Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. GOD'S GRACIOUS KINDNESS APPEARS FROM THE RECORD OF THE ORIGIN AND EARLY STATE OF JERUSALEM. In ver. 3 the prophet reminds Jerusalem whence she had sprung. Her native place was the land of Canaan, a land notorious for the cruelty and vileness of its inhabitants. Her father was an Amorite, and her mother a Hittite - an ancestry of which she could not be vain. There was, accordingly, nothing in the birth and breeding of Jerusalem which could commend her to the Divine regard; that regard must have been altogether disinterested, benignant, and compassionate.
II. GOD'S SPARING MERCY APPEARS FROM HIS TREATMENT OF JERUSALEM IN THE TIME OF HER WORTHLESSNESS AND WRETCHEDNESS. Under the graphically depicted figure of a deserted newborn child, the condition of Jerusalem is portrayed as one of neglect, destitution, and friendlessness. When in such a state she was seen and pitied by the Benevolent One, who rescued her from death, who nurtured her gently, and provided for her all that could minister to her health, her growth, her vigour, her beauty. Whatever was justly written in praise of Jerusalem, in her fairest and brightest days, must be read in connection with this authoritative statement of the grace and kindness of God her Saviour. She had nothing which she did not receive from him who made her to differ.
III. GOD'S LOVING KINDNESS APPEARS IN THE COVENANT INTO WHICH HE ENTERED WITH JERUSALEM. In the eighth and following verses is described in glowing language the favour which God had to Jerusalem in the day of her espousals. The covenant of love was entered into, and the bride was arrayed in magnificent and costly attire, indicative of the bounty and kindness of her Lord. The poet prophet rises to his highest strain in singing of the beauty and majesty of the elected spouse of Jehovah. "Thou wast exceeding beautiful, and thou didst prosper unto royal estate. And thy renown went forth among the nations for thy beauty: for it was perfect through my majesty, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God."
IV. GOD'S GRACE APPEARS IN THE EXALTATION OF JERUSALEM TO A POSITION OF FAVOUR AND HONOUR. The wealth and splendour, the power and renown, of Jerusalem, especially in the reign of Solomon, are matters of history. The fame of Jerusalem was spread afar: she was "the joy of the whole earth." And this was the explanation: "The Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for an habitation." "I," said the Lord - "I sware unto thee, and thou becamest mine." - T.
I. A FORMER LOATHSOME CONDITION. Sin is not merely resistance against proper authority, it is also personal pollution - a defilement of the soul.
1. A base origin. "Thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother was a Hittite." It is often edifying to look "to the rock whence we were hewn" - to the meanness of our earthly parentage. The ancestors of the Hebrews were idolaters - a branch of that very race whom they despised and drove out. They had no superior dignity from their forefathers. All the superiority they enjoyed, had come from the special favour of Jehovah.
2. Their neglected condition. The kindness of common humanity had been denied to them in their infantile state. Their ancestors, the Amorites, cared nothing for them; yea, treated them as aliens in the land. Again and again Abraham was driven away by famine, and had to find sustenance by favour in the land of Egypt. At length, in the days of Jacob, "they were cast out into the open field," i.e. into the land of Egypt. They soon had no protection nor security from the Egyptian government. They were reduced to thraldom; their lives were made bitter.
3. They were even loathsome to all. To the Egyptians they were an abomination. They were hated of all men. It may have been on account of pusillanimity and mean-spiritedness - the effect of long servitude. It may have been on account of their peculiar customs - their clannishness. It may have been because of their peculiar religion, so different from all the nations. Yet there was the fact that no nation would make alliance with them.
4. Their forlorn and abandoned state. As a female child is often, in Eastern lands, abandoned on the hills - left to perish from want, or to be devoured by wild beasts - so, as far as human protection was afforded, Israel was exposed to early death. The Egyptians did their utmost to exterminate the race. The Amalekites and the Edomites followed in the same track. Israel was isolated in the world - treated as a foe by all.
II. GENEROUS TREATMENT BY GOD. Dispossessed of all natural attractions, God chose to show to this abandoned child special favour. The only explanation is, "So it seemed good in his sight." He giveth not to men a reason for his doings.
1. There was a look of love. The extreme helplessness of a little child often moves to pity the heart of a stolid man. Unless friendly help be at once afforded by the passer by, the puny child must perish. So the time of Israel's desolateness was the time of Jehovah's love. No other sentiment came into play then but the royal sentiment of love. The very heart of God looked out through his eye.
2. There was kindly protection. True love is not content with sentiment, nor yet with smiles, nor yet with words: it goes out in practical deeds. The best thing to be done was done at once. "I spread my skirt over thee, and covered thy nakedness."
3. There was appropriate cleansing. As soon as the imperilled life was secured, the health and comfort of the child became Jehovah's concern. "I washed thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood." The God of heaven condescended to do this menial work. His real glory is seen in his amazing humility. He deigns to wash us still - to wash the soul from all its foulness.
4. There was the forthputting of vital power. "I said unto thee, Live!" The voice of God is a resistless energy. God's word is creative: "He speaks, and it is done." He who spake to the primitive chaos, "Let there be light!" and light was, speaks also to the soul dead in sin, and says effectually, "Live!" However near the brink of doom, they shall live, if God speaks the quickening word. "Is not this a brand plucked from the burning?"
5. Multiplication of life. He made the one into many. "I have caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field." He who in the beginning of creation ordained that every plant should produce seed after its own kind, ordained that Israel should be fruitful above the ordinary measure of mankind. "As the stars of heaven, so shall thy seed be," was the promise to Abraham. And the promise was fulfilled. "They of the city flourished as the grass of the earth." Growth of population is an accepted sign of national prosperity.
6. A gracious alliance. "I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine." Though other nations refused to make alliances with Israel, Jehovah did so of his own accord. He treated them with most favourable consideration. He dealt with them as with free men - men endowed with reason and judgment. He made a compact with them, by which he bound himself to befriend them, on condition that they would loyally serve him. This was an act of stupendous grace. God dealt with them as if they were his equals. It gas a voluntary marriage.
7. There was also splendid adornment. "I clothed thee also with broidered work," etc. This once abandoned child was not only rescued, but was raised to dignity and honour. Her clothing was costly; her beauty set off to the greatest advantage. From the lowest grade of human life she was lifted to the very highest. Her person was adorned with richest ornaments, embellished with jewels and gold. Her dowry was magnificent, princely. Her condition was made by God a condition of luxury and splendour.
8. There was conferred on her queenly honour and renown. "I put a beautiful crown upon thy head." "Thou didst prosper into a kingdom." To this rescind child no earthly good was denied. She had more than heart could desire. Other countries were despoiled to enrich her. She was exalted to a place of high renown. Foreign rations became her servants, and kings her ministers. On the summit of earthly glory she sat enthroned, the wonder and the envy of the world. Which thing is an allegory. From the mire of moral pollution we have been raised: we have been put among God's sons. "And if children, then heirs, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ;" "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." - D.
I. A PICTURE OF HUMAN DEPRAVITY AND DESTITUTION, OR OF THE CONDITION IN WHICH THE LORD FOUND HIS PEOPLE.
1. Their depraved moral parentage. "Thus saith the Lord God unto Jerusalem; Thy birth and thy nativity is of the laud of Canaan; thy father was an Amorite, and thy mother an Hittite." The people of Israel are here designated "Canaanites," to indicate their degraded moral character and condition. "The Amorites and the Hittites are two chief Canaanitish tribes, that elsewhere so often represent the whole of the Canaanites; the Amorites already, in Genesis 15:16, where they specially represent the Canaanitish people in their sinfulness." Moral character and conduct are often viewed as indicative of moral parentage. "When men live according to the courses, natures, manners of others, they are styled their sons, or children." Thus the Jews are called "sons of the sorceress," etc. (Isaiah 57:3). The Jews in the time of our Lord's ministry upon earth claimed to be "Abraham's seed They said unto him, Abraham is our father." But Jesus said unto them, "Ye are of your father the devil" (John 8:33-44). And St. Paul, filled with the Holy Ghost, called Elymas the sorcerer a "child of the devil" (Acts 13:10). The tendency to sin which characterizes human nature indicates sinful parentage. The doctrine of original sin has often been stated in a very objectionable mariner. But there is a basis of fact underlying that doctrine. It is certain that human beings manifest in early life a proclivity to sin. The modern scientific teaching as to inherited tendencies conducts to the conclusion that we inherit a depraved moral nature.
2. Their destitute moral condition. "And as for thy nativity, in the day thou wast born thy navel was not cut," etc. (vers. 4, 5). These verses point to the condition of Israel in Egypt, where the family grew into a nation, or the nation may have said to have been born. There was nothing there to foster the moral life and health of the young nation. Nay, more, their physical condition was one of cruel oppression and bitter persecution (cf. Exodus 1:7-22). They were abhorred, afflicted, and brutally ill treated. But the verses illustrate man's spiritual condition apart from the grace of God and the provisions of that grace. Man is morally unclean as an unwashed infant, morally neglected as an uncared for infant, left to live or die, no one taking an interest in its condition, and being completely incapable of self-help. Is not that a picture of man's spiritual state apart from the grace of God? We inherit a sinful nature. We cannot convert or sanctify ourselves, or even do anything with a view to such results without Divine influence. We cannot repent except as we are summoned and strengthened to do so from heaven. And man cannot save us if he would; forevery man is a sinner, and needs salvation himself. Neither can angels save us. Their utmost wisdom, love, and might are inadequate to the difficult task. God alone has pity enough and power enough for this work. If he leaves us we must perish. If we are to be saved he must begin and carry on the gracious work. And we rejoice to know that he does not leave any people to perish without witness of himself, or without some gracious influences from him (cf. Acts 14:17; Romans 1:19, 20; 1 Timothy 2:4).
II. A PICTURE OF DIVINE CONDESCENSION AND FAVOUR, OR THE CONDITION TO WHICH THE LORD RAISED HIS PEOPLE. (Vers. 6-14.) Here, as Fairbaian observes, "everything is fragrant with the matchless grace and loving kindness of God."
1. God graciously regarded them in their outcast condition. "I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted [Revised Version, 'weltering,'] in thine own blood." He looked compassionately upon the Israelites in their afflictions and sorrow in Egypt. "The Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt," etc. (Exodus 3:7-10). He saw our race ruined by sin, and of his own free and unmerited grace he had pity upon us. We had no claim upon his compassion or assistance. By our sin we had forfeited every title to his favour. We had no grace or beauty to commend us to his regard. We were rather, as in the picture drawn by the prophet (vers. 3-6), fitted to awaken repulsion. Yet God looked upon us in mercy; and he did so of his own good pleasure. "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us," etc. "God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
2. God conferred life upon them. "I said unto thee in thy blood, Live!" He saw the Israelites in Egypt as it were naked, abhorred, and perishing, and he designed them for life, and caused them to live, notwithstanding the cruelty, of their oppressors. And it is God of his grace, through Christ Jesus and by his Word and Spirit, who quickens dead souls into life. "God being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, quickened us together with Christ," etc. (Ephesians 2:4-10; cf. Colossians 2:13; John 3:5-8).
3. He blessed them with growth and increase. "I caused thee to multiply as the bud of the field," etc. The explanation of this verse is in Exodus 1:7, 12. The great increase of the children of Israel excited the fears of the Egyptian monarch, and led him to oppress them; "but the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew." Their growth was of God, and accorded with his great purposes concerning them. Spiritual growth in the individual is the product of Divine influences. God quickens and sustains and increases the life of the soul. Hence St. Paul prays "that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power by his Spirit in the inner man," etc. (Ephesians 3:16-19). The increase of the Church also is of him. "The Lord added to them day by day those that were being saved" (Acts 2:47). "I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase" (1 Corinthians 3:6).
4. He took them into union with himself. "Now when I passed by thee, and looked upon thee, behold, thy time was the time of love; and I spread my skirt over thee," etc. (ver. 8). The child is represented as having now arrived at womanhood. The casting of the skirt over her is an action indicative of taking her under one's protection with a view to betrothal (cf. Ruth 3:9). And keeping up the figure, the espousals are indicated by the words, "Yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee,... and thou becamest mine." This covenant was entered into at Mount Sinai (cf. Exodus 19:3-8; Exodus 34:27). "What grace when the Holy and Almighty One condescends to enter into covenant with so sinful and miserable a people!" And still God graciously enters into covenant with all who heartily believe on his Son Jesus Christ (cf. Hebrews 8:6-13). In this covenant we give ourselves to him as loyal subjects and servants; and in addition to many other blessings, he gives himself to us as the crowning blessing of the covenant. And if we are in this covenant, we may without presumption address him as our Father and our God (cf. John 20:17). "The Lord is my Portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him."
5. He sumptuously clothed and adorned them. "Then washed I thee with water; yea, I throughly washed away thy blood from thee," etc. (vers. 9-14). The washing and anointing (ver. 9) are suggested by the custom in the East of purifying the bride for her royal husband (cf. Esther 2:12). Israel is represented as having been thoroughly cleansed and anointed as the bride of the Lord. Then the prophet speaks of the dress and jewellery of the bride.
(1) The clothing and adorning were glorious. "I clothed thee also with broidered work," etc. The reference is to the condition of the people daring the reigns of David and Solomon, before the kingdom was divided, when they were at the height of prosperity and power. God clothes his people with "the beauty of holiness." They have "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit." "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation," etc. (Isaiah 61:10; and cf. Luke 15:22).
(2) The clothing and adorning were admired. "Thy renown went forth among the nations for thy beauty." The renown of the Israelites and their king is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 17:8, 21. When men are clothed with the beauties of moral excellence they awaken the admiration of the world. Men respect genuine religion when they see it embodied in human lives.
(3) The clothing and adorning were of God. "It was perfect through my comeliness, which I had put upon thee, saith the Lord God." The prosperity, power, and glory of Israel came from him. And Christians have not a righteousness of their "own, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." He arrays them in glories like his own. "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us." Spiritual, unfading, and eternal are the garments and glories in which God invests his people. - W.J.
I. THAT SIN IS ESSENTIALLY VILE IN ITS CHARACTER. The sins of the inhabitants of Jerusalem were "abominations" in the sight of God. David says of the wicked, "They are corrupt, they have done abominable works;" "Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity." And Jehovah said to the Jews, "Oh, do not this abominable thing that I hate!" In its own nature sin "is an evil thing and a bitter" It is a polluting thing, defiling the soul; it is a degrading thing, dishonouring the soul. It is an infraction of the order of God's universe, and is inimical to its true interests. Sin is evil "in every respect - hateful to God, hurtful to man, darkening the heavens, burdening the earth."
II. THAT SINNERS OFTEN FAIL TO RECOGNIZE THEIR OWN SIN. The inhabitants of Jerusalem at this time were sadly corrupted by sin, but were so oblivious to the fact that the prophet is summoned to bring them to a knowledge of their abominations. David did not recognize as his own the foul crimes which he had committed when they were set before him parabolically. It was not until the Prophet Nathan said unto him, "Thou art the man!" that he saw himself to be the sinner he really was (2 Samuel 12:1-14). The Pharisees in the time of our Lord's ministry were really great sinners, but they regarded themselves as the excellent of the earth. We are quick to behold the mote that is in our brother's eye, but we take no notice of the beam that is in our own eye. This failure of sinners to recognize their own sin may arise:
1. From the subtlety of sin. Sin approaches the soul in dangerous disguises. "Were the vision of sin seen in a full light, undressed and unpainted, it were impossible, while it so appeared, that any one soul could be in love with it, but all would rather flee from it as hideous and abominable." Wickedness veils itself in the garb of what is harmless, respectable, or excellent. Avarice hides its hard and hungry features under the name of economy. Harsh censoriousness wears the cloak of honest plain spokenness, etc.
2. From the proneness of men to excuse sin in themselves. Until man is brought to see and feel his sins aright, he is ready to palliate or to extenuate them. Men are cruelly indulgent to themselves in this respect. And in some cases pride and self-flattery blind men to their own offences.
III. THAT THE MINISTERS OF GOD SHOULD ENDEAVOUR TO BRING SINNERS TO A KNOWLEDGE OF THEIR SINS. To this duty Ezekiel was summoned in our text. And this is incumbent on the ministers of Jesus Christ.
1. For the conversion of the sinners. "Without the knowledge of sin, repentance and conversion are not to be thought of." "As a physician, when he wishes to heal a wound thoroughly, must probe it to the bottom, so a teacher, when he wishes to convert men thoroughly, must first seek to bring them to a knowledge of their sins."
3. For the vindication of the Law and government of God. Sin is an outrage of his holy Law, and it should be exhibited as such. Persistence in sin calls down Divine punishment, and the sin should be set forth unto men, that they will recognize the righteousness of the punishment. If sin be not properly estimated by men, how shall the Divine dealings in the punishment of it be justified unto them? Therefore the ministers of Jesus Christ should endeavour to cause sinners to know their sins. - W.J.
I. JERUSALEM'S DISLOYALTY ORIGINATED IN HER ASSUMING AS HER OWN WHAT WAS REALLY THE GIFT AND GRACE OF GOD. What a lesson is there in the striking expression, "Thou didst trust in thine own beauty"! - thine own, as if for that beauty thou hadst to thank thyself; as if it were aught else than the gift of Divine bounty and the token of Divine favour! We are far less likely to abuse our position and our possessions if we do but remember that they are not ours, save by God's kindness, and that we are not our own.
II. DISLOYALTY ORIGINATED IN FORGETFULNESS OF DIVINE GRACE AND COMPASSION. Very touching is that expression in ver. 22, "Thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth." Here is the radical error. It is pride and self-confidence that leads men astray. They who are forgetful of God are in danger of being unfaithful to him. Jerusalem said, "I sit a queen!" And saying so, she fell. It is a too common experience. The Christian may learn to cultivate the spirit of complete dependence upon God; for the consciousness that he owes all to God will help to bind him to loyal allegiance and constant service.
III. DISLOYALTY WAS MANIFESTED IN THE ADOPTION OF THE IDOLATRY OF SURROUNDING NATIONS. In Jerusalem and the neighborhood the deities of the several peoples to the east, north, and south of Palestine had their deluded votaries; and not only so, idolatry was openly practised. With spiritual wantonness the citizens of the great and glorious city admitted and embraced every form of idolatry, and that even within sight, if not within the precincts, of the very temple of Jehovah.
IV. DISLOYALTY LED TO CONFORMITY TO ALL THE VILE PRACTICES WHICH ARE CONNECTED WITH IDOLATRY. Cruel and lustful rites, it is well known, were associated with heathen worship. In vers. 20 and 21 reference is made to the practice, connected with the worship of Moloch, of causing sons and daughters to pass through the fire. This was but one of the abominable and reprehensible practices encouraged by heathen priests. When these practices are compared with the observances of the Law of Moses, who can avoid the conclusion that, whereas the former were the invention of sinful men, the latter bear marks of appointment by a pure and merciful God? Once let men abandon the true religion, and "go after false gods," and none can tell into what excesses of iniquity they may be led.
V. DISLOYALTY WAS CARRIED TO AN EXTENT EXTRAVAGANT AND MONSTROUS. Jerusalem is compared with Samaria and with Sodom, and is represented as "corrupted more than they in all her ways!" Indeed, had not the abominations wrought in Jerusalem been flagrant, the language of this chapter would not have been justified. The abuse of the best is ever the worst. The greater the height from which the fall, the severer is the hurt received. The Lord was aggrieved by the lengths to which the disobedient proceeded, the riot of iniquity into which they ran.
VI. FORBEARANCE WITH DISLOYALTY GAVE PLACE TO DIVINE DISPLEASURE, INDIGNATION, AND WRATH. The conduct of Jerusalem is nut unobserved and is not uncensured, Mercy has been defied, and just authority has been set at naught. It is not possible that infidelity so flagrant can be overlooked. Severe and righteous is the resolution of the almighty King, "I will judge thee;" "I will even deal with thee as thou hast done." Not only has Jerusalem to reckon with justice that cannot be perverted and with wisdom that cannot be eluded; it has to reckon with power that cannot be resisted. When God arises to judgment and calls the nations before him, a righteous sentence is pronounced, to which all must submit, and which none can question.
VII. THOSE WHO TEMPTED JERUSALEM TO DISLOYALTY WERE MADE INSTRUMENTS IN JERUSALEM'S PUNISHMENT. The lovers are called in to minister punishment to the adulteress; the surrounding nations, especially the Assyrians and Chaldeans and the Egyptians, were made instrumental in chastising the people that had permitted themselves to be deluded and seduced by their vile idolatries. Jerusalem's sin was great in proportion to her privileges, and her affliction was as her sin. And there was an awful appropriateness in the employment of the heathen people to chastise those who should have witnessed against their follies instead of being partakers of their sins. - T.
Jeremiah 3:20). The chief point of the comparison is perhaps this, that, as the marriage covenant is an endearing and sacred one, and the violation of it is therefore a heinous sin, so the covenant between God and his people is intimate and holy, and to violate it is to incur the darkest guilt. The wife is under the most solemn obligations not to turn aside from her husband to another man, or to allow any one to rival him in her affections. And those who have entered into covenant with God ought not to allow any person or thing to compete with him for the supreme place in their hearts. We can only view this representation of the people's apostasy "generally," as Fairbairn observes, "and with respect to its leading features; as from the very nature of the image it is impossible to be minute, without at the same time falling into indelicacy."
I. THE BASE BEGINNINGS OF THIS APOSTASY.
1. Forgetfulness of the past. "In all thine abominations and thy whoredoms thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth, when thou wast naked and bare, and wast polltuted in thy blood." The Israelites forgot the helpless and afflicted condition in which the Lord found them in Egypt, and how he had championed their cause, delivered them from their oppressors, and raised them into an independent, prosperous, and powerful nation. Had they remembered these things, the recollection would have bound them to him by the tender and tenacious ties of gratitude.
"They remembered not the multitude of thy mercies.
2. Confidence in themselves and their possessions. "Thou didst trust in thine own beauty." The things which God had enabled them to acquire - position, prosperity, power - they had abused by making them occasions of sin. They reposed in them the trust which they should have reposed in God alone. How often have men abused their prosperity in a similar manner! A man by the blessing of God succeeds in his business undertakings, and then attributes all his success to his tact, perseverance, and energy, and places his supreme confidence in those powers or in himself. How vain is such confidence (cf. Proverbs 28:26; Jeremiah 9:23)! And another, who has prospered in his worldly affairs, places his trust in his riches. This also is vain (cf. Psalm 49:6, 7; Psalm 52:7; 1 Timothy 6:17). "He who has a high opinion of himself has no desire for grace; and the more he trusts in himself, the more quickly will he squander gifts and blessings. Self-exaltation leads from grace, just as self-knowledge leads to grace" (Schroder).
3. Perversion of the position which they had attained through the favour of God. "And playedst the harlot because of thy renown." The eminence which they had attained by means of his blessing they turned into an occasion of exalting themselves against him. "God made this people above all nations," says Greenhill, "in praise, in name, in honour, that they might be a holy people unto him (Deuteronomy 26:19); their renown should have encouraged them to holiness, and it was an incentive unto looseness. Solomon had great renown abroad in the nations (1 Kings 4:31); that drew the princes to bestow their daughters upon him (1 Kings 11:3); he had seven hundred wives, princesses; his name made way for unlawful marriages, and they made way for unlawful gods." Their prosperity and fame they thus perverted in saddest, sinfullest manner.
II. THE DREAD PROGRESS OF THIS APOSTASY. The apostasy itself consisted of the worship of idols, or the giving unto idols the homage which was due to God alone, and the formation of forbidden political alliances, or reposing in nations the confidence which should have been placed alone in God. The beginning of the apostasy seems to have been in the latter part of the reign of Solomon, when his heathen "wives turned away his heart after other gods" (1 Kings 11:4-8). It entered upon another stage when the ten tribes under Jeroboam began to worship the true God by means of the images of the calves which were set up at Dan and Bethel. Afterwards the people began to adopt the vile idols of their heathen neighbours. But in the paragraph before us the chief stages of this apostasy are:
1. The manufacture and worship of idols. (Vers. 16-18.)
2. The building of chambers for their idolatrous practices. (Vers. 24, 25.) Not content with the high places, or natural heights, set apart for worship, they erected these vaulted chambers in the thoroughfares of the city. "The natural heights," says Hengstenberg, "are too far from the people hungering after idols. They wish to plant idolatry in the city thoroughfare, and so build for themselves artificial heights. We must distinguish between the thought end its clothing. The thought is that the objects of idolatry became the prime impulse of the popular life, by which is to be understood much less religious than political adultery, though both went hand in hand."
3. The sacrifice of their children to Moloch. (Vers. 20, 21.) From Ezekiel 20:26 it appears that they offered their firstborn to this revolting heathen deity. The god was supposed to be present in the fire, and the children who were made to pass Through it were devoured by it. Aben Ezra says that "to cause to pass through" is the same as "to burn." And the Jews did this notwithstanding the most solemn and stern warnings against it. "The offender who devoted his offspring to Moloch was to be put to death by stoning; and in case the people of the land refused to inflict upon him this judgment, Jehovah would himself execute it, and cut him off from among his people (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5)." But they had become guilty even of this atrocity. The Lord calls these children whom they so cruelly sacrificed, his children. "Thou hast slain my children." They were his because he is "the Father of spirits." His also because they were born under the covenant, and bore in themselves the mark of the covenant. So these people had gone from bad to worse until their sins were now calling loudly for vengeance. There is no standing still in sin. When man has departed from God, unless means be used and efforts be made to return unto him, he will depart ever to a greater distance; the breach between them will grow wider until it becomes a great and awful gulf. Beware of the first faint alienation of the heart from him. Stop the very beginnings of departure from him. Keep dose to him in true and tender affection, and loyal and loving service.
III. THE SORE AGGRAVATIONS OF THIS APOSTASY.
1. Their extreme readiness to depart from God. (Vers. 25-34.) The nations (lid not seek after them, but they after the nations. They were eager to adopt their idols, and to enter into political alliances with them. "The treacherous and wanton dealing was all on Israel's part," says Fairbairn; "she conceded everything to them, they yielded back nothing in return to her - her wickedness was gratuitous and unrequited folly. A solemn and pregnant truth, which the Church of God should never forget. She loses all, and the world gains all, when she foolishly stoops to impair the testimony of God, or adjust the claims and services of religion to the tastes and practices of the carnal mind. A nominal advance or apparent reconciliation may possibly be made by the manoeuvere; but it can be no more than nominal and apparent; the interests that really profit by such a policy are those of the flesh and the world. It is only when the Church is faithful to her testimony - when she stands in the truth of Christ, and in that truth shines forth 'bright as the sun, clear as the moon,' that she is found also, in her conflict with evil, ' terrible as an army with banners.'"
2. Their abuse of his gifts in departing from him. (Vers. 17-19.) "My gold and my silver... mine oil and mine incense... my meat also I gave thee," - these things he charges them with having applied to idolatrous uses. The 'Speaker's Commentary' points out an illustration of this in its notes on ver. 33: "The picture is heightened by the contrast between one who as a prostitute receives hire for her shame, and one who as a wife is so utterly abandoned as to bestow her husband's goods to purchase her own dishonour. The conduct of Ahaz in purchasing aid from the King of Assyria with the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord (2 Kings 16:8) is an excellent illustration, and may perhaps be referred to in this very passage." And very often still men abuse the gifts of God to his dishonour, as in the employment of their abilities for base or unworthy purposes, the use of riches for vain or sinful objects, etc.
3. Their resolute persistence in departing from him. Nothing stopped them in their apostasy; or, if checked for a time, it was speedily resumed again. The bestowment of many and precious favours upon them did not bind them to the Lord. They actually made these (as we have seen) an occasion of apostasy. Nor did the infliction of chastisement effectually restrain their great and persistent unfaithfulness. Such chastisement is spoken of in ver. 27. The blessings which God had promised to his people on condition of their fidelity to the covenant, and which in former times had been so abundantly bestowed (cf. vers. 9-14), he diminished as a punishment for their sins. By their religious and political unfaithfulnesses they had been great losers "in land, and people, and influence, and splendour;" but still they were bent upon backsliding from him. Neither mercies nor judgments, rewards nor punishments, availed to secure their fidelity to the Lord their God. "My people are bent to backsliding from me." Their hearts were "fully set in them to do evil." - W.J.
I. MARK THE ROOTS OF THIS SIN.
1. The first root mentioned is pride. "Thou didst trust in thy beauty." Love of admiration led her astray. The desire to obtain alliance and friendship with neighbouring nations paved the way. Pride is a bewitching sin. It is often the first rift in the lute that spoils the music of the life.
2. Another root was ingratitude. "Thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth." The Hebrew nation forgot its singular origin. If God had not called Abraham out of Chaldea, there would have been no Hebrew nation. Had God not appeared again and again to defend them, they would have perished. They were singularly indebted to God, and they were singularly ungrateful. This comes of a stony heart. Be shocked at the first appearance of ingratitude, whether towards man or towards God.
3. Another root was irresolution - a lack of firnmess and courage. "How weak is thy heart!" Feeble minds often go astray. Indolence is incipient sin. The neglect of sound moral culture in youth is a fount of sin, a fount of misery. To be safe, there must be robustness in every virtue, vigour in every good quality. A weak man becomes vain, and is the dupe of the first temptation.
II. THE BRANCHES OF THIS SIN.
1. A multiplicity of idols. "Thou pouredst out thy fornications on every one that passed by." The taste of every inhabitant was indulged. They had "lords many and gods many: According to thy cities are thy gods, O Israel!" He who refuses to be ruled by one Supreme Father soon becomes the slave of a thousand tyrants.
2. Sacrilege. "Thou hast also taken thy lair jewels, of my gold and my silver...and madest to thyself images of men." This was a vile desecration of Jehovah's property. "What have we that we have not received?" Every endowment of mind, every organ of body, every item of material substance, belongs to God by right inalienable. They are his by right of creation, by right of sustentation, by right of purchase. They are "redeemed by precious blood." Every coin of silver or of gold has God's image impressed on it. To use any such treasure in the service of idols is basest sacrilege, is wanton felony.
3. Foul murder. "Thou hast slain my children." Idolatry of every sort is cruel in its spirit and desolating in its effects. Religion is the truest philanthropy. In proportion as we love God we love our children, love our fellow men. Idolatry reverses all the machinery of human nature and poisons all its springs of affection. It changes life to death.
4. Utter shamelessness. "Thou hast made thee a high place in every street." Every eminence, yea, every shady grove, they had consecrated to some stupid idol. Not content to have a whorish heart, Israel had a whore's forehead. She did not blush for her sin. Worse, she gloried in her depravities. Stupor of conscience is a foul branch in this upas tree.
III. THE FRUITS OF THIS SIN.
1. Unprofitableness. "Thou givest a reward, and no reward is given unto thee." As a rule, men yield to sin because they think it will bring them some temporary advantage. But idolatry brings no gain. It is imbecile to expect any boon from a senseless idol. It is expenditure with no return; hard ploughing and no reaping.
2. Discontent. "Thou couldst not be satisfied." The more gods they bad, the more they wanted. Idolatry excites desire; it does not appease the craving. Discontent is incipient hell.
3. Famine. "I have diminished thine ordinary food." God tried lesser chastisements before he employed the greater. A good physician will cut off a limb if thereby he can save a life. If the people had had a ray of light in their understanding, they would have discovered that Jehovah alone had the power to bestow good or to inflict evil.
4. Thraldom. "I have delivered thee unto the will of them that hate thee." Here is the culmination of disgrace and sorrow and ruin. To fall into the power of a malicious foe is slavery, which sends its fetters into the soul. Better death than this; for this is perpetual crucifixion. Under this brand of righteous indignation the land of Israel still continues. - D.
I. THE JUDICIAL SUMMING UP. The accusations against Israel were twofold.
1. Conjugal infidelity. The covenant made between Jehovah and Israel - the covenant more sacred than between bridegroom and bride - had been wantonly broken. Of this proof was furnished in abundance. It was openly displayed. Shameless publicity marked the dead.
2. Murder of children. The children created by God, and on whom he had set peculiar affection, were cruelly sacrificed unto the insatiable idols. It was murder of the worst sort - murder of innocent and helpless victims. No language of man could exaggerate or over colour the crime.
II. THE RIGHTEOUS SENTENCE. "I will judge thee, as women that break wedlock and that shed blood are judged."
1. The criminal is condemned to public shame. She had openly beasted of her sin; she shall be openly exposed. She shall be made a spectacle to the world. Care shall be taken to bring her companions and paramours to the sight. The most secret intrigue shall be set in the clear light of day. Friends and foes alike shall witness the disgrace.
2. Forfeiture of all possessions. "They shall take thy fair jewels." All the instruments of sin shall be sequestered. The illicit gains of iniquity soon turn to loss. "The wages of sin is death."
3. Summary death. "They shall stone thee with stones." This was the penalty assigned to adultery in the Jewish code. This was the penalty for an individual culprit. But for a community, the punishment ordained was the sword. Therefore it is added, "They shall thrust thee through with their swords." In God's world neither adultery nor idolatry shall long be tolerated.
4. It was an equitable recompense. "I will recompense thy way upon thy head." The entire punishment proceeded in the most natural way; ay, it proceeded in the way of nature. No strange portent appeared in heaven or earth. To the carnal eye no hand nor sword of God was manifest; yet full execution of the sentence was done. As at the creation every plant had the latent power to propagate itself, equally every sin carries in itself suitable and adequate punishment. Death is only ripe sin.
5. It was a satisfaction to eternal righteousness. "I will be quiet, and will be no more angry." The righteousness of God is a force of tremendous energy, and can only be quieted by adequate repentance or adequate retribution. As the sea cannot be calm while a tempest of wind sweeps over its surface, no more can the justice of God be complacent while sin is rampant. But when sin is atoned for, there is profoundest peace - an eternal calm. - D.
I. THE SINS OF WHICH THE PEOPLE OF JERUSALEM WERE GUILTY ARE STATED. These have been set forth at length in the preceding paragraph, and we have considered them here. And, indeed, all the important points in the section now before us have come under our notice in earlier portions of the writings of Ezekiel, most of them more than once; a brief consideration of them will therefore be sufficient in this place. The sins of which the people are here convicted are these.
1. Sinful forgetfulness of their early history. "Thou hast not remembered the days of thy youth" (ver. 43; cf. ver. 22). They forgot the low estate in which the Lord found them in Egypt, and from which he had raised them into a condition of national life, prosperity, and power. This forgetfulness involved base ingratitude.
2. Shameful apostasy from God. "Thus saith the Lord God; Because thy filthiness was poured out, and thy nakedness discovered," etc. The "filthiness" of the Authorized Version should be "brass." The word is used either "for metals of all kinds, or goods and chattels generally, or money in particular It is put instead of the 'whoredoms' of ver. 15, because, according to ver. 33, these were purchased by means of presents" (Schroder).
3. The idolatrous and cruel sacrifice of their own children. "The blood of thy children which thou didst give unto them" (ver. 36; cf. vers. 20, 21).
II. THE SENTENCE ON ACCOUNT OF THESE SINS IS PRONOUNCED.
1. The end of their prosperity and the destruction of their city. "I will also give thee into their hand, and they shall throw down thine eminent place," etc. (vers. 39, 41). There is unmistakable reference here to the siege of Jerusalem, and to the destruction, loss, and misery connected therewith. The people had abused their prosperity to the dishonour of God, and he would completely strip them of prosperity, deprive them of power, and leave them naked and bare as they were when the Lord first interposed for them (ver. 7). "The unfaithful use of the gifts of God inevitably brings on their loss. God cannot be mocked."
2. Their violent death for their spiritual adultery and physical murder. "I will judge thee as women that break wedlock and shed blood are judged; and I will give thee blood in fury and jealousy They shall also bring up a company against thee," etc. (vers. 38, 40). According to the Law of Moses, adultery was to be punished with death by stoning (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:24; John 8:5); death was also the penalty of murder (Exodus 21:12). Such were the judgments of adulteresses and of murderers; and in the siege and capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar such judgments were inflicted upon the guilty people of that city.
3. Their violent death in the presence of and inflicted by the nations with whom they had sinned. (Vers. 37, 41). The "many women" of ver. 41 are the neighbouring nations. These nations should behold the downfall and degradation, the shame and misery, of the apostate people; and the Chaldeans should be the instruments for accomplishing their overthrow, into whose hands they were given by the Lord. It is often so ordered, in the providence of God, that the companions of sinners in their sins become the weapons by which they am punished for those sins. "This is the curse of sin," says Schroder, "that those with whom we have sinned make common cause with our enemies for our punishment .... Friends may in certain circumstances be the most painful rods in God's hand."
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF THE SENTENCE IS INDICATED. "I will recompense thy way upon thine head, saith the Lord God" (ver. 43). The Revised Version is more correct: "I also will bring thy way upon thine head." Sinners "are dealt with not only as they deserved, but as they procured. It is the end which their sin, as a way, had a direct tendency to," which God will bring upon their head.
CONCLUSION. Our subject utters solemn warning against sin, especially on the part of those who have been much blessed by God; for the heinousness of sin is proportionate with the greatness of privilege, and the severity of punishment will correspond with the heinousness of sin. - W.J.
I. SIN MAY BE SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF ANOTHER'S FALL. In the case of Israel it might have been seen in a parent's disaster and doom. For their idolatries, and the vices bred of idolatry, the Amorites and Hittites were swept out of the land; yea, swept out by the sword of Israel. They had seen the judgments which God had brought upon idolatry. It was a fact indissolubly linked with their own history. For them to fall into the same sin is inexplicable; it is the climax of depravity.
II. SIN MAY BE SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF PRIVILEGE. The Hebrews had seen the result of idolatry in the sister kingdom of Samaria. The calves erected at Dan and Bethel had not availed to save Israel from defeat and ruin. They in Judaea had greater privilege. The visible presence of Jehovah was in their holy of holies. They had the priesthood and the daily sacrifice and the smoking altar of incense in their midst. If some kind of excuse could be framed on behalf of Israel's lapse, no such excuse could be framed for Judah. They knew the better course, yet they chose the worse.
III. SIN MAY BE SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF REPEATED WARNING. The disaster which fell upon Samaria and upon Sodom was in the nature of warning to them. It was the clearest warning, written in largest characters. Beside these matter of fact warnings, they were rebuked by a succession of messengers from God. The sin which was great prior to Samaria's fall was greater still after that fall. To continue in sin after repeated warning is to contract fresh sin. Contumely and insubordination are now added. Warning despised is itself a sin.
IV. THE MEASURE OF SIN IS SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF ITS INJURIOUS INFLUENCE ON OTHERS. The inhabitants of Jerusalem had encouraged others to commit idolatry. Other peoples were cloaking themselves under Israel's name. All sin (like some diseases) is terribly contagious. The Jews were inducing others to say, "Well, if these sticklers for an invisible God betake themselves to idols, there must be a reason. Their Jehovah must have failed them. After all, idolatry must be at least permissible." "Thou hast justified thy sisters in all thine abomination."
V. THE DOOM OF SIN MAY BE SEEN IN THE LIGHT OF GOD'S CONSISTENT JUSTICE. "When thy sisters, Sodom and her daughters, shall return to their former estate... then thou and thy daughters shall return to your former estate." God has not one tribunal for the Jews and another for the Canaanites. Out of one statute book all shall be alike judged. Human conduct in every land and in every age shall be measured by one standard rule. As God has dealt with transgressors in former ages, so assuredly will he deal with transgressors in times to come. Other things may change, but God and law and righteousness never. - D.
I. THE HEINOUSNESS OF SIN IS PROPORTIONATE TO THE POSITION AND PRIVILEGES OF THE SINNERS. "The more mercies people enjoy, the greater are their sins if they answer not those mercies." It is by the application of this principle that the people of Judah are pronounced greater sinners than they of Sodom or Samaria. Judah was immeasurably richer in moral and religious advantages than Sodom. "They had Moses and the prophets;" they had a clearer and fuller revelation of the Divine will; they had more frequent warnings and exhortations from holy prophets of the Lord; they had regular religious ordinances, and other aids to a true and righteous life, which Sodom possessed not. The people of Judah had greater privileges than Samaria also, in having the temple of God in their midst, and in having kings of the line of David to reign over them, some of whom were eminent for their piety. Because of their grievous sins, notwithstanding their superior privileges, they are accounted more guilty than the people of Sodom and Samaria (vers. 46-48). The sins of Sodom are specified by the prophet. "Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread," etc. (vers. 49, 50). Her grossest, foulest sin is not mentioned here. Before it was destroyed, Sodom had become a moral plague spot upon the face of God's fair earth. And the sins of Samaria, or of the ten tribes, were many and dark. Yet the highly favoured people of Judah were accounted guiltier than either Sodom or Samaria, because they had committed their sins despite the greatest advantages and privileges. Their wickedness had became proverbial. It was common to say of them, "As is the mother, so is her daughter," etc. (vers. 44, 45; and cf. ver. 3). The principle with which we are dealing was clearly and explicitly stated by our Lord (Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 12:47, 48). Viewed in this light, how heinous are the sins of Great Britain! This land has been must richly blessed by God with civil and religious freedom, with a splendid literature, a noble ancestry, an open Bible, a weekly day of rest and religious service, abundant provision for public worship, and countless Christian ministries. And if these great advantages be not truly prized and improved, a darker, deeper guilt will be ours than that of less favoured peoples.
II. THE MORE HEINOUS SINS OF A MORE FAVOURED PEOPLE JUSTIFY THE SINS OF PERSONS OF INFERIOR PRIVILEGES. "Thou hast justified thy sisters in all thine abominations which thou hast done" (ver. 51). "The justification is a comparative one: in relation to thee, Sodom and Samaria must appear as righteous." Great sins appear small when compared with greater ones. Thus professedly religious people, when they give way to sin, cause those who make no profession of religion to think less gravely, or even lightly, of sin. When religious people have a low standard of practical life and conduct, they thereby lower the standard of those who are about them. Sin in those who occupy the place of the people of God seems to excuse sin in those who occupy a lower position, and in this way affords encouragement to wickedness. Let those "who profess and call themselves Christians" take heed that they so live as not in any way or degree to justify or countenance sin in others.
III. THE GREATEST SINNERS ARE SOMETIMES MOST READY TO JUDGE OTHER SINNERS. "Thou also hast judged thy sisters" (ver. 52). "Judah had concurred from the heart in the Divine judgment on Sodom and Samaria, and exalted herself above them on this account, as the Pharisee in the Gospel." They had spoken harshly of their fellow countrymen who were in exile, and with self-righteous assertion of their own privileges (Ezekiel 11:15). Yet in some respects, as we have seen, they were the greatest sinners. And still it is not the holy, but the wicked, who are most ready to condemn sin in others, and to judge others with rigorous severity. But mark the teaching of our Lord on this matter (Matthew 7:1-5; John 8:2-11).
IV. THE GREATEST SINNERS WILL MEET WITH THE SEVEREST PUNISHMENT. "Thou also, which hast judged thy sisters, bear thine own shame for thy sins that thou hast committed more abominable than they," etc. (ver. 52). Punishment is proportionate with guilt. Terrible were the judgments of God upon Jerusalem (cf. Ezekiel 5:9-12; Lamentations 4:4-11). Jeremiah cries, "The punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater thou the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her." "Sodom's punishment was sharp but short; Jerusalem's was sharp and long." "We are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth." "The righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds."
CONCLUSION. Even the greatest sinners may obtain free and full forgiveness through the infinite mercy of God. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts," etc. (Isaiah 55:6, 7). - W.J.
I. ON GOD'S SIDE MERCY IS REMEMBERED IN THE MIDST OF WRATH. The King pities his subjects even when they are in insurrection against him. It is their own interests that they are jeopardizing, their own sentence of condemnation that they are writing. The Lord of all, whilst he is displeased with the ingratitude and disobedience of his subjects, still retains his own character; there is no vindictiveness in his government; he ever delights in mercy.
II. ON THE SIDE OF JERUSALEM THERE IS SINCERE REPENTANCE AND SHAME. While God remembers his covenant, Jerusalem remembers her ways, and the memory awakens shame and confusion. The poignant appeal has not been made in vain. The mirror has been held up before the face of the sinful and abandoned, and the guilty heart has been conscious of its sin. Conduct, which has been the outcome of unrestrained passion or of an unreflecting yielding to external influence, is now seen in its true light. Deliberate wickedness is deliberately regretted and deliberately loathed. "To us belong shame and confusion of face."
III. THERE IS RE-ESTABLISHMENT OF THE BROKEN COVENANT. This covenant dates back from the time of Jerusalem's youth; her infidelity has indeed cancelled it; but God, in his grace, is willing to overlook and forgive all that is past, and to renew the sweet and happy relations of other times. It is a miracle of mercy. God's ways are not as our ways. Human magnanimity, in its noblest exercise, falls short of this action of the holy God. Here is a revelation of the Divine character which may well bring comfort and hope to the sinner who has forsaken and defied his God, but who sees and repents his folly and his guilt. In the light of the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ the language is infinitely encouraging. There is a covenant of grace into which the righteous God admits, not Israel only, but mankind - a covenant in which all the giving is on God's side, and all the receiving is on ours.
IV. THERE IS AN ASSURANCE OF ACCEPTANCE AND PACIFICATION. The false prophets had proclaimed a false peace; a true peace comes only from him who is the God alike of righteousness and of mercy. When he declares, in the language of the text, "I am pacified toward thee," then it is well. When he giveth peace, who can give trouble? The transgressions of other days are forgotten; the estrangement of other days has given place to concord and harmony. Reverence and love are offered by those who were once in rebellion. And favour and everlasting love are revealed by him who but lately uttered words of reproach, and inflicted chastisement and punishment. It is the happy experience of the justified and accepted believer in Christ which breaks forth into the joyful exclamation, "Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." - T.
I. THE SOURCE OF REPENTANCE. "I," said God, "will remember my covenant with thee." Although God may severely punish, he does not cast off, if there be a vestige of hope. Though they bad forgotten God, God had not forgotten them; nor had he forgotten his covenant. Though gleams of anger were in his eye, and vengeance bared his arm, the love of his heart had not dried up. He ploughed up the field deeply, that the rain of his grace might penetrate the soil. It is pure love that originated the covenant, and pure love that maintains it.
II. THE NATURE OF TRUE REPENTANCE. "Thou shalt be ashamed." Repentance comes from reflection. Sin is the effect of slumber of mind, callousness of conscience. When the real man awakens and reflects, he is filled with shame. He sees himself in the mirror of truth, and his emotional nature is pained, wounded, abashed. He loathes himself. He is willing to give anything, to hear anything, if only he might undo the guilty deeds. A sense of shame is self-inflicted punishment. It is not simply remorse because the sin has been discovered. It is change of mind with respect to sin itself. It is dislike for all sin.
III. THE PROOFS OF REPENTANCE. Great humility is an evidence of repentance. The old pride is sapped and eradicated. Old prejudices and antipathies disappear. Better still, there springs up concern for others - an ardent desire to bless our rivals and our foes. Sodom and Samaria should be received as daughters. The good we obtain we long to share with the worst of men. Generous and benevolent affection is good. evidence of repentance. "Then will I teach transgressors thy ways."
IV. THE EFFECTS OF REPENTANCE. Two effects are mentioned.
1. Intimate friendship with God. "They shall know that I am the Lord." There is meant here, not simply intellectual knowledge, but strong conviction, intimate acquaintance, familiar friendship. This knowledge will increase and ripen into life eternal.
2. Greater self-restraint. "Thou shalt never open thy mouth any more because of thy shame." This indicates great tenderness of conscience; yea, a sensitive dread of offending God. The more we know of God the more reverence we have for him, and the stronger becomes our desire to please him. As is our knowledge, so is our humility - ay, our self-extinction.
The more thy glories meet my eyes,
(1) That this new covenant is more fully described by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31-34); and
(2) that this passage from Jeremiah is directly applied to the Christian covenant in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 8:8-12). The renewed favour of God to his people is seen not so much in temporal as in spiritual blessings.
I. THE RENEWED FAVOUR OF GOD TOWARDS HIS PEOPLE ORIGINATED WITH HIMSELF. "Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant." Notwithstanding their breach of the covenant, and their countless and enormous sins, God will return to them in blessing. And he will do so of his own unmerited and unsought grace. When Jesus Christ came into our world he came without any solicitation from man. "He came unto his own possessions, and his own people received him not." "God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." The contrast between God and the Jews in respect to the covenants shows that the existence of the new one was entirely owing to his grace.
1. They forgot him and the covenant into which they entered with him. But he says, "I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth." He does not forget the engagements into which he enters, or the promises which he makes. "If we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself."
2. They outrageously broke the covenant. "Thou hast despised the oath in breaking the covenant" (ver. 59). But the Lord says, "I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant." Clearly this was not of their merit, but of his mercy. "By grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, that no man should glory."
II. THS RENEWED FAVOUR OF GOD TO HIS PEOPLE AWAKENS WITHIN THEM PENITENT RECOLLECTIONS. "Then shalt thou remember thy ways, and be ashamed." This remembrance is not mere recollection, but recollection and reflection upon the things remembered. Moved by the grace of God, the Jews would recall to mind their sinful ways, and consider them, and take to themselves shame because of them. Like the psalmist -
"I thought on my ways,
III. THE RENEWED FAVOUR OF GOD EXPRESSED IN THE BESTOWMENT OF RICH BLESSINGS. The blessings mentioned and referred to in the text are those of the new covenant which God would make with man. "I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant And I will establish my covenant with thee" (vers. 60, 62; and cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34).
1. These blessings are spiritual. The knowledge of God is one of them. "And thou shalt know that I am the Lord." We have frequently read of their knowing him as a consequence of his judgments. Now we come to their knowing him as a result of his grace. This knowledge is more true and tender, more intimate and influential, than that. This is a saving acquaintance with him. "This is life eternal, that they should know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ." The forgiveness of sin is another of the blessings mentioned in the text. "When I am pacified towards thee for all that thou hast done" (ver. 63), should be, as in the Revised Version, "When I have forgiven thee all that thou hast done." "I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:34). Says Schroder, "As the covenant springs from pure mercy and faithfulness, so in its inmost essence it consists in forgiveness of sins." What a blessing this is] But the chief blessing of the covenant is not expressly mentioned by Ezekiel. God gives himself as the crowmng blessing of the covenant. "I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jeremiah 31:33). Having him for our Portion, we have all good in him.
2. These blessings are universal. "Thou shalt receive thy sisters, thine elder and thy younger." By these sisters probably Samaria and Sodom are meant (cf. ver. 46). But they must he taken, in connection with Jerusalem, as representing the world wide extent of the blessings of the new covenant. The gospel is not for one nation or people, but for humanity, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners;" "He died for all;" "Who gave himself a ransom for all;" "The living God is the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe." And our Lord sent forth his servants into all the world to preach the gospel to the whole creation. Judah is said to receive these sisters, and they are said "to be given to her for daughters, because through her they should attain to the inheritance of blessing." "Salvation is of the Jews;" "Of whom is Christ as concerning the flesh." The first Christians were Jews. The apostles who offered the blessings of the new covenant unto the Gentiles, and received those of them who believed into the Church, were Jews.
3. These blessings are perpetual. "I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant." The first covenant was said to be "everlasting" (Genesis 17:7); and it was so in the sense that it led the way to and was fulfilled in this one. And this covenant shall never be abolished. With all its wealth of blessings it abides perpetually. God, the Supreme Blessing of it, is the soul's unchangeable and eternal Portion. "God is the Rock of my heart and my Portion forever."
IV. THE RENEWED FAVOUR OF GOD PRODUCES MOST DESIRABLE EFFECTS.
1. Sincere repentance for sin. "That thou mayest remember, and be confounded." The repentance which consists in abhorrence of sin, and grief because we have sinned against so gracious a God and Father, and in love to him and to all goodness, is not decreased by the reception of his forgiveness and favour, but rather increased. The more we know of God and the more we enjoy of his grace, the more base and wicked will sin appear unto us. "Sanctified knowledge will produce sanctified shame, sorrow, and tears. When we apprehend God to have taken us into covenant with him, to be our God, to have done great things for us, to have promised great things to us, and to have been very good to us, then the remembrance of our wretched ways causeth a holy shame and a holy sorrow" (Greenhill).
2. Devout submission to his will. "And never open thy mouth any more" in murmuring, or complaint, or rebellion against him. It is the silence of trustful acquiescence in his will. "I was dumb, I opened not my mouth; because thou didst it." "Thus Divine grace received into the heart produces gracious results in the lives of those who receive it." - W.J.