Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE ROYAL ORIGIN AND DIGNITY OF THE PRINCES. They are compared to lions, nourished by the lioness their dam, among the whelps. Sprung from the royal stock, and a knowledged as being in the succession, they occupied in due time the throne of their fathers. This arrangement was in fulfilment of the promise made by Jehovah to David, that there should not fail a man to sit upon the throne of the royal bard.
II. THE MISUSE BY THE PRINCES OF THEIR POWERS. It is natural that the young lion should catch its prey and even devour men. But when the princes are compared to such bloodthirsty and carnivorous beasts, it is implied that they were in the habit of oppressing and robbing their subjects, and treating them with violence and cruelty. As a matter of fact, the two princes referred to did conduct themselves in a tyrannical and unjust manner.
III. THE FATE WHICH THE PRINCES PREPARED FOR THEMSELVES. The nations are described by the poet prophet as hearing of the ravening of the lions, and as setting themselves against them, spreading a net, digging a pit, and, by the use of customary devices, taking the noxious marauder. The first-mentioned prince was taken captive into Egypt, the second to Babylon. They are depicted as led in chains, as put in ward, and of the second it is poetically observed that "his voice was no more heard upon the mountains of Israel." As far as history enables us to judge, these princes met with the reward due to their ungodliness, violence, rapacity, and treachery.
IV. THE NEGLECT OF ONE OF THE PRINCES TO LEARN AND TAKE WARNING BY THE FATE OF THE OTHER. Whether if Jehoiachin had been wise, and had learned the lesson publicly pronounced by the doom of Jehoahaz, he might have escaped ruin, we cannot toll. But by disregarding that lesson he sealed his fate. How often it happens in human affairs that the most obvious and powerful lesson, enforced by striking actual examples, makes no impression upon the mind of the young, self-willed and irreligious!
V. A PRACTICAL AND IMPORTANT LESSON IS THUS CONVEYED TO ALL WHO ARE CALLED BY PROVIDENCE TO GOVERN THEIR FELLOW MEN.
1. Princes should not rely upon their high descent, their birth, their ancestral clams to respect.
2. Princes should not use their power and the influence of their station for their own personal emoluments or pleasures.
3. Princes should be wise, and order their doings by the precepts of Divine righteousness.
4. Princes should remember the instability of thrones and the uncertainty of life and prosperity, and accordingly should be diligent in their endeavours for the public good. - T.
I. KINGLY POWER WAS INTENDED AS A BENEFIT. What the shepherd is to his flock, the king should be to his people. He is intended to live and think and plan for their good. Wisdom, not self-will, ought to be his supreme counsellor. As an army cannot succeed without a commander; as a ship cannot voyage prosperously without a pilot; as a family cannot do well without a parent; so a kingdom must have a ruler. The administration of justice and of defence must have a living head. The appointment of a king, whether he be human or Divine, is a necessity for a nation's prosperity; and that king will be either a blessing or a curse.
II. KINGLY POWER MAY BECOME SELFISH. The man who is exalted to the highest place of honour is so exalted that he may serve the nation. But, in a measure, he holds an irresponsible office. There is no higher power which can control or restrain him. Hence there is a great temptation for the abuse of office. The man may use his power to aggrandize himself, to increase his pleasures or his magnificence. Setting aside prudence, wisdom, benevolent regard for others, he may become arrogant, self-willed, tyrannical. The lower appetites of his nature may rule him, and the effect will be as if a beast ruled the people. Though a lion is chief among wild animals, he is but a beast still; and the worst features of the untamed lion were manifest in the kings of Israel and of Judah.
III. KINGLY POWER, IF SELFISH, BECOMES DESTRUCTIVE. This young lion learnt "to catch prey, it devoured men." He who was set over the people to preserve life, to afford protection to their interests, perverted his high office, destroyed those he was appointed to save. The king is set in the stead of God, to reward obedience, and to punish transgression; by the abuse of his office he becomes an Apollyon, an ally of Satan. He destroys his people's peace, destroys their fortunes, destroys their lives. His misrule encourages violence on the high ways, private murder, civil war, foreign invasion, An evil king is a fount of death - the nation's executioner.
IV. KINGLY POWER, WHEN ABUSED, MUST BE FETTERED. "The nations set against him on every side... and spread their net over him: he was taken in their pit." He who is unjust and violent in dealing with his own people will be unjust and insolent in dealing with surrounding nations. But neighbouring kings are more free to resent and punish royal insole,ice than are the subjects of the monarch. Hence it often happens that retribution comes from the mutual consent of foreigners. There is One who rules among the nations, higher that the highest king, and he can employ a thousand methods to restrain and chastise a tyrant. At times God employs the subjects of the realm; sometimes he employs death; sometimes he employs a foreign army - a foreign league. It is a perilous thing to tamper with righteousness. - D.
1. Who is addressed by the prophet? Or, whom are we to understand by the pronoun "thy"? "What was thy mother?" "Jehoiachin is addressed," says the 'Speaker's Commentary.' Hengstenberg says, "The address is to the man Judah, the people of the present." And Schroder, "The address is directed to the people." But, as we shall see, the people are probably represented by the lioness; and if such be the case, it is hardly congruous to say that they are addressed in the pronoun "thy;" for that would represent them at once as the "mother" and the offspring.
2. Who is represented by fly mother, a lioness? According to Schroder, "the mother of the people is Jerusalem" (cf. Galatians 4:25, seq.; Lamentations 1:1). The general opinion is that the mother represents the people of Judah or of the whole Israel. Hengstenberg, "The mother is the people in itself." Matthew Henry, "He must compare the kingdom of Judah to a lioness." Scott, "The Jewish Church and nation is represented under the image of a lioness." 'Speaker's Commentary,' "The people represented by Judah."
3. Who are represented by the two whelps? (Vers. 3, 5.) It is generally agreed that by them are set forth the two princes for whom this lamenta tion is made, and that by the first whelp which "became a young lion" is signified Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:30). But opinion is divided as to whether the other whelp which was "made a young lion" represents Jehoiakim or Jehoiachin. Hengstenberg, Schroder, and the 'Speaker's Commentary' say that it was Jehoiachin, for this amongst other reasons, that he "was not appointed by a foreign prince out of order, like his father Jehoiakim, but succeeded regularly with the consent of the people (2 Kings 24:6)." But it is difficult to see how vers. 6 and 7 can be applied to him, seeing that he reigned only three months and ten days (2 Chronicles 36:9). On the other hand, if we take vers. 5-9 as applying to Jehoiakim, then the ninth verse presents this difficulty, that it represents the prince as being carried into Babylon as a prisoner, and there brought into strongholds, and his voice never more heard upon the mountains of Israel; whereas it is said in 2 Kings 24:6 that "Jehoiakim slept with his fathers;" and in Jeremiah 22:19, "He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem." But, as Dr. Milman remarks, "There is much difficulty about the death of Jehoiakim;" for in addition to the state merits just quoted from 2 Kings and Jeremiah, in 2 Chronicles 36:6 it is said that Nebuchadnezzar "bound him in fetters to carry him to Babylon." Whether we conclude that Jehoiakim or Jehoiachin is referred to in vers. 5-9, difficulties meet us which perhaps at present cannot be completely cleared away. On the three questions at which we have glanced, the following remarks of Greenhill are deserving of quota tion: "It is said 'thy mother' in reference to each prince. Jehoahaz, 'what is thy mother?' Jehoiakim, 'what is thy mother?' By 'mother' here is meant Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah. Great cities and kingdoms are in a metaphorical sense mothers; they bring forth kings; they elect, crown, and set them up to rule." But leaving questions of disputed interpretation, let us look at those aspects or illustrations of historical and moral truths which this lamentation sets forth. We discover here -
I. ROYAL POSITION AND POWER SYMBOLIZED. "What was thy mother? A lioness: she couched among lions, in the midst of the young lions she nourished her whelps." "The people appears as a lioness," says Hengstenberg, "on the ground of Genesis 49:9, to which passage the couching in particular refers (cf. Numbers 23:24; Numbers 24:9; Isaiah 29:1), because it was a royal people, of equal birth with other independent and powerful nations, as this royal nature was historically displayed, especially in the times of David and Solomon The whelps of the mother are the sons of the King of Israel The bringing up of these among lions points to the fact that the kingdom of Israel was of equal birth with the mighty kingdoms of the heathen world." And Schroder says excellently, "That she 'lay down' among the neighbouring royal states betokens majestic repose and conscious security - the fearless one exciting fear by imposing power." The power and prosperity thus indicated were especially realized during the later years of the reign of David and the greater portion of that of Solomon. Of this we have evidence in 1 Chronicles 14:17; 1 Chronicles 24:26-28; 2 Chronicles 9.
II. ROYAL POSITION AND POWER ABUSED. "And she brought up one of her whelps; he became a young lion: and he learned to catch the prey, he devoured men." The young lion is intended to represent Jehoahaz, who was raised to the throne by the people (2 Kings 23:30). "He was an impious man," said Josephus, "and impure in his course of life." "And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to all that his fathers had done" (2 Kings 23:32). And, according to our text, during his brief reign he abused his kingly power by oppressing his subjects. Then we have the abuse of kingly power in another sovereign (vers. 5-7). It we take this as referring to Jehoiakim, it is difficult to see how it can be appropriately said that "she took another of her whelps, and made him a young lion," seeing that he was raised to the throne by Pharaoh-Necho (2 Kings 23:34). But in other respects the description here given suits him well (cf. vers. 6, 7 with 2 Kings 23:35-37). Josephus says that "he was of a wicked disposition, and ready to do mischief: nor was he either religious towards God or good-natured towards men" ('Ant.,' 10:5. 2). Again, if we translate ver. 7 as in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' "he knew his palaces" (both Hengstenberg and Schroder translate "his" in this clause, and not "their" as in the Authorized Version), the reference to Jehoiakim becomes yet more clear; for he had a passion for building splendid edifices, and he gratified it by injustice and oppression (Jeremiah 22:13-19). By both these princes their position and power were wickedly abused. Rank and might should be used in accordance with the will of God and for the good of man. Kings should employ their power for the protection and prosperity of their subjects.
"Since by your greatness you
"When those whom Heaven distinguishes o'er millions,
III. ROYAL POSITION AND POWER TAKEN AWAY. "The nations also heard of him; he was taken in their pit, and they brought him with chains unto the land of Egypt" (cf. 2 Kings 23:31-34). There is here "an allusion to the custom, when the news arrives that a lion or other savage beast is committing mischief, of assembling on all sides to seize and slay it" (C.B. Michaelis). The "chains," "hooks," or "rings," by which Jehoahaz is said to have been brought into Egypt, refer to the custom of putting a ring "through the nose of animals that require to be restrained, to attach to it the bridle by which they are led, by which also their power of breathing can be lessened" (cf. 2 Kings 19:28). Jehoiakim also was stripped of the power which he had abused. "The nations set against him on every side from the provinces; and they spread their net over him," etc. (vers. 8, 9). The historical explanation is given in 2 Kings 24:1, 2; 2 Chronicles 36:5, 6. Or, if vers. 8 and 9 be applied to Jehoiachin, we have their explanation in 2 Kings 24:10-16. When kings and princes abuse their power, in the providence of God it is taken away from them. Many examples of this might he cited; as Saul (1 Samuel 31.), Zimri (1 Kings 16:8-20), Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21.), Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:1-11). And, as Greenhill says, "Tiberius was poisoned or smothered by his own nephew; Caligula slain by his own guard; Vitrellius was overthrown in battle, taken prisoner, and drawn with a halter about his neck along the streets, half naked, and after many outrages done unto him, he was killed and cast into the Tiber. Leander, tyrant of Cyrena, was taken alive, and being sewed into a leathern bag, was cast into the sea. Thirty tyrants were slain in one day at Athens, by Theramenes, Thrasibulus, and Archippns, who did it with seventy men." The measure they had meted unto others was measured also unto them. As they had done, so God requited them. These things call for lamentation on the part of the patriotic and the pious. When splendid opportunities are worse than neglected, and exalted position and power are grievously abused, and princes oppress their people, the wise and good do mourn. National sins and calamities should awaken the sorrow of all lovers of their God and country. - W.J.
I. JERUSALEM IN HER GLORY.
1. The city was well placed upon her hills; as the vine by the waters that nourish and cheer the noble plant in the heat and drought of summer.
2. The city was noble of aspect; even as the vine of exalted stature, as she appears in her height with the multitude of her branches.
3. The city was strong in her sway; as the vine with her vigorous and pliant rods "for the sceptics of them that bear rule."
4. The city was fruitful in great men and great thinkers and great deeds; even as the vine that beat's abundant clusters of rich grapes. There is fondness and pride in these references to the sacred and beloved metropolis.
II. JERUSALEM IN HER DESOLATION. It would seem that Ezekiel, foreseeing what is about to come to pass, speaks of the ruin of the city as if already accomplished. The vine in its wealth of foliage and of fruit is the picture of the memory; the vine in its destruction is the sad vision of the immediate future, and the foreboding seems a fact.
1. The city itself is besieged, taken, and dismantled.
2. The chief inhabitants are either slain or led away into banishment.
3. The princes are deprived of their power.
4. The city's prosperity and pride, wealth and prowess, are all at an end.
III. JERUSALEM LAMENTED. The spectacle of a famous metropolis, the seat of historic government and of a consecrated temple, reduced to helplessness and disgrace, is a spectacle not to be beheld without emotion. We are reminded of the language in which an English poet represents the Roman conqueror, centuries afterwards, lamenting the sad but inevitable fate of Jerusalem: -
"It moves me, Romans; APPLICATION. 1. The transitoriness and mutability of earthly greatness are very impressively brought before us in this passage. Sic transit gloria mundi. 2. Eminence and privilege are no security against the operation of righteous law. 3. Repentance and obedience are the only means by which it may be hoped that advantages will be retained, and further opportunities of useful service afforded. - T.
1. The transitoriness and mutability of earthly greatness are very impressively brought before us in this passage. Sic transit gloria mundi.
2. Eminence and privilege are no security against the operation of righteous law.
3. Repentance and obedience are the only means by which it may be hoped that advantages will be retained, and further opportunities of useful service afforded. - T.
I. HER FAME.
1. It was a vine of the noblest quality. Her sap was rich; like Blood. She was of the choicest sort. Abraham was the parent stock, and Abraham was the highest kind of man - "the friend of God."
2. This vine was well situated. Of all lands God had chosen Canaan for the abode of his people. It had been chosen by unerring Wisdom, and prepared by omnipotent power. It lay central among the nations; it had natural excellence; it was the glory of all lands. Sharon and Carmel and Lebanon are still the synonyms for splendid fertility.
3. This vine actually flourished. "Her stature was exalted." "She had strong rods." Prosperity was not only possible; it was matter of fact. The vine bare prolifically. During the reigns of David and Solomon the people enjoyed an enviable prosperity. Wealth increased. Knowledge spread. Religion flourished. The people thronged to offer sacrifices. The sabbath was a delight. A magnificent temple was erected. The Jewish empire grew. Surrounding nations honoured the people that God had so signally blessed. Peace abounded in the land. There was contentment, order, plenty, national fame. Such rapid progress had never been known. What had been thus gained could have been maintained. The vine that has so nobly borne fruit can bear fruit still.
II. HER FOLLY. The fault of Israel is here rather implied than expressed. Her sin was unfruitfulness. Instead of pruning the rank branches of this vine, the husbandmen allowed them to grow; and soon all the strength of the tree ran out in branch and leaf. Instead of caring for clusters of holy fruit, "she had strong rods for the sceptres of them that bare rule." The nation was bent rather upon display, showy magnificence, military glory, than upon the works of righteousness and religion. The rank and luxuriant growths of idolatry took the place of fruitful piety. There was a fever of self-exaltation. The people imagined they could live upon their past fame. The kings became incarnations of selfishness, and the people, like a flock of sheep, eagerly followed the base example. Unfruitfulness was her folly and her curse. A vine is worse than useless unless it bears fruit; and Israel was worse than useless in the world when she threw aside her loyalty to God.
III. HER FALL. "She was plucked up in fury." A storm swept over her, which rooted her out of the ground. Here is depicted:
1. The vine's prostrate state. It was laid low. This is a graphic description of Israel's defeat in war. In David's day, no neighbouring king dared to whisper any defiance to Israel; now every surrounding army had made raids upon her territory and despoiled her possessions. The capitals, Jerusalem and Samaria, had been besieged and captured.
2. Demolition of the strong branches. The royal sceptre was broken. At this moment the king was a vassal, under tribute to the King of Babylon. Kingly rule was only a shadow and a pretence. Every strong arm in Judaea was withered.
3. The element of destruction had issued out of itself. "A fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, which hath devoured her fruit." This language implies that it was the sin of her kings that brought about this terrible downfall. Had it not been for internal vice and folly, no foreign foe could have done Israel harm. For the arm of Jehovah was round about her. Sin has always the seed of punishment within itself. The fire came from within.
4. Yet there is a circumstance of hope. The vine is not left prostrate - unrooted. The Divine Husbandman has intentions of future kindness. The vine shall again be planted in the land of Israel; meanwhile "it is planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty ground." This precludes despair. This preservation of the vine nourishes hope. But compared with former favours and privileges, this captivity is a barren wilderness. Bare preservation of life is all that can there be expected. Such disaster is fitting theme for human lamentation. What material for sorrow is supplied by wanton guilt! - D.
Psalm 80:8-16; Isaiah 5:1-7; Jeremiah 2:21). The parable before us presents two pictures.
I. A PICTURE OF NATIONAL PROSPERITY. (Vers. 10, 11.)
1. Some features of national prosperity.
(1) Favourable circumstances. "A vine planted by the waters." Palestine, the land of the chosen people, was very favourably situated in many respects. It was almost completely surrounded by natural fortifications. On their northern frontier were the ranges of Lebanon; from their southern frontier "stretched that 'great and terrible wilderness,' which roiled like a sea between the valley of the Nile and the valley of the Jordan." On the east they were guarded by the eastern desert and by "the vast fissure of the Jordan valley;" and on the west by the Mediterranean, which, "when Israel first settled in Palestine, was not yet the thoroughfare - it was rather the boundary and the terror of the Eastern nations." And to the Western world the coast of Palestine opposed an inhospitable front, Moreover, the land in which this vine was planted was remarkable for its fertility (cf. Numbers 13:27; Deuteronomy 8:7-9). Palestine, says Dean Stanley, "not merely by its situation, but by its comparative fertility, might well be considered the prize of the Eastern world, the possession of which was the mark of God's peculiar favour; the spot for which the nations would contend; as on a smaller scale the Bedouin tribes for some 'diamond of the desert,' some 'palm-grove islanded amid the waste.' And a land of which the blessings were so evidently the gift of God, not as in Egypt of man's Inborn'; which also, by reason of its narrow extent, was so constantly within reach and sight of the neighbouring desert, was eminently calculated to raise the thoughts of the nation to the Supreme Giver of all these blessings, and to bind it by the dearest ties to the land which he had so manifestly favoured."
(2) Efficient rulers. "She had strong rods for the sceptre of them that bare rule." "There grew up in Jerusalem-Judah strong shoots of David, able to rule (Genesis 49:10)." All her kings were not eminent either for capability or character; but some of them certainly were; e.g. David, Solomon, Asa. Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Josiah.
(3) Manifest progress. "She was fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters Her stature was exalted among the thick branches, and she appeared in her height with the multitude el her branches." In the time of David and Solomon great was the prosperity of the nation (cf. 1 Chronicles 14:17; 1 Chronicles 29:26-28; 2 Chronicles 9.). Even under Zedekiah (as we pointed out on Ezekiel 17:5, 6) an encouraging measure of progress and prosperity might have been attained if he had remained faithful to his engagements with the King of Babylon.
2. The great source of national prosperity. "She was fruitful and full of branches by reason of many waters." "The many waters," says Hengstenberg, "signify the Divine blessing which ruled over Israel, the rich influx of grace." The Israelites in a special sense owed their national existence and power and prosperity to Jehovah their God. And in all times and places true and lasting national prosperity can only be attained by compliance with the Law of God and realization of his blessing. "Righteousness exalteth a nation," etc.; "The throne is established by righteousness;" "The God of Israel, he giveth strength and power unto his people." He also "bringeth princes to nothing; he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity."
II. A PICTURE OF NATIONAL RUIN. (Vers. 12-14.) Schroder calls attention to the sudden transition from the description of the prosperity of this vine to the declaration of its destruction. "Without the intervention of anything further, there follows its splendid growth, like a lightning-flash from the clear heavens, the complete overthrow of the vine, i.e. of Jerusalem-Judah, the birthplace of kings, and therewith the Davidic kingdom."
1. Some features of this ruin.
(1) Favourable circumstances are exchanged for adverse ones. Formerly she was" planted by the waters;" and now she is "planted in the wilderness, in a dry and thirsty land." The expression is figurative, setting forth their exile as a condition opposed to their growth and prosperity. "Such a wilderness may even be in the midst of a cultivated land." In some respects, "Babylon was as a wilderness to those of the people that were carried captive thither." They had lost their national life, their ancestral estates, many of their religious privileges, etc.
(2) Efficient rulers are no more. "Her strong rods were broken and withered; the fire consumed them She hath no strong rod to be a sceptre to rule." The words, perhaps, refer to Zedekiah and his miserable overthrow (2 Kings 25:4-7). And there was no one to retrieve their fallen fortunes, or to reign efficiently over the remnant of them that was left in the land (cf. Isaiah 3:6-8).
(3) Manifest progress is exchanged for desolation and ruin. "She was plucked up in fury, she was cast down to the ground, and the east wind dried up her fruit And fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, which hath devoured her fruit." The commentary on these clauses we have in 2 Kings 25:8-26; 2 Chronicles 36:17-20; Jeremiah lit. 12-30; and in Lamentations.
2. The instrument of this ruin. "The east wind dried up her fruit" (cf. Ezekiel 17:10; Hosea 13:15). The east wind points to the Chaldeans as the instrument of the Divine judgment. The figure is appropriate, both because the Chaldeans dwelt in the east, and because the east wind is often injurious to vegetable life.
3. The cause of this ruin. "Fire is gone out of a rod of her branches, which hath devoured her fruit." "The fire goes out from the chief stem of the branches: it does not take its rise from the Chaldees, but proceeds from the royal family itself, which by its crimes called down the Divine vengeance." It was Zedekiah, by his base treachery towards Nebuchadnezzar, that at last brought on the ruin (Ezekiel 17:15-21). "The desolation of kingdoms," says Greenhill, "usually have been by their own kings and rulers, by those they have brought forth and set up; their follies, cruelties, treacheries, have fired and consumed their kingdoms."
1. Prosperity, both individual and national, is of God.
2. Ruin, both individual and national, is self-caused. "The fire of one's own unrighteousness kindles the wrathful judgment of God." "Men first become parched, then the rite consumes them." "O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself!"
3. Sin invariably leads to sorrow. It first causes lamentation to the good, and then leads to general lamentation. Sin may be committed amidst mirth and music, but it will speedily had to mourning and woe. "This is a lamentation, and shall be for a lamentation." - W.J.