For behold, the Lord GOD of Hosts is about to remove from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support: the whole supply of bread and water,
Cease ye from man."
I. THE RULERS OF THE PEOPLE REMOVED. Government is one of the necessities of human life. Hence the rulers are spoken of as "staff and stay, staff of bread and staff of water." Even bad rulers are better than none, so that they may be described as main props or supports of life. In the same way says Ezekiel, "I will break the staff of bread in Jerusalem" (Ezekiel 4:16; Ezekiel 5:16). To see how truly good government may be thus described, let us remember that, by timely and wise legislation, bread and other necessaries of life have been cheapened and secured to the people. With good government men may be well fed and prosperous even in unkindly lands, while through evil government once fertile plains (like the Roman Campagna) have become wastes.
II. THE NERVE AND STRENGTH OF THE NATION BROKEN. A nation needs heroes, men of courage for the battle-field. It needs men of discretion and integrity for the seat of justice and the bar. It needs men of religious faith and insight as prophets and teachers; and in every department, military, civil, ecclesiastical, scientific, there is a constant demand for able and honest men. There is to be a dearth of them in Jerusalem. The false leaders to whom the people have looked up, the idol-prophets and the magicians, are to be taken away along with the true. "Children" and "baby-boys," the prophet caustically says, shall become the princes and rulers of the nation. Ahaz was quite a young man; his "weakness of character and foolish humors would have been quite sufficient, in the sixteen years of his reign, to put the whole kingdom out of joint." The picture may remind us that men of intelligence and virtue are the great necessity in every time. If in the state statesmen are not being bred, and in the Church weak and illiterate men swarm, it is a sign of most certain moral weakness and decay.
III. ANARCHY THE RESULT.
1. In private life. Good neighborhood is broken up, for it must rest on the common recognition of law and custom; and what if these be subverted? Age and rank no longer command respect. The beardless boy affronts the hoary head, the churl would level the gently born with himself. Nothing is more odious than the leveling temper of troublous times; for the fine gradations of rank are part essentially of a system of higher culture.
2. In public life. So extreme is the need of guidance and rule, that private proposals will be made to almost any seeming respectable man to take up the reins of government. But none will be found willing to govern "these ruins," or to be chief of so mere a rabble. We may use the picture as an allegory of the soul. When sin has set our being at variance with itself, and all our confidence and self has failed, we may be glad to find any yoke that we may creep beneath. Yet this may be denied. Those who, in the rebellion of lust and self-will, have sought to be "lords of themselves," may find a heritage of woe entailed. "The soul would never rule. It would be first in all things; but this attained, commanding for commanding sickens it." - J.
I. Learn from the death of a great statesman THE WEIGHT OF GOVERNMENT IN A FALLEN WORLD. For when we see the mightiest minds that our country has produced, a Fox, a Pitt, a Liverpool, a Canning, one after another taking the weight of government upon them, and dropping under its weight into the arms of death — can we avoid thinking of the mighty mass of care that has pressed them down?
For behold the Lord...doth take away...the mighty man. -
1. We need the admonition which precedes this text — "Cease ye from man (whether prince or senator, soldier or orator, counsellor or captain), whoso breath (whatever his strength or genius, talent or fame) is in his nostrils."
2. There is no such thing as chance; whether it be a hair which falls to the ground, or a sparrow that drops in its weary way across the field, or a prince smitten from his throne, or a dynasty broken — God is in them, giving, permitting, overruling, and sanctifying; it is not the shot or shell, the wave or wind, incident or accident, but God that "takes away," and those things which we suppose to have played the principal part, are merely servants sent out by God to lead the soldier from his duty in the field, to receive the crown of glory and war no more.
3. But not only is it the Lord, but He has right and jurisdiction to do so. He not only reigns, but He rules. Unsanctified interpositions of God are the darkest judgments; whilst therefore, we recognise His hand in giving, let us recognise His hand in taking away. A father and his child walk. They pick up a stone with a green substance, which appears worthless, and fit only to be cast away; but they apply the microscope, and this green substance on the stone he finds to be a magnificent though tiny forest. So it is with any fact that occurs. Man looks at it with his own eyes, sees it uninstructive; but when seen in the light of God's truth, he finds in it what is instructive and suggestive.
4. When God removes from a nation its props, pillars, and supports, He does so to lead that nation to see Himself more clearly and to lean on Him more entirely.
5. The Lord thus "takes away" in order to teach men impressively this lesson which man is very slow to learn — that death must come upon all. Death enters the cabinets of princes and statesmen, the camp of the hero, and the hut of the peasant, without paying the least respect to rank or royalty.
(J. Cumming, D. D.)
II. We are taught THE WEAKNESS OF THE SHOULDERS OF MORTAL MEN. However mighty his shoulders may be, he must be a bold man that would venture to take up a burden that has crushed so many: and yet there are many that will venture on it; for there are those who delight in danger, who sport with difficulties, and who delight in doing what no one else can do. And it is well for society that there are men of moral courage. If all preferred the comfort and quiet of domestic life, how could the affairs of government go on? Yet there are some burdens, the weight of which will crush any mind, for the sons of Anak are not omnipotent. And how knows any man how near he is to this point, when he shall be overwhelmed with his own duties, distracted with his own cares, become a prey to the very thing in which he delighted?
III. THE UNCERTAINTY OF ALL HUMAN AFFAIRS. We need to be taught this with a strong hand, for this warm piece of moving clay that is bustling about the earth, ready to drop to pieces every moment, is so swollen with vanity that it would fain fancy it is made of adamant. Therefore God supplies us with strong reasons, at certain seasons, to teach us the contrary.
IV. OUR ABSOLUTE DEPENDENCE ON THE SUPREME GOVERNOR. When we behold the profound counsellor and the mighty orator, and are entranced with their talents and execution, we grow idolatrous, and think these men are more than mortal, and that society could not go on without them; little thinking that He who made them as they are, to be employed as He pleases, and to be laid aside when He pleases, can raise others equally fitted as they are. (Exodus 4:11.)
V. Another lesson which we should learn is, THE SACRED DUTY OF PRAYER FOR KINGS AND ALL IN AUTHORITY OVER US. We should make our supplications that councils may be assisted, that the cares of government may not overwhelm and destroy, that there may be a reasonable spirit prevalent in the public, so that it may be rendered less oppressive.
VI. IN YOUR SUPPLICATIONS ESPECIALLY REMEMBER ZION, THE CHURCH OF THE LIVING GOD. The Church has been compared to a building, and the world to a scaffold placed around it in order to assist in rearing the edifice. VII. LEARN TO PREPARE FOR OUR OWN DEATH.
(J. Bennett, D. D.)
(J. A. Todd.)
(Bishop J. Taylor, D. D.)
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