Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. MAN'S NEED OF A DIVINE ORACLE. The elders of Israel may be taken as representatives of mankind generally. They approached the prophet in order to inquire of the Lord. And in this they were right.
1. For human ignorance needs Divine enlightenment and teaching.
2. Human uncertainty and perplexity need Divine guidance, wise and authoritative.
3. Human sinfulness, clouding, as it does, the spiritual vision, needs authoritative precept as to the path of duty.
4. Human fear and foreboding need the consolation of Divine kindness and the promise of Divine support.
II. GOD'S WILLINGNESS TO REPLY FULLY AND GRACIOUSLY TO THE APPLICATION OF EARNEST INQUIRERS. if there is one lesson more than another inculcated with frequency and constancy in the pages of Scripture, it is this - that the eternal Father is accessible to his children, that there is no need which they can bring unto him which he is not ready to supply from his infinite fulness and according to his infinite compassion. Revelation itself is a proof of this. The commission given to prophets and apostles was with a view to a suitable and sufficient response to the inquiries of men. The supreme Gift of God, his own Son, is just a provision intended to meet the wants, the deep spiritual cravings, of the human heart; he is "God with us." To question God's willingness to receive those who inquire of him is to cast a doubt upon the genuine: hess of the economies alike of the Law and of the gospel.
III. THE MORAL CONDITIONS INDISPENSABLY NECESSARY IN ORDER TO RECEIVING A RESPONSE FROM THE ORACLE OF GOD. Two such conditions may especially be mentioned.
1. Teachableness and humility; the disposition of the little child, without which none can enter the kingdom of heaven; the new birth, which is the entrance upon the new life.
2. Repentance. Whilst living in sin and loving sin men cannot receive the righteousness, the blessing, which the heavenly Father waits to bestow. "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God." Sin is as a cloud which hides the sunlight from shining upon the soul; it is like certain conditions of atmosphere, it hinders the sound of God's voice from reaching the spiritual ear. This is the action, not of arbitrary will, but of moral law.
IV. THE PRACTICAL LESSONS TO BE LEARNT BY APPLICANTS.
1. Here, many, in the same position as that occupied by the elders of Israel who came to Ezekiel, may learn the reason of their rejection. "As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you!"
2. Here all suppliants may learn a lesson of encouragement. It is not in God's ill will that the obstacle to our reception is to be sought; lot there is no ill wilt in him. "Wash you, make you clean!" Draw near with a sense of need, with confessions of unworthiness, with requests based upon the revealed loving kindness of the heavenly Father; draw near in the name of him who has himself shown the vastness of the obstacle of sin, and who has himself removed that obstacle; and be assured of a gracious reception and a free and sufficient response. In Christ, the Eternal addresses the sons of men, saying, "Seek ye my face!" and in Christ the lowly and penitent may approach the throne of grace with the exclamation, "Thy face, Lord, will I seek!" - T.
I. DISTRESS USUALLY DRIVES MEN TO SEEK GOD. The bulk of men are self-confident. They will not seek God until they discover their insufficiency to meet misfortune or death. As the sailor does not seek harbour until driven by tempest, so men avoid God. Yet, in the hour of peril or pain, an inborn instinct leads them to rest on an arm mightier than theirs. Sorrow is God's home call.
II. PRAYER LEADS TO THE RESURRECTION OF OUR SINS. It is impossible to do good to a man so long as he stifles the voice of conscience; and the first duty of a true prophet is to bring sin to our remembrance. Unrepented sin is man's chief foe, and to dislodge this foe from the heart's citadel is God's prime endeavour. The barrier that shuts out the light of heaven is the shutter of our own impenitence. The obdurate man destroys his own hope. He bars heaven's door against himself; he writes his own failure. It is kindness on God's part to show us our sins, for his hops is that we may loathe them and abandon them.
III. THE HISTORY OF OUR FATHERS' SINS OFTEN BECOMES THE HISTORY OF OUR OWN SINS. He who hears of his father's sin and does not hate it soon adopts it as his own child. The history of the past is compressed into our own experience. The Fall in Eden is repeated in our own history. All the history and development of a tree is condensed into each fruit kernel; so the moral history is incorporated in us. We may use it for our profit or for our injury. If we continue the same line of conduct as our guilty forefathers, we re-enact their sins, we endorse their guilty deeds. The entailment of moral qualities is a pregnant truth. On this ground it was that all the martyrs' blood, from Abel downward, accumulated upon the men in our Lord's age.
IV. NEGLECT OF DIVINE ADMONITION IS FRESH SIN. The knowledge of past admonition adds to our responsibility. Warnings addressed to our ancestors are warnings addressed to us. Every item in the revelation of God's will is intended for our profit; for revelations of the eternal God have an abiding force. If we are not moved or awed by judgments passed upon our ancestors, ours is the greater sin. As our light is greater than was our forefathers', so is our sin, unless we repudiate it by repentance.
V. GOD'S PERMISSIONS ARE OFTEN CHASTISEMENTS. "Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live." The self-blindness and obduracy of men is such that oftentimes God cannot give them the best laws: such would be above their comprehension - above their appreciation. Good law can never be much in advance of a people's moral condition. God allowed Lot to retire to Zoar, but the permission became a curse. God yielded to the Jews' demand for a king, but their kings led them to civic strife and idolatry. Jesus Christ yielded to the demand of the Gadarenes to leave their province, but their loss was great. How much need have we to merge our wills in God's will!
VI. GOD'S MEMORY OF OUR MISDEEDS NEVER FAILS. We may forget, or regard as trivial, some deed of the past; yet it lives, in complete reality, in the memory of God. Likely enough these elders were astounded with this long recital of their evil deeds. This, however, is a sample of God's treatment of all men. The reappearance of our old sins - the reappearance before the public gaze - will be one element in our punishment. The future publicity of our follies will form a great ingredient in our shame. The world already knows the aggravated sins of the Hebrews.
VII. GOD'S WILL OVERREACHES AND OVERMASTERS MAN'S WILL. "And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen!" Man resolves; God overrules. Mighty as man's will is, it is feeble in comparison with God's will. It may be as iron, but even iron is treated as a plaything by the electric force. Even wickedness shall be restrained of God. Satan shall be bound with chains. Many men are guiltier than the measure of their deeds. There are murderers that never slew a man, felons that never stole. The intention is as guilty as the act. Man's intended wickedness shall be held in check.
VIII. GOD'S REGARD FOR HIS NAME IS COINCIDENT WITH MAN'S BEST WELFARE. "I wrought for my Name's sake." One great purpose our God has in view, in all his government among men, is to reveal himself - to unfold the qualities of his character. This is essential to the highest good of his creature man. He will be patient and tender, or judicial and severe, in order to bring into view all the excellences of his majestic character. The more his saints see of his personal characteristics, the more they admire him, the more they become like him. No one will conclude that the human family has yet seen all the aspects of God's character or all the perfections of his nature. Without doubt, eternity will be spent in spelling out the meaning of that great Name. - D.
Ezekiel 14:1-5, suggests -
I. THAT IT IS RIGHT AND LAUDABLE TO INQUIRE OF THE LORD. These elders of Israel who came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before the prophet, were of the exiles. Like Ezekiel, they had been carried away from their own land to Babylon. Neither the occasion which gave rise to their inquiry, nor the inquiry itself, is stated. Hengstenberg conjectures that "the embassy had probably a special occasion in the circumstances of the time, in a favourable turn which the affairs of the coalition had taken. They wish to obtain confirmation of their joyful hopes from the mouth of the prophet." Or they wanted to ascertain from him if there was a prospect of the deliverance of Zedekiah from the Chaldean power (cf. Jeremiah 21:1, 2). It seems clear from the answer which they received that their inquiry was political, not moral; that it related to the state of their country in relation to other nations, not to their personal relations to God. But our present point is that it is right and commendable to inquire of the Lord. We may inquire of him by searching the Scriptures in an earnest and devout spirit, by prayer for the illumination and direction of the Holy Spirit, and by engaging in public worship and attending the ministration of his Word. Thus David desired "to inquire in his temple." This is often profitable to those who wait upon him in a true spirit. Asaph found it so (Psalm 73:16, 17). And so did Hezekiah King of Judah (2 Kings 19:14-37). And so have millions besides.
II. THAT MEN SOMETIMES INQUIRE OF THE LORD IN A WRONG SPIRIT. These elders did so (cf. ch. 14:1-3). Their outward act was right; their inward motive was wrong. Moreover, while it was right to inquire of the Lord, that which they wanted to know was not commendable. They wanted the satisfaction of their political curiosity, not direction in the way of duty. So far were they from desiring to conform to the wilt of God, that they were in their heart proposing to themselves an opposite course of conduct (cf. ver. 32). "They did here," says Greenhill, "like many that are bent upon marriage, who will go to two or three to inquire and have counsel, but are resolved to go on whatever is said unto them; so whatever counsel they should have had given them from the Lord, they meant to go on in their wicked ways; and this was profound hypocrisy, whose wont it is to veil the foulest things with the fairest pretences." And in these days men may inquire of the Lord perversely. They may consult him by means of his Word in a wrong spirit. They may examine that Word with strong prejudices; or not to learn his mind and will, but to obtain sanctions and supports for their own opinions; or from curiosity rather than piety. Men may attend church, not "to inquire in his temple," but from very different and very inferior motives. They may even seek him in prayer in a wrong spirit - in an unbelieving, unsubmissive, selfish, worldly spirit. If we would draw near to him acceptably and profitably, we "must believe that he is, and that he is a Rewarder of them that seek after him;" we must be humble and reverent; we must bow loyally to his supreme authority, and we must sincerely desire to do his will. "If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching," etc. (John 7:17). By earnestly desiring and endeavoring to do the will of God, as far as it is known unto you, you are qualifying yourself to receive further revelations from him.
III. THAT THE LORD OBSERVES THE SPIRIT IN WHICH MEN INQUIRE OF HIM. He knew the real feelings and motives of these elders of Israel, and spake to them accordingly through his servant Ezekiel. And he was fully cognizant of the idols in the hearts of the elders who waited upon the prophet on a former occasion (Ezekiel 14:3). The most plausible words and the most specious forms cannot impose upon him. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but God looketh on the heart;" "The Lord searcheth all hearts;" "I know also, my God, that thou triest the heart;" "The righteous God trieth the hearts and reins;" "O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising; thou understandest my thought afar off," etc. (Psalm 139:1-5). "He knows," says Greenhill, "upon what grounds, with what purpose, intentions, resolutions, men come to hear his Word, to ask counsel of his servants. Look to yourselves, spirits, and all your ways; God seeth and knoweth all, and if you be not sincere, without guile and hypocrisy, he will find you out and detect you" (cf. John 4:23, 24).
IV. THAT THE LORD WILL NOT ANSWER THE INQUIRIES OF THOSE WHO APPROACH HIM IN A WRONG SPIRIT. "Thus saith the Lord God; Are ye come to inquire of him? As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you." Bishop Lowth states the truth clearly and forcibly: "You shall not receive such an answer as you expect, but such as your hypocrisy deserves." The Lord would not reply to their questionings. They were not in a condition to receive enlightening or edifying communications from God. Deeply insincere as they were, they could not receive revelations of Divine truth. The only message suited to them was a rebuke or warning because of their sin, or a summons to repentance. This principle is universally and abidingly true. "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me;" "When ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you," etc. (Isaiah 1:15); "Then shall they cry unto the Lord, but he will not answer them," etc. (Micah 3:4); "We know that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God, and do his will, him he heareth."
V. THOUGH THE LORD WILL NOT ANSWER THE INQUIRIES OF THOSE WHO APPROACH HIM IN A WRONG SPIRIT, YET HE WILL ADDRESS TO THEM WORDS SUITED TO THEIR MORAL CONDITION. He did so on a former occasion (ch. 14.). He does so here.
1. Here is their personal condemnation. "Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them?" The prophet is thus summoned to "pronounce sentence upon them. The repetition of the phrase is expressive of a strong desire that the act should be begun, and thus gives the force of an imperative." God would not reply to them for the gratification of their curiosity, but he speaks to them for the salvation of their souls. This condemnation might awaken them to reflection and repentance.
2. Here is the exhibition of their national sins. "Cause them to know the abominations of their fathers." By the declaration of these the Lord would vindicate the righteousness of his dealings with them as a people. He would also show them "that the evil is deep-seated, and a radical cure is to be desired, which can only be effected by a judgment of inflexible rigour" (Hengstenberg).
CONCLUSION. Our subject forcibly impresses the necessity of true heartedness as a condition of approaching God, so as to meet with his acceptance and to obtain his blessing. - W.J.
I. REVELATION. God made himself known unto Israel in the land of Egypt. In this revelation were included:
2. Covenant, confirmed by oath.
3. Promise of deliverance from bondage; further promise of a land flowing with milk and honey, the glory of all lands.
II. COMMAND. One great duty Jehovah laid upon his chosen and covenant people - the duty of abandoning the idolatry, whose evil effects they had witnessed among the Egyptians. They could not consistently receive the Divine revelation, and at the same time be guilty of idolatry, which in all its forms was a contradiction of the worship and service of the one living and true God. Idolatry was not only dishonouring to Jehovah; it was a defilement of all who took part in its practices.
III. REBELLION. Notwithstanding the grace displayed in the revelation, notwithstanding the authority accompanying the command, the chosen and favoured nation rebelled. The circumstances of the case, when considered, render this all the more marvellous. Although the superior power of the God of their fathers had been so conspicuously displayed, "they did not forsake the idols of Egypt." Such conduct was both treason and rebellion in one.
IV. THREATENING. The truly human manner in which the prophet, in this and similar places, speaks of the Eternal leads some readers to charge him with anthropomorphism. The language used of a man might imply vindictiveness; and, taken in connection with what follows, might even imply mutability and fickleness. The Divine "fury "and "anger" may not be free from emotion, but such language is mainly intended to convey the impression that the law of righteousness exists, and that it cannot be violated and defied with impunity, either by nations or by individuals.
V. RELENTING AND SALVATION. The ground upon which Jehovah bore with his sinful people is remarkable; it was "for his own Name's sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen." For this reason he brought them forth out of the land of Egypt. Their emancipation was owing, not to any daring of their own, not to any heroism of their leaders, not to any fortunate conjunction of circumstances, but to the interposition of Almighty power. - T.
I. THE CHOICE OF THE PEOPLE BY GOD. "Thus saith the Lord; In the day when chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I am the Lord your God." The day when God chose Israel and made himself known unto them as their God was the time when he interposed on their behalf by his servant Moses. He chose them; they did not choose him. They did not seek to serve or worship him; but he sent Moses to demand their emancipation in order that they might worship and serve him. And he thus chose them neither for their greatness nor their goodness, but because of his own love for them and his fidelity to his promises made unto their fathers (cf. Deuteronomy 7:7, 8). He chose them to receive special revelations of religious and redemptive truth, to be "a people for his own possession," his visible Church in the world, and his witnesses amongst men, testifying to his unity and supremacy, and observing and maintaining his worship (cf. Deuteronomy 10:15; Deuteronomy 14:2). And still God of his grace calls men to himself. He begins with us, and not we with him. "God commendeth his own love toward us," etc. (Romans 5:8); "Herein is love, not that we loved God," etc. (1 John 4:10). If we have sought God, it was because he first sought us. "By the grace of God I am what I am." And the Lord made himself known to them as their God, both by declarations and by mighty deeds wrought on their behalf (Exodus 3:14; Exodus 6:1-8). He chose them to be his people; he gave himself to them to be their God. "I am the Lord your God." "'Your God.' This is a great word, and hath great mercy in it; an engaging word, tying God and all his attributes to them: your God to counsel you, your God to protect you, your God to deliver you, your God to comfort you, your God to plead for you, your God to teach you, your God to set up my Name and worship among you, your God to bless you with the dews of heaven and fulness of the earth, your God to hear your prayers and make you happy" (Greenhill). And he asserts this relationship in the most solemn manner. "I lifted up mine hand unto them," i.e. I sware unto them.
II. THE GRACIOUS PURPOSE OF GOD IN RELATION TO HIS PEOPLE. (Ver. 6.) This purpose has two branches.
1. To deliver them from a miserable condition. "In that day I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth out of the land of Egypt." He broke the power of their cruel oppressors, and by a mighty hand he set them free from their burdens, and led them out of the land of their captivity. And when men believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and respond to his call, he delivers them from the bondage of sin. He came into our world to "proclaim liberty to the captives," to save men from the power and pollution and punishment of sin.
2. To establish them in a desirable condition. "Into a land that I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands."
(1) This land was selected for them by God. He summoned Abram to go forth unto the land that he would show him (Genesis 12:1; and cf. Exodus 3:8, 17). "He shall choose our inheritance for us, the excellency of Jacob whom he loved."
(2) This land was excellently situated and richly fertile. (We have noticed these points in treating of Ezekiel 19:10.) In its natural fortifications, its remarkable fertility, and its religious privileges, it was glorious as compared with other lands. And this land God gave unto them. And our Saviour Jesus Christ not only delivers from sin those who believe on him, but he introduces them into a condition of spiritual privilege and progress. "Ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear," etc. (Romans 8:15-17); "Beloved, now are we children of God," etc. (1 John 3:2).
III. THE OBLIGATIONS OF THE PEOPLE TO GOD. "And I said unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the Lord your God." This obligation arises out of the relationship stated in ver.
5. Because they are his people and he is their God, they must be true to him as their God, having no connection with idols. The great basis of their obligation to him is contained in the words, "I am Jehovah your God" (cf. Exodus 20:1, 2). In this prohibition of idolatry there are two points which call for brief notice.
1. Sin entering by the eyes. "The abominations of his eyes" - an expression which denotes idols. The eyes look upon the idols, become familiar with them, and come to behold them with respect and reverence. The eyes are both inlets and outlets to the heart. They convey to the heart the impression of the idol, and if the heart come to reverence the idol, they express that reverence in their gaze. The eyes are often an avenue through which temptation to sin enters the soul.
2. Sin defiling the heart. "Defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt." Sin pollutes our moral life at its very springs. It proceeds from an impure heart, and it makes the heart still more impure. David was conscious of its defilement when he prayed, "Wash me throughly from mine iniquity," etc. (Psalm 51:2, 7, 10). The people of God are under the most binding obligations to shun everything that would lead to their moral contamination, and to be true to him both in heart and in life.
IV. THE REBELLION OF THE PEOPLE AGAINST GOD. (Ver. 8.)
1. The nature of this rebellion. "But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me; they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt." They rebelled against Jehovah by persisting in their idolatrous practices. The Mosaic history does not explicitly mention the idolatry of the Israelites in Egypt; but it points to it by implication. The making and worship of the golden calf was probably an imitation of the Egyptian worship of the various sacred cows or of the sacred bulls. It appears from Leviticus 17:7 (Revised Version), that in the desert the Israelites offered sacrifices to he-goats, and "the worship of a deity under the form of a he-goat was peculiar to Egypt" (Hengstenberg). That they worshipped idols in Egypt is evident also from Joshua 24:14, "Put away The gods which your fathers served beyond the river, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord." And from Ezekiel 23:3 of our prophet, "They committed whoredoms in Egypt." This idolatry they did not abandon when summoned so to do.
2. The punishment of this rebellion. "Then I said I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt." Greenhill explains this clause, "He thought in his heart to destroy them in the midst of Egypt." Scott, "He justly might, and certainly would, have destroyed them with the Egyptians, if he had dealt with them according to their deserts." Schroder suggests that the increased oppression, and the persecution of the Israelites by the Egyptians (Exodus 5:5-23), were signs of the anger of the Lord against them. The Egyptians acted wickedly and cruelly in thus ill treating them; for they had not wronged them. Yet they might have been the unconscious agents of punishing the Israelites for their unfaithfulness to the Lord their God. This is certain, that persistent sin invariably meets with deserved punishment.
V. THE FULFILMENT OF THE PURPOSE OF GOD NOTWITHSTANDING THE REBELLION OF THE PEOPLE. "But I wrought for my Name's sake, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt" (cf. Numbers 14:13-16). Had he not accomplished his purpose in delivering them out of Egypt, his Name or honour might have been contemned by the Egyptians and others. They might have questioned or even denied:
1. His ability to execute his purposes and fulfil his promises, asserting that he did not do so because he could not (cf. Numbers 14:15, 16).
2. His fidelity to his purposes and promises, asserting that he does not abide by his determinations, but is changeable and therefore unreliable.
3. His kindness towards his people, asserting that he is not so deeply interested in them as to always fulfil his engagements with them. Therefore, for his Name's sake, he brought Israel in triumph out of Egypt. The sins of man cannot frustrate the purposes of God. By his sins man may exclude himself from any participation in their fulfilment, or any enjoyment thereof; but he cannot defeat their fulfilment (cf. Exodus 32:9, 10; Numbers 14:11, 12; Numbers 23:19; 2 Timothy 2:13).
CONCLUSION. Our subject presents:
1. Warnings against rebellion against God.
2. Encouragements to trust and obey him. - W.J.
I. THE GIFT OF THE LAW. Men, especially in their corporate capacity, need something more than exhortation, dissuasion, sentiment. They need law. And this necessity was met, when Israel was led into the wilderness, by the giving of the Law at Sinai. in this gift must be included the ten commandments, the precepts for family and personal life, the institution of the ceremonial, sacerdotal, and sacrificial dispensation, the confirmation and sanctification of the sabbath, by their observance of which the Jews were so well known by their neighbours. This last-named institution was, however, regarded by the God of Israel in a higher light - as "a sign between himself and them." The people were by these means placed under authority. Sanctions were attached to the Law, and life was assured to the obedient.
II. THE REBELLION OF THE SUBJECTS.
1. The season and scene of this rebellion should be noticed; it took place, as the prophet reminds the elders, and as the record itself informs us, in the wilderness, i.e. immediately after the great deliverance and the promulgation of the Law, and whilst the people were still dependent in an especial manner upon the bounty and the protection of the Most High.
2. The offensive form of this rebellion is noted: "They walked not according to my statutes, and despised my judgments" - a course which showed their failure to appreciate the privileges bestowed upon them, and the dishonour which they dared to offer to their Deliverer and King.
3. Their inexcusable neglect of the provision made in the weekly sabbath for their true well being.
4. Their treachery. "Their heart went after idols."
III. THE JUDGMENT AND THE MERCY OF THE KING AND LAWGIVER.
1. The immediate punishment inflicted upon the rebellious generation was the refusal to permit them to enter upon the land of promise.
2. The forbearance and mercy of God were displayed in that he did not make an end in the wilderness of those who had rebelled against him and defied him. - T.
I. THE KINDNESS OF GOD IN HIS DEALINGS WITH HIS PEOPLE. This is brought into our notice in four respects.
1. In the deeds which be wrought for them. "l caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness." Their emancipation from their oppressors was effected by the mighty hand of God, and of his unmerited grace to them. Our Lord Jesus is the great Deliverer from the serfdom of sin and Satan (cf. Isaiah 61:1; John 8:36).
2. In the gifts which he bestowed upon them.
(1) His Law. "And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall live in them." Statutes and judgments express the general idea of law. This God gave to them at Sinai, soon after their deliverance from Egypt. And this Law was given for life unto them (cf. Exodus 20:12; Matthew 19:17; Romans 7:10, 12). "The precepts which God gave his people," says Hengstenberg, "bring life and salvation with them to him who does them. What grace in God, who gives such precepts! what a summons to true obedience! These precepts also imply before all things that they shall confess their sins and seek forgiveness in the blood of atonement. This is required by the laws concerning the sin offerings, which in the Mosaic Law form the root of all other offerings; the Passover, which so strictly requires us to strive after the forgiveness of sins, and connects all salvation with it and the great Day of Atonement."
(2) His sabbaths. "Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them.' The sabbath was instituted by God, and was peculiar to Israel. It was a mutual sign between him and them. By establishing it amongst them the Lord sanctified them, separated them from the nations as a people chosen for himself; and by keeping it they manifested their allegiance to him and honoured him. By its institution he owned them as his people; by its observance they owned him as their God. By so doing they also promoted their best interests. How rich and manifold are God's gifts to us! Laws, ordinances, sabbaths, sanctuaries, religions ministries, his sacred Word; his beloved Son, his Holy Spirit!
3. In the forbearance which he exercised towards them. "Then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them. But I wrought for my Name's sake," etc. (vers. 13, 14, 17). Many and extreme were the provocations of the Israelites in the wilderness. "How oft did they rebel against him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!" More than once it seemed as though he would have destroyed them utterly, as they certainly deserved. Yet in wrath he remembered mercy. "He being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not," etc. (Psalm 78:38, 39). How frequently and grievously have we stoned against him! We too have tried his patience, have provoked him by our unfaithfulness, our rebelliousness, our perversity. Great has been his long suffering toward us (cf. Psalm 103:8-11; 2 Peter 3:9).
4. In the appeals which he addressed to them. God did not stand by (as it were), patiently bearing with them in their sin, yet making no effort to save them therefrom; but he appealed to them earnestly and repeatedly to keep his commands. "I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers," etc. (vers. 18-20). The reference in these verses is to the regiving of the Law in the plains of Moab, as recorded in the Book of Deuteronomy. That book is one great appeal, in many tones and by many arguments, to the younger generation to be true to the Lord their God. How graciously and powerfully God appeals to us in this Christian age! to our sense of duty and our sense of interest; by authoritative command and gracious persuasion; by strong fears and thrilling hopes; by his Divine Son and by his Holy Spirit.
II. THE PERSISTENT WICKEDNESS OF THE PEOPLE IN THEIR RELATION TO GOD, Three features of their wickedness are here exhibited.
1. Apostasy of heart. "Their heart went after their idols" (ver. 16); "Their heart was not right with him, neither were they faithful in his covenant" (Psalm 78:37). Their sin was not merely on the surface of their lives, but deeply rooted in their moral nature. "Out of the heart come forth evil thoughts, murders," etc. (Matthew 15:19); "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life."
2. Rebellion of life. "'The house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness," etc. (ver. 13); "They despised my judgments," etc. (ver. 16). It is quite unnecessary to specify their rebellions, because they were so numerous. And the profanations of the sabbath must not be restricted to the attempt to gather manna on that day (Exodus 16:27-30), or to the case of the man who gathered sticks thereon (Numbers 15:32-36). God required them to sanctify the sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:12); to "hallow" it (ver. 20); "to consecrate it in every respect to him, and withdraw it wholly from the region of self-interest, of personal sinful inclination;" and as they failed to keep it thus, they profaned it. Failing to sanctity it by reverent worship and hearty service, they are charged with desecrating it. And it behoves us earnestly to endeavour to preserve the Lord's day for the promotion of the bent interests of man and the supreme honour of God. Its secularization would be an irreparable loss and injury to man.
3. Successiveness in sin. "The children rebelled against me," etc. (ver. 21). The younger generation were tar from being so wicked as their fathers (Joshua 24:31); they were also far from being true and faithful in their relation to the Lord their God. Scott says truly "that the generation that entered Canaan was the best which there ever was of that favored nation." Yet they frequently rebelled against the Lord. What a lamentable successiveness in sin there has been in the generations of our race! Real advance certainly has been made; but still sin, dark and prevalent, has characterized every generation of mankind.
III. THE DIVINE RETRIBUTION ON ACCOUNT OF THE SINS OF THE PEOPLE.
1. The nature of this retribution. The elder generation was excluded from the promised land because of their unbelief and rebellion against God and against the leaders whom he had chosen. "I lifted up my hand unto them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them." etc. (vers. 15, 16; and cf. Numbers 14:26-35; Psalm 106:24-26). They disbelieved God's word of promise, and they should not share in its fulfilment; "they despised the pleasant land," and they were not allowed to enter therein; they wished that they had died in the wilderness, and in the wilderness they died. And as to the younger generation, their retribution is thus described: "I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live," etc. (vers. 25, 26). "The 'judgments whereby they should not live' are those spoken of in ver. 18, and are contrasted with the judgments in vers. 13, 21, laws other than Divine, to which God gives up those whom he afflicts with judicial blindness, because they have wilfully closed their eyes (Psalm 81:12; Romans 1:24)" ('Speaker's Commentary'). Hengstenberg says, "We may compare here Romans 1:24, according to which God, in just retribution for their revolt, gave over the heathen to vile affections; Acts 7:42, where it is traced back to God that the heathen served the h, st of heaven; and 2 Thessalonians 2:11, where God sends the apostates strong delusions. God has so constituted human nature that revolt from him must be followed by total darkness and disorder; that no moderation in error and sin, no standing still at the middle point, is possible; that the man, however willing he might be to stand still, must, against his will, sink from step to step. Revolt from God is the crime, excess in error and moral degradation the merited doom, from which all would willingly escape if this were in their power. By way of example, the custom of sacrificing children is mentioned in ver. 26. 'To cause to pass through' the fire (ver. 31; cf. ch. 16:21; 23:37) is the current phrase for sacrificing children which were offered to Moloch. Into such a detestable custom did God in his righteous judgment permit them to fall, that the merited punishment might come upon them ('that I might lay them desolate'), by which they learn that their paternal God, whom they set at nought, is God in the full sense, whom to forsake is at once to fall into misery."
2. The design of this retribution. "To the end that they might know that I am the Lord." (See our notes on these words in Ezekiel 6:7, 10; Ezekiel 7:4.) We must every one be brought to know him, either by the way of his grace or by the way of his judgments. - W.J.
I. THE DIVINE LAW WAS REPUBLISHED.
II. THE REBELLION AND IDOLATRY OF THE PEOPLE WERE RENEWED.
III. THE MOST FLAGRANT FORMS OF IDOLATROUS PRACTICE WERE ADDED TO WHAT HAD PRECEDED, In ver. 26 mention is made of the causing the firstborn to pass through the fire in the service of Moloch.
IV. ADDITIONAL AND SEVERER THREATS WERE UTTERED. In ver. 23 threats of scattering and dispersion among the heathen were added to the more general denunciations.
V. STATUTES AND JUDGMENTS WERE TURNED TO THE CONDEMNATION OF THE REBELLIOUS.
VI. SPARING MERCY WAS AGAIN EXERCISED TO PRESERVE THE NATION FROM DESTRUCTION.
APPLICATION. The lesson is very impressively taught in this passage that repentance and amendment by no means follow as a matter of course upon either punishment or forbearance. The discipline through which Israel passed partook of both characters; yet it left the people, as a people, still disposed to rebellion against God, and to contempt of his Law. It is the spirit in which God's dealings with us are received which determines whether or not they shall issue in our highest good. - T.
I. ISRAEL'S REBELLION AND IDOLATRY WERE AGGRAVATED BY THE FACT THAT THEY WERE PERSISTED IN NOTWITHSTANDING PAST ADMONITION AND CORRECTION.
II. ISRAEL'S REBELLION AND IDOLATRY WERE AGGRAVATED WHEN THEY OCCURRED IN THE LAND OF PROMISE.
III. ISRAEL'S REBELLION AND IDOLATRY WERE AGGRAVATED BY THEIR COEXISTENCE WITH THE SANCTUARY OF JEHOVAH.
IV. ISRAEL'S REBELLION AND IDOLATRY WERE AGGRAVATED BY THEIR JUXTAPOSITION WITH THE PURE SERVICES AND FESTIVALS OF THE TRUE RELIGION.
V. ISRAEL'S REBELLION AND IDOLATRY WERE AGGRAVATED BY THE FACT THAT THE CHOSEN PEOPLE ADOPTED THE RELIGION AND THE PRACTICES OF MORALLY INFERIOR RACES.
VI. ISRAEL'S AGGRAVATED REBELLION AND IDOLATRY PREVENTED THEIR REPRESENTATIVES FROM ENJOYING THE FAVOUR AND RECEIVING THE RESPONSE OF THE LORD. - T.
I. GREAT KINDNESS GRACIOUSLY CONFERRED. "I had brought them into the land which I lifted up mine hand to give unto them."
1. The Lord gave Canaan unto them, and brought them into it. "He gave them the lands of the nations; and they took the labour of the peoples in possession" (Psalm 105:44); "And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land for an inheritance" (Acts 13:19). Look at the taking of Jericho as an illustration of this. It was not by human strategy or strength that they obtained the city, but by Divine interposition. And this land was a desirable possession (cf. Numbers 13:27; Deuteronomy 8:7-9; Deuteronomy 11:10-12; and see our notes on Ezekiel 19:10).
2. The Lord brought them into Canaan in fulfilment of his promise. "The land which I lifted up mine hand to give unto them." The lilting up of the hand is the gesture of the oath, or solemn promise. Notwithstanding the rebellions of those to whom the promise was given, and the difficulties in the way of its fulfilment, he made his promise good. His faithfulness and his power guarantee the performance of his word. Here we have ground for confidence in him (cf. Numbers 10:13:19; Matthew 24:35; 1 Peter 1:25).
3. The Lord brought them into Canaan of his own unmerited favour. Though not expressed, this is clearly implied here (cf. Deuteronomy 7:6-8; Deuteronomy 9:4-6). God's kindness to us has been great and undeserved. Who can count the multitude of his mercies, or estimate their preciousness? "The Lord hath dealt bountifully with us."
II. GREAT KINDNESS BASELY REQUITED.
1. By worshipping in prohibited places. "Then they saw every high hill, and all the thick trees, and they offered there their sacrifices," etc. (ver. 28). The margin of the Revised Version presents a more striking signification and a darker guilt. "They looked out for every high hill," etc. Their conduct in this respect was a perversion of a Divine law. "When the Israelites first entered Canaan, they were to set up the tabernacle on a high place, and upon this and. upon no other they were to worship Jehovah. This was the high place (1 Samuel 9:12, etc.; 1 Kings 3:4). But the Israelites followed the custom of the country, and set up idol worship on every high hill, and the word 'high place' (bamah), or in the plural 'high places' (bamoth), became a byword (comp. bamoth Baal, Joshua 13:17)" ('Speaker's Commentary'). This was distinctly forbidden to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 12:1-14).
2. .By worshipping prohibited objects. They offered sacrifices to idols. This fact is not explicitly stated in our text; but it is implied in the charge of blasphemy preferred against them, and in the expression," the provocation of their offering."
(1) As to their blasphemy. The attempt "to combine God and idols in one's religion is blasphemy." It involves a fearful disparagement, if not the despising, of the Lord Jehovah.
(2) The expression, "the provocation of their offering," indicates the offerings made to idols whereby they provoked God to anger (cf. Deuteronomy 32:16, 17; 1 Kings 14:22). "It was an aggravation of their guilt that they not only were idolaters, but defiled with their idolatry the land which was given them for their glory." It was perverting the gracious gift of God to his deep dishonour (cf. Jeremiah 2:7). How often have the good gifts of God been thus perverted! Genius and power, rank and riches, have frequently been used for selfish and sinful purposes. And in this and other ways the kindness of God to man is often basely requited still.
III. A SINFUL PEOPLE DIVINELY INTERROGATED. "Then I said unto them, What is the high place whereunto ye go?" Revised Version, "What meaneth the high place?" etc. This inquiry seems to be designed:
1. To awaken their serious reflection. It was fitted for this. Perhaps it would lead the idolatrous people to ask themselves, "What meaneth the high place whereunto we go?" Earnest interrogation might lead to profitable consideration.
2. To lead to their recognition of their folly. Serious reflection could hardly fail to reveal to them the foolishness of idolatry. What benefit, could they derive from it? What could their idols do for them? How unreasonable that reasonable beings should pay homage to things of wood and stone!
3. To lead to their recognition of their sin. Their idolatry involved the breach of the most sacred and solemn obligations. It was a transgression of an oft-repeated command of God. Great was both the folly and the sin of the Israelites in this (cf. Jeremiah 2:11-13). This inquiry might lead them to perceive and to feel these things. The Most High frequently interrogates sinful men in order to lead them to reflection and reformation (cf. Ezekiel 18:31; Jeremiah 2:5; Jeremiah 4:14). "Not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
IV. A SINFUL PEOPLE PERSISTING IN SIN NOTWITHSTANDING DIVINE INTERROGATION. "And the name thereof is called Bamah unto this day." The name was continued, and. the people persisted in the practice of idolatry despite the remonstrances of the Lord. Even under the most faithful and godly kings the high places were not taken away until Josiah entered upon his great reformation (2 Chronicles 34:3). It is difficult to eradicate sins in the case of individuals, when the sins have had time to strike their roots deeply in the heart and life. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." It is even more difficult to eradicate the widespread, long continued, deep-rooted sins of a community or a nation.
"Facilis descensus Averni.
I. THE SINS OF WICKED ANCESTORS PRACTISED BY THEIR SUCCESSORS.
1. The idolatry of the fathers continued by their children. "Say unto the house of Israel, Thus salts the Lord God; Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? and commit ye whoredom after their abominations?" The whoredom spoken of is spiritual - unfaithfulness to God, in the worship of idols. Even the exile in Babylon did not for some time cure the people of this sin. As their fathers had done, so did they. Parental example is very powerful for several reasons.
(1) It is the example of those who are most looked up to and imitated by the young.
(2) It influences the young in the most impressionable season of their life. "As the twig is bent the tree inclines."
(3) It is most continuous in its influence upon the young. "The characters of living parents are constantly presented for the imitation of their children. Their example is continually sending forth a silent power to mould young hearts for good or ill; not for a single mouth or year, but through the whole impressionable period of childhood and youth, the influence of parental example is thus felt. If it be constituted of the highest and purest elements, the results will be unspeakably precious. Sons and daughters will" almost certainly become patterns of propriety and goodness, because their parents are such. If, on the other hand, their example be evil, most injurious will be its effects upon their children. A solemn consideration is this for parents, and one that should be laid to heart by them. It is difficult, moreover, to break away from sins which have obtained a firm hold upon family life and practice.
2. Idolatry practised even in its most cruel rites. "For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day" (see our notes on ch. 16:20, 21).
3. The practice of idolatry defiling the idolater. "Ye pollute yourselves with all your idols" Worship either elevates or degrades the worshipper, according to the character of the object thereof. Genuine adoration is transforming in its influence upon him who offers it, We become like unto the object or objects of our supreme love and reverence. Hence the worship of the true God purifies, exalts, enriches, ennobles, sanctifies, the worshipper; while the worship of any idol or idols - e.g. riches, rank, popularity, power, pleasure - defiles, degrades, and impoverishes the worshipper. Moreover, sin of any kind pollutes the sinner; it stains and defiles his soul (see our notes on ver. 7).
II. THE INQUIRIES OF HYPOCRITES REJECTED BY THE LOUD GOD. "Shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you." (We have already considered this topic in our homilies on vers. 1-4 and Ezekiel 14:1-11.)
III. THE DARK DESIGNS OF SINNERS DEFEATED BY THE LORD GOD.
1. Here is a deliberate design formed by man to conform to idolatrous usages. "That which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone." Thus the house of Israel, the people of the only living and true God, inwardly resolved to conform to heathenish customs, hoping in some way to improve their condition by so doing. And in our day there are those who, while manifesting some respect for religion, yet conform to this world in its questionable and even sinful usages. And some "regard an irreligious condition as preferable to the struggles of a religious life."
2. Here is man's design to conform to idolatrous usages discovered by the Lord God. It was in vain for these insincere inquirers of the Lord to think that they could conceal any design from him. And elders of Israel should have known this so well as to be in no danger of overlooking it. But the practice of sin misleads and deceives sinners, and had probably deceived them. God is perfectly acquainted with every thought of the mind of man (Ezekiel 11:5; Psalm 139:1-5; Matthew 9:4; John 2:24, 25; Hebrews 4:13).
3. Here is man's design to conform to idolatrous usages defeated by the Lord God. "That which cometh into your mind shall not be at all." Their inward purpose he would frustrate. They might attempt to carry it out, but it would not succeed. "That Israel should become like the heathen," says Schroder," would be repugnant to the nature of God, especially to his name Jehovah. The very reverse would be much more in harmony with it, namely, that the heathen should become like Israel." The Church of God is not to be conformed to and lost in the world; but the world is to be conformed to the Church and to be included therein. The kingdoms of the world are to become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ (Revelation 11:15). And so the Lord declares that the evil designs of his sinful people should fail. He can utterly foil the deepest, subtlest schemes of man; and he will do so when those schemes are exposed to his holy will (cf. Job 5:12-14; Psalm 33:10, 11; Proverbs 21:30; Isaiah 8:10; Acts 5:38, 39). - W.J.
I. GOD'S PURPOSES CANNOT BE FULFILLED BY THE ABSORPTION OF ISRAEL AMONG THE HEATHEN. Exile and dispersion were appointed as chastisement and discipline. And there were those among the Hebrews who thought that, as a nation, they might amalgamate with the heathen, and might "serve wood and stone." To human apprehension, this might seem the natural consequence of their experience. But the reverse was what happened - captivity and exile served to restore the chosen people to their fidelity to Jehovah.
II. GOD'S RULE OVER HIS PEOPLE WILL BE MANIFESTLY AND EFFECTIVELY MAINTAINED EVEN IN DISTANT AND HEATHEN LANDS. Lest it should be imagined that, when the children of Israel are scattered among the nations, the God of Israel will cease to exercise over them his vigilant sway and righteous retribution, the strongest language is used to express the unceasing control which, wherever his people are found, will be maintained over them. "With a mighty hand and a stretched-out arm will I rule over you... I will be King over you."
III. GOD WILL PLEAD WITH THE SCATTERED ISRAELITES WITH A VIEW TO SECURE THEIR SUBMISSION AND ALLEGIANCE. The expression implies personal interest and personal intercourse. It implies the free agency of the human beings with whom the Lord deigns to plead. It implies earnest desire for the welfare of individual Israelites - welfare which can only be secured through the conviction, the faith, the voluntary subjection, the loyalty, of these who have been in rebellion.
IV. GOD WILL PURGE OUT REBELS AND TRANSGRESSORS, AND SO PURIFY THE TRUE ISRAEL FROM THOSE WHO ARE ISRAELITES IN NAME ONLY AND NOT IN SPIRIT AND REALITY. Forbearance may and will be exercised, but discrimination must take pace. The dross must be consumed in order that the pure, fine gold may be brought out.
V. GOD WILL GATHER THE TRUE SHEEP INTO THE FOLD, AND RE-ESTABLISH HIS COVENANT WITH HIS PEOPLE. This is the real aim of the Divine government. Other steps are the means; this is the end. Sooner or later this glorious and blessed result shall be brought to pass. "There shall be one flock, and one Shepherd." The bond of the covenant shall be again cemented. The purposes of Divine compassion shall be completely fulfilled. The scattered wanderers shall be led home, for he that scattered shall gather them. He shall make a way whereby his banished ones shall return. In the land of promise, the better country, the true citizens shall assemble, and shall offer sacrifices of perpetual obedience, and songs of endless praise, to their Deliverer and their Lord. - T.
I. GOD'S RULE IS DIRECTED SOLELY FOR MAN'S PURITY. Such is his own holiness of nature, that he cannot tolerate impurity of any kind in his kingdom. Or, if he does tolerate it for a season, it is only for the purpose of more effectually purifying his saints. To distribute his own happiness, he created men; but that happiness can only reach perfection when it is rooted in purity. Purity or perdition is the only alternative under the sceptre of Jehovah.
II. THE PLACE APPOINTED FOR THE TEST. "I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there will I plead with you face to face." Already this had been done in the wilderness of Sinai, and now it shall be done again. This wilderness is not Babylon, nor the desert between Babylon and Judaea. It denotes the isolated condition of the people, when they should be scattered among all the nations. A desert is the outward emblem of man's desolation through sin. Iniquity has made a desert in his heart, in his home, in the nation - a desert in all his surroundings. There, under a sense of his folly and misfortune, God condescends to plead with men.
III. A WINNOWING PROCESS IS TO BE PURSUED. "I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me." If the nation, following its lower passions and following foolish kings, refuse God's salvation, God will deal with them individually. As a nation they shall be destroyed; but an election shall be saved. God will appear as a Thresher, and will purge his floor, and separate the chaff from the wheat. Would that the entire nation had yielded to his righteous rule! Yet, if the majority reject his grace, a minority will accept it. Not a single penitent shall be swept away with the rebellious. Divine wisdom can and will discriminate.
IV. THE OBDURATE SHALL BE ABANDONED. "Go ye, serve ye every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto me." Lightly as men may esteem the severity of such a sentence, it is the most crushing doom that can befall them - to be given over to the indulgence of their vices. For God to withdraw the restraints of his grace, and allow them the liberty they crave, would be the heaviest scourge, the beginning of perdition. Said God of Ephraim, "He is joined to his idols: let him alone!" Of some it is declared by Jesus the Christ, "He is guilty of eternal sin."
V. THE PENITENT SHALL RISE TO EMINENT PIETY. (See vers. 40 and 41.) They shall worship again in the consecrated mount. Their offerings shall be spontaneous and abundant. Their gifts and sacrifices shall send a sweet savour Godward. Best of all, they shall find acceptance with God. The Most High will be honoured in their midst. His presence will be felt as a purifying power. "I will be sanctified in you." The remembrance of their past ways and past experiences shall open their eyes to the foulness and loathsomeness of sin. Their inmost tastes and affections shall be refined. Self-condemnation is an essential element in repentance.
VI. THE RESULT WILL BE LARGER ACQUAINTANCE WITH GOD. "Ye shall know that I am the Lord." The manifestation of God's patience, condescension, and tender love will enlarge their conception of God. He will gain a larger place in their esteem and confidence. His true glory will come forth. In this way even human sin will contribute to human elevation; man's guilt will promote God's glory. In the widest sense, "all things shall work together for good." The darkest disaster will serve as a setting for the jewels of God's goodness. - D.
I. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD OVER MEN, NOTWITHSTANDING THEIR SINS, ASSERTED. (Ver. 33.) The Israelites had resolved to be as the heathen, to conform to their usages, and to mingle themselves with them. But the Lord does not readily loose them from their allegiance to him. The sins of men do not invalidate the sovereignty of God over them. Men cannot by any means annul his right to rule over them. Moral obligations are eternal. The Lord here asserts:
1. His solemn determination to maintain his sovereignty over Israel. "As I live, saith the Lord God, surely... will I rule over you." The oath indicates the settled and unchangeable purpose of the Lord Jehovah. He will not forego his kingly authority over his creatures.
2. His sufficient power to maintain his sovereignity over Israel. "Surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you." There is a reference here to his great and terrible acts in the land of Egypt for the deliverance of his people therefrom (cf. Exodus 6:6; Deuteronomy 4:34). The Almighty is at no loss for means and instruments to maintain his authority. "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord, and against his Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder," etc. (Psalm 2:2-6). If men will not bow to the sceptre of his mercy, they wilt be made to feel the rod of his anger. "There is no shaking off God's dominion," says M. Henry; "rule he will, either with the golden sceptre or with the iron rod; and those that will not yield to the power of his grace shall be made to sink under the power of his wrath."
II. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD OVER MEN MANIFESTED IN THE PUNISHMENT OF THEIR SINS. (Vers. 34-36.) These verses, we think, should be regarded as figurative. The people of the house of Israel had said within themselves, "We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone." The Lord by his prophet declares that they shall not be as the nations; they shall not be lost amongst them; for he will find them out with his judgments. "1 will bring you out from the peoples, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered," etc. There is here a reference to their captivity in Babylon. The objection that they were in one land only, and amongst one people only, whereas the prophet speaks of "peoples" and "countries," is not of much weight, seeing that the Babylonian empire was so great as to be spoken of in the terms applied to it in Jeremiah 27:1-7 "To those who fancied that with the removal into exile the judicial activity of God was already closed, and the dawn of the day of grace was immediately approaching, he announces a new phase of this judicial activity, similar to that which first came over Israel in the wilderness. If they are really led out of the former state into the new one, in which they underlie a second judgment, formally they are led into the wilderness, which here designates a state similar to that in which Israel was formerly in the wilderness. The wilderness is designated as 'the wilderness of the peoples,' in contradistinction to the former wilderness, where was only the howling of wild beasts (Deuteronomy 32:10), lions, serpents, and the like (Deuteronomy 8:15; Isaiah 30:6). The new wilderness is one in which Israel is in the midst of the peoples, and can therefore be no ordinary wilderness, for wilderness and peoples exclude one another. It must rather be a symbolic or typical designation of the state of punishment and purification" (Hengstenberg). We have a somewhat similar use of the word "wilderness" in Ezekiel 19:13 and Hosea 2:14. What the punishments thus indicated precisely were and when they were inflicted we know not, because of "the defect of historical notices concerning the state of the exiles." Some idea of them may, perhaps, be gathered from the words, "Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord God" (cf. Exodus 32:25-29; Numbers 14:21-23; Numbers 16:31-35, 41-49; Numbers 21:4-6). It is well observed by Greenhill, "That God's punishments are his pleadings; when he visits men for their sins he pleads with them. Every rod of his hath a voice, and pleads for God. Isaiah 66:16, 'By fire and by his sword will the Lord plead with all flesh.' His punishments are arguments he uses to convince or confound sinners." If men violate God's righteous laws, and set at nought his supreme authority, they must bear the inevitable penalties of their transgressions, and thus realize their subjection to his sovereignty.
III. THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD OVER MEN MANIFESTED IN THE PUNISHMENT OF THEIR SINS IN ORDER TO LEAD THEM LOYALLY TO ACKNOWLEDGE THAT SOVEREIGNTY. (Vers. 37, 38.) "The Divine chastisement was designed to exercise a purifying influence upon the people of Israel, and to lead them back to hearty allegiance to the Lord their God. Two results are here represented as effected by means of it.
1. Divine discrimination of human characters. "And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant." The metaphor of passing under the rod is drawn from pastoral lift, and the custom of the sheep passing under the staff of the shepherd to be numbered and examined (cf. Leviticus 27:32; Jeremiah 33:12, 13; Micah 7:14). They who thus pass under the rod are the people of God purified by chastisements, known of him, restored to covenant relationship with him, enjoying the privileges and acknowledging the obligations of that covenant. "The Lord knoweth them that are his;" and distinguisheth them from those who are not his.
2. Divine separation of human persons. "And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and those that transgress against me," etc. (ver. 38). A separation of persons according to their respective characters is here set forth. The sheep will be divided from the goats, the loyal subjects from the hardened rebels. This verse perhaps points, as Scott suggests, "to the whole of the Lord's dealings with Israel, from the time when this prophecy was delivered, to the establishment of a small remnant of them in their own land, after the Captivity; from among whom the idolaters and idolatry itself were completely destroyed, by their manifold desolations, and the terrible havoc made among them." This separation foreshadows that great separation which will be effected at the close of the present economy (cf. Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 21:27). Blessed unspeakably will be the lot of those who shall then be found amongst the loyal subjects of the Lord Jehovah. And as for the rebels, they shall know by dread experience that he is the sovereign Lord of all. - W.J.
1 Kings 22:15; Amos 4:4; Matthew 23:32). They are also described as" the holy irony of him who knows that mercy is laid up for the future." It is important to bear in mind that the words were addressed to the dissimulating elders of Israel. They had come to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord through him, while in their heart they were resolved to "be as the heathen... to serve wood and stone" They received such an answer as they were fitted for: "Go ye, serve ye every one his idols." Not quickly are men of such character separated from their sins. Not quickly are the stern lessons of chastisement truly and thoroughly learned by them. Moreover, this ironical concession of their idolatry would perhaps impress them more deeply with the evil thereof than a renewed prohibition or denunciation of it might have done. Then follows the assured declaration of their restoration through the mercy of the Lord God. Of this restoration the more prominent features ate these.
I. THEIR RENUNCIATION OF IDOLATRY AND CONSECRATION TO THE LORD JEHOVAH,
1. The renunciation of their idolatry. (Ver. 39.) The rendering of the margin of the Revised Version seems to us preferable: "Go ye, serve every one his idols, but hereafter surely ye shall hearken unto me, and my holy Name shall ye no more profane with your gifts, and with your idols." Hengstenberg and the 'Speaker's Commentary' take this view of the verse. "You have pretended," says Greenhill, "that by your idols set up in my stead, and the gifts you have offered to them, or by them to me, that you have honoured my Name, but by joining them and me together, you have polluted my Name." And he declares that this pollution shall cease; that they will abandon their idols. And since their release from the Babylonian captivity, the Jews have never been guilty of idolatry like that mentioned in ver. 32 - the service of wood and stone; they have never since then forsaken the Lord God for the idols of heathenism.
2. Their consecration to the Lord Jehovah. '" For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord God, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me." Notice:
(1) The scene of this service. "In mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel." After the return from the exile the temple at Jerusalem was rebuilt by the Jews, and there they worshipped God. But in the largest and grandest fulfilment of this prophecy the holy mountain is to be understood spiritually (cf. John 4:20-24). "The spiritual worship of the New Testament," as Schroder observes, "can be well described in the phraseology of the Old Testament worship, by which it was symbolized and prefigured. We still speak of the heavenly Jerusalem" (cf. Isaiah 2:2, 3; Galatians 4:24-26; Hebrews 12:22).
(2) The universality of this service. This is very emphatically expressed here. "There shall all the house of Israel, all of them, serve me." Partially this was fulfilled on the return from the exile. "When the Jews had returned from Babylon under Zerubbabel and Ezra, along with those who adhered to then, from all the tribes, they formed a unity, possessed a temple at Jerusalem, and became a single people under the same presidency "(Cocceius). But the prophecy yet awaits its complete fulfilment. "All the seperation between Israel and Judah shall cease. This points to times yet future, when in Messiah's kingdom Jews and Gentiles alike shall be gathered into one kingdom - the kingdom of Christ (comp. Jeremiah 31.; Malachi 3:1, etc.; also Romans 11:25, 26; Revelation 11:15). Jerusalem is the Church of Christ (Galatians 4:26), into which the children of Israel shall at last be gathered, and so the prophecy shall be fulfilled (Revelation 21:2)" ('Speaker's Commentary').
(3) And as for the nature of this service; they shall worship the living and true God as the only worthy Object of adoration, and they shall obey him as their sovereign Lord.
II. THE ACCEPTATION OF THEMSELVES AND THEIR WORSHIP BY THE LORD JEHOVAH.
1. The acceptation of themselves. "There will I accept them... As a sweet savour will I accept you." This acceptation includes:
(1) The full forgiveness of all their offences. That he receives the sinner is an evidence that he will remember his sins against him no more.
(2) The gracious reception of themselves: that God would regard them with complacency, and enrich them with his favour. When God accepts man he does it heartily and with a glad welcome, even as the father received his prodigal son (Luke 15:20-24). When we pray," Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously." he speedily answers, "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: for mine anger is turned away from him."
2. The acceptation of their worship. "There will I require your offerings, and the first fruits of your oblations, with all your holy things." When the worshippers are themselves accepted, their worship will be accepted also. But when the worshippers are insincere and wicked, the Lord demands of them, "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?" etc. (Isaiah 1:11-15). It is the contrite and believing heart of the offerer that commends the offerings unto God. Where this state of heart is we may say, with David, "Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness," etc. (Psalm 51:19).
III. GATHERING THEM FROM THEIR EXILE, AND THEIR RESTORATION TO THEIR OWN LAND.
1. Gathering them from their exile. "When I bring you out from the peoples, and gather you out of the countries, wherein ye have been scattered." The Lord does not lose sight of his people when they are scattered abroad. He does not cease to care for them or to protect them. Not one of them shall be lost through any failure on his part (cf. ch. 34:11-16; John 10:28).
2. Restoring them to their own land. "When I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country which I hired up mine hand to give unto your fathers." The Jews were restored to their own land after the exile in Babylon. That restoration was a remarkable fulfilment of many prophecies, There is perhaps in the text a reference to another and yet future restoration thither. God by the gospel restores man to his forfeited inheritance. By sin man was exiled from Eden; by the grace of God in Christ Jesus he is introduced into a holier and more beautiful Paradise. "When Divine grace renews the heart of the fallen sinner, Paradise is regained, and much of its beauty restored to the soul."
IV. THEIR GRACIOUS RECOGNITION OF GOD, AND SINCERE REPENTANCE OF THEIR SINS. (The points which arise under this head we have already noticed in our homily on Ezekiel 6:8-10.)
1. Their gracious recognition of the Lord God. "And ye shall know that I am the Lord," etc. (vers. 42, 44). This knowledge does not spring from his judgments, but from the experience of his gracious dealings. It is a sympathetic and saving acquaintance with him.
2. Sincere repentance of their sirs.
(1) Here is a prerequisite to true repentance. "There shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled."
(2) Here is an essential characteristic of true repentance. "And ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed." in genuine penitence the sinner reproaches himself because of his sins.
V. AND IN ALL THESE FEATURES OF THIS RESTORATION WE HAVE AN IMPRESSIVE AND BEAUTIFUL ILLUSTRATION OF THE UNMERITED GRACE OF GOD. "Ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have wrought with you for my Name's sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord God." All our blessings flow to us from the inexhaustible fountain of the grace of God. Mankind has merited no good from him. Our "evil ways and corrupt doings" have deserved his unmixed wrath. But in his infinite mercy he has pared our guilty race, enriched us with many physical and mental blessings, and provided for us an eternal and glorious salvation through the gift of his beloved Son. And as this restoration of his people originated in his grace, it shall redound to his glory. "I will be sanctified in you in the sight of the nations" (ver. 41); "I have wrought with you for my Name's sake" (ver. 44); "In them as a holy people, anew consecrated to God, shall be exhibited to the heathen the holiness of Jehovah." And the redemption of man by Jesus Christ shall issue in the eternal glory of the God or all grace (Galatians 1:5; 2 Timothy 4:18; Hebrews 13:20, 21; 1 Peter 5:10, 11; Revelation 7:9-12).
"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us,
I. THE SCENE OF THE RESTORATION. God's holy mountain, the mountain of the height of Israel, is the symbol of the Church of the Son of God.
II. THE PARTICIPATORS IN THE RESTORATION. Those concerning whom the promise is spoken are those who have been scattered abroad, but are now brought home, and who constitute "the house of Israel," i.e. the true Israel, the Israel of God.
III. THE SERVICES OF THE RESTORATION. By the services, the offerings, the firstfruits, the oblations, must be understood the spiritual sacrifices, especially of obedience and of praise, which the accepted of God delight to lay upon his altar.
IV. THE MEMORIES OF THE RESTORATION. These are of two kinds. The restored have to recollect, and to recollect with loathing, their wanderings, their evil doings, their defilements. But they have also to remember the work which God has wrought for them, the way by which God has led them, and the mercy and loving kindness which God has shown to them. - T.
I. THE PARABLE IMPLIES A RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN MEN AND FOREST TREES. Amid many differences, there are some resemblances, and it is on one of these resemblances that this admonition fastens. In the earlier stages of their life, trees grow better in clusters. They serve as a support to each other, and also as a protection against storms. But soon the roots rob nourishment, each from the other. The boughs shut out the light and air. They prevent the growth and hardening of the wood. They become mutually injurious. Sap diminishes. The branches dry and decay. So it is with men in society. Casting off the fear of God, they corrupt each other. They become one another's tempters. Healthy growth ceases. Shutting out, each from the other, the light and sunshine from heaven, their proper life shrivels, epics up, and decays. They become combustible - lit for burning.
II. RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN GOD'S RIGHTEOUS ANGER AND MATERIAL FIRE. On these two resemblances the parable depends. As fire naturally lays hold of and destroys forest trees, be does God's anger naturally lay hold of and destroy wicked men. There is a fixed and unalterable correspondence. "Be sure your sin will find you out!" You may as well swallow poison, and hope to live; you may as well set fire to gunpowder, and expect it not to explode; you may as well touch a galvanic current, and think to avoid any nervous sensation, - as to sin, and not suffer penalty. Each is alike an eternal decree of the living God. As each plant has in it the potency to produce another plant, so every sin has in it the germ of destruction.
III. PROXIMITY TO EVIL MEN CONSTITUTES A DANGER. All the trees in a forest are not equally dessicated. Yet such becomes the fierceness of the flame, fed by the drier trees, that those less dessicated are reduced to ashes. Men may be less guilty than their neighbours; they may flatter themselves that they are not so corrupt as others; nevertheless, it they do not separate themselves, or labour to improve their neighbours, they may be consumed in the general conflagration. The green trees were threatened with destruction along with the dry. Evil company is perilous. Each one has sin enough to draw down Divine anger.
IV. MENTAL BLINDNESS IS A DISASTROUS EFFECT OF SIN. "Doth he not speak in parables?" The bulk of men say, "It is a pretty story. It has much literary beauty. The preacher was eloquent, imaginative, interesting." Yet they see not the moral significance, do not feel the points of application. The sermon well suited some absent person; it did not touch them. The eyes of conscience are put out. As it was in the day when Jesus spake his parables, so is it always. "Men see, but do not perceive; they hear, but do not understand." Today a thousand self-blinded men say, "The doom of the wicked is not so terrible as it seems; for the alarming language of Jesus Christ was only a parable." Yet a parable contains hidden truth, sometimes the most arousing. - D.
Ezekiel 20:45-49 and ch. Ezekiel 21:1-7
I. THE AUTHOR OF THIS JUDGMENT.
1. Divinely declared, "Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee" (ver. 47); "Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked" (Ezekiel 21:3). The Divine authorship of the judgments coming upon Jerusalem has been asserted already by the prophet many times in ch. 5., 6., 7., etc., in which places we have noticed the fact. The Chaldeans were the unconscious instruments in the hand of God tot accomplishing this judgment. He was himself the Author of it.
2. Generally recognized. "And all flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it: it shall not be quenched" (ver. 48); "That all flesh may know that I the Lord have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath: it shall not return any more" (Ezekiel 21:5). The irresistibleness of the judgment would lead men to conclude that the Author of it was the Almighty. "If we see that all human plans and devices, even the most promising, come to nothing, we are led to the confession that we have to do with personal omnipotence and righteousness, against which the battle is unavailing." There are some disasters and distresses in which the thoughtful observer is almost compelled to recognize the presence and the power of the Supreme.
II. THE SUBJECTS OF THIS JUDGMENT. "Son of man, set thy face toward the south, and drop thy word toward the south, and prophesy against the forest of the south field; and say to the forest of the south, Hear the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord God; Behold I will kindle a fire in thee .... Son of man, set thy face toward Jerusalem, and drop thy word toward the holy places, and prophesy against the land of Israel; and say to the land of Israel, Thus saith the Lord; Behold, I am against thee," etc. Ezekiel was now in Chaldea, of which the prophets generally spoke as the north country; not because it was strictly north of Palestine, but because its armies entered Palestine from the north by way of Syria, and in returning they travelled by the same northern way. Hence the south denotes Jerusalem and the land of Israel. And the people are spoken of as "the forest of the south." It has been suggested that the figure of a forest is employed in order to denote the density of the population. Others have suggested that it is used to indicate the fact that the people had degenerated from a noble vine or a fruitful field to an unproductive forest. But this at least is certain, that the judgment was about to be inflicted upon the Holy Land, the royal and sacred city, and the people chosen of God. Their former favours will not screen them from the righteous retribution of their sins. Their privileges will rather aggravate their punishment. They had presumed upon those privileges; they had abused God's great goodness to them; and because they had done these things his judgment upon them will be all the more terrible. Here is solemn admonition to those who occupy eminent positions or possess exceptional privileges (cf. Matthew 11:20-24).
III. THE NATURE OF THIS JUDGMENT.
1. It is destructive in its character. "Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree .... Behold, I am against thee, and will draw forth my sword out of its sheath, and will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked." Fire and sword are employed to denote all the miseries and terrors which came upon the people in the siege and destruction of Jerusalem. Famine and pestilence, slaughter and captivity, then fell fiercely upon the people (cf. ch. 5., 6., 7).
2. It is general in its infliction. The fire "shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree, . . and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked, therefore shall my sword go forth out of its sheath against all flesh from the south to the north." In national judgments the righteous suffer with the wicked, and the innocent with the guilty, so far as the outward calamities are concerned. But though the outward event be the same to all, its inward character is not. The righteous shall not be as the wicked. "God's graces and comforts make a great difference when his providence seems to make none." So that this general character of the judgment "is not in contradiction with Ezekiel 9:4, according to which the righteous amid the impending catastrophe are the object of the protecting and sustaining activity of God. For if two suffer the same, yet it is not the same. To those who love God must all things be for the best (Romans 8:28)" (Hengstenberg).
3. It is irresistible in its might. "The flaming flame shall not be quenched... I the Lord have drawn forth my sword out of its sheath: it shall not return any more." The Jews in Jerusalem imagined that, with the aid of Egypt, they could safely bid defiance to the Chaldean forces; but those forces utterly overwhelmed them. When God is against either a man or a nation, they are unable to stand before their enemies. "Hast thou an arm like God? and canst thou thunder with a voice like him?" "He is wise in heart, and mighty in strength: who hath hardened himself against him, and prospered? "Thou, even thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?" "Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish in the way," etc. (Psalm 2:12).
IV. THE DISINCLINATION OF MEN TO CREDIT THE ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THIS JUDGMENT. "Thou said, I, Ah Lord God! they say of me, Doth he not speak parables?" Notice:
1. The mean attempt to cast upon the prophet the blame which was due to themselves. They said of the prophet, "Is he not a speaker of parables?" They did not want to understand his announcements to them. They could have understood them without difficulty had they been disposed to do so. The truths which he proclaimed were displeasing to them, and they would not recognize them. Then they disingenuously complained of the form in which he expressed his message. "Is he not a speaker of parables?" Their conduct in this respect finds its analogue in some hearers of the Christian ministry in our day. If the preacher's style is figurative, he is too obscure - "a speaker of parables;" if it be plain and unadorned, he is too simple and homely; if it be logical, he is too dry; if it be fervid, he is too enthusiastic. They blame the preacher when the fault is in themselves - they are out of sympathy with his message.
2. The adequate resource of a faithful servant of God when subject to discouragement. He can do as Ezekiel did, state his difficulties and trials to his Divine Master, and obtain from him consolation and inspiration. There are experiences in the lives of Christian ministers when nothing remains fur them but to seek the aid of him from whom they received their commission. They shall never seek his aid in vain, or find it insufficient.
V. THE GRACE OF GOD IN GIVING REPEATED AND IMPRESSIVE ANNOUNCEMENTS OF THIS JUDGMENT. When the prophet complained to the Lord that the people spake of him as "a speaker of parables," he was not commanded to abandon them to their doom, but to deliver his message again and in another form. The merciful God was patient with the perverse people.
1. Here are repeated announcements of this judgment. Two are given in our text. Several have been already given by the prophet. And subsequently he delivered not a few. And in addition to these, Jeremiah was proclaiming in Jerusalem the approaching doom. God does not leave the wicked without many warnings of the consequences of their conduct.
2. Here are impressive announcements of this judgment.
(1) The spoken parable (vers. 47, 48). This was fitted to awaken attention, stimulate inquiry, and thus produce a deeper and more lasting impression of the truth conveyed.
(2) The acted sign. "Sigh therefore, thou son of man, with the breaking of thy loins," etc. (Ezekiel 21:6, 7). This also was with the view of interesting the people, and leading them to ask," Wherefore Highest thou?" As Hengstenberg observes, "The endeavour is everywhere visible, to obtain by the clearness of the description a representation of the reality not yet existing, but already germinating, and in this way to withdraw the people from their delusions, and make penitence take the place of politics."
VI. THE DISMAY OF THE PEOPLE ON THE ACTUAL ARRIVAL OF THIS JUDGMENT. "Every heart shall melt, and all hands shall be feeble, and every spirit shall faint, and all knees shall be weak as water: behold, it cometh, and shall be brought to pass, saith the Lord God." "They shall be compelled to experience in themselves what they perceive in the prophet. In all, courage gives place to terror, activity to prostration, counsel to perplexity. No one holds out any longer (cf. Ezekiel 7:17)" (Schroder). The wicked who have been most self-confident and boastfully secure in time of peace and prosperity, will be most prostrate and terror stricken when confronted by stern calamity and distress. "The sound of a driven leaf shall chase them." Having forsaken God, and being deprived of the strength and courage of a calm and clear conscience, "terrors overtake them like waters," and utterly overwhelm them. if sinners persistently reject the mercy of God in Christ Jesus, the time will come when in abject dismay they will vainly seek to hide themselves "from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:15-17). Therefore "seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near," etc. (Isaiah 55:6, 7). - W.J.