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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 48". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ ezekiel-48.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Ezekiel 48". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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The Lord is there.
Ezekiel’s last vision
The following are some of the principal heads of prophetic instruction intended by the vision.
1. That there was to be an entire new state of things in the Church. This is intimated by the new order in the arrangement of the tribes, which is not according to the birth of the patriarchs, nor the blessing of Jacob, nor the allotments they received in the ancient division of the land by Joshua. It is farther intimated by the grant of a distinct portion to the Levites, who had formerly no inheritance among their brethren; and by the distance between the temple and the city--the former, which was anciently within the walls of the latter, being here separated from it by the intervening portion of Levi. There is also in this vision a portion on each side of the temple, the Levites, and the city, assigned to the prince. A new order of things was established by Christ and His apostles, an order very different from that which formerly existed; and by this the vision was in so far fulfilled, though there be nothing in the present state of the Church to literally conform to the subordinate parts. Nor is anything of the kind to be expected, since the New Testament constitution neither admits of a temple, Levites, or sacred metropolis, nor will ever be altered to the end of time. We may only remark, that by the double portion of the prince, our thoughts are led to Him who is the First-born among many brethren, and who is now gloriously manifested to be so in His exalted state. The figure, too, of his portion stretching on each side of the temple, the Levites, and the city, seems to coincide in meaning with those Scriptures which represent Him as in His royal character, the Lord of all sacred institutions, and the guardian of those ordinances by which the work of His priesthood is exhibited, and all its benefits realised by the children of men (Zechariah 6:13; Revelation 1:13; Revelation 1:16; Ephesians 1:21-22; Ephesians 2:20-21).
2. That the new constitution was to be as truly Divine in its origin, and as minute and exact in its authoritative appointments, as the ancient. This is suggested by the idea of a pattern shown to Ezekiel, as was of old done to Moses. And although this was not, as in the case of the carnal ordinances, a real plan to be strictly followed, but only a visionary and symbolical exhibition, yet on this very ground it must be doctrinally instructive, the minute detail of the several parts denoting that everything pertaining to the New Testament state, its laws, ordinances, and forms, should be as exactly appointed, and as authoritatively enjoined, as any thing in the dispensation by Moses.
3. That the new constitution would far excel the former in symmetry and beauty. This is suggested by the regularity which pervades this visionary distribution of things, and which far surpasses anything in the ancient allotments of the tribes, or the structure of their city and temple. The symmetry and beauty, symbolically expressed, must of course be spiritual, but not the less visible and pleasing will it be to the eye of the Christian.
4. That the new constitution was to be far more extensive in its range than the ancient. This is intimated by the greater magnitude of the city and temple. All the twelve tribes, too, have a portion assigned them, no doubt with a reference to the future conversion of all Israel, a much grander event than the restoration of the two tribes from Babylon. But as the twelve tribes in Revelation 7:1-17; Revelation 21:1-27 stand for the spiritual Israel or Church of God, the vision sets before us the provision made by the new constitution for the ingathering of the Jews with the fulness of the Gentiles. The gates of the city accordingly stand open in every direction.
5. That in the new constitution the Church would clearly exhibit her several aspects. Of old she was a great military body, an ecclesiastical nation, whose laws and constitution, though sacred, had necessarily a respect to what form the civil rights and privileges of man in other nations, and whose sacred censures partook in certain cases of the nature of civil punishment. Now, however, she was to be contemplated
(1) As a chosen society, a peculiar people, inheriting the earth, and solacing themselves in all that abundance of spiritual privilege which was anciently prefigured by the land of promise. “They shall rejoice in their portion.”
(2) As a scene of worship, distinctly marked out in this light by the temple, which stands apart, and hath in its vicinity the portion of the Levites. The latter are thus represented as more fitly accommodated for their sacred service than of old, and as no longer labouring under the disadvantage of the curse on literal Levi, “I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel.” This curse had no original connection with sacred office; it was restricted to the posterity of Levi, and ceases to display itself in the new constitution. Though ministers of the Gospel be scattered over the Church, we are taught to regard them as blessed with their portion, a body for whom provision should be made without subjecting them to any disadvantage, and as all, wherever they are, connected with the temple or system of ordinances, residing spiritually as one body in its vicinity.
(3) As the seat of government--of a sacred government, such as that for which God established the thrones of judgment in Jerusalem of old--denoted by the city. Thus completed in all her form, Christ ruleth in her to the ends of the earth; and her name shall be seen and acknowledged to be Jehovah-shammah, “The Lord is there.” (The Christian Magazine.)
God’s presence the Jew’s heaven
As yet the Israelite had no conception of a transcendent sphere of existence for men in the fellowship of God, such as we name heaven. Man’s final abode even in his perfect state, was considered to be still on the earth. God came down and dwelt with men; men were not translated to abide with God. But God’s presence with men on earth gave to earth the attributes of heaven. Yet man’s needs remained and God’s presence was the source of all things necessary to supply them. (A. B. Davidson, D. D.)
Honoured according to faithfulness
It is to be noticed that the places of more or less honour assigned to each tribe are regulated by the degrees of faithfulness to the Lord and His ordinances by which the tribes severally were characterised. Thus Judah and Benjamin, the tribes which adhered longest to the ordinances of the temple, and to the house of David, when the rest apostatised, shall hold the most honourable positions--Judah the place next the centre on the north; Benjamin the corresponding place of honour next the centre on the south. Dan, on the contrary, is to have the least honourable place, at the extreme north, as having been so early as the time of the judges in a great degree demoralised and heathenised. So in respect to the degrees of glory which await all the saints in the coming kingdom of God, the measure of honour will be regulated by the measure of faithfulness. He who lays out his one pound now so as to gain ten pounds for the Master’s glory, shall then receive the government of ten cities; he who with his one pound gains five pounds shall have rule over five cities (Luke 19:15-19). (A. R. Fausset, M. A.)
Those that live in the city are said to serve the city, for wherever we are, we must study to be serviceable to the place some way or other, according as our capacity is. They must not come out of the tribes of Israel to the city to take their ease, and enjoy their pleasures, but to serve the city, to do all the good they can there, and in so doing they would have a good influence upon the country too. (M. Henry.)
The central position of the sanctuary
The sanctuary was in the midst of them. There were seven tribes to the north of it, and the Levite’s, and the prince’s, and the city’s portion, with that of five tribes more to the south of it; so that it was, as it ought to be, in the heart of the kingdom, that it might diffuse its benign influences to the whole, and might be the centre of their unity. The tribes that lay most remote from each other would meet there in a mutual acquaintance and fellowship. Those of the same parish or congregation, though dispersed and having no occasion otherwise to know each other, yet by meeting statedly to worship God together, should have their hearts knit to each other in holy love. (M. Henry.)
The name of the city; God’s presence the full blessedness of His people
In the allotment of the land to the tribes, and the construction and naming of the city with which this closing vision is taken up, there may be several local and temporary significations. It may be that, as in some other of the visions, there is first of all reference to the rapidly-nearing national and religious restoration of the Jews under the leadership of Zerubbabel, and Ezra, and Nehemiah. But the spirit-stirring events that are associated with the names of these patient heroes, while they fulfil very much that Ezekiel foresaw, could not have exhausted the meaning of these predictions. For such a city was never built, the blessedness here described was never perfectly enjoyed by the Jews at any time after their captivity. There may be a further literal fulfilment of the prophecy in the connection of the incarnate Christ with Jerusalem. When Simeon took the infant Jesus in his arms in the temple, when the sacred Boy of twelve inquired in that temple,--indeed, in every incident of His life and death connected with Jerusalem,--we have a revelation of what is meant by “Jehovah-shammah.” But that was not perpetual. That city knew not the day of its visitation, and Jehovah Himself was as a wayfaring man and stranger to it. Others find further fulfilment of the prophecy in some future restoration of Israel. Without again noting the difficulties that seem to stand in the way of the literal interpretation of this, as of the earlier visions, we simply and gladly insist that, if there be such national restoration, the glory and blessedness of the people of its city will be in a special manifestation and abiding consciousness of the presence of God.
I. Christly men have this experience in the Church. Any Church that may not truly be called by that name, “Jehovah-shammah,” that has not in its worship, and its activities, its social fellowships and philanthropic labours, God’s manifested presence, is no Church at all. An ecclesiastical society, it may be, a kindly club, a political institution; but a Church it is not. To the Church belongs by special, inalienable right, this name, “Jehovah-shammah,” for the Saviour has promised, “Lo, I am with you all days, even unto the end of the world.”
II. Christly men have this experience in the age. They see this name inscribed
1. On human affairs generally. In all the movements of the time towards liberty and light, in all that tends to lessen human woe and to increase human joy; in a word, in all that is true in art, science, exploration, civilisation, as well as in what is termed religion, God is felt to be moving. There is to the Christly man a keen interest and deep sacredness, for “the Lord is there.”
2. In all that concerns individual life. “All things work together for good.”
III. Christly men have this experience in nature. Every reader of the Prophets and of the Psalms has often felt that to the ear of Hebrew piety, nature was eloquent with the voice of God. Even Greek thought, as it peopled the groves and streams and mountains with divinities, was evidently groping after “the unknown God,” whose power upholds all, whose character is revealed in all, whose presence fills all, for “in Him we live and move and have our being.” To the Christly man who dwells much and earnestly on Christ’s teaching, who inbreathes Christ’s spirit, who imitates, however humbly, Christ’s life, the world, not only in its stars, in the skies that span it, or in its seas that roll around it, but in its sparrows and its lilies and its common grass, tells of God. To such a man “every common bush is on fire with God.”
IV. Christly men will have this experience perfectly in heaven. In heaven, consciousness of the devil will be known no more; the consciousness of others, that through their sin and sorrow and our weakness is often overpoweringly oppressive, will have given way to a happy and strong brotherhood; and consciousness of self, which is born of sin, and is the darkest and most inseparable shadow of Our selfishness, will be known no more. God dwells there in an effulgence of love from which none shrink. Christ is the centre of the city, and is so seen that in seeing Him all become like Him. (U. R. Thomas.)
The ideal city and its name
The prophecy of Ezekiel begins with the vision of a city. The temple in Jerusalem is destroyed, and the city laid in ruins, the land desolate, the princes dethroned, the people exiled. His prophecy closes with another vision, the reverse of this--it is a vision of the restoration of the temple, the return of Jehovah, the renewal of worship, the reestablishment of royalty, the reapportionment of the land, and the resettlement of the people. Now, this latter vision is contained in chaps, 40-48, and it is generally interpreted as a symbolical representation of the blessings and privileges of the Gospel dispensation. It cannot be taken literally. The dimension of the temple and of the city are too large for the land. The river is evidently ideal, and the equal partition of the country among the tribes impossible. We are, therefore, compelled to look upon this as symbolical. Moreover, there are certain very significant omissions. No day of atonement is known, and there is no high priest--evidently because, the great atonement of Christ having been offered, there is no need for any further sacrifice. Again, Christ is set forth not so much in His character as Priest, as in that of Prince. All these facts point to the truth that this vision represents the close of the Gospel dispensation. The state of things appears to be intermediate between the Jewish economy and the glories of the heavenly city. The temple and the city here delineated are larger than the temple and city of Jerusalem. The city is more like that which is described in the Book of Revelation, than like the ancient Jerusalem. The large space appropriated for sacred things indicates that the conditions here represented approach more nearly to the ceaseless and universal worship of the heavenly world. The glory of the city is that the Lord is there. He is enthroned and supreme. His law is obeyed. His worship is observed. His blessing is vouchsafed to His people. This is the crowning idea both of the vision and the prophecy as a whole. And it is this that is the glory of the dispensation conceived of as a city. May we not, then, infer that every city reaches its ideal, and becomes worthy to be a place of health and happiness in proportion as it answers to the description, “The Lord is there”?
I. Now observe, in the first place, that this is an age of great cities. The growth of the city in population and in wealth is far out of proportion with the country at large; and in many places, while the country is going down, the city is rising by leaps and bounds. London is probably two thousand years old, and yet four-fifths of its growth has been added during the century just closed. And from the centre of every city there is a large and ever-increasing circumference of population stretching out wider and wider, further and further, into the country. And there are three causes for this. The application of machinery to agriculture, lessening the number of hands required for farm purposes, the substitution of machinery for muscular power, and its application to manufacture. The world’s work was formerly done by muscle, and the word manufacture was applied to making by the hand; but now the word has come to be applied almost exclusively to work done by machinery. And since the machinery is in the cities it attracts the hands released from the farm. There is also the modern railway, making it easy to approach the city and supply it with food. Drummond has said that he who makes the city makes the world, and the problem of our great cities is the problem of our modern civilisation. Observe then, that there is a danger that materialism should capture the city. The great multitudes in the city seem to lower the sense of responsibility in the individual. Moral failure is not marked and reprobated as in the country home; vice is so common that it becomes less shocking, and its allurements are multiplied. The contagion of low ideas often proves deadening to the better nature. The sentiments of one person openly vicious have been enough to make for the decay of the street into the slum. Moreover, there is the increasing habit of people crowding together in such a way as to make even the decencies--to say nothing of the common comforts--of life to disappear. And this is one of the most formidable and increasing evils of the time. And it is a prolific parent of many other evils, driving men and women to the drink shops, impelling them to seek deliverance from the monotonous round of life by degrading recreations, until worldliness becomes the rule of their life. And the conditions of life are so severe, the competition so keen, the struggle so desperate, the continual tendencies among the people so unrelieved to drag them down, that multitudes are being driven down to the dregs of society. Now, unless such movements and tendencies can be checked and counteracted by moral sentiments and religious life, they will constitute a danger of appalling magnitude in many parts of the land. Saltpetre, sulphur, and some other ingredients that go to make gunpowder, are of themselves quite simple and harmless--they are non-explosive; but brought together they make gunpowder, and it has been well pointed out that neither ignorance nor vice is revolutionary, nor is ignorance when controlled by righteousness and conscience; but ignorance, vice, and wretchedness constitute social dynamite, of which the city slum is the magazine awaiting only the casual spark to make it burst into terrible destruction. What, then, is the remedy? Will repressive measures suffice? Men turn naturally enough to law and its administration. They would curb the drinking habits and gambling craze, and settle the housing problem by legislation. Far be it from me to utter one single word against law and its administration. I hold, indeed, that by wisely-conceived and well-applied law much maybe done for the benefit of the people, and my conviction is that we have not yet exhausted its possibilities. But for such evils as those of which I have been speaking law is no remedy. Indeed, the causes of these evils lie beyond the reach of civil government and its scope. They can reach to the actions of men, but not, to the inward principles from which they flow. They may check, but they cannot eradicate, the moral evil. Will social nostrums prevail? Equalise labour, and make all resources common; mete out from the general stock an adequate supply to each individual--and you will establish contentment and happiness. Will you? But what of the selfishness which demands this all-things-common policy? It is really a selfishness as portentous and mischievous as that of the most unprincipled employer who exploits the working classes. What is the real desire of those who put this policy forward, but that they may escape the penalty of their own indulgence? Will education and refinement be effective? We are counselled to increase and improve education, to open museums and picture galleries, to establish settlements and found libraries, and who but must say “All hail!” to such proposals? What are they but honest attempts on the part of those who enjoy the advantages of education, the opportunities of station and fortune, to share those advantages, as far as they can, with those less fortunate than themselves? Their aim is to elevate men’s minds and to strengthen the deep foundations of moral character by love of justice and truth and mercy, and their tendency must be, I think, to increase the desire for elevating enjoyments, and correspondingly to make disgusting the low and degrading pleasures that embrute men. They will have their influence, we cannot doubt; they are the offspring of charity; they are Christian principles attempted to be applied for the benefit of society; their tendency must be, to a certain extent, to check the advance of vice. But when these things are proposed as remedies for moral evil, then we feel that they are inadequate. You may have the highest knowledge and the most exalted refinement in connection with the lowest and most degrading vices. Vice is no monopoly of the poor and toiling classes. It has appeared among the privileged, and among those in elevated stations, in forms almost more shocking than among the common people. Not here can we find the relief we want. What remains then? That the city be pure and prosperous, and delivered from the evils which threaten its happiness and prosperity, it must answer the description, “The Lord is there.” Religion must have free course, must be permitted to work out its transforming and purifying effects. Christian principles must be applied to social problems as well as to personal character and life. Nor is the reason of this difficult to understand. It is the degradation of the heart that produces viciousness of life, and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ enters the heart and changes and purifies it, and thus commands and sanctifies the life. All the repressive and educating and refining agencies may leave the moral inclinations untouched, though they work in the same direction as the religion of Jesus Christ. But it is the grace of Christ which changes the devices of the mind and the desires of the heart, and turns the affections and inclinations from evil to good thoughts, and upward tendencies and desires. The religion of the Saviour, therefore, is just that which we need in order to bring about the changes for which the world--this part of the world--is waiting at the present time. It was the mighty, regenerating influences of this Holy Gospel which converted the old Roman Empire into a new world. It was this, after the failure of many other agencies, which changed the England of the eighteenth century, which was marked by almost unexampled irreligion, and made it to be in the main, a Sabbath-keeping and God-fearing nation. The most neutral historians confess with admiration the great moral reformation which followed the evangelical revival. The rough toilers in the coal pits of the North were melted to tears of penitence as they listened to the Gospel from the lips of Wesley; and the Cornish miners, warned by his faithful words, gave themselves to God at their work, hearing above them the sobbing of the sea. The sweater, the exploiter of labour, and the grinder of the poor, will speedily disappear, and with him all the sullenness and discontent of the toiling masses. No more will there be hatred of masters, restrictions of output, scamped work. There will be mutual trust and mutual confidence; selfishness and greed will gradually disappear before self-respect and self-restraint; and the higher and nobler element of self-sacrifice. A sweetness will breathe through the speech and” life of the people, that shall tell of heaven; and men will be brought almost instinctively to say, “The name of the city is, The Lord is there.” Now, these things being so, what are the suggestions for our practical guidance? Surely it becomes us to bring our own spirit into harmony with the great realities of religion, that we ourselves may be the converted and sanctified children of God, that from us there may go out on every hand an influence that shall be a blessing to the community. And does it not follow that, this being realised, we must take the Gospel of salvation to the people? In addition to this, we may learn that Christian men should not shrink from public duties. There has, perhaps, been a tendency too marked for educated and refined and Christian men to shrink from taking their part in the life of the city; they shrink from the rude heckling of the election, or the rude encounter of the council chamber. The consequence is that men selfish and ignorant are apt to push into offices that men better qualified to occupy these positions ought to have. The danger is that there may come the rule of the worst for the worst. If our city councils, for instance, are not pure; if they abet and do not abate the evils and dangers of our people; if their influence is used to sustain those institutions that enrich the few for the permanent degradation of the many, then our cities may become cesspools of evil. Can we make our city pure? is the question every man should put to himself. With this object the mind must think, the hand must work, the purse must pay. We need also Christian altruism among our leading public men. In our age it is coming to be felt more and more that the hero is the man that stands forth armed not with sword and spear, but with love and kindness, and sympathy and generosity. In our age we are coming better to understand the principles of our holy religion, and to apply them. Let us see to it that our sympathy and generosity is of this Christlike and self-denying type, and we shall do something to hasten the period when the words of this ancient prophecy shall be brought to fulfilment, and “the name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there.” The Lord is there! Then righteousness shall be there, and justice, and peace! And if the Lord be there, and His law be obeyed by the people, and they all come under the influence of His character and Spirit’s power, then will men be gracious to each other, kindness and goodwill will everywhere present themselves. The Lord is there! Heavenly dispositions will then be there, kindness of heart, nobility of life; and men will realise more and more that it is a blessed thing to know and reverence, and love and serve Him. Let us realise the great truth that God in our day is bringing to pass the fulfilment of this prophecy in this city. May we not say, “The Lord is there”? He is commanding the minds and touching the hearts of multitudes within the bounds of this city today. Let us not despair! There are terrible social evils and various other evils abroad, and sometimes men are downcast and heavy laden, and feel as though the Lord had forgotten. Never! Not for a moment! His purposes are marching towards their accomplishment all the time through all events. We are not under a government of blind chance. Let us never think that affairs have lost their connection with the government of God. (S. Whitehead.)
The ideal city
I. If God is there, there are some things that will be found along with Him.
1. Light. Men go to the sanctuary oppressed by the same questions as of old. Deep calleth unto deep from age to age. In God’s house should be the answers to the heart’s deepest needs.
2. Life. Where God comes, death is vanquished. Spiritual life is like physical, and a mystery, but it must be fed; and a table is spread in the house of God.
3. Liberty. In the city of God all are free. In His house men are manumitted. To set the captives free is the first aim of the Gospel.
II. But if God is there, there are some things that will not be there.
1. Divisions. Some Churches torn by factions. What is aimed at is not unity in the faith--that will never be gained--but unity in the spirit.
2. Defections. It is sad when men leave church, but sadder when they leave Christ. If God is there, life becomes richer, service fuller, and love true to death.
3. Defeat. Strong weapons are being used against it. Criticism, indifference, ridicule, are doing their best. But the cause must go on to victory, because “the Lord is there.” (J. Wallace.)
The Lord is there
Between the fruits of natural and of spiritual religion there will always be considerable apparent resemblance. The amiability and generosity of the natural man will not be distinguished by the superficial observer from the charity of the Christian; nor are we called upon to disparage that which is beautiful and excellent in natural morality. At the same time, while there may be much in the uurenewed heart that is lovely and attractive, we must not shut our eyes to its true state before God, or refuse to recognise the radical deficiency which runs through all systems of natural religion or morality. We may love, we may even admire, but if the heart be really unrenewed, we must own the melancholy fact--the Lord is not there. Again and again, throughout the Word of God, we have it directly asserted, or incidentally implied, that God dwells, by His Holy Spirit, in the hearts of true believers, and that He dwells in them to form within them the New Adam, to develop the nature and spirit of Christ. “Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost,” and “Christ is in us, except we be reprobate,” and the mystery of our calling is “Christ in us the hope of glory.” Do these words mean anything? Can they mean what their natural sense implies? or are they simply high-sounding flights of Eastern rhetoric? I must press on you the question, Can it be truly said of your heart, “The Lord is there”? Does your religion consist only of doctrines and observances, or has a new power entered your soul? and are you conscious of a reverent and sacred intimacy with your Divine Guest? What is religion without this? Take away my Lord, and earth becomes a dreary desert, time a cruel taskmaster, and eternity an abysmal gulf of horrible gloom. But, as it is true of every real Christian that the Lord is there, so it is the law of the life of the unrenewed that the Lord is not there. The man of the world awakes in the morning with no sense of the presence of his God: he may hurry through some form of devotion, but the Lord is not there. The world rushes in with all its thronging cares and busy excitements, and the battle of the day is fought, but the Lord is not there; and when he lays his head on his pillow at night, while he forms his schemes for the future, or congratulates himself on the past, it still remains true the Lord is not there. Years roll on, and the life without God draws towards its close; human nature loses its charms, the affections become paralysed, the genial enthusiasm of youth is a dream of the past, the barren routine of habit has fossilised all the higher faculties of the soul; but while the transient loveliness of humanity fades away, the sad truth still remains, “the Lord is not there.” When the last scene comes, there may be weeping friends around the bedside of the dying sinner, and some may speak oft the kindliness of his disposition, and some may tell how he ever did his duty to wife, and child, and friend; but the curtain falls upon the last scene in the sad drama of a wasted life, inscribed with the melancholy sentence, “The Lord is not there!” Follow his receding form, if your inward sight can penetrate so far into the dreary regions of eternal hopelessness, and as you gaze with horror into the blank solitude into which he plunges, can you not catch that distant cry, of agony which wanders like an everlasting echo through the deep night of hell, “The Lord is not here!” “The Lord is not here!” Gladly I turn to the other side of the picture. The prophet Ezekiel had been gazing at a wondrous revelation of future glory, and doubtless the mystic temple and city in every point of their elaborate details had been full of interest and instruction for his delighted soul; but as we raise the cornerstone only when the rest of the entire building is completed, so it was reserved for the last word of the Divine Interpreter to touch the deepest chord of joy within the prophet’s heart, and, as it were, to put the crown of glory upon the entire description in those marvellous words which I have read to you. We cannot doubt but that, in a further sense than we at present experience, those words will one day be fulfilled; at the same time, the blessed privileges to which we are heirs under this dispensation justify us in applying the description, and above all the crowning words, to the Christian Church. It, too, is a new Jerusalem that has come down to earth out of heaven, and its greatest glory is that “the Lord is there.” (W. H. M. H. Aitken, M. A.)
The presence of Christ as the chief glory of heaven
I. An unveiled presence. The imperfection of the medium through which we now receive our knowledge of Him, constitutes the veil between Him and ourselves. It is not any deficiency in the amount of the knowledge communicated; nor any want of clearness in the communication itself, which constitutes the veil spread out between God and ourselves. No: that veil is found in our weakness, and inability to take in the truth in reference to God and spiritual things. But when we reach that heavenly city, whose name will be “The Lord is there,” this difficulty will be removed. Then, instead of seeing “through a glass darkly, we shall see face to face.”
II. A transforming presence. We meet with illustrations of the power of assimilation or transformation, that are highly interesting, both in the animal kingdom and in the world of nature. The chameleon, the tree frog, and various insects among the animal tribes, occur to mind as examples. These assume the colour of the substances on which they feed, or by which they are surrounded. There is a principle of assimilation between themselves and the materials about them. But let us rise a step higher. From the animal kingdom, we look up to the world of nature Yonder is the sun. When he rises in the east, and pours his glorious beams over the clouds that are floating around the horizon, what a marvellous change is wrought upon them! A moment ago they were dark, and gloomy, and unattractive. But look at them now. They are tinted with purple, and scarlet, and gold. The sun is present with them, and what a wondrous power of transformation that presence is exerting! And if, in this lower world, we find processes like these going on, need we be surprised to find the same principle of assimilation at work, only developing results more glorious far, in the heavenly world? And this is just what we do find. For when the redeemed are introduced into that heavenly city, whose name is “The Lord is there,” “they shall be like Him, for they shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). The same truth is brought out more clearly and absolutely by St. Paul (2 Corinthians 3:18). And there are two things connected with this transformation which are marvellous to think of. One is the extent to which it will be carried. It will not be the peculiarity of a few of the redeemed, but the privilege of them all. And then it will be no less marvellous when we think of the reality of this change. When the sun spreads his glory over the clouds of the sky, it is only the appearance of a change which the clouds put on. They remain essentially unaltered. They are the same clouds that they were before. But it is different with the heavenly transformation of which we are speaking. The likeness to God, which His presence imparts to the ransomed who stand around His throne, is real, and pervading in its nature.
III. A satisfying presence. We see many objects of beauty and grandeur in the world around us; and we find real pleasure in beholding them. But however great this pleasure may be, it is still true that “the eye is not satisfied with seeing.” And there are two things which “account for the striking difference that exists between seeing the beauty that appears in this lower world, and seeing the King in His beauty.” We look upon the beauties seen in the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the hills, the ocean; but we are not satisfied with seeing, because they are not ours. They do not belong to us. We cannot appropriate them to our own use. But it will be different when we stand and gaze on the glories of the Divine presence as displayed in heaven. It will be our privilege to point to Him and say--“This God is our God.” But it is possible to own things which do not meet our necessities, and which, therefore, cannot minister to our satisfaction and enjoyment. We see this illustrated in the case of the traveller in the desert, who was famishing with hunger. Arriving at a well, he saw a sack lying near it. Transported at the thought that he had found a supply of food, he hastened to open it, when he discovered to his intense disappointment that it was only a sack of pearls! He was a jeweller, and understood their value. They belonged to him by discovery. There was no one to dispute his right to claim them as his own. But how gladly he would have exchanged them all for a loaf of bread! And how much of life’s experience is in keeping with this! These things were not made to satisfy the soul, and they cannot do it. But in the presence of God, reserved for the redeemed in glory, both these elements meet. There is ownership for the ransomed in that presence, and suitableness to their wants.
IV. A progressive presence. This is a feature of the Divine presence peculiar to itself. It does not belong at all to earthly things. In all earthly possessions or pursuits, we find limits to their ability to interest and gratify; and these limits are soon reached. The things of earth pall upon us, and we soon tire of them. Even as we hold them in our grasp, we feel, in reference to them, “the fulness of satiety.” We feel that we have taken their measure. We have sounded their depths. We have scaled their heights, and have gone to the utmost boundaries of their length and breadth. Alexander conquered the world--and then, as tradition says, he wept because there were no other worlds to conquer. In nothing is the contrast more striking between earthly and heavenly things than it is here. There is a littleness about the one that is soon exhausted. There is a fulness about the other which defies exhaustion. Jehovah-Shammah: the glorious Lord, in whose presence we are to stand in heaven, is an infinite God. And all the elements of His character are infinite too. And it is this feature of His character which will afford material forever fresh development or progress in our knowledge and enjoyment of Him.
V. An eternal presence. We have this assurance when told that the covenant name we are considering will be connected with this heavenly city, “from that day.” This means the day when this city shall be revealed, and all the redeemed shall enter on the possession of its joys. “From that day,” on, and on, and on through all the ages of eternity, “the name of the city will be Jehovah-Shammah: The Lord is there.” The blissful presence of our covenant God and Saviour will be connected with that city, “while life, or thought, or being lasts, or immortality endures.” Here, everything is temporary; there, nothing will be so. The life given to those who enter this heavenly city will be everlasting life. The kingdom to which they belong is “a kingdom that cannot be moved”; an everlasting kingdom. And everything belonging to that kingdom, its joys, its honour, its relationship, will be everlasting too. As one has well said: “There will be no hands on the clock of eternity, and no shadow on its dial. The very hours of heaven will be measured by the sunshine--not by the shadow.” The life to come will be an eternal progression. It will be the life of the soul--life with God, and life like God’s. (R. Newton, D. D.)
Ezekiel’s last vision
1. The vision of these last chapters is the vision of a city rebuilt and a temple restored. Ezekiel’s temple and city seem to be only a magnified edition of the city and temple which he had known in his youth--which he had loved so fondly, and lost so early. The city and temple of St. John are purely ideal, symbolical. The city “descends out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.” Its length and its breadth and its height are all equal. Literal temple, such as Ezekiel describes, it has none. “I saw no temple therein,” St. John writes; “for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” Here, then, as everywhere in the pages of the Bible, we find growth, progress: first the lower, then the higher; first the earthly, then the heavenly; first the natural, then the spiritual. The new fulfils the old, has its roots in the old, affiliates itself to the old; but transcends and surpasses it. John, the exile of Patmos, must not be as Ezekiel, the exile of Chebar: even as the exile of Chebar could not be as the exile of Patmos. Both the one and the other wrote, as it were, in view of the ruins of a destroyed temple. But the temple destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar was destined to rise again from its ruins: not so the temple destroyed by the Roman armies under Titus. In the prospect of such a literal restoration, Ezekiel, the priest, might reasonably desire that the new might be as the old, only larger and more magnificent. And within certain narrow bounds and limits at last it was so. Herod’s pile was at least as stately and grand as that which Nebuchadnezzar destroyed. But all such hopes and visions would have been only an anachronism to St. John. It was well for Ezekiel to cherish them: it was impossible, it would have been folly, for John to do so. In the interval between the one and the other, the world had moved on some four hundred or five hundred years: and “the fulness of the time” had come; and it was possible to proclaim as the basis of a worldwide church, and the centre of a worship which should last until the end of time--not some visible temple made with hands, but this eternal truth: “The hour cometh, and now is,” etc.
2. We may pass now to what is of more immediate concern to ourselves; the thoughts suggested by the words of our text, and their connection with the New Year upon which we have so recently entered. Ezekiel’s last words, and, doubtless, they expressed his dearest hopes for the future, are these: “The name of the city from that day shall be, The Lord is there.” We realise Ezekiel’s meaning more clearly and forcibly, if we alter the very negative name, “Lord,” into the English word which represents most accurately the Hebrew original--the “Eternal,” or the “Changeless,” or the “Selfsame.” The unchangeableness of Jehovah gives the prophet hope for the city that is to be. Let us then gather up all our own thoughts in reference to the future--our own future, and that of the nations around us--in this brief phrase of Ezekiel’s, as motto and watchword--“Jehovah-Shammah”--“The Eternal is there.” And if such watchword smites us with a sober, solemn awe, it is well that it should be so. It is well that we should remind ourselves, not merely at the beginning of a new year, but at all times, that the kingdom of God is, and will be, over and around us and all men, during the coming months; that we are in it and under it, as subjects and citizens of it; and that this kingdom is the kingdom of the Eternal, the Unchangeable, the Selfsame--“the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” Once, in the wilderness, under the leadership of Moses, the Israelites asked, in a season of weariness and cowardice, and of atheistic doubt, such as springs out of weariness and cowardice and feeds them, “Is the Lord,” is the Eternal, “among us or no?” In after years, just before he was taken from them by death, their great leader recurred to that question of theirs, and bade them beware of tempting the Lord again so. “Ye shall not tempt the Eternal your God, as ye tempted Him at Massah.” We will welcome the lesson for ourselves. Be the individual future of each one of us what it may, at any rate of this we may be sure, the Eternal will be there. He will be with us in it. “God’s kingdom ours abideth,” come what may. We cannot be taken out of its reach. Now this thought admits of many applications. It must ever be a thought of solemn awe. But in that awe terror may predominate, or comfort and peace and joy, according as we will have it. (D. J. Vaughan, M. A.)
Jehovah-Shammah; a glorious name for the new year
These words may be used as a test as well as a text. They may serve for examination as well as consolation, and at the beginning of a year they may fulfil this useful double purpose. Do we reckon the presence of the Lord to be the greatest of blessings? If in any gathering, even of the humblest people, the Lord God is known to be present in a peculiarly gracious manner, should we make a point of being there? Very much depends upon our answer to these queries.
I. The presence of God is the glory of the most glorious place. What a glorious state this world was in at the very first, in the age of Paradise, for the Lord was there! “The Lord God walked in the garden in the cool of the day,” and communed with man; and man, being innocent, held high converse with his condescending Maker. The topstone of the bliss of Paradise was this all-comprehending privilege--“The Lord is there.” Alas! that has vanished. Withered are the bowers of Eden: the trail of the serpent is over all landscapes, however fair. Yet days of mercy came, and God’s saints in divers places found choice spots where they could converse with heaven. Amid a torrent of sin and sorrow, you may cross the stream of time upon the stepping stones of the places marked “Jehovah-Shammah.” The Lord’s delights were with the sons of men, and to them nothing brought such bliss as to find that still the Lord would be mindful of man, and visit him. In the days when God had called out unto Himself a chosen nation, He revealed Himself at Sinai, when the mountain was altogether on a smoke, and even Moses said, “I do exceedingly fear and quake.” Well might he feel a holy awe, for the Lord was there. In Canaan itself, the days of sorrow came when the nation went after other gods, and the Lord became a stranger in the land. When He returned, and delivered His people by the judges, then the nations knew that Israel could not be trampled on, for the Lord was there. I almost tremble when I remind you of the truest temple of God--the body of our Lord. The nearest approach of Godhead to our manhood was when there was found, wrapped in swaddling bands and lying in a manger, that Child who was horn, that Son who was given, whose name was called “Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Speak of Gethsemane, and we tell you God was there. Before Herod, and Pilate, and Caiaphas, and on the Cross--the Lord was there. Though in a sense there was the hiding of God, and Jesus cried, “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?” yet in the deepest sense Jehovah was there, bruising the great sacrifice. God was in Christ Jesus on the Cross, and we, beholding Him, feel that we have seen the Father. O Calvary, we say of thee, “The Lord is there.” Here I might fitly close, for we can mount no higher; but yet we could not afford to leave out those other dwellings of the Invisible Spirit, who still by His presence makes holy places even in this unholy world. We have to remind you that God is the glory of the most glorious living thing that has been on the face of the earth since our Lord was there. And what is that? I answer, Jesus is gone; the prophets are gone; and we have no temple, no human priest, no material holy of holies. And yet there is a special place where God dwells among men, and that is in His Church. He has but one--one Church, chosen by eternal election, redeemed by precious blood, called out by the Holy Ghost, and quickened into newness of life--this as a whole is the dwelling place of the covenant God. Because God is in this Church, therefore the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. “The Lord is there” might be said of the Church in all ages. Flying forward, as with a dove’s wing, to the future that is drawing near, we bethink us of the truth that there is to be a millennial age--a time of glory, and peace, and joy, and truth, and righteousness. But what is to be the glory of it? Why, this, “Jehovah-Shammah, The Lord is there!” Up yonder, whither ninny of our beloved ones have already gone: up yonder, within that gate of pearl where eye cannot as yet see. What is it that makes heaven, with all its supreme delights? Not harps of angels, nor blaze of seraphim; but this one fact, “the Lord is there.” What must it be to be with God?
II. The presence of God is the best privilege of His Church. It is her glory that “the Lord is there.” Note this, and mark it well.
1. If the Lord be among us, the consequences will be, first, the conservation of true doctrine. God is with those who speak the truth faithfully, hold it devoutly, believe it firmly, and live upon it as their daily bread.
2. Where God is present, the preservation of purity will be found. The Church is nothing if it is not holy. It is worse--it is a den of thieves.
3. Where God is, there is the constant renewal of vitality. A Church all alive is a little heaven, the resort of angels, the temple of the Holy Ghost.
4. When the Lord is there, next, there is continuing power. With God there is power in the ministry, power in prayer, power in all holy work.
5. Furthermore, whenever it can be said of an assembly, “The Lord is there,” unity will be created and fostered. Saints who dwell with God love each other “with a pure heart, fervently.”
6. Where the Lord is, there is sure to be happiness. What meetings we have when the Lord is here! At the Master’s Table I have often been so blest that I would not have exchanged places with Gabriel. The Lord was there: what more could I desire? Joy, delight, rapture, ecstasy--what word shall I use?--all these have waited around the Table of fellowship, as musicians at a king’s banquet. If God be there, our heaven is there.
III. The presence of the Lord is our delight in every place. We will think of our own dear homes. What a delightful family we belong to if it can be said of our house, “Jehovah-Shammah, The Lord is there”! Has it a thatched roof and a stone floor? What matters? I charge you if your homes are not such that God could come to them, set your houses in order, and say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Will you dare to dwell where God could not lodge with you? May all men say of your home, “The Lord is there”! Here is a Christian who lives alone, apart altogether from family life. All his dear ones are dead, or far away. In his lone chamber, when he bows his knee in secret prayer, or whenever he takes his walk abroad to meditate, if he be indeed a true lover of the Lord Jesus, “the Lord is there.” Some of us can bear witness that we have had the nearest approaches of God to our souls in times of intolerable pain, and even in seasons of intense depression of spirit as to earthly things. One might almost say, “Send me back to my prison again,” as one did say who lost God’s presence after he had gained his liberty. One might well cry, “Ah! let me have back my pain if I may again overflow with the joy of the Lord’s presence.” I thank God that you and I know what it is to enjoy the presence of God in a great many different ways. When two or three of the people of God meet together, and talk to one another about the things of God, the Lord is never away. Yes, but when Christian people go forth to work, when you come to your Sunday school, or go out with your bundle of tracts, to change them on your district, or when you join a little band and stand in the street corner yonder, and lift up your voice in the name of Jesus, you may expect, if you go with prayer and faith, that it shall be written, “Jehovah-Shammah, The Lord is there.” And now, from this time forth, beloved, ye that fear God and think upon His name, wherever you go, let it be said, “Jehovah-Shammah, The Lord is there.” Do not be found anywhere where you could not say that The Lord was there; but if you are called into the world in the pursuit of your daily vocation, cry unto the Lord, “If Thy Spirit go not with me, carry me not up hence.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)