Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. GOD'S ABIDING LOVE TO HIS CHURCH. There are times when it would seem as if God had cast off his people. "Has God forgotten to be gracious?" Here is the answer. "I am jealous," etc. There is real, intense, and abiding attachment. Words of good cheer verified by facts. "I am returned," etc.
II. GOD'S GRACIOUS PURPOSE TO RESTORE HIS CHURCH. God's withdrawal was because of sin. But for a season. When we return to God, he will return to us. The very righteousness that obliges him to punish the impenitent, birds him to bless the penitent. The light will shine more and more. Times of revival are times of refreshment. The release of the captives pledges freedom to all. The return of the exiles prophesies of the final restoration.
III. GOD'S DELIGHT IN THE PROSPERITY OF HIS CHURCH. (Vers. 4-6.) Sweet and ravishing picture. So far fulfilled in the heroic times of the Maccabees (1 Macc. 14:8-12). Finds a grander fulfilment under the gospel, and will be perfectly fulfilled in the latter days.
IV. GOD'S FAITHFULNESS IN FULFILLING HIS PROMISES TO HIS CHURCH. There am things which seem too great to be possible - too good to be true. It may be so with man, but not with God. Eternal Wisdom cannot err. Absolute truth cannot alto. Omnipotent love cannot fail. - F.
community, as herein pictured, that I desire to call the attention of my readers. The following facts are eminently noteworthy in relation to this blessed community.
I. HERE IS A COMMUNITY SPECIALLY INTERESTING TO THE GREAT GOD. "Again the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I was jealous for her with great fury." The rendering of Dr. Henderson is worth citation: "And the word of Jehovah was communicated to me, saying, Thus saith Jehovah of hosts: I have been jealous for Zion with great zeal, yea, with great indignation have I been jealous for her." Jerusalem was a city in which God had chosen "to put his Name;" there was his temple, there were the ark, the mercy seat, and the memorials of his power and goodness in the history of Israel. This city had been destroyed by the Babylonian invaders, and during the whole period of its ruin Jehovah's hand was on it and its scattered and exiled people. During all this time, he says, "I was jealous for Zion with great jealousy." Instead of losing interest in his persecuted people, his feelings were intense concerning them. The Eternal is interested in all the works of his hand, interested in men even in their state of infidelity and rebellion; but specially interested in those whom he regards as his people. "To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word;" "As a father pitieth his children, so the Lord pitieth them that fear him" (Isaiah 57:15; Psalm 103:13).
II. HERE IS A COMMUNITY IN WHICH THE ALMIGHTY SPECIALLY RESIDES. "Thus saith the Lord; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem." Jerusalem was in a very particular sense the dwelling place of God (Exodus 29:45; Leviticus 26:12). There shone the symbol of his presence for centuries; there he communed with his people from off the mercy seat; there lived and laboured the priests whom he had chosen to represent his will. But he dwells with his people in a more real and vital sense than this. Know ye not that "ye are the temple of the living God, as God hath said, I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people"? There are two senses in which the Almighty dwells with good men.
1. By his sympathy. The loving mother dwells with her loved child; yes, though separated by continents and seas. Jehovah's sympathies are with his children.
2. By his presence. The loving parent cannot always be personally with the loved child. In person they may be as far asunder as the poles. But God's presence is always with his people. "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." What a blessed community that must be, where God not only by his sympathies but by his presence dwells!
III. HERE IS A COMMUNITY DISTINGUISHED BY REALITY AND ELEVATION.
1. Reality. "And Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth." What is moral reality? A practical correspondence of the sympathies and life with eternal facts. All whose thoughts, affections, and conduct are not in accord with the immutable moral laws of God, live in fiction, "walk in a vain show;" and in this state most, if not all, communities are found. Alas! "THE CITY OF TRUTH" is not yet established, it is in a distant future.
2. Elevation. "And the mountain of the Lord of hosts the holy mountain." Where arc the communities of men now found in a moral sense? Down in the hazy, boggy, impure valleys of carnalities and falsehoods. But this community is up on the holy mountain; it is in a place of high moral exaltation.
IV. HERE IS A COMMUNITY IN WHICH THE VERY AGED AND THE YOUNG LIVE IN SOCIAL ENJOYMENT. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his stag in his hand for very age." The promise of long life was esteemed one of the greatest blessings in the Jewish theocracy (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 4:40); and in Isaiah 65:20-22 this is promised as one of the signal blessings of Messianic times. Through bloody wars and general disregard of the laws of health, only an insignificant minority of the human race reach old age. Blessed is that community in which aged people abound, ripe in wisdom, goodness, and experience. But not only are the very aged in this community, but the young. "The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof." No sight is more refreshing, more morally inspiring to the true-hearted of all ages, even to the oldest, than a community of guileless, bright, and blithesome children. They are the latest emanations and revelations of Infinite Love to the world. They are to adults as flowers growing on the sides of the dry and dusty walks of life. Beautiful city this! The children not filthy, half-starved, diseased arabs in crowded alleys, but bright creatures gambolling in the sunny streets.
V. HERE IS A COMMUNITY WHOSE ESTABLISHMENT, THOUGH INCREDIBLE TO MAN, IS CERTAIN TO GOD. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; If it be marvellous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvellous in mine eyes?" As if the Almighty had said, "The creation of such a social state amongst you may appear an impossibility; but it is not so to me." Indeed, to create such a community as this on the earth, to make the whole globe a kind of Jerusalem, whose members shall be all holy and all happy, does appear so wonderful that even the most believing amongst us are often filled with doubt. How far off is such a state of things from the present! How imperceptibly slow does the Christly reformation proceed! How vast and mighty is the reign of error and wrong everywhere! and how difficult to believe that the time will come "when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ"! Still, God has promised it; and what he has promised he is able to accomplish. Let us live and labour in faith. "Let us be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as we know our labour is not in vain in the Lord." - D.T.
הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ מְבוא, 'the setting of the sun,' the Jews being now, for the most part, found in countries to the west of Jerusalem; but there is every reason to conclude that it has an exclusive reference to what was to take place soon after it was delivered. Vast numbers were carried away captive after the time of Alexander. Not fewer than a hundred thousand were carried by Ptolemy, and were settled in Alexandria and Cyrene" (Henderson). We shall use these words as suggesting a twofold Divine restoration - temporal and spiritual.
I. HERE IS A DIVINE TEMPORAL RESTORATION. "And I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem." There is no sound reason for believing that the people here mentioned as those that were brought "from the east country and from the west" refer to the Jews in the far future, who, some suppose, will be restored to Jerusalem at last. I know of no authority lop supposing that such a restoration will ever be effected. Nor does the passage point, I think, to the universal conversion of the Jews to Christianity in the last times. The reference is manifestly to those Jews who had been scattered abroad over various countries through the Babylonian Captivity, and other disastrous causes. The point is that the restoration here promised is a temporal restoration to their own land and city. They had been exiled for many long years, and deeply did they deplore in a foreign land their expatriation. "By the rivers of Babylon we sat down," etc. The Almighty by Cyrus restored them. And he is constantly restoring his people to those temporal blessings they have lost. He restores often
(1) to lost health;
(2) to lost property;
(3) to lost social status.
He is the temporal Restorer of his people. In all their distresses he bids them look to him. "Call upon me in the day of trouble," etc.
II. HERE IS A DIVINE SPIRITUAL RESTORATION, "And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in truth and in righteousness." This may mean, "I will become their God in good faith, or in reality, both on their side and mine." This is incomparably the most important restoration. In truth, all temporal restorations are of no permanent value without this. Observe:
1. Man may lose his God. He may be without "God in the world." Indeed, the millions are in this state. "They feel after him, if haply they may find him."
2. The loss of God is the greatest toss. A man separated from God is like a branch separated from the root, a river from the fountain, a planet from the sun.
3. Restoration to God is the transcendent good. He who can say, "The Lord is my Portion" possesseth all things. This restoration the Almighty is effecting now in the world. "He is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." - D.T.
Haggai 1:2-6; Haggai 2:15-19) respecting Heaven's displeasure at their apathy in God's work and their eagerness in their own. In the words we have a Divine call to a Divine work. This call is urged on two considerations.
I. THE WRETCHEDNESS CONSEQUENT ON THE NEGLECT OF DUTY. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Let your hands be strong, ye that hear in these days these words by the mouth of the prophets, which were in the day that the foundation of the house of the Lord of hosts was laid, that the temple might be built." The "prophets" here referred to were undoubtedly Haggai and Zechariah (see Ezra 5:1, 2). The words which they addressed to the people were words of stimulation and encouragement to arise and rebuild the temple. The prophet here reminds them, as an inducement to set in earnest to the work, of the wretched condition of the people before the work began. "For before these days there was no hire for man, nor any hire for beast; neither was there any peace." That is, "before the days" the building commenced: They were then destitute of three elements essential to the well being of any people.
1. Industry. "There was no hire for man, nor any hire for beast." The people were purposeless, lazy, and in a state of general lethargy and collapse. No great project inspired their interest, engrossed their intention, enlisted and marshalled their powers. The lack of industry is a curse to any people; it is an injury to health, as well as an obstruction to material and social progress.
2. Peace. "Neither was there any peace to him that went out or came in because of the affliction." The lack of earnest occupation naturally led to intestine broils and contentions. Nothing is more natural and more common than for people without employment to wrangle and dispute with one another. "Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do." Men who are full of business have no time to quarrel
3. Social unity. "For I set all men every one against his neighbour." In biblical phraseology, the Almighty is frequently represented as doing that which he only permits. It would be unreasonable and even blasphemous to suppose that the God of love and peace exerts himself in any way to inspire his human creatures with hostility towards one another. But for reasons known to himself, and which we are bound to regard as wise and kind, he often allows these feelings to rise and express themselves in malignant recriminations and bloody wars. He originates good, and good only; and the evil which he permits, he overrules for good, and for good only. The general truth here taught is that, so long as duty is neglected by men, certain terrible evils must ensue. Hence the Divine call, "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Let your hands be strong." Go with courage and energy into the work which is Divinely enjoined.
II. THE IMPROVEMENT WHICH ENSUES ON THE RESUMPTION OF DUTY. "Blot now I will not be unto the residue of this people as in the former days, saith the Lord of hosts. For the seed shall be prosperous," etc. This means, "But now, as you have resumed the work and rebuilt the temple, I will Bless you." There are three blessings here promised.
1. Temporal prosperity. "For the seed shall be prosperous; the vine shall give her fruit, and the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew." Material nature is in the hands of God, and he can at any moment make it a curse or a blessing to man. Here he promises to make it a blessing. "Godliness is profitable unto all things," etc.
2. Social usefulness. "And it shall come to pass, that u ye were a curse among the heathen, O house of Judah, and house of Israel [comprehending the whole of the Jewish people]; so will I save you, and ye shall be a blessing." The expression, "a curse among the heathen," may mean either that they were "cursed" by the heathen - objects of their denunciation - or that they were a curse to the heathen by the influence of their corrupt example. The latter seems to me the most likely idea. (See another explanation of the phrase in the Exposition.) The whole of the Jewish people, prior to the Captivity - with a few exceptions - were sunk into almost the lowest depths of moral corruption. But now it is promised that on the resumption of the great duty which Heaven had enjoined upon them, they should be a "blessing." So it ever is; the disobedient are a curse to any community; the obedient are evermore a blessing. "No man liveth to himself." We must either bless or curse our race.
3. Divine favour, "For thus saith the Lord of hosts; As I thought to punish you, when your fathers provoked me to wrath, saith the Lord of hosts, and I repented not: so again have I thought in these days to do well unto Jerusalem and to the house of Judah: fear ye not," Where there was Divine displeasure there would be Divine favour.
CONCLUSION. On these two grounds men may always be urged to duty. Duty neglected brings misery on a people; duty resumed and faithfully prosecuted will utterly reverse the experience, turn the distressing into the joyous, the destitution into abundance, the discordant into the harmonious, the pernicious into the beneficent. Listen, then, to the voice of Heaven! "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Let your hands be strong," etc. - D.T.
universal revival of genuine religion; and, looking at it in this light, we have here two things: the essential prerequisites; and the signal manifestations of a universal revival of genuine religion.
I. THE ESSENTIAL PREREQUISITES. We discover in these verses four prerequisites or preparatories for a universal revival of genuine religion.
1. There must be truthfulness in speech. "These are the things which ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour." Truthful speech is somewhat rare in all social circles, and in all departments of life. Fallacious statements abound in markets, senates, courts, and even families. Men are constantly deceiving one another by words. It is not so easy a matter to speak truthfully as one might think. To speak is easy enough; but to speak truthfully is often very difficult. Truthful speaking involves two things.
(1) Sincerity. To speak a true thing insincerely is not to speak truthfully. A man must conscientiously believe that what he speaks is true, before he can be credited with veracity. There is more truthful speaking in the man who is telling a falsehood sincerely than there is in the man who is telling the truth in insincerity.
(2) Accuracy. A man may speak with sincerity, and yet, from ignorance or mistake, may not speak according to fact; and unless he speaks according to fact, he can scarcely be said to speak truthfully. His speech unintentionally conveys falsehood. Hence, truthful speaking requires a strong sense of right, - and an adequate acquaintance with the subjects of the speech. Considerable effort is herein demanded - effort to discipline the conscience and to enlighten the judgment. But difficult as truth speaking is, it is incumbent. "Every man should be swift to hear, but slow to speak.
2. There must be rectitude in conduct. Execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates." In the East the courts of justice were held at the gates of the city; and perhaps the primary reference here is to the pronouncing of judgment on cases that were righteous and tended to peace. But rectitude of life is even more important and urgent than rectitude in judgment. In fact, scarcely can a man be morally qualified to sit as a judge in a court of justice who is not righteous in all his life and conduct; and yet, alas! it is not uncommon, even here in England, to have men of the lowest morality enthroned on the bench of justice. The great law of social life is, "Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them."
3. There must be benevolence in feeling. "Let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour." We must not only keep our hands from evil, but we must watch over our hearts that they imagine not any evil against our neighbour. Mischief must be crushed in the embryo. "Charity thinketh no evil," and this charity must be cultivated.
4. There must be abhorrence of falsehood. "Love no false oath" If the oath is false, whether sworn by others or yourself, do not bind yourself to it, recoil from it with horror and abomination. Don't espouse a falsehood because it is sworn to; nay, repudiate it the more resolutely and indignantly. A strong reason is here assigned for a practical respect to all these injunctions; it is this - God abhors the opposites. "For all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord" (see Proverbs 6:19). Whatever God hates, we should hate.
II. THE SIGNAL MANIFESTATIONS. It is suggested that where these prerequisites are found, i.e. where a revival takes place, three things are manifest.
1. An increased pleasure in religious ordinances. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts." "The fast of the fourth month was on account of the taking of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 39:2; Jeremiah 52:5-7); that of the tenth was in commemoration of the commencement of the siege (Jeremiah 52:4). The Jews are distinctly informed that these fasts should be turned into festivals of joy" (Henderson). The idea is, perhaps, that these fast days are no longer seasons of mourning and penitential confession, but seasons of rejoicing. The first sign of a true revival of religion, in an individual or a community, is a new and happy interest in the ordinances of religion.
2. A deep practical concern for the spiritual interests of the race. "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; It shall yet come to pass, that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities: and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts: I will go also." There will be a mutual excitation amongst the people to seek the one true and living God. Not only shall the inhabitants of one house go to another house, but the inhabitants of one city shall go to another city and say, "Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord." "Speedily;" there is no time to be lost; religion is for all, and for all an urgent duty.
3. A universal desire to be identified with the people of God. "In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men [a definite number for an indefinite multitude, indicating many rather than a few] shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew." The Jew (the representative of the people of God), to him men shall go, they shall lay hold of the "skirt" of his garment - an expression conveying the idea either of anxious entreaty or conscious inferiority. Dr. Henderson says, in relation to this, "The prophecy is generally regarded as having respect to something yet future, and is often interpreted of the instrumentality of the Jews when converted in effecting the conversion of the world. I can find no such reference in the passage. 'Jerusalem ' cannot be understood otherwise than literally, just as the term 'Jew' is to be so understood; but according to our Lord's doctrine respecting the new dispensation, that city is no longer the place where men are exclusively to worship the Father (John 4:21-23). Incense and a pure offering are now presented to his Name in every place where his people assemble in the name of Jesus and with a view to his glory (Malachi 1:10, 11). it was otherwise before the advent of Christ. Jerusalem was the place which Jehovah had chosen to put his Name there; and thither all his true worshippers were expected to come to the great festivals, in whatever country they might reside. Thus the treasurer of Candace went all the way from Abyssinia (Acts 8:27), and thus numbers from all parts of the Roman empire assembled in that city at the first Pentecost after our Saviour's resurrection. As the Hellenistic Jews and the Gentile proselytes travelled along in companies, they could not but excite the curiosity of the pagans through whose countries and cities they passed; and, celebrated as the metropolis of Judaea had become for the favours conferred upon it by some of the greatest monarchs of the times immediately gone by, and for the prosperity and warlike prowess of the Jewish people, it was impossible that it should not attract the attention of the surrounding nations to the character and claims of the God who was there adored, and who accorded such blessings to his worshippers. Men, for ages, had to go to the Jew for the true religion; the Gentiles in the apostolic times received it from the Jew; Christ and his apostles were Jews; but in these times the Jews have to come to the Gentiles for the true religion. Still, inasmuch as the Bible is a book of the Jews, Jewish histories, poetries, moralities, etc., and inasmuch as the grand Hero of the book was a Jew, it will, perhaps, ever be true that all nations shall take hold of the Jew in order to 'seek the Lord' with success."
CONCLUSION. When will this universal revival of religion take place? The signs are scarcely visible anywhere. We can only hasten it by attending to the prerequisites - truthfulness in speech, rectitude in conduct, benevolence in feeling, and abhorrence of falsehood. - D.T.
I. PERSONAL. "I." Religion is a thing between the soul and God. We are brought face to face with Christ in the gospel. Free and responsible. Must decide for ourselves.
II. RESULT OF CONVICTION. Many careless, some anxious, others almost persuaded. fie who says, "I will go," has considered the question, and made up his mind on evidence which to him is satisfactory and convincing. "God is with you."
III. PROMPTLY AND THOROUGHLY CARRIED OUT. Not a mere thought; or impulse, or sentiment. Not the result of transitory feelings in times of excitement. But the expression outwardly of the change wrought within - of the heart won to Christ (Psalm 119:59, 60).
IV. FORTIFIED BY THE SYMPATHY AND APPROVAL OF ALL THE GOOD. We crave sympathy. Alliance with others gives courage, especially at the outset. The fellowship of the saints intensifies our best emotions and increases our purest joys.
V. LEADING TO A TRUE AND NOBLE LIFE. - F.
I. AGREEABLE TO REASON. An irrational religion cannot stand. Christ and his apostles constantly appeal to the moral judgment.
II. CONGRUOUS TO MAN'S NECESSITIES. There is a certain condition of things. The feeling and the cry of sin. The craving for reconciliation with God. Aspirations after holiness. The longing for confirmed tranquillity. The gospel must be shown to meet these needs.
III. IN HARMONY WITH THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST. Christ's the gospel. Those who witness for Christ must take heed that their witness is true. We behold in Christ utter truth, disinterested love, self-sacrificing earnestness, supreme sympathy with God.
IV. CONFIRMED BY THE CHARACTER AND LIFE OF ITS PROFESSORS. Conduct is the test of faith. The truth is identified with its advocates. To get others to believe, we must show that we believe ourselves. Life is better than doctrine. To do good, we must be good. Gehazi would never have won Naaman. Lot failed to move his sons-in-law. At home and abroad, Christianity is suffering from the faithlessness of Christians.
V. VERIFIED BY THE DIVINE EFFECTS WHICH IT PRODUCES. "God is with you" (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:25). The gospel is its own best witness. - F.