The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars.
There cannot be two opinions about the beauty of these words. What, then, will be your surprise, when you find that they express nothing more than a wicked thought on the part of Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria? This circumstance gives us our first point. Noble mottoes may be written upon unworthy banners. Religious words may be pronounced by irreligious lips. We must always look at the surroundings of a circumstance in order to understand its full value. Every circumstance, like every globe, has an atmosphere of its own, hence the wisdom of looking at the context as well as at the text itself. How needful it is to inquire into the surroundings of anything that may charm us. If you have seen a man in church, his mouth opened in praise, his head inclined in prayer, surely you have a right to argue from that individual circumstance to the whole circle and bearing of his daily life. It is impossible that a man can have bowed his head in prayer, and then allow the devil to roam through the whole circle of his intellect, there to inspire evil thoughts. He cannot allow anything that is mean and unworthy to touch and debase the life that has been consecrated by prayer. You know how fallacious would be such reasoning! But the rule should be applied impartially, and therefore I hasten with the noblest interpretation which my judgment can approve to those who may have been caught in some moment of evil passion. Surely a man is not a bad man utterly because he has once been in high excitement. If the one little beauty does not redeem the whole sterile place, in the midst of which it was found, surely the one act of evil cannot spoil the whole paradise of the life, and blight a heart beautiful as a garden in summer. We may learn from these words that wickedness is not mitigated by the beauty of the language in which it is expressed. Is there anything lovelier in all the universe, possible to the inspired imagination, than poetry, painting, and music? Do they not carry with them all elements of beauty and all qualities of high and noble strength. Yet even they have been uncrowned, robbed of their nobleness, and bound down to do menial work in the devil's service. Let me guard the young, therefore, along this line. They will come from certain places and will say, "the music was so beautiful!" No doubt of it. They will come again and say, "the whole scene was so lovely!" No one questions its loveliness. "The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones; the sycamores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars," — what language, what music could be more beautiful! And yet through this beautiful speech, Ephraim and the inhabitant of Samaria indicated their ambitious purpose to thwart the God of the universe! What would you say if I told you that this hand of mine was the hand of an assassin, but yet pleaded for it because of the jewel which flashed upon its fingers! Would you kiss a hand so decorated? Now, take the other view, and let us imagine beautiful words expressing a beautiful purpose. Then we shall have the wedlock which God loves.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The bricks are fallen down, but we will build with hewn stones: the sycomores are cut down, but we will change them into cedars.