Lamentations Chapter Four
The deplorable state of the nation is contrasted with its ancient prosperity.
Commentary on Lamentations 4:1-12
(Read Lamentations 4:1-12)
What a change is here! Sin tarnishes the beauty of the most exalted powers and the most excellent gifts; but that gold, tried in the fire, which Christ bestows, never will be taken from us; its outward appearance may be dimmed, but its real value can never be changed. The horrors of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem are again described. Beholding the sad consequences of sin in the church of old, let us seriously consider to what the same causes may justly bring down the church now. But, Lord, though we have gone from thee in rebellion, yet turn to us, and turn our hearts to thee, that we may fear thy name. Come to us, bless us with awakening, converting, renewing, confirming grace.
Commentary on Lamentations 4:13-20
(Read Lamentations 4:13-20)
Nothing ripens a people more for ruin, nor fills the measure faster, than the sins of priests and prophets. The king himself cannot escape, for Divine vengeance pursues him. Our anointed King alone is the life of our souls; we may safely live under his shadow, and rejoice in Him in the midst of our enemies, for He is the true God and eternal life.
Commentary on Lamentations 4:21,22
(Read Lamentations 4:21,22)
Here it is foretold that an end should be put to Zion's troubles. Not the fulness of punishment deserved, but of what God has determined to inflict. An end shall be put to Edom's triumphs. All the troubles of the church and of the believer will soon be accomplished. And the doom of their enemies approaches. The Lord will bring their sins to light, and they shall lie down in eternal sorrow. Edom here represents all the enemies of the church. And the corruption, and sin of Israel, which the prophet has proved to be universal, justifies the judgments of the Lord. It shows the need of that grace in Christ Jesus, which the sin and corruption of all mankind make so necessary.
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Lamentations》
 How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street.
The top — Are scattered in the head of every street.
 The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!
Earthen pitchers — The nobles, the priests, and the good men, are looked upon no better than earthen vessels, the workmanship of an ordinary potter.
 Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.
Cruel — The Jewish women are become cruel to their children, or forced to appear so, having through the famine no milk to give them, nor any thing to relieve them.
Ostriches — Like ostriches that lay their eggs, and leave them in the sand.
 For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.
Of Sodom — Their punishment was greater, because more lingering, and gradual, whereas Sodom was overthrown in a moment, and that by no human hands that abode upon her, causing her a continued torment.
 Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire:
Nazarites — Her Nazarites in this place signify her separated ones, who either in respect of birth, education, estate, or place of magistracy, were distinguished from the rest of the people.
 Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick.
Not known — So that those who before knew them, do not know them now.
 For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her,
Priests — The ecclesiastical men were a great cause of the first and last destruction of Jerusalem. And so they are of most other places that come to ruin, through their neglect of their duty, or encouraging others in their wicked courses.
 They have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood, so that men could not touch their garments.
They — The prophets and priests wandered up and down the streets polluting themselves with blood, either the blood of the children which they slew, or the just men, mentioned verse 13, the slaughter of whom they either encouraged, or at least did not discourage; so that one could not touch a prophet or priest, but he must be legally polluted, and there were so many of them, that men could not walk in the streets, but he must touch some of them.
 They cried unto them, Depart ye; it is unclean; depart, depart, touch not: when they fled away and wandered, they said among the heathen, They shall no more sojourn there.
Touch not — The Jews that made conscience of keeping the law against touching dead bodies, cried to the other Jews to leave the city as themselves did, the city being now so full of dead bodies that they could not stay in it without polluting themselves.
 The anger of the LORD hath divided them; he will no more regard them: they respected not the persons of the priests, they favoured not the elders.
The anger — These words seem to be the language of their enemies triumphing over them.
They — Their enemies had no regard to the most venerable persons among them.
 As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us.
A nation — The Egyptians.
 They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.
They — The Chaldeans.
 The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen.
The anointed — Zedekiah, who though a bad man yet afforded some protection to the Jews.
We said — We promised ourselves that though the land of Judah was encompassed with Pagan nations, yet through Zedekiah's valour and good conduct we should live comfortably.
 Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz; the cup also shall pass through unto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked.
Rejoice — The prophet speaks ironically, Rejoice; but thy joy shall be but for a little time.
Drunken — Thou shalt be intoxicated with it, and make thyself naked as drunken men sometimes do.
 The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he will no more carry thee away into captivity: he will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; he will discover thy sins.
Captivity — Not for thy past sins.
Thy sins — By the punishment of them.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Lamentations》
04 Chapter 4
What is the most precious thing in the world? "Why, gold, of course, says the multitude; not, indeed, with its lips, but with its heart. For this, men will leave father and mother, and wife, and houses, and lands; for this, what will men not forsake or give? What is the real cause of half the lawsuits and the prosecutions that arise; is it not gold? And what will not men do for gold? They will cheat, rob, embezzle, lie, forge, perjure themselves, — nay, they will do murder itself, for gold. Must we rest content, then, with this answer to our question, "What is the most precious thing in the world?" Impossible! for, notwithstanding the force and unanimity with which the world cries out, "Gold!" there are voices, not a few, which instantly and disdainfully reject the insulting reply. "Perish gold, where honour is at stake!" cry a hundred men at once; and they are right. Though honour be but an abstraction, that cannot be exchanged for bread, or pearls, it is more precious than gold. "Part with my political, my religious principle for a bribe, to keep a house over my head, or my farm in my hands?" say scores of men, "no! not for the world!" And they are right; though principles can neither be taken to market nor put out at interest, they are more precious than gold. "What! must I empty my heart of love to fill it with gold; marry a money bag instead of a soul; let the home fires die out of my heart in my eager pursuit of the gold? No, no! perish the dross, and let me keep my love, and a whole and sound heart," say scores more. And they are right, for love is more precious than gold. Ay, and the philosopher would tell us that all the worth of the gold lies in the man. Now, if this be so, again, what answer must we have to our question, "What is the most precious thing in the world?" What answer but this, that MAN is the true gold, the priceless gem of the world, in comparison with whom all other things are vile? That, then, is the gold of which I am going to speak. Man, humanity, manhood — that is gold; the most fine gold, the precious stones of the sanctuary, over whose dimming, and changing, and desecration, I am going to ask you to lament with me. And I must first ask you to consider with me a little further the preciousness of manhood. For the mere secular and mundane purposes, there is no denying the power and the worth of gold. "Money can do anything," say its devotees; and they are right, of course, within limit; but the limits are very wide ones. Gold can buy up the world, and the world's laws resolve themselves into questions of money. And what is true thus of the literal gold, is true also, and in greater degree, of that more precious thing, of which we make that the figure just now. Oh! what splendour and glory of capacity is there not bound up within that little sphere, the body of a man! Six feet of earth can hold him comfortably, and yet the world cannot hold him — he holds the world. He is lord of all he sees; tenant for life of God's grandest freehold, the universe; at the annual rent of the love of his whole soul. And, oh! what capacity of service for the world lies wrapped within that little germ. You have watched your garden in the blooming time, when every spur upon the branch holds promise of a cluster of the fruit; did you ever watch the blooming time of manhood? Did you note the quick impetuosity, the keen susceptibility, the noble emotions, the tender sympathy, the fine candour, the metallic ring of conscience, the play of high principle? Oh! what power was there to bless the world, if all this blossom had set in fruit, and all that manifold being had developed, in harmonious proportion, to its true stature; what a rich power, to hundreds and to thousands, had that one man been; what light he would have shot into the dark places of the universe; what a lever of help would his strong sympathy have become; what a power against wrong; what a haven of healthy sentiment and opinion; what a moral power; how his goodness would have radiated round him, as far as his world stretched. And, best of all, had that promise been fulfilled, had all those buds of hope and aspiration been set in fruit, he might have been how true, and good, and grand a saint; devout, and yet withal as cheery as a tenant of this sunny world should be; tender and gentle as a little unspoiled child, and yet as manly as the strongest hero in the world. A worshipper in all his life, with God in all his thoughts; God in his heart; his life a happy, conscious, willing service of his God; and yet the freest child of man and user of the world; a presence, and a power of righteousness, wherever he was. "What then!" do you ask me? "Is it within the power of every man that is born into the world to be saint, hero, statesman, poet, painter, genius, philosopher, philanthropist, every highest style of man — and all to perfection?" Of course I can't mean any such thing! God's gifts are all disparted. "One star differeth from another star in glory." Few men are great in more than one thing. So that I do not expect that it will be possible, in any millennium, ever, for every man to be in everything a man. And yet, though this be true, it is also true that every bit of humanity is fine gold! What I mean to assert is this, that by far the greater part of humanity is spoiled; that a large proportion of the men and women you meet every day might have been a great deal nobler, and better, and greater, and more capable every way than they are, and would have been so had they not been spoiled. "The gold has become dim, the most fine gold has become changed; the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the streets." In respect of this world merely, and of the things men have to do in this world — the handing of its material, the reading its books, the fulfilling of its relations — the masses of men are spoiled; dwarfed in their capacity, crippled in their mental and moral power, stunted in their development, warped from their uprightness, shorn of their beauty. There is a bight in the natural world that kills off the buds of every spring; there are untimely frosts; there are devouring insects, little, but potent; there are worms at the root, and maggots at the core; there are wind and tempest; over-sun, and over-rain; and so, not half the world's blossom comes to perfection. And as it is with the physical, so it is with the moral world. There is a human blight, deadly and fatal, that comes invisibly in a night, and makes our petals fall; there are chilly frosts, in the circumstances of our youth, that nip our buds; there are moral insects, of passion and temper, that come and gnaw at our heart; and there are germs of evil in the world around us that lay their eggs in our life. "How is the fine gold become dim!" Let me convert the exclamation of the text into an inquiry. How? First, there is weakness, inherent and innate — the legacy of one's ancestry, more lasting than their gold; weakness, working through generations, and culminating in us, through ignorance or wilful neglect of great physical laws; the natural robustness of humanity diluted out of us by evil treatment, and want of knowledge and care; and so, when the wings of the full-fledged soul begin to try their unused plumes, we find ourselves incapable of sustaining our lofty flight, and come to grovel on the earth again. Secondly, there are the defective or positively evil influences that surround our youth, and play on the formation of our character. How can one expect anything good to come from such gems, and out of such homes as thousands of these human germs are born and bred in? With sordid fathers, and silly mothers, ungoverned and untaught; mindless of their children, save to prevent them being a burden or a trouble — what wonder, that the fine gold becomes dim! With sweets and finery as the rewards of life, and "God" never used, but as a whip or bugbear, how can any good come? With no painstaking culture of morals and of tempers in such a world as this, how can it be but that the fine gold should be spoiled?
(G. W. Conder.)
I. THE PROPHETS REPRESENTATION OF MAN. "Gold." "Fine Gold."
1. A thing becomes valuable in proportion as it is so regarded. Gold in itself is useless; it is but as the dust which clings to our feet. But men have come to attach an importance to it, and hence it has become valuable. So man will be valuable or otherwise, just in proportion to our idea of him. God regards man as possessed of an interminable life; as worthy of minute providential inspection; as worth the great redemptive scheme; as fit for a home in heaven.
2. A thing is valuable in proportion to what it can accomplish. Gold can do much. It can make railways all over the world; tunnel the mightiest mountain; fix telegraphy to the most distant countries. What has man done? Measured the mightiest mountain; analysed the floating atmosphere; sounded the deep sea. What has man done? Let Bacon answer as he reveals the laws and operations of the human mind; Luther as he dispels mediaeval ignorance; Clarkson as he pleads for the slave. What has man done? Let Elijah speak as he mounts up to God; Paul as he hears things which human speech cannot reveal; John as he sees celestial visions on Patmos; the humanity of Christ as it pleads in heaven. How great is man! He can partake of God's nature; assist in God's work; share God's glory.
II. THE STATE WHICH THE PROPHET LAMENTS. The gold has become dim. Humanity has lost its lustre. This manifested in —
1. A cruel neglect of parental duty (vers. 3, 4). Physical neglect is treated as a crime. Our moral sense loathes the man who withholds from his child its proper education. But spiritual neglect is far more criminal than either physical or intellectual. Parents, won't you spread your wings of faith and prayer, and bear your children up to God?
2. A sad prevalence of spiritual poverty. Those who once fed on dainties are desolate and perishing, But why this spiritual want? Is there no bread? Jesus gives the answer, "I am the bread of life." Listen! "If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink."
3. A fearful prostitution of powers and privileges. Minds which might have rivalled angels sunk below the brute. Hearts which might have throbbed with love to God cherishing hatred.
III. THE CAUSES LEADING TO THIS DIMNESS.
1. Inward listlessness. We are easily moved along by the crowd of evil tendencies within.
2. Influence of example. The liar helps somebody to tell lies; the drunkard helps others on to ruin; the dishonest man leads some one else to cheat.
3. The force of habit. He who once yields to temptation finds it more difficult to withstand the next attack.
I. THE OUTWARD SIGNS OF SPIRITUAL DECLENSION.
1. Love to Christ growing cold. We are all, more or less, amenable to the sympathy of numbers, the force of association; and where the majority are carnal, it is more difficult for the few to continue spiritual. The same danger reaches the Church by another route, namely, when there is an extensive profession of godliness, whether in its forms or phrases.
2. A growing inattention to ordinances. The sentiment of a heavenly-minded man is, "Lord, I have loved the habitation of Thy house, and the place where Thine honour dwelleth." There is a love of places, as well as of persons and performances, because of their Divine associations.
3. Niggard and abridged seasons of personal devotion.
4. An easy satisfaction with present attainments. Increase is the condition of success; there is no stagnation in the waters that Christ shall give us; they are either "springing up," or else "the light that is in us is becoming darkness"
5. Religious gossiping. By this is meant a proneness to converse about the accidents, rather than the essence of Christianity. Not that other subjects than religion are excluded from their turn of necessary attention, but when every subject but that wakes an echo of interest, and challenges a general interchange of sentiment and experience, can they be loyal Christians who have nothing to say for Christ?
6. Decreasing sensitiveness of conscience. When men allow themselves in habits of conformity to the world from which they once shrunk, it is not that the world is better, but they worse.
7. Diminished zeal for the glory of God.
II. SOME INWARD SIGNS OF WHICH THE INDIVIDUAL ALONE IS CONSCIOUS.
1. The cessation of secret prayer. The habit has perhaps not wholly ceased, but it is carelessly, cursorily dealt with. There is a shrinking from personal details in communion with God.
2. The neglect of the Bible as a devotional book. If our Bibles cease to be necessary, nay, delightsome to us, there is an internal evidence of decaying grace, which must be looked to, or the devotional neglect of the Book will proceed to the neglect of its Author. Other religious influences will begin to fail, the gold will become too dim to reflect a solitary star of heaven on the shipwreck of our faith, and the fine gold so changed as to be no longer recognised for a precious metal
3. The spirit in which ordinances are entered upon. If the sanctuary be entered without previous prayer, and we should leave it as we entered, we asked nothing, and at least we have what we asked for. If we visit God's house without a settled purpose to honour Him, and only to patronise His minister, as some imagine, we cannot expect to meet Him; for that blessing is limited to them who meet together in His name, not in their own, or some other name.
4. What St. Paul calls "the root of bitterness springing up, whereby many are defiled." The root is concealed under the soil, and its existence is betrayed only by the sucker and the sprout starting from beneath, and indicative of a bad energy at work. Such a sucker robs the sap from the tree, bears no fruit itself, and detracts from the fruitfulness of the other branches. But the image is stronger than this: its metaphor indicates a man bad in doctrine and morals infecting by his evil influence the community of which he is a member.
5. Self-interest, — a tendency to look at what is supposed to become our station, rather than what "becometh saints," as the elect of God.
(J. B. Owen, M. A.)
We might so far alter the obvious meaning of the text as to lay great stress upon the meaning of the word "How" — as if it involved a mystery rather than declared the fact. How is it possible? It is gold, but it is dim; it is fine gold, but it is changed — how has it been done? Marvellous is the history of deterioration.
1. Archbishop Trench in his book upon "Words" has shown this in a very vivid manner in the matter of certain expressions and phrases which have gradually but completely, changed their meaning in English speech and intercourse. He quotes the word "innocent." A word of gold, yea, of fine gold, indicating beauty of character, simplicity of spirit, incapability of double-mindedness or ambiguity of thought and intent; all so plain, so pure, so straight forward. How is the word now employed in many cases? To indicate people who have lost mental strength, or people who never had mental strength; weak-minded people; even those who are little short of imbeciles are described as "innocent" — those having no longer any responsibility; having outlived the usual obligations of life or never having come under them; persons from whom nothing may be expected. "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" A change of that kind does not take place on the surface; changes of that sort have history underneath them as their cause and explanation; the soul has got wrong in order to allow a word like that to be perverted from its original beauteousness. This is not a trick in merely vocal transition; underneath this is a sad moral history. Even words may indicate the moral course which a nation has taken.
2. What is true of words is true also of merely social manners. How different you are now in some of your social relations from what you used to be! Every man will supply his own illustration. How civil we used to be; how courteous; how prompt in attention; how critical in our behaviour; how studious not to wound! "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" How rough we are, and brusque! How blunt — and we call our bluntness frankness! How positive, stubborn, self-willed, resolute, careless of the interests of others! What off-handed speeches we make! What curt answers we return! "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" What if that dimness should so deepen and extend as to lead some persons to question the reality of the gold? In these matters we must as Christian men be careful, thoughtful, watchful, critical. There is nothing little that concerns the integrity and the fulness of Christian character.
3. What is true of words and of manner is also true of the high ideals with which we began life. Let us be thankful for ideals. We cannot always live up to the ideal, but we can still look at it and cherish it; and from our uplifted ideal we may sometimes draw healing when we have been bitten by some flying fiery serpent whose bite has flung us in agony upon the ground for a while, like worsted and mortally wounded things. We cannot have ideals too lofty, too pure, too heavenly. We cannot strike the star. but the arrow goes the higher for the point it was aimed at. What ideals we used to have! Who dares bring back to memory all the ideals with which he started life? Where are they? "How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!" Let me add to the criticism the Gospel which says, We may every one begin again. What say you to that Gospel opportunity and Gospel challenge? Let each say, "I will arise and go to my Father"; let each one say, "I will arise and go to my Ideal, and say, I have wounded Thee, dishonoured Thee, fallen infinitely short of Thee in every particular. I am no more worthy that Thou shouldst be associated with my poor name."
(J. Parker, D. D.)
In describing and deploring the sad condition of the favoured and once holy and famous city of Jerusalem, the prophet employs a familiar symbol. We all know what gold is, and only by precision of statement does the dictionary help us with its information that "Gold is a precious metal, remarkable on account of its unique and beautiful yellow colour, lustre, high specific gravity, and freedom from liability to rust or tarnish when exposed to the air." — Century Dictionary. Men have been talking and thinking about gold as they never have before in the history of our country, possibly as never before in the history of the world. And men are coming to understand and appreciate as perhaps never before the importance of this most valuable of the precious metals to the commercial interest of the world, the distribution of commodities, the remuneration of labour, the stability of institutions, the progress of civilisation, and the weal of humanity; aye, and to recognise and admire the Divine wisdom and goodness in providing this important agent, giving it just the qualities it has, supplying it in just such quantity, and making it just so acquirable, and just so difficult of acquisition, that there has ever been enough and never too much for the world's use, and its value has been more sure and stable than that of any other material thing that man uses. Gold is valuable for many uses. It is exceedingly serviceable in the arts, particularly the arts of adornment, not only from its beautiful, brilliant, and permanent colour, but also from its extreme malleability, ductility, elasticity, and tenacity. It is easily shaped by hammer, graving tool, mould, or die. It will receive the most delicate impression, and embody the effects of the most exquisite skill. It is the appropriate setting for the most costly gems, and the suitable material for crowns and sceptres and signets, and all the insignia of eminent and sacred office. It seems designed to express the splendour and glory of goodliest things. But its most important use is as a universal and unvarying medium of commercial exchange and standard of material values, representing and converting all the varied and countless products of human labour. All this is in a measure true of the other precious metal, silver, but in a less degree. Indeed, the old notion that gold was related to the sun, and silver to the moon corresponds well with their actual importance. It has not been left for us at this late day to discover the value and use of gold. These have been understood from the earliest ages. "I counsel thee to buy of Me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich"; but allusions to gold are frequent in the earliest as well as the latest books. Gold has a prominent place in Biblical symbolism and metaphor. The ark of the covenant was overlaid with pure gold. The furnishings of the ark, the cherubim upon its cover, the altar of incense before it, the sacred candlestick, the high priest's breastplate in which the twelve jewels were set, and the plate in "his tiara bearing the inscription, Holiness unto the Lord," were all of gold. Everywhere it is the symbol of what is sacred, and of highest special excellence and value. As the prophet here uses the symbol he may have had in mind gold as money; or, if his thought were more general, that will serve to help us realise the imagery.
1. A gold coin fresh from the mint is an object of beauty as well as of value. It has, in the first place, an actual and intrinsic value, the same, or about the same, as its nominal value as money. Real, as distinguished from representative money, must have this quality, that its actual and intrinsic value is equal to its nominal or representative value, so that it can pass freely from hand to hand throughout the community in final discharge of debts and in full payment for commodities, and be accepted without a reference to the character or credit of the person who offers it. It is this that makes gold so preeminently adapted for use as money, that in it this element of value obtains without too great bulk, and with the stability which is necessary in the commercial interchanges of civilised peoples. That which is of comparatively low value, so that great bulk and weight are involved, or that is of fluctuating value, so that it cannot meet the requirement of stability, does not, and cannot, so well serve this important use. Besides its intrinsic value, gold coin has impressed upon it some design and legend, authoritatively attesting its value; this minting being now, among civilised nations, an exclusively governmental function. But, along with these characteristics, it has also great beauty. The metal, with its rich colour, is capable of beautiful effects; and the process of minting develops the capability, bringing out the rich and brilliant hue, and the image and superscription which it receives being impressed with artistic skill and the most perfect mechanical aids. Such the prophet's figure of Jerusalem in its better days. It was an embodiment of eminent civic excellence. It owned the sway, and bore the image and superscription of the King of kings. There the Temple stood in its stately splendour. There the worship of God was celebrated with devout and elaborate pomp. There the Law of God was recognised and honoured, and the ideal of the holy city, the city of God, the earthly dwelling place of the Most High, was sustained by a befitting government and order, and had effect in a peaceful and happy prosperity. Hence the admiring and rejoicing eulogies of Hebrew poets: "Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth is Mount Zion: the city of the great King." But we are in a world where even fine gold becomes dim. This is true literally. Notwithstanding its freedom from liability to rust or tarnish, and its resistance to the agents which produce these effects, even gold win lose its pristine lustre. An old gold coin does not have the sheen and splendour of a newly minted one. It becomes dulled and dimmed by circulation. Also, there is an abrasion as it passes to and fro in the uses of the world. Its edges become worn; the design and legend upon it grow indistinct; and its very quantity is reduced, so that in the course of about twenty years, on an average, gold coin needs to be reminted. And there are even yet more serious processes of deterioration conducted with fraudulent design in the various forms of counterfeiting and coin debasement. This is even yet more true of those embodiments of moral excellence of which gold is the symbol. It would seem that this ought not to be, but that moral goodness, excellence, and worth should be the most stable and persistent qualities in the world; that they would be stronger than the opposite qualities and the forces arrayed against them, and that they would resist and subdue them; and also that their good effects would be so apparent and approved that the world would be friendly and favourable to them, and that individuals and communities would cherish and foster them; and so that every virtuous attainment would be a happy and lasting gain. Thus we should expect that truthfulness would become ever more truthful, and more manifestly excellent and beautiful with the wear of use; and that the friction of the world would not dim its lustre, wear down its fine precision, and render its Divine impress less distinct, but give its sheen and splendour and intrinsic worth more superb and glorious effect. We should expect a corresponding history of honesty, fidelity, courage, honour, purity, patriotism, philanthropy, and generosity. This is what ought to be, as every moral intuition affirms. It is what might be, as every revelation and provision, precept and promise, guiding law and gracious succour, assures us. But it is not what actually and uniformly is. Virtue is militant, and maintains itself only by victorious warfare. There is the possibility of deterioration in every nature that is capable of virtue, and innumerable occasions, influences, and agents press to develop the possibility into actual fact. Of nothing perhaps did men ever feel more sure than Jewish patriots did of the stability of Jerusalem, both in its sacred and civil glory. Yet Jerusalem declined into an indescribable corruption and depravity, and the devastation and desolation resulting from Nebuchadnezzar's siege were but the sequel of its moral decadence. How many other institutions and societies have had a similar history! How to nations, churches, and other social federations and organisations there have been what are fitly named "Golden Ages!" And how these have been followed by ages of decline. And by what recastings and renovations the progress of humanity has been realised! This further is to be noted, and it is the great lesson of history, that material decadence has been the sequel of moral deterioration. History teems with illustrations of this truth. But we are more interested in applications and illustrations lying nearer to common life. One of the most beautiful and precious things our human life can know is friendship — I mean real friendship — the alliance for good, and fellowship in good, of congenial souls, and not mere modish or faddish attachments. What help and solace these companioned souls afford each other! What interest and worth they find in each other! In success the joy is insipid until the other shares it. In misfortune the pang is softened by the other's sympathy. And each life is unfolded and enriched by its interest in the other. How sad to see such gold become dim, such fine gold change! And yet how common the instance! So with other relations growing out of our social aptitudes and needs. And yet how poor, and base, even, in actual fact they become!
2. But the most impressive correspondence to this imagery is in the sphere of character and the processes of individual life. With what interest, admiration, and hope we contemplate the splendid possibilities and goodly promise of a fair opening life! Childhood has passed under favourable conditions and good influences, youth has unfolded under judicious nurture and with only the faults incident to youth, and manhood has been attained with no dark stain upon the character and no vitiating habit in the life. Grand equipment for life's work has been won by the processes of general and special education. "Here," we say, "is fine gold. This one will make his mark. This life will count for something, and be among the grander facts and forces in the life of the world." The hope, thank God, is often realised. Notwithstanding debasing influences grand lives are being lived. But it is not always so. In some instances the following years do not fulfil the promises of life's splendid opening. The character, subjected to the hard wear of the world, loses the lustre of its glorious prime. The high ideals, the noble and generous aims, the principled integrity, the delicacy of conscience, and the fine sense of honour, fade under the rough impact of coarser lives. Thus the gold that shone with such noble brilliancy becomes dim. So it is sometimes with a life that has come under the influence of religion, and connected itself with, and set itself to, the highest and best. Sometimes even such a life shows deterioration. The faith, the love, the zeal, the devotion which marked its opening, and made it bright with Divine lustre, decline. By some truancy to duty, some neglect of spiritual culture, or some looseness of living, the heaven-born soul loses the fine quality of its life, the Divine image and superscription upon it are defaced. When gold coin has ceased to be what it ought, by loss of weight, or defacement of its impression, it must be reminted. By that process what is deficient is made up, and what is defaced is restored. This is what deteriorated characters, deteriorated souls, deteriorated lives, need; and this is precisely what Christianity provides for. This is the distinctive feature of Christianity, that it is a converting, transforming, renewing religion. It restores in man the faded image and superscription of God, and it makes the debased nature worthy of the impress.
(J. W. Earnshaw.)
The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers!
I. THE HEAVENLY ESTIMATE OF GOOD MEN. Good men have a golden value in the estimation of heaven.
1. Their principles are intrinsically valuable. They are men of truth, justice, benevolence, worship.
2. Their influence is socially valuable. They are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.
3. Their privileges are infinitely valuable. All things are theirs. Angels are their servants; Christ is their Redeemer; the Lord is their portion.
II. THE WORLDLY ESTIMATE OF GOOD MEN. "How are they esteemed as earthen pitchers?"
1. This estimate has ever been lamentably common.
2. This estimate indicates great moral degeneracy. The human soul is constituted to value the true, to admire the excellent, to worship Divine virtues wherever they exist.
3. This estimate entails fearful spiritual evils. The virtues of the good are the world's uplifting powers. Where they are ignored their salutary influence is not felt.
Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.
I. THE CHARACTERS DESCRIBED. "The precious sons of Zion."
1. Zion is their spiritual birthplace. Being "begotten again," they have received the spirit of sons (Galatians 4:6), and now aspire after the "better country" to which the sons of Zion are entitled (Isaiah 35:10; Hebrews 11:16).
2. They acknowledge their great and growing obligations to Zion.
3. They are devoted to the interests of Zion. Gratitude, piety, benevolence, prompt them to promote the prosperity of the Church, by persuasion, etc.; and by their example and their prayers (Psalm 122:6-9; Isaiah 62:1; Matthew 5:14-16; Romans 12:1).
4. They are entitled to all the privileges and immunities of Zion. They are "free" (Galatians 4:31); "are fellow citizens with the saints," etc. (Ephesians 2:19). And the unfailing word of Zion's King secures to her protection (Isaiah 26:1); provision (Psalm 132:15); support (Isaiah 35:3, 4); comfort (Psalm 132:16); and eternal glory (Isaiah 60:14-20).
II. THE EXCELLENCE OF THE SONS OF ZION.
1. In respect of its purity. "Comparable to fine gold"; which is gold that has undergone a certain process of purification, to clear it from dross, and thus make it more fine, solid, strong, and useful. So the saints have all experienced "the renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5); and their hearts are purified by faith (Acts 15:9).
2. In respect of its value. Gold is of "the precious metals" the most precious, i.e., of highest price. The text speaks of fine gold, of the best quality; and therefore most valuable. In this sense Zion's sons are precious; possessing intrinsic excellence. They are partakers of precious grace (2 Peter 1:1); which they exercise on precious promises (2 Peter 1:4); which promises have respect to a precious Saviour (1 Peter 2:5-7); by whose precious blood they are redeemed (1 Peter 1:19).
3. In respect of its utility. The true sons of Zion are greatly useful, on account of their excellent principles of philanthropy and social order, uniting the different classes and members of society, and promoting the welfare of the whole (1 Timothy 2:1-4). Whence results the excellence of their practice; as rulers (2 Samuel 23:1-3); parents (Ephesians 6:4); masters (Colossians 4:1); subjects (Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17); children (Ephesians 6:1-3); servants (Ephesians 6:5-7); doing evil to none (Romans 12:17); but good to all. "If thine enemy hunger, feed him," etc. And they are valuable also, on account of their piety and their prayers.
4. In respect of its honour. Gold has been employed in presents to the most honourable persons (1 Kings 10:2, 10; Matthew 2:11); and in the most honourable services; whether civil (Psalm 14:9, 13); or sacred (Exodus 25:11-22; 2 Chronicles 3:3-11). The pious are highly honourable in the estimation of those who are proper judges of what constitutes an honourable character.
III. THE ESTIMATION IN WHICH THE SONS OF ZION ARE TOO OFTEN HELD. "How are they esteemed as earthen pitchers," etc.; as mean, worthless, despicable things! This false estimate of the pious happens, because Satan employs all his craft and all his agency to obscure the excellence of truth and piety; and to gild with a false and beguiling lustre what is wrong and wicked.
1. Their principles are misnamed. Their humility is meanness; their forbearance and meekness, pusillanimity, weakness, etc. On the other hand, their zeal is rashness; their firmness, obstinacy; their piety, enthusiasm, etc.
2. Their motives are suspected. Of the Redeemer Himself it was said, "He is a bad man, and deceiveth the people."
3. Their conduct is misrepresented. "Prejudice has neither eyes nor ears" to discover merit; but it whets the tongue of slander, to mangle, disfigure, and distort innocent actions; and then to inflict censure and condemnation.(1) In our estimate of character let us not judge from common report; but from our own observation.(2) Nor by the maxims of the world; but by those of God's Word. Many, of whom the world was not worthy," have "wandered in sheepskins," etc.(3) Nor be solicitous of the honour that cometh from men; but "the honour that cometh from God only" (John 5:41-44).
(Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
I. The sons of Zion are comparable to fine gold. In its refined state gold is so freed from alloy or dross, that among the metals it is esteemed the PUREST; and if there be one feature in the Christian more prominent and distinguishing than another, it is his purity at once of heart and fife. Between Christians and iniquity there is an ever-widening distance, an ever-increasing opposition; and although, like the finest gold, which still contains some portion of alloy, they are never in this life absolutely free from impurity, they are yet, with an unwavering steadiness of purpose, putting it progressively away from them, and becoming clothed with that righteousness which in eternity shall shine in unspotted whiteness. Sin, in every shape and under every guise, is the object of their deep and confirmed abhorrence; and because of the love, and faith, and hope which they sedulously cultivate, they are so gradually approximating in resemblance to Him of whose spirit they are the living temples, that they exhibit so many reflections of that moral beauty by which the Godhead is adorned, and are the types of that holiness which, undimmed and infinite, reigns triumphantly in heaven.
II. But gold is distinguished also for its VALUE. This arises from its rarity, from its intrinsic worth, and from its utility; and, in these several respects, the comparison between it and "the sons of Zion" may be illustrated.
1. First, then, the Christian is comparable to gold in respect of scarcity. Not profusely enriching every land, nor to be found imbedded in every soil, the golden ore is discoverable but in few countries; and, in like manner, of the earth's inhabitants, the sons of God's spiritual Zion form small and insignificant proportion.
2. Christians are comparable to pure gold, next, as respects their intrinsic value. Estimated, indeed, on the principles which guide the world's judgment, they, in general, have less to recommend them than many of their unregenerated and ungodly neighbours; but looked at as delineated by the Spirit of revelation, and judged according to the standard by which the destinies of creation are to be decided, they are a "chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people."
3. The Christian is comparable to fine gold also in respect of utility. By this, indeed, the value of an object is usually estimated; and as gold, when freely and plentifully circulated, promotes the general comfort and happiness, so "the sons of Zion," by the sanctity and blamelessness of their lives, exert a most beneficial influence upon society. With the influence of consistent and persevering example, every individual is acquainted. It challenges to imitation; it is a living commentary upon the excellence and power of principle; and where it is not successful in exciting to kindred action, it usually has majesty enough to awe and to rebuke the gainsayer into silence. And if we would properly comprehend the influence which, in this respect, Christians exercise upon the community at large, we have only to look at them moving within the circle of a family or a neighbourhood. Suppose multitude of such men, the same in character, the same in consistency, pervading society throughout the land, mingling in the market place, frequenting the marts of trade, labouring in the manufactory and in the workshop; and when you think of the innate depravity of the human heart, and the inherent tendency of sin to propagate itself, is it not clear that they are the salt which preserves the whole mass from rottenness, — the preservatives of the community from moral putrefaction and decay?
1. The greatest reputation that man can attain unto in this life, is an uncertain estate, and easily taken away (Psalm 49:12).
(a)There is no certainty in anything under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
(b)God setteth up, and putteth down, at His pleasure (Daniel 4:29).
(c)He that useth his prosperous estate best, deserveth continually to have it taken from him.
(2)Use: to teach us not to admire the glorious estate of man that is in honour, seeing it is most fickle; not to set our hearts upon anything we enjoy in this world, but to use the things thereof as if we used them not.
2. Those whom God hath advanced in authority above others, are to be reverenced and honoured above others.
(1)They represent the person of God Himself.
(2)They have that power and authority which should work a reverent fear and awe of them in the hearts of others.
3. It is a worthy thing in great men to be adorned with good qualities, so far exceeding others as their calling is above them.
(1)They shall be the more able to carry themselves aright in their place.
(2)They shall procure the greater reverence unto their place thereby.
4. It is marvellous in the judgment of flesh and blood to see a man of highest estimation come to be of the basest account.
They that did feed delicately are desolate
1. It is often the lot of God's people to spend the former part of their life in much worldly pleasure, and the latter in great misery.(1) Because many have their share in the world till they be called to the knowledge of Christ, which is often at the ninth or last hour.(2) God seeth it meet to let many of His children have experience of good and evil.(3) It is the nature of our corruptions to lead us to abuse prosperity, which God, will punish in His children in this life.
2. Many are most delicately brought up, that afterward come to great want and extremity.(1) Their parents make fondlings of them, and do not put them to any lawful work in their youth, and so they prove unfit for any in their age.(2) God will punish both the folly of the parents, and the vanity of the children, for the example of others.(3) Disordered education increaseth the number and height of sin, which must needs pull in the punishments for sin after it.
3. In a general calamity, they are most subject to ruin that in time of prosperity are freest from it by their abundance of worldly things.(1) They are most likely to have committed the greatest sins in the abuse of God's blessings.(2) They have least exercised themselves in the ways to escape danger; persuading themselves to escape if any do.(3) The riches of the wealthiest are the things that spoilers set their eyes most upon: for which they will be most extreme with the owners thereof.
For the punishment of the iniquity...is greater
1. The godly do usually sustain more grievous punishments in this fife than any others.
2. Man never sustaineth any punishment in this fife, but such as he justly deserveth by his own sins.
3. That is the greatest punishment which man can suffer in this life, which is of longest continuance, though it be not the severest in itself.(1) A short punishment, though heavier, doth not kill the heart so much.(2) Satan can work many things in time, which of a sudden he cannot.(3) The consideration of the length of time giveth matter of strong temptations to despair or revolt from the truth.
The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed.
The "impossible" is not impossible, the incredible may come to he true, that which revolts the sense and shocks the feeling may become a commonplace of fife. Let us illustrate this.
1. All the neighbourhood, all the friends and acquaintances, would not have believed that the great rich man to whom scores were mean and hundreds trifles could have come to beg his bread. But it is possible. Riches take to themselves wings and flee away. Take heed! It is right to be rich, very rich, but it is wrong for the riches to be master of the man; hold them, so that coming or going they never interfere with prayer, with faith, with charity, with noble, generous love; they are servants, helpers, great assistants in the philanthropic cause: hold them so, and you never can be poor. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." Pause and consider, and put things wisely and solidly together, and say, These things are but for a moment; for a moment's use they are invaluable, but as securities, towers, defences, rather let me entangle myself in some elaborate cobweb, and trust to that against God's lightning and thunder.
2. Who would believe that the great strong man, whose every bone is, as it were, wrought iron, should one day be glad of the help of a little child? How humbling! how instructive! You may accost him, and ask him if he remembers the time when he could have lifted a man in each hand and felt he was not doing anything in particular as an exercise of strength; and with a hollow laugh he will say, Ay, I remember! How now? the sinews melted, the bones no longer iron, the great frame bent down, the sunken eyes peering for a grave. What did this? Ill-conduct? No. Wastefulness of strength and energy? No. What did it? Silent, insidious, mighty Time.
3. who could believe that a man of great capacity and great judgment in all earthly things should come to be unable to give a rational opinion upon the affairs of the day? Impossible, say you. How godlike in reason! How all but infinite in faculty! He will be to the last bright as a star. What if he stumble at noonday? what if he forget his own name? What if he cannot tell where his own house is? and what if they who trusted him aforetime so implicitly should say, Poor soul! he is gone; it is no use looking in that quarter for wisdom or direction; his genius is dead; alas! but so it is? It that be so, why should we not learn from that fact, and work while it is called day, for the night cometh wherein no man can work? Redeem the time, buy up the opportunity, knowing that our brightest genius shall be eclipsed, our strongest sagacity shall lose its penetration, and our judgment shall halt for the judgment of others.
4. Who of us cannot name men who, if they were to fail in moral completeness, in probity, in honour, in truthfulness, would shake Society to its base? What! every word a hollow word, every action a selfish calculation, every attitude part of a fraud and conspiracy, every generous deed a new bid for self-promotion, — signatures forsworn, bends broken, by such men? Never! It is impossible, incredible; the suggestion is born of the pit. We are right in so saying. Have no faith in men who cannot he fired into godly anger when they hear great reputations assailed and when they see great characters slurred and defamed. At the same time let us learn from history. Great men have fallen from high moral excellence. He — the unnamed — "the starry leader of the seven" — fell from heaven. Some angels "kept not their first estate." With these wrecks before us, what is our course of wisdom? Lot us trust under the wings of the Almighty, let us live within the shadow of His presence, let us be hidden in His pavilion; then, come weal, come woe, our end will be heaven: — say ye to the righteous, It shall be well with him, however black the immediate cloud, however storm-laden the immediate outlook.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
For the sins of her prophets.
1. When the teachers of the people are wicked, it is a sign that the general number of the whole people is grown far from the right way.(1) Very shame keepeth teachers from many sins, until they be grown into custom among the people.(2) Such teachers are usually sent of God among a people, as a special punishment for their grievous sins against the Lord.
2. The promise of God's presence was never tied to any Church or order of ministry, further than as they walked in His obedience.
3. Foul spots and gross sins may be in the face and principal members of a true visible Church.
4. When the corruptions of a Church do grow so far that the maintainers thereof proceed to shed the blood of them that withstand the same, there can nothing be looked for but desolation and ruin.
They have wandered as blind men in the streets
1. Those that are not rightly instructed in the true knowledge of God, are as blind in matters of religion as the blind man in seeing what is before him in the way (1 Corinthians 2:14; Matthew 24:29).
2. An unconscionable ministry begetteth ignorance and all ungodliness in the people.(1) Such are usually sent in God's judgment to lead them to believe lies (2 Thessalonians 2:10).(2) The people are naturally inclined easily to follow that teacher who leads unto evil.
3. The ignorance of the true knowledge of God is the ready way to all iniquity.(1) We cannot know what is sin but by the knowledge of the law of God (Romans 7:7).(2) Where there is no knowledge, there is no consciousness of sin.
4. They that are ignorant of God's Word, and live among an ungodly people, cannot but be defiled with their sins.
Depart ye; it is unclean.
1. The professors of the truth, when God giveth them over unto themselves, become so odiously sinful, that their enemies shall cry out at them for it.(1) They have no power to restrain from evil, but only from the Lord.(2) God giveth the wicked to see and exclaim against the sins of professors, though they be blind in their own.
2. When we regard not to walk in the truth, God will give us over to do we know not what, and wander we cannot tell whither.(1) It is a branch of His judgment threatened (Romans 1:28).(2) He will let men see in their own experience, what a miserable way they walk in that have not Him for their guide.
3. We are easily brought to flatter ourselves, and to promise ourselves much felicity.(1) We do not rightly weigh the weight of God's anger, and the desert of our sins.(2) Our affections labour to be persuaded of that they desire to enjoy.
4. It is a great fault for him that professeth to make conscience of his word, to report that which he hath no ground for.(1) It is a mark of a busybody to employ himself where there is no need.(2) It argueth the heart to be most light and vain that setteth the tongue on work with such uncertain things.(3) It is the cause that many untruths be reported, and consequently of many sins.
We do not know whether the poet is here describing actual events, or whether this is an imaginary picture designed to express his own feelings with regard to the persons concerned. The situation is perfectly natural, and what is narrated may very well have happened just as it is described. But if it is not history it is still a revelation of character, a representation of what the writer knows to be the conduct of the moral lepers, and their deserts; and as such it is most suggestive. In the first place there is much significance in the fact that the overthrow of Jerusalem is unhesitatingly charged to the account of the sins of her prophets and priests. The accusation is of the very gravest character. These religious leaders are charged with murder. The crimes were aggravated by the fact that the victims selected were the "righteous," perhaps men of the Jeremiah party, who had been persecuted by the officials of the State religion. The sin of these religious leaders of Israel consists essentially in betraying a sacred trust. The priest is in charge of the Torah — traditional or written; he must have been unfaithful to his law or he could not have led his people astray. If a man who has been set in a place of trust prostitutes his privileges simply to win admiration for his oratory, or at most in order to avoid the discomfort of unpopularity or the disappointment of neglect, his sin is unpardonable. The one form of unfaithfulness on the part of these religious leaders of Israel of which we are specially informed is their refusal to warn their reckless fellow citizens of the approach of danger, or to bring home to their hearers' consciences the guilt of the sin for which the impending doom was the just punishment. Our age is far from being optimistic; and yet the same temptation threatens to smother religion today. In an aristocratic age the sycophant flatters the great; in a democratic age he flatters the people — who are then in fact the great. The peculiar danger of our own day is that the preacher should simply echo popular cries, and voice the demands of the majority irrespective of the question of their justice. In the hour of their exposure these wretched prophets and priests lose all sense of dignity, even lose their self-possession, and stumble about like blind men, helpless and bewildered. The discovery of the true character of these men was the signal for a yell of execration on the part of the people by flattering whom they had obtained their livelihood, or at least all that they most valued in life. This, too, must have been another shock of surprise to them. Had they believed in the essential fickleness of popular favour, they would never have built their hopes upon so precarious a foundation, for they might as well have set up their dwelling on the strand that would be flooded at the next turn of the tide. The Jews show their disgust and horror for their former leaders by pelting them with the leper call. According to the law the leper must go with rent clothes and flowing hair, and his face partly covered, crying, "Unclean, unclean." It is evident that the poet has this familiar mournful cry in his mind when he describes the treatment of the prophets and priests. But if the religious leader is slow to confess or even perceive his guilt, the world is keen to detect it and swift to cast it in his teeth. There is nothing that excites so much loathing; and justly so, for there is nothing that does so much harm. Such conduct is the chief provocative of practical scepticism. Religion suffers more from the hypocrisy of some of her avowed champions than from the attacks of all the hosts of her pronounced foes. Accordingly a righteous indignation assails those who work such deadly mischief. Their action appears to show that they had some idea that even at the eleventh hour the city might be spared if it were rid of this plague of the blood-stained prophets and priests. And yet however various and questionable the motives of the assailants may have been, there is no escape from the conclusion that the wickedness they denounced so eagerly richly deserved the most severe condemnation. Wherever we meet with it, this is the leprosy of society. Disguised for a time, a secret canker in the breast of unsuspected men, it is certain to break out at length; and when it is discovered it merits a measure of indignation proportionate to the previous deception.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
The breath of our nostril, the anointed of the Lord, was taken in their pits.
I. THE NATION'S RELATIONS WITH THEIR KING. They trusted their fate, their safety, their hopes,, into the hands of their king.
1. Observe how they regarded him. They called him "The breath of their nostrils" — that is, they considered him as dear and as necessary as the air they breathed. We are prone to make too much of human agents and earthly creatures, especially of the rich, noble, and great.
2. Observe how he disappointed them. They gave him honour, trust. They expected security and happiness. But when the city was besieged, he and all the men of war escaped through the king's garden. His cowardice, however, availed him nothing, for the Chaldeans overtook him and carried him to Babylon. Thus were the people's hopes and expectations painfully deceived, and the popular idol, instead of defending them, proved a cowardly and a miserable traitor, who suffered for his wretched conduct by being blinded, bound in chains, and kept in prison till the day of his death.
II. THE IMPORTANT INSTRUCTION DERIVED.
1. The folly of making popular idols. Whether regally, politically, or socially, they only bring disappointment, and for their own purposes will deceive and betray those who have reposed their trust in them.
2. The folly of seeking human help. God will take away or destroy that which He sees is likely to take our thoughts away from Him. Whatever we make the means of our forsaking or forgetting Him, He will make the instrument of chastising us.
1. The office of the king, and so of every magistrate, is to protect and preserve the people in safety and peace, even as the breath that we draw in at our nostrils giveth life and health unto the body.(1) God hath given them power for the good, and not the harm, of the subjects.(2) They are God's lieutenants, who is the preservation and safety of all His creatures.(3) Else are the people subject to fall into all evils (Judges 17:6; Proverbs 19:12).
2. Kings and princes, when they sin against the Lord, axe subject to His punishing hand as well as meaner people.(1) God is no accepter of persons.(2) They have no more privilege promised them than others (1 Samuel 12:25).
3. It is the nature of man to promise himself all assurance, when the outward means seem strong for him.(1) Carnal reason doth regard nothing but the outward means.(2) Satan laboureth to make us secure thereupon, and not to look any further.
4. When God's people set their hearts too much on outward things He useth utterly to take them away from them.(1) Else they will forget to rely upon Him as they should.(2) He loveth them, and will force them from all affiance except Himself.
The people tell the sad tale of the pursuit of their foes. Swifter than the eagles, they chased them on the mountains, and laid wait for them in the wilderness. Then they narrate how their king fell into the hands of them who sought his life. He was dear to them as the breath of their nostrils; his person was sacred as the anointed of the Lord; they had thought that even though they were carried into captivity they would find some alleviation to their hardships in dwelling under his protection; they said, "Under his shadow we shall live among the nations." But even he was taken in their pits. What a likeness and a contrast to our blessed Lord!
I. There is LIKENESS. He is as the breath of our life. As we inhale the air around us, so we expand our souls to drink in of His most blessed nature. We open our mouths, and inhale Him as our vital element; His Spirit for our spirit; His blood for our souls; His resurrection strength for our bodies. He is the anointed of the Father, who anoints us. Because He is the Christ (anointed), we are Christians (anointed ones). His shadow is a most grateful and wide spreading one, beneath which we may dwell in safety.
II. But how great the CONTRAST! Though He was once taken in the pit of Satanic malice and the shadow of death, yet now He liveth to be the shield and protector of His people wherever they are scattered among the nations. He that sitteth on the throne shall spread His tabernacle over them. They shall hunger and thirst no more, neither shall the sun strike them. However far our bodies are from one another, we all dwell beneath the shadow of the Lord, which is as a great rock in a weary land.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom.
1. The godly must take it patiently that the wicked do triumph and rejoice over them, when God doth humble them by afflictions.(1) Because they know it to be the Lord's doing.(2) They know that the wicked do but according to their nature.(3) They are assured that God will look upon it in its due time, to deliver them, and punish their enemies.
2. Of all the adversaries that God's people have, those are the cruelest that in outward respects are the nearest to them.(1) Because they know best their corruptions for which they are afflicted, and the ways to do them most harm.(2) That God may make the rod the heavier, to make them the more earnestly seek unto Him.
3. Whatsoever afflictions the Lord layeth on His people in this life, the wicked shall be punished therewith in their time.(1) God's justice cannot let them escape unpunished.(2) Judgment doth begin at the house of God.
4. Though the Lord spare His enemies, till He hath corrected His servants, yet will He overthrow them with a large measure of His judgments in His due time.
5. The wicked, when God layeth His punishing hand upon them, do most notoriously manifest the heinousness of their sins.(1) They have no grace to take it patiently, but do rage at it.(2) God's hand is never upon them for their comfort, but to crush and confound them.
The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion
I. OUR FIRST MESSAGE IS ONE OF COMFORT. "The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; He will no more carry thee away into captivity."
1. A joyous fact. Sin deserved God's wrath; that wrath has spent itself on Christ. O daughter of Zion, let thy conscience be at rest. Justice is satisfied; the law is not despised: it is honoured; it is established. Thou art accepted in the Beloved; thy guilt was laid on Him of old, and thou art now safe. Come thou boldly unto God, and rejoice thou in Him. Lest, however, while God is reconciled and conscience is quieted, our fears should even for an instant arise, let us repair to Gethsemane and Calvary, and see there this great sight, how the punishment of our iniquity is accomplished.
2. See to whom this message is sent.(1) In the first chapter and at the sixth verse you find it said, "From the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed." We should have thought that Christ would have died for those who had some form and comeliness, but no. "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, in due time Christ died for the ungodly."(2) Wonder of wonders! the eighth and ninth verses tell us "Jerusalem hath grievously sinned," and the ninth verse tells us yet more, that "her filthiness is in her skirts." Thus those for whom Christ died are made to feel their sin.(3) Look on, again, to the seventeenth verse, and there you find that this filthiness has brought her into utter distress — "Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her." So those to whom this message is sent are brought, through a sense of sin, into a comfortless state.(4) To make the case worse, this poor daughter of Zion is obliged to confess that she deserved all her sufferings. In the eighteenth verse she says, "The Lord is righteous: for I have rebelled against His commandments." The soul feels now that God is just. Come with the ropes about our necks, ready for execution, and you will find a God ready to forgive.(5) Further still: her prayer was not yet heard (Lamentations 2:1). If thou hast been for months, ay, even for years, crying for mercy, and still hast not found it, let not this cast thee down, for to thee is this message sent this morning.(6) Further: every place of refuge was broken down (Lamentations 2:8). Our Lord, who is determined to bring us to the obedience of faith, continually beats down the sinner's confidences, till at last there is not one stone left upon another that is not thrown down; then the sinner yields himself a captive, and free grace leads him in triumph to the Cross.(7) Further still: this daughter of Jerusalem was now brought into a state of deep humiliation (Lamentations 2:10).(8) Furthermore: it seems from the thirteenth verse that all her foes were let loose against her, and her grief exceeded all bounds and prevented all comparison.(9) In the eighteenth and nineteenth verses of the same chapter you will see that at last this afflicted daughter of Zion was brought to constant prayer.
3. A precious promise. "I will no more carry thee away into captivity." Thou art in captivity now, but it is the last thou shalt ever have. Thou art sorrowing on account of sin, and troubled even to despair; but thou art now forgiven — not thou shalt be, but thou art; all the wrath was laid on Christ; there is none remaining upon thee; thou art forgiven, and thy captivity is turned as the streams in the south. Let thy mouth be filed with laughter, and thy tongue with singing, for the Lord hath done great things for thee.
II. A BURDEN OF WOE. Daughter of Edom! Thus saith the Lord unto thee, "I will visit thine iniquity." Unbeliever, thou who hast never felt thy need of Christ, and never fled to Him, to thee He says, "I will visit thine iniquity." His justice tarries, but it is sure; His axe seems rusty, but it is sharp. The sins of the past are not buried; or if they be, they shay have a resurrection. But who is this daughter of Edom?
1. It seems, according to the twenty-first verse, that the daughter of Edom was a mirthful one. Weep, all ye that make mirth in the presence of the avenging Judge, for the day cometh when He shall turn your laughter into mourning, and all your joys shay be ended!
2. Edom, moreover, dwelt very carelessly, she dwelt in the land of Uz, far from danger. Her dwelling was among the rocks. Petra, the stony city, was cut out of the live rock. The daughter of Edom said in her heart, "Who shall come hither to disturb the eagle's nest?" Thus saith the Lord, "O daughter of Edom, I will visit thine iniquity."
3. It appears that this daughter of Edom rejoiced because of the sorrow of Zion, and made mirth and merriment over the sorrows of others. Do you not hear even the wise men say, "Ah! These drivelling hypocrites, whining about sin! Why, it is only a peccadillo, a mere trifle!"
4. It seems, too, from Malachi 1:4, that Edom always retained a hope, a vain, a self-sufficient confidence.
5. Besides, it seems that this daughter of Edom was very proud (Jeremiah 49:16). But this tremendous pride was brought low at the last; and so also all those who think themselves righteous shall find themselves foul at last. They rest and trust in the rotten and broken reed of their own doings, and woe shall be unto them, for God will visit them for their sins.
III. WHAT IS THE REASON WHY THERE ARE THESE DIFFERENT MESSAGES?
1. The reason why I had to publish a message of mercy to the daughter of Zion just now was sovereign grace. Everlasting love preserved deliverance for the beloved city. Our God had kindled in her heart thoughts of repentance, and in His sovereignty, because He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, He sent her the gracious message of full remission by an accomplished punishment.
2. But why was the second message sent to the daughter of Edom? Here it is not the line of sovereignty, but the line of justice; He sent it because the daughter of Edom deserved it.
IV. WHAT CLAIMS HAVE THESE MESSAGES TO OUR FAITH? We believe this Bible to be the Word of God.
1. Well, then, you to whom the first message is sent, believe it. You said, as I read the description just now, "That is my case." Very well then, the punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished. Do not say, "I will try and believe it," but believe it.
2. As for the second message, again I say this Book is God's Word, and it is true. Believe it. "Oh," says one, "but if I believed it, I should be full of awful anguish." Would to God you were; for do you not see that then you would come under the description of the daughter of Zion, and then the promise would be yours, for what is the law sent for? To flog men to hell? No, but to be our pedagogue to bring us to Christ.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
O daughter of Edom; He will discover thy sins.
I. It is a VAST discovery.
1. The significance of each separate sin; each one implies the thought, the wish, the volition of an immortal soul standing up in hostility to its Maker. Each is a seed of poison capable of indefinite multiplication; every act of a moral agent, whether good or bad,, has a germinating and multiplying principle in it.
2. The number of each man's sins. Count the sins of one day, and multiply them by all the days of his life, and he will feel they are as numberless as the stars of heaven. God discovers the whole; He discovers their origin, relations, bearings, issues.
II. It is a TERRIBLE discovery. God has so constituted our moral nature that nothing is so hideous and revolting to the eye of conscience as sin. When even one sin starts up in all its enormity to the eyes of conscience, how horror-striking is the vision. But for all the sins to start up in the sunlight of eternal justice, how overwhelming the terror.
III. It is an INEVITABLE discovery.
1. The discovery is sometimes made here. Cain, Belteshazzar, Judas, Felix. When made here a blessed relief may be obtained by faith in the mediation of Christ. It was so with Peter, with the Philippian jailor.
2. The discovery is certain to he made hereafter.
──《The Biblical Illustrator》