fair dealing and equal treatment.
2. A recognition of human brotherhood. If I recognize my neighbour as a brother when at church, can I pounce upon him as my prey in the world? The "golden rule" belongs to commerce as much as to any other part of life. But it will not be effective till a spirit of cooperation takes the place of one of cruel, hard, selfish competition.
3. A reverence for the rights of God in the fruits of commerce. Over the Royal Exchange, in London, there runs, in great and bold letters, the legend, "The earth is the Lord's, and the fulness thereof." How far is that the text of the words and deeds of the men who throng the streets round this public building? If all in the earth belongs to God, we shall have to give him an account of our trade transactions.
II. COMMERCE WITHOUT RELIGION WILL NOT SECURE THE WELFARE OF A PEOPLE. People who prefer Mammon to God will find they have chosen a hard master.
1. When commerce is prosperous, it will not satisfy the greatest needs of men. Man does not live by bread alone, and certainly he cannot subsist on bankers' accounts. In Jerusalem the buyer and seller would cease to rejoice over their bargains, would even not care for loss or gain, glad if only they escaped with their lives. The best things cannot be bought with money; but, happily, they can be had "without money and without price."
2. When national calamity comes, commerce fails. The commercial barometer is a most sensitive test of approaching political storms. Wickedness in business is deservedly punished in the general calamity of a nation by the collapse of trade that is certain to be one of the first results of the adversity.
3. Commercial sin will be justly punished with commercial ruin. This does not necessarily happen to the individual trader who may die rich with ill-gotten gains; but history proves it to be true in the long run with nations.
Mourning as doves.
The fugitives from Jerusalem flee to the mountains and hide themselves there, like the doves in the valleys below, whose melancholy notes seem to be a suitable echo to their own sad feelings.
I. NATURE INTERPRETS MAN TO HIMSELF. There is an interpretation of nature by man; there is also an interpretation of man by nature. The glad sights and sounds of spring are commentaries on the fresh joyousness of youth. We should not know the hope and beauty of life so well if May never came. So, also, storm, night, winter, desert, mountain, and raging torrent open the heart of man's grief and despair, and reveal its desolation. The key to human passion is there. Wordsworth, the prophet of nature, who saw deepest into her secret, discerned among the woods and hills "the still, sad music of humanity."
II. SORROW IS RELIEVED BY CONGENIAL SCENES OF NATURE. The mourning exiles will note the melancholy tones of the doves of the valley. To the happy these sounds come as a touching variation from the generally pleasing aspect of nature; but to the sorrowful fugitives among the mountains they express the sympathy of nature. It is well to cultivate this sympathy, which is not all imaginative; "for there is a spirit in the woods." and hills and valleys are filled with a Divine presence.
III. IN THE SECLUSION OF NATURE THE DEEPER FEELINGS OF THE SOUL FIND VENT. While among the mountains the exiles utter their lamentations. In the city, scenes of warfare, bloodshed, fury, and terror absorb all attention. These are the immediate and the coarser experiences in a season of great calamity. For the time they destroy the power of reflection. But in solitude and silence men have leisure to think. Then the sadness of the soul wakes up, and takes the place of the agitation and distress of external circumstances.
IV. THE SORROW OF MAN IS DEEPER THAN THE MELANCHOLY OF NATURE, While the doves coo in plaintive notes that suggest to the hearer a feeling of grief, though they are not really mourning, the exiles from Jerusalem respond to the natural notes of the doves with utterances of true sorrow. Man is greater than nature. He has self-consciousness and conscience. He knows his trouble and he knows his sin. He pays the penalty of his higher endowments in the greater depth of his fall and shame and sorrow. The whole range of nature's experiences is slight by the side of the lofty aspirations and profound griefs of nan. Going from the one to the other is like leaving the soft, undulating landscape of England for the cliffs and chasms and dark valleys and the awful mountain peaks of Switzerland. The chief difference is moral. Man alone has conscience; he only can mourn for sin. This grief for sin—and not merely grief on account of its penalties—is one of the deepest experiences of the human heart. It puts leagues of space between the men who mourn like doves, and the innocent, simple birds whose notes suggest a grief they can never feel. But in this deeper grief is man's hope. Mourning for sin is a part of repentance, and it points to the day of better things, when God has forgiven his guilty children, and when the mourning doves will be forgotten, and the singing of the lark at heaven's gate will be the key to a new experience of heavenly gladness.
Gold and silver.
Gold and silver are here referred to as precious things that have become worthless in the confusion consequent on the sack of Jerusalem. Inasmuch as they are usually regarded as of great value and guarded with especial care, kept in purses and safe places, to throw them in the streets is to reverse the normal treatment of them.
I. THE VALUE OF GOLD AND SILVER IS NOT STABLE. Financially, this fact is recognized in the Money Market, but it goes further than men of business generally admit. The precious metals have a certain utility and beauty of their own; but there are circumstances under which they become mere incumbrances; e.g. on hoard a sinking ship, in a besieged city, on a desert island, in great sickness, at death. They are chiefly valued as money, i.e. as a medium of exchange. But when there is nothing to exchange them for, their money value is lost. This must be the case in a state of social insecurity, when no one can depend upon holding his property from one day to another. Then the purchasing power of money will fall, even though there be plenty of articles for sale, because the purchase of goods may be nullified by the loss of them. In a famine at first the rich man may buy dear food which the poor man can not afford to get; but when all the food is exhausted, he cannot feed on his gold and silver. In times of great sorrow the value of gold and silver falls almost to nil. It will not supply the vacant place of the dead, nor will it heal the smart of unkindness or ingratitude. He is poor indeed whose wealth consists in nothing better than gold and silver. The worship of Mammon is a miserable idolatry, certain to be most fatal to the most devoted worshipper—and, alas! how many such our money loving age produces! What Wordsworth wrote of the plutocracy of his day is little less true now.
"The wealthiest man among us is the best:
No grandeur now in nature or in book
Delights us. Rapine, avarice, expense,
This is idolatry: and these we adore:
Plain living and high thinking are no more:
The homely beauty of the good old cause
Is gone; our peace, our fearful innocence,
And pure religion breathing household laws."
II. THERE ARE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH LEAD TO THE ABANDONMENT OF GOLD AND SILVER.
1. Necessity. "All that a man hath will he give for his life." The drowning man will drop his money bags rather than be dragged down to death with them. Yet there are men who behave as slaves to their money, consenting to a slow death of exhaustion from devotion to business rather than preserve health and life at the cost of pecuniary loss.
2. Folly. Extravagant people "cast their silver in the streets." Money spent in sin is worse than lost; it is invested in funds from which the dividends will be pain and death.
3. Charity. There are the poor of the streets, and the rich and well clad man who sees his brethren shivering and hungry has a good call to cast his silver in the streets—not, indeed, for a loose scramble in which the most worthless will seize most, not in indiscriminate charity which breeds idle paupers and neglects modest poverty, but in wise and thoughtful alleviation of misery. The young man whom Jesus loved was bidden to sell all and give to the poor (Matthew 19:21). St. Francis of Assissi and many another did so. Those who do not practise this "counsel of perfection" should see the duty of making real sacrifices for their brethren as for Christ (Matthew 25:40).
4. Consecration. Men may cast aside their care of wealth, and even let the proceeds lie in neglect while they devote themselves to a higher ministry; or they may bring their wealth and lay it at the feet of Christ, to be spent on his work in the streets of earth.
"And rumour shall be upon rumour." One element of the dark times of the destruction of Jerusalem is the constant accession of new and terrifying rumours—one contradicting another, yet all presaging fearful events. This is always an accompaniment of times of unrest, and Christ referred to it in his picture of coming evils (Matthew 24:6). We may have seen some such thing in our own happier days; but the telegraph and the newspaper have done immense service in substituting authentic news for vague and floating rumour, so that it is difficult for us to understand the distress of less rapidly informed ages, which must have been far more the prey to uncorroborated reports and chance rumours.
1. THE MISCHIEF OF RUMOUR.
1. Rumour distresses by its prophecy of coming evil. There may be rumours of good, to cheer. But in the present instance we have only rumours of evil brought to our attention. Such reports cloud the present with dim visions of a possible dark future. It is hard enough to face the difficulties of today; add to these the portents of tomorrow, and the load may be crashing. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof."
2. Rumour alarms by its vagueness. Rumour is not news, not the picture of the distant, but only its shadow. If we knew the worst, we might know how to prepare for it; but rumour comes with large, general adumbrations, leaving us to fill in the details with imaginary horrors.
3. Rumour confuses us by its contradictoriness. Rumour is to follow "upon rumour." There is to be a succession of reports. Possibly these might confirm one another. But general experience would suggest that they are more likely to conflict one with another. The result is a chaos of impressions and a paralysis of energy.
4. Rumour exaggerates evil. It is rarely, if ever, true to fact. It is like the snowball, that grows as it rolls.
II. OUR DUTY IN REGARD TO RUMOUR.
1. We should be careful how we spread a rumour. First, it is necessary to ascertain that we receive it on good authority. Then it is important to guard against adding our reflections and impressions as parts of the original report. If the rumour be one calculated to do harm it may be well to keep it to ourselves. No good comes of scandalmongery. A vulgar sense of self-importance delights in telling shocking news; but the motive is a low one, and the action may be most unkind. Panics spring from rumour. When a thoughtless person cries "Fire!" in a public place, he cannot answer for the consequences of his rash and perhaps fatal folly. We need self-restraint to prevent the mischievous spread of rumour.
"Rumour is a pipe
Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures,
And of so easy and so plain a stop,
That the blunt monster with uncounted heads,
The still-discordant wavering multitude,
Can play upon it."
2. We should be on our guard against yielding to turnout. It wants courage and strength to resist this influence, especially when our neighbours are carried away by it. But past experience should teach caution. We have better than rumour to follow in seeking our highest interest. "We have not followed cunningly devised fables." We have "the more sure word of prophecy," and the inward personal experience of the soul with God. Christianity is not based on a rumour of ghost stories; it sends on the historical facts of gospel history and on Christian experience,
A vain search.
"Then they shall seek a vision," etc. Ezekiel describes the vain search for the assistance of a prophet's vision in the dark days of Israel's overthrow, and the utter failure of that search, as one of the features of the dreadful time.
I. THE SEARCH. The words of true prophecy were not much valued by the careless people in their hours of ease; but when trouble came natural anxiety and superstitious terror combined to drive them to the sacred oracles. The question arises—What did they wish to learn from the prophets? There is no indication that they desired to know the will of God and to be directed back into his way. More probably they were simply consumed with a morbid curiosity as to their approaching doom. Was it certain that the nation must be scattered? Now, little good can come from such inquiries. A search into the deep mysteries of the future is not likely to give us any very helpful results. It is in God's most merciful method of educating his children, to keep the future hidden, for the most part, and to give just so much light as is needed for the day. There is, however, a better side to this search. Trouble breaks through the thin crust of worldliness, and reveals the essentially spiritual character of man and his needs. Then it is not possible to be satisfied with things seen and temporal. The unseen world that has been slighted in prosperous times is felt to be supremely real and of profoundest interest. So the sorrow-stricken soul searches for some voice out of the darkness beyond.
II. THE LOSS. The search proves to be vain and useless. The oracle is dumb; the prophet sees no vision; the Law perishes; counsel ceases. This is a disappointment for the boasting confidence of the people (Jeremiah 18:18).
1. There is no new inspiration. Revelation did not continue to come in an unbroken stream of light. There were periods of darkness in the history of Israel, when no new word of God was given. The completion of the Bible has put an and to this kind of revelation. Yet there is the inspiring guidance of God's eternal Spirit and the opening of the eyes of spiritually minded men to a personal knowledge and to new aspects of truth. If this ceases, though the letter of revelation remains, the quickening spirit is lost.
2. The old written word is lost. Not only is there no prophet's vision; even the ancient Law perishes from the priest. The ceremonial of the temple was stopped by Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Jerusalem. This was very different from the final cessation of it when the Jewish economy bad passed away. Now the loss of the Law was premature. It would be paralleled by our loss of the whole Bible and its guidance—a thing that happened practically in the Middle Ages.
3. Tradition fails. This counsel of the ancients is lost in the confusion of the scattered people. There are floating beliefs and customs of religion that help and influence us unconsciously. In a broken, disordered condition even these advantages may be lost.
III. THE SIN. The lamentable condition was part of the punishment of Israel's sin. This was the abuse of Law and prophecy. The law of the ritual had been followed as a mere form, and trusted without moral obedience (Isaiah 1:10-15). Such a desecration of religion may be justly punished by the loss of its aid. Perhaps this would be the most merciful way to bring people to appreciate eternal verities, if all our Bibles were lost, should we value them more, and crave the recovery of them with a new relish? With Israel, prophecy was degraded till the popular prophets became mere echoes of popular, opinions. Then they were deceivers of the people, and not only did they deserve to be swept away, but the loss of them was a merciful deliverance to the deluded nation, There is a teaching which can be well spared, especially in view of a higher gospel.
"Ring out the old,
Ring in the new;
Ring out the false,
Ring in the true."
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
All earthly government presumes the ideas of responsibility and retribution. Human nature itself contains what may be regarded as their conditions and elements. The welfare, and indeed in certain stages the very existence, of society renders recompense a necessity. What is true of human relations has truth also in reference to those that are Divine. The parallel, indeed, is not complete, but it is real.
I. RECOMPENSE IMPLIES A FREE AND RESPONSIBLE NATURE ON THE PART OF MAN. There can be no recompense where there is no accountability; and there can be no accountability where there is no intelligence, no freedom. Natural objects, Kant tells us, act according to laws; spiritual beings, according to representation of laws. Man is capable of apprehending and approving moral ordinances prescribed for his guidance and control; he can recognize moral authority. And he is distinguished from unintelligent and involuntary natures in that he can obey or disobey the laws which he apprehends. If this were not so, consequences might indeed ensue from action; but recompense would be an impossibility.
II. RECOMPENSE PRESUMES THAT THERE IS ON THE PART OF GOD NO INDIFFERENCE, BUT DEEP CONCERN, WITH REGARD TO MAN'S MORAL CHARACTER AND CONDUCT. If We think chiefly of law, or uniformity of action, we cannot but remember that law does not account for itself; if we think of the Lawgiver, we are constrained to recognize purpose in all his proceedings and provisions. It cannot be imagined that the great Ruler of all inflicts suffering for any delight in seeing his creatures suffer, or even that he regards their sufferings with perfect indifference. There must be a governmental, a moral end to be secured. The Lawgiver and Judge has what, in the case of a man, we should call a deep interest in the condition and action of the children of men.
III. RECOMPENSE IMPLIES THE POSSESSION BY THE SUPREME GOVERNOR OF THE ATTRIBUTES WHICH QUALIFY FOR THE EXERCISE OF JUDICIAL FUNCTIONS. None but an omniscient Ruler can be acquainted with all the secret springs of action, as well as with all the varied circumstances of life; yet without such knowledge, how can recompense be other than imperfect and uncertain? None but a perfectly impartial Ruler can administer justice which shall be undisputed and indisputable: who but God is stainlessly and conspicuously just? All earthly retribution is open to suspicion, for the simple reason that every human judge acts upon partial knowledge, and is liable to be influenced by prejudice. But as from the Divine tribunal there is no appeal, so with the Divine decisions can no fault be found. The Judge of all the earth will surely and in every case do right.
IV. RECOMPENSE AS A PRACTICAL PRINCIPLE OPERATING IN HIS LIFE WAS EXEMPLIFIED IN THE HISTORY OF THE CHOSEN PEOPLE. The Old Testament has been written to little purpose for those who do not recognize the action of retributive Providence; the narrative would be meaningless apart from this moral significance. The position of Ezekiel compelled him to trace the hand of God in the life and fortunes of his nation. For the Captivity in the East was an unmistakable instance of God's judicial interposition. And if this was the most striking instance, others occur in abundance, witnessing to the fact that this earthly state is a scene of moral government, incomplete, indeed, yet not to be denied as real.
V. RECOMPENSE IS A PRINCIPLE OF UNIVERSAL PREVALENCE IN GOD'S ADMINISTRATION OF THE AFFAIRS OF MANKIND. Doubtless the history of the children of Israel is intended to teach, among other lessons, in a very especial manner, the lesson of Divine government and human responsibility. Not only is the story told, but its moral significance is expressly.set forth. Yet the great principles which are explicit in Old Testament history are Implied in all history—in the history of every nation which exists upon earth. Go where we may, we do not and cannot go beyond the sphere of Divine retribution. Everywhere "the way of transgressors is hard," and "the wages of sin is death."
VI. RECOMPENSE IS A PRINCIPLE OF THE DIVINE GOVERNMENT WHICH, WHEN ITS ENDS ARE ANSWERED, ADMITS OF BEING TEMPERED WITH MERCY. It is observable that, in the prophetic writings, we find no unqualified denunciation. Threats of severe punishment are met with; but they are followed by offers of mercy and promises of pardon to the penitent. The gates of hope are not closed upon the sinner. And if the most complete and glorious manifestation of God's character is to be found in the gospel of Christ, it must be remembered that, whilst that gospel was occasioned by man's ruin by sin and his liability to punishment, it was intended to secure man's salvation and deliverance "from the wrath to come."—T.
This chapter has justly been termed rather a dirge than a prophecy. Whilst its language is in some respects special to the experience of the children of Israel, such representations as this may well be applied to all those who have forsaken God, and have turned every man to his own way.
I. THERE IS ABUNDANT OCCASION FOR MOURNING ON THE PART OF THOSE WHO HAVE SINNED AND WHO ENDURE THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN.
II. IT IS ONLY A NATURE IN SOME MEASURE SENSITIVE AND SUSCEPTIBLE OF BETTER FEELING WHICH IS CAPABLE OF MOURNING. How truly has it been said that "the worst of feeling is to feel all feeling die"! "They that lack time to mourn lack time to mend."
III. MOURNING FOR SIN IS MINGLED WITH SELF-REPROACH AND HORROR. They who mourn because they have lost what was precious to them, especially because they have been bereaved of such as they held dear, may mourn tranquilly and holily, and with a patient submission to the will of God. but they who "mourn, every one for his iniquity," cannot but feel conscience stricken because of their personal participation in sin, and their personal guilt for sin; they cannot but accuse themselves, and pass judgment, as it were, upon their own wrong doing and folly.
IV. SUCH MOURNING IS AGGRAVATED BY THE NUMBER OF THOSE PARTICIPATING IN IT. The prophet compares the conscience stricken remnant, distressed and weeping because of their own and their nation's iniquities, to a flight of doves uttering their doleful lamentations. It is no exceptional, singular case; multitudes are involved in the common fate, the common trouble. The feeling is heightened by sympathy. When all heads are bowed in confession, when the utterance of contrition rises from many afflicted hearts, when a contagion of sorrow and distress passes through a vast congregation of humble and penitent worshippers, each is the better able to realize his own and the common distress, and to unburden the over-laden heart.
V. SINCERE MOURNING MAY LEAD TO TRUE REPENTANCE, AND MAY ISSUE IN NEWNESS or LEFT. There is a "godly sorrow which worketh repentance"—a sorrow which is not only or chiefly because of the painful results of sin, but because of the very evil itself which is in sin, and because it is an offence against a forbearing and gracious God. Where such sorrow is, there can be no despair. The rainbow of hope spans the cloud, dark and heavy though it be.—T.
The limitations to the power of wealth.
The description of the text is remarkably picturesque. We seem to behold the panic-stricken remnant escaping from the city with trembling forms and anxious countenances. Horror and shame impel their flight, as, girded in coarse sackcloth, they hurry away, barely hoping that they may save their lives. As they go, in their terror they cast away their silver and gold, the burden of which may impede their fight, and which have lost their interest in the all-absorbing endeavour to escape from the hands of the foe. The action thus graphically described is suggestive of a great principle.
I. THE WEALTHY ARE USUALLY PRONE TO PLACE TOO GREAT RELIANCE UPON THEIR RICHES. Money can purchase many things, and it is not surprising that the rich should have a latent belief that it can procure for them everything that they may need.
II. THE VANITY OF SUCH RESOURCES BECOMES MANIFEST EVEN IN ORDINARY EARTHLY CALAMITIES. In sickness, in sorrow of heart, in many calamities, especially in distressing bereavement, the powerlessness of wealth to deliver or to aid is made painfully apparent. In how many circumstances are the rich and the poor almost upon a level! How often would the wealthy be glad to exchange their riches for the poor man's poverty, might they enjoy the poor man's health!
III. SUCH POWERLESSNESS IS YET MORE EVIDENT IN THE PRESENCE OF SUCH CALAMITIES AS ARE THE SIGN OF DIVINE DISPLEASURE. Judah was fated to experience the catastrophe designated by the prophet as "the day of the wrath of the Lord." This awful expression conveys a distinct declaration concerning the Divine government, concerning human responsibility for rebellion and defection. From this wrath no worldly agency could possibly deliver. In the day when the Eternal enters into judgment with the sons of men, earth can offer no immunity, no protection. Release, exemption from righteous judgment can be purchased by no treasures, no gifts, no sacrifice.
IV. WEALTH, WHEN ABUSED, MAY EVEN BE A DISADVANTAGE AND HINDRANCE TO ITS POSSESSOR. In a shipwreck, in a fire, in flight from a besieged or captured city, men have been known, by clutching their gold and burdening themselves with its weight, to lose their chance of escape, and consequently miserably to perish. Their wealth has been their stumbling block. Such action and such a fate are a picture, a figure, of the conduct and the doom of not a few. They trust in uncertain riches instead of trusting in the living God. They make an idol of their possessions. That which they might have used for good ends they misuse to their own destruction.
V. HENCE APPEARS THE REASONABLENESS, THE WISDOM, OF SEEKING BETTER RESOURCES AND MAKING BETTER PROVISION FOR THE DAY OF TRIAL. Silver and gold must fail their possessor; the time must come when they will be cast aside. But there are true riches; there is a steadfast and unfailing prop; there are riches of Divine mercy and compassion. It is not what a man has, it is what a man is, which is of supreme concern. He who has repented of sin and forsaken sin, who has sought and obtained through Christ acceptance with God, whose attitude towards the great King is no longer an attitude of opposition and rebellion, but one of subjection and obedience, he only can look forward with calm confidence to the day of trial; for he knows whom he has trusted, and is persuaded that the Lord will keep that which he has committed to him against that day.—T.
The averted face.
In the figurative but natural and expressive language of the Hebrews, the shining of God's countenance means his good pleasure and good will towards those whom he favours, and the hiding or averting of his countenance means his displeasure. Prayer often shaped itself into the familiar expression, "The Lord cause his face to shine upon us;" and the displeasure of Heaven was deprecated in such terms as these: "Turn not thy face from thy servants." The child distinguishes at once between the smile and the frown of the parent; the courtier is at no loss to discriminate between the welcome and favour and the displeasure apparent upon the monarch's face. To the mind at all sensitive to the moral beauty and glory of God, no sentence can be so dreadful as that uttered in the simple but terrible language of the text, "My face will I turn also from them."
I. IN THE SHINING OF GOD'S COUNTENANCE IS LIFE AND JOY. When the sun arises in his strength, and floods the hills and the valleys, the rivers and the forests, the cornfields and the meadows, with his glorious rays, nature returns the smiles, glows in the sunbeams, rejoices in the warmth and the illumination. Where the sun shines brightly, there the colours are radiant, the odour delicious, there the music of the grove is sweet and the harvest of the plain is golden, there life is luxuriant and gladness breaks forth into laughter and song. And in the moral, the spiritual realm, it is the sunlight of God's countenance, the manifestation of God's favour, which calls forth and sustains all spiritual life, health, peace, and joy. "In thy favour is life."
II. MAN'S UNBELIEF AND SIN OCCASION THE HIDING AND WITHDRAWING OF GOD'S COUNTENANCE. The change is not in him; it is in us. When the sun is not seen in the sky, it is not because he no longer shines, but because clouds, mists, or smoke, ascending from the earth, come between the orb of day and the globe which he illumines. So if God turns his face from an individual, a city, a people, it is because their sins have risen up as a dense, foul fog, intervening between them and a holy, righteous God. "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God." So it was with those against whom the Prophet Ezekiel was called upon to testify. So it is with multitudes whom the ministers of Christ are required to address in language of tender sympathy, yet of expostulation and reproach.
III. THE AVERSION OF GOD'S COUNTENANCE IS THE WORST OF ALL CALAMITIES. It is not to be wondered at that men with their composite nature, absorbed as they are in things which affect the body and the earthly life, should think chiefly of the sufferings and privations in which the moral laws of the universe involve them. And these sufferings and privations are realities which no thoughtful man can fail to perceive and to estimate with something like correctness. Yet he who is enlightened and in any measure spiritually sensitive cannot fail to see that it is the regard of God himself which is of chief import. It is better to enjoy the Divine loving kindness, even in poverty, privation, spoliation, and weakness, than to possess luxury, honour, and the delights of sense, and to know that God's countenance is turned away, is hidden.
IV. A MERCIFUL GOD WILL TURN AGAIN HIS FACE AND CAUSE IT TO SHINE UPON PENITENT AND BELIEVING SUPPLIANTS. It is sin which conceals the Divine countenance; it is repentance which seeks the shining anew of that countenance; and salvation consists in the response of God to the prayer of man. Yet the turning of his face towards us is the work of his own mercy, the revelation of his own nature—compassionate, gracious, and forgiving.—T.
Peace sought in vain.
No feature of distress and horror is omitted in this prophetic description of the effects of God's displeasure manifested towards the Jewish people. The burden of predicting such judgments must have been too heavy to bear: what can be said of the state of those upon whom the judgments came? They might well ask, "Who can abide the day of his coming?" What more appalling than the account given in these few words of the state of the people in the time of their disasters: "They shall seek peace, and there shall be none"?
I. THE GREAT BLESSING OF PEACE. This may be misunderstood. Warfare with ignorance, error, and iniquity, is characteristic of the condition of the good man here upon earth. Our Lord Jesus saw this, and declared, "I am not come to send peace, but a sword." The presence of evil requires that the attitude of the righteous should be one of antagonism. But this is for a season and for a purpose. A state of controversy and hostility is not a state in itself perfectly desirable and good. Peace of conscience, peace with God, peace with Christian brethren, as far as possible peace with all men,—these are blessings devoutly to be desired and sought.
II. THE INCOMPATIBILITY OF SIN WITH PEACE. If peace results from the harmony of the several parts of a man's nature among themselves, and from harmony between man as a moral being and his God, it is not to be expected that, when the passions are arrayed against the reason, interest against conscience, the subject against the rightful and Divine Ruler, there can be peace. It is mercifully ordered that peace should flee when iniquity prevails. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked."
III. THE PUNISHMENT APPROPRIATE TO SIN OFTEN LEADS TO A DESIRE FOR THE BLESSINGS OF PEACE. Men seek peace, and there is none. Thus they are led to reflect upon the unreasonableness of their expectation that the moral laws of the universe should be changed for their pleasure. Tossed to and fro upon the stormy waters, they long for the haven of repose.
IV. PEACE IS ONLY TO BE OBTAINED UPON GOD'S OWN TERMS OF COMPLETE SURRENDER AND SUBMISSION. It is not to be found either by endeavoring to stifle the voice of conscience within, or by withdrawing from a world of outward strife to some seclusion and isolation. Both these methods have often been tried, but in vain. The conciliation must take place within. The heart must find rest and satisfaction in the gospel of Jesus Christ, "our Peace." The whole nature must, by the power of the Spirit, be brought into subjection to God. The fountain of peace must thus be divinely opened, and "peace will flow as a river."—T.
The prophetic vision dimmed, and the prophetic voice silenced.
In seasons of national calamity and disaster, evils abound which are apparent to every observer. Famine, pestilence, and slaughter, the ruin of industry and the cessation of trade, the breaking up of homes and the departure of national glory,—such ills as these none can fail to notice and to appreciate. But the worst is not always what meets the eye. Beneath the surface, harm is wrought, and the very springs of the national life may perhaps be poisoned. Ezekiel, in predicting the disasters that shall come upon his countrymen, mentions as among them bonds, death, the destruction of city and temple, the overthrow of king and prince. But he does not fail to refer to what may perhaps strike the imagination less, but what may upon reflection appear to be an evil more lamentable and injurious. The time shall come when, in their distress, The smitten people shall turn for counsel and guidance, comfort and succour, to the priest, the prophet, the ancient, of the Lord. And then, to crown their sorrow, to deepen it into despondency, they shall find that the vision has perished, that "the oracle is dumb."
I. THERE ARE IN A NATION MEN SPECIALLY QUALIFIED AND COMMISSIONED TO BE THE GUIDES OF THE PEOPLE, AND TO INSPIRE THEM TO A LIFE OF VIRTUE AND RELIGION. Among the Jews, the priests performed the sacrifices, and in this represented the nation before God; whilst the seers and prophets spake to the people of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, and in this represented God to the nations. Others, too, there were who lived and taught among their fellow countrymen as witnesses of God. In every community there are raised up by Divine Providence just and fearless servants of God, who testify to the law which a nation ought to obey, and who summon their fellow countrymen to obedience. There was doubtless what was special in the case of the religious leaders of the Jews, but the principle is the same wherever there exist soldiers of righteousness whose endeavour it is to lead the people in the holy war.
II. IN THE TIME OF A NATION'S TROUBLE IT IS NATURAL THAT THE PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE RECOURSE TO THEIR RELIGIOUS AND MORAL TEACHERS AND LEADERS. It is with nations as with individuals; in time of prosperity and of that distraction which is produced by absorption in things of earth and sense, the soul's interests are often neglected, and God himself is often forgotten. But let affliction befall either a man or a people, let earthly success come to an end, let earthly props be removed, let earthly visions be shattered,—then it is seen that consolation and succour are sought in directions long forsaken and despised. The counsellor, whose warnings were formerly ridiculed, is now besought to guide and to help. The neglected oracle is sought unto. Unwonted petitions are presented for help. "Is there," is the cry, "is there a word from the Lord?"
III. IN SUCH SEASONS, AND IN SUCH CIRCUMSTANCES, IT MAY BE FOUND THAT APPLICATION FOR COUNSEL AND FOR SUCCOUR IS MADE TOO LATE. The prophet may be dead; he may be slain, the innocent with the guilty; he may share the fate of those whom he warned in vain. Or his voice may be judicially silenced; no word may be given him whereby to relieve anxiety or to encourage hope. And recourse may be had even to the proper quarter when it is too late to be of any service.
IV. YET IT EVER REMAINS TRUE THAT AN APPEAL IS OPEN TO HIM WHO IS THE SOURCE OF ALL LIGHT AND CONSOLATION. God has not forgotten to be gracious. Certain opportunities which have been neglected may never recur; certain ministers of wisdom and sympathy, whose ministrations have been despised, may no more be available. But the Lord's ear is not heavy that it cannot hear, nor his hand shortened that it cannot save.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The hand of the dock on the hour of doom.
The bulk of men persist in thinking of God as if he were such a One as themselves. Rejecting the revelation of God's nature contained in Scripture, they conceive of him as a man greatly magnified the infirmities of man magnified, as well as his virtues. They know the proneness of man to threaten and not to perform; hence they conclude that the judgments of God, because delayed, will evaporate in empty words. God will not be hastened. Proportionate to his immeasurable power is his immeasurable patience. Nevertheless, equitable justice will be meted out. The wrath accumulates as in a thundercloud, until it is overburdened, and the storm all the more violently breaks forth. Never yet in the history of men has God failed to vindicate his righteousness. Never yet has the transgressor escaped, and never will he. As surely as the sun shines, vengeance wilt come.
I. RETRIBUTION, THOUGH APPARENTLY TARDY, HAS ITS OWN SET TIME. For the most part it is not according to human expectation. "God seeth not as man seeth." A thousand things enter into God's calculation which do not enter into man's reckoning. The clock of heaven does not measure days and years; it measures events and necessities. The well being of other races has to be pondered beside the race of men. Very often the doom of the ungodly is a fixed and irreversible fact long before that doom is felt and endured. From that moment gracious help is withdrawn, and the doomed man becomes the victim of his folly. To God's eye, the end is seen long before it is seen by man. While he is yet promising himself much delight, lo! by an invisible thread the sword is suspended over his head.
II. RETRIBUTION IS NOT A HAPHAZARD ACCIDENT. It is the outcome of infallible wisdom and righteous deliberation. The Supreme Ruler of heaven says, "I send." As nothing is too great for his management, so nothing is too minute to engage his notice. He who nourishes myriads of myriads of blades of grass, and clothes the hills with majestic forests, counts every hair of our heads. Too often men are so stunned with the blow of retribution that they count themselves only the victims of a great catastrophe, and look on every side for sympathy. But when conscience awakes, and connects the calamity with previous sin, then at length—too late to avert the crushing evil—they confess that it is "the Lord that smiteth." "God is not mocked." The seed we sow today will bear its proper fruit tomorrow.
III. RETRIBUTION FROM GOD IS MOST EQUITABLE. There are no scales so delicately true as those in the bands of God. The judgment is precisely" according to thy ways." It is exact "recompense for all thine abominations." Often men are so blinded by the deceitfulness of sin that they do not perceive this. But when the transient pleasure of sin has ceased, men awake to the fact that the retribution is well deserved. This will be the keenest sting of the suffering—that it is a just desert. If men could only persuade themselves that they were unjustly treated, it would be an alleviation of the woe—it would be a sweet consolation in their misery. But such alleviation is denied them. Their own consciences will confirm the sentence, an l out of the dark abyss the cry will rise, "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints."
IV. RETRIBUTION, IS CLEARLY FORESEEN BY THE RIGHTEOUS. The unbeliever has no eye with which to see the kingdom of God. The organ of vision he has first blinded, then destroyed. So, too, he is blind to the significance of passing events. He does not perceive the moral aspect of things—does not see that God's hand is behind the smoke and din of war. But the man of God has learnt to see God in everything. In all the sunshine of life he sees God, whose presence gives a brighter lustre to all earthly joy. And in all the adversities of life he learns to see the rod and the hand that wields it. Standing by the side of God, and in full sympathy with him, Ezekiel saw clearly every minute detail of the retribution that was preparing, and, until the latest moment, implored them to escape. But he foresaw also that they would delude themselves to the very last—would buoy themselves with false hopes.
V. RETRIBUTION, WHEN IT COMES, IS MOST COMPLETE. On every side there is bitter disappointment. The earthly props on which men were wont to rely, fail them. All the bonds of society relax and dissolve. To resist invasion the summoning trumpet is blown; but, alas! none respond. Anarchy is everywhere. The day itself becomes night, and every fount of joy is poisoned. Amid previous corrections and afflictions there were many forms of gracious compensation—silver linings on the black cloud. But no relief comes now. There is defeat and disaster on every side. Weeping endures through a long night, without any prospect of joy in the morning. It is darkness without a beam of light, despair without a vestige of hope. Not even shall there be the sweet relief of tears; for the hearts of men have been rendered insensible by the cursed power of sin. They are at length "past feeling"—incapable of repentance. "Neither shall there be any wailing for them." it is abasement the most profound. The first has become the last.
VI. THIS RETRIBUTION IS THE NATURAL FRUITAGE OF SIN. Our wise and gracious God has constructed his universe on this principle, that every form of rebellion shall bear in itself the seed of penalty. The pivot on which everything turns is righteousness. There is no occasion for God to issue any code of penalties commensurate with acts of transgression. Sin and punishment are one and the selfsame thing. Retribution is simply full-grown sin. It is often sweet in the bud, but the ripened fruit is bitterness absolute. As gunpowder is, in its nature, explosive, so that it is madness to set alight to it and expect it not to explode; so sin is, in its very nature, destructive, and can lead to nothing else than destruction. Love cements and unites; transgression dissolves and separates. And separation from God is ruin. Where God is, there is life; where God is not, there is death. Where God is, there is heaven; where God is not, there is blackest hell.—D.
Flight is not deliverance. If the invading army is God's army, no escape is possible, save in submission. We cannot elude God's detectives. Lonely mountains, no more than crowded cities, serve as an asylum, if God be our Foe. As we cannot get beyond the limits of his world, neither can we get beyond the reach of his sword.
I. THEIR MISERY. They may escape, for a moment, sword wounds and bodily captivity; yet they have not escaped from inward distress and wretchedness. Exposure to hunger and cold and nakedness on the mountains is scarcely to be preferred to violent death. God, the real Avenger, has smitten them in their flight. Their senseless cowardice has added to their pain. Even though they live, they are dishonoured among men. The heathen nations will point at them with a finger of scorn. The common moralities of men reflect, though it be feebly, the just displeasure of God. Honour is lost, though life is yet continued.
II. THEIR REMORSE. Tears are on all faces, and sorrow is an occupant of every breast. Yet it is a selfish sorrow, which bears the fruit of death. It is not repentance, it is only remorse. Had this sorrow earlier come, and had it sprung from a better motive, it would have availed to deliver them. They mourn, not because they have sinned, but because their sin has been found out. When retribution comes, repentance is impossible.
III. THE COLLAPSE OF FALSE TRUST. In the day of their prosperity they had made their riches their trust. They reposed their faith in idols of silver instead of the living God. For gold they imagined they could hire mercenaries or buy the favour of kings. Such wealth as theirs seemed to them an impregnable security. They could make gates of brass and towers of iron. Yet how sudden and how complete was the collapse of their proud hope! Their gold, instead of a protection, became a snare. It attracted the cupidity of their foes. As hounds scent the prey, so foreign soldiers scented from afar Israel's riches. The gold and silver lavished on Jehovah's temple drew, like a magnet, the avarice of the Babylonian king! To rely on material possessions is to rely on a broken reed—is to slumber on the edge of a volcano.
IV. THEIR RELIGIOUS DEGRADATION. Their temple had been their pride; now it shall be their shame. They had gloried in its external beauty, and had forgotten that the Lord of the temple is greater than the building. They had neglected the spirituality of worship, and had profaned the holy place with human inventions and with idolatrous symbols. In their folly they had deemed it politic to set up, side by side with Jehovah, the shrines of other deities. But their policy was rotten. It was based on atheistic selfishness. And new the profanation they had commenced shall be completed by their foes. They had admitted a trickling stream of idolatry into the temple; now it shall become a flood. Thus God makes our sins to become our punishments; at length they sting like hornets, they bite like adders. Once our sin lasted like a sweet morsel; when once in the veins it works like poison. Rebellion is but a seed, of which retribution is the rife fruit.
V. THE CLIMAX OF DISASTER IS GOD'S DEPAPRTURE. "My face will I turn also from them." This is the crowning disaster, the bitter dregs of misery, the knell of doom. If, in our hour of crushing affliction, God would turn towards us as a Friend, the wheel of ill fortune would be reversed; all loss would be recovered. If he would only move upon our hearts with his mighty grace, and reduce our self-will and pride, disaster would be changed into dowry, night into day. The hurtling clouds would burst into showers of blessing. But when God departs, the last ray of hope departs, and man's prospects set in blackest night.—D.
The even balances of Jehovah.
The penal judgments of God are not haphazard events. The minds of thoughtful men discover in them a marked feature of retribution. Striking correspondences occur between the transgression and the punishment. "I will do unto them after their way."
I. VIOLENCE IS MET BY VIOLENCE. The Law of God had been despised; and, instead of a just administration of Law, the rule of violence had prevailed. Therefore by violence they shall be mastered. "Make a chain." The arm of power had dominated over the hand of justice; therefore a mightier arm shall master it. Often has it been seen that they who ruthlessly use the sword themselves perish by the sword. Men are often "hoisted on their own petard." The gallows which Haman had prepared for another served for himself.
II. IDOLATRY ASSIMILATES MEN IN LIKENESS TO THE IDOLS. "I will bring the worst of the heathen upon them." The objects of their worship had reputed attributes of lust, cruelty, oppression, violence; these attributes shall appear in the worshippers. It is a law of nature, as well as a law of Scripture, that "they who make them are like unto them; so is every one that bows down to them." As the stream cannot rise above its fount, so man cannot rise above the object of his adoration. Worshippers of idols rapidly deteriorate in character and in moral quality. If God is driven out of the heart, demons will speedily come in. "Nature abhors a vacuum."
III. OPPORTUNITIES ABUSED ARE AT LENGTH CLOSED. "They shall seek peace, and there shall be none." "They shall seek a vision from the prophet; but the Law shall perish from the priest." Had they sought earlier, they would have found; now probation has ceased, the Judge has ascended his throne. All forbearance has its limits. any men are always one day behind. The tide has ceased to flow. Ebb has begun. In middle life they are weeping over a wasted youth. In old age they are lamenting the decay of vigorous manhood. On a death bed they regret the neglect of yesterday's opportunity. When the last shilling is spent men learn the value of money. Today there is the sunlight of hope; tomorrow there will be black despair.
IV. THE LEADERS IN REBELLION INCUR THE HEAVIEST CHASTISEMENTS. "The king shall mourn, and the prince shall be clothed with desolation." In proportion to the station any man occupies in society, in proportion to his talents and strength of character, is the influence he exerts, whether for good or for evil. The king will always have a crowd of servile imitators. Princes, by virtue of their exalted rank, wield an extensive influence. For the right employment of influence every man is responsible. He is daily sowing now; and, as the sowing is, so will be the harvest. The mourning of a king will have an intensity of bitterness that never acerbates the tears of a peasant.
V. JUSTICE, SHALL FINALLY BE PARAMOUNT. "They shall know that I am the Lord." Although they would not know him as Friend and Benefactor, they shall know him and acknowledge him as the Vindicator of right. The spirits in hell confess him, while blind and ungrateful men ignore him. "We know thee who thou art." Righteousness is endowed with a deathless life; and out of all present confusion and strife it shall come to the surface and be by all honoured. The lesson which men will not learn in the days of prosperity they shall learn in the dark hours of adversity. They shall know that Jehovah is supreme. Facile princeps. Yet such knowledge does not save; it leads only to deeper despair. It had been a long fight between self-will and God's will; and men often flatter themselves they are going to conquer. But the termination is always the same: God over all.—D.
HOMILIES BY W. JONES
The punishment of the wicked.
"Moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Also, thou son of man, thus saith the Lord God unto the land of Israel; An end, the end is come," etc. "This chapter," says Dr. Currey, "is a dirge rather than a prophecy. The prophet laments over the near approach of the day wherein the final blow shall be struck, and the city be made the prey of the Chaldean invader. Supposing the date of the prophecy to be the same as that of the preceding, there were now but four, or perhaps Three, years to the final overthrow of the kingdom of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar" ('Speaker's Commentary'). Our text leads us to observe—
I. THAT THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED, THOUGH LONG DELAYED, IS CERTAIN, UNLESS IT BE AVERTED BY THEIR REPENTANCE. "Thus saith the Lord God unto the land of Israel; An end, the end is come upon the four corners of the land. Now is the end come upon thee." The land is looked upon as a garment, and by the end coming upon the four corners thereof the prophet indicates the fact that the approaching judgment will cover the entire country. The punishment of their sins had been repeatedly and solemnly announced to the Israelites; and they had disregarded the announcement, and persisted in their sinful ways; and now "the end" was at hand. They would not consider that end while there was hope for them; and now the execution of the Divine judgment cast its dark shadow across their path (cf. Lamentations 1:9). The delay in the infliction of the punishment of sin is sometimes construed as an assurance that it will never be inflicted. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." Perilous and, if persisted in, fatal mistake! If in the time during which punishment is held back the wicked do not truly repent, that punishment will be all the more terrible when it comes (cf. Romans 2:4-11). The holiness of God arrays him in resolute antagonism against sin.
II. THAT THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED PROCEEDS FROM THE LORD GOD. "I will send mine anger upon thee, and will judge thee according to thy ways," etc. The Chaldeans were as a weapon in the hand of the Almighty for inflicting deserved punishment upon Israel. (We have noticed this point in our homily on Ezekiel 5:5-17.) When the stroke had fallen it was looked upon as having come from the hand of the Most High (cf. Lamentations 1:14, Lamentations 1:15; Lamentations 2:1-9, Lamentations 2:17). All persons and all powers are at God's disposal, and can be employed by him for the execution of his judgments. Very impressively is this illustrated in the plagues and calamities with which he visited Egypt by the hand of Moses.
III. THAT THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED BEARS EXACT RELATIONS TO THEIR SINS.
1. Their sins are the cause of their punishment. "I will judge thee according to thy ways." They had brought upon themselves the severe impending judgments. They could not truthfully charge the Lord with injustice or harshness in thus visiting them, for their punishment was the just consequence of their sins. "Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" With frequent reiteration Ezekiel declares that their sins have evoked their sufferings. With pathetic sorrow Jeremiah acknowledges the same truth (Lamentations 1:8, Lamentations 1:9, Lamentations 1:18; Lamentations 3:42; Lamentations 4:13, Lamentations 4:14). And it is ever true that the sins of men are the reasons of the judgments of God.
2. Their sins are the measure of their punishment. "I will judge thee according to thy ways, and will recompense upon thee all thine abominations." Their sins were persistent, and were aggravated by many advantages and privileges conferred upon them; therefore their punishment was terrible in its severity. In the distribution of the Divine judgments a strict proportion is observed between the guilt and the penalty of sin. God inflicts his judgments equitably (cf. Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48).
3. Their sins determine the character of their punishment. "I will recompense thy ways upon thee, and thine abominations shall be in the midst of thee," i.e. in their dire consequences.
According to the order which God has established, the punishment grows out of the sin. Punishment is "ripened sin." "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap," etc. Sin, says Hengstenberg, "has an active and a passive history. When the latter begins, that which was before the object of gratification becomes the object of terror." "Let the sinner know that he binds for himself the rod which will smite him." "His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins."
IV. THAT THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED WILL BE INFLEXIBLY EXECUTED. "And mine eye shall not spare thee, neither will I have pity." The holy Scriptures magnify the mercy of God—its infinity, its perpetuity, its tenderness, and his delight in it. And sometimes the wicked have drawn from these representations the unwarrantable conclusion that he is so merciful as to be devoid of justice, so gentle as to be incapable of anger. But "our God is a consuming Fire." He will be as firm in the punishment of the persistently wicked as he is gracious in pardoning the penitent.. He who mercifully spared repentant Nineveh ruthlessly destroyed incorrigible Sodom and Gomorrah.
V. THAT THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED WITNESSES TO THE DIVINE EXISTENCE AND SUPREMACY. "And ye shall know that I am the Lord." (We have dealt with these words as they occur in Jeremiah 6:7, Jeremiah 6:10.) "Every one must know the Lord in the end, if not as One that calls, allures, blesses, then as One that smites, is angry, punishes" (Schroder). Be it ours to know him as the God of all grace, and to obey and serve him with loyal hearts and devoted lives.—W.J.
Aspects of the execution of the Divine judgments.
"Thus saith the Lord God; An evil, an only evil, behold, is come. An end is come," etc. Nearly everything contained in these verses we have already noticed in previous paragraphs. Ezekiel 7:8 and Ezekiel 7:9 are almost a literal repetition of Ezekiel 7:3 and Ezekiel 7:4, which came under consideration in our preceding homily. But certain aspects of the execution of the Divine judgment are here set forth which we have not hitherto contemplated. We shall confine our attention to a brief consideration of these.
I. THE DELIBERATION WITH WHICH THE EXECUTION OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS IS PREPARED. "The rod hath blossomed, pride hath budded. Violence is risen up into a rod of wickedness." The rod is the emblem of power to execute the judgment; and pride, of disposition to execute it. Nebuchadnezzar the Chaldean monarch is thus indicated. And the text suggests that his power had long been in preparation for the stern work which he was about to do, and that now it was in readiness for it, like a rod which has been planted, taken root, and grown into vigorous development. "It illustrates," says Kitto, "the Lord's deliberateness in executing his judgments, as contrasted with man's haste, impatience, and precipitancy. Man, so liable to err in judgment and action and to whom, slow deliberation in inflicting punishment upon transgressors might seem naturally to result from his own consciousness of weakness, is in haste to judge and prompt to act; whereas he who cannot err, and whose immediate action must be as true and right as his most delayed procedure, works not after the common manner of men, but after the manner of a husbandman in sowing and planting. When the sin comes to that state, which must in the end render judgment needful for the maintenance of righteousness upon the earth, and for the vindication of the Lord's justice and honour, the rod of punishment is planted; it grows as the sin grows; and it attains its maturity for action at the exact time that the iniquity reaches maturity for punishment. When Israel entered upon that course of sin which ended in ruin, the rod of the Babylonian power was planted; and as the iniquities of Israel increased, the rod went on growing, until, under Nebuchadnezzar, it became a great tree, overshadowing the nations; and when the full term was come, it was ripe and ready for the infliction upon Israel of the judgments which had so often been denounced, and were so greatly needed" ('Daily Bible Illustrations'). This principle of the Divine action in human history may be traced in the relation of the Israelites to the ancient Canaanites. And in the Babylonian power it receives twofold illustration. One of these we have in the text, where Babylon is the rod of judgment for Israel. And afterwards Babylon itself was smitten by the rod of the Medo-Persian power, which had been gradually growing into maturity and strength. And the same principle is in operation today in relation both to nations and to individuals. If by
either sin be persisted in, the rod of God's judgment for that sin will be planted, and when it has grown into power, God will sorely smite the nation or the individual with it. What the poet says of nature we may say of God.
"Nature has her laws
That will not brook infringement; in all time,
All circumstance, all state, in every clime,
She holds aloft the same avenging sword,
And, sitting on her boundless throne sublime,
The vials of her wrath, with justice stored,
Shall, in her own good hour, on all that's ill be poured"
II. THE SUDDENNESS WITH WHICH THE EXECUTION OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS TAKES PLACE. "An end is come, the end is come: it watcheth for thee; behold, it is come." Instead of "it watcheth for thee," the Hebrew is, as in the margin, "it awaketh against thee." The end which had long seemed to sleep, now awakes and comes; it comes in sharp judgments. "The repetition indicates the certainty, the greatness, and the swiftness" of the approaching end. The judgment which had so long and frequently been announced to Israel, would come upon them at last suddenly and unexpectedly. That which seemed to sleep, awakes, arises, and draws near, to their confusion and dismay. How often do the judgments of God come unexpectedly, and with a great shock of surprise! Thus came the Deluge upon the old world, and the fiery flood upon the cities of the plain (Matthew 24:38, Matthew 24:39; Luke 17:26-29). Thus came the awful summons to the fool in the midst of his temporal prosperity and spiritual destitution (Luke 12:16-20). And so will come the last, the great day of judgment. "The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night," etc. (2 Peter 3:10). Although the wicked may persuade themselves that the Divine retribution lingers and slumbers, it is ever awake and active, and, unless they repent, it shall come upon them in "swift destruction."
III. THE TRANSFORMATION WHICH THE EXECUTION OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENTS PRODUCES. "The time is come, the day of trouble is near, and not the sounding again of the mountains." Schroder translates more correctly, "The day is near, tumult, and not joyous shouting upon the mountains." Upon some of their hills the Israelites planted vines, and in the time of the gathering of the vintage the labourers made the hills to echo with shouts and songs of gladness (cf. Isaiah 16:10). Perhaps the prophet refers to this in the text. Or the reference may be to the altars which were upon the mountains (Ezekiel 6:3, Ezekiel 6:13; Jeremiah 3:21, Jeremiah 3:23), and from which the shouts and songs of revelling worshippers echoed far and wide. And instead of these shouts of joy there should arise the wild tumult of war, and the lamentable cries of the distressed, imploring succour or seeking deliverance. Terrible are the transformations wrought by the judgments of the Most High. The selfish rich man passed from his luxurious home, his purple and fine linen, and his sumptuous fare, "and in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments," and was unable to obtain even a drop of water to cool his patched tongue. Blessed are they who, through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, are delivered from condemnation, and made heirs of eternal life.—W.J.
Ezekiel 7:12, Ezekiel 7:13, Ezekiel 7:19
The limitation of the power of riches.
"The time is come, the day draweth near: let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn," etc. It is not wise to despise riches, or to affect to do so, or to depreciate them. They have many uses; they may be made the means of promoting the physical well being and the mental progress of their possessor, of enabling him to do much good to others, and of furthering the highest and best interests of the human race. When wisely employed, they produce most excellent results. On the other hand, it is foolish and wrong to over estimate them: to make their attainment the object of our supreme concern and effort, to trust in them, to make a god of them. The verses chosen as our text suggest the following observations.
I. THAT CIRCUMSTANCES MAY ARISE REDUCING THE VALUE OF RICHES UNTIL THEY ARE ALMOST WORTHLESS. "Let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn: for wrath is upon all the multitude thereof. For the seller shall not return to that which is sold, although they were yet alive: for the vision is touching the whole multitude thereof; he shall not return." The reference seems to be to a compulsory sale of their estates by the Jews at the time of the troubles now impending. As the 'Speaker's Commentary' points out, "it was grievous for an Israelite to part with his land. But now the seller need not mourn his loss, nor the buyer exult in his gain. A common ruin should carry both away; the buyer should not take possession, nor should the seller return to profit by the buyer's absence. Should he live, it will be in exile. All should live the pitiful lives of strangers in another country." The sad changes about to transpire would so depreciate the value of the commodity sold, that the seller need not mourn over a bad bargain, or the buyer rejoice over a good one. Circumstances and events producing similar effects frequently arise, and will readily occur to every one upon reflection. The commercial value of properties and possessions fluctuates; and that to which a man may be looking confidently for the means of subsistence may become almost or altogether worthless. There is no absolute and permanent value in the riches of this world.
II. THAT THERE ARE EVILS IN LIFE FROM WHICH RICHES ARE UTTERLY POWERLESS TO DELIVER THEIR POSSESSORS. (Ezekiel 7:19.) Notice:
1. Their inability to satisfy their souls. "They shall not satisfy their souls." Schroder interprets this that their silver and gold were aesthetically worthless to the Israelites in the day of their calamity; they were not able to minister to their taste or promote their enjoyment in their season of hitter woe. It is true that in the day of sore distress all that can be bought with money will not afford relief. AEsthetic gratifications—pictures and statues, poetry and music—cannot adequately minister to the soul in its deepest sorrows. But may we not discover in the words a deeper meaning? Gold and silver cannot supply the soul's greatest needs, or satisfy its most importunate cravings. The gifts of God cannot be purchased with money.
2. Their inability, in certain circumstances, to procure even the necessaries of bodily life. "They shall … neither fill their bowels." When no food was left in the beleaguered city, the Israelites could not appease, or even mitigate, their hunger with their riches. I have read of an Arab who lost his way in the desert, and was in danger of dying from hunger. At last he found one of the cisterns out of which the camels drink, and a little leathern bag near it. "God be thanked!" he exclaimed. "Here are some dates or nuts; let me refresh myself." He opened the bag, but only to turn away in sad disappointment. The bag contained pearls. And of what value were they to one who, like Esau, was "at the point to die"?
3. Their inability to deliver from the retributions of the Divine government. "Their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord" (cf. Zephaniah 1:18). Riches can neither set a man so high that God's judgments cannot reach him. nor surround him with such panoply that God's arrows cannot pierce through it. We have striking illustrations of this in the cases of two rich men of whom our Lord spake (Luke 12:16-20; Luke 16:19-31). And there are some of the ordinary afflictions and sorrows of this life from which we can secure neither immunity nor deliverance by means of riches. "A golden crown cannot cure the headache, nor a velvet slipper give ease of the gout, nor a purple robe flay away a burning fever." All the royal wealth of King David could not ward off death from one of his children (2 Samuel 12:15-18), or exempt him from the heartbreaking treachery and rebellion of another (2 Samuel 15:1-37.).
III. THAT CERTAIN EVILS OF LIFE ARE AGGRAVATED BY THE POSSESSION OF RICHES. In circumstances like those indicated by the prophet riches are calculated to increase the evils in two ways.
1. They may endanger life by enkindling the cupidity of enemies. Greedy of booty, the invaders of Jerusalem would be likely to direct their unwelcome attentions to the rich, and not to the poor. As Matthew Henry quaintly observes, "It would be a temptation to the enemy to cut their throats for their money." Hence Ezekiel says, "They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed," or "shall be as filth." They would cast it away as an unclean thing, because their life was imperilled by it.
2. They may endanger life by hindering flight from enemies. Riches would be an encumbrance to those Israelites who sought to escape from the Chaldean soldiery by flight, and would retard their progress. Therefore, to be more free and swift in their movements, "they shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be as filth." How many human lives have been lost in the attempt to save riches! When the steamer Washington was burnt, one of the passengers, on the first alarm of fire, ran to his trunk, and took from it a large amount of gold and silver coin, and, loading his pockets, ran to the deck and jumped overboard. As a necessary consequence, he went down immediately. His riches were his ruin.
IV. THAT RICHES MAY BE THE OCCASION OF SIN. "Because it is the stumbling block of their iniquity." Their silver and gold had been the occasion of sin to the Israelites, especially in the manufacture of idols. "Of their silver and their gold have they made them idols" (Hosea 8:4). And there are many in our age and country to whom riches are an occasion of sin; they set their affections upon them, they repose their confidence in them. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" etc. (Luke 18:24, Luke 18:25). "The deceitfulness of riches chokes the word" of the kingdom. "They that will be rich tall into temptation and a snare," etc. (1 Timothy 6:9, 1 Timothy 6:10, 1 Timothy 6:17-19).
1. Let us endeavour to form a true estimate of riches.
2. If we possess them, let us use our riches, not as the proprietors, but as the stewards thereof, who will one day be called by the great Owner to render the account of oar stewardship.—W.J.
The impossibility of becoming truly strong in a life of sin.
"Neither shall any strengthen himself in the iniquity of his life." This clause has been variously rendered and interpreted. Fairbairn translates, "No one by his iniquity shall invigorate his life." Schroder, "Nor shall they—in his iniquity is every one's life—show themselves strong." And the 'Speaker's Commentary.' "And, every man living in his iniquity, they shall gather no strength." The meaning seems to be—Let no one think that in these impending judgments he can invigorate himself in "his iniquity; from such a source no such strengthening or invigoration of life can be derived; on the contrary, it is this very iniquity which is bringing all to desolation and ruin." Two observations are authorized by the text.
I. THAT WICKED MEN SOMETIMES ENDEAVOUR TO STRENGTHEN THEMSELVES IN THEIR INIQUITY. This is frequently and variously done. Take a few common examples of it. The dishonest bank manager or bookkeeper attempts to hide his defalcations by manipulating the accounts, making false entries in them, etc. Many try to conceal vice or crime by falsehood, as did Gehazi the servant of Elisha (2 Kings 5:20-27). A man who has got into monetary difficulties through betting or gambling seeks to escape from them by theft or forgery. Or a man has been in a position of privilege or power, and by reason of his own misdoing be is losing that position, but be seeks to retain it by further wrong doing. When Saul, the King of Israel, realized that the kingdom would not descend to his heirs, and saw his own popularity waning and David's growing, he endeavoured to secure the kingdom to his family by repeated attempts to kill David. Or when a person has obtained riches or power by fraud, oppression, or cruelty, and finding that possession failing him, he seeks to retain it firmly by perpetrating other crimes. The Macbeth of Shakespeare is a striking illustration of this. When he feels himself insecure on the throne which he had committed murder to obtain, he says to Lady Macbeth, the daring partner of his dread guilt—
"Things bad begun, make strong themselves by ill."
And later, when he had incurred the guilt of another murder, and was tormented by terrible fears, he says to her—
"For mine own good.
All causes shall give way; I am in blood
Stepp'd in so far, that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er."
And thus he endeavoured to strengthen himself in the iniquity of his life.
II. THESE EFFORTS TO STRENGTHEN THEMSELVES IN THEIR INIQUITY MUST INEVITABLY END IN FAILURE. Let us try to show this. We have seen that men try to strengthen themselves in iniquity by means of falsehood. But falsehood is opposed to the reality of things, and by its very nature cannot give lasting strength or security to any one. Carlyle says forcibly, "No lie you can speak or act, but it will come, after longer or shorter circulation, like a bill drawn on nature's reality, and be presented then for payment, with the answer—No effects." Again, "For if there be a Faith from of old, it is this, as we often repeat, that no Lie can live forever …. All Lies have sentence of death written down against them in Heaven's chancery itself; and, slowly or fast, advance incessantly towards their hour." "The lip of truth shall be established forever; but a lying tongue is but for a moment." "He that speaketh lies shall perish." And turning from falsehood in particular to sin in general, iniquity, so tar from invigorating man, by its essential nature strips him of strength and courage. Thus the guilty and aforetime brave Macbeth cries—
"How is't with me when every noise appals me?"
And elsewhere, Shakespeare says truly—
"Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind;
The thief doth fear each bush an officer."
To the same effect writes Wordsworth—
"From the body of one guilty deed
A thousand ghostly fears and haunting thoughts proceed?
And our prophet, "How weak is thine heart, saith the Lord God, seeing thou doest all these things!" (Ezekiel 16:30). "The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous are bold as a lion." The consciousness of truth and uprightness inspires the heart with courage and nerves the arm with power.
"What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted?
Thrice is he arm'd that hath his quarrel just;
And he but naked, though locked up in steel,
Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted."
And the throne which is based on injustice, cruelty, or blood, and maintained by oppression and tyranny, is founded upon sand and supported by feebleness. Wickedness is weakness. "it is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness; for the throne is established by righteousness." "The king that faithfully judgeth the poor, his throne shall be established forever." No man can ever truly strengthen himself in iniquity; neither can any number of men do so. The only way by which the wicked may become truly strong is by resolutely turning from sin and trusting in the Saviour. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts," etc. (Isaiah 55:7).—W.J.
The perversion of desirable possessions punished by the deprivation of them.
"As for the beauty of his ornament, he set it, in majesty," etc. In these words we discover—
I. DESIRABLE POSSESSIONS SINFULLY PERVERTED. (Ezekiel 7:22.) This verse has been differently translated and interpreted. Hengstenberg renders it, "And his glorious ornament he has set for pride; and they made the images of their abominations and detestable idols of it: therefore have I laid it on them for uncleanness." Some refer this to the temple, which "by way of eminence was the glory and ornament of the nation." Others, connecting it with the preceding verse, refer it to the riches, or to the elegant ornaments made of gold and silver, which the Israelites possessed. Without presuming to speak dogmatically on the point, we incline to the latter view. The Israelites were an opulent people. The Prophet Isaiah said, "Their land is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures." God had enabled them to accumulate riches (cf. Deuteronomy 8:18). And now they misused their wealth against him.
1. Their desirable possessions they turned into an occasion of pride. "His glorious ornament he has set for pride." The "he" signifies the people, who are called either he or they. They perverted their riches into a parade of their own self-sufficient, power; they misused them for their self-glorification. The prosperity, which should have enkindled their gratitude to the Lord their God, led to their presumption and self-exaltation (cf. Isaiah 2:11, Isaiah 2:17). This is not a solitary case, but a representative one, of the way in which the gifts of God are perverted by the sin of man. When spiritual privileges lead to supercilious pharisaism (cf. Luke 18:11); when the possession of personal gifts and abilities generate self-conceit; or when the possession of riches is made the occasion of self-laudation (cf. Deuteronomy 7:17; Daniel 4:30);—when these things occur, we have a similar abuse of the gifts of God. "Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom," etc. (Jeremiah 9:23, Jeremiah 9:24).
2. Their desirable possessions they turned into detestable idols. "They made the images of their abominations and detestable idols of it." In Isaiah 2:7, Isaiah 2:8 the abundance of riches and the prevalence of idolatry stand in close connection. To a great extent the idolatry proceeded from the self-exaltation. Pride would choose even its own god, rather than accept and serve the true God as he has revealed himself and his will. "All idolatry," says Hengstenberg, "is at bottom egoism, the apotheosis of self, that sets up its god out of itself—first makes and then adores." The gold and silver, which the Lord had enabled them to acquire, they abused against his express commands, and to his dishonour. Nor is this sin of perverting God's gifts to sinful and base uses without its modern illustrations. When the poet employs his glorious gift of song for the pollution of the imagination; or the philosopher his powers for the propagation of scepticism and the destruction of faith; when riches are expended for the gratification of pride, the love of vain show, or for any sinful object; when a nation uses its power oppressively, tyrannically, or to the injury of others;—when these things are done, the principle of the sin dealt with in our text receives fresh illustration.
II. PERVERTED POSSESSIONS TAKEN FROM THEIR PERVERTORS AND GIVEN TO THEIR ENEMIES. "And I will give it into the hands of the strangers for a prey, and to the wicked of the earth for a spoil; and they shall pollute it." Notice:
1. The true Proprietor of man's possessions. "I will give it into the hands of the strangers." In these words, by implication, the Most High asserts his claim to dispose of the riches of the Israelites according to his own pleasure. The richest man is but the steward or trustee of the riches. God alone is absolute Proprietor. The ablest man is indebted to God for his abilities, and is solemnly accountable to him for the use of them. "For who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?" etc. (1 Corinthians 4:7). God has the right to do with our gifts and goods how and what he will.
2. Man deprived of the possessions which he has abused by the true Proprietor of them. God was about to give the riches of the Israelites to the Chaldeans, who are here spoken of as "strangers, and the wicked of the earth." They could not have conquered and spoiled the Israelites but for the permission of the Lord Jehovah. The victory of the Chaldeans was his penal victory over his sinful people. Is it not reasonable and righteous that the gifts which have been perverted should be withdrawn from their pervertors? that the possessions which have been abused should be taken away from their abusers? (cf. Matthew 21:33-43).
III. THE PERVERSION OF DESIRABLE POSSESSIONS LEADING TO THE AVERSION OF THE DIVINE FAVOUR. "My face will I turn also from them, and they shall pollute my secret: for the robbers shall enter into it, and defile it."
1. Persistence in sin leads to the withdrawal of the favour of God. Turning the Divine face to any one is an expression denoting the favourable regards of God (cf. Numbers 6:25, Numbers 6:26; Psalms 25:16; Psalms 67:1; Psalms 69:16; Psalms 80:3, Psalms 80:7, Psalms 80:19; Psalms 86:16). "The face of God," says Schroder suggestively, "is the consecration of our life: our free upward look to it, its gracious look on us." In his favour there is life and peace, prosperity and joy. The turning of his face from any one is a token of his displeasure. He was about to turn it away thus from Israel.
2. The withdrawal of the favour of God leaves man without adequate defence. "They shall pollute my secret: for the robbers shall enter into it, and defile it." Very different meanings are given to the words, "my secret." Some would translate it, "my treasure," and apply it to Jerusalem; others to the holy land in general. Ewald interprets it, "the treasure of my guardianship, i.e. of my country or my people." It seems to us probable that Jerusalem is meant. When God turns "away his face from any, the lace of calamity and destruction is towards them, nay, destruction is upon them. No sooner doth God turn away from a nation, but destruction steps into that nation." He is both the Sun and the Shield of his people; and if he turn his face away from them, they are in darkness, and defenceless before their enemies and dangers. And this was the punishment of idolatry most solemnly announced by Jehovah through his servant Moses: "I will hide my face from them, and they shall be devoured, and many evils and troubles shall befall them; so that they will say in that day, Are not these evils come upon us, because our God is not among us?" (Deuteronomy 31:16-18).
CONCLUSION. Here are solemn admonitions as to our use of the privileges and possessions, the gifts and goods, which God has bestowed upon us.—W.J.
The dread development of moral evil.
"Make a chain: for the land is full of bloody crimes," etc. This paragraph suggests the following observations.
I. THAT PERSISTENCE IN SIN LEADS TO PLENITUDE OF SIN. "Make a chain: for the land is full of bloody crimes, and the city is full of violence." The wickedness of the people had grown to such an extent that the darkest crimes were everywhere prevalent and predominant. The city was filled with outrage, and the country with blood guiltness. Sin, unless it be striven against and resisted, increases both in measure and in power, until it attains unto terrible fulness and maturity. As in holiness, so also in wickedness, full development is reached gradually. Peoples and nations arrive at thorough moral corruption not with a bound, but step by step. But unless checked, wickedness ever tends to that dreadful goal (cf. Genesis 15:16; Daniel 8:23; Matthew 23:32; 1 Thessalonians 2:16).
II. THAT PLENITUDE OF SIN USHERS IN THE AWFUL JUDGMENTS OF GOD. Because of the fulness of wickedness, the calamities announced by the prophet were coming upon the people. This is explicitly stated in both the twenty-third and twenty-fourth verses. The prevalent iniquities of Israel were the meritorious cause of the stern judgments of the Lord. Several features of these require notice.
1. They were of dread severity. They were to be carried into captivity. To set forth this truth Ezekiel is summoned to "make a chain." And, as a matter of fact, Zedekiah the king was bound with fetters of brass, and carried to Babylon (2 Kings 25:7). And a post-exilian poet speaks of the miserable captivity of the people (Psalms 107:10-12). Their homes were to be seized and held by their enemies. "I will bring the worst of the heathen, and they shall possess their houses." Their sanctuary was to be profaned. "Their holy places shall be defiled." The reference is to the temple, their "holy and beautiful house." The prophet speaks of it as theirs, not God's, probably to indicate that God had already forsaken the sanctuary which they had defiled. "Woe be to us when our sanctuaries are nothing but our sanctuaries!" Anguish was to take hold upon hem. "Destruction cometh;" literally, "standing up of the hair cometh" (Professor Cheyne). If we accept this view of the word, it denotes extreme anguish or horror by one of the physical manifestations thereof, as in 'Hamlet' (Acts 1:0. sc. 5)—
"I could a tale unfold, whose lightest word
Would harrow up thy soul; freeze thy young blood;
Make thy two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres;
Thy knotted and combined locks to part,
And each particular hair to stand on end,
Like quills upon the fretful porpentine."
2. They were to come in terrible succession. "Mischief shall come upon mischief, and rumour shall be upon rumour." "Mischief" fails to fully express the force of the original word. Fairbairn renders it "woe;" Cheyne, "ruin;" Schroder, "destruction." Woe upon woe, misery upon misery, would befall them. Calamities would rush upon them in troops. As the king of Egypt was visited with plague after plague, so the strokes of the Divine judgments are sometimes sternly repeated, each stroke for a time being the harbinger of others.
3. Even the mightiest would be unable to stand against them. "I will also make the pomp of the strong to cease." Jehovah by his servant Moses had threatened the Israelites with a dreadful series of punishments if they persisted in rebelling against him, including this, "I will break the pride of your power" (Le Ezekiel 26:19). When the Omnipotent arises for judgment, the most powerful creature is impotent to withstand him. "Hast thou an arm like God?"
III. THAT IN TIMES OF SORE DISTRESS THE WICKED SEEK HELP OF THE LORD OR OF HIS SERVANTS. "They shall seek peace, and there shall be none;… they shall seek a vision of the prophet." "Peace" is not an adequate rendering of the Hebrew here.. Professor Cheyne translates, "safety;" and Schroder, "salvation." In their overwhelming calamities the Israelites would seek the help which they had despised in the time of their prosperity. So the proud Pharaoh, when the plagues were upon him and his subjects, repeatedly called for Moses and Aaron, and besought them to entreat the Lord. on his behalf. So also the perverse and rebellious Israelites applied unto Moses when they were smarting under the Divine chastisements (Numbers 11:2; Numbers 21:7; cf. Psalms 78:34-37). And the presumptuous Jeroboam, soon as his hand was smitten with paralysis, entreated the prayers of the prophet whom a moment before he was about to treat with violence (1 Kings 13:6). By thus seeking deliverance from God in the time of their distress, the wicked bear witness to their sense of the reality of his Being, and of their need of him. And by seeking the intercession of his faithful servants they unwittingly testify to the worth of genuine religion.
IV. THAT MEN WHO HAVE REJECTED GOD IN SEASONS OF PEACE MAY SEEK HELP FROM HIM IN SEASONS OF DISTRESS, YET NOT OBTAIN IT. "They shall seek peace, and there shall be none;… then shall they seek a vision of the prophet; but the Law shall perish from the priest, and counsel from the ancients. The king shall mourn," etc. The following points require brief notice.
1. Deliverance from trouble, and direction in trouble, sought in vain. The Israelites seek for safety, but find it not; for prophetic guidance, but it fails them. The prophet or seer has no vision for them; the priest has no instruction in the Law or in religion; the ancients or wise men have no counsel for their life and conduct. Saul, the King of Israel, presents a mournful illustration of this (1 Samuel 28:6, 1 Samuel 28:15). "Because I have called, and ye refused," etc. (Proverbs 1:24-31).
2. Failure to obtain help in trouble producing great distress. "The king shall mourn, and the prince shall be clothed with desolation," etc. The distress is general. The king, the prince, and the people all feel it. The calamities are not partial or sectional, but national. The distress is very great. The king mourns in deep inward grief; the prince clothes himself with horror, is as it were wrapt up in terror; and the hands of the common people tremble.
3. The righteousness of these judgments. "I will do unto them after their way, and according to their deserts will I judge them." The dealings of the Lord with them would be regulated by their conduct. His judgments would correspond with their lives and works. They would reap the fruit of their doings.
4. The righteous judgments of God leading to the recognition of him. "And they shall know that I am the Lord." In this day of their calamity they will feel and acknowledge the supremacy of Jehovah. (See our remarks on verse 4, and on Ezekiel 6:7, Ezekiel 6:10.) Let us seek to know him, not in his judgments, but in his mercies; not in wrath, but in love. "And this is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ."—W.J.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 7". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter