Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. DISLOYALTY TO JEHOVAH WAS COMMON TO JUDAH AND ISRAEL. We have but to turn to the Books of Kings and of Chronicles to see that in this respect the northern and southern kingdoms were alike, if not equally, guilty. In the record we find, notwithstanding certain remarkable exceptions in the case of Judah, that kings and people continually forsook their Divine Deliverer and rightful King, and addicted themselves to the degrading idolatries practiced by the surrounding nations.
II. DISLOYALTY TO JEHOVAH COMMENCED IN THE NATION'S YOUTH, DURING THE EGYPTIAN BONDAGE. The record of the wanderings in the wilderness is a sufficient proof of this. The worship of the golden calf is a well-known instance of the readiness of Israel to fall back into the Egyptian idolatry, which, it might have been supposed, they had forever left behind them when they crossed the Red Sea, and witnessed the powerlessness of the gods of Egypt to save Pharaoh and his mighty but misguided host.
III. DISLOYALTY TO JEHOVAH WAS REPEATED WHEN ISRAEL WAS BROUGHT INTO CONTACT WITH THE ASSYRIANS. In the frank and painful language of the prophet is depicted the fatal readiness of the Israelites to yield themselves to the seductions of the Oriental idolatries, and even to go out of their way to court the corruption which they should have eschewed. Compared with the pure and stately rites instituted by Divine command, and celebrated in the temple courts of Jerusalem, the worship of the Assyrians was inexpressibly degrading. The length of time during which the Hebrews had enjoyed peculiar privileges increased their culpability in transferring, at this period, the allegiance they owed to the true God from him to the contemptible idols of Assyria.
IV. DISLOYALTY TO JEHOVAH ALIENATED HIM FROM THE PEOPLE WHOM HE HAD CHOSEN. As the soul of a husband is estranged from the adulteress who has deserted him, so the Lord declared his soul to be alienated from her whom he had signalized by his favor. Israel had forsaken the one incomparably holy and gracious God, and had attached herself to the lords many and the gods many of the surrounding peoples; and such conduct could not but raise a barrier between Jehovah and the nation that had shown such insensibility to his favor, and such readiness to yield to the advances of his enemies.
V. DISLOYALTY TO JEHOVAH WAS PUNISHED THROUGH THE AGENCY OF THE VERY PEOPLE THROUGH WHOSE INSTIGATION IT WAS COMMITTED. How remarkable the threat, "I will raise up thy lovers against thee!" By Assyria Judah and Israel were corrupted; and by Assyria they were chastened. They alienated the Lord, and yet found no help from the false gods for whose sake they had deserted him.
VI. PARTNERS IN DISLOYALTY WERE PARTNERS IN PUNISHMENT. Alike they sinned, and alike they suffered. They incurred the same fate, and from the same sword. Samaria and Judah alike endured the sorrows of the Eastern captivity and the shock of the Eastern armies.
VII. DISLOYALTY TO JEHOVAH WAS SEVERELY DEALT WITH. In various figures, each with its own dark shade of significance, the prophet portrays the impending fate of the guilty, apostate nations. They were mutilated; they were compelled to drink the cup of astonishment and desolation; they were consumed with fire and slain with the sword.
VIII. THE AIM OF THUS PUNISHING DISLOYALTY WAS TO BRING IT TO AN END. "Thus will I cause lewdness [i.e. idolatry] to cease out of the land, that all women [i.e. nations] may be taught not to do after your lewdness."
IX. JEHOVAH THUS VINDICATES HIS OWN CLAIM TO THE LOYALTY OF ALL MEN, AVENGING HIMSELF UPON THOSE WHO WRONG HIM. "Ye shall know that I am the Lord God." His honor he will not give unto another. To our reverence and our obedience, to our devotion and service, our Creator and Redeemer has an indisputable and indefeasible claim; and this he will assuredly assert and maintain. He will be honored, both by the condemnation of the unfaithful and rebellious, and by the salvation of the penitent, the submissive, and the loyal. - T.
I. A RELATIONSHIP OF THE HIGHEST PRIVILEGE. "She was mine." Aholah is intended to represent the people of Israel as distinguished from the people of Judah. The Lord here says that she was his. In common with all other peoples, Israel was his:
(1) By creation. God "himself giveth to all life, and breath, and all things." He is "the Father of spirits."
(2) By sustentation. He is "the God in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways." With Job, we may say to him, "Thou hast granted me life and favor, and thy visitation hath preserved my spirit." But:
(3) Israel was his by redemption. He redeemed them from their bondage in Egypt by mighty works and marvelous signs. That emancipation is an illustration of the redemption of man from sin effected by our Savior Jesus Christ. "The Lord hath anointed him... to proclaim liberty to the captives," etc. (Isaiah 61:1, 2). He "gave himself a ransom for all."
(4) Israel was his pre-eminently by covenant engagement. "I aware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord God, and thou becamest mine" (Ezekiel 16:8). They belonged to him as a wife belongs to her husband. This is the relationship to which the text points, and which is treated of in Ezekiel 16. It is great condescension on the part of God to authorize the prophets thus to represent his relation to his people. "Thy Maker is thy Husband; the Lord of hosts is his name" (Isaiah 54:5). "Return, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am a Husband unto you" (Jeremiah 3:14). This relationship should be characterized by: 1. Tender affection. We may see this in the way in which St. Paul writes of the love between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:23-32). When marriage is contracted without true mutual affection, the relation is desecrated.
2. Exalted privilege. In taking the Israelites to be his, God gave himself to them as their supreme Portion. "They shall be my people, and I will be their God" (Jeremiah 32:38). "This of God's being our God," says Charnocke, "is the quintessence of the covenant, the soul of all the promises: in this he hath promised whatsoever is infinite in him, whatsoever is the glory and ornament of his nature, for our use; not a part of him, or one single perfection, but the whole vigor and strength of all. As he is not a God without infinite wisdom, and infinite power, and infinite goodness, and infinite blessedness, etc., so he passes over, in this covenant, all that which presents him as the most adorable Being to his creatures: he will be to them as great, as wise, as powerful, as good, as he is in himself. And the assuring us, in this covenant, to be our God, imports also that he will do as much for us as we would do for ourselves, were we furnished with the same goodness, power, and wisdom: in being our God, he testifies it is all one as if we had the same perfections in our power to employ for our use; for he being possessed with them, it is as much as if we ourselves were possessed with them for our own advantage, according to the rules of wisdom, and the several conditions we pass through for his glory."
3. Scrupulous fidelity. The relationship imperatively demands this. God would not fail in one jot or tittle on his part. "If we are faithless, he abideth faithful; for he cannot deny himself." And Israel was required to be true to him in obeying his commands, and above all in worshipping him alone. "I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods before me," etc. (Exodus 20:1, seg.). Through Jesus Christ we may each enter into this exalted relationship. Through him we may each be enabled, without presumption, to say of the great God, "He is my God and my Father."
II. A SIN OF THE GREATEST HEINOUSNESS. "And Aholah played the harlot when she was mine." Israel is here represented as a wife who has been unfaithful to her husband. The primary reference is to the sin of Jeroboam in setting up the golden calves at Bethel and at Dan, and calling upon the people to worship God through them (1 Kings 12:26-33). And this was but the beginning of Israel's sin. Afterwards they worshipped Baal and Astarte. Their sin involved:
1. Positive injustice. They robbed God of his rights. He has a just claim on our obedience, our reverence, and our love. This claim is firmly based upon what he is in himself - the Supremely Great and Good; and upon what he is and does in relation to us - our Creator, etc. Not to comply with his claims is to defraud him o; his due.
2. Base ingratitude. How shameful were the returns which Israel made for his great kindness to them! Very strikingly is this set forth in Ezekiel 16. And their conduct has been too closely reproduced by us. For his fidelity we have returned unbelief; for his love, coldness of heart; for his beneficence, disobedience. How heinous this ingratitude is! And yet, alas, how common!
"Blow, blow, thou winter wind, "Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky, 3. Heinous infidelity. This is the aspect of Israel's sin to which prominence is given in the text. In forsaking the Lord God for idols they committed a treacherous breach of a sacred engagement. Their conduct is an illustration of the action of those who, having avowed their allegiance to him, turn their backs upon him and upon his cause. Terrible is their guilt, and deplorable their condition. "It is a miserable thing," says Bishop Ryle, "to be a backslider. Of all unhappy things that can befall a man, I suppose it is the worst. A stranded ship, a broken-winged eagle, a garden overrun with weeds, a harp without strings, a church in ruins, - all these are sad sights; but a backslider is a sadder sight still." And appalling will be their doom, even "a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which shall devour the adversaries." Says Bunyan, "They fall deepest into hell who fall backwards into hell." Let backsliders return unto the Lord while there is yet time. "Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; I will not look in anger upon you," etc. (Jeremiah 3:12, 14; Hosea 14:1-4). - W.J.
"Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
3. Heinous infidelity. This is the aspect of Israel's sin to which prominence is given in the text. In forsaking the Lord God for idols they committed a treacherous breach of a sacred engagement. Their conduct is an illustration of the action of those who, having avowed their allegiance to him, turn their backs upon him and upon his cause. Terrible is their guilt, and deplorable their condition. "It is a miserable thing," says Bishop Ryle, "to be a backslider. Of all unhappy things that can befall a man, I suppose it is the worst. A stranded ship, a broken-winged eagle, a garden overrun with weeds, a harp without strings, a church in ruins, - all these are sad sights; but a backslider is a sadder sight still." And appalling will be their doom, even "a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and a fierceness of fire which shall devour the adversaries." Says Bunyan, "They fall deepest into hell who fall backwards into hell." Let backsliders return unto the Lord while there is yet time. "Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the Lord; I will not look in anger upon you," etc. (Jeremiah 3:12, 14; Hosea 14:1-4). - W.J.
Ezekiel 16.; but here the reference is not, as there, so much to the breach of the spiritual marriage-covenant with God by the people's idolatries, as by their worldly spirit, and their trusting to alliances with the heathen for safety, rather than to God." Our text suggests two observations -
I. DETERMINED PERSISTENCE IN SIN LEADS GOD TO ALLOW THE SINNER TO TAKE HIS OWN COURSE. The Israelites would trust in Egypt or in Assyria rather than in the Lord their God. Remonstrances against political alliances with heathen nations, or conformity to their religious observances, with warnings of the consequences of so doing, had been addressed to them in vain. Exhortations to trust in Jehovah alone had proved fruitless. All moral means had been employed to secure their fidelity to their duty and their God, but without avail. Wherefore the Lord "delivered her into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, upon whom she doted." The Israelites would have their own way, and God at length allowed them to take it (cf. Psalm 81:11, 12). There are some today in whom we fear the same process is at work. Here is a man who makes riches the object of his supreme concern. Money is the god in which he trusts, and to which he is devoted. His great and constant efforts are made in order to acquire and retain riches. Remonstrances and rebukes for the course he is pursuing are unheeded by him. Exhortations and encouragements to cherish a different and nobler ambition, to trust a worthy object, and to live to God, are addressed to him in vain. He will go on in his own way. And at length God allows him to take his course, and live for money. The same thing takes place with others who make a god of pleasure, or who will trust supremely in their own sagacity and judgment, or whose grand ambition and ruling purpose is to attain conspicuous position or commanding power. If they are invincibly determined to follow their own course, God allows them to do so. The case is thus forcibly stated by Dr. Joseph Parker: "A man sets his mind on standing on some high place; he points to a pillar, and says that if he could ascend to its summit he would see from that lofty elevation glimpses of heaven, and he determines that he will stand upon that summit, whatever hazards he may incur. At length God grants him his request; and when the man has ascended to the eminence which he coveted, what does he find? Sand, sand, sand! Mile on mile of sand - sand for mile on mile! And now he wishes to descend; but bow to get down is his great difficulty. There may be no way down but that which involves suicide. Yet the man was determined to reach that elevation; nothing could stand between him and his wish; he urged God to grant him his request; with importunate desire he besought that he might have his own way; and there is no punishment heavier than that which falls upon any man when God allows him to take his own course." God does much to lead men to forsake sin and follow holiness; he gave his own beloved Son as a sacrifice for the abolition of sin and the salvation of the sinner; he is working for these ends by many and powerful agencies; for these objects he will do everything that he can, everything that is consistent with his own holiness and with the moral constitution which he has given to man. But one thing he will not do - he will not compel men to forsake their own evil ways and walk in his way of holiness. And if men were forced into righteousness of action, what would such righteousness be worth? The obedience which is not willing is mechanical, not moral. The goodness which is not hearty is in the sight of God but a dead and hypocritical form.
II. THE PUNISHMENT OF SIN GENERALLY ARISES OUT OF THE SIN ITSELF. "Wherefore I delivered her up into the hand of her lovers, into the hand of the Assyrians, upon whom she doted." "The cause which at last brought destruction on Israel was that the King of Assyria found conspiracies in Hosea, who was intriguing with Egypt at the same time that he acknowledged himself a tributary to Assyria (2 Kings 17:4)." Says Matthew Henry, "The neighboring nations, whose idolatries she had conformed to and whose friendship she had confided in, and in both had affronted God, are now made use of as the instruments of her destruction. The Assyrians, on whom she doted, soon spied out the nakedness of the land, discovered her blind side, on which to attack her, stripped her of all her ornaments and all her defenses, and so uncovered her, and made her naked and bare, carried her sons and daughters into captivity, slew her with the sword, and quite destroyed that kingdom and put an end to it .... And that the Assyrians, whom they had been so fond of, should be employed in executing judgments upon them, was very remarkable, and shows how God, in a way of righteous judgment, often makes that a scourge to sinners which they have inordinately set their hearts upon. The devil will for ever be a tormentor to those impenitent sinners who now hearken to him and comply with him as a tempter." "God excites those against us for punishment to please whom we had sinned." Scott says truly, "God commonly employs tempters to punish those who listen to them." And Shakespeare -
"Heaven is most just, and of our pleasant vices
1 Kings 12:26-36). And, what is more important for the elucidation of our text, which is addressed to the people of Judah, the whole Israelitish people brought with them their deep-rooted tendency to idolatry when they came out of Egypt. Two chief points are presented
I. A JUDGMENT OF GREAT SEVERITY FOLLOWED BY SATISFACTORY CONSEQUENCES. God had already visited the kingdom of Israel with his judgments because of their idolatries. He had sent famine upon them (1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:1, 2); he had allowed them to suffer by the invasions of their enemies (2 Kings 6:24-29; 2 Kings 10:32, 33; 2 Kings 13:3, 4, 7). Amos the prophet forcibly sets forth these visitations of Israel by reason of their sins (Amos 4:6-11). And as all these judgments failed to turn them from idolatry, the Lord suffered them to be carried captive into Assyria (2 Kings 17:3-6). These things should have been a warning to the people of Judah to keep clear of idolatry; yet they frequently lapsed into it. God had caused them also to suffer by reason of it (2 Kings 18:13-16; 2 Kings 21:1-15; 2 Kings 23:31-35; 2 Kings 24:1-4, 10-16). But these judgments did not cleanse the kingdom of Judah of idolatry. Checked for a time, the- sinful practice broke out vigorously again. And in consequence, the complete destruction of Jerusalem, the utter overthrow of the kingdom, and the captivity of the people, are declared to be at hand. And the text asserts that, by means of this severe judgment, the people would be finally and forever freed from idolatry. And the result has proved the prophetic assertion true. One effect of the Captivity was the complete eradication of the tendency of the Jews to idolatry; "so that whereas, before the Captivity, no nation (all things considered) was more impetuously bent upon idols and idolatry than they were, after that Captivity no nation was more vehemently set against idols and idolatry than they were." The sin of idolatry is not limited to those who are called heathen. Dr. Thomas Guthrie says truly, "In a sense all men are idolaters. In the days of old, it is said that Egypt had more gods than men. Elsewhere than in Egypt, everywhere, as the Bible says, 'there be lords many and gods many.' The Hindu reckons his divinities by thousands and tens of thousands; yet the world has a larger pantheon - as many gods as it has objects, be they innocent or guilty, which usurp the place of Jehovah, and dethrone him in the creature's heart. Nor are men less idolaters if drunkards, though they pour out no libation to Bacchus, the god of wine; nor less idolaters, if impure, that they burn no incense at the shrine of Venus; nor less idolaters, if lovers of wealth, that they do not mould their god into an image of Plutus, and, giving a shrine to what lies hoarded in their coffers, offer it their morning and evening prayers. He has been an idolater, who, rebelling against Providence, follows the hearse of a coffined god; he made an idol of wife or child; and now, when the robber of all our homes has stolen these his gods away, and bears off his plunder to the grave, the feelings of that man's heart may be expressed in Micah's complaint to the Danite robbers, 'Ye have taken away my gods which I made, and what have I more? and what is this that ye say unto me, What aileth thee?' 'Let no one deem it strange if God should visit him for his idolatries. He may do so by forcibly removing the idol, by depriving the idolater of the riches which he has worshipped, or by taking to himself the child or other relative which has been made an idol. Or he may visit those who sin thus by making the idol the occasion of sharp sorrow or bitter trial, as when a child has been idolized by his parents, and grows up to "bring down their grey hairs with sorrow to the grave." Blessed will it be if such visitation leads to the turning of the heart entirely to God.
II. A PROPHETIC PREDICTION WHICH WAS REMARKABLY FULFILLED. "Thus will I make thy lewdness to cease from thee," etc. "This prediction is frequently repeated; and the accomplishment of it has been most wonderful. It might have been expected that a nation, ever prone to idolatry in a country where the worship of the true God was established and none else tolerated, would have readily conformed to the idolatrous usages of the nations among whom they were scattered by the Captivity, and so have been incorporated with them. Yet neither the authority, the frowns, the examples, or the favor of their conquerors or powerful neighbors; nor their own fears, hopes, interests, or predilection for the sensual, jovial worship of idols, could prevail with them to run into gross idolatry, during the Captivity or afterwards! Nay, they were instrumental to the proselyting of numbers of idolaters to the worship of Jehovah, in the countries where they were dispersed" (Scott). This is certainly a remarkable fulfillment of prophetic prediction; and it furnishes:
1. Evidence of the omniscience of God. He clearly and certainly foresaw what the result of the Captivity would be in this respect. Such foreknowledge points to the omniscience of him who possesses it. "O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me," etc. (Psalm 139:1-4). This knowledge should prove:
(2) An inspiration and consolation to every one who trusts in God. "Our individual life," to use the words of Dr. Parker, "is all understood by him. That life is but dimly known to ourselves. We catch glimpses of it here and there, but its scope and meaning are still unrevealed to us. We are often in shadow. There are scattered rays of light, but no steady shining of the sun which protects us from the mystery of much darkness. It is enough that God knows our life, and that his wisdom is pledged as our defense. Tomorrow is coming upon us, and we know not with what messages and revelations, with what joys and troubles; but God is coming with it, and in his path is the brightness of all-sufficient wisdom."
2. Evidence of the Divine inspiration of the prophet. The influence of past judgments upon the people could not have led Ezekiel to have predicted such a result of the Captivity, but one of an opposite character. The character of the people and the circumstances of their captivity were not calculated to inspire a declaration like this. It could not have been the product of mere human genius in an exalted mood, or human foresight in a condition of intense activity. Such a prediction must have been communicated to the prophet by him to whom all things are known.
CONCLUSION. "Guard yourselves from idols." - W.J.
I. MEN INSTRUCTED IN THE TRUE RELIGION PRACTISING THE GREATEST ABOMINATIONS OF HEATHENISM. "They had slain their children to their idols" (Ver. 39). "They have caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass through the fire unto them to be devoured" (Ver. 37). We have already noticed the offering of children to Moloch (on Ezekiel 16:20, 21). And in this age and in this professedly Christian land people make sacrifices which bear some resemblance to these in spirit. How many respectable and avowedly Christian parents sacrifice their daughters in marriage to mammon l The man may be unsuitable in age, uncongenial in temper, immoral in character and conduct; but, if he be rich, he is welcomed as a suitor. How frequently, too, are the best and the abiding interests of children - their intellectual, spiritual, and eternal interests - risked, or even sacrificed, by their parents, in order that they may attain unto higher social status or gain worldly honors and distinctions! And in other ways practices which are worthy only of heathen intelligence and morality are at work amongst us.
II. MEN PASSING AT ONCE FROM THE PRACTICE OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF HEATHENISM INTO THE SANCTUARY AND SERVICE OF THE LIVING GOD. "When they had slain their children to their idols, then they came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of mine house." The Prophet Jeremiah complains of a similar sin: "Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye have not known; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my Name, and say, We are delivered; that ye may do all these abominations?" (Jeremiah 7:9, 10). The sin is not unknown amongst us in these days. Men are on the racecourse, with its cruelty, profanity, and gambling, on the weekday, and on Sunday they enter the sanctuary of God, and take part in its services. There are those who, during the week, visit scenes of drunkenness and profligacy, and on the Lord's day they go to church and unite in the forms of worship. It is an ill preparation for the sacred engagements of the house of God to spend the Saturday evening in the public house, worshipping Bacchus. Nor is the character of the case much altered when persons attend church on Sunday morning, and spend the remainder of the day in social festivity and dissipation.
III. THAT SUCH CONDUCT IS A PROFANATION BOTH OF THE SABBATH AND THE SANCTUARY OF GOD. "Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my sabbaths. For when they had slain their children to their idols," etc. We may show this by noticing:
1. That these things should be held in reverence.
(1) Because they were instituted by God. He ordained the sabbath and the sanctuary. They rest upon the basis of Divine authority.
(2) Because they were instituted for his glory. Both the sabbath and. the sanctuary are for the worship of the Most High. Both are intended to promote the best interests of man, to elevate him as a spiritual and immortal being, and thus to enable him more fully to glorify God. As man grows in spiritual purity and power, in righteousness and kindness towards men, and in reverence and devotion towards God, his life contributes to the honor of God. The sabbath and the sanctuary, when properly used, further these ends.
2. The conduct exhibited and condemned in the text is most irreverent in relation to these things.
(1) Because it puts the sanctuary and. the sabbath on the low level of heathen institutions and customs. So did the people of Israel and of Judah. How many today attend religious services for no higher reason than this, that it is socially respectable to do so.
(2) Because it disparages them in the eyes of observers. If men form their opinion of religious services and ordinances from such persons as take part in them on Sunday, and during the rest of the week lead lives of a character which is in utter opposition to them, they must conclude that they are shams and unworthy of the regard of true men.
(3) Because it is insulting to God. Such conduct implies that our outward and empty forms and ceremonies can please him, or that he will accept our attendance upon his worship as a compensation for our disregard of his will when we are absent from his house. "But the Lord looketh on the heart," He rejects the worship which is offered to him by such persons as hypocritical service and offensive to him (cf. Psalm 1:7-23; Isaiah 1:11-15).
CONCLUSION. The worship of God is exclusive. "Thou shalt have none other gods before me;" "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve;" "Ye cannot serve God and mammon." Let us cultivate decision and thoroughness in his service. How different from the conduct condemned in the text was that of Cyprian! On his way to martyrdom he was told by the emperor that he would give him time to consider if he had not better cast a grain of incense into the fire in honor of the idol-gods than die so ignominiously. Cyprian replied, "There needs no deliberation in the case." John Huss, at the stake, was offered a pardon if he would recant. His reply was, "I am here, ready to suffer death." Thomas Hawkes, in like circumstances, said, "If I had a hundred bodies, I would suffer them all to be torn in pieces, rather than recant." Let us seek to be alike true, whole-hearted, and firm in our allegiance to our Lord. - W.J.