For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury…
I. IT IS A MANIFESTATION IN FIRE. Very common is the representation of this coming by or in the element of fire. Its associations are of judgment, vengeance - devouring fire (Psalm 50:3). So it is associated with the pestilence (Habakkuk 2:5). It consumes God's enemies (Psalm 97:3). Nor can we deny that such representations do in part enter into Christianity (2 Thessalonians 1:8; Hebrews 10:27; 2 Peter 3:7; cf. also Psalm 18:8; Isaiah 29:6; Isaiah 30:30). The whirlwind is poetically congruent with the fire: a swift and sudden descent is thought of (Psalm 104:3: Jeremiah 4:13). The image of the charioteer is full of warlike energy (cf. Habakkuk 3:8), and the furious and fiery anger of his advance points to the same conception; and the slain will fall before him in multitudes. Do these figures strike us as inconsistent with the Christian conception of God - the "Father of Jesus, God of love"? How are we to reconcile them? If there is a Providence in the violent revolutions of the nations; if "the wrath of man praises him;" if no terrible war but becomes the means of a purification: - then these figures may be taken as the poetic representation of a great truth. We can hardly conceive deep-rooted evils giving way except to some violent agency of change.
II. THE DENUNCIATION OF IDOLATRY. This is the great evil, in all its forms, which draws down God's fulminations. Men are seen undergoing purifications preparatory to initiation into heathen mysteries, probably of some licentious god or goddess. Unclean things have been indulged in, contrary to the Law of Moses. We may, perhaps, take the general description of idolatry and of idolaters as pointing to the enemies of God, who are destined to be consumed by his vengeance. These enemies are to be gathered together - in some valley, perhaps (Joel 3:2); and the glory of his judicial splendour will be unveiled to them. The section closes with vague adumbrations of coming judgments.
III. VISIONS OF FUTURE WORSHIP. Amid all that is obscure in the imagery, we may discover some great leading thoughts.
1. There is the universal effulgence of Jehovah's glory, which is to shine among distant lands, and those that have not hitherto heard of his Name. And this is equivalent to the spread of one religion throughout the earth.
2. There is to be unity of worship. Jerusalem and the sacred hill of Zion are to form the great centre. From all quarters, and by different modes of conveyance, the dispersed ones are to come thronging thither. There will be a renewed consecration of the chosen people to its God; they will be like the sacred meal offering.
3. Exclusiveness will be broken down. The strict Levitical system, it seems, will give way; and Gentile converts as well as Jews will be admitted to share in the sacred ministry of the temple. For the Jewish priestly system was only for a time, was provisional; and the people were one day to be, as a whole, "priests of Jehovah" (Isaiah 61:6).
4. The permanence of true religion. The seed and the name of the people shall stand, even so the new heavens and the new earth. No more of the old order changing and giving place to the new, the successive efforts of men after frivolity in religion being successively defeated; but at last fixity and rest.
5. Simplicity of true religion. "The old forms of religion have been reduced to the utmost; new moons and sabbaths alone remain." For the multitude of times and seasons and of ceremonies is burdensome to flesh and blood, and they tend to obscure the spirituality of true religion. We are reminded of the first chapter, where it is said that" Jehovah cannot away with them."
6. Universality of true religion. We take the language as poetical, symbolic, to be understood in the ideal and inward sense. Where is the true seat of worship? Not on Mount Gerizim, nor even on Mount Zion (John 4:21). The spirit of man is the true temple. And who, in best and most loving moments of worship, does not feel that the heart of humanity beats with one pulse, is stirred by one faith, is secretly gathering around one spiritual centre? Let us cease with this verse, which we are told the Jewish readers repeated to correct the sad impression of the last. - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: For, behold, the LORD will come with fire, and with his chariots like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.