Therefore say, Thus said the Lord GOD; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen…
Sanctuaries — i.e., houses of God, churches and abbeys, and ecclesiastical houses — have always been places of shelter for criminals, for vanquished enemies, for persons in debt. The Jews had cities of refuge; and we may say, in general, that by the ecclesiastical laws of Christendom, through many ages, provision was made by means of church, or abbey, or consecrated ground, to receive criminal and distressed persons into shelter and safety. It is curious, and not without some tender interest, to hear of some places still left in our own land, such as the Sanctuary of Holyrood, in Edinburgh, which retain something of the old virtue, and open a refuge where honourable debtors and distressed persons may live in peace.
I. THE IDEA OF ASYLUM AND PROTECTION. "I will be as a little sanctuary" — I will be the shield and protector and sure refuge of trusting souls. Asylum! Is not this what every awakened soul needs and seeks? Some safe, sure refuge, from all that threatens, afflicts, alarms; from the thunders, loud or deep, of broken law; from the accusations of conscience, from the troubles of life, from the terrors of death — asylum from them all? When one has been living, or dreaming, in sin, and then awakes, and sees things as they are, and knows himself, and looks with rapid, startled glance at what is coming, and may be near, he feels at first just like one in an enemy's country. Look which way he will, there is no shelter or safety for him; none that he can see. He must flee; he must escape for his life. But whither? In what direction does safety lie? In this great strait God reveals Himself as "a little sanctuary" — a place of protection and safety; and says, "Flee, you have need to flee. Life is full of harms, and death broods in the air. In a scene that might have been all friendly to you, you have made yourself many enemies. Flee, but flee to Me: I am the refuge. I am the last asylum of your soul. Those thunders are Mine, but if you pass through them to Myself they will soften and roll away, and leave you in coolness and safety. Turn your face but Godwards, and let your steps be as your face is, and nothing can then surprise or hurt you. Not a hair of your head shall perish."
II. But a sanctuary means something more than a refuge and place of safety. It means, at least in the nomenclature of the Scriptures, A PLACE OF PURIFICATION, where we may wash and be clean: and may so avail ourselves of the helps to goodness which are provided, that "the rest of our time may be pure and holy." Our very words tell us this. "Sanctity," "sanctification," — a sanctuary is not equal to its name if it does not promote these. The whole hunger and thirst of the renewed creature is for righteousness — a righteousness always loved and striven for, yet never perfectly attained — a righteousness no sooner attained in measure, than, in some mysterious manner, it seems to waver, and fail, and begin to pass away; as the snow-white garment quickly loses its purity in a dusty or smoky air; or as the living branch when it is not freshly growing, soon loses the brightness of its green. The heart is deceitful, and the world is defiling, and no enterprise of human life were half so hopeless as the endeavour to be wholly pure and holy, if means of purification were not provided, and brought so closely to hand as to be within the reach of our daily and deepest needs. Would a man be considered very kind and hospitable who, knowing that some travellers were coming to his house, along rocky paths and across burning sands, should send a message to them while yet they are miles off, to say — "Do not come any nearer until you have washed and made you clean. Come: by all means come: I am not inhospitable: but be sure you come with ointment on your head, all fragrant with myrrh and spice, and clad in rich evening dress, ready for the banquet." What would the pilgrims think on receiving such a message? They would say in a moment — "He doesn't want us. We must seek some other gates than his." The case is even so as between us and God. He does not send a mocking message to frail, disabled men in this dusty, defiling, wilderness world, sinful although they be, by the offer of salvation to them under utterly impossible conditions. He does not say, "Come to Me for salvation, but be more than half-saved before you come." He comes to us with a whole salvation, with healing, cleansing, vivifying grace, which will grow in us, and develop us into perfectness.
III. THE IDEA OF NOURISHMENT. A hospice for the entertainment of strangers, or any hospitable house, is never without bread. Washing is before eating. Dressing is for the banquet. Every living thing must have something to live upon. Even in the "far country" where men degrade themselves, and spend their substance, there is something to eat — "husks," if nothing better — sapless roots dug out of the sand — some-thing that will dull if not satiate the craving of appetite. And will not God feed His refugees? Will He be a little sanctuary in which they may die? Is there no bread on His table? Yes, bread enough, and to spare. Is there no wine in His cups? Yes, the sweet wine of love and strength and consolation.
(A. Raleigh, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come.
WEB: Therefore say, Thus says the Lord Yahweh: Whereas I have removed them far off among the nations, and whereas I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them a sanctuary for a little while in the countries where they are come.