Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. PROVOKED. Sin is the transgression of the Law. Here two kinds singled out.
1. Sins against the second table. "Stealeth." Fraud, injustice of all kinds. False to man.
2. Sins against the first table. "Sweareth." Profanity. Self-will. False to God. These are samples of sins infinite in number and variety. Bold and flagrant offences, opposed to all law and order, defiant of God.
II. PROCLAIMED. Symbolically set forth. Sin will be judged, not according to custom or public sentiment, but by the measure of the sanctuary, the eternal Law of God. "Flying roll."
1. Broad enough to cover all offences.
2. Swift to seize all transgressors in its fatal embrace. The warning comes in mercy. "Flee from the wrath to come." See refuge under the shadow of the cross. Justice pursues the sinner, but it stops satisfied at Calvary.
III. INFLICTED. Sooner or later judgment will come. Inevitable and sure, just because God is God. Society must be purified. The bad will have to give place to the good. The earth will end with Eden, as it began.
"My own hope is, a sun will pierce
book which John saw "in the right hand of him that sat on the throne," which was "sealed with seven seals," and of which the contents were brought to view as each of the seals was unfolded. "The ancients wrote on a variety of materials - the papyrus, or paper reed, the inner bark of particular trees, and the dressed skins of animals, forming a kind of parchment. These, when written, were rolled up, for convenience and for preservation of the writing, either singly or in a number over each other. The roll seen by the prophet was a 'flying roll,' but not flying through the air in its rolled up state. It was expanded, and was of extraordinary size. Reckoning the cubit at a foot and a half, it was ten yards in length by five in width, the measurement being guessed by the prophet's eye" (Wardlaw). "This is the curse that goeth forth over the face of the whole earth." This is the explanation given by the interpreting angel. Without presuming to give an accurate interpretation of all the particulars of the symbolic representation, I think it may be fairly and usefully employed to exhibit the sublimely awful subject of Divine retribution. And this subject it serves to illustrate in two aspects.
I. AS FOLLOWING SIN. Notice:
1. The particular sins which retribution pursues. They are:
(1) Theft and sacrilege. "Every one that stealeth." Stealing, here, refers not only to any property taken from man, but especially to the appropriation of worldly wealth to the decoration of their "celled houses," instead of applying it to the rebuilding of God's house. Hence Jehovah said, "Ye have robbed me in tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with the curse, even this whole nation" (Malachi 3:8). This is the worst of all robberies. In fact, it embraces all robberies, the applying to our own selfish purposes what belongs to God.
(2) Perjury and false swearing. Their sacrilegious conduct appears to have been sustained by false oaths, which increased the heinousness of their offence. The sins here noted are not mere specimens, but root or fountain sins. The "flying roll" of Divine retribution followed sin with its curses. There is a curse to every sin, and this is not vengeance, but benevolence. It is the arrangement of love.
2. The way in which just retribution pursues them.
(1) Openly. The roll is spread open, and is written in characters that are legible to all. Divine retribution is no secret to man. It is not some intangible, hidden, occult thing. It is open to all eyes. Every man must see the "flying roll," not only in the history of nations and communities, but in his own domestic and individual life. The "flying roll" hovers over every sin.
(2) Rapidly. Retribution is swift. It is a "flying roll." No sooner does a man commit a sin than he suffers in some form or other. The Nemesis is at the heels of the criminal. Retribution follows sins swifter than the sound of the swiftest thunder peal follows the lightning flash.
(3) Penetratingly. "I will bring it forth, saith the Lord of hosts, and it shall enter into the house of the thief, and into the house of him that sweareth falsely by my Name." Wherever the sinner is, it will find him out. No mountain so high, no cavern so deep, no forest so intricate and shadowy, as to protect him from his visitation. "The flying roll" will reach the sinner everywhere. "There is no darkness or shadow of death where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves."
II. AS ABIDING WITH SIN. "It shall remain in the midst of his house." Not only does it rule the house of the sinner, "it remains in the midst of it," like a leprosy, infecting, wasting, consuming, destroying. It is a curse that embitters every sweet, and gives more than twofold intensity to every bitter. It dooms to destruction the man and all his. possessions. And from this world it must accompany and follow him to another, and settle with him there forever. "The special reference made to their houses, with the 'stones thereof and the timber thereof,' forcibly points to the care which they had been taking of their own accommodation, in comfort and elegance, while Jehovah's was neglected" (Wardlaw). It abides in the house to curse everything, even the timber and the stones. Guilt, not only, like a ravenous beast, crouches at the door of the sinner, but rather, like a blasting mildew, spreads its baneful influence over the whole dwelling. The sin of one member of a family brings its curse on the others. The sins of the parents bring a curse upon the children. "Between parents and children," says Jeremy Taylor, "there is so great a society of nature and of manners, of blessing and of cursing, that an evil parent cannot perish in a single death; and holy parents never eat their meal of blessing alone; but they make the room shine like the fire of a holy sacrifice; and a father's or a mother's piety makes all the house festival, and full of joy from generation to generation."
CONCLUSION. Sinner, wouldst thou escape the tremendous curses which Heaven has written on this "flying roll," this book of Divine retribution? Then abandon a sinful life, exorcise the sinful temper, inhale the spirit of him who came to put away sin from humanity and to destroy the works of the devil. - D.T.
I. SADLY PREVALENT. "This is their eye" - what they mind and what they lust after. There is a climax. First two classes of sinners are figured, next one great indistinguishable mass. Then "wickedness" is personified, as one woman. This teaches how worldliness is:
3. Debasing - corrupting all that is beautiful and fair.
II. SPECIALLY OFFENSIVE. Bad in the world; infinitely worse in the Church.
1. Opposed to the Spirit of Christ.
2. Incompatible with the service of God.
3. Obstructive to the progress of the gospel.
III. RIGHTEOUSLY DOOMED. Even now restrained. Limited as to place and power. But the end cometh. The judgment set forth implies:
1. Disinheritment. They defrauded others, and will themselves be impoverished. Like Satan, cast out. Like Esau, lose their birthright.
2. Banishment. Judgment based on sympathies. What is right in law is true to feeling. Society cleansed. The bad go with the bad. Ungodliness is driven to the land of ungodliness. Captivity leads to captivity. Judas went "to his own place."
3. Abandonment. Judgment swift, thorough, irresistible. There is a terrible retention of character. "The wicked are driven away in their wickedness: but the righteous hath hope in his death." - F.
woman in the ephah." We know what an "ephah" was. It was the greatest measure of capacity which the Hebrews had for dry goods, and was about the size of a cubic foot. It contained about an English bushel. The woman is generally regarded, and with probable accuracy used, as the symbol of a Jewish community - a community that had become by this time most mercenary. Mammon was their god. The interpreting angel said, "This is wickedness. And he cast it into the midst of the ephah; and he cast the weight of lead upon the mouth thereof." "Because it was wickedness or abhorrent worldliness that this woman symbolized, the angel threw her down in the midst of the ephah, and threw the weight of lead on the mouth of it" (Henderson). Utter mercenariness is an abhorrent object to an angel's eye. The prophet still looks, and what does he see? "Then lifted I up mine eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came out two women, and the wind was in their wings; for they had wings like the wings of a stork: and they lifted up the ephah between the earth and the heaven." The meaning of this new scene may easily be discovered. The ephah, with the woman in it, is carried away between earth and heaven, i.e. through the air. Women carry it, because there is a woman inside; and two women, because two persons are required to carry so large and heavy a measure, that they lay hold of it on both sides (תִּשֶּׂנָה with the א dropped; cf. Gesenius, 74, 3, A. 4). These women have wings, because it passes through the air; and a stork's wings, because these birds have broad pinions, and not because the stork is a bird of passage or an unclean bird. "The wings are filled with wind, that they may be able to carry their burden with greater velocity through the air. The women denote the instruments or powers employed by God to carry away the sinners out of his congregation, without any special allusion to this or the other historical nation. This is all that we have to seek in these features, which only serve to give distinctness to the picture" (Keil and Delitzsch). "Then said I to the angel that talked with me, Whither do these bear the ephah. And he said unto me, To build it an house in the land of Shinar: and it shall be established, and set there upon her own base." There is no necessity for regarding Shinar here as designating any particular geographical spot, such as the laud which Nimrod founded. The idea may be that this utter worldliness bears men away forever from the Divine scenes of life. The most practical use I can turn this mysterious passage to is to employ it to illustrate the condition of a truly materialistic community.
I. SUCH A COMMUNITY IS ENCASED BY THE MATERIAL. This woman, the emblem of the worldly Jews, was not only "in the midst of the ephah," but was closely confined there. "He cast the weight of the lead upon the mouth thereof." To an utterly worldly man matter is everything. He is utterly shut out from the spiritual; there is no glimpse of it, no interest in it. Like the woman in the ephah, he is encompassed by that which shuts him in. The bright heavens and the green fields of the spiritual world are over and around him, but they are nothing to him. He is in the ephah.
1. Your secular scientist is in the ephah. He sees nothing but matter, believes in nothing but matter.
2. Your sensuous religionist is in this ephah. He judges after the flesh. He lives in the horrors of Sinai, in the tragedies of Calvary; his talk is of blood, and fire, and crowns, and white robes, etc. The spiritual is shut out from him, or rather he is shut out from it.
3. Your man of the world is in this ephah. All his ideas of wealth, dignity, pleasure, are material. He judges the worth of a man by his purse, the dignity of a man by his pageantries, the pleasures of a man by his luxuries. Verily a sad condition this for humanity. For a soul that was made to realize the invisible, to mingle with the spiritual, to revel in the infinite, to be shut up like this woman in the ephah of materialism, may well strike us with shame and alarm.
II. SUCH A COMMUNITY IS BEING DISINHERITED BY THE MATERIAL. This woman in the ephah, emblem of the worldly Hebrew, is borne away from Palestine, her own land, into a foreign region; borne away by two women who had "wings like a stork, and whose wings were full of wind." Materialism disinherits man. His true inheritance as a spiritual, existent is "incorruptible, undefiled, and fadeth not away." But materalism carries him away from it - away to the distant and the gross.
1. The process was rapid. No bird so fleet with wing and foot as the stork, and with this fleetness this woman in the ephah was borne. How rapidly do animalism and worldliness bear away the spirit of man from the realm of spiritual realities, from a love of the true and the beautiful!
2. The process was final. "And he said unto me, To build it an house in the land of Shinar: and it shall be established, and set there upon her own base." "To be carnally minded is death." "He that soweth to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption." Materialism bears the soul away into the "bondage of corruption." Well might the apostle say, "Many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies to the cross of Christ; whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things" (Philippians 3:19). "As you love your soul," says Mason, "beware of the world; it hath slain its thousands and ten thousands. What ruined Lot's wife? The world. What ruined Achan? The world. What ruined Haman? The world. What ruined Judas? The world. What ruined Simon Magus? The world. What ruined Demas? The world. And, 'What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?'" - D.T.