Wednesday, June 7th, 2023
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 32". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ ezekiel-32.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 32". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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In the twelfth year, etc. March, B.C. 584, nineteen months attar the destruction of Jerusalem. The two sections of the chapter, Ezekiel 32:1-16 and Ezekiel 32:17-32, belong to the same year, and probably, though the date of the month is net given for the second, were written within a fortnight of each other. The thoughts of the prophet still dwell upon the downfall of Egypt, and he is stirred, as by a special inspiration, to write an elaborate "lamentation" over its departed greatness. It would seem, from the repetition of the word in Ezekiel 32:16, as if the elegy had originally been intended to end there. Possibly it may have occurred to the prophet that what he had written was rather a prediction of coming evil than a lamentation, and therefore needed to be completed by a second, coming more strictly under that title.
Thou art like a young lion; rather, with the Revised Version, thou wast likened unto a young lion. The two clauses of the verse stand in direct contrast to each other. Flatterers, orators, courtiers, had used the usual symbolism of the animal world. The King of Egypt was as the king of beasts. Ezekiel rejects that comparison, and likens him rather to the whale, the dragon (Revised Version), in the seas, i.e. to the crocodile of his own river (compare the use of the "dragon" for the King of Egypt, in Ezekiel 29:3; Isaiah 51:9). Ewald and Smend, however, translate, "young lion of the nations, thou art brought to naught;" but there is no adequate reason for abandoning the Revised translation. Troubledst the waters. As in Ezekiel 34:18, the act is used as the symbol of all selfish and aggressive rule, defiling the streams of righteousness and judgment. Thou camest forth with thy rivers. Ewald and Smend translate, "Thou didst spurt out the water," as describing the act of the crocodile when it raises its head out of the water as in the "neesings," or "sneezings" of Job 41:12, Hebrew [English version, 18].
I will spread out my net. The imagery of Ezekiel 29:3 is repeated, with a variation as to the mode of capture. There is no evidence that the crocodile was ever taken with a net; but Ezekiel may have chosen the comparison for that very reason. What was impossible in the parable, according to its letter, was possible when it received its application.
The picture is carried out to its completion. The carcass of the crocodile becomes the prey of unclean birds and beasts. The carcass of the Egyptian greatness was to satiate the appetite of the invading hosts. Were the words of Psalms 74:14, as to leviathan being "given for meat to the people in the wilderness" floating in Ezekiel's mind (compare the strange reference to leviathan in 2 Esdr. 6:49, 52, and in later Jewish traditions)? Greek writers describe the ichthyophagi of Africa as feeding on the flesh of sea-monsters, and the word may possibly include the crocodile.
I will water with thy blood. Was the plague of the water of the Nile turned to blood (Exodus 7:19, Exodus 7:20) present to Ezekiel's mind? Such an inundation of the Nile, in all its horrors, was a fit symbol of the deluge of invaders by whom Egypt was laid waste.
When I shall put thee out; better, with the Revised Version, extinguish. The verb is used of lamps in 2 Chronicles 29:7. The change of metaphor is at first startling, but I follow Ewald, Hitzig, and Smend, in thinking that there is a traceable sequence of ideas. The "dragon of the Egyptian waters" suggested the "dragon" which was conspicuous between Ursa Major and Minor among the constellations of the heavens, and the name of which, probably derived by the Greek astronomers from a remote past, suggested that of an enemy of God (comp. Isaiah 51:9). So taken, the new comparison finds a parallel in that of the King of Babylon to Lucifer, the morning star, in Isaiah 14:12. Upon this there follows naturally the imagery of Ezekiel 30:18; Isaiah 34:4. As the other trees of the forest had mourned for the cedar (Ezekiel 31:15), so the other lights of heaven mourn for that particular star which has been quenched for ever (comp. for the general imagery. Isaiah 13:10; Joel 2:10; Joel 3:4, Hebrew [English version, Eze 2:1-10 :31].
I will also vex the hearts. The words intensify the bitterness of the downfall. The prophet passes out of the region of metaphors into that of facts. The fall of Egypt will cause pity among the nations. They shall simply be "vexed" in heart, terrified at the thought (Ezekiel 32:10) that the sword which had laid her low was "brandished" also against them.
The sword of the King of Babylon, etc. The effects of Nebuchadnezzar's invasion are now described in language which seems plain enough, but in which we may read between the lines an allusive reference to the previous symbolism. Thus in Ezekiel 32:13 we are thrown back upon the thought of the "troubled waters" of Ezekiel 32:2. The Nile was no longer to be troubled by the foot of beasts; the streams of justice were no longer to be defiled with a selfish corruption, but were to run smooth and calm, even as the "rivers of oil" which were the symbols of ethical blessedness (Job 29:6; Deuteronomy 32:13). So Ewald and Keil, for once agreeing. The rule of Nebuchadnezzar was to be a righteous rule, in spite of its severity. I am unable, however, to follow these commentators further in seeing in the words a prediction of the Messianic kingdom. The Egyptians were to "know the Lord," as the other nations addressed by Ezekiel were to know him, as a righteous Judge, not as yet as a Deliverer (comp. Ezekiel 28:26; Ezekiel 29:21; Ezekiel 30:26).
This is the lamentation, etc. The work of mourning for the dead was for the most part assigned to women (2 Samuel 1:24; Jeremiah 9:17; 2 Chronicles 35:25), and is therefore appropriately assigned to the daughters of the nations. He hears, as it were, their wailing over the fallen greatness of Egypt, even in the solitude of Tel-Abib.
For yet fourteen days the mind of the prophet brooded over the fall of Egypt, and his thoughts at last found utterance in another lamentation, based upon that of Isaiah 14:1-32. Taken together, the two passages give a vivid picture of the thoughts of the Hebrews as to the unseen world, and we find in them the germs of the later belief of Judaism in Paradise and Gehenna. What I have called the Dante element in Ezekiel it seen here raised to its highest power.
Cast them down, etc. The prophet thinks of himself as not only the predictor, but the minister, of the Divine judgments. So it was given to Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:10) "to root out and to pull down," and to Amos (Amos 9:1) to "smite" and to wound. He executes the sentence, not on Egypt only, but on the other daughters of the famous nations, sc. on the nations themselves, especially those that are named in the verses that follow.
Whom dost thou pass in beauty? The lamentation, as might be expected from Ezekiel's standpoint, is an illustration of irony and triumph rather than of sorrow. The question implies a negative answer. Glorious as Egypt had been, other nations had equaled her. They had passed away, and so should she. With the uncircumcised. The words, as in Ezekiel 31:18, suggest the thought that Israel, so far as it was faithful to its calling, circumcised in heart as well as flesh (Jeremiah 9:26), had a higher and happier dwelling in Hades than the uncircumcised heathen. As the Egyptians practiced circumcision, the language of the prophet had a special significance. Their place in Hades was among the heathen to whom that hereto was unknown.
She is delivered to the sword; better, with the margin of the Revised Version, the sword is appointed—possibly, as Ewald suggests, with reference to the practice of burying a warrior with his sword beneath his head (comp. Ezekiel 32:27). Draw her, etc. The command would seem to be given, so to speak, to the warders of Sheol. They am to receive the new comers and take them to their appointed place.
The strong among the mighty. Those already in Sheol watch the new arrival, and make their scornful comments (comp. Isaiah 14:9, Isaiah 14:18), at once classing them with the uncircumcised. Had they heard, we ask, of the downfall of Egypt?
Ezekiel 32:22, Ezekiel 32:23
Asshur is there. The verses that follow contain, as it were, the prophet's retrospect of the history of the past, as far as he had knowledge of it. Foremost in those is Assyria, which the prophet had already chosen (Ezekiel 31:3) as the pattern instance of a fallen greatness. There in the sides of the pit (i.e. in its remotest and deepest regions) lie the graves of the rulers surrounded by those of their subjects. They had caused terror, the prophet adds, with a keen irony, in the land of the living. They can cause no terror now.
There is Elam etc. The nation so named appears grouped with Asshur in Genesis 10:22; in Isaiah 11:11 it stands between Cush and Shinar; in Isaiah 22:6 its warriors form part of the host of Sennacherib; in Ezra 4:9 they are named as having been among the settlers in Samaria; in Isaiah 21:2 as joining with the Medes in the attack on Babylon; in Jeremiah 25:25 again coupled with the Medes among the enemies of Nebuchadnezzar; in Daniel 8:2 as the province in which Shushan was situated, and therefore subject to Babylon. Jeremiah (Jeremiah 49:34-39) had uttered a special prophecy against it. From Ezekiel's point of view it might well take its place among the powers that had received their death-blow at the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. Yet have they borne their shame; sc. the disgrace of being uncircumcised, and therefore taking their place with the lower circles of the dead.
They have set her a bed. The noun is used for the sleeping-place of the dead—the cemetery, if we trace that word to its root in Isaiah 57:2; 2 Chronicles 16:14. In the rest of the verse Ezekiel reiterates what had been said in Verse 24 with an emphatic solemnity. In the Hebrew, as in the English, there is a constant variation in the pronouns used, now masculine, now feminine, now singular.
There is Meshech, Tubal. (On the ethnological relations of the two tribes, see note on Ezekiel 27:13, and later on in Ezekiel 38:1-23, and Ezekiel 39:1-29.) Ezekiel obviously speaks of them as one of the powers that bad been conspicuous in his own time, and had been, in part at least, overthrown by the Chaldean monarchy. We may probably connect his words with the great irruption of the Scythians mentioned by Herodotus as having swept over Asia even to Palestine and Egypt, in the time of Josiah, and which, after compelling Cyaxares to raise the siege of Nineveh, left traces of itself in the name of the city of Scythe-polls. Many commentators find a reference to that invasion in the "evil from the north" of Jeremiah 1:14; Jeremiah 4:6; and in Zephaniah 1:13-16. They also, once the terror of the nations, are now represented by the prophet as in the shadow-world of Sheol.
And they shall not lie with the mighty. The words seem at first to contradict Ezekiel 32:26. The LXX. meets the difficulty by omitting the negative; Ewald and Havernick, by taking it as an interrogative, "Shall they not lie," etc.? Probably the explanation is laying stress on the word "mighty." Meshech and Tubal have a lower place in Hades; they are buried without the honors of war. Their swords are not placed beneath their heads (for the practice thus referred to, see Died. Sic; 18.26; Arrian, 1.5; Virg; 'AEn.,' 6.233). For the Scythians, who worshipped the sword (Herod; 1. 62), this would be the extremest ignominy. In this way their iniquities should be upon their bones as they lay dishonored.
Yea, thou shalt be broken. The words are obviously addressed to Pharaoh. He must prepare himself for a like doom. His place, proud as he was of his magnificence, shall be with the wild nomad hordes of Scythia.
There is Edom, her kings and her princes. (For the political relations of Edom at this time, see Ezekiel 25:12-14.) Whatever shadow of power might yet remain to it, Ezekiel, from his standpoint, could yet declare that her greatness had departed. The exultation which the Edomites had shown over the fall of Jerusalem (Psalms 137:7) would naturally tend to accentuate the prophet's language. The "princes" of Edom are probably identical with the "dukes" of Genesis 36:15-43 and 1 Chronicles 1:51, where the word means literally the heads or captains of thousands, i.e. of tribes, as in Judges 6:15 (comp. Zechariah 9:7; Zechariah 12:5).
There be the princes of the north. The noun for "princes" is different from that of Ezekiel 32:29, and has the sense of "vassal rulers," as in Joshua 13:21; Micah 5:4. So we have the "kings of the north" in Jeremiah 25:26. The fact that they are coupled with the Zidonians (it is suggestive that Ezekiel names these rather than the Tyrians) points in the direction of Northern Syria, including cities like Damascus, Hamath, Arpad, and others.
Shall be comforted, etc. (comp. for the thought, Ezekiel 31:16). That shall be all that he will have to console him. As before, other nations were comforted by the downfall of Egypt, so Egypt in her turn finds her comfort in their downfall. All are sharers alike in the fiend-like temper which exults in the miseries of others. Ewald and Hitzig, here as there, take the word as in the sense of "mourning overse" As to the extent and manner in which the predictions of the chapter have been fulfilled, see notes on Ezekiel 29-31. Sufficient evidence has been given that Egypt was probably invaded and conquered by Nebuchadnezzar. The silence of the Greek historians, and notably of Herodotus, as to any such invasion goes for little or nothing. He could not read the Egyptian records, and derived his knowledge from the priests through an interpreter. They, after their manner, would draw a veil over all disasters, and so, while he records the revolution which placed Amasis upon the throne of Hophra, he is silent as to any invasion, and does not even mention the battle of Carchemish.
Ezekiel 32:2, Ezekiel 32:3
The lion in a net.
Pharaoh is compared both to a young lien and to a whale. The young lion has left his mark at the watering-place of the cattle. Therefore a net is spread for him, and he is entrapped.
I. THE GREATEST ERE UNDER THE POWER OF GOD. The lion is the king of beasts; the whale is the greatest sea-monster. Yet both are under the power of their Creator. Kings are subject to God. Successful rich men have not grown out of his reach. Men of great intellect are not able to outwit Heaven. The raging of the wicked will not save them. They may roar like lions; they may plunge like whales; but they cannot escape God's net and hook. We are all entirely in the hands of God. It is a miserable thing that this thought should inspire terror, a happy thing when it only encourages confidence. The lions, fierce and strong as they are, cannot save themselves from the net; but the most helpless lambs of the flock are safe under their shepherd's care. It is better to be God's feeblest sheep than as the mightiest lions of the forest in opposition to God.
II. GOD CANNOT ENDURE THE SPIRIT OF DESTRUCTION. The lion ravages the flock; even when he is not doing this deadly work, he is represented as fouling the rivers. He is in all respects a mischief-maker. Then his lordly mien will not protect him. The great heathen empires incurred the wrath of Heaven for their rapacious destructiveness. If a man is injuring his fellow-men in body or soul, he will be treated by God as a beast of prey, hunted and netted and destroyed.
III. SIN MUST BE RESTRAINED. The lion is caught in a net. There he may rage and roar to his heart's content, but he can do no more mischief. The best treatment of evil is to change the lion into the lamb. This is Christ's method. The wild demoniac sits at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind. But men will not always yield to the influence of Christ. They cannot then be left at large forever. There are two nets—a gospel net (Matthew 13:47) and a net of judgment. The latter is for those who have escaped the meshes of the former.
IV. SINNERS MAY BE ENTRAPPED UNAWARES. The lion would not enter the net knowingly. "Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird" (Proverbs 1:17). But the net is hidden, and it ensnares its victim before he is aware of his danger. Souls are entrapped by their own sins. They fall into danger before they observe it. We cannot say that sin will go on unchecked and unpunished simply because we do not perceive any immediate signs of Divine interference. God has his hidden nets, fine as gossamer thread, strong as steel.
V. THE WORLD CONCURS IN THE OVERTHROW OF EVIL-DOERS. All the peoples help to ensnare the lion. The nations assist at the down-casting of Egypt. The selfish, cruel man may be thronged with flatterers in his prosperity. In his adversity he will be equally thronged with revengeful victims. It is a terrible thing to prepare hatred for the day of calamity. No fate excites less commiseration than that of a proud, selfish, heartless soul.
I. MAN CANNOT DISPENSE WITH LIGHTS OF HEAVEN. He may never look up. Yet he cannot live without the light that comes from over his head. In spiritual experience there are men who ignore the light above and the very existence of the heavenly world. Yet they are not the less largely dependent on those higher influences. If the sun were blotted out, all life on our globe would perish in darkness and cold—the world reduced to a block of silent frozen matter. If God were to withdraw, all being would come to an end.
II. THE LIGHTS OF HEAVEN ARE DARKENED BY SIN. Sin eclipses the soul's sun. It spreads black clouds between the offender and the heavenly regions. It shuts a man out from fellowship with God. This is its worst effect, though men may treat it lightly at first. The process is twofold.
1. Man is blinded. Though the sun shines in noonday splendor the blind man walks in midnight darkness. Now, sin puts out the eyes of the soul. It is like a red-hot iron that burns away the vision of spiritual things; then the bright lights of heaven are made black.
2. God withdraws his brightness. We pray that God may lift up the light of his countenance upon us. But he may do the reverse, and turn his face from us. He will not forever display his graciousness to heedless, rebellious souls.
III. THE DARKENING ON THE LIGHTS OF HEAVEN BRINGS MANY GRIEVOUS CONSEQUENCES.
1. Knowledge is obscured. We cannot see truth when God's light is with- drawn or when our souls are blinded to the perception of it. "In thy light we shall see light" (Psalms 36:9). "Judicial blindness" must be a fearful fate.
2. Joy is extinguished. A gloomy day is depressing. Darkness brings sadness. When heaven is dark all sunshine vanishes from the Soul.
3. Life is threatened. The soul's higher life Trows sickly and threatens to pass away in the darkness of separation from God.
IV. THERE IS A DARKENING OF THE BRIGHT LIGHTS OF HEAVEN WHICH MAY COME IN THE COURSE OF THE SOUL'S DISCIPLINE. There was darkness round the cross when Jesus was dying. Then in mysterious spiritual gloom he cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). Earnest souls may have times of darkness, during which the vision of heaven is obscured, seasons of deep depression, when all that once seemed most real melts into the blackness of a great doubt.
V. CHRIST BRINGS A NEW LIGHT TO BENIGHTED SOULS. If we are dark now we need not remain in gloom forever. "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light" (Isaiah 9:2). Christ came as "the Light that shineth in darkness," as "the Light of the world." Though the bright lights of heaven be made dark over us, they are not annihilated; they are but beclouded or at worst eclipsed. For all dim, bewildered, sorrow-laden souls there is the hope of light in Christ. But as sin brings on the deepest night of darkness, so it is by repentance and after-forgiveness that we can hope to see the darkness clear away and a new light from heaven arise to shine into our Souls.
("I will also vex the hearts of many peoples")
Vexation of heart.
I. THE GREATEST DISTRESS IS THAT WHICH IS CAUSED BY VEXATION OF HEART. Terrible reverses of fortune may be endured, and the millionaire may become a beggar, and yet the deepest sorrows may not be reached; for there are men who have proved themselves superior to their circumstances, and who have been able to look with a serene countenance on the wreck of their fortunes, because they have been possessed of interior sources of happiness. Bodily sickness which produces acute physical pain does not induce the greatest real sufferings. Not only have martyrs learnt to triumph at the stake, but patient, obscure sufferers have acquired peace and even joy while their bodies have been racked with torment. But when the heart is sore vexed the most terrible Sorrow is felt. This may be endured amid external circumstances of affluence, and then those circumstances appear but as gilded vanities, mocking the bitter grief that lurks within. We live in our hearts, and if our hears be sore and sorrowful, our lives are darkened with a distress that no outer comforts can cheer.
II. VEXATION OF HEART SPRINGS ESPECIALLY FROM LOSS AND DISAPPOINTMENT. We accustom ourselves to the usual, and do not grieve greatly over what we never had and never expected to possess. No man is much distressed at the thought that he is not a prince of the archangels. The simple peasant does not grieve because he is not the owner of a kingdom, as Alexander is said to have grieved because he could find no new worlds to conquer. The childless wife is not desolate as the mother whose baby has been snatched from her. The loss of the loved and the disappointment of cherished hopes are the greatest sources of vexation of heart. Now, we have all lost a great inheritance, we have missed our high Divine vocation. The sorrow of failure is at the root of the worst heartache. The old weary world groans without perceiving the cause of its anguish. Clearly something is wrong, for a good Creator would not have made a world for sorrow and disappointment. The great disillusion which at some time comes to every sanguine soul, and turns May into November, must have a cause. The world has suffered a great loss; it has met with a great disappointment. The first step is to have the courage to admit the fact, and not to be living in the optimism which the first touch of reality proves to be but a dream. The next is to discover the cause and to see that the loss is the loss of God, and the failure sin.
III. CHRIST HAS COME TO CURE VEXATION OF HEART. He may not help us to retrieve broken fortunes. "To the poor the gospel is preached"—and yet they remain poor; he may not now restore health as he did during his earthly ministry. But he aims at the deepest trouble-he cures vexation of heart. To the laboring and heavy laden he gives rest. It is not his will that his people should go mourning all their days. The dim and faded life may be brightened and gladdened by the love of the great Savior. This is possible because Christ goes to the seat of the trouble, whereas most earthly comforters have only tried to smooth away the superficial symptoms. He finds the lost God. He restores man to his missed destiny. He slays the sin that is the worm at the root of the world's life. He brings the heart-joy of life eternal in fellowship with God.
Still waters of death.
The waters of Egypt are to settle and so to be clean. From being a highway of commerce the Nile is to become an undisturbed inland river. The water-wheels shall be still, the splash of the oar shall be no more heard. The silent river shall be left to its own peace—the peace of death.
I. SIN DESTROYS CIVILIZATION. The river is the busy scene of Egyptian life and activity. Its waters will be quiet because Egypt will lose its energy. This is represented as the consequence of the nation's wickedness. Consider how the process works.
1. Sin is anti-social. Civilization is the art of city-life. It is dependent on co-operation, division of labor, mutual ministries, and mutual confidence. All these things are shattered by the selfish and untrue conduct of sin.
2. Sin, is unaspiring. Civilization presses forward; essentially it seeks an advance. Sin may be greedy and grasping, and may incline men to seize much for themselves, but it does not inspire energy for general progress. It is depressing and discoursing.
3. Sin is essentially opposed to the laws of God. Now, no civilization can be secure and lasting that is not based on those laws. All corrupt civilization bears within it the seeds of its own destruction. The only "city which hath foundations" is the city of God, and this is "let down from heaven," i.e. it is a city of which the constitution is Divine, and which embodies the idea of "the kingdom of heaven."
II. IT IS WELL THAT A SINFUL CIVILIZATION SHOULD BE SHATTERED. The East is scored with the ruins of ancient empires. Today the scene of decay is melancholy and oppressive. Yet the sight of those old, bad empires in their flourishing days was far more sad to behold. They were seats of cruelty and haunts of vice. It is well that they have ceased to be. The hyenas and jackals that now infest their neglected temples and palaces are clean and innocent inhabitants compared with the lustful and murderous men who formerly lived there. The running sore of modern Christendom is in the condition of its great cities. The broken-down wrecks of civilization are far more degraded than the simple savages of the forest. It was good for the world that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, that great Nineveh became a lonely resort of lions of the desert, that the Egypt of the Pharaohs fell from her proud and wicked splendor. It wilt be well for modem civilization to be swept away if it becomes only secular, atheistic, and immoral.
III. THE RESULTS OF A SHATTERED CIVILIZATION WILL BE A PREPARATION FOR A BETTER FUTURE. The old foul Nile is to settle quietly and so become clear. Its once disturbed waters are to run smoothly like oil. These facts which occur in the list of calamities for Egypt—and rightly, because they indicate the departure of the old, busy, populous life from its banks and its surface—are nevertheless in themselves good. It is well that the river should be clear and run smoothly. The destruction of empires brings deliverance to oppressed subject races. The loss of civilization may be the gain of naturalness. There may be less wealth, but more welfare; less pleasure, but more peace. In silence and sorrow of soul people learn to look beneath the surface of life, the Egyptians in their desolation could look deep down into the still, smooth waters of the Nile. This may be a preparation for a holier new life in the future.
I. SYMPATHETIC SORROW IS CALLED FOR BY THE TROUBLES OF OUR FELLOW MEN. Ezekiel is told by God to wail for the multitude of Egypt. He had his own troubles among the disaffected Jews; but he was not to shut himself up in the selfishness of private distress. His nation was passing through a season of terrible experiences, many of his kinsfolk driven into exile, and the remaining inhabitants threatened with fresh war-cruelties. Yet, Jew as he was, Ezekiel was to find room in his heart for grief over the distresses of Egypt. It is inhuman not to be moved by a neighbor's trouble. We ought to widen the area of our sympathy, and embrace in it the interests and troubles of foreign nations. If a Jew should wail for Egypt, should not a Christian wail for the evils of the world? Mansion House funds for various successive foreign needs—Persian and China famines, etc.—are among the healthiest signs of our times, and contain a better augury of the future of England than the high price of government stock. Individually we are called upon to grieve over our neighbor's troubles.
II. SYMPATHETIC SORROW IS ESPECIALLY REQUIRED BY THE WORLD'S SIN.
1. We should grieve more over sin than over external calamity. The gambling of England is a more sorrowful sight than the wreckage that strews our coast after a disastrous gale. We mourn for the death of the good and noble; we should mourn more for the life of the wicked and ignoble. Drunkenness is a worse evil than pauperism. Profligacy is infinitely more deplorable than poverty. Therefore people who think themselves happy and do not seek our commiseration may most need it.
2. We should grieve over sin rather than coldly condemn it. The sympathizer is himself a sinner. Many who have fallen most low have been most grievously tempted; but even when the kindest charity can discover no excuse, wickedness itself should be regarded as a miserable source of grief to all right-minded people. God pitied the sinner, and sent his Son to save him. Christ wept over Jerusalem. The Christian treatment of sin is to approach it with sympathetic sorrow.
III. SYMPATHETIC SORROW IS A MINISTERING ANGEL OF MERCY.
1. It is a source of consolation. Sympathy may comfort when no helping hand can relieve suffering. It is much to know that we are not alone, uncured for, and forgotten. The sympathy of God is offered to every distressed son of man. This is a type and pattern of what must be in the heart of every godly man.
2. It is an inspiration of deliverance. To be content to wail for the troubles of others, when by any effort or sacrifice we might alleviate those troubles, is to declare ourselves no better than hypocrites. Rich people who deplore the misery of their poor neighbors, and yet do nothing to relieve the burden of poverty, are guilty of shameful inconsistency and moral untruth. If they really grieved they would relieve. The first step is to feel the troubles of our fellow men; the next must be to do all in our power to help them. Happily in regard to spiritual troubles Christian people have a source of assistance to offer in the gospel of Christ.
The world of the dead.
"The strong among the mighty" are the inhabitants of the under-world who once were kings and heroes on earth. Now those monarchs of the dead stir themselves as they see great Pharaoh coming to join their company, and prepare to give him a stately though a gloomy welcome.
I. THERE IS A WORLD WHERE THE DEAD YET LIVE. This world only appeared to be a realm of shades and desolation to the Jews of Old Testament times. For those who have not the life of Christ in them the New Testament offers a worse prospect. Yet that some world of departed spirits exists is taught in the Old Testament as well as in the New. This agrees with the almost universal belief of man in all ages and of all nations and of most religions. There seems to be implanted in us an instinct of immortality. We cannot escape from some conception of a hereafter.
II. IT IS OF SOME IMPORTANCE THAT WE SHOULD CONSIDER OUR RELATION TO THE WORLD OF THE DEAD. Religion is primarily for this life, to help us to do our daily duty. But it also bears on the future. We cannot but feel that our life is swiftly fleeting. Every year brings us nearer to the great mystery. We know full well that every soul among us will soon solve the awful riddle of futurity. Surely, then, it is of some moment that we should stand in right relations with the world of the dead, if only we can know what those relations should be.
III. GOD RULES OVER THE REALMS OF THE DEAD. The psalmist, when meditating on the Divine omnipresence, exclaimed, "If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, thou art there" (Psalms 139:8).
1. Therefore it is vain to hope to escape from God by the gate of death. The suicide is mistaken if he thinks he will elude the grasp of the great Avenger.
2. God will maintain order and justice in the realm of the dead. Bad souls do not descend into a Miltonic hell, ruled over by Satan and his crew, at whose mercy they must be without the interference of God. Such a pandemonium does not exist. As far as the Bible is a guide on the subject, there seems to be a solemn order in the regions of the dead. The confusion of earth does not reach the silent realms on the other side of the dark river. If we would be well dealt with there, we must be right and straight with God's justice here.
IV. THE REALM OF THE DEAD WILL BE A DOLEFUL PLACE FOR THE SINNER. The old delights will all be extinguished. The worldly store will be left behind. If the soul has no better treasure, it will be starved and beggared. The strongest and most exalted on earth will find that their power and rank are utterly gone. There kings lie low. The guilty soul will stand naked, with all its sin exposed. There will be no shelter from wrath and punishment. Christ alone can save us from this doleful prospect, by giving us his life eternal.
V. THE WORLD WILL WEAR A NEW ASPECT WHEN VIEWED FROM THE REALM OF THE DEAD. Seen from the sun, the earth must appear to be a very small planet. Many great interests, delights, and distresses of earth must seem but poor child's play to the large sad eyes of death, but spiritual experiences must seem intensely real. Yet every man will be himself still. Pharaoh is recognized. The future is linked on to the past; it will look back on the past, and gravely judge it.
("Their iniquities shall be upon their bones")
The idea seems to be that the guilty Egyptians shall not have honorable burial like that of the kings and princes who have been laid in the tombs with their weapons of war by their side—a token that they may yet roam as great fighting heroes through the dim regions of the nether world. The Egyptians are forbidden this prospect. They who of all people cared for the preservation of the bodies of the dead, by embalming and burying in huge pyramids, are to have their bones flung in a heap like a confused mass of corpses hurriedly gathered together from a battle-field. This is a punishment of sin.
I. SIN ONCE COMMITTED REMAINS WITH THE SINNER. Our own deeds are our lasting possession. We may lose all else and still not lose them. In the exciting moment of temptation the foolish fancy is entertained that the sin may be quickly committed and then left behind. The sinner will flee from his guilt and leave it in the dark depths of some distant forest. Alas! this is impossible. The awful thing pursues its maker into the wilderness, into the city, into the sacred sanctuary of the home.
II. SIN ENTERS DEEPLY INTO THE NATURE OF THE SINNER. It is not merely a deed of the hand. If it were that only it would have no moral character. But it springs from the inner being, and it comes home to roost. Though the flesh be scraped from the bones, still the sin remains, as though cleaving to the very skeleton—it is so close a companion, its seat is so terribly centered within.
III. SIN PURSUES THE SINNER AFTER DEATH. The sinner does not carry his wealth with him, but he carries his wickedness. His estate must be left behind, his iniquity will accompany him. His body he must cast off, but he cannot cast off his sin. The man and his sin will enter into the dread world of the dead together, there to be judged by God, there to reap the consequences of their fearful partnership.
IV. NO HUMAN EXPERIENCE CAN REMOVE SIN. Iniquities lying on the very bones of the dead! Who shall tear them off and fling them away? Tears will not wash them out, for tears cannot undo the past. Amendment will not destroy them, for even if that be possible, it is wholly a thing of the future, it does not touch the record of the past.
V. CHRIST BLOTS OUT SIN THAT IS OTHERWISE INDELIBLE. He cannot deny history, turn back the wheels of time and unknit the web of the past. But he can and he does offer pardon. When sin is forgiven God will remember it no more against the sinner (Jeremiah 31:34). With pardon Christ also brings a new heart and life. The new inner life has had nothing to do with the old sin. It makes a fresh start unhampered with the ugly burden of the past. This great result is brought about on Christ's side by his death and resurrection (Romans 4:25), and on our side through penitence and faith (Acts 3:19).
After his death Pharaoh is comforted by what he beholds of his companions in the realm of departed spirits. He sees that the great ones who preceded him are as badly off as he is. Those kings and princes were not his enemies; they were his allies. Therefore Pharaoh could scarcely gain comfort from a malignant satisfaction in seeing them degraded. Accordingly, Hengstenberg understands the passage to say that Pharaoh sighs. But might he not find some consolation in the perception that he was not alone in his calamity.
I. THERE MAY BE SOME MITIGATION OF THE FUTURE SUFFERINGS OF SINNERS. This is a dark and mysterious subject—one about which it is very unwise to dogmatize. Still, we cannot but remember that the same merciful God who rules on earth also reigns over all the realms of the dead. Certainly we have the assurance of Christ that all will not suffer equally; some will be beaten with many stripes, and others with few stripes (Luke 12:47, Luke 12:48).
II. THE JUSTICE OF GOD SHOULD BE A CONSOLATION IN VIEW OF FUTURE PUNISHMENT. God will never exceed what is right. All his dealings will be fair and equable. His aim will be to maintain goodness, not to wreak personal vengeance on his victims. We should feel that righteousness is the supreme end of all things. The vision of sin is dark and dreadful. If there be any lightening of its gloom this must be seen in the fact that the Almighty God has set his hand to destroy it.
III. THE UNIVERSALITY OF DEATH SUGGESTS THE BELIEF THAT IT FALLS IN WITH THE DIVINE ORDER OF HUMAN EXISTENCE. It may be said that, just as sin is universal through man's own fault, so death is universal as the consequence of sin. Death in its horror is associated with sin: "The sting of death is sin" (1 Corinthians 15:56). But physiologically, death belongs to the order of nature. Everything that lives dies. We regard this fact with distress when it touches our friends, and perhaps with dread when it approaches ourselves. But we should learn to trust God, who orders all things well.
"Like as the damask rose you see,
Or like the blossom on the tree,
Or like the dainty flower in May,
Or like the morning of the day,
Or like the sun, or like the shade,
Or like the gourd which Jonah had,
E'en such is man; whose thread is spun,
Drawn out, and cut, and so is done.
The rose withers, the blossom blasteth;
The flower fades, the morning hasteth;
The sun sets, the shadow flies;
The gourd consumes—and man he dies!"
IV. THE DEEPEST COMFORT IN VIEW OF DEATH IS ONLY TO BE DRAWN FROM FAITH IN CHRIST. All else leaves but a desolate prospect at best. But Christ sheds a glorious light on the realm beyond. For those who trust and follow him death has lost its terrors. The grim under-world is transferred into a peaceful sleep, from which to awake in Christ. "I am the Resurrection and the Life: he that believeth on me, though he were dead, yet shall he live" (John 11:25).
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The noxiousness of a sinful nation.
In order to justify the humiliation and the calamities appointed for Egypt, the prophet mentions the evil which the king and people of that land have committed, and which an omniscient and righteous Ruler cannot possibly pass unnoticed and unrebuked. According to his metaphorical habit, Ezekiel pictures Egypt as a young and ravening lion, seizing and devouring prey; as a dragon or crocodile, troubling the waters with its feet, and fouling the rivers. Such creatures are regarded by men as noxious, and as fit to be seized and destroyed.
I. THE CAUSE OF A NATION'S MORAL NOXIOUSNESS. The ultimate cause, recognized by inquirers who penetrate beneath the surface, is estrangement from God, a spirit of rebelliousness against God, leading to the violation of Divine Law and defiance of Divine authority.
II. THE MANIFESTATIONS OF A NATION'S MORAL NOXIOUSNESS.
1. An ungodly people is its own enemy. Its irreligiousness reacts upon itself, and saps the springs of national life.
2. Its example is injurious to surrounding peoples, who are in danger of being corrupted thereby; for "evil communications corrupt good manners."
3. Mischief is done by unprincipled states by fostering discord, suspicion, and war. The weak are oppressed, and powerful rivals are provoked to hostilities. The peace of the world is ever threatened by ambitious, aggressive, and quarrelsome nations.
III. THE PUNISHMENT OF A NATION'S NOXIOUSNESS. In the figurative language of Ezekiel, the dragon is captured, dragged to the shore, and suffered to die, so that its flesh is left to be consumed by birds and beasts, and its blood is mingled with the waters of the rivers. By this it is intimated that Egypt, as a punishment for the evil and mischief it has wrought, shall be brought low, its power crippled, and its glory dimmed.—T.
The sympathy of nature and of man with a fallen people.
The greatness of the catastrophe by which Egypt is to be overwhelmed is depicted by the prophet in a strikings, and poetical manner. It is represented that an impression is made thereby upon the heavenly bodies by which the earth is illumined, and upon the nations and kings who are astonished witnesses of the overthrow of one of the greatest monarchies of the world.
I. THE LUMINARIES OF THE DAY AND OF THE NIGHT VEIL THEIR SPLENDOUR AND WITHDRAW THEIR SHINING. The Scriptures teach us that all nature is a vehicle for the manifestation of Divine attributes, and that creation, in a very real sense, is one. Hence the sympathy appointed between nature and humanity. When men's sins are grievous, the floods cover the earth and sweep its guilty inhabitants into destruction. When the children of light strive in battle with the children of darkness, the sun stands still to prolong the hours of victory and pursuit. When the Savior expires upon the cross, it is amidst thick darkness. When the Holy Spirit is given, it is with the rush of wind and with lambent flames. These are but some instances of the part which nature plays in human history. No wonder, then, that when the Almighty, by the hand of his servant Nebuchadnezzar, smites Egypt to its fall, the sun, the moon, and the stars should be represented as withholding their light, as weeping over the calamities of one of the greatest of human powers.
II. THE PEOPLES AND THEIR KINGS ARE AMAZED AND TREMBLE AS FOR THEIR OWN SAFETY.
1. They experience a natural compassion for fallen greatness; it is a spectacle fitted to melt every heart. Envy and hatred vanish in the presence of misfortune so appalling.
2. They feel themselves in the presence of a supernatural power, which is righteousness taking the form of judicial interposition. The consciousness of the nearness and action of such a power is enough to rouse any nation from insensibility, secularity, and unspirituality. The hand of God is seen and the voice of God is heard. The Lord himself is near.
3. They mingle with the general apprehension of the activity of supernatural justice a certain apprehension and fear with regard to themselves. Have they not shared in some measure Egypt's sin? Have they not reason to dread Egypt's punishment? Who are they that they should be exempt from the retributive justice of the Eternal? The sword is brandished before them: may it not smite them? They tremble every man for his own life.—T.
Ezekiel 32:11, Ezekiel 32:12
The sword the implement of Divine judgment.
The sword has been a mighty factor in human history. However peace and harmony may be the ideal state of human society, the chronicles of the past and the observation of the present concur to assure us that there are elements in man's nature which will surely reveal themselves in hostility and in mutual ill will, in bloodshed, and in violent death. Nation rises against nation. The sword is drawn, and is only sheathed when one combatant is constrained to submit to the superior power of the other.
I. THERE IS A SENSE IN WHICH THE SWORD OF THE MIGHTY CONQUEROR IS THE SWORD OF GOD HIMSELF. When the King of Babylon attacked the King of Egypt, there is no doubt he was actuated by motives of hostility, of personal ambition, perhaps of revenge. But for all this, and although he knew it not, he was the minister of God, was doing God's work, executing God's purposes. The Almighty can overrule the wrathful passions of men to bring about the objects he desires to compass.
II. THE SWORD OF THE CONQUEROR IS THE SYMBOL OF SUPREME POWER. Men talk of submitting matters to the arbitrament of the sword, implying that there is no possibility of going behind and beyond this. In all earthly government physical force is the Ultimate resource; it may not be brought prominently forward, but it lies in the background, to be used when necessary. God's power controls and rules the nations; he cannot be resisted. "The nations are as nothing before him; they are counted as less than nothing and vanity;" "Let not the rebellious exalt themselves!"
III. THE CONQUEROR'S SWORD IS THE EMBLEM OF THE EXECUTION OF DIVINE JUSTICE. We speak of the sword of the magistrate, as well as of the sword of the soldier: "He beareth not the sword in vain." There is certainly no allusion in this prophetic passage to judicial functions, if they are understood to be distinct from military operations. Yet in God's hand the sword is not a weapon of violence, far less of injustice. He never smites vindictively, but always as a righteous Ruler and an impartial Judge. Even in warfare he is exercising a magisterial as well as a military office and power. His sword subdues the rebel, corrects the offender, and establishes the rule of justice, and brings about the purposes of equitable and happy peace.—T.
The gathering of the guilty nations in Hades.
This vision of the poet-prophet is one of the boldest and most sublime in the whole compass of literature. As a lofty flight of imagination it excites the wonder and admiration of every reader gifted with poetical appreciation. Ezekiel is bringing to a close his prophecies regarding the nations by which the land of Israel was encompassed. How far from the narrowness and the lack of sympathy sometimes attributed to the Hebrews was the prophet of the Oriental captivity! How wide the sweep of his vision! How ready his sympathy for the fate of other peoples than his own! And, above all, how sublime: his conception of the unity and the true immortality of the human race! As he was not limited by space, but interested himself in the territories and the dominions of distant monarchs, so he disdained the bounds of time, passed beyond this scene of discipline and probation, and anticipated the community of the heathen nations in the realm of Hades. There his prophetic spirit beheld Pharaoh and his people surrounded by the kings and armies and multitudes from other lands, participating in a just and common fate.
I. THE COMMON SIN OF THE NATIONS. Of all those mentioned by the prophet, it may be said that they were unfaithful to their trust, and incurred the just displeasure of the Ruler of the universe.
1. They had all forgotten God, for it is in this light that we must view their idolatry.
2. They had all sought their own aggrandizement and glory rather than the life of righteousness.
3. They had all been rapacious, violent, and unscrupulous in their treatment of neighboring peoples.
II. THE COMMON DOOM OF THE NATIONS. It is said of one after another of these guilty states, that they were all slain with the sword, and bore their shame with them that go down to the pit, to the midst of Sheol. It is said that "their iniquities were upon their bones" by which we may understand that their sin clave to them, that they were counted responsible for it, and were required to bear the penalties attaching to it. It would be absurd to attempt a precise explanation of the poetical language of this splendid vision, which is utterly insusceptible of logical analysis. It expresses the mood of the inspired prophet; it conveys a great moral truth; it aids us in the appreciation of national continuity and vitality; it brings powerfully before our mind the amenability of governments and states to the moral law and jurisdiction of the Eternal Righteousness.
III. THE COMMON WOE AND LAMENTATION OF THE NATIONS. "Son of man," said the Lord, "wail for the multitude of Egypt." Although the nations are represented as lying still in the depths of Sheol—their swords under their heads—yet they are represented as in some measure conscious; Pharaoh of Egypt being "comforted" at the awful approach of his compeers in pride and terror, and the Zidonians as ashamed because of their sin and its recompense. Mourning and lamentation must ensue upon sin, even though during its commission there be insensibility and obduracy.
IV. THE COMMON TESTIMONY OF THE NATIONS. The fate of the colossal world empires of antiquity has preached, in tones of power and in terms of unmistakable precision, to the after-times. These nations, in their worldly pride and in their providential fall, have taught mankind that there is but one sure foundation for a people's well-being, and that those who build upon another foundation are doomed to fall. God himself is the Source of true national life and prosperity. Where he is repudiated or forgotten, ruin is sure. Where he is honored and obeyed, there and there only will there prevail progress and stability and peace.—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
Judgment on a proud king.
The mightiest king is not irresponsible. Although he may find no authority on earth to exercise control over him, he shall find that an unseen Power holds him in check, and chastises his oppressions. From the ubiquity of God's scepter he cannot escape. We have here described—
I. A MONSTER OF MISCHIEF. He is represented as "a young lion of the nations," as "a whale in the seas." He is noteworthy, not for intellectual or manly qualities, but merely for animal strength and violence. This is ignoble and infamous. This is to degrade one's self. He who was created to be a ruler over the animal tribes lowers himself to be their equal. His crown is gone. To do good is worthy of a man; to do mischief is beast-like. "Thou troubledst the waters with thy feet, and fouledst their rivers." It is easy to do mischief; it is tenfold harder to do permanent good. Amaniac can destroy in an hour what a man of genius has taken long years to create. The king who devotes himself to aggressive warfare lowers himself to the level of a beast. A lion of the forest does the same.
II. HIS HUMILIATING CAPTURE. "I will therefore spread out my net over thee." The man who has been a firebrand among the nations, a pestilent destroyer, God often takes, with facility, in one of his nets. In the net of bodily disease King Herod was taken—"was eaten up of worms, and died." Sometimes God captures men by means of their own vices. Their lust or their drunkenness hath slain them. Sometimes God uses the plot of a conspirator, the intrigue of a palace cabal. Sometimes God uses the simplest agency of nature, as when the snow-flakes overwhelmed Napoleon's army, and defeated his purpose. A change of wind is sufficient to capture the royal monster, as when God turned the waves of the Red Sea over Pharaoh and his host. It is the height of folly for a king to be self. willed or to lose sight of the King of kings.
III. HIS COMPLETE DESTRUCTION. "I will cast thee forth upon the open field." The figure is maintained, viz. that the dead carcass of the monster shall lie unburied in the open field. This is not spoken of the person of Pharaoh, but of his imperial power, his existence as a monarch. His rule was to be destroyed. His crown and scepter should pass into hostile hands. Improbable as this event seemed at the moment of Ezekiel's announcement, it nevertheless came to pass. The dynasty of the Pharaohs ceased. The line of the Ptolemies occupied the throne. The improbable very frequently becomes the actual.
IV. NOTORIOUS DISHONOR. "I will fill the beasts of the whole earth with thee." The extreme idea of degradation and infamy is here delineated. Men crave for posthumous fame. They yearn to have a place of honor in the memory of coming generations. For the lifeless body to be treated with insult and neglect is a perpetual dishonor. Still greater is the dishonor when precious human blood is poured out, as a worthless thing, to irrigate the soil. Herein is the old doctrine confirmed, "They that despise me shall be lightly esteemed." In silent, unexpected methods God vindicates himself,
V. HIS FUNERAL DIRGE. "I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon shall not give her light." The inanimate objects of nature are poetically described as sympathizing with the doleful event. Man and nature are linked together. Man's fall was felt throughout the natural world. "The whole creation groaneth and travalleth together in pain until now." Man's recovery wilt be the consummation of nature's joy. "Then shall all the trees of the field rejoice;" "There shall be new heavens and a new earth." If only to give to men a livelier impression of the greatness of the disaster in Egypt, the luminaries of heaven are supposed to hide their faces in a mantle. In Egypt the light of the sun and of the moon are most brilliant. Seldom ever is a cloud seen. Hence the singular occurrence of sudden darkness would leave a deeper effect upon the human mind. The distant stars are moved by man's rise or fall.
VI. A WORLD-WIDE SHOCK. "I will make many people amazed at thee, and their kings shall be horribly afraid for thee." Pharaoh had seemed to be the highest embodiment of strength. His army had been prodigious. The desert on every side had been a rampart of defense. His power was well-established—had been of long continuance. His scepter had wide renown. If he fell, who can stand? where could safety be found? A sense of insecurity shock every monarch. Every man's life seemed to tremble in a balance. Distant nations heard the news of Pharaoh's fall with bated breath. Clearly a tremendous power hovered about them, all the more to be dreaded because unseen. Each man felt that he might be the next to be stricken down. All human calculations failed. Calm self-possession, in all seasons, is the special heritage of the godly.—D.
The downfall of one involves the downfall of many.
Every man is linked to society by organic ties. A king especially holds an important and responsible place. He is the key-stone of the arch. "No man liveth unto himself." He lifts others up or drags others down. He goes not to heaven, nor to hell, alone.
I. WAR IS THE SCOURGE IN GOD'S HAND. "By the swords of the mighty will I cause thy multitudes to fall." Even the angry passions of men God utilizes for righteous purposes. However reluctant, the devil shall become his servant. Sin shall illustrate the splendors of his grace. His amazing power shall form and mould all things to his will. The cruel sword shall serve to establish the empire of universal peace.
II. ONE MAN'S DESTRUCTION INCLUDES TEN THOUSAND OTHERS. Every man is, in greater measure or less, a moral magnet. The fall of a great commercial house brings down to ruin smaller enterprises. The bankruptcy of an employer of labor brings loss to all his servants. If the commander-in-chief falls in battle, the entire army is weakened. If a throne is overturned, all the inhabitants of the land suffer. We are bound each to each by manifold ties, and influence each other's destiny. A sense of responsibility should lend dignity to all our words and actions.
III. HUMAN DESTRUCTION IS MEASURED IN NATURE'S DESOLATION. "I will destroy all the beasts thereof from beside the great waters;" "The country shall be destitute of that whereof it was full." Under man's care, cattle increase, and the fields become trebly fertile. But if the inhabitants are swept off by the sword, domestic cattle disappear, and wild beasts roam at large. The land, uncultivated, cannot maintain the flecks. Desolation spreads far and wide. Barrenness appears where formerly plenty smiled. The face of nature mourns in sympathy with ruined man.
IV. THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD IS WELL PURCHASED WITH THE LOSS OF ALL THINGS. "When I shall make the land of Egypt desolate, then shall they know that I am the Lord." All knowledge is power, but the knowledge of God is power of the highest kind; it is life. To know God is practical wisdom; it is the only path to safety, elevation, and honor. If the issue of suffering, loss, or defeat in battle be to gain the knowledge of God, then, however great the outlay, the reward is amply satisfying. To know God is the way to obtain likeness to God; and this is the supreme privilege of every man. This is wealth that is abiding, joy that is eternal: honor that never fades.
V. SEVERE DISASTER BRINGS INTO VIEW THE UNITY OF THE HUMAN RACE. "The daughters of the nations shall lament her." The prosperity of a man or of a nation often excites envy. But distress awakens compassion. The sight of suffering moves into action the better part of human nature; it awakens the deepest feelings of the soul. In a time of great disaster, men forget their rivalries and hostilities, and, by their deeds, proclaim the oneness of the human family. Such sympathy in suffering has a benign and purifying influence on human nature. The night-dew is a preparation for higher fertility and beauty in the garden, both in nature and in the soul.—D.
Companionship in woe.
The prophet is a man of power. He is a king bearing an invisible scepter. As a monarch wields only a borrowed power—a power lent by God—so a true prophet is God's vicegerent. Here he unfolds a terrible vision, the outline of a woeful reality. He leads the Egyptian king to the mouth of a vast abyss, in which lie multitudes of the vanquished and the slain. He is invited to contemplate the condition of those thus dishonored by the King of Babylon. And he is forewarned that such will be his doom. Escape was just possible, but it was almost a forlorn hope.
I. DUTY OFTTIMES IS EXCEEDINGLY PAINFUL. God's servant is called upon to wail He is even an agent, though a subordinate agent, in casting king and people into the abyss of death. He is under obligation to act for God. The path of duty is often severely rugged; yet no other path is smoother, though another path may seem to be. The course of righteousness will be in the end peace, but in the process there is strife and hard discipline. The harvest will be plentiful, but severe exertion is required, and faith is put to the strain. The pain of travail must precede the joy of young life. Through toil we pass to honor.
II. SIN ALWAYS LEADS TO TERRIBLE DEGRADATION. Sin is already real degradation, although very often men do not see it. But the disease will appear by-and-by on the exterior circumstance. The seed will come to the fruitage. Sin is no "respecter of persons." Even "the daughters of the famous nations"—eminent for strength and beauty—"shall be cast down into the nether parts of the earth." There shall be visible a terrible downfall, an unmitigated degradation. As the lower orders of creatures cannot sin, neither can they suffer such degradation. The balances are in the hands of supreme justice, and the hour of final retribution draws on apace.
"Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small."
III. SELF-ESTEEM IS NO SAFEGUARD AGAINST JUST RETRIBUTION. "Whom dost thou pass in beauty? Go down, and be thou laid with the uncircumcised" The spirit of vanity may tempt us to say, "We are better than they. The doom of others will not be our doom" It is marvelous how men are taken in the web of self-deception. Yet no external circumstance has ever yet saved men from the effects of unrighteousness. Riches have not saved them. The beauty of Cleopatra did not protect her from a terrible doom. The honor of our contemporaries cannot save us. Posterity will easily reverse the present judgment of men, and the hand of justice will tear in pieces our flimsy reputation. Present fame may be future disgrace.
IV. ASSOCIATION WITH OTHERS WILL BE DETERMINED BY MORAL AFFINITIES. In the present state, men are associated by natural affinities and by external circumstances. But such arrangements are temporary and provisional only. Children nursed at the same breast and fed at the same table will have their final portion as separate as the poles asunder. Now kings consort with kings, nobles with nobles, poets with poets; but in the final apportionment, the righteous of every social grade will consort with the righteous; vile kings will consort with vile beggars. Earthly circumstance and pomp will have disappeared. Only moral distinctions will remain. Association in sin must terminate by association in woe. Human beings and all beings gravitate to that state for which they are fitted. No affinities are so deep and strong as moral affinities, and, though for a time suppressed, they will by-and-by be uppermost.
V. THE RUIN OF OTHERS IS IMPOTENT TO DETER FROM SIN. "The strong among the mighty shall speak to him out of the midst of hell" If only men would be warned by the fall and ruin of others, we might hope that all future generations of mankind would be saved. There are beacons without number to frighten men away from the rocks and quicksands of peril, yet all to no purpose. We think others to be in peril, not ourselves. Alas! "the heart is deceitful above all things." Nothing will turn us away from the fascinating eye of sin but the working of almighty grace within. Beacons become to us what scarecrows do to birds—they soon cease to alarm.
VI. SELF-INFLATION IS THE PRELUDE TO ETERNAL SHAME. "They were the terror of the mighty in the land of the living;" "With their terror, they are [now] ashamed of their might." After all, what a frail reed is the mightiest scepter or the most martial arm! What real weakness is at the heart of him who brandishes the gory sword! Like the frog who attempted to inflate himself to the magnitude of an ox, so the paltry man who assays to play the tyrant soon collapses. One sharp prick, and the windbag soon collapses. As a child feels overwhelmed with shame when he sees in the clear light of morning the tree or the gate-pest that terrified him in the darkness; so men at length discover the emptiness of the monarch, whose frown was for a moment their terror. All pretence to power and authority shall presently be hurled to the ground, ay, cast into the pit of oblivion. All real power shall abide.
VII. GOD'S TERROR IS SUPREME OVER MAN'S. "I have caused my terror in the land of the living." There is such a thing as power in the universe—an infinite power—before which it becomes every man to tremble; but this power is in the hand of God. "Jehovah reigneth, therefore let the people tremble." "Before him the inhabitants of the earth are as grasshoppers; they are like the small dust of the balance." His power is real, all-pervading, all-enduring. No being in the universe can diminish it nor resist it. Being a real power, it is becoming that it should inspire us with awe. The terror which tyrants and warriors awaken is only for a moment. The sham soon gets exposed. But presently the King of kings will make even tyrants shake, and the hearts of warriors melt. "Vengeance is mine," saith God; "I will repay." When Jehovah appears, tyrants hide themselves "in dens and caves of the earth."
"Fear him, ye saints, and ye will then
Have nothing else to fear."
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
God's teaching in history.
As the prophet continues his utterance in the same strain, our thought is directed to the same class of truths, and we learn—
I. THAT GREAT SINNERS ARE GREAT TROUBLERS. Egypt was a young lion among the nations, fierce, dangerous, dreaded (Ezekiel 32:2). It was a crocodile in the river, "breaking forth," "troubling the waters," and "fouling" them (Ezekiel 32:2). Great cities like Rome and Sparta, powerful kingdoms like Assyria anti Egypt, strong men like Scylla and Napoleon, have been sad troublers of their time. They have been invaders of territory, destroyers of institutions, disturbers of domestic life. And whenever strength is found dissociated from Christian principle and the Christian spirit, there must always be grave danger of trouble. To propound their own notions, to contrive their own comfort, to extend their own influence, unprincipled or selfish men will use their strength to disturb their neighbors' peace, reckless of the good they are undoing and of the misery and mischief they are causing.
II. THAT THEY FIND THEMSELVES DEFEATED IN THE END. God spreads out his net (Ezekiel 32:3), and the raging animal, the powerful fish, is taken in it. In the height of their power great nations and strong men imagine themselves to be absolutely secure, and they laugh at the designs of their enemies. But they do not know what forces are at work either within or around them; and they do not calculate that there is One who is working above them and against them. And as surely as the night follows the day, the hour of darkness will come to those who use the light of heaven to abuse their privileges and to wrong their fellow-men. Defeat and calamity await them. And sometimes it will be found—
III. THAT PALPABLE DISCOMFITURE SUCCEEDS DEFEAT. This great dragon of the deep could not be buried out of sight; its carcass was "upon the green field," "laid upon the mountains," and "filling the valleys," even" watering the laud with its blood" (Ezekiel 32:4-6). It could not be hidden; the ruin of the once proud kingdom should be
"Gross as a mountain, open, palpable."
Every eye should see it, every tongue should talk about it. Let men who are now prominent in power take heed lest they should become conspicuous for shame and for destitution, lest the name that is now on the lip of praise should be branded with dishonor. Unrighteousness, impurity, and selfish cruelty, when they have run their guilty and wretched course, will be held up before the eyes of men to receive the execration they deserve. The false divinity of today will be the fiend of tomorrow.
IV. THAT THE DISCOMFITURE OF ONE MAY MEAN THE CONFUSION OF MANY. When Egypt's light went out, the world immediately around it would be in darkness; all those who were walking in its light would be utterly benighted and confused (Ezekiel 32:7, Ezekiel 32:8). If we live in no better and no more enduring light than that of a very strong but unprincipled power, we may prepare for utter darkness before long. Our light will be extinguished; we shall lose our guide, and grope our way miserably. Well it is for those who choose the Sun of Righteousness, the Light of the world, that in the beams of his Divine truth they may rejoice all the day, may do their life-work, may "have light at eventide," and may be ready for a still brighter and everlasting morning under other skies.—C.
Ezekiel 32:13, Ezekiel 32:14
The unvisited river; or, life at a low level.
The great river appropriately represented the great nation which it enriched; and the picture of the fall of the kingdom includes the desertion of the banks of these "great waters" by man and beast (Ezekiel 32:14); and also the sinking of the river itself: "Then will I cause their waters to subside" (Fairbairn's translation). Such a river as the Nile may well illustrate—
I. A NOBLE LIFE. It is a source of beauty and fertility, and therefore of enrichment, to the land through which it runs. Itself an object of delight to the eye, it is the source of verdure all along its banks. By its overflow, or through simple agricultural appliances, it waters the whole district in which it flows, and makes all the difference between barrenness and abundance. Thousands of animals drink of it and bathe in it, while the inhabitants of town and village flock to its banks in their various necessities. A noble human life may be all this in a higher sphere.
1. It may add very considerably to that spiritual worth and beauty on which Christ looks down with Divine satisfaction.
2. It may be the source of all kinds of good—of health, of sustenance, of knowledge, of wisdom, of purity, of piety; of life at its best below, of the beginning of the life eternal.
3. It is a constant source of blessing. As the river runs, not spasmodically, but night and day, continually sending forth its refreshing and nourishing moisture into the land, so a true, Christian life is incessantly and unconsciously communicating good, in many forms, to those around it.
II. A LIFE PITIFULLY REDUCED. A very pitiful sight would be a river in such a state as that here imagined (rather than foreseen). Instead of being what it once was, it is now to the prophet's eye a diminished stream, its waters are low (not deep, but sunk; "the verb is properly to 'sink'"), and lie far beneath its banks; and they am such that no beast cares to drink of them; no man approaches to use them for the purposes of human life, whether of nourishment or of cleansing. The river is useless, worthless, abandoned to itself. How much more pitiable is the life that has been reduced; the life that has sunk, that moves not any longer on the higher plane of heavenly wisdom, but only on the low and muddy levels of selfishness, of covetousness, of a base indulgence; the life that has shriveled up into a poor dirty stream, no longer reflecting the beauty that is about it or the glory that is above it; the life that is unvisited, that no man cares to consult, by which no virtuous man directs his own, from which no man gains any strength, or impetus, or pure refreshment, which does no man any spiritual good; the life that is severely left alone!
III. THE CAUSE OF ITS DECLINE. If any river be thus actually reduced (as in Ezekiel's thought), it is because it is no longer fed as it once was by the rains of heaven. If a noble human life is thus reduced, it is because it is no longer supplied from above. It lacks the truth, the influences, the sustaining power, which should come to it from God. These may be cut off by some serious sin; or they may be withdrawn because we no longer keep open the channels through which they come.
1. Keep the mind open to all Divine wisdom and the heart to all holy influences.
2. Draw down the renewing rains of Heaven by constant communion and earnest prayer.
3. See that no "great transgression" diverts the waters; and the river of our life will flow on to the sea, without loss to its beauty or its power.—C.
A vision of the unseen world.
In this highly figurative prophetic utterance we have—
I. THE PROPHET'S VISION ITSELF. He sees Egypt taking her place, as a fallen power, amongst the departed in the nether world. Nothing could save her; there was no reason why she should not go down as other guilty powers had done, "Whom did she pass in beauty?" (Ezekiel 32:19). No distinction could be made in her case; she must "go down and be laid with the uncircumcised" (Ezekiel 32:19), "she and all her multitude" (Ezekiel 32:20). "The strong amongst the mighty" (in Shoal) give the latest comer welcome (Ezekiel 32:21). Assyria, with all tier company, is there to greet her; there, too, is Persia (Elam), and there is Scythia (Ezekiel 32:26), with "their swords under their heads, but their iniquities upon their bones (Ezekiel 32:27); Edom also is there, with her kings and princes, and "all the Zidonians, gone down with the slain." The old kingdoms that arose and that were sustained by violence have "perished with the sword" (Matthew 26:52), and the prophet of Jehovah is commissioned to" cast down Pharaoh" (Ezekiel 32:18) into "the nether parts of the earth" with them.
1. It is Egypt's sad fate to be discrowned of her power, as a mighty monarchy, to come down from her high place of honor and of command, to suffer an humiliating prostration from which she could have no hope of recovering.
2. It was Egypt's comfort that, in this descent, she would take her place amongst the greatest and strongest powers that once were upon the earth, but that had "gone down" to the shades. Pharaoh should see these, "and be comforted." She would not suffer alone.
II. ITS HISTORICAL PARALLEL. Those who have lived as God's servants, and have cared for the cause of righteousness, for the kingdom of God, have watched that they might witness the working of his hand among the great kingdoms of the earth. And they have seen that issue which Ezekiel here foretells concerning Egypt. They have seen great empires, rich and flourishing cities, powerful republics, that once "stood strong and even claimed to be immortal, broken under the weight of their iniquities, burdened with their wealth and all the corruptions it engendered, struck by the holy hand of Divine retribution," go down," and disappear. We look for them now, but they are no more. The same skies and the same hills and plains are there; the rivers that ran through the land still flow on; but what is left of their buildings, if anything is left at all, is in ruin; and the power that once was has utterly departed. It lives in nothing but in story and in song. But what is—
III. ITS PERSONAL APPLICATION. Not only the king or the prince, but also "the multitude," are seen in the nether parts (Verses 18, 24, 26). The people are there. This directs us to:
1. A common impending fate. Some day the grave will hold all the living. Indeed, to the poet's eye, this earth is less the home of the living than the resting-place of the dead.
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun, the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods, rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
Old ocean's grey and melancholy waste,
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man."
As the multitude that once trod the earth now "slumber in its bosom," so we also shall soon find our place beneath the ground.
2. A poetical consolation. Small comfort would it be to Pharaoh (see Verse 31) to find that he and his were in no worse plight than other kings and peoples who tenanted the shades. But such as it was, it was at his service. And it is quite true, as the same writer (supra) reminds us—
"Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone. Thou shalt lie down
With patriarchs of the infant world, with kings,
The powerful of the earth, the wise, the good,
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,
All in one mighty sepulcher."
But we want some better consolation than this very imaginary and unsatisfying one. Surely this is a very poor alleviation for losing life and all that a true and full human life holds. We must look elsewhere for our comfort. And we shall not fail to find it.
3. The real redeeming thought, viz. that the future to which we look forward, as the disciples and followers of Christ, is neither the dark grave in the cemetery nor the little less inviting Sheol of Hebrew thought, but the home of the blessed in the near presence of God, where life is free and full and pure, the mansions of the Father's house.—C.