Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia:…
The most striking and distinctive truth this chapter contains is that of the patience of Divine power, which permits evil to rise and to mature, and which, at the right moment, effectually intervenes. But there are other points beside this; they are -
I. THE MISDIRECTION OF HUMAN INTELLIGENCE. Whatever may be the right translation and the true application of these verses, it is clear that reference is made to a warlike people - a people "terrible" to their neighbors, a people "of command" or "treading underfoot," aggressive and victorious. It shows how far we have fallen from our first estate and from the condition for which we were created, that it does not, strike us as strange that this should be the description of a people; that the number of nations whom it characterizes is so great that we fail to identify the nation which is in the prophet's vision. Under sin it has become common, not to say natural, that a nation should be "terrible," should be treading down or crushing, and full of commands to its neighbors. But to how much better purpose might the strong peoples of the earth devote their strength! God has made rich provision for the peaceable and fruitful exercise of our largest powers. There are rivers and seas (ver. 2) for travelling, exploration, commerce; there is vegetation (bulrushes, papyrus), which may be made to carry men's bodies, or which, by the exercise of human ingenuity, may be made to convey their thoughts to distant lands and remotest times; there is land and there are seeds, there is sunshine and there is dew, which can be made to produce golden harvests that will satisfy man's wants and minister to his most refined tastes (vers. 4, 5); there are birds and beasts (ver. 6), with whose habits men may become intelligently familiar; there is wealth beneath the soil in precious metals, which can not only be raised and collected to enrich the homes of men, but which can be conveyed, as the tribute of piety, to the house of the Lord (ver. 7). But, despising and neglecting such materials and such ambitions as these, nations have aspired to rule over others - have perfected themselves in all the arts and enginery of war, have congratulated themselves on nothing so much as in being "terrible" to those on the other side the river or across the mountain range.
II. THE COMPLETENESS OF MAN'S OVERTHROW IN THE DAY OF DIVINE ANGER. The destruction threatened (vers. 5, 6) probably refers to that of the army of Sennacherib; but if the reference be to some other national calamity, it certainly points to an overthrow, signal and fearful, from which the imagination turns away oppressed. So has it been found, both by individual men and nations, that when God arises to judgment, their feeble defenses are scattered to the winds, and their doom is utterly irreversible by anything they can do to mend it (see Psalm 2; Psalm 68:17-20; Psalm 92:6, 9).
III. THE LESSON OF GOD'S JUDGMENTS. The result in this case is seen in the bringing of a tribute to the Lord (ver. 7). If God puts forth his power in overwhelming retribution, it is, chiefly if not wholly, that they who witness it (men or nations) may repent of their own misdeeds or impiety, and may return unto the Lord in penitence, in prayer, in consecration; for the most acceptable "present" that can be "brought unto the Lord of hosts" is the humbled, believing, obedient heart.
IV. THE PATIENCE OF DIVINE POWER. (Ver. 4.) The Lord said, "I will fake my rest [I will be calm or still], I will consider in my dwelling-place [I will look on from my habitation] like a clear heat upon herbs, like a cloud of dew in the heat of harvest." God will not be provoked into hurried and impatient judgments; he will retain a Divine composure, he will manifest the patience which belongs to conscious power; the heavens should be as still as on the calmest summer day while evil was working to its bitter end, while sin was advancing to its doom. Here is a contrast to us and here are lessons for us. We, in our finite feebleness, are often impatient in spirit and hurried in action. We are afraid that, if we do not strike at once, we shall not have time to strike at all, or that our resources of retribution will fall, or that our adversary will be out of our reach. God can entertain no such fear and be affected by no such thought.
1. All time is at his command.
2. All resources are in his hands.
3. The men (nations) whom he may find it needful to chastise can never be beyond the reach of his power.
Hence his calmness in place of our confusion, his patience in contrast with our feverish restlessness.
(1) Let not the wicked presume on Divine disregard; God will put forth his hand in punishment at his own chosen time.
(2) Let not the righteous be surprised or disheartened by his delay; he does not count time by our chronometry; he has not the reasons for haste which urge us to immediate action; the hour of his merciful intervention will arrive in time. - C.
Parallel VersesKJV: Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia: