Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Thus saith the LORD; Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak there this word,The Woes of the Unjust
The whole law is contained in these words, 'Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thy neighbour as thyself'. These two parts cannot be separated. God places us among our own kind, and our character cannot be formed and our souls saved without doing justly and loving mercy, while we walk humbly with our God. If we are servants, we are to do honest work for our masters; and if we are masters, we are to give equitable wages to our servants. The text denounces woe against those who deal unrighteously. An unjust man may, as the Psalmist complains, prosper in life, and have no bands in his death, and leave his substance to his children; still there are subtle woes which he cannot escape.
I. The Woe of Estrangement from God.—God says, 'Woe to him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness'. He is the Father of the fatherless and the shield of the widow; and it cannot be that the man who is conscious of defrauding any weak creature of his bare rights will enjoy God's blessing and communion. Many an unjust man, it is true, affects, and in a spurious way feels, devotion towards God and love to Christ. They rob widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers. But what real communion can light have with darkness?—the God of perfect righteousness with the man whose every possession, the house in which he lives, the clothes he wears, the sumptuous fare on which he exists, speak of oppression and wrong? 'When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him.' 'What hast thou to do to declare My statutes, or that thou shouldest take My covenant in thy mouth?' 'I hate robbery for a burnt-offering.' Must not the dishonest man strive hard in his fancied communion with God to forget many a stern feature in God's character? It is a god of his own imagining and moulding as really as the man's which is hewn by him out of the stock of a tree, whom the unjust man serves. He who lives in a house built by unrighteousness can never feel the exquisite joy of him who may, like his Saviour, have nowhere of his own to lay his head, but who can say, 'Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations'.
II. The Woe of the Curses of those who are Oppressed.—The man who buildeth his house by unrighteousness and his chambers by wrong, is like one who builds his house in the heart of a poisonous swamp. He is like the old Norman tyrants who built their fortresses (which were really prisons in which they immured themselves, and from which they fought often for bare existence) among the people whom they had wronged, and whom they despised. How unlike the sweet experience of Job—'When the eye saw me, then it blessed me. I was eyes to the blind, feet was I to the lame; I was a father to the poor, and I caused the widow's heart to sing for joy.'
III. The Woe of an Accusing Conscience.—The accusation may not be loud or very persistent. But surely there must be times in which the hoarse voice of the hireling defrauded of his wages mingles with the songs and merriment of the feast; in which 'the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it': 'Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city in iniquity '. If men would but believe that 'a little that a righteous man hath is more and better than the wealth of many wicked,' what woes would be averted from the heads of their fellow-men, and from their own hearts!
IV. The Woe of a Perverted Nature and Deadened Heart.—As men's hands are dyed by the colours they work in, as the bodies of those who work daily in some constrained and unnatural position get gradually distorted, as the speech of the child reproduces that which his ear perpetually drinks in, so the heart of the man who, for the sake of gain, defrauds his neighbour and oppresses those who are under him, is gradually deteriorated and benumbed. This, it is true, may be hailed as a relief by the man whose heart is too pitiful by nature, and his conscience too tender for the work he chooses to do. But, all the same, it is the ear which is quick to hear God's voice, and the heart which is alive and which thrills at His touch, that alone can know what the joy of the Lord, which is the only true joy, means. 'The blessing of the Lord maketh rich and addeth no sorrow.'
References.—XXII. 13-19.—A. Ramsay, Studies in Jeremiah, p. 93. XXII. 15, 16.—Ibid. p. 71. XXII. 19.—T. De Witt Talmage, Sermons, p. 291. XXII. 21.—"Plain Sermons "by contributors to the Tracts for the Times, vol. i. p. 118. XXII. 23.—R. Allen, The Words of Christ, p. 274. XXII. 24, 27.—A. Ramsay, Studies in Jeremiah, p. 179. XXIII. 1-32.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlii. No. 2460. XXIII. 5.—C. Kingsley, Sermons on National Subjects, p. 298. XXIII. 5, 6.—R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 301.
And say, Hear the word of the LORD, O king of Judah, that sittest upon the throne of David, thou, and thy servants, and thy people that enter in by these gates:
Thus saith the LORD; Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and deliver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor: and do no wrong, do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, nor the widow, neither shed innocent blood in this place.
For if ye do this thing indeed, then shall there enter in by the gates of this house kings sitting upon the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, he, and his servants, and his people.
But if ye will not hear these words, I swear by myself, saith the LORD, that this house shall become a desolation.
For thus saith the LORD unto the king's house of Judah; Thou art Gilead unto me, and the head of Lebanon: yet surely I will make thee a wilderness, and cities which are not inhabited.
And I will prepare destroyers against thee, every one with his weapons: and they shall cut down thy choice cedars, and cast them into the fire.
And many nations shall pass by this city, and they shall say every man to his neighbour, Wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this great city?
Then they shall answer, Because they have forsaken the covenant of the LORD their God, and worshipped other gods, and served them.
Weep ye not for the dead, neither bemoan him: but weep sore for him that goeth away: for he shall return no more, nor see his native country.
For thus saith the LORD touching Shallum the son of Josiah king of Judah, which reigned instead of Josiah his father, which went forth out of this place; He shall not return thither any more:
But he shall die in the place whither they have led him captive, and shall see this land no more.
Woe unto him that buildeth his house by unrighteousness, and his chambers by wrong; that useth his neighbour's service without wages, and giveth him not for his work;
That saith, I will build me a wide house and large chambers, and cutteth him out windows; and it is cieled with cedar, and painted with vermilion.
Shalt thou reign, because thou closest thyself in cedar? did not thy father eat and drink, and do judgment and justice, and then it was well with him?
He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well with him: was not this to know me? saith the LORD.
But thine eyes and thine heart are not but for thy covetousness, and for to shed innocent blood, and for oppression, and for violence, to do it.
Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah; They shall not lament for him, saying, Ah my brother! or, Ah sister! they shall not lament for him, saying, Ah lord! or, Ah his glory!
He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem.
Go up to Lebanon, and cry; and lift up thy voice in Bashan, and cry from the passages: for all thy lovers are destroyed.
I spake unto thee in thy prosperity; but thou saidst, I will not hear. This hath been thy manner from thy youth, that thou obeyedst not my voice.
The wind shall eat up all thy pastors, and thy lovers shall go into captivity: surely then shalt thou be ashamed and confounded for all thy wickedness.
O inhabitant of Lebanon, that makest thy nest in the cedars, how gracious shalt thou be when pangs come upon thee, the pain as of a woman in travail!
As I live, saith the LORD, though Coniah the son of Jehoiakim king of Judah were the signet upon my right hand, yet would I pluck thee thence;
And I will give thee into the hand of them that seek thy life, and into the hand of them whose face thou fearest, even into the hand of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of the Chaldeans.
And I will cast thee out, and thy mother that bare thee, into another country, where ye were not born; and there shall ye die.
But to the land whereunto they desire to return, thither shall they not return.
Is this man Coniah a despised broken idol? is he a vessel wherein is no pleasure? wherefore are they cast out, he and his seed, and are cast into a land which they know not?
O earth, earth, earth, hear the word of the LORD.
Thus saith the LORD, Write ye this man childless, a man that shall not prosper in his days: for no man of his seed shall prosper, sitting upon the throne of David, and ruling any more in Judah.