Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE UNITY OF GOD'S PURPOSE. God's thoughts do not vary, though he varies his methods. His end for nations and individuals is always the same - advancement, not merely in knowledge and culture, but in moral goodness.
II. THE MERCIFULNESS OF GOD'S WARNINGS. At no time hath God left himself without wirelesses. By word and providence and in countless ways his warnings come. We see this in the past. (Ver. 7, "former prophets.") So in the prosper. Every mercy has a voice calling for thankfulness. Every chastisement has a summons to moral thoughtfulness and prayer. There is no excuse for continuance in sin.
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD'S JUDGMENTS. Persistence in transgression must bring punishment. God's laws fulfil themselves. Every rejection of God's counsels, every refusal of God's offers, every slighting of God's love, works for evil, blinding, hardening, alienating, bringing dire ruin nearer. Judgment is God's strange work, but it must come. "The pleasant land laid desolate." - F.
Ezra 6:14) that the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophecy of Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo. Their prophetic words stimulated the activities and prompted the efforts of the builders. Here is an account of a commission composed of two men, called Sherezer and Regem-melech, distinguished personages, no doubt, still remaining in Babylon, sent as envoys to the house of God, that is, the temple at Jerusalem; and their work there was "to pray before the Lord, and to speak unto the priests." It would be well, perhaps, to give Dr. Henderson's translation of these two verses; and his translation agrees with that of Keil: "And it came to pass in the fourth year of Darius the king, that the word of Jehovah was communicated to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev, when Babel sent Sherezer Regemelech and his men to conciliate the regard of Jehovah." Looking at these words homiletically, they present two subjects for thought - religious beliefs that are right, and religious services that are wrong.
I. RELIGIOUS BELIEFS THAT ARE RIGHT. There are three beliefs implied in this commission entrusted to Sherezer. What are they?
1. The efficacy of prayer. They were sent "to pray before the Lord," or, as in the margin, "to entreat the face of the Lord." That men can obtain by prayer to the Supreme Being what they could not obtain without it is one of the fundamental and distinctive faiths of humanity. Instead of being against the law of nature, it is one of the most uniform and settled laws of the moral world. Hence all men pray in some form or other. Prayer springs out of the sense of man's dependence upon his Creator; and that sense is built upon a fact beyond dispute or doubt.
2. The intercession of saints. These men were sent to pray before the Lord, not merely for themselves, but for others. Those who sent them proved thereby their faith in the power of man to intercede with God on behalf of his fellow. The intercession of saints is not a doctrine merely of the Roman Church; it is an instinctive belief in the human soul. Men not only implore the Deity for those whom they love, but others implore them to pray for them. How natural it is for a father to pray for his son! how natural, too, for a son to ask the father to pray for him, and friend to ask friend the same! Intercessory prayer is also a law of nature.
3. The special ability of some men to solve the religious questions of others. This Sherezer and Regem-melech appealed unto the "priests which were in the house of the Lord of hosts, and to the prophets, saying, Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years?" They wanted a certain religious question answered, and they appealed to a certain class of religious men who they believed had the power to do so. The question they asked was one of a selfish character, "Should I weep in the fifth month, separating myself, as I have done these so many years?" From this it would seem that for seventy years during the period of their captivity they had, on certain days, wept, fasted, and humbled themselves before the Lord. Now that many had returned to their own land, and others were returning, they wanted to know whether all this fasting and humiliation would still be required. Would that which was done in Babylon be required in Jerusalem? Would not they in their own land be exonerated from such humiliations of soul? This was the question, and this question they addressed to the priests and the prophets. And they did it because they believed they had the special qualification to solve such problems. This also is an instinctive belief. All communities of men in all times and lands have had a certain class amongst them whom they regarded as qualified more than all others to answer the religious questions of the soul. Hence the existence of priesthoods. It may be that Heaven has never left in any age or country, any race, tribe, or community without such men amongst them, men gifted above their fellows, with a broad moral vision, far reaching intellect, and even prophetic genius. God teaches man by man.
II. RELIGIOUS SERVICES THAT ARE WRONG. The Jews had performed religious services; they had "fasted," they had "mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years." This was right enough so far as the form is concerned; but in spirit the service was wrong, hence here is the reproof: "Then came the word of the Lord of hosts unto me, saying, Speak unto all the people of the land, and to the priests, saying, When ye fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh month, even those seventy years, did ye at all fast unto me, even to me? And when ye did eat, and when ye did drink, did not ye cat for yourselves, and drink for yourselves?"
1. Their services were selfish. Mark the reproof: "Did ye at all fast unto me?" Was it not from selfish motives that ye did all this? Was it not with a view of obtaining release and securing my favour for yourselves? It is not because you have done the wrong thing against me. "It was not to me, even to me." The wrong you had done me was not thought of. Your outrages on morality, on the harmony of the universe, were not thought of at all. How much of the popular religion is of this type? The Almighty might well say to the conventional Churches of Christendom - You rear temples, you contribute property, you preach sermons, you offer prayers, you sing hymns; but it "is not unto me," it is not to me, it is all self. Whether you fast or feast in your religions services, it is all for "yourselves; it is not for me, not for me." Religious services that are wrong, where are they not?
2. Selfish motives the Almighty had always denounced. "Should ye not hear the words which the Lord hath cried by the former prophets, when Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, and the cities thereof round about her, when men inhabited the south and the plain?" Always has the Lord Almighty denounced a selfish religion (see Isaiah 66:1-3; Jeremiah 25:3-7; Amos 5:21, 27, etc.). - D.T.
I. There are NATIONAL FASTS. These are rare, and only appointed under very solemn circumstances. In 1853, when cholera prevailed, the Presbytery of Edinburgh (Church of Scotland) suggested to Lord Palmerston, then Home Secretary, the propriety of ordering a national fast. His lordship, in his reply, recommended observance of natural laws rather than fasting. If this were attended to, all would be well. Otherwise pestilence would come, "in spite of all the prayers and lastings of a united but inactive nation. He does not seem to have understood that the two things were quite compatible. Prayer and inaction is folly; but prayer and action is the highest wisdom. Surely there is something grand and beautiful in a whole nation bowed in humility and supplication before the Most High. (Buckle, vol. 2, has a characteristic notice of this, where he falls into the odd mistake that in Scotland fasting" meant abstinence from food!)
II. Then there are CHURCH FASTS. These are only binding on the members of the several Churches that appoint them. In Scotland it has for long been customary to have fast days in connection with the sacrament of the Lord's Supper; but as to this there is now a change. First their enforcement under penalties ceased; then the rigour of their observance was given up; then, from the necessities of modern life, and the knowledge that they were often the occasion of more evil than good, they have come in ninny cases to be discontinued. The question is one of Christian expediency, and requires to be dealt with both with wisdom and gentleness.
III. Besides these there is PRIVATE FASTING. As to this, no rule can be laid down (cf. Romans 14:5, 6). But certain principles should be kept in view, such as that fasting has no virtue in itself; that what may be good for one Christian may not suit another; and that the great end of all such observances is spiritual good, "room to deny ourselves," a path "to bring us daily nearer God." - F.
I. THE MORAL RELATIONSHIP OF THE PEOPLE. We are not absolutely separate existences. Related through birth, custom, association, and in other ways, we are connected, we are parts of one great whole. Hence in a large degree we are what others have made us. This must be taken into account as a factor in life.
II. THE CONTINUOUS SPIRITUAL EDUCATION OF THE PEOPLE. The past speaks to us as well as the present. We learn from the dead as well as the living. Above all, we have the Bible. It is God's book, for it is man's book. In it God speaks to us. Shows us what be was, and therefore what he is; what he has done, and therefore what he will do. Reveals the laws and principles of government, and thus makes manifest his will, and that the only way to reach our true destiny is by loving and doing his will.
III. THE GROWING RESPONSIBILITY OF THE PEOPLE. Increased knowledge. Larger experience. Grander opportunities. More may be learned, and therefore ought to be learned. Better lives may be lived, and therefore ought to be lived. Greater things may be done for the good of others and for the advancement of the cause and kingdom of the Lord, and therefore greater things ought to be done. Privilege is the measure of responsibility. - F.
I. GENUINE RELIGION IS PHILANTHROPIC. (Isaiah 1:16, 17; Isaiah 58:6, 7; Matthew 5:44.) "Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Execute tree judgment, and show mercy and compassions every man to his brother," etc. Here is the ritual, the manifestation, the proof of genuine religion, and it is practical philanthropy. The sign and evidence of genuine religion is not in ceremonial observances or mere devotional exercises, but in the spirit of Christly morality, in doing good to men. St. John says, "We ought to lay down our lives for the brethren, and that because Christ laid down his life for us" (1 John 3:16). Our love to God is to be shown in the same way as God has shown his love to us, by self-sacrifice, and self-sacrifice for our brother man. What is the true and healthy development of our love to God? The Church has too often acted as if its development was entirely theological; hence the battling for dogmas. It has too often acted as if its development was devotional, as if psalmody and prayers were the only true expression. It has too often acted as if proslytizing was the true development of love to God; hence the zeal to make converts to its faith. The text teaches, however, that self-sacrificing benevolence is the true development. "Whoso hath this world's good," etc. The case supposed by the apostle is that of a brother in distress, looked on by a brother possessing this world's goods, and rendering no help. John intimates that a man seeing his brother in need, having the power to help, and not helping him, cannot be a Christian. He may be a great theologian, a great pietist, a great propagandist, but no Christian.
II. SPURIOUS RELIGION IS INHUMAN. "But they refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear." This religious people not only neglected to do what they were commanded to do towards their fellow men, but the very reverse of that, "they refused to hearken," etc. The most inhuman force in the world is a spurious religion. All history shows this. Read the history of martyrdom as given by Fox or any other authentic historian. A spurious religion murdered the Son of God himself. A more cruel class of men I know not than religious men whose religion is not that of power, love, or a sound mind. Such men are ever ready to damn these who agree not with their narrow dogmas. Their dogmas make them as heartless as fiends. It makes their "hearts as an adamantine stone."
III. THAT AN INHUMAN RELIGION HAS A TERRIBLE DOOM. "Therefore it is come to pass, that as he cried, and they would not hear; so they cried, and I would not hear, saith the Lord of hosts." God will make inquisition here for blood. "The cries of the persecuted and neglected enter into the ears of the Lord God of sabaoth." "Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days. Behold, the hire of the labourers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth; and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter. Ye have condemned and killed the just; and be doth not resist you" (James 5:1-6). Because the religion of the Jews had become inhuman, Jehovah permitted them to be carried away into Babylon. "I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations whom they knew not. Thus the land was desolate after them, that no man passed through nor returned: for they laid the pleasant land desolate." God will ever harden himself against those who have hardened themselves against their fellow men. "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again." - D.T.
I. GERM. The question is - Self or God, our own will or God's will. Must be settled. Pressed by prophet after prophet. The answer shows the state of the heart. "Refused to hear."
II. PROGRESS. There is growth in evil, as in good Stages. "First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear."
1. Wilful refusal. "Pulled away the shoulder." Sinners will not submit to be guided by the higher will. Angry and fretted, they will not bow to God's yoke.
2. Insolent rejection. "Stopped their ears." Warnings and counsels are in vain. Pride rises to insolence. Refusal, to determined opposition and rebellion.
3. Settled obduracy. (Ver. 12.) This implies a steady process. The bad is more and more gaining the mastery. Every fresh victory brings the time nearer when the evil becomes "unconquerable" (Greek adhamas).
III. CONSUMMATION. (Ver. 13.) The end is come.
1. Ruined character.
2. Blasted life.
3. Hopeless future.
Oh! where is that mysterious bourne, "How far may we go on in sin? "An answer from the skies is sent,
"How far may we go on in sin? "An answer from the skies is sent,
"An answer from the skies is sent,