Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Abaca in which Naaman delighted. "In the midst of the plain lies at your feet the vast lake or island of deep verdure - walnuts and apricots waving above, corn and grass below; and in the midst of the mass of foliage rises, striking its white arms of streets hither and thither, and its white minarets above the trees which embosom them, the city of Damascus. On the right towers the snowy height of Hermon, overlooking the whole scene. Close behind are the sterile limestone mountains, so that you stand literally between the living and the dead" (Stanley). The river turns what would otherwise be a desert into a rich garden, full of walnuts, pomegranates, figs, plums, apricots, citrons, pears, and apples.
I. HISTORY OF DAMASCUS. There were traditions of Abraham lingering from early times about the city. Eliezer of Damascus was his steward (Genesis 15:2). But the history is a blank till the time of David. He, being at war with Hadadezer, King of Zobah, encountered Syrians of Damascus, who came to succor his foe, and slew of them twenty-two thousand men. He then garrisoned the whole land with Israelites (2 Samuel 8:5, 6; 1 Chronicles 18:5). From Solomon's time we have hints of enmity between Damascus, whose king appears to have been titularly designated "Hadad," and Israel; also of Rezin, from Zobah (1 Kings 11:23; 1 Kings 15:19; 2 Chronicles 16:3). The fourth Hadad, with thirty-two subject kings, marched against Ahab, and laid siege to Samaria (1 Kings 20:1). In the end, the invader became-subject to Ahab (1 Kings 20:13-34). Three years later, Ahab was defeated and slain in his attempt on Ramoth-gilead (1 Kings 22:1-4, 15-37). The Syrians of Damascus were encouraged to a second invasion of Israel, and a second siege of Samaria, which was raised in a panic (2 Kings 7:6, 7). A new page of history opens with the succession of Hazael to the rule of Damascus, and the struggle against the Assyrians. Probably the dread of the latter led to an alliance between Israel and Damascus a century later. The march of Rezin of Damascus and Pekah of Israel against Jerusalem brings us within the scope of Israel's view (Isaiah 7:1-6; 2 Kings 16:5). Ahaz placed himself under the protection of Assyria; Rezin was slain, his kingdom brought to an end, and Damascus destroyed, its people being carried captive to Assyria (2 Kings 16:9; cf. Isaiah 7:8; Amos 1:5).
II. THE PROPHET'S DESCRIPTION OF ITS FATE. The fair city will be effaced from the number of those that exist, and will become a heap of fallen ruins. And Israel, which has hung her fortunes on those of Damascus, will share her fate. The very sound of the word Aroer, reminding of the nature of bareness, nakedness, had an ill omen. The strong places of Ephraim, i.e. of Israel, are laid low, and Damascus ceases to exist as a kingdom. And the Aramaeans who do not fall in battle are carried away captive. The fate of Damascus is as pathetic as that of a distressed woman. Cities were in ancient thought generally seen under the ideal of the woman, their beauty as her beauty, their sorrows as hers. Damascus waxes feeble and turns to flee, and fear seizes on her; anguish and sorrow have taken her, as a woman in travail. "The city of praise is gone, the city of my joy!" exclaims Jeremiah (Jeremiah 49:24, 25). "Cities have been as lamps of life along the pathway of humanity and religion. Within them science has given birth to her noblest discoveries. Behind their walls freedom has fought its noblest battles. They have stood on the surface of the earth like breakwaters, rolling back or turning aside the swelling tide of oppression. Cities indeed have been the cradle of human liberty. I bless God for cities" (Guthrie).
III. AFFLICTION OF ISRAEL AND HER REPENTANCE. (Vers. 4-8.)
1. Images of national decay. The glory of Jacob wastes, the fat of his flesh grows thin. Necessary and constant in thought is the connection between the flourishing of a land and the blessing of God, the withdrawal of his blessing and the withering of its fruits, the failure of the supply of food. We must believe in this connection without hastily presuming, as superstition does, to detect the exact sin which has called down the displeasure of God. Our poet Tennyson, in some dark pictures of superstition in his 'Queen Mary,' represents the queen as saying that" God is hard upon the people" because the nobles would not give the Church lands back. And when she exclaims on the "harvestless autumn, horrible agues, plague," the king replies -
"The blood and sweat of heretics at the stake 2. Redemption of the remnant. This word, "The remnant shall return," is the standing word of promise and of hope for Israel. It contains the "law of Israel's history." The ring is gone, but the finger remains; the tree is felled, but the root-stump may yet send out suckers; kern the bared harvest-field some gleanings may yet be gathered. And so Israel stands as the type of human life. All is not lost while conscience remains, while will may still exert its energy against evil, and in the reformation of the habits. But there must be this reformation, which begins with a looking up to God. The state of the soul depends on the direction of its gaze. We look where we love, and our looking may produce love. Much has Scripture to say on the moral effect of vision. Sometimes it is equivalent to enjoying: "What man is he that will see good?" And as we do not willingly bend our eyes and keep them fixed upon sights which strike pain to the feelings, the prayer, "Turn away mine eyes from beholding iniquity," is equivalent to the prayer that we may have no relish in evil ways. In the days of repentance men will took up to their Creator. It is when we turn our eyes from our Maker and fix them exclusively on the creature that we forget our dependence. "It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves;" this is the thought which expresses the foundation of all reverence, the duty of all worship and obedience. As all idolatry means loss of self-respect, so regard to the great and glorious Creator reflects itself in veneration for the nature he has given us, the image of his own. And he is the Holy One of Israel. In every family, every congregation, every state, there must be an existing ideal of righteousness, of truth, of purity. Such ideals are the shadows of the personality of the holy God. If they pass away from the faith and religious imagination of a people, they fall into sensuality and materialism. The first step, then, towards a better life is to look away from self, and from the evil associations which have grown into one's habits, or into which one has grown, to God as the Supreme and the Holy. Looking up to God will mean looking away from idols. "He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands; and what his fingers have made he will not regard, neither the groves nor the images." True religion alone can drive out superstition. Science has not and cannot do it. Men must either be superstitious or religious; for the imaginative faculty demands, and will have, nourishment. The great prophets of Israel, training men's minds to look up to the great spiritual Source of man and of nature, have taught us lessons that can never become obsolete. But the heathen idolatry referred to should be more closely considered. - J.
2. Redemption of the remnant. This word, "The remnant shall return," is the standing word of promise and of hope for Israel. It contains the "law of Israel's history." The ring is gone, but the finger remains; the tree is felled, but the root-stump may yet send out suckers; kern the bared harvest-field some gleanings may yet be gathered. And so Israel stands as the type of human life. All is not lost while conscience remains, while will may still exert its energy against evil, and in the reformation of the habits. But there must be this reformation, which begins with a looking up to God. The state of the soul depends on the direction of its gaze. We look where we love, and our looking may produce love. Much has Scripture to say on the moral effect of vision. Sometimes it is equivalent to enjoying: "What man is he that will see good?" And as we do not willingly bend our eyes and keep them fixed upon sights which strike pain to the feelings, the prayer, "Turn away mine eyes from beholding iniquity," is equivalent to the prayer that we may have no relish in evil ways. In the days of repentance men will took up to their Creator. It is when we turn our eyes from our Maker and fix them exclusively on the creature that we forget our dependence. "It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves;" this is the thought which expresses the foundation of all reverence, the duty of all worship and obedience. As all idolatry means loss of self-respect, so regard to the great and glorious Creator reflects itself in veneration for the nature he has given us, the image of his own. And he is the Holy One of Israel. In every family, every congregation, every state, there must be an existing ideal of righteousness, of truth, of purity. Such ideals are the shadows of the personality of the holy God. If they pass away from the faith and religious imagination of a people, they fall into sensuality and materialism. The first step, then, towards a better life is to look away from self, and from the evil associations which have grown into one's habits, or into which one has grown, to God as the Supreme and the Holy. Looking up to God will mean looking away from idols. "He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands; and what his fingers have made he will not regard, neither the groves nor the images." True religion alone can drive out superstition. Science has not and cannot do it. Men must either be superstitious or religious; for the imaginative faculty demands, and will have, nourishment. The great prophets of Israel, training men's minds to look up to the great spiritual Source of man and of nature, have taught us lessons that can never become obsolete. But the heathen idolatry referred to should be more closely considered. - J.
I. A NATION DENUDED OF ITS POWER. Under the judgments of Jehovah the proud city of Damascus becomes a "ruinous heap" (ver. 1), the populous towns are pasturage of herds and flocks (ver. 2), the strong places are reduced to utter weakness like the departed glory of Israel (ver. 3); under his judgment Ephraim also shall waste away, shall be as barren as the reaped corn-field, shall be reduced miserably like the tree on whose uppermost branches only a few thin berries can be discovered (vers. 4-6). Under the action of God's righteous laws, the strong nation is thus reduced by sin, from power to weakness, from pride to humiliation, from wealth to poverty, from populousness to depopulation. And it is always sin which is the true account of the reduction. Violence may be the immediate cause of overthrow, but violence only succeeds when corruption has brought enfeeblement and decline. Greece fell, not by the Roman sword, but by its own inherent weakness. The fall of Rome was due, not to the might of the barbarians, but to the corruption which sapped it of its strength, and thinned the ranks of its citizens. If England falls at some future day, it will not be because some European power has become irresistible, but because luxury will have bred corruption, and corruption have laid it open to the weapon of its foes. Its fatness will become thin, its strength will be seen only on its uppermost boughs; it will fall a prey to the first strong adversary that assails it.
II. A CHURCH BEREFT OF ITS BEAUTY AND ITS INFLUENCE. Churches do not, usually, suffer loss by the hand of violence. But, by sins of their own, they are often painfully reduced, so that they are as a man whose "fatness has waxed thin," as the field of corn that has been cut, as a tree stripped of its goodly fruit, with nothing left but "two or three berries in the top of the uttermost bough." The enemies which work this waste, which bring this pitiful reduction, are these.
1. Discord within the ranks.
2. The spirit of worldliness, robbing of devotion and therefore of strength.
3. Unbelief, acting as a cancer that cuts off all spiritual nourishment.
4. Inactivity, begetting selfishness of aim, and causing the Church to miss that noble exercise which is the source and spring of all moral vigor. The Church that would not be thus wretchedly reduced must sedulously shun these sources of reduction; that one which has to lament its wasted condition must "repent, and do the first works," and the field shall yet be covered with the precious grain, the tree with its clusters of fruit.
III. THE INDIVIDUAL MAN DEPRIVED OF HIS POSITION OR HIS STRENGTH. individual instances, the words of the text find illustration.
1. When the proud, godless man is brought down from his high position; when of all in which he gloried nothing but a few berries on the topmost boughs are left. Let youth shrink from entering on a course which will certainly have this pitiful end; let those who are pursuing it abandon it at the very earliest hour.
2. When death (the penalty of sin) intimates its approach, when the leanness and fruitlessness of death are apparent, then let a man ask whether there is life in its fullness and fruitfulness awaiting him on the other shore. - C.
testings of faith, virtue, and obedience are just as truly within the overrulings of God as are our afflictions and our cares. This is taught us in the prologue to the Book of Job, where Satan, the tempter, is represented as appearing among the "sons of God," and receiving Divine commissions. Syria may stand for the associations and circumstances which tested the allegiance of Israel to Jehovah; and so for the relationships and conditions of our life, which bring out and prove what really is in our hearts towards the God of our fathers. It is true that God tempts no man in the sense of maliciously enticing him to do evil. It is also true that God tempts every man in the sense of placing him in circumstances under which, while he may fail and fall, he may be confirmed and established in goodness. This view is strikingly supported by a passage in Deuteronomy 13:2, 3. The prophet who uses his gift to persuade men to forsake the Lord God is to be rejected, for by such a prophet "the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul." All such tempters, whether they be individuals, classes, or nations, come at last under Divine judgments, as Syria did. Syria tempted Israel-
I. BY THE ATTRACTIONS OF ITS WEALTH. Damascus was one of the wealthiest of ancient cities, and situated so as to be an important center of trade. The attraction it proved to Israel may be illustrated by its influence on the luxurious and aesthetical king, Ahaz. Associations of wealthy companions are often serious enticements to youths. The entree of wealthy society makes many a family live beyond its means. The swiftly growing wealth of some business men excites others to grasp at wealth by questionable means.
II. BY THE ATTRACTIONS OF ITS IDOLATRY. Wealth enabled the expressions and forms of Syrian idolatry to take refined and artistic shapes. These tended to hide the abominations which attend on all idolatrous systems. So, it may be shown in relation to modern times, infidelity offers itself in the garb of advanced knowledge, and immorality appears in the guise of exciting pleasure. Syrian idolatry would have presented but feeble temptation if it had looked as repulsive as it really was. And still we are so often "drawn away and enticed," because Satan can appear to us as an angel of light. Illustrate by the well-known picture "The Pursuit of Pleasure." If Pleasure were not such a lovely siren form, surely the foolish host would not thus vainly pursue her. The practical skill of life is shown in the detection of what a thing is, no matter in what form it may appear.
III. BY THE ATTRACTIONS OF ITS ALLIANCE. Which seemed to offer security for Israel from the foe which was becoming so dangerously strong. But it was soon proved that Syria was unable to protect itself. Its position exposed it. Its wealth attracted the invader. It was but an arm of flesh, and was powerless when the evil day came. It took Israel away from allegiance to Jehovah and trust in him, and brought on that kingdom, the curse of him who trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm. As a general application, observe that untried character and untested piety are of little worth. No man can hope to receive the crown of life, save as he is tempted, tried, and proved. That crown belongs only to those who "stand in the evil day." - R.T.
I. VINDICTIVE. They are always, and for every one -
II. DISCIPLINARY. And they are so mitigated as -
III. NEVER TO CRUSH OUT HOPE FOR THE FUTURE. - R.T.
I. THE PREVALENCE OF TROUBLE IN THIS WORLD OF SIN. "That day" was the day of national disaster, and, therefore, of individual distress. In the more settled and durable condition of modern times and Western lands, we are much less liable to suffer from this particular cause. But civilization brings its own perils and its own troubles, and while sin lasts "the day" of sorrow will be continually recurring. How many are the sources whence it may spring! Pecuniary embarrassment; disappointment; the loss of kindred or friends, or (what is worse) the loss of their love and their friendship; humiliation; ill health, and the fear of sudden removal from those who are clinging, and perhaps dependent; a sense of guilt before God; a sense of defeat as a Christian aspirant or Christian workman, etc.
II. GOD'S PURPOSE IN SENDING IT.
2. He sends it to draw us to himself.
(1) To withdraw us from the inferior and the untrustworthy objects; that a man may "not look to the altars, the work of his hands;" that we may discover, what we are so slow to learn, that all human help and all earthly securities are insufficient and unavailing; that these things of our own devising and constructing, which our fingers have made, break down in the time of our distress, and leave us "naked to our enemies."
(2) To draw us to the mighty and the holy One. Our Maker will not want the power to redeem us. The Holy One of Israel will not fail to sanctify to us the evil he has sent us. He draws us to himself that, at his throne of grace, in sacred fellowship with him, we may be drown to penitence, to trustfulness, to prayerfulness, to the consecration or the rededication of our lives to his service. - C.
I. THERE IS THE BLINDED VISION. Two things blind:
1. Ignorance, as illustrated in the case of the heathen.
2. Willfulness, as illustrated in all who are living in sin. The one blindness is a calamity, calling forth our pity; the other is a crime, calling for ore' indignation. There is also a judicial blindness - the stroke of God upon those who have misused their eyesight, keeping it fixed on vanity, not lifted up to the heavens, "from whence cometh man's help.' They who will not see shall not be able to see.
II. THERE IS THE DIMMED VISION. Influenced by surrounding atmospheres of
(2) social custom;
(3) familiar errors.
Nowadays men are sadly suffering from dimmed vision. Fogs of prevailing unbelief are for a time half hiding God, and even Christians are troubled lest the dimness should prove to be in their eyes. The evil is only in the medium through which the eye looks.
III. THERE IS THE DIVIDED VISION. Which can see both God and self, and trios hard to keep both, side by side, in the field. Of some in the olden times it was said, "They feared the Lord, and served other gods;" and this must be the description of very many in the modern. "Their heart is divided." They cannot see "Jesus only."
IV. THERE IS THE CLEARED VISION. Oftentimes cleansed and purified by the medicine of affliction, as in the association of the text. God's chastisements are his teaching us to see.
V. THERE IS THE CONCENTRATED VISION. Eyes turned to God only. The sign of entire devotement; full consecration. An eye single, and fixed on one object. This one thing I will do, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills." Plead the call and persuasion of the risen and living Christ, "Anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou mayest see." - R.T.
I. IT IS REVERENCE FOR THE OBJECT OF HUMAN ART. Contemptuous is the reference to "the work of his hands," and "that which his fingers have made" - altars and images. When the spiritual nerve of religion is weakened, the affections fix upon the symbols, forms, and accessories of religion. The soul that has lost its God must have some visible substitute, as a pet, a plaything, an idol. When the meaning of sacrifice is deeply realized and felt, any bare table will suffice for altar. But as the idea and feeling become extinct, all the more will men seek to supply the void by some beauty in the object. The shrine becomes more splendid as devotion becomes more cold. Perhaps the prophet is thinking of the case of King Ahaz. He went to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser of Assyria, and there saw an altar' which so pleased him, that he sent the pattern of it to Urijah the priest, who built one to correspond. And this was a king who "sacrificed and burned incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree" (2 Kings 16.). And Manasseh, rejecting the good example of Hezekiah his father, set up altars to Baal, and made a grove, and plunged deeply into all manner of superstition (2 Kings 21.). The Prophet Hosea pointedly speaks of the tendency in the people generally: "Because Ephraim has made many altars to sin, altars shall be unto him to sin" (Hosea 8:2). The connection of this with luxury is pointed out by our prophet in Isaiah 2:7, 8. But what strikes him especially with astonishment is the addiction to "art for art's sake." This has been a cant and, to some extent, a creed in our time. When carried out, it must mean the valuation of human genius and talent regardlessly of the subjects on which, and the ends for which, it is employed. No matter how seusualizing or otherwise debasing to feeling the painter's or the sculptor's theme, the cleverness with which he treats form and color, light and shade, is only worth attending to. These doctrines may be carried into the church, which may become a place for mere imaginative and sensuous enjoyment; and people may find they cannot "look up to God" in a building whose lines are incorrectly drawn, or where the latest fashion of ecclesiastical foppery is not kept up. By-and-by it will be discovered that the house of God has been turned into a theatre, containing, it is true, an altar, but, like the altar in the great theatre at Athens, serving for little more than a station of performers. Spiritual worship is extinct with us if we cannot lift up eye, and heart, and hand, and voice to the Eternal with equal joy, if need demand, in the barn as in the cathedral. But how wide-reaching the principle of idolatry! The delight in genius, the admiration for it, may enter into religious feeling as one of its richest elements; it may, on the other hand, be separated from religious feeling altogether, and be the principle of an idolatry.
II. IT IS IMPURE AND CRUEL. There is an allusion to the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth, and what we know of these deities indicates beings conceived by those worshippers as dark, wrathful, malignant, and lustful. Baal, often named in the plural Baalim, is closely related to, if not identical with, Moloch (see Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 19:5; Jeremiah 32:35), whose terrible wrath was supposed to be manifested in the torrid heat of summer, and who exacted human sacrifices. In great dangers kings sacrificed to this Bel-Moloch their only sons (2 Kings 3:27); and this is sternly denounced in Leviticus 20:3. It would seem that Israelites in their declension confounded the nature of this heathen god with that of Jehovah (Judges 11:34; Numbers 25:4). Read the eloquent protest of Micah 6:7, and see how clearly in that animated passage the contrast is made between the merciful and holy religion of Jehovah and the cursed ritual of Baal or of Moloch. "To do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God," - these are the requirements of true religion. By the side of Baal was Ashtoreth in Canaan (Judges 10:6) and in Syria. The Greeks called her Astarte. At Babylon she was known as Mylitta or Beltis, consort of Bel; and Herodotus describes the darkly superstitious and impure character of her worship, which involved the profanation of women (1. 199). The religion of Israel knows no goddess; the people itself, when true to their faith, felt themselves to be as a people, the bride of Jehovah, and unfaithfulness to him is a crime analogous to unfaithfulness to the nuptial tie. "Israel my people, I their God," is the symbolic word of the covenant between spirit and Spirit, which religion ever is, in its truth and purity. There are lessons for us in all this. There are ever tendencies at work to degrade and defile the holy ideas of our religion. Sometimes it is wealth, sometimes it is ignorance, sometimes greed and other passions. Men would subdue the spirit of Christianity to their own liking, and bow down, if not to the work of their fingers, to the impure idols of an unchastened fancy. The preacher, the true prophet, must, on the other hand, be ever upholding the purity of doctrine, and exhibit those grand requirements to which the conscience must, however reluctantly, respond. And he must lay it to heart that the purer religion can never be the most fashionable. If the people turn aside to groves and altars more suited to their taste, at least let him make it his one concern to "save himself and them that hear him." - J.
I. GOD AS AN OBJECT OF THE SOUL'S ATTENTION. He is the "God of men's salvation." His Name calls up all those ideas of power, of grace, of goodness, necessary to the Deliverer, the Savior. To acknowledge that such a Being exists is not enough; the eye of the spirit must be turned to him, its gaze fixed upon him, its ear bent towards the place of his holy oracle. Micah says in evil times, "I will look unto Jehovah; I will wait for the God of my salvation: my God will hear me." To think of God in his moral relations to us brings confidence and security to the heart. And hence the expressive image of the Rock on which the fortress stands, as symbolic of him, so frequently employed in Scripture (Deuteronomy 32:4, 15, 18, 30, 31, 37; 1 Samuel 2:2; 2 Samuel 22:2, 3, 32; Psalm 18:31, 46; Psalm 19:14; Psalm 28:1; Psalm 30:1, 2). How much depends in our intellectual life on attraction - the grasp of objects, the remembrance of what they are, the firm hold of principles and truths I Impressions are made upon us as in wax or in running water, without this tension of the will. And how in various ways does Scripture press upon us the need of attention in religious things! "Earnestly give heed," "Remember," "Be mindful," "Look unto the Lord," etc., are all exhortations implying the need of prayer and habitual direction of the spirit to higher things. There can be no clear memory and no confident expectation where the mind has been lax and listless.
II. CONSEQUENCES OF FORGETTING GOD. Ephraim, turning away from its true rocky stronghold in Jehovah, will see its own castles lie in ruin and desolation. The estrangement from God is marked by indulgence in pleasure and idolatry. The people planted pleasant gardens, and sowed them with strange grapes; i.e. formed an alliance with a stranger, the King of Damascus. And these new institutions were carefully fenced, i.e. apparently they were established as a state religion. "And the very next morning he had brought into blossom what he had sown. The foreign layer had shot up like a hot-house plant, i.e. the alliance had speedily grown into a hearty agreement, and had already produced one blossom at any rate, viz. the plan of a joint attack upon Judah. But this plantation, so flattering and promising for Israel, and which had succeeded so rapidly, and to all appearance so happily, was a harvest heap for the day of judgment." The closing words of this strophe are impressive: "The day of grief and desperate sorrow;" or, "The day of deep wounds and deadly sorrow of heat." Let us fix on these words. Let us forget Ephraim for the moment, and think of the individual, think of ourselves. The words hint at remorse, which has been called "the echo of a lost virtue." It will come upon all of us in so far as, remembering many things not to be neglected, self-interest, duty to family, Church, country, we have yet forgotten the one thing needful - have not brought all our life's concerns into that unity which reference to the Supreme Will imparts. Life should be direct and simple; a simple piety can only render it so. There may be mindfulness about many things, distracting us from the central interest. How can it avail us to have remembered to be prudent, to have regarded public opinion, to have taken care to be with the majority, to swim with the stream, and in the end we find that this has been a turning of the back on God, and so an illusion, a misconception of life? For if God be remembered, nothing important will be forgotten; if he be forgotten, nothing is truly seen - attention is beguiled by fantasy, and life becomes the pursuit of a dream. - J.
I. THAT GOD IS WRONGED AND GRIEVED BY OUR NEGLECT OF HIMSELF AS WELL AS BY OUR DISOBEDIENCE TO HIS LAWS. Men sometimes mistakenly suppose that their sin is limited by the number of their transgressions of God's positive enactments. They make a very serious mistake in so judging. Great guilt, indeed, is contracted by the breach of Divine commandment, by setting at defiance the "Thou shalt not" of sacred Scripture. But our obligation strikes deeper far, and, when we flail, our sin includes immeasurably more than this. God deserves, and he desires, and he even demands, that we, his human children, should render to him, himself, all that filial love and fellowship which is due from such beloved and enriched ones to such a gracious and bountiful Father. His charge against us is not merely that we have done numbers of things which he has prohibited; it is that we have lived on through days, weeks, months, years, through whole periods and stages of our life, and have forgotten him, the God of our salvation, have not been mindful of him, the Rock of our strength; it is that we have taken blessings and deliverances from his strong, redeeming hand, and have been content to spend our days in ungodliness, withholding the gratitude, the affection, the submission, the willing and joyous service which a relationship so near as is ours to him, and which benefits so great as are his to us, do emphatically demand. The simple and true answer to the question, "What have we failed to render to our redeeming and our beneficent God?" should cover us with shame and send us to our knees in penitence.
II. THAT AN UNGODLY LIFE IS NOT ONLY A PROLONGED INIQUITY, BUT IS ALSO A SUPREME MISTAKE. "Because thou hast forgotten... therefore shalt thou plant pleasant plants... but the harvest shall be a heap," etc. The mistake of ungodliness is seen in that:
1. It leaves out and loses all the real nobility from human life - all that which raises man's nature above the brutes, and connects it with the angelic and Divine.
2. It includes only that which is absolutely insufficient and unsatisfactory. It supplies treasures which the thief can steal, joys which pall and perish, friendships which linger only for a few passing years. It has nothing which fills and satisfies the human soul, made, as that is made, for heavenly wisdom, for holy service, for the worship and the love of God. Its harvest is only a heap of husks, and not the granary of life-sustaining corn.
3. It makes no provision for the time of trial - for "the day of grief and of desperate sorrow," for the day of death, for the day of judgment. - C.
city represented man's power to defend; the rock represents God's power. According to the circumstances of the age, and in view of the machinery of war then in use, the steep rock was a better safety than the walled city. The figure of God as a Rock is found very early in Scripture, and was perhaps associated with the fact of God's revealing himself from the mount, or rock, of Sinai. Moses pleads in striking similarity with Isaiah, saying, "Then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation;" "Of the Rock that begat thee thou art unmindful, and hast forgotten God that formed thee" (Deuteronomy 32:15, 18).
I. MAN'S PERILS AS A MORAL BEING. These can be illustrated from the evils and the perils of social and national life. They can be opened out fully under three headings:
II. FOR SUCH PERILS MAN CAN NEVER PROVIDE EFFICIENT DEFENCES. Intellectual safeguards fail before the subtleties of aggressive unbelief. Moral safeguards fail before the uprising swell of passions. Formal religious safeguards fail to satisfy when heart begins to cry. In the dangerous ways of an earth full of temptation and evil, "it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps."
III. MAN'S SAFETY FROM ALL PERILS IS IN GOD HIS ROCK. On God a man may stand secure, though the wild storm-waves beat around him. In God a man may hide quite safely until all the calamities be overpast. His house may feel the blowing of the mighty winds; but it falls not, for it is founded on a rock.
"God is my strong Salvation;
I. DISAPPOINTMENT DIFFERS FROM AFFLICTION. Take two scenes from David's life. The rebellion of Absalom was an affliction. The refusal to permit him to build the temple was a disappointment. The one was no more under God's overruling than was the other. They are perfectly distinct in character and in influence. One difference may be effectively illustrated. With "afflictions" there is usually an enfeebled and depressed state of body, involving weakened will and limitation of resistance. With "disappointments" there is usually the full health and energy; and the conflict, that ends in true submission, is therefore more severe.
II. DISAPPOINTMENTS MAY INFLUENCE WHEN AFFLICTIONS WOULD NOT. That depends on dispositions. Many a man can bear sufferings who would be thrown into the most violent struggles by having his will crossed. Then that "crossing of his will" may be the only way to accomplish his sanctifying. We should rejoice that he who knows the best methods of chastisement also knows us on whom the correction comes. For us the way to heaven may be round by a series of lifelong disappointments. Most persons, perhaps, looking back over their lives, would say that their bitterest hours were those in which they realized that they "could not do the things that they would." St. Paul knew such times. The story of one such is very simply told, but those who read between the lines may find indication of much feeling. "We assayed to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit Suffered us not." And it is not easy to estimate the educational influence on our Lord's disciples of that overwhelming disappointment, which came when he who they thought should have redeemed Israel was "hung up and crucified." That may be just the kind of weapon which our heavenly Father may need for our correction; and, in our various disappointments, we may hear his gracious voice saying, "Should it be according to thy mind?" - R.T.
I. THE POETIC REPRESENTATION. It is one of sublimity and terror, appealing through the sense of hearing to the imagination, and calling up indefinable alarm and sorrow. He hears in the distance the gathering of a multitude of nations, represented by the imperial name of Asshur. These hosts spread out in long line like the rolling wave, one excited surging mass, threatening to carry everything before it into destruction. Such an image may represent any great movement which seems at any time to threaten the spiritual life of a Church, of a nation. Never was there a time when anxious listeners did not hear such rising sounds in the distance; the statesman trembling for the welfare of institutions, the believer for the stability of faith. Is there just cause for alarm? Let the prophet answer.
II. THE PROPHECY OF JUDGMENT. Remarkable is the picture of the sudden change. The power of the Divine Word is instantaneously felt. "It costs God simply a threatening word, and the mass all flies apart, and falls into dust, and whirls about in all directions; like the chaff of threshing-floors in high situations, or like dust whirled up by the storm." In the evening the destruction of the Assyrians begins, and in the morning they are completely destroyed. And the oracle ends with an expression of triumph over this portion and lot of the spoiler and the plunderer.
1. The Church, Christianity, religion, civilization, seem in every age to be threatened; yet they are ever safe. Force, numbers, armies, have but the show of strength when confronted with the spiritual world.
2. God is ever in his heaven - cannot and will not desert his place.
3. His judgments and rebukes are the expression of the eternal truth of things, and must prevail. - J.
I. THAT THE ENEMIES OF GOD'S PEOPLE ARE THE ENEMIES OF GOD HIMSELF. "God will rebuke" those who come up against his people to spoil and to rob them. Those who assail Israel come beneath his ban, and are subject to his "woe." Jesus Christ taught nothing more plainly or emphatically than that they who befriended his disciples were, in his estimation, befriending him (Matthew 10:40-42; Matthew 25:40). It is equally true that those who oppose his friends and disciples are accounted his own enemies. Woe unto him that puts a stumbling-block in the way of any of his "little ones!" To wrong them is to aggrieve him.
II. THAT THEIR WORST SUCCESS IS IN DESPOILING THE HOLY OF THEIR HERITAGE. There is nothing worse that can be said of them than that they are "those that spoil, that rob us." But the worst despoiling is that which robs the wise and good of their highest heritage, of the excellency which they have in Christ - of peace, of joy, of spiritual integrity, of moral beauty, of helpfulness, of hope.
III. THAT THEY MAKE THEIR ASSAULT WITH EVERY CONFIDENCE OF SUCCESS. The enemies of Israel came on with a "noise like the noise of the seas," like the "rushing of mighty waters," i.e. with the dash and daring of those that are bent on carrying everything before them. Sin is often arrogantly confident; it has no belief in the inviolable purity, in the impregnable uprightness, of the people of God. It says with a sneer that every man has his price. It believes that its weapon will pierce any shield, however firm; will slay any soul, however strong. It goes, Goliath-like, confidently to the encounter; the noise of its impudent assurance is in the air.
IV. THAT THEY ARE LIABLE TO BE UTTERLY AND IMMEDIATELY OVERTHROWN. When God rebukes them they "flee far off, and are chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind," etc. "At evening-tide is trouble, and before the morning he is not." So absolutely, so speedily, is the enemy destroyed. Does it accord with our observation that evil is thus suddenly and irremediably cast down? The truth is:
1. That when the fatal blow fails it strikes that which is ripe for destruction. The last blow of the hammer seems to do the work; but, in fact, it succeeds only because all the preceding ones have loosened the particles and made the final stroke effective. So when the decisive judgment comes down from Heaven, it brings irrecoverable ruin because long years of folly and of sin have been preparing for the disaster which ensues.
2. That when God's judgment once overtakes the sinner, it is often found to be that from which there is no escape or recovery. The empire is hopelessly dissolved; the "house" is utterly ruined; the family is scattered, never to be reunited; the fortune is dissipated, never to be repaired; the reputation is blasted, and no labors or severities can restore it; poverty, shame, death, appear and will take no denial; at evening-tide is trouble, and before the morning the worst has happened.
(1) Take care to be on God's side; be able to say, "The Lord is on my side," or there will be irretrievable disaster at the end.
(2) Remember that Christ identifies himself with his friends. True as it is that those who assail his people will be rebuked of him, it is equally true that they who espouse the cause of his disciples will win his approving smile and his large reward. - C.
I. TROUBLE IS NEVER SO SAD AS IN THE EVENING. At morning or midday we have more of strength to bear it; we can brace our energies to fight the battle or to endure the burden. But in the evening, when heart and strength fail, we look for quiet comfort and considerate friends, and the gentle words of love. Trouble in the evening is a pensive sight. But if it be connected with sin, with personal wrong-doing, how bitter a cup it is! Then, when there should be memory of holy deeds and earnest words; then, when we may fairly think of an honorable reputation well earned, and an influence which we may hope, indeed, will be an "after-glow" after we are dead. Yet so it is. Sin has its judgments, which "follow after" even here below.
II. TROUBLE IN THE EVENING IS WELL EXPLAINED. The prophet says (ver. 13), "God shall-rebuke them." It is all contained in that. Rebuke! That involves in its utterance conscience and memory, else how could we feel rebuke? We feel all that is meant by rebuke more from some than others. It does not always need words. A little spectacle that recalls some past scene, an old letter, the Visiting of half-forgotten places, the swift rush at times of old memories, - these often have rebukes in them. We have neglected so many never-recurring opportunities, we have scattered so many seeds of evil. But when God, the living God, rebukes us, how can we stand? For he knows our most secret thoughts, and in his book all the life is written.
III. TROUBLE IN THE EVENING MAY STILL BE THE LAST ANGEL OF GOD'S MERCY HERE. Even then it is evening, and the light lingers. The Savior's power to save is still the same. The city of refuge has its gates open. God's renewing and redeeming grace may yet be ours. Not even then need we despair; for as there is a strain of hope coming for the nation Israel which will occupy us further on in these prophecies, so there is hope in personal life, even in the latter days, if we turn to the Lord with full purpose of heart. The lingering light of evening skill falls on the cross of him who said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." - W.M.S.