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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 49". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ jeremiah-49.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Jeremiah 49". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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On Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and Hazer, and Elam.
The violence of the Ammonites shall be severely punished.
Hath Israel no sons! The violent seizure, perpetrated before his eyes, of parts of the sacred territory, forces the indignant question from the prophet, "How can these things be?" It was so on a former occasion (see Jeremiah 2:14), and it is so again, now that the Ammonites are occupying the land of the Gadites. True, the present generation has lost its property, but the next is the heir to all its rights and privileges. Their king; rather, their King—their Melech or Moloch; it is the heavenly, not the earthly king who is referred to (so in Amos 1:15; Zephaniah 1:5). The Septuagint, the Syriac, and the Vulgate, however, read Milcom, which was the name of the Ammonite deity; this is only a different vocalizing of the consonants of the text. The actual vowel points give "malcam." This reading may, of course, be interpreted of the earthly king of the Ammonites. But this view ignores the obvious parallelism of Jeremiah 48:7, "Chemosh shall go forth into captivity." Inherit. The primary meaning of the word is "to take possession of, especially by force, 1 Kings 21:6" (Gesenius, ad voc.), and this is the sense evidently required here (comp. Jeremiah 8:10).
The punishment of Ammon. Its capital, Rabbah (see 2 Samuel 12:26, 2 Samuel 12:27), and the "daughter" cities, shall be laid waste. The alarm of war ("alarm" equivalent to "shout"), as in Jeremiah 4:19. A desolate heap. Fortified towns were built on "heaps, or slight elevations (comp. on Jeremiah 30:18), the Hebrew name for which (in the singular) is tel. The "heap" and the ruins of the town together are aptly called a "heap of desolation." Then shall Israel be heir, etc.; rather, then shall Israel dispossess those who dispossessed him (comp. Jeremiah 4:1). The form of the phrase reminds us of Isaiah 14:2.
Heshbon. Here mentioned as de jure a Gadite, but de facto an Ammonitish, town; in Numbers 21:26 it appears as "the city of Sihon" the Amorite. In Isaiah 15:4 and Isaiah 16:9 it is reckoned to the Moabites. There was a continual warfare between the neigh-bouring tribes of Reuben and Gad on the one hand, and the Moabites and Ammonites on the other. Let Heshbon lament, because Ai is spoiled. The introduction of At, which is only known to us as a Canaanitish town, near Bethel, on the wrong side of the Jordan for Moab, is startling. It is replied that we have no list of the Ammonitish cities, and that there may have been another town named At. The reply is valid; but loaves a second difficulty untouched, viz. that the mention of a third place destroys the continuity of thought. First, we are made acquainted with the fall of Rabbah; then Heshbon (probably the second place in the country) is called upon to wail because x has been taken by storm; then the populations of the "daughter" cities are summoned to join in the lamentation over Rabbah;—is it not reasonable to conclude that the subject of the mourning is one and the same? Now, it is well known that the received text abounds in small errors arising from the confusion of similar Hebrew letters, and that among the letters most easily confounded are yod and resh. Is it not an obvious conclusion that for Ai we should rather read Ar ("the city"), a name as suitable for the capital of Ammon as for that of Moab? It is true that we have no example elsewhere of Rabbah being called by the name of Ar; but in 2 Samuel 10:3, 2 Samuel 10:14 it is described as "the city," and we have to be on our guard against the argument a silentio—that favourite weapon of destructive criticism! Since a conjecture must be made, it is more respectful to the prophet to choose the one which is most suitable to the context. Daughters of Rabbah; i.e. unwalled towns (as in 2 Samuel 10:2). Run to and fro by the hedges; rather, by the enclosures; i.e. wander about in the open country, seeking a lodging place in the enclosures of the sheepfolds (so Numbers 32:24, Hebrew) or the vineyards (so Numbers 22:24, Hebrew). Their king; or, Milcom (see on 2 Samuel 10:1).
The valleys; i.e. long extended plains, such as were suitable for cornfields (Isaiah 17:5; Ps 65:14), and such as characterized the territory of the Ammonites. Thy flowing valley. "Flowing;" that is, abounding with rich crops. The meaning of the phrase, however, is only probable.
The Ammonitish community dissolved; every one earing for himself. Every man right forth; i.e. straight before him, in a wild panic which expels every thought but that of self-preservation. Him that wandereth. Collectively for "the wanderers," i.e. the fugitives. So it is said of the Babylonians, that they are "like sheep with none to gather them."
Revival of the Ammonites (see on Jeremiah 48:47).
A startling picture of the judgment impending over Edom, the severity of which is to be inferred from the behaviour of the sufferers. Observe, no allusion is made by Jeremiah to any special bitter feeling of the Edomites towards the Israelites, such as is implied in Isaiah 34:1-17; Ezekiel 35:1-15, and other passages. With regard to the fulfilment of the prophecy, we may fairly quote in the first place Malachi 1:2-4. The agents in the desolation there referred to (still fresh in Malachi's recollection) are probably the Nabathaeans (an Arab race, though writing Aramaic), who, after occupying Edom, dropped their nomad habits, devoted themselves to commerce, and founded the kingdom of Arabia Petraea. Meantime the Edomites maintained an independent existence in the midst of the Jewish colonists, till John Hyrcanus compelled them to accept circumcision about B.C. 130. In spite of this enforced religious and political union, the Edomites remained perfectly conscious of their nationality, and we find them mentioned as a distinct factor in the community in Josephus' account of the great Jewish war. They pass away from history after the destruction of Jerusalem, A.D. 70.
Teman was celebrated for its "wisdom," i.e. for a practical moral philosophy, similar to that which we find in the less distinctly religions portions of the Book of Proverbs. It was this "wisdom" which formed the common element in the higher culture of the Semitic peoples, and of which the sacred narrator speaks when he says that "Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country" (1 Kings 4:30). One of Job's friends, Eliphaz, was a Temanite (Job 2:11). From verse 20, however, it appears that Teman is here used for Edom in general, of which it formed a part. "Wisdom" was doubtless cultivated throughout Idumaea (Obadiah 1:8), the "land of Uz," in which Job dwelt, was probably in the east of Edom (see on Jeremiah 25:20). Is their wisdom vanished? The Hebrew, with its characteristic love for material symbols, has, "Is their wisdom poured out?" So in Jeremiah 19:7, "I will pour out [a different word, however, is used] the counsel of Judah." The body being regarded as a vessel, it was natural to represent the principle of life, both physical (Isaiah 53:12) and intellectual (as here), under the symbol of a liquid.
Turn back. The grammatical form is peculiar (literally, be made to turn back). If the punctuation is not an oversight the object is to suggest the compulsiveness of the change of route of the Dedanites. Dwell deep; i.e. tarry in the deepest recesses ye can find, so as to avoid the calamities of the Edomites. The Dedanites, it will be remembered, were a tribe devoted to commerce (see on Jeremiah 25:23). Isaiah had already, on an earlier occasion, given the same advice as Jeremiah, viz. to leave the beaten track and take refuge in a less exposed part of the desert, where shrubs and thorn bushes ("the forest," or rather, "the thickets") would secure them to some extent from observation (Isaiah 21:13). See, however, verse 10.
If grape gatherers, etc. Jeremiah modifies his original in Obadiah 1:5; the interrogative clauses here become affirmative. Render, If vintagers come to thee, they will not leave any gleanings: if thieves by night, they destroy what is sufficient for them.
But, etc.; rather, for. The verse gives the reason why the destruction is so complete. "It is I, Jehovah, who made Esau bare," etc. "Esau," i.e. Edom (Genesis 25:30). His seed; i.e. the Edomites. His brethren, or kinsmen; i.e. the Amalekites (Genesis 36:12). His neighbours; i.e. the tribes of Dedan, Terns, and Buz (Jeremiah 25:23).
A merciful mitigation of the prophet's stern threat. The true God will provide for the widows and orphans, if Edom will but commit them to him. And let not Edom think it strange that he is punished; for even Israel, the chosen people, has drunk of the bitter cup. Yea, Jehovah has sworn "by himself" that all Edom's cities shall be laid waste.
Leave thy fatherless children, etc. The invitation means more than might be supposed. It is equivalent to a promise of the revival of the Edomitish people (comp. on Jeremiah 46:26; Jeremiah 48:47).
Whose judgment was not, etc.; rather, to whom it was not due, etc. Jehovah condescends to speak from a human point of view. 'So, in Isaiah 28:21, the punishment of Jerusalem is celled his "strange work." Have assuredly drunken; rather, shall surely drink.
Bozrah. This seems to have been at one time the capital of Edom (see Amos 1:12; Isaiah 34:6; Isaiah 63:1). It was a hill city (comp. on Jeremiah 49:16); a village called Busaira (i.e. little Bozrah) now stands among its ruins. Perpetual wastes. A phrase characteristic of Jeremiah (see also Jeremiah 25:9) and of the second part of Isaiah (Isaiah 58:12; Isaiah 61:4).
Based at first on the older prophecy (see Obadiah 1:1-4); then follow two verses in Jeremiah's peculiar manner. As yet Edom feels himself secure in his rocky home. But a Divine impulse already stirs the nation, through whom Jehovah wills to humble the proud. Edom shall become a second Sodom.
I have heard a rumour. In Obadiah it is "we have heard," i.e. the company of prophets (comp. Isaiah 53:1, "Who hath believed our report?" according to one interpretation). Jeremiah, to justify his adoption of the outward form of his prophecy, declares that he is personally responsible for its substance. "Rumour," or as the word is elsewhere rendered, "report," is a technical term for a prophetic revelation (Obadiah 1:1; Isaiah 28:9, Isaiah 28:19; Isaiah 53:1; comp. Isaiah 21:10; Isaiah 28:22); and it is from this Old Testament usage that ἀκοή acquires its special meaning in Romans 10:16, Romans 10:17. In fact, ἀκοή, or bearing, is a more exact equivalent of the original. A prophet is one who has "listened in the council of God" (Job 15:8, corrected version; comp. Amos 3:7), and "when the Lord Jehovah hath spoken, who can but prophesy?" (Amos 3:8). Prophetic perception of Divine truth is so exceptional a thing that it can only be expressed approximately in terms of everyday life. One while it may be called a "hearing," a "report," another while a "vision" or "intuition." He who makes to hear or see is, of course, Jehovah, through the objective influence of his Spirit. It is important to study the Biblical phraseology, which has a depth of meaning too often overlooked, owing to the blunter edge which time has given to our modern speech. An ambassador; rather, a herald. Unto the heathen; rather, unto the nations. There is no religious idea involved; the word goyim literally means "nations," and there is no reason for deviating from the primary sense. In the next verse it is even more necessary to make this correction.
Thy terribleness. This is certainly the best rendering of this ἅπαξ λεγόμενον. The "terribleness" of Edom consisted in the fact that the other nations shrank from disturbing her in her rocky fastness. In the clefts of the rock. Probably with an allusion to the rock city Sela, or Petra ("rock"); as perhaps in "the height of the hill" to the situation of Bozrah; see on Jeremiah 49:13 (Graf). As the eagle. Not any eagle is meant, but the griffon (Gypsfulvus), or great vulture (Tristram).
A desolation; rather, an astonishment. The word is from the same root as the following verb. The phrase is characteristic of Jeremiah, who has no scruple in repeating a forcible expression, and so enforcing an important truth (comp. Jeremiah 25:11, Jeremiah 25:38; Jer 1:1-19 :23; Jeremiah 51:43). What so "astonishing" as the reverses of once flourishing kingdoms! For the Bible knows nothing of the "necessity" of the decay and death of nations. The "covenant" which Jehovah offers contains the pledge of indestructibility. Everyone that goeth by it, etc. Another self-reminiscence (see Jeremiah 19:8).
As in the overthrow, etc.; comp. Deuteronomy 29:2, which explains the reference in "the neighbour cities" (Admah and Zeboim). The verse is repeated in Jeremiah 50:40; It does not, of course, mean that rite and brimstone should be the agents of destruction (nor is even Isaiah 34:9 to be understood literally), but that the desolate appearance of Edom should remind of that of the neighbourhood of the Dead Sea (comp. Isaiah 13:19; Amos 4:11).
Figures descriptive of the unique physical qualities of the destined conqueror of Edom. Both figures have been used before (see Jeremiah 4:7; Jeremiah 48:40).
He shall some. The subject is withheld, as in Jeremiah 46:18 (see note); Jeremiah 48:40. The swelling of Jordan; rather, the pride of Jordan; i.e. the luxuriant thickets on its banks. See on Jeremiah 12:5, where the phrase first occurs. Against the habitation of the strong; rather, to the evergreen pasture. The word rendered "evergreen" is one of those which are the despair of interpreters, from their fulness of meaning. The root-meaning is simply "continuance," whether it be continuance of strength (comp. Micah 6:2, Hebrew) or of the flow of a stream (Deuteronomy 21:4; Amos 5:24), or, as here, of the perennial verdure of a well watered pasturage. But I will suddenly make him run away from her. Make whom? The lion? Such is the natural inference from the Authorized Version, but the context absolutely forbids it. It seems useless to mention the crowd of explanations which have been offered of this "obscure and much-vexed passage," as old Matthew Poole calls it, since in Jeremiah 50:44 we have precisely the same phrase, but with another suffix, which clears up the meaning. We may, therefore, either read, "For I will suddenly make them run away from it" (viz. the pasture), or keep the old reading "him" for "them," and explain "him" as meaning the Edomites. The expression used for "suddenly" is very forcible; we might render, with Ewald, "in the twinkling of an eye." And who is a chosen man, etc.? A still more difficult clause. If the text is correct, which cannot be assumed as certain, we should probably render, with Ewald, "and will appoint over it [i.e. the land of Edom] him who is chosen," viz. Nebuchadnezzar. Who will appoint me the time? The same phrase is rendered in Job 9:19, "Who shall set me a time to plead?" (comp. the Latin phrase dicur dicere). To drag a defendant before the tribunal implies equality of rank. One might venture to do this with Nebuchadnezzar, if he were not the representative of One still mightier. Finally, Who is that shepherd that will stand before me? The land of Edom has been likened to a pasture; it is natural that the ruler should be now described as a shepherd (comp. Jeremiah 29:1-34)
The counsel of the Lord. At first sight this appears to detract from the perfection of Jehovah. But another prophet declares that the Divine "counsels" are "framed" from eternity (Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 37:26). Surely the least, etc.; rather, Surely they shall drag them along, the weak ones of the flock; surely their pasture shall be appalled at them. Such is the sad fate of the sheep, now that the resistance of their shepherd has been overpowered. "The weak ones of the flock" is a phrase quite in Jeremiah's manner; its opposite is "the noble ones of the flock" (Jeremiah 25:34).
Is moved; rather, quaketh (as Jeremiah 8:16). It is a pity that the Authorized Version has not preserved the present tense throughout the verse. The prophet seems to see his prediction realized before him. In the Red Sea; rather, beside the Bed Sea; comp. 1 Kings 9:26, "Eloth, on the shore of the Red Sea, in the land of Edom."
Behold, he shall come up … Bozrah. Repeated from Jeremiah 48:40, with the substitution of "Bozrah" for "Moab," and the addition of "and he shall come up" from Jeremiah 48:19. For "Bozrah," see on Jeremiah 48:13. And at that day. Repeated from Jeremiah 48:41 (latter half), with the exception that "Edom" stands for "Moab."
The heading Concerning Damascus is too limited (like that of the partly parallel prophecy in Isaiah 17:1-11); for the prophecy relates, not only to Damascus, the capital of the kingdom of southeastern Aram (or Syria), but to Hamath, the capital of the northern kingdom. (The third of the Aramaean kingdoms, that of Zobah, had ceased to exist.) Damascus had already been threatened by Amos (Amos 1:3-5), and by Isaiah (Isaiah 17:1-11). We may infer from the prophecy that Damascus had provoked the hostility of Nebuchadnezzar, but we have as yet no monumental evidence as to the facts.
Hamath. Still an important city under the name of Hamah, situated to the north of Hums (Emesa), on the Orontes. It formed nominally the boundary of the kingdom of Israel (Numbers 34:8; Joshua 13:5), was actually a part of the empire of Solomon (2 Chronicles 8:4), and was conquered for a short time by Jeroboam II. (2 Kings 14:25). Under Sargon it was fully incorporated into the Assyrian empire (comp. Isaiah 10:9); rebellious populations were repeatedly transplanted into the territory of Hamath. Arpad. Always mentioned together with Hamath, whose fate it appears to have shared (Isaiah 10:9). A tell, or hill, with ruins, about three (German) miles from Aleppo, still bears the name Erfad (Zeitschrift of the German Oriental Society, 25:655). There is sorrow on the sea, etc.; i.e. even the sea participates in the agitation of that troublous time: somewhat as in Habakkuk 3:10 the sea is represented as sympathizing in the terror produced by a Divine manifestation. But by the slightest possible emendation (viz. of caph into beth) we obtain a more natural sense—"with an unrest as of the sea, which cannot be quiet." In Isaiah 57:20 we read, "For the ungodly are like the troubled sea, for it cannot be quiet;" and it can hardly be doubted that Jeremiah is alluding to this passage. If he altered it at all, it would be in the direction of greater smoothness rather than the reverse. Not a few manuscripts of Jeremiah actually have this corrected reading, which should probably be adopted.
Hew is the city of praise not left, etc.! A difficult passage. The construction, indeed, is plain. "How is not," etc. I can only mean "How is it that the city of praise is not," etc.?. The difficulty lies in the word rendered "left." The ordinary meaning of the verb, when applied to cities, is certainly "to leave without inhabitants;" e.g. Jeremiah 4:29; Isaiah 7:16; Isaiah 32:14. This, however, does not suit the context, which shows that "the daughter of Damascus" personified is the speaker, so that verse 25 ought rather to mean, "How is it that the city of praise is [not, 'is not'] forsaken?" Either, then, we must suppose that "not" has been inserted by mistake—a too arbitrary step, seeing that there is no negative in the context to account for the insertion (the case is different, therefore, from Job 21:30; Job 27:15, where such an insertion is at any rate justifiable); or else we must give ‛uzzebhah the sense of "let go free" (comp. Exodus 23:5; Deuteronomy 32:36; Job 10:1). It is the obstinate incredulity of love which refuses to admit the possibility of the destruction of the loved object. The city of praise. The city which is my "praise," or boast. Few cities, in fact, have had so long and brilliant an existence as Damascus.
And I will kindly, etc. A combination of clauses from Amos 1:14 and Amos 1:4. Three several kings of Damascus bore the name of Ben-hadad: one the contemporary of King Baasha of Samaria; another, of Ahab; a third, of Joash.
Against the nomad and partly settled Arabs—the former described under the name Kedar (see on Jeremiah 2:10), the latter under that of Hazor (connected with hazer, an unwalled village; comp. Le Jeremiah 25:31). This use of Hazer is remarkable; elsewhere the name denotes towns in Palestine (Joshua 11:1; Joshua 15:23; Nehemiah 11:33). There are two plainly marked strophes, Jeremiah 49:28-30 and Jeremiah 49:31-33, both beginning with a summons to the foe to take the field.
Hazer (i.e. the settled Arabs) is said to have kingdoms. "King" is used in Hebrew in a wider sense than we are accustomed to (comp. Jeremiah 25:24, "All the kings of Arabia"). The "kings" of Hazer would be mere sheikhs or emirs. Shall smite; rather, smote. There is no justification whatever for the future. The statement is obviously a later addition, to show that the prophecy was fulfilled. On the form "Nebuchadrezzar," see on Jeremiah 21:2. The men of the east. A general designation of the inhabitants of all the countries in the east of Palestine (Genesis 29:1; Judges 6:3; Job 1:3).
All the possessions of the nomad are here mentioned—first his tents and his flocks; then the hangings of which the tent is composed (Jeremiah 4:20; Jeremiah 10:20), and the vessels which it contains; and finally the camels which the Arab rides, not to mention their other uses. All this shall be ruthlessly appropriated by the Chaldean invaders. Fear is on every side. Again Jeremiah's motto recurs (see on Jeremiah 6:25). It expresses here, not the war cry itself, but the result produced by it.
The prophet turns to the Arabs in villages who have still more to tempt the cupidity of plunderers, and urges them to flee while there is still time. Dwell deep (see on Jeremiah 49:8). Against you. This is the reading of the Septuagint (Alex. MS.), the Targum, the Vulgate, and many extant Hebrew manuscripts. The received text, however, has "against them." Such alternations of person have met us again and again, and there is no occasion to doubt the ordinary reading.
How easy is the expedition to which the Chaldean army is invited!—it is a mere holiday march. Resistance is impossible, for an enemy has never been dreamed of. The tribes of Hazer are not, indeed, a wealthy nation, for they have but little wealth to tempt either the conqueror or the merchant; they "live alone;" they are an uncommercial and unwarlike, but a profoundly "tranquil, nation, that dwelleth securely [or, 'confidently']"—a description reminding us of Judges 8:7; Ezekiel 38:11. In their idyllic, patriarchal state they feel no need of walls with their accompanying double gates (the gates of ancient cities were so large that they were divided) and bars. Like Israel in the prophetic vision (Numbers 23:9), "they dwell alone."
Them that are in the utmost corners. Another of Jeremiah's characteristic phrases, which should rather be tendered, the corner clipped (i.e. having the hair cut off about the ears and temples; see on Jeremiah 9:26). From all sides. "Nebuchadnezzar will so arrange his troops that the Bedaween [but the people of Hazer were not Bedaween, i.e. desert Arabs] will be surrounded on all sides, and, being thus unable to escape in a body, will be scattered to 'all the winds,' to the four quarters of the earth" (Dr. Payne Smith).
The same fate predicted for Hazor as for Edom (Jeremiah 49:18). Dragons; rather, jackals (see on Jeremiah 10:22).
Concerning Elam. The title places this prophecy later than these in Jeremiah 48:1-33; viz. at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah. From this filet, and from the absence of any reference to Nebuchadnezzar as the instrument of Elam's humiliation, Ewald conjectures that the Elamites had been concerned in the events which led to the dethronement and captivity of Jehoiachin. Dr. Payne Smith is inclined to accept this hypothesis, remarking that the Elamites "appear perpetually as the allies of Merodach-baladan and his sons in their struggles for independence." We are not yet, however, in possession of information as to the relations of Elam to the great Babylonian empire which rose upon the ruins of the Assyrian. Ewald's conjecture is a possibility, and no more. And what was Elam? One of the most ancient kingdoms in the world (see Genesis 14:1-24.). Geographically it was the tract of country; partly mountainous, partly lowland, lying south of Assyria and east of Persia proper, to which Herodotus gives the name of Cissia, and the classical geographers that of Tusis or Tusiaua. This is clear, says Sehrader, from the Persian text of the Behistun inscription of Darius. It is fro-quently mentioned under the name "Ilam," or "Ilamti," in the Assyrian inscriptions, especially in those of Sargon, Sennacherib, and Assurbauipal. In B.C 721 Sargon states that he annexed a district or province of Elam (and hence, perhaps, we must explain the mention of the Elamites in the Assyrian army in Isaiah 22:6), which was, doubtless, one cause of the embittered feeling towards Assyria of the portion which remained independent. The annals of the heroic struggle of Merodach-baladan contain repeated reference to the King of Elam. Assurbanipal made no less than three invasions of Elam, and the singular pretext for the third is, curiously enough, associated with the remarkable fourteenth chapter of Genesis. It was this—that the Elamite king had refused to deliver up an image of the goddess Nana, which Kudur-nankhundi, an ancient Elamite monarch, had carried oft, and which had remained 1635 or (perhaps) 1535 years in Elam. ‹je-4› This king has been plausibly conjectured to be a member of the same dynasty as "Chedorlaomer [= Kudur-Lagamar] King of Elam." This time it was all over with Elam; Shushan itself was plundered and destroyed, and far and wide the country was laid waste. That so restless and courageous a people should have become famous among the surrounding nations was only to be expected; and it is a striking proof of this that Ezekiel, in describing the companions whom fallen Egypt would meet with in Hades, mentions "Elam and all her multitude" (Ezekiel 32:24). The fact that the Septuagint has the heading twice over—first very briefly (in Jeremiah 25:14, where it is followed by this prophecy), and then at full length (in Jeremiah 26:1, at the end of the prophecy of Elam)—has been variously explained. It is, at any rate, clear that there is some confusion in the present text of this translation. In connection with this prediction it is interesting to notice one of the results of a new cuneiform discovery among some tablets acquired in 1878 by the British Museum. At the very time when Nebuchadnezzar was taking an oath of allegiance from Zedekiah, he was also engaged in hostilities against Elam. "We do not know," says Mr. Pinches, "what brought the Babylonians into hostilities with the Elamites, but the result of the expedition was to bring the whole kingdom of Elam within the boundaries of the Babylonian monarchy" (Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, 7.214).
The bow of Elam. So Isaiah in prophetic vision, "And Elam bare the quiver" (Isaiah 22:6).
An emblem of the utter hopelessness of escape. The four winds (figuratively spoken of by Zechariah (Zechariah 6:5) as "presenting themselves" before God, to receive his commissions) shall combine their forces to scatter the doomed nation. The outcasts of Elam. This is the marginal reading in the Hebrew Bible; the text has, "the perpetual outcasts." No philological eye can doubt that the correction should be admitted (a yod for a vav).
I will set my throne; i.e. my tribunal (as Jeremiah 43:10). The king and the princes; rather, king and princes. The threat is not merely that the reigning king shall be dethroned, but that Elam shall lose its native rulers altogether.
But … in the latter days; i.e. presumably in the Messianic age. Into the fulfilment of this promise we need not inquire in too prosaic a spirit. It is true that "Elamites" are mentioned among the persons present on the great "day of Pentecost" (Acts 2:9). But this would be a meagre fulfilment indeed. The fact is that, both in the narrative in the Acts and in this prophecy, the Elamites are chiefly mentioned as representatives of the distant and less civilized Gentile nations, and the fulfilment is granted whenever a similar people to the Elamites is brought to the knowledge of the true religion.
"Hath he no heir?" Most wonderful is the preservation of the Jews as a distinct race amid the strangest vicissitudes of fortune and through centuries of exile—surviving the devastating deluge of the successive Oriental monarchies, the captivity in Babylon, the cruelties of Antiochus Epiphanes, the sweep of Roman conquest, the persecution of the Middle Ages, and the cosmopolitan citizenship of our own day. Yet, much as Israel has contributed to the philosophy and trade of the modern world, and great as her future mission may yet be, we cannot blind ourselves to the fact that her lonely glory of religions preeminence has passed away. Others have entered into this proud inheritance.
I. THE INHERITANCE.
1. The knowledge of the true God. This, and not the land flowing with milk and honey, was the chief treasure of Israel's inheritance. When all neighbouring nations were following polytheism, idol worship, and immoral rites, Israel was led by prophetic voices to look to one God—a spiritual presence who could only be in the beauty of holiness. That people, therefore, which has the highest worshipped knowledge of God, and the purest religious life and worship, wilt be the true heir of this part of the ancient possession of the Jews.
2. The mission to enlighten the heathen. The Jew was not called to his privileged position wholly for his own sake. He was an elect people that he might be an apostle to the world; that in him there might be developed the revelation of truth which was for the healing of all the nations; that he might cultivate, preserve, transmit, and disseminate this abroad. His was the proud mission of the torch bearer to the nations that sat in darkness, that through his light they might see their light and life. This mission was often ignored, and it was never perfectly developed in Old Testament times; but the work of Jonah and Daniel, and the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah concerning the heathen, are partial accomplishments of it. It waited till Christ came for its full exercise. Then the Jew became the missionary of the gospel. The faith of the new age was given to the world by Jew apostles.
II. THE arms. If the Jew has lost his proud religious pre-eminence, who has become his heir?
1. The Christian is the heir of the Jew's knowledge of the true God. He and he alone, whether he be of the stock of Shem, of Ham, or of Japheth, is the true Israelite, the "royal priesthood," etc. For Christianity is the fulfilment and perfection of the Jewish faith (Matthew 5:17-20). In the New Testament we see a higher knowledge of God, a more spiritual worship, a more devoted service. If this be true, to reject it and rest contented with the lower faith of the Old Testament must be to give way in the race.
2. The most Christian missionary is the truest heir to Israel's mission to evangelize the world. If there be any one race upon whom the mantle of Israel has fallen, may we not think that this is the great English-speaking peoples of Britain and America? Such an inheritance is not to be made out by ingenious arguments about the fate of the lost ten tribes. If we were the descendants of those apostate Israelites, we should be none the better for the fact, nor are we under any disadvantage because the hypothesis of an Israelite origin proves to be groundless. To make much of such a point is to go back to the lower conceptions of Judaism, and to disregard the higher spiritual conditions of Christianity. The true heir of Israel is the possessor of Israel's faith in its full development. It is not our birth and descent, but our personal religion, that can secure the inheritance to us.
The failure of wisdom.
Edom, the country of Job, the haunt of ancient lore, is to find that her learning and science will prove no safeguard against the deluge of destruction that is about to burst over the nations. The disaster which fell upon ancient "wise men" of the East may be a warning to the higher intelligences of all ages. The failure of wisdom is twofold—negative and positive.
I. NEGATIVE; THERE ARE EVILS WITH WHICH WISDOM CANNOT COPE.
1. Physical. Science can do much to avoid troubles into which ignorance falls, to mitigate inevitable disasters, and to devise means of escape from those which are already present. Sanitary science will help to prevent disease, and medical science to cure it. Military science will put a country in a certain state of security; economical science will check dangers of poverty. But how many of the worst things in life are beyond the power of science! The philosopher cannot arrest the hand of the invader. The most terrible diseases are the most fatal. Men have long since given up the vain search for the elixir of life. Science is powerless before death.
2. Moral. Still less can science "minister to the mind diseased" What consolation is a knowledge of the processes of a malady to the mourner, the light of whose eyes is darkened forever by its fatal work? What comfort can science whisper to the widow and the orphan? The great burden of the world's sorrow, and the weariness of the unceasing cares of life, it does not so much as touch. The deeper evil of sin flows in a foul, black stream, unchecked by science. The mission of science is great and glorious, and we should be profoundly thankful that we live in an age when its bright torch confers many a boon and relieves many a trouble. But we must not ignore the fact that the greatest ills that flesh is heir to are just those which it cannot cure.
II. POSITIVE: THERE ARE EVILS WHICH WISDOM INVOKES UPON ITS OWN HEAD. Knowledge is good and Divine, and in itself a blessing of the first order. Yet it brings a snare, and the abuse of it terrible disasters.
1. The knowledge of inevitable evil only increases distress. "Where ignorance is bliss," etc.
2. Superior wisdom may engender pride. Hence arises a false sense of security which only increases danger. The wise man is slow to tread those lowly paths which lead to true rest. It is difficult for him to become as a little child, that he may enter into the kingdom of heaven.
3. Wisdom may come to be trusted to for help that it cannot afford. Men make an idol of science, as though it were a new evangel. The ultimate disappointment must correspond to the grossness of the delusion. We must learn, therefore, while avoiding a foolish depreciation of science and philosophy, to look still for our safety and blessedness to that higher wisdom of God, that gospel of the Crucified, which is still to some as foolishness.
A promise for orphans and widows.
I. GOD BRINGS SOME MITIGATION TO THE SEVEREST CALAMITY. The merciful assurance of care for the helpless sufferers occurs in the midst of a stern denunciation of doom upon Edom, as a strange and startling relief to the terrible words that follow and precede. Here is a rift in the cloud through which a sunbeam of Divine love falls upon the dark scene of judgment. The thunderstorm of God's wrath never so covers the whole heavens that no ray of mercy can penetrate to the wretched sufferers. Behind the stern frown there is always the melting heart of Divine pity. God's anger is the anger of love, not that of hatred. Wherever it is possible to give relief he will do so.
II. WHEN GOD SENDS TROUBLE HE ALSO SENDS A DELIVERANCE. Possibly the trouble is beyond escape; for a season it must be endured; but in the end there is a Divine salvation for those who will seek it aright. Repeatedly denunciations of woe against some guilty nation are followed by the promise that "in the latter day" God "will bring again the captivity" of it (e.g. Jeremiah 46:26; Jeremiah 48:47; Jeremiah 48:39). The promise to Edom of the preservation of the children implies a future for the race. The widows and children are helpless sufferers, and it is for these alone that the deliverance is promised. God has peculiar pity on the most needy.
III. ORPHANS AND WIDOWS HAVE SPECIAL ENCOURAGEMENTS TO LOOK FOR HELP FROM GOD. If such a merciful promise as that of our text is made to a heathen nation, how much more assurance may the people of God feel! and if it is given to the families of the wicked and in the midst of the sentence of punishment, how much more must it apply to the families of true Christians! God is "a Father of the fatherless, and a Judge of widows" (Psalms 68:5); "He relieveth the fatherless and widows" (Psalms 146:9); "He will establish the border of the widow" (Proverbs 15:25). If God numbers the hairs of our head, will he neglect our children? If they who are desolate indeed cry unto him, can the All-merciful neglect their prayer?
IV. GOD'S PROMISES FOR ORPHANS AND WIDOWS SHOULD ENCOURAGE FAITH IN HIM.
1. The father should trust his children to God. That is a terrible moment when the strong man feels the sentence of death within him, and bows his head, knowing that he must leave his helpless ones behind. Yes, must leave them. Then let him leave them to God. Here is a call to resignation and to trust. The promise is in a measure conditioned by it. If the dying man would have his little ones cared for when they are set adrift on the cold, homeless world, let him entrust them to God. Such a trust will never be broken. But if he refuse to do this, he cannot complain should they suffer harm after he has gone.
2. The widow must trust for herself. "Let thy widows trust in me." The children may be too young to seek refuge in God. Their father must do this for them. But the widow must exercise her own faith. Her husband's faith will not avail for her. Let her trust, and then, but not till then, she shall find her consolation in the great Comforter.
A people deceived by its own terribleness.
I. THEY WHO ARE A TERROR TO ALL HUMAN FOES MUST ULTIMATELY TREMBLE BEFORE SPIRITUAL FOES. Edom was to fall before Babylon, in spite of her terrible aspect. Much more must the fierce, proud sinner succumb to the unseen angel of Divine judgment. The rocks that keep back an army cannot retard the onrush of the heavenly host.
II. THEY WHO NOW STAND HIGHEST IN PRIDE AND POWER WILL FALL LOWEST AT THE FINAL JUDGMENT. Rank, social position, honour, influence, will then count for nothing. Pride may have sat high as the eagle in its eyrie, but "every one that exalteth himself shall be abased;" "The first shall be last."
III. THEY WHO POSSESS EARTHLY GREATNESS ARE IN DANGER OF DELUDING THEMSELVES WITH AN UNWARRANTABLE TRUST IN IT. Such cities as the rock-hewn Petra, and Bozrah seated on her lofty bill, would seem by natural position impregnable. Consequently their inhabitants would grow insolent and proud, and thus deserve the more that fate which their natural resources could not avert, and their self-confidence would prevent them from mitigating. Worldly resources are dangers when they lead us to forsake the true Refuge in order to trust in them. The rich and great are not the more secure for their privileges, and they will be the less safe if they lean upon them when without them they would seek help in God.
Fear on every side.
This is a sadly familiar phrase of Jeremiah's. It is frequently applicable. The causes of alarm are numerous; so are the sufferers.
I. FEAR IS AN EVIL. It is not only the shadow of future calamity; it is evil itself—evil even if it is not justified by the event.
1. It is distressing.
2. It is degrading—debasing the mind, crushing out all that is noble and unselfish.
3. It is paralyzing. Under the influence of fear we are confused and helpless; all energy is gone.
II. THERE ARE MANY OCCASIONS OF FEAR. Jeremiah frequently exclaims, "Fear on every side!" We know not how many dangers surround us—political, social, domestic, personal; dangers to property, family, health, and life. The wonder is that they who have no refuge above themselves are so complacent. Such unwarrantable calmness must be traced to moral dulness rather than to true courage. For how truly terrible is the condition of the sinner! The laws of the universe are against him. If he flees from this life new horrors await him in the dread unknown land.
III. THE DEEPEST SOURCE OF FEAR IS OUR OWN SIN.
1. This brings the greatest danger upon us—the penalty of outraged justice and broken law.
2. This awakens the feeling of terror. Conscience makes cowards of us all.
IV. IN GOD IS THE REFUGE FROM FEAR. Men fear God in their guilt. Yet it is he who alone can deliver them from fear,
(1) by removing the evil feared;
(2) or by strengthening them to endure it; and also
(3) by calming the troubled sold as one whom his mother comforteth.
It is well that we should feel fear on every side if it leads us to cry, "What must we do to be saved?" and then to hear and follow the gospel answer, "Trust to the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."
HOMILIES BY A.F. MUIR
Jeremiah 49:1, Jeremiah 49:2
The paradox of Israel's inheritance.
The fittingness of this prediction is very striking. It is Ammon, the appropriator of Gad, who is the special subject of it.
I. ITS UNLIKELIHOOD. At the time the prediction was uttered appearances were completely against it. The original promise seemed doomed to failure. The flower and hope of Israel was in exile, and the land lay desolate. Interlopers reaped the benefit of their misfortunes, and seized upon portions of the unoccupied land. In the history of Christianity there may be perceived remarkable correspondences. Vast spaces of the civilized world have lost the spiritual traditions of the gospel in which once they gloried, and vaster regions still amongst the heathen are occupied by ancient faiths that offer a steady and powerful opposition to the missionary efforts of the Church. Yet the whole earth has been promised to the Church of Christ. The utmost zeal, devotion, and watchfulness are needed in order to prevent the inroads of worldliness and unbelief. At times the despairing cry may be heard, "Where is the hope of his coming?
II. THE METHOD OF ITS REALIZATION. It is well to ponder these facts in the light of God's Word, for it suggests an escape from the perplexity they occasion. Where the induction of the natural reason fails to render a hopeful explanation, the Spirit of God sheds an unthought of light. Jeremiah's interpretation, viz. that present dispossession need not mean utter disinheritance, is full of spiritual light and comfort. This impression is deepened and confirmed when he seals it with prophetic certainty and declares that Israel shall be heir to his heirs. But still remains the mystery to be solved:
1. How this will take place. Israel seems all but annihilated, or in danger of absorption into heathen nations, and his land is unoccupied. But according to promise
(1) a seed shall be preserved and shall be restored; and
(2) through the "seed of David," viz. Christ, a new Israel will be created, in spiritual succession to the ancient people of God, and destined to redeem from heathenism not only Palestine but the whole earth.
2. What will this involve? It will involve
(1) the judgment and overthrow of Israel's neighbours, especially such as Ammon, the traditional "land thief" of his border;
(2) the purification and discipline of Israel as the heir of the kingdom of God; and
(3) the conversion of many "out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" (Revelation 5:9). In this sense also will God "bring again the captivity" of Moab, of Elam, and even of Ammon.
3. The following lessons are clearly taught by this prophecy, viz.:—
(1) A unity of purpose pervades the vicissitudes of Israel's and the world's history:
(2) human affairs are governed by a strict and never failing justice; and
(3) a happy future awaits the children of faith—the spiritual Israel—even on earth.—M.
(cf. Obadiah 1:8; Isaiah 19:11; Isaiah 33:18).—
Where is the wise?
Edom, celebrated for its wisdom from of old (Obadiah 1:8; Job 11:11; Baruch 3:22, 23), had secured itself in inaccessible fastnesses of the mountains, dwelling in rock-hewn cities. Eliphaz was a Temanite. It was chiefly in international relations that the skill or subtlety of the Idumaeans displayed itself. Their diplomacy was full of craft and falsehood, and could not be relied upon. Their wisdom was essentially of this world—cold, calculating, and unscrupulous. Of this it is predicted by Jeremiah that it shall be brought to nought. How did his prophecy fulfil itself? In relation to the kingdom of God.
I. IT FAILED TO OVERTURN IT. The Edomites watched the signs of the times, and sided with what promised to be the strongest power, and in the last resort trusted to their own inaccessible position. Their ambassadors were amongst those of neighbouring nations who came to Zedekiah to advise united resistance to Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 27:3); yet they triumphed over the prostrate city when it was captured by the Chaldeans (Lamentations 4:2; Ezekiel 35:15; Ezekiel 36:5; Psalms 137:7). Their country had been tributary to Israel under David, but, taking advantage of the Chaldean invasion, they appropriated much of the territory of Israel proper, and extended their territory to the Mediterranean. The same spirit seems to have actuated its remote descendants, the Idumaean princes of the Herodian line. Herod the Great "slaughtered the innocents" in hope of destroying the Christ, but was circumvented by the providence of God; and his son Antipas was the Herod before whom Christ appeared by arrangement with Pilate (Luke 23:12). In the later years of Christ's ministry the Herodians were constantly opposed to him, and plotted with the Pharisees against him. So God has defeated the continual antagonism of worldly men, guarding the residue of his Church, and evolving new generations of faith and fresh conquests of truth from the apparent failures and ruins of the past.
II. IT FAILED TO SECURE PERMANENT ADVANTAGE TO ITSELF. The prophet declares that it was to drink of the same cup as Israel, but it is not certain as to whether Nebuchadnezzar, or Alexander the Great, or other conquerors are alluded to.
1. The movement westward of the Idumaean power, during the Babylonian exile, was the occasion of its overthrow. The Nabethaean Arabs, ruling a large part of Arabia, seized upon Petraea, and settled down as its occupants. These were in turn conquered by the Romans. In time the country fell under Mohammedan misrule, and lapsed into permanent desolation early in the Christian era. The rock cities of Petraea are amongst the most striking monuments of fulfilled prophecy.
2. The same fate has overtaken all the empires that set themselves against the kingdom of God. Their history is series of dissolving views. Failing to overthrow it, they have themselves been overthrown. And the wisdom which could not subvert has equally shown itself unable to assimilate the "wisdom that cometh from above." The reason for all this is contained in the crowning proof of its folly, viz. that—
III. IT HAS FAILED TO UNDERSTAND IT. Had the Idumaeans known the might of a spiritual religion, they would not have leagued against Israel. Had the Herodians known the wisdom of God, "they would not have crucified the Lord of glory" (1 Corinthians 2:8; Acts 3:17; Acts 7:51). Had Rome known the power of the truth, it would never have corrupted the religion of the cross, and thus prepared for its own disintegration and decay in the Middle Ages, and the manifold complications of worldly religion in modern times. The whole conception of God's kingdom—its spirituality, other worldliness, and purity—is still a strange thing to the wise men of the world. But it continues to grow and to realize itself amongst men; and it is destined to fill the whole earth, absorbing and assimilating its ancient antagonists; for "he must reign until he hath put all enemies under his feet" (1 Corinthians 15:25).—M.
(cf. Jeremiah 25:29; Proverbs 11:31; 1 Peter 4:18; and, for original, Obadiah 1:16).
Israel's judgment an argument for Edom's.
I. AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE CHARACTER OF GOD.
1. Proving his strict righteousness. There is no respect of persons. His love for righteousness and hatred of wrong are such that even his chosen people do not escape punishment. Salvation will not, therefore, be by favour or independent of character. The least sin will be judged. Individual saints shared in the general calamity.
2. His unfailing faithfulness. It was predicted particularly concerning Israel, and was declared as the law of his kingdom. Its fulfilment, therefore, vindicates the Divine veracity.
II. AN ARGUMENT BASED UPON IT. If such a God reigns amongst men, can any transgressor escape? To such sinners, then, as the Edomites, the heathen or worldly enemies of godliness and the truth:
1. Punishment would be certain. Their present immunity was only as the lull before the storm. Conscience gathers no comfort from apparent prosperity. Israel's punishment is a certain guarantee of Edom's.
2. Punishment will be proportional to the sin. In such cases as that of Edom—an open, flagrant, and conscious foe to the kingdom of God—it would be far more severe. There is no promise of "bringing again their captivity." It was to be "as if it bad not been." Where the heathen, on the other hand, have not sinned so clearly against light, there will be condoning circumstances which will be taken into account.—M.
The unrest of the wicked.
Isaiah (Isaiah 17:12, Isaiah 17:13; cf. Isaiah 57:20, Isaiah 57:21) uses the same figure of Damascus, and Jeremiah must, therefore, have either borrowed it from him or from some common source. It is possible that the figure was a common expression amongst the Jews of the time. The neighbourhood of Damascus and its associated cities was always a populous one, with a varied nationality and conflicting interests and affinities. From its character there was no religious unity, and its position exposed it to dangers on every hand, especially from Babylon and Egypt. It was a motley people, with vast commercial relations and strong tendency to pleasure, but no religious earnestness or capacity of moral influence or initiation. This is another of those phases of the world spirit which Jeremiah paints in his panorama of the nations' judgment.
I. THE UNREST OF WORLD LIFE IS LIKENED TO THAT OF THE SEA.
2. Vast and tumultuous.
3. Not to be stilled.
4. Sad and ruinous in its effects.
II. BECAUSE THE WORLDLY THEMSELVES ARE LIKE THE SEA.
1. Unstable. How easily ruffled! Uncertain, irresolute (James 1:6), subject to sudden panics. This is moral and spiritual.
2. With no central controlling power. The very constitution of the sea renders storms sudden and terrible. So it is with the sinner's character. There is no central controlling influence; no moral principle or spiritual power. True calm comes from within. He of the Galilean sea can alone tranquillize the troubled nation or the alarmed sinner.—M.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Might not right.
Ammon had taken possession of the territory of Israel (cf. chapter). Had done so as if it were his right, as if they were the lawful heirs of the land. Because of this judgment is denounced against them. They are to learn that might is not right.
I. THERE MAY BE RIGHT WITHOUT MIGHT. It was so with Israel at this time. Is so with the trite Church of God. "All things are yours"—so we are told, but it is only de jure, not de facto. But—
II. THERE MAY BE MIGHT WITHOUT RIGHT. In the case here given. And it is common enough. Perfect justice is not attainable in this life. Even in the little world of the home, the school, the Church, injustices will occur. And, painful as they are to witness and to bear, they have to be borne. It is hard sometimes to see the justice of the Divine ways; how much more, then, of human ways! Nevertheless—
III. MIGHT MAY BE RIGHT. "La carriere aux talents," said Napoleon—that was to be the law of his empire. "The tools to him who can use them"—such is our common maxim. The "king," the ruler, the lord paramount of the state, what is he but—if the etymology be correct—the "can"-ning man, the man who can, the able man? And so not seldom when we see might, we see right too. In the colonization of lands inhabited by savages who are letting the capabilities of glorious territories lie unimproved or running to waste, such colonization is not wrong. Might is right. "The tools," etc. It is a stern law to the incapable, but a just and beneficent one for the human race. "Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath ten talents" (Matthew 25:28); what is this but the sanction of this combination? "To him that hath shall be given." There we have it once more. But—
IV. GOD'S WILL IS, AND OURS SHOULD BE, TO GIVE MIGHT TO RIGHT. Right one day shall be might as well as right.
1. This is the burden of the promises of God in his Word. "Thy kingdom come; thy will be done"—the will that is ever righteous—"on earth," etc.
2. The constitution of human nature is in favour of it (cf. Butler's 'Analogy').
3. Conscience ever takes the side of right, whatever our conduct may do or be.
4. And God's providence is slowly working to this end.
5. "Faith" is simply the giving ourselves up to the righteous One, to be "his faithful servant and soldier, and to fight manfully under his banner until our lives shall end."
CONCLUSION. Let us seek to be on the side of right always, let the cost be what it may.—C.
Desirable habitations: a new year's sermon.
"Dwell deep, O inhabitants of Dedan." The prophet is foretelling the calamities that are to come on the different heathen nations who dwelt around the land of God's people, and from whom they, at various times, had received sore wrong and harm. The Edomites—the descendants of Esau—were the traditional foes of Israel, and it is they who in all probability are referred to. The country they inhabited was full of rocks, cliffs, deep gorges in the sides of which were many all but inaccessible caves. The rocky dwellings of Edom have been often told of—how they served as an almost impenetrable fortress for the robber bands which mostly inhabited them. But now vengeance was to come on these people, and the prophet is bidding them betake themselves in flight to the far off desert, or to hide themselves in the deep recesses of their rocky caves, and there, if possible, safely dwell. "Dwell deep … Dedan" (cf. also Jeremiah 49:30). For disaster was threatening Hazer also. The ruthless King of Babylon would fall on them in his march westwards to Egypt, and well would it be for them if the forests and caverns, the lofty rocks and the deep valleys of their rugged land should provide them with secure retreat. It was in such hidden caves that David, during much of his fugitive life when hunted by Saul "like a partridge upon the mountains," so often found refuge. And this fact he is forever commemorating in his psalms by calling God his Rock, his Refuge, his Hiding place, his Fortress, his Secret Place. And the history of these lands tells once and again of the devices of military commanders to dislodge the inhabitants of these almost inaccessible retreats. Herod, so Josephus tells, caused a number of huge timber boxes to be made, in which stood armed soldiers, and these were lowered down the precipitous sides of the cliffs in which the robber caverns were until they reached the cavern mouths. Then, rushing in, they would massacre the inhabitants, or else by huge hooks drag them forth and then hurl them down to the dread depths beneath. But generally these hidden habitations proved secure refuges for those who dwelt in them, and it is to this fact that the prophet refers. He is bidding them betake themselves thither, for danger was at hand—a relentless foe was threatening them. Now, the like exhortation may be addressed to us; for for us there are provided strong habitations unto which we may continually resort, sure refuges in which we may safely hide, Divine retreats in the deep recesses of which we may securely dwell. Therefore we would say—
I. DWELL DEEP IN THE LOVE OF GOD. For the firm faith of the love that God hath toward us will be found to be a shelter, a solace, and a strength, such as nought else can render. St. John says concerning that love, "We know and have believed the love that God hath towards us." Yes; sometimes we can clearly see it, we know and feel it. God's providence, God's grace, God's Word, are all filled and flooded with it. But there are other times when we cannot say we know, but only that we believe the love that, etc.—when providence seems adverse, when our path is rough and beset with thorns, when those you trusted prove treacherous and your own friends turn against you, when your home is left desolate and dark clouds of anxiety gather heavy and thick over you. But those times are made far less fearful for us if we will but dwell, dwell deep, in the love of God. It was through this ever cherished home of his soul that our Lord was able to endure so calmly and to meet with such meek majesty and Divine dignity the unspeakable sorrow of his earthly lot. Often did the tempter seek to drag him forth from that secure retreat by his mocking suggestion, "If thou be the Son of God," etc. But he tried in vain. Dwelling deep in the love of God, that inaccessible refuge, that sure retreat, he looked forth upon the path he had to tread and the cross he had to bear, and he could endure the one and despise the other in the might of that love in which he ever abode. And it is well that we should dwell where he dwelt, and so be blest as he was blest. And not a few of his people have done so—Abraham, David, Daniel, Paul, and myriads more, as God grant we may likewise.
II. DWELL DEEP IN THE KNOWLEDGE OF HOLY SCRIPTURE. For no surer aid to our obeying the former exhortation can be given than our obedience to this. And yet there are few books of importance that are neglected as the Scriptures are, notwithstanding the invaluable help which such knowledge has imparted and must ever impart. What is the hundred and nineteenth psalm but one long panegyric on the blessedness of this knowledge of the Word of God? And he who knows what the Word of God can do for his soul will deem no praise too extravagant, no admiration and love too enthusiastic. Oh to be mighty in the Scriptures! for that is to be mighty through them, capable and ready for all God's will. The dark problems of life cease to dismay; the mysteries which meet us on every side cannot shake our faith; we become open eyed to signs and tokens of God's love which otherwise we should not see. Integrity and uprightness preserve us, and we run the way of God's commandments, because God, by means of them, hath enlarged our heart. It is this prayerful habitual study of God's Word which is dwelling deep therein, and which is so fruitful of good to all that will ,so dwell.
III. DWELL DEEP IN THE FELLOWSHIP OF CHRIST. Cherish and guard with a holy care that communion with him which is the joy and strength of our souls. A sure test of the value of any spiritual aid is given us in the intensity of the opposition which Satan offers to our use of such aid. Now, measured by this standard it is difficult to over-estimate the value of this communion with Christ in which we say, "Dwell deep." This is not easy to do. For persistent indeed are the endeavours which Satan makes to destroy this communion. Who that kneels in prayer is ignorant of these endeavours?—thoughts wandering; desires earth bound; faith feeble; love cold. Hence many neglect prayer, or they become formal in it. But there can be no real communion with Christ without this. Therefore we must rouse ourselves to earnestness. Pray that we may pray. Kneel down again and pray once more our as yet unprayed prayer. Let us resolve we will not be conquered. Encourage Ourselves by remembering that the very difficulties we meet are evidences of the truth of true prayer. And that such difficulties can be overcome; for they have been. And not only by prayer, but by walking with Christ in obedience and sympathy and love.—C.
Consolation for a father's dying bed.
Perhaps there is no greater sorrow than is suggested here—the husband and father leaving widow and helpless children apparently without a friend to support or aid them. If it were not for the beatific vision of God, the perfect persuasion of his wisdom and power and love, which the blessed dead enjoy, they would be entreating God piteously to allow them to return hither once more, and to shelter their loved ones from the cruel hardships of this pitiless world. We wonder, sometimes, how it is possible for a loving mother who was wont to lavish her heart's deepest, tenderest affection upon her children, to find joy and to be happy in heaven, whither she has been suddenly translated, leaving her husband and children heart broken at losing her. Here she could never be happy without her children. How can she be happy there and they yet here? Because she is at the fountain of all love, from which all her love was but a rill; she is with God, who is Love, and who she knows will deal only in the best of ways—ways far better than she herself could have devised, for those who are now weeping over her grave, and missing and mourning her every hour of the day. Now, of those told of in this verse we note—
I. THAT TO LEAVE THEM TO GOD IS ALL WE CAN DO. We may and we ought to make provision for them to the best of our power. That is but a spurious and miserable travesty of faith in God which would neglect all such aids as life insurance and the like, on the ground that making such provision shows distrust and unbelief in God. Some speak thus, but they speak foolishly. Might we not as well refuse to work for our daily bread, on the ground that it is written, "My God shall supply all your need"? But who does not know that God's way of supplying our need is by giving us strength to work and minds to think, enduing us with the means of gaining our bread? And is it not so in this case also? Would not a man be most wrong who, because of what is here said, neglected to make all due provision in his power? But having done this, like Jacob and Joseph, we may safely leave our children, as they did, to the care of God, confident that he will care for them according to his word.
II. AND GOD HONOURS SUCH TRUST. As a fact, and a very interesting one it is, how wonderfully such bereaved children and widows are cared for! How God raises up one friend here and another there, and probably, if a comparison could be made, it would be found that such children have been as well cared for as any others; life has been as bright to them as for those whose earlier years were clouded over by no such sore bereavement. There may be exceptions, but the rule is surely for God to honour such trust. Can he who has said, "Ask, and ye shall receive," refuse the prayer of a believing man at such a time?
III. AND IT IS A REASONABLE TRUST. What would we desire more for our children than that they should be cared for by such a one who, so far as man can be, is like God?—having the power and the will, the knowledge and wisdom, and, above all, the love, which are in God. Who would not crave for our dear ones a guardian like that?
IV. THE CONDITIONS OF THE TRUST are that he who is about to leave behind widow and children should be himself one who trusts in God; that he have trained his children in the ways of the Lord, and sought to make his home a godly home. Verily such shall have their reward, yonder in heaven and here on earth, and especially at that supreme moment when he has to leave his loved ones and to lie down and die. Then for him shall the faith of this promise be precious indeed.—C.
"Thy terribleness hath deceived thee," etc. Taking the different expressions in this verse, we can see how such confidences are begotten in men's minds.
I. THEIR FELLOW MEN HELP TO DECEIVE THEM. "Thy terribleness," etc. All around them held them in terror, were afraid of them, deemed them too mighty to be overcome. And the consciousness of this kept in them a confidence which now was to be shown to be but vain.
II. MEN'S OWN PRIDE. "The pride of thine heart." What myriads has not pride slain! what woe hath it not brought upon mankind! "Pride goeth before destruction," etc. (Cf. homily on Pride, Jeremiah 48:29.) See Sennacherib's army (Isaiah 37:1-38.), Pharaoh's overthrow (Exodus 14:1-31.); and "all the ages all along" pride has done the like and does so still.
III. MEN'S CIRCUMSTANCES. No dwellings could seem more secure than were theirs; their fortress seemed impregnable. Hence they said in their hearts, We shall never be moved." (Cf. on these dwellings, introduction to homily on Desirable habitations, supra, Jeremiah 49:8.) Cf. the rich fool (Luke 12:20). Prosperity and security do tend to beget these vain confidences.
IV. PAST SUCCESS. Not only did these Edomites dwell in the clefts of the rock, but they had held them fast hitherto against all invaders. A career of success, opponents vanquished, difficulties surmounted, wealth and honour won; who can persuade such a man to call himself a poor, lost sinner, dependent utterly on the mercy of God? It is much easier to say, "Have mercy on us miserable sinners," than to foal and believe we are so.
CONCLUSION. There are two ways in which this spirit of false confidence may be got rid of or kept under.
1. By surrender of the soul to Christ. He makes us like himself, forms his Spirit in us, so that the truer the surrender the more we become "meek and lowly in heart" as he was. This the best way, the easy yoke, the light burden.
2. By the crushing force of God's judgments. Edom was to be humbled thus. And there are many who will only be humbled so. They will have their own way, and they have it for their woe, and then, after a weary while, they come to themselves. They "made their bed in hell," and as they made it so they had to lie upon it, until even there God's band shall find them, and they shall humble themselves beneath the mighty hand they had heretofore dared to defy.
3. And in some way this humility must be wrought in us. For God will have all men to be saved; but without this lowly mind, this rejection of all vain confidences, we cannot be. Which way, then, shall it be—through Christ or through the fire of hell?—C.
Lessons from the sea.
"There is sorrow on the sea; it cannot be quiet." We must remember that the sea to the Jew of old time was an object of almost unmixed terror. Nearly all the allusions in the Bible tell of its power and peril, never of its preciousness and value to man. The Jews were a non-seafaring people; they dreaded it. In Deuteronomy 28:68 the being taken back to Egypt in ships is held out as a great threatening. They had no seaport worth mentioning. For centuries their seaboard was held by the Philistines. All their conceptions of it relate to its hurtful and destructive power (cf. Psalms 107:1-43, "They that go down to the sea in ships," etc.; cf. also histories of the Deluge, Exodus, Jonah). The epithets applied to it are never pleasing, but all more, or less terrible. It is "raging," "roaring," "troubled," "breaking ships of Tarshish." Hezekiah failed to construct a navy. And hence St. John (Revelation 21:1), when tolling of the beauty, the glory, and the joy of the new heavens and the new earth, is careful to add, "And there was no more sea." Now, this verse 23 is an illustration of this common Jewish feeling. But this Jewish feeling was a false one, though not so to them. For the sea is one of God's most blessed gifts to man. Life would be impossible without it. It has been justly called, "the life blood of the land, as the blood is the life of the body. It is the vital fluid that animates our earth, and, should it disappear altogether, our fair green planet would become a heap of brown volcanic rocks and deserts, lifeless and worthless as the slag cast out from a furnace." We remember, too, how God said of the sea that it was "very good," and no mistaken Jewish ideas must be allowed to reverse that verdict. Think of: Its vapours. Each recurring harvest is really the harvest of the sea as much as of the land. For from the sea ascend those vapours which form the clouds and which descend in the fertilizing indispensable rain. Its currents, bearing along the sun-heated waters of sub-tropical climes, far away northward and southward, and giving to regions like our own that mild and on the whole beautiful climate which we enjoy, whereas bat for these warm waters of the sea our shores would be bleak, inhospitable, barren, and all but uninhabitable, like the shores of Labrador. Its breezes, so health giving, imparting fresh life to the sick and feeble. Its beauty, ever presenting some fresh form of loveliness in colour, movements, outline, brilliancy. Its tides, sweeping up the mouths of our great rivers and estuaries, and all along our shores, washing clean what else would be foul, stagnant, poisonous. Its saltness, ministering to the life of its inhabitants, retaining the warmth of the sun, and so aiding in the transmission of those currents spoken of above, preserving from corruption, etc. But these thoughts were not those of the Jew. To him the sea was a type of manifold ills, and he rejoiced to believe that in his eternal home there should be "no more sea." For it told of unrest, instability, painful mystery, afflictions, separation, and hence impossibility of intercourse and death. For all these the sea serves in the Scriptures as a symbol, as reference to the passages which Speak of the sea will show. But it has its brighter teachings also, Note—
I. ITS WAVES. See them in their blithe merry heartedness, their buoyant spring and rush, coming in landwards from out the far distance, gleaming and sparkling as they roll along, "clapping their hands" as David would say, praising God as they leap and bound in their joy. How often we have seen them coming in such fashion, long lines of them!—nearer and nearer they approach, the seabreeze filling them with vigour, and the sunshine gleaming on them and adorning them with the most exquisite colouring, until at length the shelving shore stops them, and they fall over, and in masses of snow white foam, with merry rush and roar, they dash up the beach, brightening everything they touch; and then, their strength all gone, they glide down the sands and hid away back to their ocean-home, to begin the same joyous career all over again. Now, surely this perpetual process suggests the joyful vigour of the sea. True, its waves lie broken on the beach, their spray scattered far and wide, and it would seem as if that were but a poor ending for such a career. But not heeding that at all, the waves just gather up their strength again, and, never knowing when they are beaten, return again and again to the charge. And does not this teach us how we should meet rebuff and disappointment? Not lie down and moan, but lie back again to the source of our strength once more, and then again to the work God has given us to do. They seem to say to us, "Never be discouraged; see us as we begin again after each rebuff, how we sparkle all the more that we are scattered and broken, and then go back to come on again. So do you. Hope continually, and praise God more and more."
II. ITS MISTS AND VAPOURS—its clouds and exhalations—they also have their lessons. How common these mists are all who know the sea know well. But in and by them the sea renders up her strength, pays her tribute to the heavens. But how bountifully she is recompensed! How comes it that the sea abides wholesome, that it is not the source of malaria, a deadly mass of waters, in which no plant or fish can live? And part of the reply is in the fact that those mists and vapours which ascend from the sea descend to the earth in rain and showers, and fill the springs and fountains, which are the sources of the rivers, which are the carriers into the seadepths of those varied salts and other products which serve as ministers of health to the innumerable forms of life with which the sea abounds. Thus is the sea repaid for the tribute she renders to the heavens. And so these seamists teach the blessedness of rendering up to God all he asks for. Thy God commandeth thy strength. The recompense of the sea assures us how abundantly God will recompense all who obey this command. And they suggest the sure way of deliverance from all inward evil. They ascend from the sea, but they leave all its saltness behind; from the pools and lakes and from stagnant marsh, but they leave all their unhealthful, corrupting properties behind; and when they come back again in form of rain, they are sweet and wholesome and precious, to quench the thirst of man and beast, and to gladden the whole face of the earth. And so with ourselves. In ascending to God, in spiritual drawing near to him, we leave all our evil behind. God says to the waters, "Come up hither," and they are cleansed in the coming. And so he says to us, "Come up hither," and we, too, are cleansed in the coming. And when we come back our hearts and lives, our whole influence, will be healthful and salutary, a blessing to all with whom we have to do.
III. ITS TIDES. They teach the power of the unseen. Their mighty movements are all governed by a force imperceptible to our senses. And it is the unseen, the intangible, that. which the senses cannot perceive—thought, which governs the world. They teach also the gradualness of the religious life. It is often hard to say, on looking at the sea, whether the tide ebbs or flows. You must compare it after a while with its present position, and then you shall know. And so it is with the religious life. There are no leaps and bounds, no great starts and strides, but gradual, slow, step by step—such is the Divine ordering. Now, hence a lesson:
1. Of consolation. We are not to write bitter things against ourselves because our advance is slow.
2. Thankfulness. No man can leap into hell any more than he can into fitness for heaven. God holds us very fast, and only very slowly will he let us go.
3. Caution. Judge not that all is well because of no sudden great change in you. There may be the gradual ebbing away. Are there now large portions of your life which the fear of God does not govern, though once it controlled them all? If so the tide has ebbed.
IV. THE DEPTHS of the sea tell of that complete putting away of our sin which God promises to us (cf. Micah 7:19). God will utterly put them away, casting them, not near the shore, in the shallows, or in the tide way, but in the depths, where they will be sunk out of sight and out of reach forever.
V. ITS SANDS. (Cf. Jeremiah 5:22.) They teach how God makes our weakness strong. What more feeble than the sand? And yet by it the mighty sea is held in. "To them who have no might God increaseth strength." But what are we and the surroundings of our lives but weak, shifting, unstable as the sand? But God can so fill them with strength that they shall beat back the fierce waves which would overwhelm us. Then let us fear not. He who makes the weak sand a sure bar against the ocean's rage can and will make our weakness strong to triumph over all that would harm us. Such are some of the lessons of the sea.—C.
The fall of Damascus; or, the lovely and the lovable lost.
Here and in Isaiah and Amos we have predictions of the overthrow of Damascus. "The burden of Damascus" says Isaiah. "Behold! Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap." Jeremiah likens the agitated minds of the multitude of her inhabitants to the unquiet sea—still not for one moment. And the cause of that unquietness is their sorrow at the desolations coming on them. And yet she was no mean city. No; she was distinguished indeed. The hearts of men, in all ages of the world, have been drawn to her, and are so still. For she was and is surpassingly lovely. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole land around, compared to the Paradise in which our first father was placed by God, and celebrated by every writer, sacred and secular, that has had occasion to speak of her or her history. "It is the oldest city in the world. Its fame begins with the earliest patriarchs and continues to modern times. While other cities of the East have risen and decayed, Damascus is still where and what it was. While Babylon is a heap in the desert, Nineveh buried beneath her mounds, and Tyre a ruin on the seashore, it remains what it is called in the prophecies of Isaiah, ' the head of Syria.' And ever since, down to our own days, its praise is celebrated. It was 'a predestinated capital.' Nor is it difficult to explain why its freshness has never Faded through all its series of vicissitudes and wars." Men have ever loved it and love it still. As the traveller from the west climbs up and up the steep passes of the great Lebanon range, and at length nears their eastern side, there, on the summit of a cliff, high up above the plain beneath, he looks down on the city of Damascus. "At the foot of the cliff on which the beholder stands, a river bursts forth from the mountain in which it has had birth. That river, as if in a moment, scatters over the plain, through a circle of thirty miles, the verdure which had hitherto been confined to its single channel. It is like the bursting of a shell, the eruption of a volcano—but an eruption, not of death, but of life. Far and wide extends in front the level plain, its horizon bare, its lines of surrounding hills bare, all bare, far away on the road to Palmyra and Bagdad. In the midst of this plain lies at your feet the vast island of deep verdure, walnuts and apricots hanging above, corn and grass below." The river is its life. It is drawn out in watercourses and spread in all directions. For miles around it is a wilderness of gardens—gardens with roses among the tangled shrubberies, and with fruit on the branches overhead. Everywhere among the trees the murmur of unseen rivulets is heard. Even in the city, which is in the midst of the garden, the clear rushing of the current is a perpetual refreshment. Every dwelling has its fountain; and at night, when the sun has set behind Mount Lebanon, the lights of the city are seen flashing on the water. All travellers in all ages have paused to feast their eyes on the loveliness of the city as they first behold it from the cliffs of Lebanon. Abana and Pharpar still flash and gleam as they flow along amid her fragrant gardens and by her dark olive groves. Snow-capped Hermon and the rugged range of Lebanon still keep over her their wonted watch and ward. Hence she may well be taken as the symbol of all that is lovely and fair in outward life, all that is bright and beautiful in the moral nature of man. But yet she fell, and she has lost her place amongst the nations forever. Thus she suggests to the thoughtful reader the heart searching truth that the lovely and the lovable may yet be lost—those on whom Jesus, looking, loves them, because they are so lovable, may yet miss of the life that is eternal; and he may say, as he did to one of them, "One thing thou lackest." Observe, then—
I. THERE HAVE BEEN SOULS CHARACTERIZED BY MUCH THAT IS LOVELY AND LOVABLE, AND YET HAVE NOT ENTERED INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. Read the history of Orpah. Then there was that young ruler to whom reference has already been made. And the many who flocked around our Saviour when he was here on earth, and whom he likened to the stony ground hearers. They all had much that was excellent and good about them, but they failed to bring forth fruit unto life eternal.
II. AND THERE ARE MANY SUCH NOW. Were our Lord amongst us now, he would love them as he did him of whom the Gospel tells. They may be young in years; in the morning of life, fair and comely to look upon, vigorous and strong, well educated, intelligent, bright and clever, cultured themselves and loving refinement and culture in others; they may be possessed of very attractive moral qualities, amiable and kindly, ready to do a kind action and scorning to do a mean one, possessed of and deserving an honourable reputation, of unquestioned veracity, of high honour, modest and pure in word and deed, gentle and courteous in manner, unassuming, thoughtful of the feelings and wishes of others; parents and friends, family and neighbours, all speak well of them, and those who know them best honour and love them most. Now, there are thousands of such as these. They are loved and lovable; they must be so. And as we picture them to ourselves we almost shrink from saying that such may nevertheless miss of the kingdom of God; like Damascus in all that is externally beautiful, and yet, like her, come under the condemnation of God. It seems scarce believable, and yet in the face of God's Word what can we say? Nicodemus was one such, and yet our Lord told him, "Except a man be born again," etc. We would be as charitable as the Word of God—and if we were that would make us far more charitable than the most of us are—but we would not be more so, for that would be to be uncharitable and unfaithful both to God and to the souls of men. And therefore we say that a man may be all that is externally fair and lovable, and yet, like bright beautiful Damascus, come under the condemnation of God; lovely and lovable like him whom Jesus loved, and yet, because lacking the one thing, shut out—self shut out—from the kingdom of God. And observe—
III. THIS RULE OF GOD IS NOT ARBITRARY, BUT JUST AND INDISPENSABLE. For all that we have said may coexist along with the will alien from the will of God, the heart not yet truly surrendered to him. It was so in that typical instance of this character to whom we have so often referred. For when brought to the test he refused the will of God. For the proof of our loyalty to God is seen, not in the many things that we are and do which are in keeping with our own inclinations, but in those that we are ready to do when they involve a real taking up of the cross and contradict those inclinations. A cultured, refined disposition may lead us, out of regard to our own self-interest, to do and be that which wins for us the applause and favour of our fellow men. It would be a pain and grief to us to be otherwise. All the commands of the moral law we may have kept from our youth up, and hence conclude, and others—even Christ's disciples—may think also, that we lack nothing. And in fact we may lack nothing but that one thing without which all else is vain and useless for our admission into the kingdom of God. But in that kingdom the will of God must be paramount, or it ceases to be the kingdom of God. Suppose one of the heavenly bodies could choose, and did so, to swerve at times from its appointed orbit, and to take a course of its own; the whole universe would be thrown out of order, and confusion and destruction must ensue. Suppose one string of harp, one pipe of organ, instead of giving its proper note, were to resolve to utter a sound different from that which was appointed for it; what jarring discord must result! no true music could such harp or organ give. And so in God's kingdom, if there be one discordant will, how can the harmony and peace and blessedness of heaven any longer exist? If in our homes the law of the house be violated by any one of its members, how little would such a household deserve the sweet name of home! For the good of all, therefore, and not for any arbitrary reason, one law, one will, must be paramount. It is so in our earthly homes; it must yet more be so in the home of God, the kingdom of heaven. The heart, the will, must be surrendered to God if we are to be at last numbered amongst the inhabitants of God's eternal home.
IV. WHAT, THEN, SHALL WE SAY TO SUCH? Shall we bid you set light store by those varied qualities which draw forth the affection and esteem of your fellow men? Shall we say—Care nothing for that which, when Jesus looked upon, even he could not but love? Still less shall we say that all these things are of the nature of sin. On the contrary, we would say—Give God thanks for these things. For, indeed, it is of his great mercy that you have been led to approve of them, and to turn away with disgust and abhorrence from that which is contrary thereto. Why were you made to hear God's voice?—for it was his voice which called you, and his hand which led you to this good choice. Without doubt the parents of that young ruler gave God thanks again and again when they saw the character of their son unfolding and developing in all such high minded, pure, and amiable ways. And when we see the like in our children, do we not, ought we not to, give thanks likewise? What, then, do we say to you but this?—
(1) Render thanks to God that he has thus inclined your heart; and then
(2) go on to ask him who has been so good to you thus far that he will be more gracious still, and give you that one thing which yet you lack—the new heart, the perfectly surrendered will, the faith in God of which such surrender is the chief expression. Remember that the merchantman who became the happy owner of the pearl of great price was not content with the many goodly pearls after which he had been seeking and which he had already attained, No; but when he saw that pure, all-precious, lustrous pearl, he resolved that that should be his, and hence all was surrendered that he might make it his own. Now, you resemble him in two out of the three great facts of his history. Like him, you have sought and found many goodly pearls. The goodly pearls of moral excellence, virtue, amiability, many things lovely and of good report. You prize these things, as you ought to do. You have sought after them and have found them. And now, again, like that merchantman, there is shown and offered to you that pearl which is more precious than all—even the gift of God, which is Jesus Christ, the eternal salvation which comes to us alone through him. Yes, that is offered to you—that gift of the regenerated nature, that new heart and right spirit, which they who come to Christ receive. But now, in the third and chief point of all, would that you resembled that merchantman. He was willing to part with all he had for the sake of the pearl of great price. Are you? To persuade hereto we add two words.
1. The first by way of encouragement. That merchant had to part with his goodly pearls for the sake of the one all-precious one. You not only will not have to do this, but they will become more goodly and more indisputably yours than ever if the all-precious one be yours. You will have to renounce none of them, nothing lovely and of good report, nothing wherein there is any virtue or any praise. On the contrary, they shall gain an added lustre from their association with that chief excellence which we would have you win. Like as there is so great difference between a fair landscape on a bright summer's morn, and that same scene looked upon amid the mists of winter, so shall all that is virtuous and good in us attain to a higher beauty, a more perfect loveliness, by the bright shining of the Sun of righteousness upon them. Apart from him they are cold, dim, vague, uncertain; but in him and through him they become radiant and more beautiful than ever. And not only so, but they are more securely yours; they are far less likely to be lost.
2. By way of warning, let me remind you that on the wedding garment in which we must all be clothed if we would enter in and abate in the festivities of the marriage supper of the Lamb—on that garment there shines resplendent but one jewel; it is this pearl of great price. If we have not that, no bedizening of ourselves with such goodly pearls as we may possess, or think we possess, will serve instead. Many will seek, do seek, so to adorn themselves. But all such righteousness is rejected, all such trust refused. Oh, then, to your virtues and other lovely and lovable qualities add this—trust in the blessed Saviours Name, which will include in it the heart perfectly surrendered, the will yielded up to him!—C.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Jeremiah 49:1, Jeremiah 49:2
A usurper in the inheritance.
I. ACTUAL POSSESSION IS NOT THE ONLY THING TO BE CONSIDERED. Ammon is the actual present possessor of the territory of Gad. But every possessor must be ready upon occasion to show his title. With respect to the most trifling article the possessor must be able to make clear that it is his own, that he bought it, or inherited it, or had it given to him; in short, that it came to him in some entirely lawful way. Ammon had taken Gad by force, probably a very easy thing to do in the depressed condition of Israel's fortunes. And if it be said in reply that Israel had originally taken this very territory of Gad by force, such a statement is, of course, quite correct. But then we have to keep in mind the typical character of Israel Everything depends on the point of view from which we look. Certain rules of legal ownership are an indispensable necessity of present social order, but at intervals in the course of the world revolutions come more or less extensive, and existing legal ownerships get utterly swept away. The Maker of the world, who is also the Bringer forth of the abundance of the soil, is to be looked to as the real Disposer of what he has made. And therefore, with respect to every actual possession of man, we have the question to ask—Is it as the possession of Ammon, or as the possession of Israel? And chiefly we should ask the question with respect to ourselves. Whatever it be, external goods, or office, or reputation, have we got it, proceeding on the very highest principles of action, those which God himself would have us to employ?
II. ABIDING POSSESSION, AND HOW IT IS TO BE GAINED. Ammon now holds Gad, as it seems, very firmly. What can Israel now do to get the territory back? That question Jehovah will answer in his own time, and Ammon will have to suffer for violently laying hold of what was not its own. And yet, bear in mind that this very action came through Ammon's alienation from the true Lord and Guide of men. That alienation may manifest itself in different ways, but all sin and all chastisement of sin are traceable back to the alienation. Ammon was really trying to gratify a right desire in a wrong way. The desire for possession and for increase of possession, continuous and ever expanding, is a right desire. But it must be a possession assimilated to all that is best, all that is most enduring in our nature. Legal ownership is often in inverse proportion to actual enjoyment. The spiritual Israelite, the genuine, devout, habitual believer in Jesus Christ, is to be heir of all things. The things unseen and eternal are his, and they are his because a correspondence has been divinely produced between him and them (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:53). Inheritances gained after the natural fashion very soon turn out delusive.—Y.
The pride of apparent security.
I. THE REAL EXTENT OF THE SECURITY. Not without some cause did Edom pride itself on its position. Security is a relative word. Mountain fastnesses are a sufficient defence against such attacks as Edom can measure and understand. Mountain fastnesses have done much for the cause of national liberty and independence. They ought not to be the shelter and home of brigands; but it is right to notice their glorious place in history as the shelter and home of struggling freemen. God would not have us undervalue any security so far as it is a real security. The mistake is when we live as if all precious things could be preserved by securities which Providence has only given for the preservation of certain outward things. So far from our overvaluing securities coming from our own strength and external resources, it may truly be said that we rather undervalue them. If we could only use them in the right way, with insight and without prejudice, we should find many dangers of the present life greatly diminished.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH A SECURITY MAY BECOME A PERIL. Edom lives as it likes among its great natural strongholds. Long experience has taught it exactly how to deal with every attacking force, and it sees no danger with which it cannot effectually deal. Thus the dangers and deliverances which come out of the unseen alike escape attention. Men are protected outwardly; they have all that heart can wish; but meanwhile the heart is left exposed to every temptation. The fewer dangers there are outwardly, the more dangers there are inwardly; and the more dangers there are outwardly, the fewer there may be inwardly. For when men live amid dangers and inconveniences to the outward life, then their eyes are open to the comparative superficiality of such dangers. They see how the deepest treasures of life, the most abiding ones, may remain perfectly safe while outward things are going to pieces. Better would it have been for Edom to live in the exposed plain, if thereby it had been brought to trust and know that God who is the only true Refuge.
III. THE FALLACY OF SEEKING SECURITY IN A HIGHER DEGREE OF THE ESSENTIALLY INSECURE. The eagle dwells in inaccessible heights, and thus it may be reckoned a symbol of the greatest security attainable here below. But after all, the word "inaccessible" is only a synonym for what is exceedingly difficult of attainment. Courage, patience, and perseverance may do much to blot out the word "inaccessible." And if this be so from the human point of view, how much plainer is it that all human securities, however high the degree they attain in our estimate, are in the sight of God as nothing! The great thing that sends us wrong in trying to make life really secure is that, instead of fixing our thoughts on an entirely different kind of danger, we allow ourselves to act as if the only thing needful was to guard against a higher degree of the danger already perceived. To God dealing with the ungodly and. the unrighteous, mountain and plain are alike.—Y.
The perils of the sea.
I. THE FEELING PRODUCED BY MARITIME DANGER. Sorrow is far too vague a word for the feeling here referred to. Fear, anxiety, constant watchfulness against close and sudden and increasing danger, a sense that utter destruction may come at any moment,—these are the feelings going to make up the complex state of mind with which Damascus is so profoundly disturbed. No discomposing effect produced by a land danger was enough to serve the prophet's purpose. Not but what land perils taken in the sum of them are greater than sea ones; but they do not produce the same effect on the mind. Away out at sea one is so completely at the mercy of the waters. There is no chance to say, "Run for your life." There is nothing left for it but patience, submission, and hope trying to rise above opposed emotions. Those who have been in such circumstances will be best able to realize the force and peculiarity of the figure here employed. The Old Testament furnishes one illustration in Jonah's disobedient voyage, and the New Testament another in the experiences connected with the shipwreck of Paul.
II. THE WAY TO PREPARE FOR SUCH AN HOUR. The hour in which human strength and wisdom can do nothing may come on us unawares, may come fated with terrible appearances beyond all previous imaginations, but it by no means follows that such an hour is to come unprepared for. More preparation is needed than simply that of counting on the chances of escaping such an hour altogether. The hour may be escaped, but all who go down to the sea in ships cannot escape it; and therefore they do wisely to prepare for it, especially as the preparation arises from a state of mind which brings the greatest positive blessings The peace that passeth all understanding is a peace that comprehends and subdues every possible disturbing cause. The attainment of this peace and the benefits consequent upon it have been wonderfully proved in terrible cases of shipwreck. The true wisdom for us all in this world so full of perils, whether we have to face the dangers of sea or of land, is to have the real treasures of life in heaven. Then when we have done all that human resources can compass, we are sure that the most precious things remain safe beyond the reach of harm.—Y.
The fate of Elam.
I. THE ELEMENTS OF DOOM.
1. Loss of active strength. The breaking of the bow ought, perhaps, to be taken somewhat literally. Elam may have been a people where skill in archery reckoned for much of its strength. Whatever our peculiar natural strength may be, God can break it to pieces. We should never pride ourselves on what is peculiar to us, for the really best things are those which may become common to all men.
2. The loss of all union. The two ways in which nations perish.
(1) They retain their corporate existence, remain in their country, but lose their independence and enter into servitude.
(2) They are scattered, and lose all the outward signs of a nation. Thus in this scattering we have a symbol of the way in which men who have been joined together for evil purposes may be disunited. Union itself is strength so long as it lasts, even if no actual step be taken. God can destroy the schemes of men and at the same time throw them into new relations as individuals, so that they may be forced each one into a new scheme and plan for himself. When God scatters and humbles nations, there is pain to the individual for the time in his feeling of nationality, but for all that the scattering is a good thing for the individual and for the world.
3. The destruction of the ruling men in Elam. God will set up his throne. The visible power and glory of those who represented Elam is to pass away. In a monarchy the king and his nobles give a centre, around which the whole nation gathers. When this centre is taken away there is nothing to act as a sufficient point of union for the scattered ones if they are so disposed. What God does he does completely.
II. NOTE THAT THE REASON OF ALL THIS IS NOWHERE DISTINCTLY EXPRESSED IN THE PROPHECY. And yet we know there is nothing capricious and arbitrary in all this severity. Elam must have done much wickedness in the sight of Jehovah. Wherever there is suffering there is sin; and, more than that, when God indicates his own special interference we know that he has a sufficient reason for it in the wrong doing of those with whom he thus deals.
III. THE ELEMENT OF HOPE. The captivity of Elam, as it is called, is not to endure forever. A brighter future is coming, spoken of very indefinitely, but not therefore uncertainly. Not, of course, that Elam was to be re-established literally in its old possessions and glory. Such verses as this must be taken spiritually. It is God's way of setting before us the truth that, whatever may be lost by a particular community or a particular generation, only vanishes to reappear in a far greater gain to every individual, spiritually considered.—Y.