Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Zechariah 1:6). The blessing of God is a vera causa in human life. It is not to be resolved entirely into natural tendencies. A cheerful mind conduces to health; virtuous habits tend to prosperity, etc. But this is not the whole. Conspiring with natural tendencies, we must recognize a special providence, a designed direction of the beneficent powers of nature and life, so as to pour treasures of goodness on the favored individual. Virtue has its natural reward in the approval of conscience; but it would not of itself suffice to bring about the exceptionally fortunate condition in the outward lot which these verses represent. So strongly was this felt by the philosopher Kant, that, as is well known, he postulates the existence of God, for the express purpose of bringing about an ultimate harmony between virtue and felicity.
I. THE SPHERE OF THE BLESSING. The covenant rested largely on temporal promises. Jehovah was doubtless felt by the believing soul to be a better portion than any of his gifts (Psalm 16.; 73.), and the relation which he sustained to his worshipper could not but be thought of as subsisting beyond death, and yielding its appropriate fruit in a future life (Psalm 16:11; Psalm 17:15; Psalm 48:14; Psalm 49:14, 15; Hebrews 11:9-17). Yet, inasmuch as "life and immortality" had not been clearly brought to light (2 Timothy 1:10), his favor was specially exhibited in the abundant communication of earthly blessings. A higher order has supervened, and the temporal promises of these verses are swallowed up in better and more enduring ones (Hebrews 8:6). The gospel does not sever the connection between godliness and prosperity. It gives it a new sanction (1 Timothy 4:8). Were the obedience of God's children more uniform and perfect, and piety more widely diffused in communities, the connection would be more manifest than it is. But on the whole, temporal prosperity occupies a lower relative place in the New Testament than in the Old.
1. The spiritual man, serving Christ, and witnessing for him amidst the evil of the world, is more frequently exposed to persecution (Matthew 5:11; Matthew 10:24, 25; John 4:15-21). He has more occasion to take up the cross (Matthew 16:24). He may require to sacrifice all he has, with life itself, for Christ's sake and the gospel's (Mark 10:29, 30).
2. Temporal prosperity is in every case subordinated to spiritual good (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 3John 2). Bacon's saying has, therefore, truth in it, "Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New, which carrieth the greater benediction, and the clearer revelation of God's favor." Adversity, however, even in the New Testament, is but a step to something higher. Spiritual compensations now; hereafter, "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory "(Mark 10:30; 2 Corinthians 4:17).
II. THE OPERATION OF THE BLESSING, It is viewed as pervading every department of the earthly life. It mingles itself with all the good man is, with all he does, with the circumstances of his lot, with the powers of the natural world which constitute his environment. It rests on his person, on his household, on his possessions. It helps him against his enemies, making him wealthy and powerful (Abraham, Job), and exalting him to a position in which others are dependent on him. It attends him in city and field, in his coming in and going out, so that whatever he does prospers (Psalm 1:3). These promises demonstrate:
1. That the providence of God, in the sphere of the outward life, is free, sovereign, all-embracing.
2. That there is under this providence a connection between outward events and circumstances and spiritual conditions.
3. That, subordinately to higher ends, piety and virtue, under this providence, will be rewarded by prosperity. (See a valuable treatment of this subject in M'Cosh's 'Method of the Divine Government,' bk. 2. Deuteronomy 2.) Yet glorious as these promises are, they "have no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth" of the promises of the New Testament. Promises:
1. Of salvation (Romans 5:9, 10).
2. Of spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3).
3. Of a heavenly inheritance (1 Peter 1:3, 4).
4. Of "riches" of goodness which will remain unexhausted through eternal ages (Ephesians 2:6, 7).
III. THE CONDITION OF THE BLESSING. Obedience (vers. 1, 2, 9,13, 14).
1. Legally, perfect obedience.
2. Evangelically, obedience habitual and sincere, albeit imperfect.
The meritorious ground of a believer's acceptance, and of the blessings he receives, is the obedience unto death of Christ (Romans 5:19-21). Christ expiates his sins, and fulfils de novo the condition of the covenant. It is well to remember, as explaining anomalies in the histories of righteous men under the old covenant, that the promises in these verses were primarily national. They could be realized to the individual only in connection with the obedience of the nation as a whole. When apostasy provoked God's judgments, pious individuals suffered in the general calamities. They suffered, too, as drawing upon themselves the hatred of the wicked. Hence the development in the Psalms and Prophets of the idea of the "Righteous Sufferer" - One whose afflictions are entailed on him by the hatred and injustice of the wicked, or who, innocent himself, suffers as a member of the body politic. This idea, which has throughout a Messianic reference, culminates in the prophecy of the" Servant of Jehovah" (Psalm 52., 53.), who, by the holy endurance of sufferings for others, makes their sin his own, and vicariously atones for it. - J.O.
blessings, and received from the assembled thousands the grand "Amen." We have in these verses before us the purpose of the blessing. The children of Israel had been brought out of Egypt by a Divine deliverance, they were about to settle in Canaan as the people of the Lord. They were a spectacle, therefore, to the rest of the world of how a people fared at the hands of the Lord in obedience or in disobedience. We must regard Israel as a visible experiment, so to speak, for the instruction of the rest of mankind. Now, the rest of mankind at this early stage could only appreciate such a reward as temporal blessing. Spiritual blessing would have been no demonstration to them, and have made no impression upon them. Hence it was temporal blessing which God in the main gave them. Of course, we do not at all accept the special pleading of Warburton, in his 'Divine Legation of Moses,' in favor of temporal rewards and punishments being all that the Law of Moses contemplates. There are significant references to a future life in the Mosaic books, but for the reason now stated, God was mainly working in the temporal sphere. Let us notice some of the particulars in which an obedient people were to experience blessing.
I. CITY LIFE was to be blessed. It has been said that "God made the country, but man the town." And doubtless the concentration of population in cities is fraught with peculiar temptation and danger. Yet God's Law is sufficiently "broad" to secure right order and government in cities as well as in country districts. If men would only carry out the law of love, if they would live by the golden rule, then cities would soon put on an air of holiness, and wickedness within them would hide its head. It is through the conscience and heart God's Law works, and city life can alone be elevated and regenerated thereby. If we had pious mayors, aldermen, and councilors, pious high sheriffs and officials, then corruption, rapacity, and self-seeking would disappear through a general and conscientious desire for the public good.
II. AGRICULTURE was to be prosperous. Palestine was intended to be occupied by a pastoral people, and peasant proprietors were to fill the laud. It was to flow with milk and honey if man co-operated with God, and did his share honestly. The conditions of the country, as already remarked (cf. Homily on Deuteronomy 11:10-17), fostered faith in God, and success was the outcome of constant dependence upon him. A dependent people wrought diligently and received the blessings of nature as the gifts of a faithful God. There was to be increase of cattle, of swine, of sheep, of the fruit of the field, and of all that is implied by "basket and store." In the basket, as Van Lennep somewhere observes, grapes, olives, and the like are collected, and so the blessing on the basket means general agricultural prosperity. Now, there can be no doubt that piety is an excellent handmaid to agriculture. All the cant now talked in the name of science about God's practical exclusion from the "reign of law," is insufficient to overturn the plain truth that those who try to keep his commandments and live in his fellowship are more likely than others to fulfill the conditions of agricultural prosperity.
III. POPULATION will increase. The fruit of their body was also to be blessed. We can understand how important numbers are to national power. When the population advances in the sunshine of advancing prosperity, the elements of national greatness are secured. The Malthusian scare introduced into political economy was an exaggerated lesson upon prudence. Population progresses with sufficient check upon it in the ordinary struggles of life, without requiring such prophets of evil as the Malthusians have been. The prudence fostered, being of a worldly character, has degenerated, it is feared, in many cases, into licentiousness as legitimate, when marriage, except in most favorable circumstances, is deemed imprudent. Now, it is well known that Palestine must have been very populous, containing about as many human beings to the square mile as the most densely populated countries at the present time, and in its densely filled country districts testified to the general security which then existed.
IV. They will be VALIANT IN REPELLING INVASION. It is noticeable that foreign conquest is not contemplated when they are settled in the land. It is when the enemies rise up against them that the Lord will give them, as obedient people, the power to disperse them. The invasion may take place in one way, but their rout will be complete, they shall flee before Israel seven ways (ver. 7) - the perfect number indicating perfect defeat. The Lord will not encourage them in a "spirited foreign policy," but will make them invincible defenders of their hearths and homes.
V. They shall be in a position to LEND UNTO SURROUNDING NATIONS. Not only would they repel successfully all invasion, but be able to lay other nations under obligation. Now, we see that, in being able to serve others in this way, lies the secret of sovereignty and influence. The thrifty nations that can lend to others, so far get these others into their power. In the lending power God promises to Israel, if obedient, we see the germ of undoubted ascendancy. No wonder, then, that other nations are to fear and to honor them, if this is to be their career. No wonder they are to be the head, and not the tail; to be above only, and not beneath. Obedience will prove the one condition of ascendancy. Now, it is true that the world can think better in these latter days than it did in the days of Moses. Religion does not now need a demonstration of temporal prosperity nor a favored nation. Religion now demonstrates its reality and sustaining power in making poor saints bright and joyful; in making suffering saints patient and hopeful; and in making the sorrowing ones resigned and confident of reunion. These are the "martyrs" now, and the seed of the Church. At the same time, it may be seen written clearly on the order of providence that "righteousness exalteth a nation;" that the religious nations, other things being equal, are the more prosperous. It cannot but be so. As nations get no resurrection as nations, only as individuals, it then comes to pass that as nations they must be judged in this world, and get their reward or punishment, as the case may be, while the individuals composing the nations may be asked in many cases to wait for their compensation and reward in the world to come. - R.M.E.
I. WE HAVE HERE A DESCRIPTION OF A GOOD MAN.
1. He is described by his teachableness. He "hearkens diligently unto the voice of the Lord." This is a trait of a true child. He has a sense of need, a sense of dependence upon another. He admits God's right to instruct and to command. He inquires after God, and reverently listens to his voice. It is his delight to hear the wise precepts of the unerring God.
2. He is described by his circumspection. He is observant of God's ways, discovers manifold and hidden indications of his will. Not only is his ear intent to the whispers of his Father, but his eye is open too. Blindness of mind has gone.
3. He is described by his completeness of obedience. He practically "does all the commandments of God." These came of old by the agency of Moses; but a good man detects within the human voice the Divine message - the authority of Heaven. And his entire conduct is determined by the known will of God.
II. GOODNESS IS ALLIED TO GREATNESS AS SURELY AS CAUSE TO EFFECT. "The Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth." As in nature it is certain that all botanical life shoots upward, or that gases, as they expand, also ascend; so in the spiritual kingdom it is certain that goodness will grow into eminence. 'Tis not merely an arbitrary decree of God; 'tis the outcome of the very constitution of the universe. The character of Jehovah is a guarantee that the constitutional principles of his empire do not change. Hostile influences and powers may for a time prevent goodness from receiving its due reward - just as superincumbent clay may prevent the young plant from shooting upward, but the final issue is certain. Faithful service shall be crowned with honor.
III. THE REWARD OF GOODNESS IS ITS OWN PERMANENCE. "The Lord shall establish thee an holy people" (ver. 9). "And thou shalt not go aside from any of the words which I command thee." In the life of obedience "God helps those who help themselves." Separate acts become easier by repetition. They evolve into habits. Habits tend to permanence and constitute character and foreshadow destiny. All proceeds by virtue of an eternal law: "God helps those who help themselves." It is easier for a good man to resist temptation now than it was in the first stages of his Christian life. Devotion has become the natural outflow of his soul, the fruitage of his new life.
IV. BEHIND ALL FORMS OF BLESSING A PERSONAL GOD MAY BE SEEN. The material food does not sustain bodily life; it is God acting through the food. Neither fertile land, nor good husbandry, nor auspicious weather, nor all combined, will in themselves secure a copious harvest; it is God acting through natural forces. "The Lord shall command the blessing." However riches may increase, if God smile not, there will be no joy. The house may be full of children; yet instead of ruddy health there may be wasting sickness - instead of intellectual vigor, imbecility - instead of laughter, weeping; the blessing of God is wanting. We may possess substantial homes, yet no security; marauders and incendiaries may infest the land, True prosperity is a Divine Father's benediction.
V. A GOOD MAN DELIGHTS IN DISTRIBUTING GOOD. He himself becomes an inferior God, a lesser source of blessing. "Thou shalt lend, and shalt not borrow." The Name of God is put upon him. He acts in God's stead, and imitates God in all things. The result of the Divine favor will be conspicuous. All people shall see the gracious distinction which marks and signalizes the friend of God. All his beneficent deeds will be covered with a glory not born of earth. His mysterious influence will spread far and wide. He becomes a "burning and a shining light; many will rejoice in his light." - D.
I. FULL STOREHOUSES, WITHOUT GOD'S BLESSING, ARE NOT RICHES. God does not count a man rich further than the good things he has are of real and lasting benefit to him. Wealth unblessed of God is not to be desired.
1. Unblessed good is ill (Ecclesiastes 5:10-15).
II. GOD'S BLESSING, WITHOUT FULL STOREHOUSES, MAKES RICH.
1. It enriches the little we have. A man with a moderate competence, and peace and comfort in the use of it, may be richer than the man whose means are tenfold greater (Psalm 37:16).
2. It makes adversity a means of spiritual enrichment.
3. It is itself the best of all riches (Habakkuk 3:17-19). - J.O.
Acts 16:5; Romans 1:11; Colossians 2:7; Hebrews 13:9; 1 Peter 5:10; 2 Peter 1:12). Establishment is:
1. Unto holiness.
2. A result of God naming his Name upon his people (ver. 12, Hebrew), i.e. dwelling with them, and revealing his attributes in saving, sanctifying, blessing, and exalting them.
3. The reward of fidelity.
I. GOD'S PEOPLE CALLED BY HIS NAME. God calls or names his Name upon them, i.e. distinguishes, owns, chooses, recognizes them as his, by dwelling among them (2 Corinthians 3:16), by causing his blessing to rest upon them, by answering their prayers, by favoring their cause, by establishing their work (Psalm 90:13-17). "God is love" (1 John 4:8). His "Name" expresses pre-eminently that attribute of his character (Exodus 34:6, 7). It can, therefore, be revealed only upon or in relation to his own people.
II. NOMINAL AND REAL CALLING. "They are not all Israel which are of Israel" (Romans 9:6). Real, as distinguished from nominal, saints are marked:
1. By obedience to the Divine commands (ver. 9; Matthew 7:22).
2. By separation from the world (2 Corinthians 7:17, 18).
3. By the power of holiness dwelling in them.
4. By manifold tokens of the Divine favor.
Thus the world "sees" them to be what they are (Acts 4:13).
III. THOSE KNOWN TO BE CALLED BY GOD'S NAME ARE FEARED. Worldly men fear them. They fear the holiness that resides in them. They fear their prayers. They fear their power with God. They feel that there dwells in them a Presence whom they have every reason to dread (Acts 2:43). - J.O.
Proverbs 4:8; Proverbs 13:22, etc.). - J.O.
1. By conscience. The criminal cannot divest himself of the belief that avenging powers are following on his track.
2. By experience. "Rarely," says Horace, "has Punishment, though lame, failed to overtake the criminal fleeing before her." Greek tragedy rests on an induction from the facts of life.
3. By mythology. It was a conviction, true alike to conscience and the facts of life, which the Greeks sought to personify in the Erinyes, in Nemesis, and in Ate, who clung to a man or to a family in punishment for some half-forgotten crime.
4. By literature, which is full of the recognition of avenging powers. The Bible confirms the substance of this varied teaching, but lifts the subject out of the region of mythology. Jehovah alone has power to bless and curse. The blessings and curses of men have no efficacy save as he gives it to them. His blessings and curses are part of the moral government of the world, and turn exclusively on moral conditions. This is the contrast between the Bible and the heathen idea of a curse. The curse was a prominent part of heathen sorcery, but was wrought with charms and incantations. Protection against it was sought, not in a life of virtue, but in counter-charms and amulets - in conjurations more powerful than those of the enemy. The Bible countenances no such superstitions. Incantations are valueless. A curse is futile against those whom God has blessed (Numbers 23:20-23). The Bible doctrine is:
That of heathenism (with its modern survivals, the evil eye, charms, witches, etc.) is conspicuously the reverse.
I. THE CURSE IN ITS NATURE.
1. A natural fruit of sin. Natural process is not the whole. But a larger place may be allowed it than it had in the blessing. The blessing is "gift;" sin's fruit is of "debt" - "wages" (Romans 6:23). Conceivably, yet without miracle, God might have withheld from virtue its appropriate outward reward. But no power, even that of God, could prevent the sinner from reaping wretchedness and woe as a result of sin. "The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth; much more the wicked and the sinner" (Proverbs 11:31). The wiser course is not to oppose God to the laws of our moral nature, but to recognize him in them, and to draw from them a knowledge of his character and will. These, like all punitive laws, are the executors of his judgments. The sinner, having placed himself in conflict with the laws of life, of society, and of the outward universe, necessarily suffers in mind, body, and estate. Sin introduces discord, disorder, lawlessness, into the soul. It blinds and infatuates (vers. 28, 29). It makes wretched. This wretchedness is aggravated:
(1) By remorse and self-reproach.
(2) By sense of Divine anger.
(3) By opprobrium of society.
(4) By imaginative terrors.
Sin poisons the fountains of health, and induces diseases (vers. 22, 27, 85). The internal anarchy spreads outwards. The bonds of society are loosened; wealth accumulates in the hands of the few; the unhappy toilers, oppressed and spoiled, sink deeper and deeper in debt and wretchedness. At this stage the nation becomes an easy prey to the first strong power that cares to pounce upon it (vers. 29-38).
2. An effect of hostile action on the part of God. We fail of a complete view if we look only at the hostile relation of the sinner to God, and leave out of account the hostile relation which God assumes to the sinner. It is not merely that the sinner gets into conflict with himself and with the world around him, but nature and providence, under the direction of a hostile will, take up an antagonistic relation to him. Their movements are no longer for his good, but hostile and retributive (vers. 20-24). So the mental maladies of ver. 28 are more than the merely natural effects of sin (cf. 1 Kings 22:22). "The inquiring mind," says Dr. M'Cosh, "will discover designed combinations, many and wonderful, between the various events of Divine providence. What singular unions of two streams at the proper place to help on the exertions of the great and good! What curious intersections of cords to catch the wicked, as in a net, when they are prowling as wild beasts! By strange but most apposite correspondences, human strength, when set against the will of God, is made to waste away under his indignation, burning against it, as, in heathen story, Meleager wasted away as the stick burned which his mother held in the fire." Laws of nature are the warp, Divine providence the woof, of this awful garment of the curse with which the sinner clothes himself.
II. THE CURSE IN ITS OPERATION. Pictured in these verses in ample and vivid detail. The counterpart of the blessing (vers. 15-26). Takes effect in misfortune (ver. 20), sore diseases (vers. 21, 22), scouring by natural agencies (vers. 23, 24), invasions by enemies (vers. 25, 26). Action and reaction lead to the reproduction of these evils in aggravated forms. To worse bodily plagues (ver. 27) are superadded mental maladies (vers. 28, 29), issuing in renewed panic and defeat in war (ver. 29), with innumerable resultant calamities (vers. 30-33). Confusion and anarchy unite with oppression to produce madness of heart (ver. 34), disease pursues its ravages in forms of increasing malignity (ver. 35), and the nation ultimately sinks in total ruin (vers. 36, 37). Meanwhile, co-operating with these causes to reduce it to subjection, the curse has been working in all labor and enterprise, thwarting, blasting, destroying (vers. 43, 44; cf. Amos 4:6-12; Haggai 1:5-12; Malachi 2:2). The full terribleness of the Divine curse, however, is only brought out in the New Testament. As the re-laden of God to the soul goes deeper than life in the world, so it extends beyond it. The worse part of the curse is the sinking of the soul in its own corruptions, with the drying up of its possibilities of life, peace, and joy, under the weight of the Divine displeasure - an experience of "indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile" (Romans 2:8, 9). Happily, no man in this life knows what the full extent of that curse is (Isaiah 57:16). A remedial system is in operation, in virtue of which no soul is utterly deserted of grace, and even the natural workings of sin are manifoldly checked, limited, and counteracted. Space is thus given for repentance, and salvation is possible. The end, however, if the riches of this goodness and forbearance are despised, will only be the more terrible (Romans 2:3-10).
III. THE CURSE IS ITS CAUSES. Sin, disobedience (vers. 45, 46). The curses written in this book were literally fulfilled. Israel would not serve the Lord with joyfulness and gladness of heart, therefore - sad retribution! - she had to serve her enemies "in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things" (ver. 48; cf. the prodigal son, Luke 15:14-17). All sin ends in bondage. Nations that imitate Israel in her sins may expect to be made like her in her punishment. - J.O.
I. DEGRADATION OF CITY LIFE. If the massing of people gives advantages to religious effort, it gives corresponding advantages to sin. Temptation becomes intensified. The leaven of corruption gets speedily through the compacter mass. The very mention of the city and its sins and sorrows brings a frightful panorama before us. Ignorance, drunkenness, irreligion, licentiousness, - all these are found in their most fearful forms in cities. No wonder that such a man as Dr. Guthrie delivered a series of special sermons on the subject. Now, the Jews are threatened with a curse upon their city life in case of their disobedience. Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum are but samples of doomed cities through the disobedience of the people (Matthew 11:20-24).
II. AGRICULTURE will be cursed because of their disobedience. The land of promise will become, through drought and carelessness, a barren waste, like the worn-out lands of slave-holding people, which once were glorious virgin soil. And travelers have no difficulty in believing that Palestine is under the curse of God. The threat of Deuteronomy has become a sad reality, and the land stands as a witness to the faithfulness of God to his threatenings.
III. A curse was to rest upon THEIR CHILDREN. No more terrible form of judgment can be supposed than this. Parents are touched deepest in their children. Hence it must have been a great trial for the wayward Jews to find their children deteriorating through their sin, and carrying in their persons the curse of God. Population dwindled, and instead of being the countless people they once were, they have become so small that it is one of the wonders of the world that they maintain their separate existence.
IV. DISEASES of the most frightful kind were to come upon them. Now, it would seem that certain diseases were peculiar to Egypt, and of these the Israelites were particularly afraid. Now, the Lord threatens them with all the diseases of Egypt, of which they were so afraid (vers. 27, 35, 60). The diseases with which the human frame is visited are certainly manifold and terrible. To attach them to sin in a way of natural law only makes the judgment the more terrible. Of course we cannot say special sickness is proof positive of special sin; but we can say that but for sin there would have been no suffering and no sickness; and that sin deserves all that is sent. The frightful character of the sickness and sorrows God sends is the expression of his detestation of man's sin.
V. FAMINE was a still worse curse. To perish with hunger because of the scarcity of food is terrible. To waste away for want of due nourishment is terrible. Yet this the Lord threatened, and ultimately sent as the history tells us.
VI. WAR AND SIEGE. The worst enemy of mankind is man. Of all judgments war is worst. And the siege endured in Jerusalem twice over transcends all others recorded in history. Of minor sieges at Samaria and elsewhere we need not speak. According to Josephus, eleven hundred thousand Jews perished in the course of the siege of Jerusalem under Titus by sword, pestilence, or famine. "Besides these eleven hundred thousand, ninety-seven thousand were taken prisoners; and these were reserved, not for the light sufferings commonly undergone by prisoners of war in our days, but for the horrors of the slave-market, and for a life of perpetual bondage."It is believed that direct reference is made to the Roman eagles in vers. 49, 50, etc., and it is known that women ate their children in the terrible siege.
VII. DISPERSION AND BONDAGE. To those with national spirit dispersion must have been terrible. Emigration is now deemed bad enough, even though it may be to a better inheritance. But the Jewish dispersion threatened was captivity which we know came upon them at different times. The Babylonish Captivity was acknowledged by them to be in consequence of their sins, the recognized curse of God. And even after their return in part to Palestine, they came in for bondage to the yoke of Rome, and felt the yoke of iron on them.
VIII. The OFFSCOURING OF ALL THINGS unto this day. The Jews were threatened with such a scattering among the nations as would make them universally despised. And they have become so. Even yet, notwithstanding toleration and Jewish money-grubbing, the nation has not secured the respect of mankind. As Byron wrote -
"Tribes of the wandering foot and weary breast, 1. Of those to whom much is given shall much be required. No nation was so favored; but, neglecting its opportunities, no nation has been so cursed. It has been more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, and for Sodom and Gomorrha, than for the Jews. 2. It is terrible when judgment has to begin at the house of God. This is the meaning of the melancholy history. It is a tragedy at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall." 3. The prophetic threatening did not prevent their apostasy. Though as we believe, having their possible career through disobedience to direct judgment so carefully sketched, the prophecy lay for ages as a sealed, if not a neglected book. We think, with the rich man in Hades, that categorical warning would reform any of our brethren, no matter how abandoned, but find it a mistake (Luke 16:27-31). He who knows the end from the beginning has by his prophecy demonstrated that warning is often despised just in proportion to its particularity and faithfulness. 4. The judgment on earth is an image of a more terrible judgment beyond. "For us, each of us," said Dr. Arnold, "if we do fail of the grace of God there is reserved a misery of which indeed the words of the text are no more than a feeble picture. There is a state in which they who are condemned to it shall forever say in the morning. Would God it were even! and at even, Would God it were morning! for the fear of their heart wherewith they shall fear, and the sight of their eyes which they shall see." In forecasting what the doom of the impenitent shall be, we would do well to remember what God has done to sinners in the present life. Imagination may picture postmortem pardons and insist on sentiment determining the doom of disobedience, even when perpetuated; but the history of judgment here on earth should make every sane man fear to speak lightly of the judgment beyond. May God preserve us all from such an experience, through the blood and merits of Jesus! - R.M.E.
1. Of those to whom much is given shall much be required. No nation was so favored; but, neglecting its opportunities, no nation has been so cursed. It has been more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon, and for Sodom and Gomorrha, than for the Jews.
2. It is terrible when judgment has to begin at the house of God. This is the meaning of the melancholy history. It is a tragedy at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed, lest he fall."
3. The prophetic threatening did not prevent their apostasy. Though as we believe, having their possible career through disobedience to direct judgment so carefully sketched, the prophecy lay for ages as a sealed, if not a neglected book. We think, with the rich man in Hades, that categorical warning would reform any of our brethren, no matter how abandoned, but find it a mistake (Luke 16:27-31). He who knows the end from the beginning has by his prophecy demonstrated that warning is often despised just in proportion to its particularity and faithfulness.
4. The judgment on earth is an image of a more terrible judgment beyond. "For us, each of us," said Dr. Arnold, "if we do fail of the grace of God there is reserved a misery of which indeed the words of the text are no more than a feeble picture. There is a state in which they who are condemned to it shall forever say in the morning. Would God it were even! and at even, Would God it were morning! for the fear of their heart wherewith they shall fear, and the sight of their eyes which they shall see." In forecasting what the doom of the impenitent shall be, we would do well to remember what God has done to sinners in the present life. Imagination may picture postmortem pardons and insist on sentiment determining the doom of disobedience, even when perpetuated; but the history of judgment here on earth should make every sane man fear to speak lightly of the judgment beyond. May God preserve us all from such an experience, through the blood and merits of Jesus! - R.M.E.
I. THE EQUITY OF THESE CURSES.
1. Disobedience under such circumstances of privilege was eminently base and blameworthy. Disloyalty had no excuse. To refuse to hearken to the Creator's voice was sheer obstinacy, which could plead no extenuation.
2. It was perjury. They had sworn to be loyal subjects. They had acknowledged the just terms of the covenant, and had entered Canaan on the terms of pledged obedience.
3. It was rebellion against their accepted King. If such flagrant rebellion escaped with impunity, God would be dishonored in the eyes of the universe.
4. The curses were their own choice. They knew clearly what the fruits of disobedience were. They had seen the fruits in others' fate - in the Egyptians, in their brethren, in the Canaanites. If they should choose other gods, they should be led into captivity, and there they should "serve other gods, wood and stone."
5. The curses were the natural evolution of their crimes. Sin is the seed of which penalty is the fruit. If they forsook God; God would forsake them. What could be more equitable? Men say, "Depart from me; I desire not the knowledge of thy ways." God says, "Depart from me; I never knew you."
II. THE EXTENT OF THE CURSE.
1. It is a complete reversal of the purpose of God. His purpose had been to bless - to bless abundantly. But sin changes the light into gloom, sweetness into bitterness, summer into winter, food into poison. At every point and through every moment the sinner is in direct and absolute antagonism with God.
2. Every earthly possession becomes an instrument of pain. The body, which is the organic instrument by which the soul has intercourse with the material world, furnishes a thousand avenues for pain. Our children are intended as channels of joy; they become channels of sorrow. Every possession becomes a source of anxiety and care. Every occupation bears a harvest of disappointment. Blight is upon all the summer fruit. Black portents fill every quarter of the sky.
3. The natural elements become agents of woe. The sun becomes as a fiery oven, while no cloud tempers the scorching heat. Fierce winds fill the heated air with fine dust, which afflicts the eye with disease and blindness. Inflammation of the blood and fever follow. The air is charged with pestilence, and men breathe it with every inspiration. Material nature fights for God.
4. The curse includes disordered reason. Nor can we wonder. The delicate organs of the mind are sustained in vigor by God, and if he withdraw his hand, madness swiftly follows.
5. In proportion to the previous exaltation becomes the degradation. It is better not to be raised to eminence than to be lifted up and then cast down. This would be a stigma of reproach in the eyes of all the nations.
III. THE CERTAINTY OF THE CURSE. "It shall come to pass."
1. It is fixed by an inherent necessity. The law of Nemesis is embedded in the constitution of the universe. As surely as night succeeds to day, as surely as fire melts wax, so surely does penalty follow sin. Every dynamic force in nature is in league with righteousness against sin.
2. It is made certain by Jehovah's word. His word is a part of himself; and as his nature is unchangeable, so no word of his can ever be revoked. This is his prerogative: "I am Jehovah; I change not."
3. It is made sure by the holiness of God. For God to treat sin with levity or with impunity would be to do violence to his own nature - would be to act against himself. In the light of holiness sin must be consumed; and if it inhere ineradicably in the sinner, then must the sinner be consumed likewise. So long as God is holy he must, by the essential quality of his nature, pursue sin unto the death. - D.
I. NATURAL OBJECTS ARE OF HIS CREATION. The Psalmist bids us lift up our eyes to the hills, and seek help from God, "who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:2). It is this which enables him to help us, and makes it reasonable in us to implore and trust in his assistance; as well as leads us to fear his displeasure. Seed, vineyards, olive trees, are his creatures, and subserve his purposes. He who made can destroy.
II. NATURAL AGENCIES ARE UNDER HIS CONTROL. The greater agencies of nature - rain (vers. 23, 24), pestilence (ver. 21), diseases (vers. 27, 35). The lesser agencies - locusts (vers. 38, 42), worms (ver. 39), "powder and dust" (ver. 24). He marshals these agencies at will, appoints them their work, superintends them in the doing of it. He brings strength out of weakness, making the feeblest creatures the instruments of his most terrible strokes of vengeance.
III. THE FRUITFULNESS OF THE EARTH IS DEPENDENT ON HIS BLESSING. He gives, and he can at will withhold. It is a false science which sees only "laws" in the productiveness of nature, and ignores the hand and blessing of a living God. - J.O.
I. IT IS A NECESSITY THAT GOD'S RULE SHALL BE MAINTAINED. So long as the universe continues, the Creator must be King. Our only choice is whether we will have him as our Friend or as our Foe. "For he must reign." We must serve (ver. 47). To forsake God is not to gain liberty; it is only the exchange of a noble Master for a thousand petty tyrants. "Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness... thou shalt serve thine enemies in hunger, and in nakedness." This is the only alternative. We oscillate like a pendulum between these two points - serving God and serving cur enemies.
II. IN PROPORTION TO THE GOODNESS ABUSED IS THE CURSE THAT FOLLOWS. The language in the earlier part of these comminations clearly points to the overthrow of the people by the Assyrians. That calamity and the consequent captivity were the chastisements of wisdom - were part of the costly training by which Israel might have been recovered to the Divine favor. But even that severe correction soon lost its purifying effect. Another overthrow, more complete and galling yet, was therefore approaching. A yoke of iron was preparing for their neck, which should destroy their national life. More ruthless treatment should be endured under the Romans than under the Chaldeans. The sufferings in the siege were to be unparalleled. Mutual hate and rage would prevail. All the love of human nature would be turned into hateful selfishness. It would be the reign of hell upon the earth.
III. THE FATHERLY KINDNESS OF GOD IS DISPLAYED IN THIS FORECAST OF SIN'S EFFECTS. It must have been a pain to the heart of Moses (and greater pain still to the heart of God) to dwell on the terrific consequences of possible disobedience. It would have been more pleasant employment to have sketched out the prospects and rewards of righteousness. Yet in proportion to the pain felt in anticipating the desolation and misery of Israel, was the ardent love for Israel's good. If affection could erect beforehand any barrier which could withstand the torrent of evil, that barrier shall be erected. If love can abolish hell, it will. What language can measure the Divine love which thus pleads with men to eschew sin? Even a present sight of coming war does not deter men from sin.
IV. THE FULFILLMENT OF GOD'S THREATENINGS ARE A SIGN FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS. A thousand years elapsed before the woes foreshadowed were inflicted. With the Lord, "a thousand years are as one day." Nevertheless, every word spoken by Moses became a fact. The prophecy has been turned into history. In part, those prophecies are fulfilled today before our eyes: "Ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it;" "the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other; among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have any rest." The present condition of the Jews is a signal proof of the divinity of Scripture, an impressive symbol of the crushing judgments of God. Who can trifle with such a Being? Wisdom says, "Stand in awe, and sin not!" - D.
I. THE PROPHECY IN THE LIGHT OF ITS FULFILLMENT. The wonderfulness of these predictions is not removed by any date we may assign to the Book of Deuteronomy. For:
1. It is certain that the Assyrian and Chaldean invasions - to which a reference is no doubt included (Jeremiah 4:13; Jeremiah 5:15) - fell far short of what was necessary for their complete fulfillment.
(1) The Babylonian Captivity was only of seventy years' duration.
(2) The Jews returned and remained long afterwards in possession of their land.
2. It is equally certain that, in the subsequent conquest of the nation by the Romans, with the dispersion that followed; the rod which lasts to our own day, every feature in the prophecy has been exhaustively fulfilled.
(1) The Romans agree better than either Assyrians or Chaldeans with the description or the foreign foes in vers. 49, 50.
(2) The sufferings of the siege (vers. 52-57) had their literal fulfillment in the Roman wars, and especially in the siege of Jerusalem under Titus (cf. Josephus, 'Wars of the Jews,' bk. 5:10, 3; 6:3, 3, 4; 6:8, 2).
(3) "Hundreds of thousands were sold as slaves" (cf. ver. 68); "and the whole people were cast forth as wanderers among the Gentiles; and they have ever since remained a nation of exiles, unsettled, harassed, and oppressed, in many instances most cruelly, not only by pagans and Mohammedans, but also (to our shame be it spoken) by Christian nations; and still remaining a distinct people, though without a home" (Whately, 'Evidences').
(4) "To serve other gods" may mean no more than to be banished from the territory of Jehovah, and to dwell in and be compelled to conform to the laws of a country where other gods are recognized (cf. 1 Samuel 26:17). It is also true that, to shield themselves from persecution, the Jews have too often been willing to dissemble and conform to worships which their hearts abhorred (saint and image worship: adoration of the host, etc.); while in idolatrous countries their religion is frequently so corrupted as to be scarcely recognizable. The Beni-Israel, near Bombay, eg. remain a distinct people, but, together with Jehovah, worship the gods of the Hindus. Predictions
(1) so minute,
(2) so extensive in their range, yet
(3) so exhaustively verified by events, cannot be ascribed to accident, but constitute an irrefragable proof of the inspiration that dictated them.
Their fulfillment converts the very unbelief and rejection of the Jews into a powerful argument for Christianity.
II. LESSONS FROM THE PROPHECY.
1. The severity of God. If the fulfillment of these predictions teaches anything, it is that God will not shrink from the punishment of sin. We shudder as we read the details of these curses - "plagues wonderful.... great plagues, and of long continuance, and sore sicknesses, and of long continuance" (ver. 59), and ask ourselves, Can God really tolerate the sight of, not to say inflict, such incredible sufferings? Yet we find that not one of these curses failed of its accomplishment. So solemn a fact bids the sinner pause and ponder his chance of escaping in the great "day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God" (Romans 2:5).
2. The self-ruinous character of sin. The fulfillment of these threatenings was largely, though not wholly, brought about by simply giving sin scope to work out its own evil results. The bitterest element in retribution must be the feeling which the sinner has of self-wrought ruin. "He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption" (Galatians 6:8). Like water, which, left to itself, will not cease running till it has found its level; like a clock, which, left to itself, will not cease going till it has run itself completely down; like a tree, which, left to grow, cannot but bring forth its appropriate fruit; - so sin has a level to seek, a course to ran, a fruit to mature, and "the end of those things is death" (Romans 6:21). - J.O.
Deuteronomy 9:1). Horses and chariots (Psalm 20:7), numbers, prowess, wealth (Proverbs 10:15), arts of policy, leagues with foreign powers (Isaiah 30.), afford no protection when God is the besieger. Spiritually, the sinner will ultimately be driven out of every "refuge of lies."
1. Self-righteousness; every mouth shall be stopped (Romans 3:19).
Isaiah 3:16-26.) The queens of select society have little reason to be vain of their excessive and artificial delicacy. They need not pride themselves in it, or think that it entitles them to look haughtily on others. For -
I. DELICACY IS NOT CHARACTER. It is consistent with a vain, light, scornful, wicked disposition. The tender and delicate lady in this verse is one of the enemies of God. The purest types of female character avoid those extravagances of delicacy which, indulged in, become second nature. Character alone entities to respect. To be vain of beauty or breeding, when the heart is false and the life untrue to God, is to be vain of an ornamented husk within which lies rottenness. "'Tis only noble to be good."
II. DELICACY IS AN ACCIDENT OF FORTUNE. It is adventitious - an accident of position. Born in another sphere, she who boasts of it would not have had it. It is the product of artificial conditions, of which she reaps the benefit, but which she had no part in creating. It is not gained by her own exertions, or attributable to her worth or merit. If she values it, let her at least not despise others. She might have been the cottager, the cottager the lady.
III. DELICACY IS VALUELESS WHEN FORTUNE CEASES TO SMILE ON ITS POSSESSOR. No change of circumstances can rob of its value the possession of knowledge, talents, virtue, good breeding, or refinement. These will grace the humblest home, will prove a passport to respect in any society. It is different with the fastidious and excessive delicacy of the belle. So entirely is this an appendage of a certain social position that, when that is gone, it perishes like a crushed flower. The admirers of the delicate lady have deserted her. She is treated with coldness, even rudeness. No one so helpless, so dependent, as she. She shone, like the moon, in a reflected brightness, and, foolishly inconsiderate, gloried in it as something of her own.
IV. DELICACY MAY BE COMPELLED TO STOOP TO THE BITTEREST DEGRADATIONS. This is the lesson of the verses before us, and we need not dwell upon it. But the thought of such possibilities should quell pride and awaken awe. The depths of want and woe to which the most delicately nurtured may sink, are only paralleled by the possibilities of joy that lie hidden in the most wretched souls, if they will but forsake sin and give themselves up to Jesus and the guidance of his Spirit. - J.O.
Ezekiel 18:32). Christ predicted Jerusalem's fall, but "wept over it" (Luke 19:41). The language is best interpreted, not of actual joy felt by God in the execution of his judgments, but anthropo-pathically of the certainty, rapidity, and unsparingness with which, like waves chasing each other to the shore, strokes of judgment would descend, as if God took pleasure in inflicting them. The figure is derived from God's joy in the communication of blessings. As God's joy - in this case a real joy - was shown in the number and accumulation of the blessings, so would it be with the judgments - he would appear to rejoice in the sending of these also. We do not, however, ignore the fact that God must approve of, yea, rest with satisfaction in, every exercise of his perfections, even in the infliction of judgment. The verse, in any view of it, is a very terrible one in its bearings on the prospects of the wicked. - J.O.
I. UNAPPEASABLE RESTLESSNESS. (Ver. 65.) The sinner is destitute of peace (Isaiah 57:21).
1. There is nothing to give it. No inward source of comfort. No perennial spring of satisfaction.
2. There is everything to take it away.
(1) An evil conscience.
(2) Sense of God's displeasure.
(3) Inward disunion and anarchy.
The consequence is that the sinner cannot settle, he does not feel at rest. He cannot be happy or contented in any place or occupation. Like a patient tossing under fever, he thinks that his uneasiness arises from his position, whereas it is his disorder. (Cf. 'Childe Harold,' 1:4, 5; or words of Tiberius to his senate - "What to write to you, conscript fathers, or how to write, or what not to write, may all the gods and goddesses destroy me worse than I feel that they are daily destroying me, if I know.")
II. FEAR AND TREMBLING OF HEART. (Vers. 65, 66.) "The wicked flee when no man pursueth" (Proverbs 28:1). The guilty conscience is full of terrors. It "does make cowards of us all." Gives rise to groundless fears (Joseph's brethren, Genesis 45:3; Genesis 50:15). Morbid working of imagination - starting in sleep (Richard III.), fancying sounds and movements (Macboth). Works despair (Saul, 1 Samuel 28.). It unnerves and unmans.
III. LOATHING AND WEARINESS OF LIFE. (Ver. 67.) A sated despairing feeling, incapable of removal or alleviation. Ennui. Unbearable dragging on of time. "I may say that in all my seventy-five years I have never had a month of genuine comfort. It has been the perpetual rolling of a stone, which I have always had to raise anew" (Goethe). Cf. 'Childe Harold,' as above -
"He felt the fullness of satiety, or Matthew Arnold's lines - "On that hard pagan world disgust
or Matthew Arnold's lines -
"On that hard pagan world disgust