Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
himself a sign. It is not so much what he says, not so much what he does, but what he is, that impresses others. In this enterprise character is everything. Ezekiel was a servant of God to the very core. He completely identified himself with the nation. Its misery became his misery. Thus he became a type and symbol of the Saviour; and, in his measure, suffered vicariously for the people.
I. THE SURRENDER OF PERSONAL BEAUTY A SIGN OF NATIONAL DEGRADATION. The hair and beard are man's natural adornments. To be shorn of these, in earlier times, was a signal mark of dishonour. No greater contempt could the King of Ammon have cast upon King David, than to despoil his ambassadors of their beards. But the ornaments of nature may well be sacrificed for moral advantages. It is an act of genuine wisdom to make the body servant to the soul. If bodily mortifications will deepen our sense of sin, sever the roots of pride and worldliness, or impress others with our zeal for righteousness, it is a wise expenditure. To save men from sin, it is worth while to sacrifice much that we hold dear.
II. THE SENSE OF GRIEF WAS DEEPENED BY THE DESTINATION OF HIS HAIR. Every hair had been the workmanship of God, and all the hairs of his head had been numbered by God. They were not lightly to be sacrificed. Every hair was to be a sermon. It declared that God was willing to sacrifice what was of lesser value, if thereby he could save what was incomparably more precious. The various destinations of the prophet's hair were pregnant with moral significance. We cannot too much admire the condescension of God in employing such simple methods for instructing and impressing men. If, to any modern readers, these methods should seem childish, we can only say that other methods would have missed the end. The methods by which God seeks to educate and bless men now may equally seem condescensions to other races of intelligent life. To fire, to the sword, to dispersion, was the bulk of the nation doomed!
III. THE ACCURATE ALLOTMENT OF RIGHTEOUS PENALTY WAS FORESHADOWED. Even amid the hurly-burly of war, there is no miscarriage of Divine justice. With an invisible shield, God covers, in the day of battle, those whom he designs to save. Those who are destined for the flame will not perish by the sword, and those who may escape from Nebuchadnezzar's hand do not escape from the hand of Almighty justice. The eye of man may not be keen enough to detect the exact admeasurements of God's penalties; this matters not. But a clearer eye might discern that there was an accurate weighing out of desert to unrighteousness. In the invisible hand of God there is a balance exquisitely true, absolutely exact; and the day will yet dawn when human intelligence having developed, and human conscience being quickened in its action, men will join in saying, "Just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints."
IV. PRESENT PROTECTION DOES NOT SECURE FINAL SAFETY. The prophet was enjoined to deal in a different manner with a few of these hairs. They were to be bound carefully in the skirt of his robe. This would be understood by all to imply that, in the midst of judgment, God would not forget mercy. A remnant should be spared. Yet this was only a temporary and an external privilege. So long as the hearts of the people remained rebellious and obdurate, deliverance was impossible. Prosperity cannot last that does not spring from the root of righteousness. To be spared in the day of general disaster, and then to be overtaken by a worse calamity, is tenfold more grievous. This is equivalent to being first lifted up and then thrown down. Yet the intention was to bless. God will not neglect any possibility of doing good to men. If there be on our part the least disposition to receive, there is on his part the readiest disposition to give. But take heed! To spare now does not secure, of necessity, final salvation! - D.
I. THE EXERCISE OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. "And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp sword, as a barber's razor thou shalt take it, and cause it to pass upon thy head and upon thy beard." Here is a picture of She judgment of God upon his sinful people (cf. Deuteronomy 32:41, "If I whet my glittering sword, and mine hand take hold on judgment, I will Vender vengeance to mine enemies, and will reward them that hate me"). When God's will has long been set at nought by any people, and his forbearance has long been exercised towards them, and they still persist in rebellion against him, he will arise to the exercise of judgment upon them. There are stern aspects of the Divine character, which we are sometimes in danger of overlooking. God is good and kind; he is also just and terrible. We may see this in nature. We have the beautiful and the beneficent - the warm and brilliant sun, genial airs, lovely flowers, enchanting scenes, and bountiful harvests. We have also the dreary and the destructive - wintry skies, dreadful tempests, devastating floods, engulfing earthquakes, and depopulating famines. If we turn to the providence of God, here also we discover evidences not only of his goodness, but also of his severity. The sword of Divine justice has sharply smitten corrupt nations. Inveterate moral depravity has born quickly succeeded by national ruin. History abounds in examples of the stern exercise of the judgment of God. And his judgments are awful and irresistible. He executes them with a sharp sword. "Thou, even thou, art to be feared; and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry?" "Who can stand before his indignation?" etc. (Nahum 1:6; Romans 2:2-11).
II. THE SUBJECTS OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. The judgments of the text were to be inflicted upon the house of Israel. The head of the prophet which was to be shaved probably represents Jerusalem; and the hair certainly represents those of the people who yet remained in their own land. Upon them the avenging hand of God was about to descend. If the people of God become obstinate in rebellion against him, he will not fail to send against them the the sword of punishment. "If his children forsake my Law, and walk not in my judgments; if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes" (Psalm 89:30-32). When those who have been exalted in privileges become persistent in wickedness, their exaltation, so far from protecting them from punishment, renders their fall the greater and the doom the more terrible (cf. Matthew 11:20-24). Religious privileges should prove an incentive and aid to holiness of character and usefulness of life, and not an encouragement to presumption and sin.
III. THE EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION OF THE DIVINE JUDGMENT. "Then take thee balances to weigh, and divide the hair. Thou shalt burn with fire a third part in the midst of the city," etc. The balances to weigh symbolize the righteousness with which the punishment is allotted (cf. Isaiah 28:17). And as to the three portions into which the hair was divided, the third part which was to be burnt in the midst of the city represents those who perished in Jerusalem during the siege. In those days famine and pestilence claimed many for their prey (ver. 12). The second third part, which was to be smitten about by the prophet with the sword, represents those who were slain in fight during the siege, or in the endeavour to escape when the city was taken (Jeremiah 52:5-11). And the last third part, which was to be scattered to the wind, represents those who, after Jerusalem was taken, were dispersed in foreign lands; some of them fled and escaped, and many others were taken as captives by the Chaldeans. Of this part some are represented by a few hairs bound ib the skirts of the prophet's garment. These are they who were left in the land by their conquerors. "Nebuzar-adan the captain of the guard left of the poor of the land for vine dressers and for husbandmen" (Jeremiah 52:16). Over these the King of Babylon made Gedaliah governor. But even of this poor remnant some were to be "cast into the midst of the fire;" i.e. they had yet to pass through severe trials; they had not yet done with the judgment of the Lord. The fulfilment of this is recorded in Jeremiah 40-43; and is thus briefly stated by Dr. Milman: "The miserable remnant of the people were placed under the command of Gedaliah, as a pasha of the great Assyrian monarch; the seat of government was fixed at Mizpeh. Yet ambition could Look with envy even on this eminence. Gedaliah was assassinated by Ishmael, a man of royal blood. Johanan attempted to avenge his death. Ishmael, discomfited, took refuge with the Ammonites; but Johanan and the rest of the Jews, apprehensive lest they should be called in question for the murder of Gedaliah, fled to Egypt, and carried Jeremiah with them." And even they were doomed to sufferings and shame and death (Jeremiah 44:11-14). Now, in this distribution of punishment the Lord acted righteously. The hair was weighed; the triple division was accurately made; and the appropriate retribution assigned to each portion. We cannot always discover the equitableness of the Divine judgments in individual cases. But let us remember that there is much of suffering in this world which is not of the character of judgment or punishment; and in this the good often share as largely, or even more largely, than the wicked. There is also a suffering with others and for others; and in this Christians, like their great Lord and Exemplar, deeply participate. And if there be painful retributions, which involve saint and sinner in one common outward doom, let us give due weight to the precious fact that such outward suffering comes to them with essentially different spiritual significance. And for the rest, we rejoice that though "clouds and darkness are round about the Lord, righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne." And in the distribution of awards in the great future, God "will render to every man according to his deeds" (Romans 2:6: cf. Matthew 16:27; Luke 12:47, 48; 2 Corinthians 5:10). - W.J.
I. THE PECULIAR AND PRE-EMINENT ADVANTAGES OF JERUSALEM.
1. Political. "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth," was Mount Zion. "In the midst of the nations, and the countries are round about her." The commanding position of the city of the great King strikes every beholder who looks at its walls and towers from the hill of Olivet, over the intervening valley. And whoever studies the map will recognize how central a station Jerusalem occupies: "Egypt to the south, Syria to the north, Assyria to the east, and the isles of the Gentiles in the Great Sea to the west." There were providential purposes in the selection of such a site, and in the consequent contact of the Jewish state, now with one neighbour and anon with another. What lessons Judah might learn from such associations!
2. Religious. In this regard, what nation of antiquity could compare with the Hebrew people? In Jewry God was known; his Name was great in Israel. God dealt not so with any people. In Jerusalem stood the temple, where sacrifices were offered and festivals were celebrated. Here lived and ministered the priests, who maintained the visible intercourse between God and man; the prophets, who now and again spoke as the representatives of Jehovah, especially in critical times, and whose words were often as the fire, and as the hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces; the scribes, whose profession it was to preserve and to expound the Law of God for the enlightenment and admonition of the people. Signal were the privileges enjoyed by Jerusalem, and by the people who gloried in Jerusalem as their metropolis.
II. THE ABUSE OF PRIVILEGES WITH WHICH JERUSALEM WAS CHARGEABLE. By his prophet the Lord brought home this fault to the guilty nation. Jerusalem is charged:
1. With rejection of God and of his judgments.
2. With rebellion in doing wickedness.
3. With error from God's ways.
The language is strong, but not too strong for the case, for the circumstances. The Eternal was Israel's King; and his lawful subjects, though distinguished by his favour and exalted to honour by his clemency and condescension, had turned against the Sovereign to whom they owed everything that they possessed and gloried in. In the circumstances, reprobation could not be too severe.
III. COMPARISON WITH OTHER CITIES AND OTHER NATIONS ENHANCED THE GUILT OF JERUSALEM.
1. Their privileges had been inferior in kind and fewer in number. Politically, indeed, they were in several instances great; but religiously they stood upon a distinctly lower level than did the Jews.
2. Their guilt was not so enormous. These nations round about sinned indeed, but they sinned against the light of nature, not against the clearer light of revelation. They did not break the written Law, for they did not possess it; they did not blaspheme Jehovah, for they knew not his Name; they did not despise his prophets, for the prophets were not sent to them. All these comparisons serve to aggravate the heinous guilt of the people of Judah and Jerusalem. When attention is given to the pre-eminent position of Jerusalem in comparison with surrounding cities and countries, the justice of the denunciations of the prophets is unquestionable.
"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, IV. GOD'S OBSERVATION OF JERUSALEM'S SIN AND FOLLY, AND HIS PURPOSES OF RETRIBUTION. 1. The Lord represents himself as pained by the contempt with which Jerusalem has treated his distinguishing mercy and favour. 2. He is displeased with those who have shown so little appreciation of all that he has done for their well being. 3. He threatens judgments upon the disobedient, rebellious, and impenitent. - T.
IV. GOD'S OBSERVATION OF JERUSALEM'S SIN AND FOLLY, AND HIS PURPOSES OF RETRIBUTION.
1. The Lord represents himself as pained by the contempt with which Jerusalem has treated his distinguishing mercy and favour.
2. He is displeased with those who have shown so little appreciation of all that he has done for their well being.
3. He threatens judgments upon the disobedient, rebellious, and impenitent. - T.
I. WE HAVE HERE AN INSTANCE OF EMINENT PRIVILEGE. Jerusalem was placed in a most central position. What the heart is to the body, what the sun is to the solar system, Palestine was among ancient empires. Hers was special advantage for getting good and for doing good. She was within easy reach of the civilization of Egypt, the martial power of Babylon, the science and art of Greece, the commercial enterprise of Phoenicia, the law making might of Rome. On every side there were patterns to be imitated, follies to be avoided. Of all the intellectual, moral, and commercial life of primitive man, the Jews occupied a central place. Intercourse between the distant nations passed, in large measure, through Palestine. Hence she had splendid opportunities for diffusing the light of true religion far and wide. Inquirers after God ought to have found at Jerusalem a solution of all their doubts.
II. PRIVILEGE ENTAILS RESPONSIBILITY. Every man lives under the wise and righteous government of God, and every possession he holds he holds in trust. He is a steward, who holds and uses his Master's goods. In proportion to the good he enjoys is the service he is required to render. Forevery faculty of body and of mind, forevery special advantage and gift, he is accountable to his Maker. God has never intended that any donation of his should terminate in the man himself. We receive in order that we may give. The wealthy man has more service to render than the poor man. The sage has more to account for than the fool. A man is not in the same position morally at the close of the sabbath as at the dawn. He must, in the nature of things, be either better or worse forevery advantage he obtains. The tree that does not bear good fruit is something worse than useless. Each man adds something to the piety, or to the impiety, of the age. As God had dowered the Hebrews with special privilege, he rightly expected from them fruitful service.
III. RESPONSIBILITY ABUSED CREATES DEADLY SIN. The sin of the Hebrews was inexcusable. They rebelled against the light - the light of nature, the light of conscience, the light of supernatural revelation.
1. There was base neglect. God had made known to them his infallible wisdom; but they preferred their own foolishness. God had deigned to weigh difficult matters for them, and to give them the benefit of his superior judgment; but they refused to follow. They would, at all risks, fling off restraint, and yield to none but self.
2. There was positive perversion of God's goodness. They changed his judgments into wickedness. They made even religious ordinances an occasion of sin. They transmuted truth into falsehood, the house of prayer into a den of thieves. Better, far better, not to have the sabbath, than to profane its sacred hours. Better not to have a message of kindness than to treat it with scorn.
3. Their guilt was extraordinary. It exceeded that of the nations round about them. While they enjoyed special restraints, they not only went to the same lengths of profane idolatry as other nations, they went beyond them! Although the fact of one spiritual Deity was clearly made known among them, yet they borrowed the idol deities of every adjacent nation, until their Reprover could declare, "According to the number of thy cities are thy idols, O Israel!"
4. Public warnings were lost upon them. That God had spoken by the mouth of prophets was clear, because their predictions had come to pass. That God was uniformly faithful in maintaining his Word, no sane mind could question. His judgments had fallen, like hail, upon all the surrounding empires, and manifestly, because of idolatry; therefore nothing short of sheer insensibility of mind prevented their taking heed. What more could God do for them, to bring them to repentance, than he had done? Every mouth is silent. Their guilt had come to a head, had reached a final climax.
IV. SPECIAL GUILT BEARS ITS PROPER FRUITAGE OF PUNISHMENT. It is not possible that anything can sever the link between sin and punishment. That link has been wrought by Eternal Justice.
1. This punishment should manifestly proceed from God. "They shall know that I the Lord have spoken it," etc. Too often men regard their sufferings as chance effects, misfortunes that have come about in a haphazard way. Not so here. Even those who would not believe that God had done them former kindness, and sent them faithful monitors - even these shall be compelled to feel that this punishment is from God. It shall be so public, so severe, so intimately connected with the sin, so precisely in accordance with prophetic warning, that God shall at length be acknowledged as the righteous Author. So self-willed are some children that nothing but the rod will induce submission.
2. This retribution shall be public. Though the sin be done in secret, the chastisement shall be public. In every age, impartial justice has sought the fullest light for its deeds. Among the ancients, law was administered, and wisely so, in the gate. God has nothing to conceal. To the extent that his creatures have capacity to understand, he is prepared to reveal. It is his intention that the universe shall behold the retributions of guilt and be awed thereby. The destruction of one may thus turn to the salvation of many.
3. This punishment shall be extremely severe. "I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like," etc. Yet, though severe, it was not too severe. It was not more severe than the case required. The cause of justice would not have been satisfied with less. When God holds the scales, punishment will be exact; it will neither be too great nor too lenient. Guilt is proportionate to previous advantage, and retribution is in precise measure with guilt. If we prove unfaithful, the higher we have been lifted up by acts of kindness, the deeper will be our fall. Capernaum and Bethsaida deserve a heavier sentence than Tyre and Sidon. "There are first that shall be last."
4. The guilty are to be the executors of their own fate. "The fathers shall eat the sons... and the sons shall eat their fathers." The famine shall press sore; but this is not the worst feature in the doom. Natural affection shall so decay that the father will not shrink from slaying his own boy, and feeding on the human flesh. Sons shall be so far lost to filial reverence that they will do the like to their fathers. When once love to our heavenly Father is dead, love to our natural kin soon decays. Man, cut off from God, becomes a monster. The beasts of the field never sink so low as man does in his last depravity. It is an impressive fact that guilty men often execute God's judgments upon themselves, while yet they know it not. A heavenly glory emanates from the cross of Jesus Christ, but eternal shame encircles forever the gallows of Judas. - D.
I. A POSITION OF PRE-EMINENT PRIVILEGE. "Thus saith the Lord God; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her." The position here stated may be viewed:
1. Geographically. We are not to interpret this as asserting that Jerusalem was situated in the centre of the earth. But Palestine really occupied "a central position with regard to that group, or those groups, of nations which to it practically constituted the world." On the north of it was Syria, on the south Egypt, on the east Assyria, on the west Europe. "It stood midway between the two great seats of ancient empire, Babylon and Egypt." And, as Fairbairn observes, "viewing the world as it existed at the time of Israel's settlement in Canaan, and for a thousand years afterwards, we believe it would be impossible to fix upon a single region so admirably fitted, at once to serve as a suitable dwelling place for such a people, and to enable them, as from a central and well chosen vantage ground, to act with success upon the heathenism of the world."
2. Religiously. The Israelites were placed in the midst of the nations, as in a position of honour by their possession of higher and fuller religious privileges. They had been blessed with more illustrious men than other nations; mightier and more wonderful deeds had been done for them than for any other people; a clearer and brighter revelation of God had been given to them; a purer and nobler worship had been instituted amongst them.
3. Influentially. The Israelites had been thus favoured and stationed, in order that they might be a blessing to other nations. Not selfishly were they to enjoy their privileges, but for the benefit of others. Their light was to shine for the illumination of other peoples. They were specially blessed, that others might be blessed through them. With unmistakable clearness is this expressed in the sixty-seventh psalm: "God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; that thy way may be known upon earth," etc. (cf. Deuteronomy 4:5-8; John 4:22). In like manner, Christians are called to be "the salt of the earth," and "the light of the world;" and they are exhorted, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 5:13-16; cf. 1 Peter 2:9).
II. SINS OF PRE-EMINENT WICKEDNESS.
1. Their rejection of God's commands, "She hath changed my judgments into wickedness more than the nations," etc. (vers. 6, 7). The word "judgment" is here equivalent to "commands" or "ordinances." Two degrees of rebellion against the Divine will are clearly indicated.
(1) Disobedience of Divine commands. "They have refused my judgments and my statutes, they have not walked in them Ye have not walked in my statutes, neither have kept my judgments."
(2) Hostility to the Divine commands. "She hath changed my judgments into wickedness" is not an accurate translation. Hengstenberg renders it, "She opposed my judgments worse than the heathen;" and Schroder, "She quarreled with my judgments more wickedly than the (heathen) nations." The spirit of disobedience had grown daring and defiant. The seventh verse presents the same idea: "Ye multiplied more than the nations that are round about you." Here also the translation is incorrect. Hengstenberg, "Ye raged more than the heathen who are round about you." There is a reference to Psalm 2:1, "Why do the heathen rage?" The chosen people had grown more fierce in their rebellion against God, even than the heathen nations.
2. Their desecration of God's sanctuary. "Thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations" (ver. 11). Heathen idols, altars, and ceremonies had been introduced into the temple and worship of the Lord Jehovah. We have some account of these abominations in ch. 8. and 2 Kings 16:10-18; 2 Kings 23:4-14. The favoured Israelites had corrupted their highest and holiest things.
3. Their exceeding even the heathen in wickedness. "She quarrelled with my judgments more wickedly than the (heathen) nations," etc. (ver. 6); "Ye raged more than the (heathen) nations which are round about you" (ver. 7). In two ways the house of Israel had exceeded the heathen in wickedness,
(1) Because they sinned against greater and clearer light. The heathen had the light of conscience, "the law written in their hearts" (Romans 2:14, 15); but Israel had the Law in statutes and ordinances. The will of God had been made known to them by lawgiver and seer, by poet and prophet. They sinned against the Law of God, both as spoken within themselves and as proclaimed by inspired men.
(2) Because their standard of moral attainment was lower than that of the heathen. "Neither have ye done according to the judgments of the nations that are round about you." The charge conveyed in these words seems to be" that the Israelites have not even been as faithful to their one true God as the nations have been to their false gods." The heathen clung to their worthless idols, while Israel forsook the living God, who had so mightily wrought for them and so richly blessed them (cf. Jeremiah 2:11-13). Thus mournfully had the exalted people fallen; thus wickedly had the highly favoured people rebelled against their gracious Lord God.
III. PUNISHMENT OF PRE-EMINENT SEVERITY. "Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, am against thee, and will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations," etc.
1. The great Agent in this punishment. Jehovah represents himself as inflicting every form of the dread judgment upon his sinful people. From ver. 8 unto the end of the chapter, every verse contains a distinct statement showing that the punishments were to proceed from him. He is the great Agent throughout. The Chaldeans were but instruments unconsciously working out his purposes. How inexpressibly terrible is it when the Lord God declares, "I, even I, am against thee"! When he is against any one, what can profit such a one? When he makes bare his arm for judgment, who can stand against its strokes?
2. The nature of this punishment. It takes three chief forms.
(1) Famine. "A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee" (vers. 12, 16, 17). And the famine was to be of dread severity, bringing in pestilence and leading of the most horrible cannibalism (ver. 10). It is to be feared that such revealing actions were not infrequent in the sieges of antiquity (cf. Leviticus 26:29; Deuteronomy 28:53; 2 Kings 6:28, 29; Jeremiah 19:9; Lamentations 2:20).
(2) Sword. "A third part shall fall by the sword round at out thee" (cf. ver. 2; Jeremiah 15:2, 3).
(3) Dispersion. "And I will scatter a third part into all the winds." The majority were carried captives into Chaldea; some were "scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of" the Persian empire (Esther 3:8; Esther 9:2); and others went down into Egypt (Jeremiah 43:4-7). And even when thus scattered, it is said of them, "And I will draw out a sword after them," indicating that even in the country of their exile the Divine judgments would still afflict them.
3. The retributionary character of this punishment. We have seen (in vers. 6, 7) how resolutely the Israelites had set themselves against the Lord God: "Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I, even I, am against thee." He had set them "in the midst of the nations," to be an example unto them of his righteousness and kindness; they had utterly tailed in this respect; therefore he "will execute judgments in the midst of them in the sight of the nations," and they shall be an example of his righteous retributions. Again, they had exceeded the heathen in wickedness, and he would bring upon them judgments exceeding in their severity anything before or after (cf. ver. 9; Matthew 24:21). This retributionary character of the Divine dealings is affirmed by the prophets (Isaiah 3:10, 11), by our Lord (Matthew 10:32, 33), and by St. Paul (Galatians 6:7, 8; 2 Timothy 2:12).
4. The exemplary aspect of this punishment. "I will make thee waste, and a reproach among the nations that are round about thee, in the sight of all that pass by," etc. (vers. 14, 15). The design of the Lord in placing his people in the land which he gave unto them was that they should be patterns of excellence to the neighbouring nations; too often they had been the opposite of this; for this reason he would make them, as the bearers of his wrath, a warning (Authorized Version, "instruction") to those nations. They would not be patterns, therefore they shall be beacons. If they who have extraordinary privileges fail to walk in a manner worthy of them, God will probably make them a warning to less-favoured peoples, by reason of the just judgments which overtake them. The punishment which some suffer because of their sins should powerfully admonish others that they sin not.
5. The awful certainty of the punishment. This is stated with great impressiveness. "As I live, saith the Lord God; Surely, because thou hast defiled my sanctuary," etc. (ver. 11). And at the close of the dread announcements of this chapter, we have the solemn asseveration, "I the Lord have spoken it." Thus "God subscribes the threatening with the royal monogram of his Name." By his own existence, and his own Word, the Lord binds himself to fulfil the awful declarations of this chapter. Nothing is more certain than this, that the sinner, unless he forsake his sins, must receive the righteous retribution of them. God's Word declares this; his holiness necessitates it, and human experience confirms it.
CONCLUSION. Our subject is charged with solemn admonition to those who have great privileges. Our advantages involve corresponding obligations; and unless they are faithfully improved, they will be to us the occasion of terrible condemnation (cf. Matthew 11:20-24; Luke 12:47, 48). - W.J.
I. THE STRANGENESS AND WONDER OF THIS ATTITUDE. That the heathen, who construct the character of their gods upon the lines of their own character, should depict them as hostile, seems natural enough. But that enlightened theists should be surprised at such a representation as that of the text, is a consequence of the conceptions which reason and revelation alike have taught them to form of God. Is not God on our side? Does he not represent himself as favourable to the sons of men - using his power for their protection, their deliverance, their aid? How, then, can a merciful and benevolent God be in any sense against us?
II. THE EXPLANATION AND REASONABLENESS OF THIS ATTITUDE. It is clear that the Creator and Lord of all cannot be expected to alter the principles of his government in order to accommodate himself to the follies and the caprices of his creatures. If a man throws himself into mid-ocean, or into the crater of a burning volcano, nature is against him, and he must perish. If a man by his own action contracts disease, he must suffer. Gravitation is not to be suspended because a foolhardy fanatic flings himself from a tower. Nor are chemical laws to be abolished because one ignorantly swallows poison. In all such cases, we may say with reverence, "God is against those who act in such and such a manner." Similarly in the moral realm. The spiritual universe is so constituted that men cannot violate moral law without suffering, cannot defy God with impunity. Those who sin must sooner or later learn the fact, which no reasoning of theirs can affect, that God is against them.
III. THE IMMEDIATE PURPOSE OF THIS ATTITUDE. It is evident that, if all things were made easy and pleasant for the sinner, if there were no check and no chastisement for his sin, such an arrangement would not be for the sinner's real good. On the contrary, he would be encouraged to persevere in his evil courses. But the sinner, finding that God is against him, is in many cases by this very fact led to consider his ways. His experience "gives him pause." There follows from this consciousness of punishment the state of mind known as "conviction of sin," and conviction of sin may lead to repentance and to submission. Finding that, by setting himself against God, the sinner sets God against him, he may be led to submission; he may ask himself, "Why should I not have God with me instead of against me?" The beginning of the process may partake of a selfish regard for his own interests, but he may be led on to see something better than this - to discern the justice, the propriety, the moral excellence of subjection to and harmony with the will which ever accords with perfect righteousness, wisdom, and love.
IV. THE ULTIMATE CONSEQUENCE AND RESULT OF THIS ATTITUDE. No one who reflects upon the character of the God of infinite justice and benevolence can suppose that he can take a pleasure in a posture of antagonism and hostility against anything that he has made, far less against man, whom he created in his own likeness, to show forth his own glory. His aim is ever to bring his intelligent and voluntary creatures into harmony with his own nature; to recover and restore, not to overwhelm with destruction; to bring his children to exclaim, "If God be for us, who can be against as?" - T.
I. THERE WAS THE REPEATED ASSERTION OF HONEST MEN THAT GOD SPAKE BY THEM. Ezekiel was known to be a true man. It was known that he had no private interests to serve. It was acknowledged that in all the relations of human life he was honourable and faithful. He was known to be a devout man, a man of prayer. What other explanation, therefore, could men put upon his earnest, heart-stirring appeals than that God spoke by him? If his reproof of sin was true, then God spoke through him. If he made known the might and righteousness of Jehovah, Jehovah spoke through him. If his purpose was to deter from sin and induce repentance, it was evident to every honest mind that it was true, as Ezekiel said, "I the Lord have spoken it!"
II. THE PARTICULARIZATION OF COMING JUDGMENTS PROVED THAT THE MESSENGER SPAKE IN GOD'S NAME. The retribution was not announced in vague, general terms. There was revealed a wise discrimination in dealing out judgment to wrong doers. "A third part shall die with the pestilence;" "A third part shall fall by the sword;" "I will scatter a third part into all the winds." Severe as the threatening was, there was nothing improbable or unnatural in it. Pestilence was a common disaster, and if a hundred families, now and again, were carried off by its virulence, why may not a third of the nation? So with famine; so with the sword. In a time of severe drought, famine and pestilence often went hand in hand. The flower of the nation being destroyed, some martial neighbour would gladly seize the opportunity for invasion. Resistance would end in terrible defeat; and, for the residue, banishment was decreed. Both man and nature are the servants of God; often are they combined to execute his will. If we escape one minister of vengeance, it is only to be overtaken by another.
III. THE REVEALED PURPOSE OF THE RETRIBUTION WAS TO SATISFY GOD'S RIGHTEOUSNESS. "Then shall mine anger be comforted." God accommodates himself, in his speech, to the manners of men. There can be no rest for him so long as guilt stalks abroad unpunished. There is disturbance in his moral universe. There is pain in every loyal angel's breast. Fallen spirits are encouraged in their rebellion. The moral force of law is weakened. His own veracity is at stake while sin is unpunished. Therefore, to maintain the interests of universal justice, to maintain in tranquillity his own throne, to uphold order everywhere, sin must be stamped out. There is disease in the system, and no rest can be enjoyed until health be restored. The principles and attributes of God's nature can only then settle into complete harmony when sin is chastised.
IV. THE EVIDENT INTENTION OF THE REMONSTRANCE PROVED THAT IT WAS FROM GOD. "I the Lord have spoken it." No sane mind could doubt that the motive of such repeated remonstrance was love - wise and far reaching love. The ancient Greeks had a proverb, "The gods have feet of wool." They were supposed to overtake men noiselessly and without warning. Not so Jehovah. In his most severe retributions kindness is yet manifest. Faithful expostulation and tearful warning precede final destruction. The good of his creatures is a superlative motive in his bosom - a motive that reigns side by side with the maintenance of law. If the good of the sinner himself be hopeless, then the good of others is sought. These earnest pleadings with men declare most emphatically his condescension, his patience, his self-sacrificing love. This is not after the manner of men. If offenders against God would only reflect, they would confess that such remonstrance was a remonstrance of eternal Love - the counsel of the living God. - D.
i.e. so far as the once favoured and now depressed and threatened Hebrew people are concerned. But, however calamity may affect the Jews, the prophet was assured that it should not be in vain with respect to neighbouring nations. They should learn the lesson, whether the scourged and scattered seed of Jacob would hear or forbear, This purpose, at least, the fate of Jerusalem and the calamities of the Jews in their exile and dispersion should not fail to accomplish; a lesson should be taught to the nations of the earth concerning the sinfulness of sin and the justice and truth of God, which should not be forgotten down to the end of time.
I. THE DESOLATION OF JERUSALEM WAS DESIGNED TO BE A REPROACH AND A TAUNT, AND THUS AN EXHIBITION TO ALL THE NATIONS OF THE DIVINE JUSTICE. The attribute of justice has its punitive side; and this was displayed in the fate of the proud and once highly favoured city. If this purpose was answered by the fall of Jerusalem and the calamities which followed, it may surely be acknowledged that the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, which followed upon the rejection of the Divine Messiah, and the dispersion of the Jews during the following centuries of history, have constituted a lesson of similar import for the warning of mankind.
II. THE SAME EVENT WAS AN INSTRUCTION AND AN ASTONISHMENT, AND THUS AN INCULCATION UPON THE NATIONS OF THE DIVINE LAW AND AUTHORITY. Justice has its distributive as well as its corrective side. Not only is Law to be vindicated by the sanction of penalty inflicted upon the disobedient; the excellence and glory of the Law has to be displayed as the proper rule for the moral guidance and government of mankind. Thus the nations were not only to wonder and to tremble, when they beheld the just indignation of outraged Divine authority manifest itself in a city's siege, capture, and subjection; they were to learn to inquire into the Law which had been broken, the authority which had been defied. There is an aspect of construction, as well as an aspect of destruction, in the government of the world. It is the part of wisdom, not merely to recognize the power which avenges infraction of Divine decrees, but to admire the holy Law, to submit to the righteous Lawgiver, to forsake evil, and to do good. - T.