Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
moral mission to the world. Wherefore are we in this world? Both the theories and the practical conduct of men give different answers to this all-important problem. I shall take the answer from the text, and observe -
I. OUR MISSION HERE IS TO RECEIVE COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE ETERNAL MIND. "I will stand upon my watch, and sot me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me." That man is constituted for and required to receive communications from the Infinite Mind, and that he cannot realize his destiny without this, appears evident from the following Considerations.
1. From his nature as a spiritual being.
(1) He has an instinct for it. He naturally calls out for the living God. As truly as the eye is made to receive light, the soul is made to receive thought from God.
(2) He has a capacity for it. Unlike the lower creatures around us, we can receive the ideas of God.
(3) He has a necessity for it. God's ideas are the quickening powers of the soul.
2. From his condition as a fallen being. Sin has shut out God from the soul, created a dense cloud between us and him.
3. From the purpose of Christ's mediation. Why did Christ come into the world? To bring the human soul and God together, that the Lord might "dwell amongst men."
4. From the special manifestations of God for the purpose. I say special, for nature, history, heart, and conscience are the natural orders of communication between the human and the Divine. But we have something more than these - the Bible; this is special. Here he speaks to man at sundry times and in divers manners, etc.
5. From the general teaching of the Bible. "Come now, and let us reason together," etc.; "Behold, I stand at the door," etc. But how shall we receive these communications? We must ascend the "tower" of quiet, earnest, devout thought, and there must "watch to see what he will say."
II. OUR MISSION HERE IS TO IMPART COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE ETERNAL MIND. "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it." From this we may conclude that writing is both an ancient and a divinely sanctioned art. Thank God for books! That we have to impart as well as to receive is evident:
1. From the tendency of Divine thoughts to express themselves. It is of the nature of religious ideas that they struggle for utterance. What we have seen and heard we cannot but speak.
2. From the universal adaptation of Divine thoughts. Thoughts from God are not intended merely for certain individuals or classes, but for all the race in all generations.
3. From the spiritual dependence of man upon man. It is God's plan, that man shall be the spiritual teacher of man.
4. From the general teaching of the Bible. What the prophets and apostles received from God they communicated. "When it pleased God to reveal his Son in me, immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood," etc. (Galatians 1:16).
III. OUR MISSION HERE IS TO PRACTICALLY REALIZE COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE ETERNAL MIND. "Though it tarry, wait for it," etc. The Divine thoughts which we receive we are to realize in our daily life, practically to work out. Here, then, is our moral mission. We are here, brothers, for these three purposes; not for one of them only, but for all. God is to be everything to us; he is to fill up the whole sphere of our being, our "all in all." We are to be his auditors, hearing his voice in everything; we are to be his organ, conveying to others what he has conveyed to us; we are to be his representatives, manifesting him in every act of our life. All we say and do, our looks and mien, are to be rays reflected from the Father of lights.
CONCLUSION. From this subject we may learn:
1. The reasonableness of religion. What is it? Simply to receive, propagate, and develop communications from the Infinite Mind. What can be more sublimely reasonable than this?
2. The grandeur of a religious life. What is it? The narrowness, the intolerance, the bigotry, the selfishness of many religionists lead sceptics to look upon religion with derision. But what is it? To be a disciple of the all-knowing God, a minister of the all-ruling God, a representative of the all-glorious God. Is there anything grander?
3. The function of Christianity. What is it? To induce, to qualify, and enable men to receive, communicate, and to live the great thoughts of God. - D.T.
I. TEMPORAL CIRCUMSTANCES. These are not always easy and prosperous. Sources of perplexity may at any moment arise. There may come slackness of trade; new rivals may appear, causing sharp and severe competition; losses may have to be sustained; and in this way, from a variety of causes, "hard times" may have to be passed through. And under such circumstances we should trust and not be afraid, knowing that all our interests are in our loving Father's keeping. He has promised us a sufficiency. "His mercies are not the swift, but they are the sure, mercies of David." We must not be less hopeful and trustful than the little red breast chirping near our window pane, even in the wintry weather. "Behold the fowls of the air," etc. (Matthew 6:26). Then, "though the vision," etc.
II. LIFE'S SORROWS. These have fallen upon men at times with a crushing weight. All has appeared dark; not a ray of light has seemed to penetrate the gloom. Yet still they have found that, whilst the vision of hope has been deferred, it has been realized at last, filling their hearts with holy rapture. Jacob lived long enough to see that neither Joseph nor Benjamin had been really taken from him, and that those circumstances which he regarded as being against him were all designed to work out his lasting good. Elijah cast himself down in the wilderness and slept. And, lo! angel guards attended him and ministered unto him, new supplies of strength were imparted, the sunshine of the Divine favour beamed upon him, and he who thought he ought to die under a lonely tree in the desert was ultimately altogether delivered from experiencing the pangs of the last conflict, and was borne in triumph to the realms of everlasting peace. The Shunammite had her lost child restored; the exiled returned at length with songs unto Zion. The Egyptians painted one of their goddesses as standing upon a rock in the sea, the waves roaring and dashing upon her, and with this motto, "Storms cannot move me." What that painted goddess was in symbol we should seek to be in reality, unmoved and unruffled by the tempests which arise in the sea of life, assured that there awaits us a peaceful and tranquil haven. Then, "though the vision," etc.
III. SPIRITUAL DEPRESSION. The Christian life is not all shadow. It has its sunny as well as its shady side. The good have their seasons of joy - seasons in which, believing, they can rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Yet they have also their seasons of depression. There is "the midnight of the soul," when the vision of spiritual light and peace and joy tarries; and it is then their truest wisdom to trust and to wait, assured that in due time God will make them glad by lifting upon them "the light of his countenance." "Who is among you that feareth the Lord?" etc. (Isaiah 50:10); "Though the vision," etc. (ver. 3).
IV. CHRISTIAN WORK. The great purpose of this is the deliverance of men from the thraldom of sin. The vision we desire to behold an accomplished reality is that of the dry bones clothed afresh, inspired with life, and standing upon their feet, an exceeding great army, valiant for God and righteousness. But the vision tarries! Spiritual death and desolation reign! What then? Shall we despair? Shall we express doubt as to whether the transformation of the realm of death into a realm of spiritual life shall ever be effected? No; though the vision tarry, we will wait for it, knowing that it will surely come; for "the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it." So Robert Moffat laboured for years without gaining any converts from heathenism, but at length a few were won, and he commemorated with these the death of Christ. "Our feelings," he wrote, "were such as pen cannot describe. We were as those that dreamed while we realized the promise on which our souls often hung (Psalm 126:6). The hour had arrived on which the whole energies of our souls had been intensely fixed, when we should see a Church, however small, gathered from amongst a people who had so long boasted that neither Jesus nor we his servants should ever see Bechuanas worship and confess him as their King." And so shall the faith and patience of all workers for God be rewarded, since the issue is guaranteed and the harvest home of a regenerated world shall be celebrated amidst rapturous joy. - S.D.H.
Habakkuk 2:4 (last clause)Romans 8:5), and also in the issues to which they tend (Romans 8:13). The sincerely righteous man, "the just," has tested both these. Time was when he lived the former, but, satisfied as to its unreality, he now looks not at the things which are seen, but at those which are unseen (2 Corinthians 4:18). His motto is Galatians 2:20. "The just shall live by his faith." These words are quoted by St. Paul (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11), and also by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:38). The New Testament writers were diligent students of the Old Testament, and we may learn from their example not to treat those more ancient writings as being of comparative unimportance They, however, use this expression of the Prophet Habakkuk in a somewhat different sense from that in which he employed it, and apply it to the exposition and enforcement of the important doctrine of "justification by faith." The thought possessing the mind of the seer was that the righteous man exercises an implicit confidence in God; and adopting this course is preserved and protected, and experiences tranquillity and happiness under every circumstance of life. In reflecting upon his words our attention may appropriately be directed to some of the circumstances in which "the just" may be placed, with a view to indicating how that, under these, their faith in God strengthens and sustains them, and enables them truly to live.
I. "The just shall live by their faith" in times of DECLENSION IN RELIGION. Such declension prevailed in the age to which this prophet belonged. The mournful words with which his prophecy commences indicate this (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Many similar times of declension have risen among the nations, and when the falling away from the true and the right has been widespread. So also has it been with Christian communities. Watchfulness has been neglected, and prayer has been restrained; there has been a lack of the spirit of Christian unity and concord; there has been the fire upon the altar, but, alas? it has been in embers; the lamp has been burning, but it has given only a flickering light. "The just," under such circumstances, are grieved as they view the state of religion around them, but whilst sad at heart in view of such declension and of the way in which it dishonours God, they are also inspired with confidence and hope. Their trust is in him. They know that with him is the residue of the Spirit." Whilst praying the prayer of this prophet, "O Lord, revive thy work" (Habakkuk 3:2), they can also, like him, express this confident assurance, "For the earth shall be filled," etc. (Habakkuk 2:14). And so it comes to pass that in the season of declension in religion, when many around have lost the fervour of their love and loyalty to God and to righteousness, "the just shall live by his faith."
II. "The just shall live by their faith" in times of NATIONAL CALAMITY. Chastisement follows transgressions to nations as well as to individuals. Judah had wandered from God, and, lo! he permitted them to fall into the hands of the Chaldeans; and it was the mission of Habakkuk to foretell the approaching Captivity. National calamities have been experienced by our own people. Sometimes it has come to us in the form of war. The appeal has been made to the arbitrament of the sword; and even although we have been victorious, the triumph has been secured at an enormous sacrifice of life, with all the bitter suffering to survivors thus involved. Or pestilence has prevailed. The destroying angel has swept over the land, sparing neither the old nor the young, and numbering thousands among his victims. And in the midst of these faith grasps the rich promises of God and rests unswervingly on him. Let the Chaldean warriors come on horses swifter than the leopards and more fierce than the evening wolves, let them in bitterness and haste traverse the breadth of the land, resolved to possess the dwelling places that are not theirs, let them scoff at kings and scorn princes and gather the captivity as the sand, still the hearts of the faithful shall be upborne, for in the time of national calamity, and when hearts uncentred from God are breaking, "the just shall live by his faith."
III. LEAVING THE EXACT CONNECTION OF THE TEXT, THE TRUTH CONTAINED IN IT RECEIVES ILLUSTRATION FROM THE VARIED CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH THE GOOD ARE PLACED HERE. Take the two extremes of prosperity and adversity.
1. Some enjoy great temporal prosperity. The temptations of such are
(4) selfishness, and yielding to which they lack those higher joys and nobler aspirations in which consists the true life.
Walking by faith, the good man is preserved from yielding to the influence of these temptations. Strong in faith, he will see that all his prosperity is to be ascribed to him who giveth power to get wealth, and thus pride will be laid low. Strong in faith, he will realize that there are other treasures, incorruptible and unfading, and with mind and heart directed to the securing of these, he will think less of this world's pomp and vanity and show. Strong in faith, he will feel that he has a work to do for God, and that the additional influence prosperity has secured to him ought to be held as a sacred trust to be used to God's glory, and hence he will be preserved from seeking merely his own ease and enjoyment. And strong in faith, he will view himself as a steward of all that he has, and will therefore seek to be God's almoner to the needy around him. So shall he live by his faith.
2. Others have to pass through adverse scenes; and the faith that strengthens in prosperity wilt also sustain amidst life's unfavourable influences. Resting in the Lord and in the glorious assurances of his Word, his servants can outride the severest storm, quietly acquiescing and bravely enduring. Ruskin remarks that there is good in everything in God's universe, that there is hardly a roadside pond or pool which has not as much landscape in it as above it, that it is at our own will that we see in that despised stream either the refuse of the street or the image of the sky, that whilst the unobservant man knows simply that the roadside pool is muddy, the great painter sees beneath and behind the brown surface what will take him a day's work to follow, but he follows it, cost what it will, and is amply recompensed, and that the great essential is an eye to apprehend and to appreciate the beautiful which lies about us everywhere in God's world. And this is what we want spiritually - the eye of faith, and then shall we see, even in the most opposite of the experiences which meet us in life, God's gracious operation, and the vision shall thrill us with holy joy. "The just shall live by his faith." This life of faith is a life characterized by true blessedness. There can be no real happiness whilst we are opposing our will to the will of God; but if our will is renewed by his grace, if we are trusting in the Saviour and following him along the way of obedience to the Divine authority and of resignation to the Divine purpose, then amidst all the changing scenes of our life our peace shall flow like a river, and we shall experience joy lasting as God's throne. - S.D.H.
I. A GOOD MAN IS A HUMBLE MAN. This is implied. His soul is not "lifted up." Pride is not only no part of moral goodness, but is essentially inimical to it. It is said that St. Augustine, being asked, "What is the first article in the Christian religion?" replied, "Humility." "What is the second?" "Humility." "And the third?" "Humility." A proud Christian is a solecism. Jonathan Edwards describes a Christian as being such a "little flower as we see in the spring of the year, low and humble in the ground, opening its bosom for the beams of the sun, rejoicing in a calm rapture, suffusing around sweet fragrance, and standing peacefully and lowly in the midst of other flowers." Pride is an obstruction to all progress and knowledge and virtue, and is abhorrent to the Holy One. "He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble."
"Fling away ambition,
II. A GOOD MAN IS A JUST MAN. "The just shall live by his faith." To be good is nothing more than to be just.
1. Just to self. Doing the right thing to one's own faculties and affections as the offspring of God.
2. Just to offers. Doing unto others what we would that they should do unto us.
3. Just to God. The kindest Being thanking the most, the best Being loving the most, the greatest Being reverencing the most. To be just to self, society, and God, - this is religion.
III. A GOOD MAN IS A CONFIDING MAN. He lives "by his faith." This passage is quote! by Paul in Romans 1:17 and Galatians 3:11; it is also quoted in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 10:38). What is faith? Can you get a better definition than the writer of the Hebrews has given in the eleventh chapter and first verse? - "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." This definition replies three things.
1. That the things to which faith is directed are invisible. "Things not seen." These things include things that are contingently unseeable and things that are essentially unseeable, such as thought, mind, God.
2. That some of the invisible things are objects of hope. "Things hoped for." The invisible has much that is very desirable to us - the society of holy souls, the presence of the blessed Christ, the manifestations of the infinite Father, etc.
3. That these invisible things faith makes real in the present life. "The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." The realization of the hopeable. Now, it is only by this faith that man can live a just life in this world; the man who lives by sight must be unjust. To be just, he must see him who is invisible. - D.T.
I. DRUNKENNESS. "He transgresseth by wine;" or, as some render it, "moreover, the wine is treacherous." This is one of the most loathsome, irrational, and pernicious forms which it can assume. Drunkenness puts the man or the woman absolutely into the hands of Satan, to do whatsoever he wills - lie, swear, rob, murder, and luxuriate in moral mud. "A drunken man is like a fool, a madman, a drowned man; one draught too much makes him a fool, the second roads, and the third drowns him" (Shakespeare). It is the curse of England. It fills our workhouses with paupers, our hospitals with patients, our jails with prisoners, our mad houses with lunatics, our cemeteries with graves. Moral wrong took this form in ancient Babylon, and it takes this form in England today to an appalling extent. Woe to our legislators, if they do not put it down by the strong arm of the law! Nothing else will do it.
II. HAUGHTINESS. "Is a proud man." Babylon became inspired with a haughty insolence. She regarded herself as the queen of the world, and looked down with supercilious contempt upon all the other nations of the earth, even upon the Hebrew people, the heavenly chosen race. Nebuchadnezzar expresses the spirit of the kingdom as well as his own, when he says, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" (Daniel 4:30). It is suggested that the Chaldeans' love of wine had much to do in the developing of this haughty spirit. We read (Daniel 5.) that Belshazzar at his feast drank wine with the thousands of his lords, his princes, his wives, his concubines. "Wine is a mocker;" it cheats a beggar into the belief that he is a lord. "Strong drink is raging;" it lashes the passions into furious insolence. It is fabled that Aceius the poet, though he was a dwarf, would be pictured a giant in stature. Pride is an evil that leads to ruin. "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
III. RAPACITY. Two things are suggested concerning the rapacious form it assumed in Babylon.
1. It was restless. "Neither keepeth at home." Not content with its own grandeur, wealth, and luxuries, it goes from home in search of others; goes out into other countries to rifle and to rob.
2. It is insatiable. "Who enlargeth his desire as hell [that is, 'as Sheol, the grave'], and is as death, and cannot be satisfied." "Hell and destruction," that is, the grave and death, says Solomon, "are never full." The grave cries for more and more, as its tenants multiply by millions. The earth seems to hunger and to gape for all the dust that enters into the frames of men. So it was with the Babylonian despot, though he gathered unto him all nations, and heaped unto him all peoples, his greed and ambition remained unsatiated and insatiable. "This," says an old writer, "is one of the crying sins of our land, insatiable pride. This makes dear rents and great fines; this takes away the whole clothing of many poor to add one lace more in the suits of the rich; this shortens the labourer's wages, and adds much to the burden of his labour. This greediness makes the market of spiritual and temporal offices and dignities, and puts well deserving virtue out of countenance. This corrupts religion with opinions, justice with bribes, charity with cruelty; it turns peace into schism and contention, love into compliment, friendship into treason, and sets the mouth of hell yet more open, and gives it an appetite for more souls." Such are some of the forms that moral wrong took in Babylon, as indicated in these words. But these are not the only forms, as we shall see in proceeding through the chapter. Does not moral wrong assume these very forms here in England? Drunkenness, haughtiness, rapacity, - these fiends show their hideous shapes everywhere, and work their demon deeds in every circle of life. - D.T.
I. IT IS UNSATISFYING IN ITS NATURE. It is compared (ver. 5) to Hades and death, that crave continually for more. "The covetous man is like Tantalus, up to the chin in water, yet thirsty." Necessarily it must be so, for "a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth" (Luke 12:15). Wealth can only yield satisfaction in proportion as it is acquired, not for its own sake, but to be consecrated to high and holy purposes. George Herbert sings -
"Be thrifty, but not covetous. Get, to live; II. IT LEADS TO INJUSTICE AND OPPRESSION. The covetous man "increaseth that which is not his" (ver. 6). He disregards the rights of others. He uses all who come within his power with a view to his own aggrandizement. Self is the primary consideration with him, and influences all his movements. "He oppresseth the poor to increase his riches," and out of their grinding poverty and want he grows fat. He is ready to take any mean advantage so as to add to his own stores. He demands heavy security of the debtor, and exacts crushing interest, and "ladeth himself with thick clay" (ver. 6), i.e. "loadeth himself with the burden of pledges." III. IT INCURS SURE RETRIBUTION. Whether this sin is committed by individuals or nations, it is alike "woe" unto such; for there shall assuredly follow Divine judgments. Habakkuk represents the Chaldeans as one who had gathered men and nations into his net (Habakkuk 1:14-17), and as having "spoiled many nations" (ver. 8), and Jeremiah confirms these representations of their rapacity by describing them as "the hammer" (Jeremiah 50:23) and the destroyer (Jeremiah 51:25) of the whole earth; and they also declare that there should overtake them certain retribution for the wrongs they had thus done and the sorrows they had thus occasioned, and that the spoiler should be at length spoiled (vers. 7, 8). In the destruction of the Chaldean empire by the Medes and Persians we have the fulfilment of the threatenings, whilst, at the same time, we hear the voice of God speaking to us in the events of history and saying,, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness!" - S.D.H.
II. IT LEADS TO INJUSTICE AND OPPRESSION. The covetous man "increaseth that which is not his" (ver. 6). He disregards the rights of others. He uses all who come within his power with a view to his own aggrandizement. Self is the primary consideration with him, and influences all his movements. "He oppresseth the poor to increase his riches," and out of their grinding poverty and want he grows fat. He is ready to take any mean advantage so as to add to his own stores. He demands heavy security of the debtor, and exacts crushing interest, and "ladeth himself with thick clay" (ver. 6), i.e. "loadeth himself with the burden of pledges."
III. IT INCURS SURE RETRIBUTION. Whether this sin is committed by individuals or nations, it is alike "woe" unto such; for there shall assuredly follow Divine judgments. Habakkuk represents the Chaldeans as one who had gathered men and nations into his net (Habakkuk 1:14-17), and as having "spoiled many nations" (ver. 8), and Jeremiah confirms these representations of their rapacity by describing them as "the hammer" (Jeremiah 50:23) and the destroyer (Jeremiah 51:25) of the whole earth; and they also declare that there should overtake them certain retribution for the wrongs they had thus done and the sorrows they had thus occasioned, and that the spoiler should be at length spoiled (vers. 7, 8). In the destruction of the Chaldean empire by the Medes and Persians we have the fulfilment of the threatenings, whilst, at the same time, we hear the voice of God speaking to us in the events of history and saying,, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness!" - S.D.H.
National wrongs ending in national woes. Notice -
I. THE NATIONAL WRONGS.
1. Dishonest accumulation. "Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his!" Babylon grew wealthy. Its treasures were varied and all but inexhaustible. But whence came they? Came they by honest industry? Were they the home produce of diligent and righteous labour? No; from other lands. They were wrested from other countries by violence and fraud. Even the golden and silver vessels used at the royal feast were taken out of the temple which was at Jerusalem. "No more," says an old writer, "of what we have is to be reckoned ours than what we came honestly by. Nor will it long be ours, for wealth gotten by vanity will soon diminish." Take away the ill-gotten wealth of the nations of Europe - wealth gotten by fraud and violence - and how greatly will they be pauperized! How much of our national wealth has come to us honestly? A question this worth the impartial investigation of every man, and which must be gone into sooner or later.
2. Dominant materialism. "And to him that ladeth himself with thick clay." Although some render this "ladeth himself with many pledges," our version, which gives the word "clay," will cover all. The burning and insatiable desire of Babylon was for material wealth; and the men or the nation who succeed in this, only lade themselves with "thick clay" It is a bad thing for moral spirits to be laden with "thick clay." See the individual man who so pampers his animal appetites until he becomes a Falstaff. His spirit is laden with "thick clay." See the nation whose inspiration is that of avaricious merchandise, and whose god is mammon; its spirit is laden with "thick clay." Ah me! what millions are to be found in all civilized countries who are buried in "thick clay"! Clay is everything to them.
3. Extensive plunder. "Thou hast spoiled many nations." The first monarchy we read of in Holy Scripture is that of the Assyrians, begun by Ninus, of whom Nineveh took name, and by Nimrod, whom histories call Belus, and after him succeeded Semiramis his wife. This monarchy grew, by continual wars and violences on their neighbours, to an exceeding height and strength; so that the exaltation of that monarchy was the ruin of many nations, and this monarchy lasted, as some write, annos1300
4. Ruthless violence. "Because of men's blood, and for the violence of the land, of the city, and of all that dwell therein." "The terms 'men,' 'land,' 'earth,' 'city,'" says Henderson, "are to be understood generally, not restricted to the Jews, their country and its metropolis." What oceans of the blood of all countries were shed by these ruthless tyrants of Babylon!
II. THE NATIONAL WOES. All these wrongs, as all other wrongs, run into woes. Crimes lead to calamities. What are the woes connected with these wrongs, as given in these verses?
1. The contempt of the injured. "Shall not all these take up a parable against him, and a taunting proverb against him, and say, Woe to him that increaseth that which is not his! how long? and to him that ladeth himself with thick clay!" The woe comes out in a derisive song, which continues to the end of the chapter. Dishonesty and low animalism must ever sink the people amongst whom they prevail into bitter contempt. Scarcely can there be anything more painful than the contempt of others when it is felt to be deserved. To be sneered at, laughed at, ridiculed, scorned, - is not this bitterly affictive? Jeremiah predicted that one part of the punishment should be that he should be laughed to scorn.
2. The avenging of the spoiled. "Because thou hast spoiled many nations, all the remnant of the people shall spoil thee." Here is retaliation - plunder for plunder, blood for blood. Divine retribution often pays man back in his own coin. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."
CONCLUSION. Ever under the righteous administration of Heaven woes tread closely on the heel of wrongs. More certainly than the waves of the ocean follow the moon must suffering follow sin. To every crime there is linked a curse, to every sin a suffering, to every wrong a woe. Be sure that "your sins will find you out." - D.T.
I. ITS AIM. The concern of the rulers of Babylon was to secure unlimited supremacy, to reach an eminence where, secure from peril and in the enjoyment of ease and luxury, they might, without restraint, exercise despotic control over the nations. "That he may set his nest on high, that he may be delivered from the power of evil" (ver. 9). False ambition, whether in individuals or nations, is directed to the attainment of worldly distinction, authority, and power, and has its foundation in pride and selfesteem.
II. ITS UNSCRUPULOUSNESS. "They coveted an evil covetousness to their house" (ver. 9), totally disregarding the sacredness of property and the rights of man. Their acts were marked by oppression, plunder, and cruelty; they impoverished feebler nations and even "cut off many people" (ver. 10) in seeking the accomplishment of their selfish purposes. So is it ever that such ambition breaks the ties of blood and forgets the obligations of manhood."
III. ITS ISSUE. The prophet indicates that all this self-seeking and self-glorying must end in disgrace and dishonour.
1. The very monuments reared thus in the spirit of pride should bear adverse testimony. In the language of poetry he represents the materials which they had obtained by plunder and which they had brought from other lands into Chaldea, to be used in the construction of their stately edifices, as protesting against the way in which they had been obtained and the purposes to which they had been applied (ver. 11).
2. Shame and ruin should overtake the schemers and plotters themselves. "Thou hast sinned against thy soul" (ver. 10). Whatever their material gain, they had become spiritually impoverished by their course of action. They had degraded their higher nature and had incurred guilt and condemnation.
3. All connected with them should share in the disgrace and dishonour. "Thou hast consulted shame to thy house" (ver. 10); "God visit the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him" (Exodus 20:5); "He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house" (Proverbs 15:27). Men who have sought, by grasping and extortion, or by war and conquest, to establish and perpetuate a high reputation, have, through their unrighteous deeds, passed away in ignominy, leaving to their posterity a tarnished and dishonoured name. "The house of the wicked shall be overthrown; but the tabernacle of the upright shall flourish" (Proverbs 14:11). - S.D.H.
I. THE NATIONAL WRONGS HERE INDICATED.
1. Coveting the possessions of others. "Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house!" "An evil covetousness!" There is a good covetousness. We are commanded to "covet earnestly the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31). But to hunger for those things which are not our own, but the property of others, and that for our own gratification and aggrandizement, is the sin which is prohibited in the Decalogue, which is denounced in the Gospel as a cardinal sin, and which is represented as excluding from the kingdom of heaven. The covetous man is a thief in spirit and in reality.
2. Trusting in false securities. So "that he may set his nest on high, that he maybe delivered from the power of evil." The image is from an eagle (Job 39:27). The royal citadel is meant. The Chaldeans built high towers like the Babel founders, to be delivered from the power of evil. They sought protection, not in the Creator but in the creature, not in moral means but in material. Thus foolishly nations have always acted and are still acting; they trust to armies and to navies, not to righteousness, truth, and God. A moral character built on justice, purity, and universal benevolence is the only right and safe defence of nations. "Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest against the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord" (Obadiah 1:4).
3. Sinning against the soul. "And hast sinned against thy soul," or against thyself. Indeed, all wrong is a sin against one's self - a sin against the laws of reason, conscience, and happiness. "He that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul." Such are some of the wrongs implied by these verses. Alas! they are not confined to Babylon or to any of the ancient kingdoms. They are too rife amongst all the modern kingdoms of the earth.
II. THE NATIONAL WOES HERE INDICATED. "Woe to him that coveteth an evil covetousness to his house!" etc. What is the woe connected with these evils? It is contained in these words, "The stone shall cry out of the wail, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it." Their guilty conscience will endow the dead materials of their own dwellings with the tongue to denounce in thunder their deeds of rapacity and blood. Startling personification this! The very stones of thy palace and the beams out of the timber shall testify. "Note," says Matthew Henry, "those that do wrong to their neighbour do a much greater wrong to their own souls. But if the sinner pleads, 'Not guilty,' and thinks he has managed his frauds and violence with so much art and contrivance that they cannot be proved upon him, let him know that if there be no other witnesses against him, the stone shall cry out of the wall against him, and the beam out of the timber in the roof shall answer it, shall second it, shall witness it, that the money and materials wherewith he built the house were unjustly gotten (ver. 11). The stones and timber shall cry to Heaven for vengeance, as the whole creation groans under the sin of man, and waits to be delivered from that bondage of corruption. Observe:
1. That mind gives to all the objects that once impressed it a mystic power of suggestion. Who has not felt this? Who does not feel it every day? The tree, the house, the street, the lane, the stream, the meadow, the mountain, that once touched our consciousness, seldom fail to start thoughts in us whenever we are brought into contact with them again. It seems as if the mind gave part of itself to all the objects that once impressed it. When we revisit, after years of absence, the scenes of childhood, all the objects which impressed us in those early days seem to beat out and revive the thoughts and feelings of our young hearts. Hence, when we leave a place which in person we may never revisit, we are still tied to it by an indissoluble bond. Nay, we carry it with us and reproduce it in memory.
2. That mind gives to those objects that impressed us when in the commission of any sin a terrible power to start remorseful memories. This is a fact of which, alas! all are conscious. And hence those stones and timbers, stolen from other people, that went to build the palaces, temples, and mansions in Babylon, would not fail to speak in thunder to the guilty consciences of those who obtained them by violence or fraud. No intelligent personal witness is required to prove a sinner's guilt. All the scenes of his conscious life vocalize his guilt. - D.T.
I. THE GLORY OF THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD IS MATERIAL; THE GLORY OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS SPIRITUAL. The glory of Chaldea centred in its magnificent city of Babylon, so grand in its situation, its edifices, it defences, and in the stores of treasure it contained, its greatness consisting thus in its material resources; but the glory of the kingdom of God is spiritual. It is "the glory of the Lord" that constitutes its excellence - all moral beauty and spiritual grace abounding therein.
II. THE KINGDOMS OF THIS WORLD HAVE OFTEN BEEN FOUNDED AND ESTABLISHED BY MEANS OF WRONG DOING; THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS FOUNDED AND ESTABLISHED IN PURE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND TRUE HOLINESS. The Chaldeans, by their superior might and powers, conquered other tribes, and with the spoils of war and the forced labour of the conquered they reared their cities. They "built a town with blood, and established a city by iniquity" (ver. 12); but "a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of God's kingdom."
III. HUMAN TOIL IS INVOLVED IN THE INTERESTS OF BOTH; yet notice, by way of contrast;
1. Toil in the interests of earthly kingdoms is often compulsory and is rendered reluctantly - aliens who had fallen as captives into the power of the Chaldeans were made to labour and serve; but toil in the interests of God's kingdom is ever voluntary and is rendered lovingly and without constraint.
2. Toil in the interests of earthly kingdoms is often toil for that which shall be destroyed, and which shall come to nought. "The people shall labour in the very fire, and the people shall weary themselves for very vanity" (ver. 13), i.e. they should labour in erecting edifices which should be consumed by fire, and thus their toil prove in vain; but toil in the interests of God's kingdom shall prove abiding and eternal in its results.
3. The workers of iniquity, no matter how earnest their toil, should be covered eventually with dishonour and shame - "Woe to him!" etc. (ver. 12) - but all true toilers for God and righteousness shall be divinely approved and honoured.
IV. THE PROSPERITY OF MATERIAL KINGDOMS IS UNCERTAIN; WHEREAS THE TRIUMPH OF GOD'S SPIRITUAL KINGDOM IS ASSURED. "The knowledge of the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth."
V. EARTHLY KINGDOMS ARE LIMITED IN EXTENT; BUT THE SPIRITUAL KINGDOM OF OUR GOD SHALL ATTAIN UNTO UNIVERSAL DOMINION. "The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. - S.D.H.
I. THE NATIONAL WRONGS INDICATED IN THESE VERSES. The great wrong referred to in these verses is the accumulation of gain by wicked means. "Woe to him that buildeth a town with blood, and stablisheth a city by iniquity!" In itself there is nothing improper in building towns, establishing cities, and accumulating wealth. Indeed, all these things are both legitimate and desirable. But it is stated that these Babylonians did it:
1. By violence. "With blood." Men's lives were sacrificed for the purpose. "By iniquity." Justice was outraged in the effort.
2. By cruelty. "Labour in the very fire." These wrongs we have already explained in the preceding sections. (But see a different explanation of "labour in the fire" in the Exposition.)
II. THE NATIONAL WOES INDICATED IN THESE WORDS. What is the woe? Disapprobation of. God.
1. These wrongs are contrary to his nature. "Is it not of the Lord of hosts?" or, as Keil renders it, "Is it not beheld from Jehovah of hosts that the people weary themselves for fire, and nations exhaust themselves from vanity?" He does not desire it. Nay, it is hostile to his will, it is displeasing to his nature. The benevolent Creator is against all social injustice and cruelty. His will is that men should "do unto others as they would that men should do unto them."
2. These wrongs are contrary to his purpose for the world. His purpose is that the "earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord." To this end the kingdom of the world which is hostile to him must be destroyed. "This promise," says Keil, "involves a threat directed against the Chaldean, whose usurped glory must be destroyed in order that the glory of the universe may fill the whole earth." What a glorious prospect!
(1) This world, in the future, is to enjoy the greatest blessing. What is that? The knowledge of the glory of God. Knowledge in itself is a blessing. The soul without it is not good (Proverbs 19:2). It is not the mere knowledge of the works of God. This is of unspeakable value. Not merely the knowledge of some of the attributes of God. This is of greater value still. But the knowledge of the glory of God, which means the knowledge of God himself, "whom to know is life eternal."
(2) This world, in the future, is to enjoy the greatest blessing in the greatest abundance. "As the waters cover the sea." He shall flood all souls with its celestial and transporting radiance. - D.T.
Galatians 6:7). God is just, and hence will cause retribution to be experienced by evil doers. A striking illustration of the operation of this great law is presented in these verses. Consider -
I. THE COURSE THE CHALDEANS HAD ADOPTED TOWARD OTHERS. (Ver. 15.) The reference in this verse is not to the sin of drunkenness. That sin is a distressing and degrading one, and they are true lovers of their kind who seek to lessen its ravages, to deliver men from its thraldom. It has proved a blight to the children of men all down the ages. The Chaldeans were notorious for it; revellings, banquetings, excess of wine, marked them all through their history, and specially signalized the close of their career. The prophet, however, here simply used this vice as a symbol in order to set forth vividly the course the Babylonians had adopted towards others, and specially to indicate their deceitfulness. Drink drowns the reason, and places its victim at the mercy of any who are mean enough to take advantage of him. And the thought the prophet wished to convey here (ver. 15) seems to be that as a man, desiring to injure another, persuades him to take stimulant, and thus, whilst professing good intentions, effects his evil purpose, so had the Chaldeans intoxicated feebler powers by professions of friendship and regard, drawing them into alliance, and then turning upon them to their discomfiture and ruin. And he proceeds to indicate -
II. THE COURSE GOD WOULD ADOPT TOWARDS THEM. (Vers. 16, 17.) And in this he traced the Divine retribution of their iniquity. He saw prophetically that:
1. As they had taken advantage of others, so others should in due course take advantage of them (ver. 16) and bring them to shame.
2. As they would lay waste his country and take his people into captivity, so subsequently they should themselves be brought to nought, and their empire pass out of their hands (ver. 17; comp. Isaiah 14:8, in which the fir trees and cedars are made to rejoice in the overthrow of Babylon). Our prophet had been perplexed at the thought of the Chaldeans as being the instruments of the Divine justice in reference to his own sinful people, but the mystery was clearing away, and in the final overthrow of Babylon he here foreshadowed, he traced another token that "the Lord is righteous in all his ways." - S.D.H.
Isaiah 51:17-20; and comp. Psalm 75:8; Jeremiah 25:15-28; Jeremiah 49:12; Jeremiah 51:7; Ezekiel 23:31, 32; Revelation 14:10; Revelation 16:19; Revelation 18:6). Notice -
I. THE NATIONAL WRONGS. What are the wrongs referred to in this passage?
1. The promotion of drunkenness. "Woe unto him that giveth his neighbour drink!" The Babylonians were not only drunkards, but the promoters of drunkenness. The very night on which this prophecy was fulfilled, Belshazzar drank wine with a thousand of his lords. More than once in these homilies we have had to characterize and denounce this sin. Who are the promoters of drunkenness? Brewers, distillers, tavern keepers, and, I am sorry to add, doctors, all of whom, with a few exceptions, recommend intoxicating drinks. In doing so these men inflict a thousand times as much evil upon mankind as they can accomplish good.
2. The promotion of drunkenness involves indeceney. "That thou mayest look on their nakedness." It is the tendency of drunkenness to destroy all sense of decency. A drunkard, whether male or female, loses all sense of shame.
II. THE NATIONAL WOES. "Woe unto him that giveth strong drink!, What will come to those people?
1. Contempt. "Thou art filled with shame for glory! the cup of the Lord's right hand shall be turned unto thee." As the Chaldeans had treated the nations they had conquered in a most disgusting manner, so they in their turn should be similarly treated. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again."
2. Violence. "For the violence of Lebanon shall cover thee." Stripped of all figure, the meaning of this is that the sufferings which Babylon inflicted upon Palestine, represented here by Lebanon, would return to them. Here is retribution. Babylon had given the cup of drunkenness, and in return should have the cup of fury and contempt. - D.T.
I. HIS EXPOSURE OF THE WEAKNESS AND FOLLY OF IDOLATRY. (Vers. 18, 19.)
1. He appealed to experience. His own people unhappily had been betrayed into idolatry, and he asked them whether they had ever profited thereby (ver. 18).
2. He appealed to reason. The maker of anything must of necessity be greater than that which he fashions with his own hands and as the result of his own skill; hence what greater absurdity could there be than for the maker of a dumb idol to be reposing his trust in the thing he has formed (ver. 18)?
3. He denounced the idol priests, who, by using dumb idols as their instrument, made these "teachers of lies" (ver. 18).
4. He declared the hopelessness resulting from reposing trust in these. "Woe unto him!" etc. (ver. 19).
5. He indulged in scornful satire (ver. 19). This verse may be fittingly compared with Elijah's irony of speech addressed in Carmel to the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:27). The verse is more effectively rendered in the Revised Version -
Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake! II. HIS PRESENTATION OF JEHOVAH AS BEING SUPREME AND AS ALONE ENTITLED TO THE REVERENT HOMAGE OF HUMAN HEARTS. "But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." 1. The contrast presented here is truly sublime. From impotent idols the seer raises his thoughts and directs attention to the living God. 2. The temple in Jerusalem was the recognized dwelling place of God. The prophet saw looming in the distance the invasion of his country by the idolatrous Chaldeans, followed by the destruction of the temple and the desecration of all he held so sacred in association with it. Still he was assured that through all the coming changes Jehovah would remain the Supreme Ruler and Controller. Unconfined to temples made with hands, their overthrow could not affect his role. "His throne is in the heavens;" he reigns there; and fills heaven and earth, dominating the universe, and guiding and overruling all to the accomplishment of his all-wise and loving purposes. "The Lord is in his holy temple." 3. Our true position as his servants is that of reverentially waiting before him, acquiescing in his will, trusting in his Word, assured that, despite the prevailing mysteries, the end shall reveal his wisdom and his love. He says to us, "Be still, and know that I am God." Then let no murmuring word be spoken, even when clouds and darkness seem to be round about him; the processes of his working are hidden from our weak view, but the issue is sure to vindicate the unerring wisdom and infinite graciousness of his rule. Happy the man who is led from doubt to faith, who, like this seer, beginning with the complaint, "O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!" etc. (Habakkuk 1:2), is led through calm reflection and hallowed communion to cherish the conviction that "the Lord is in his holy temple, and that all the earth should keep silence before him." - S.D.H.
II. HIS PRESENTATION OF JEHOVAH AS BEING SUPREME AND AS ALONE ENTITLED TO THE REVERENT HOMAGE OF HUMAN HEARTS. "But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him."
1. The contrast presented here is truly sublime. From impotent idols the seer raises his thoughts and directs attention to the living God.
2. The temple in Jerusalem was the recognized dwelling place of God. The prophet saw looming in the distance the invasion of his country by the idolatrous Chaldeans, followed by the destruction of the temple and the desecration of all he held so sacred in association with it. Still he was assured that through all the coming changes Jehovah would remain the Supreme Ruler and Controller. Unconfined to temples made with hands, their overthrow could not affect his role. "His throne is in the heavens;" he reigns there; and fills heaven and earth, dominating the universe, and guiding and overruling all to the accomplishment of his all-wise and loving purposes. "The Lord is in his holy temple."
3. Our true position as his servants is that of reverentially waiting before him, acquiescing in his will, trusting in his Word, assured that, despite the prevailing mysteries, the end shall reveal his wisdom and his love. He says to us, "Be still, and know that I am God." Then let no murmuring word be spoken, even when clouds and darkness seem to be round about him; the processes of his working are hidden from our weak view, but the issue is sure to vindicate the unerring wisdom and infinite graciousness of his rule. Happy the man who is led from doubt to faith, who, like this seer, beginning with the complaint, "O Lord, how long shall I cry, and thou wilt not hear!" etc. (Habakkuk 1:2), is led through calm reflection and hallowed communion to cherish the conviction that "the Lord is in his holy temple, and that all the earth should keep silence before him." - S.D.H.
הוי, 'woe!' that a transposition has here taken place, and that the nineteenth verse ought to be read before the eighteenth; and Green has thus placed them in his translation. But there is a. manifest propriety in anticipating the inutility of idols, in close connection with what the prophet had just announced respecting the downfall of Babylon, before delivering his denunciation against their worshippers themselves." Now, idolatry, as it prevails in heathen lands, idolatry proper as we may say, is universally denounced by the professors of Christianity everywhere. We need not employ one word to expose its absurdity and moral abominations. But its spirit is rampant in all Christendom, is rife in all "Christian Churches," as they are called; and it is the spirit, not the form, that is the guilty and damnable part of idolatry. We raise, therefore, three observations from these verses.
I. THAT MEN OFTEN GIVE TO THE WORKS OF THEIR OWN HANDS THE DEVOTIONS THAT BELONG TO GOD. These old Chaldean idolaters gave their devotions to the "graven image" and to the "molten image" that men had carved in wood and stone or moulded from molten metals. It was the works of their own hands they worshipped. They made gods of their own productions. This was all they did; and are not the men of England, as a rule, doing the same thing? They yield their devotions to the works of their own hands. It may be wealth, fame, fashion, pleasure, or power. It is all the same. Are men's sympathies in their strong current directed towards God or towards something else? Do they expend the larger portion of their time and the greater amount of their energies in the service of the Eternal, or in the service of themselves? This is the question; and the answer is too palpable to the eye of every spiritual thinker. Exeter Hall may "weep and howl" over the idolatry prevailing in India, China, and other heathen parts; but thoughtful Christ-like souls are showering in silence and solitude their tears on the terrible idolatry that reigns everywhere in their own country.
II. THAT MEN OFTEN LOOK TO THE WORKS OF THEIR OWN HANDS FOR A BLESSING WHICH GOD ALONE CAN BESTOW. These old idolaters said to the "wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise!" They invoked the dead forms they themselves had made, to help them, to give them relief, to render them happy. Now, it is true that men do not say formal prayers to wealth, or fashion, or fame, or power; yet to these they look with all their souls for happiness. A man's prayer is the deep aspiration of his soul, and this deep aspiration is being everywhere addressed to these dead deities; men are crying for happiness to objects which are as incapable of yielding it as the breathless gods of heathendom. "There is no breath at all in the midst of it." Men who are looking for happiness to any of these objects are like the devotees of Baal, who cried from morning to evening for help, and no help came.
III. THAT IN ALL THIS MEN ENTAIL ON THEMSELVES THE WOES OF OUTRAGED SEASON AND JUSTICE. "Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise!"
1. It is the woe of outraged reason. What help could they expect of the "molten image, and a teacher of lies"? What answer could they expect from the "dumb idols" that they themselves had made? What relief from any of the idols, though overlaid with gold and silver? "There is no breath at all in the midst of it." How irrational all this! Equally unreasonable is it for men to search for happiness in any of the works of their bands, and in any being or in any object independent of God.
2. It is the woe of insulted justice. What has God said? "Thou shalt have no other gods before me;" "Thou shalt worship no graven image;" "Thou shalt love me with all thy heart," etc. All this devotion, therefore, to the works of our own hands, or to any other creature, is an infraction of man's cardinal obligation. "Will a man rob God?" Go, then, to the men on 'Change, who are seeking happiness from wealth - to the men in scenes of fashionable and worldly amusements, who are seeking happiness from sensual indulgences and worldly applause - and thunder, "Woo unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise!"
"And still from him we turn away, Ambition's flame and passion's heat
Ambition's flame and passion's heat
Isaiah 26:21). Such a God it becomes all to adore in solemn and profound silence (Psalm 76:8, 9; Zephaniah 1:7; Zechariah 2:13)." We take these words as suggesting three great subjects of thought.
I. THE UNIVERSE IS THE TEMPLE OF GOD. Men practically ignore this fact. To some the world is only as a great farm to produce food; to others, a great market in which commodities are to be exchanged in order to amass wealth; to others, a great chest containing precious ores which are to be reached by labour, unlocked and brought into the market; to others, a great ballroom in which to dance and play and revel in sensuous enjoyment. Only a few regard it as a temple. But few tread its soil with reverent steps, feeling that all is holy ground. What a temple it is! how vast in extent! how magnificent in architecture! how stirring are its national appeals!
II. THE TEMPLE IS FILLED WITH THE DIVINE PRESENCE. "The Lord is in his holy temple." He is in it, not merely as a king is in his kingdom or the worker in his works; but he is in it as the soul is in the body, the fountain of its life, the spring of its activities. Unlike the human architect, he did not build the house and leave it; unlike the author, he did not write his volume and leave his book to tell its own tale; unlike the artist, he did not leave his pictures or his sculpture to stand dead in the hall. He is in all, not as a mere influence, but as an absolute, almighty Personality. "Do not I fill the heaven and earth? saith the Lord."
III. HIS PRESENCE IN THE GREAT TEMPLE DEMANDS SILENCE. "Keep silence before him." It would seem as if the Divine nature revolted from bluster and noise. How serenely he moves in nature! As spring by universal life rises out of death without any noise, and as the myriad orbs of heaven roll with more than lightning velocity in asublime hush. How serenely he moves in Christ! He did not cause his voice to be heard in the streets. His presence, consciously realized, will generate in the soul feelings too deep, too tender for speech. Were the Eternal to be consciously felt by the race today, all the human sounds that fill the air and deaden the ears of men would be hushed into profound silence.
"Never with blast of trumpets
But when grandest truths are uttered, He has sealed his own with silence: Have you heard one note of triumph
He has sealed his own with silence: Have you heard one note of triumph
Have you heard one note of triumph