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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 38". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ ezekiel-38.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Ezekiel 38". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
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The present and the following chapters, comprising the next oracle, or "word of God," delivered by the prophet, relate to the expedition (Ezekiel 38:1-13), overthrow (Ezekiel 38:14-23), and destruction of Gog (Ezekiel 39:1-20), with the results of the same to the heathen world and to Israel (Eze 38:21 -29). Attempts to identify Gog and his armies with particular nations, as e.g. with the Chaldeans (Ewald), the Scythians (Kuobel, Hitzig), the Greeks under Antiochus Epiphanes (Grotius), and even the Turks (Luther), have not been and are not likely to be successful. Either the highly idealized picture the prophet sketches was designed, as Hengstenberg thinks, to sum up and present in one great battle-piece all the conflicts which, throughout subsequent centuries, the restored and united Israel should have to maintain against the heathen world; or it was intended, as Havernick, Keil, and others believe, to point to one closing struggle, in which the world's hostility to the Church of God should culminate, and in which it should be utterly and finally broken. In favor of this latter view stand the facts that by the prophet the uprising of Gog is located in "the latter days," and by the author of the Apocalypse, who seems to allude to the same event, the last battle between the powers of evil and the Church of God is placed immediately before the final judgment and the emergence of the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 20:8).
The announcement of Cog's expedition against Israel.
The word of the Lord came unto me. Although this oracle is unaccompanied by any note of time, it was obviously delivered before the twenty-fifth year of the Captivity (Ezekiel 40:1), and most likely in immediate succession to the preceding prophecy, with which also it has a close relation in respect of purport, being designed to show that against restored and united Israel, i.e. against the Church of God of the future, the strongest combinations of hostile force would not prevail, but would fall back defeated and self-destroyed.
Set thy face against (or, toward) God. Although occurring in 1 Chronicles 5:4 as the name of a Reubenite, Gog was probably a title formed by Ezekiel himself from the word Magog, the syllable ma being treated as equivalent to "land." A similar freedom appears to have been exercised by the author of the Apocalypse, who out of Magog, here a territorial designation, makes a military power co-ordinate with Gog (Revelation 20:8). That Gog was not an actual person—though the name reminds one of that of the Lydian king Gyges, as it appears on the monuments, Gu-gu, Gu-ug-gu, aud of that of one Sa-gi, or Sa-agi, the ruler of another Eastern territory not yet identified—but an ideal character, must be held as proved by the composite structure of his army, which was drawn from the four comers of the globe, as well as by the highly imaginative texture of the whole prophecy, which, as Hengstenberg properly remarks, has a thoroughly "utopian [perhaps better, 'ideal'] character," showing that it moves "in the region of holy fancy." The words, the land of Magog, are not, with Havernick, Ewald, and Smend, to be interpreted as the local or geographical terminus of the prediction, as if the word of God had said, "Set thy face toward Gog, toward the laud of Magog;" but, with the majority of expositors, as a territorial designation signifying that Gog was in or of the laud of Magog, which is here marked with the article, probably to identify it with the well-known Magog mentioned in Genesis 10:2, along with Tubal and Mesech as among the descendants of Japheth. From the circumstance that in the table of nations Magog stands between Gomer (the Cimmerians) and Madai (the Medians), and that Gomer appears in Gog's army, it has been not unreasonably concluded that to Ezekiel Magog represented a fierce Northern tribe, most likely, as Josephus ('Ant.,' 1.6. 1) asserts, the Scythians, whose territories lay upon the borders Of the sea of Azov and in the Caucasus. Plumptre even thinks that, "placed as Ezekiel was, he may well have come into contact with these Scythian tribes, either as part of Nebuchadnezzar's army or by a journey on his part into the regions north of Ararat". Yet, could both of these hypotheses be established, it would not follow that Ezekiel was thinking merely, as Knobel and Gesenius suppose, of a future struggle which Israel should have to maintain against these genres Scythicas immanes et innumerabiles, as Jerome in his day described them. In addition to being named from his land, Gog is further distinguished by the peoples over whom he rules, Ezekiel styling him the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal—a translation adhered to by Hengstenberg, Ewald, and Smend; or, according to the LXX; which most expositors and the Revised Version follow, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. The former rendering is obtained by interpreting נְשִׂיא ראֹשׁ after the analogy of הַכֹּהֵן ראֹשׁ, "chief priest," or "minister," in 1 Chronicles 27:5; and is supported by a similar use of the word rosh on coins under the government of the Persian satraps; yet the second rendering is not devoid of considerations that may be urged in its favor. Besides being grammatically possible, it yields a souse which is not improbable. Byzantine and Arabian writers of the tenth century were acquainted with a people called οἱ Ρῶς, who were Scythian mountaineers, dwelling north of the Taurus, on the shores of the Black Sea and on the banks of the Volga. The Koran speaks of a land of Ras not far from the Araxes. Whether either of these can be connected with present-day Russians, as Gesenius suggests—an hypothesis which Hengstenberg protests deals hardly with the poor Russians—must be left undecided. So must the question whether the people inquired after can be identified, as Delitzsch suggests, with the inhabitants of the land of Raseh (mat Ra-a-si) of the Inscriptions, which was Situated on the confines of Elam on the Tigris. At the same time, Jerome's objection will scarcely hold good against understanding Resh as the name of a people, viz. that the Bible elsewhere has no knowledge of any such people, since, as Havernick observes, "one cannot know beforehand whether to Ezekiel, in his then place of abode, the knowledge of such a people was not likely sooner to come than to any Old Testament writer," and it is certain that the Book of Ezekiel is not wanting in names that occur only once, as e.g. Chilmad (Ezekiel 27:23) and Chub (Ezekiel 30:5). Hitzig points out that in Genesis 10:1-32, along with Mesech and Tubal, is mentioned a third nation, Tiras, which Yon Hammer has attempted to connect with Rosh; while Schroder sees in Rosh (allied to Ross, "horse") an indication that the people were equestrian in their habits, like the Scythians. The other peoples, Meshech and Tubal, were undoubtedly the Mosohians and Tibarenes, who, according to Herodotus (3.94; 7.78), dwelt south of the Black Sea.
I am against thee, O Gog. Just because Gog was against Israel, Jehovah was against Gog. Gog's invasion of Israel's land would be a declaration of war against Israel's God. so that the conflict would rather be between Jehovah and Gog than between Israel and Gog. Hence throughout this prophecy Jehovah is represented as the principal actor on the side of Israel, who seeks her defense not in walls and bulwarks or in earthly alliances and military combinations, ,s in the days of the monarchy before the exile, but in the presence of Jehovah in her midst.
I will turn thee back. שׁוֹבַבְתִּיךָ (pilel of שׁוּב, and signifying "to cause to return") has by Hitzig, Havernick, Ewald, and Keil, been interpreted in the sense of "enticing," "misleading," decoying to a dangerous enterprise, as in Isaiah 47:10; but the ordinary meaning seems sufficient, that Jehovah would turn him back from his own self-devised career, or turn him about like a wild beast, putting hooks into his jaws (comp. Ezekiel 29:4; 2 Kings 19:28; Isaiah 37:29), and so compelling him to follow the lead of a power superior to himself. It is as evident that a turning back from the Holy Land cannot be intended, as it is that a turning back to the Holy Land is unsuitable, unless, with Hengstenberg and Ewald, one regards Gog as the Chaldeans, or, with Hitzig, and Schroder, as the Scythiaus, though these latter never were in Palestine, having left it unvisited in their campaign in B.C. 626, and had not as yet formed the design of invading Israel. Smend is not wide of the mark in suggesting that the thought expressed in the verb is simply that of the superior might of Jehovah. I will bring thee forth. That the power which stirs up Gog is here represented as that of Jehovah, while in Revelation 20:8 it is affirmed to be that of Satan, need occasion no more difficulty than the similar statements, in 1 Samuel 24:1, about God and in 1 Chronicles 21:1 about Satan, stirring up David to number Israel. The enumeration of horses and horsemen in Gog's army points to the Scythians, who, according to Herodotus, were mostly equestrian tribes, although the Scythian remains discovered at Kerteh do not give an example of a Scythian horse-archer. All of them clothed with all sorts of armor, better, clothed with perfection, i.e. splendidly attired, all of them. A characteristic of the Assyrian army (comp. Ezekiel 23:12; Nahum 2:3). The arms of the warlike host—a great company, as in Ezekiel 17:17 (comp. Revelation 20:8, "the number of whom is as the sand of the sea")—are described as consisting of bucklers, or shields large enough to cover the whole of the soldier, and not so suitable for cavalry as for infantry (comp. Ezekiel 23:24); shields, i.e. bucklers of smaller size than the proceeding, such as Assyrian warriors were accustomed to carry; and swords, or weapons for laying waste. The Assyrian soldiery employed "the short dagger, or dirk, and the sword, which was of two kinds. The ordinary kind was long and straight, the less usual kind being curved, like a scimitar" ('Assyria, its Princes,' etc.). In connection with the allied nations in Ezekiel 17:5, only the small "shield" and "helmet" are mentioned.
These allied nations are depicted as coming from the four quarters of the globe. Persia (see Ezekiel 27:10), from the east; Ethiopia (see Ezekiel 30:5), or Gush (Genesis 10:6), from the south; Libya, or Phut (see Ezekiel 27:10; Ezekiel 30:5), from the west; and Gomer (see Genesis 10:2, Genesis 10:3; 1 Chronicles 1:5), the Cimmerians of Homer ('Odyss.,' Ezekiel 11:13-19), whose abodes were the shores of the Euxine and Caspian Seas, and the Gimirrai of the Assyrian Inscriptions; with the house of Togarmah, from the north, or the extreme regions of the north, as in Isaiah 14:13 (see Ezekiel 27:14). The first three are portrayed as armed with shield and helmet, or more accurately as being all of them shield and helmet, which might signify that they should serve as a shield and helmet to Cog, who in truth should be unto them and their confederates a guard; i.e; according to Keil and Schroder, one who keeps watch over them; according to Miehaelis and Havernick, one who gives them law; according to Hengstenberg, one who is their authority; according to Ewald and Smend, one who serves to them as an ensign, t.¢. acts to them as a leader or commander. The LXX. translation, with which Hitzig agrees, "And thou shalt be to me for a guard," is manifestly wrong.
After many days thou halt be visited. The principal controversy raised by these words is as to whether they signify, as Hitzig, Fairbairn, and Kliefoth suppose, that after many days Gog should be entrusted with the command of the aforementioned nations, or, as Ewald, Hengstenberg, Keil, Schroder, Plumptre, and Currey translate, that Gog, who intended to visit Israel, should himself be visited, in the sense of being punished. In support of the former rendering appeal is taken to Nehemiah 7:1; Nehemiah 12:44; and Jeremiah 15:3; but the verb פָמקד when used in this sense is commonly followed by עַל with the accusative of that or those with reference to which or whom the appointment is made or commission issued, and in addition no such commission with reference to these other nations was ever given by God to Gog. In vindication of the second meaning of the words, Isaiah 24:22 and Isaiah 29:6 are ordinarily quoted: while in answer to the objection that it is too soon to talk of punishment for an offense not yet committed, it is customary to reply that, as Jehovah's stirring up of Gog was the first step towards his ultimate overthrow, that stirring up might fairly be described as at least the beginning of his judicial visitation. Havernick's translation, "For a long time thou wilt be missed," i.e. considered as a people that has utterly vanished," is forced; Smend's is better, "After many days thou shalt be mustered," or numbered. In any case Gog's first movement should take place in the latter years; literally, at the end of the years—a frequent prophetic phrase (see Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14; Isaiah 2:2; Daniel 10:14; Micah 4:1), here denoting the Messianic era, and should assume the form of an invasion of the land of Israel, which is next described by a threefold characterization.
(1) As a land brought back from the sword, not in the sense of its people having been made to desist from war, through being henceforth peacefully inclined (comp. Isaiah 2:4; Micah 2:8), or of their having ceased to expect war, because of living ever after securely (Isaiah 29:11), but in that of having been recovered from its devastations (Ezekiel 6:3-5);
(2) as a land whose inhabitants had been gathered out of many nations—a phrase, which while starting from and including the return from Babylon, manifestly looked beyond that event to the wider dispersion of Israel that should precede the final ingathering; and
(3) as a land whose mountains had been always waste; literally, for a waste continually. If such was their condition prior to the return from captivity, it is undeniable that such has practically been their condition ever since, and such it is likely to continue to be, until the final ingathering of the dispersed of Israel.
Like a storm, and like a cloud. Gog's invasion, his "ascension," or "going up" (compare the Greek term ἀνάβασις for a military expedition), should be like a storm in its suddenness and violence, as in Proverbs 1:27, and like a cloud in its threatening aspect and overshadowing nearness (see Proverbs 1:16; and comp. Jeremiah 4:13). Taken together, the images suggest that Gog's invasion should burst forth suddenly, rage violently, spread quickly, alarm greatly, but cease finally. Storms roar and crash, alarm and destroy, but do not continue. Clouds diffuse gloom and fear, but ultimately disperse.
Thou shalt think an evil thought; "conceive a mischievous purpose" (margin); or, devise an evil device (Revised Version). The ultimate responsibility for Gog's expedition should rest on Gog himself, who should be impelled thereto by his own lust of conquest. Ezekiel here recognizes what the Bible is full of, the duality of existence, according to which man is both a free agent, acting out his own thoughts and plans, and an unconscious instrument in the hands of God carrying out his counsels and designs.
Ezekiel 38:11, Ezekiel 38:12
give voice to the things that should come into Gog's mind and incite him to his enterprise against Israel. The spectacle of Israel dwelling safely, i.e. securely and confidently, in a land of un-walled villages—literally, a land of open places, as opposed to fortified cities—i.e. of towns without walls, and having neither bars nor gates (comp Zechariah 2:4, Zechariah 2:5; Deuteronomy 3:5; 1 Samuel 6:18), because of being no more apprehensive of invasion, should excite within his bosom the thought that Israel would fall an easy prey to his assault; and this thought again should kindle in his bosom the lust of conquest which should finally impel him to the sinful project described, viz. to take a spoil and to take a prey; literally, to spoil the spoil (comp. Ezekiel 29:19; Isaiah 10:6) and to prey the prey (Isaiah 33:23). In execution of this he would fall upon the once desolate but then inhabited places, upon the once scattered but then collected population, upon the previously poor but then wealthy inhabitants, who should then have gotten cattle and goods (cattle and chattel best renders the Hebrew parouomasia, mikneh vekinyan), as the patriarchs of their nation had once done (Genesis 34:23; Genesis 36:6), and who should then be dwelling in the midst of the land; literally, in the height, or, navel (LXX; Vulgate), of the earth (comp. Judges 9:37), the Hebrews generally regarding Palestine as the Greeks did Delphi, both as the middle (Ezekiel v 5) and perhaps therefore if not as the highest (Gesenius), at least as the fairest and most fertile portion of the earth.
Sheba, and Dorian, and the merchants of Tarshish were the great trading communities of the South, East, and West respectively (see on Ezekiel 27:15, Ezekiel 27:20, Ezekiel 27:22, Ezekiel 27:25). The young lions thereof—i.e. of Tarshish, not of the other communities (Keil)—were probably intended to represent, not the" authorities" of Tarshish, as Hitzig suggests, but its smaller tradesmen who were equally rapacious with its larger merchants. All are depicted as following in the wake of Gog, like vultures in the rear of an army, and as inquiring whether Gog had come simply for the purpose of destruction or in the hope of trading with the booty he should capture. In this case they intimate their wish to be partakers of the spoil This (Plumptre), rather than the thirst for booty which characterized them (Keil), their question to Gog signified; Schroder's idea, that they purposed ironically to ridicule the smallness of the spoil which would reward so gigantic an expedition, has as little to recommend it as Kliefoth's suggestion, that they designed to intimate their sympathy with Gog's invasion of Israel.
The prophet is next directed to assure Gog of four things,
(1) that in the latter days he should come up against Israel as predicted (Ezekiel 38:14-16);
(2) that he should not do so without Divine observation, permission, and direction (Ezekiel 38:16, Ezekiel 38:17);
(3) that nevertheless Jehovah's indignation should flame forth against him (Ezekiel 38:18); and
(4) that Jehovah would magnify himself in his destruction.
Shalt thou not know it? viz. that Israel is dwelling safely and unsuspectingly? Assuredly; because the barbarian chieftain will then be on the watch, as it were, to spy out Israel's defenseless condition, and to fix upon the most opportune moment for an assault. The LXX. read, "Shalt thou not arise?" Οὐκ … ἐγερθήση; and following it, both Hitzig and Ewald, without other justification, change תֵּדָע into תֵּעֹר, "Wilt thou bestir thyself?"
All of them riding upon horses (see on Ezekiel 38:4; and comp. Ezekiel 23:6; Ezekiel 26:7; Jeremiah 6:23; and Amos 2:15). The Scythians are said to have been able to eat, drink, and sleep in the saddle (Schroder).
I will be sanctified in thee, O Gog. Jehovah meant that in taking vengeance upon Gog for assailing Israel, he would be seen to be a holy and a righteous God.
Art thou he of whom I have spoken in old time? As no existing prophecy, prior to Ezekiel's time, mentions Cog by name, it must be concluded either
(1) that Ezekiel refers to prophecies known in his day, though no longer extant; or
(2) that his words simply mean that earlier prophets had predicted such an invasion of Israel in the last times as that which he announces under the leadership of Gog. The former opinion, though countenanced by Ewald, Kuenen, and Smend, is less probable than the latter, which expositors both ancient and modern favor. Schroder considers the hypothesis that earlier prophets had spoken of Gog by name as excluded by the interrogatory form of the sentence, since, had Cog been thus explicitly pointed out, there would, he thinks, have been no need to ask, "Art thou he?" But it is doubtful if the interrogatory form of the words had any other intention than to lend emphasis to the assertion that Gog was he to whom the earlier prophets had unconsciously referred. As to which earlier prophets he alluded opinions vary. Ewald cites Isaiah 10:6; Isaiah 17:4; Smend adding Micah 5:11; Zephaniah 3:8; Keil, Isaiah 25:5, Isaiah 25:10; Jeremiah 30:23, 25; Joel 4:2, 11, etc.; Hengstenberg, Deuteronomy 32:1-52.; Isaiah 24-27.; Isaiah 34:0.; and Fairbairn, Numbers 24:17-24; Isaiah 14:28-32; Isaiah 18:1-7.; Joel 3:1-21.; Daniel 2:44, Daniel 2:45; though Schroder is probably correct in holding that all should be included which represent the hostility of the heathen world as culminating in the latter days in a grand concentrated attack upon Israel. Smend sees in the unusual phenomenon that Ezekiel reflects upon earlier prophecies an indication of the declining spirit of prophetism; it should, however, rather be regarded as a sign of superior spiritual insight on the part of Ezekiel, who could discern that from the first the prophets had been guided in their utterances by One who was intimately acquainted with the whole world-program, and knew the end from the beginning, so that however dark and enigmatical their predictions might be when taken separately, when viewed in connection they were recognized as forming parts of a harmonious whole.
Ezekiel 38:18 and Ezekiel 38:19 are not, as Hitzig, Kliefoth, and others explain, on the ground of the perfect, "I have spoken" (Ezekiel 38:19), which, however, is rather a prophetical present—a free recapitulation of the earlier predictions, but a direct announcement through Ezekiel that when Gog should arrive upon the scene Jehovah should take the field against him, so that he should have to fight against Jehovah rather than against Israel. The expression, my fury shall come up in my face; or, my wrath ascends in rail nose, has parallels in Ezekiel 24:8; Psalms 18:9; and Deuteronomy 32:22, and describes the vehement breathing (inhalation and exhalation) of an angry man through his nose. The fire of Jehovah's wrath (comp. Eze 21:1-32 :36; Ezekiel 36:5) should make itself known in that day by a great shaking in the land of Israel, which can hardly, as Kliefoth surmises, refer to the final judgment, or, as Keil thinks, to the trembling of the whole earth, with all the creatures, before the Lord, who comes to judgment, as in Joel 4:16 and Zechariah 14:4, Zechariah 14:5, since the locality in which this convulsion of nature is to happen is expressly defined as "the land of Israel;" but must be understood, with Schroder and Smend, as a figurative description of the terrible overthrow which Jehovah should inflict upon Gog, and which should produce within the heathen mind a feeling of consternation, as if the whole fabric of the globe were falling into ruin. Grounding upon what occurred at Sinai (Exodus 19:16-18), Hebrew writers generally depicted special interpositions of Jehovah as being witnessed to and accompanied by awe-inspiring natural convulsions (comp. Psalms 18:7, Psalms 18:15; Psalms 46:2, Psalms 46:3; Psalms 55:2; Isaiah 13:9-13; Isaiah 24:19-22; Jeremiah 4:23-26; Nahum 1:5; Zechariah 14:4); and in the same manner does Ezekiel delineate Jehovah's intervention in behalf of Israel and against Gog, as so alarming that all living creatures, irrational as well as rational—fishes of the sea, fowls of the heaven, beasts of the field, creeping things that creep upon the earth (or, ground—adamah), and men upon the face of the earth; or, ground (comp. Genesis 1:26; Genesis 7:21-23)—should shake at its accompanying manifestations, and that even the mightiest objects in nature, such as the mountains, steep places, or, "reek-clefts" (Ewald), such elevations as can only be ascended by means of steps as by a ladder (comp. So 2:14), and walls (comp. Jeremiah 15:20), including natural ramparts as well as humanly constructed erections, should be overthrown (verse 20).
Every man's sword shall be against his brother (comp. Zechariah 14:13). The consternation produced by Jehovah's interposition should be such that the ranks of Gog should fall into utter confusion, and his warriors exterminate each other, as did the Midianites in the days of Gideon (Judges 7:22), and the Moabites, Ammonites, and Seiritea, who invaded Judah in the reign of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:23).
Ezekiel 38:22, Ezekiel 38:23
Pestilence and blood (comp. Ezekiel 5:17; Ezekiel 14:19; Ezekiel 28:23)… an overflowing rain and great hailstones—literally, stones of ice (comp. Ezekiel 13:11,Ezekiel 13:13)—fire, and brimstone, or, pitch (comp. Genesis 19:24). The imagery here brought together was probably borrowed from the accounts given in the Pentateuch of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24), of the plagues in Egypt (Exodus 7-10.), and of the extermination of the Canaanites (Joshua 10:11). The result of the whole would be to impress the minds of many nations with the conviction that Israel's God was both great and powerful, that, in fact, he was God alone.
Gog and Magog.
If we take these names as representing the Scythians and their king, we have a description of God's judgment of the most wild and remote heathen tribes and of their relation to Israel.
I. THE BIBLE IS FOR ALL NATIONS. It contains a message even for Gog and Magog—it is intended to reach the Scythians. It has to do with all people in the world. The Hebrew prophet was not permitted to narrow his thoughts to the parochial mind; His vision was world-wide. A Jew of the Jews, he was nevertheless a preacher to mankind. Much more is the Christian apostle a preacher to all men. Here is a great motive for circulating the Scriptures among all nations.
II. GOD HAS DEALINGS WITH ALL PEOPLE. His influence extends to Gog and Magog. God's hook will be put in the jaws of the distant prince. The heathen are under God's notice and affected by his supreme authority. To be far from the Church of God is not to be far from the power of God. The ends of the earth feel his great energy. The arms of God are long. This is a reason for our seeking to enlighten the most remote and heathenish people; for they all belong by right to God.
III. GOD TAKES ACCOUNT OF SAVAGES. The Scythians of ancient times were about the wildest known people; they were to the Easterns of the past what the cannibals of Central Africa are to modem Europeans. It was difficult to make civilized nations feel that they belonged to the same species with such wild men of the Northern forests. Yet God knew these people. God does not ignore the most degraded savages. They, too, are naturally made in the image of God. Judged according to their poor, obtuse, perverted consciences, even they will have to give account to the God of all. They are not responsible for the ignorance and degradation in which they are born, and surely God will deal very leniently with these unhappy races. Yet for their acknowledged evil even they must be punished. But if there is a judgment of Gog, much. more must there be a judgment of Israel; if the savages of Africa must give an account of the deeds done in the body, much more must the Christians of Europe appear before the judgment-seat of God.
IV. CHRISTIANITY BRINGS A GOSPEL OF SALVATION AND UNION FOR ALL NATIONS.
It even includes Gog and Magog in its gracious outlook; for St. Paul taught that the Scythians were to share in the common brotherhood of the Christian Church (Colossians 3:11).
1. The gospel is suited to the lowest heathen. This fact is proved by its effects. While the dreamer at home pronounces the Christianizing of savages to be an impossibility, the worker in the missionary field answers effectually by quietly accomplishing the so-called impossible feat. Charles Darwin was so struck with the good work of missionaries in civilizing the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego, whom he regarded as about the most degraded savages on the face of the earth, that he subscribed to the society from which the missionaries had gone forth.
2. The gospel should be spread among the lowest heathen. We have no excuse to despair of any. The very dedication of heathendom is a call to Christians for help. Rousseau's fancy of the innocence and happiness of the simple savage is not justified by experience. Oppressed with cruelty and superstition, degraded in uncleanness, the savage greatly needs the liberty and salvation of Christ.
After many days.
Time is an element which needs to be taken into calculation in the consideration of all human affairs. We are too short-sighted, too hasty, too impatient. God has the leisure of eternity.
"The mills of God grind slowly,
But they grind exceeding small."
We must learn to use the telescopes of faith and hope, and look far beyond the scene of the present, if we would form a right estimate of any important human event.
I. THE MISCHIEF OF EVIL IS SEEN AFTER MANY DAYS. This would be a pertinent consideration in regard to the evil work of remote Gog and Magog.
1. The mischief may be slow to develop. At first men enjoy the pleasures of sin; the pains come later. Judgment is deferred. God is patient and long-suffering, and he gives ample time for repentance. Nevertheless, the accumulations of wrath will at length burst over the heads of the finally impenitent.
2. The mischief may long endure. It may last for many days. A hasty sin may be followed by a lengthy penalty. The crime of a moment may be punished with penal servitude for life. One man's wickedness may bring misery on generations.
II. THE FRUITS OF GOODNESS ARE SEEN AFTER MANY DAYS. Earnest men work, and yet see but little results coming from their labors; so that they seem to be laboring for nothing. Like the disciples who toiled all 'night and took nothing, perhaps they are ready to despair just when a grand reward is within their reach. We have to learn to work and wait, and to obey our Master's command even when we expect but little good to come from our labor.
III. THE HARVEST OF THE GOSPEL IS REAPED AFTER MANY DAYS. The Christian preacher may have to go forth weeping, but he bears precious seed. Therefore, though he sows in tears, he will reap in joy. What we have to remember is that our work is seed-sowing, not the planting of full-grown trees. The latter process would give us the more immediate results; but it would be the more precarious, for the trees would not be easily kept alive. Now, since our work is a sowing of seeds, necessarily it cannot produce visible results at once. The field that has been sown all over with the best seed looks at first much like one that has been left waste and neglected. The Christian preacher, the Sunday school teacher, the missionary, have all to sow in patience. Perhaps one may sow and another reap. A man may not live to gather the harvest of his labor; then his works will follow him (Revelation 14:13).
IV. THE BEST BLESSINGS OF THE CHRISTIAN LIFE ARE ENJOYED AFTER MANY DAYS.
1. We may haw to wait for them. Some inestimable blessings may be had at once. We have no delay in receiving the pardon of our sins and the regeneration of our souls when we truly repent and yield ourselves to Christ. Still, "this is not your rest." We are not yet in heaven. The cross must now be carried; we must wait for the crown.
2. They will endure forever. We shall have them after many days, and after many days more these best blessings of God will still endure. The things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18). No math nor rust corrupt the heavenly treasures. When all things on earth fade these shall abide, the everlasting inheritance of God's people.
An evil thought.
I. AS EVIL THOUGHT MAY COME UNBIDDEN. "Things come into" the mind. Like a bird of passage from a distant continent, like a stray seed dropped into a well-tilled garden, like a breath of infection on a healthy person, evil may come from without unsought and even unsuspected. Every one must be conscious of the way in which a thought will flash into his mind. But often a suggestion of evil may come from some visible external thing. An evil sight will suggest an evil thought; therefore we need to pray that God may turn away our eyes from beholding vanity. Bad companions will prompt evil thoughts; therefore we have to be on our guard as to what society we frequent. We cannot but be in the world, though we should not be of it. Sights and sounds of evil assail us on every side—in visible occurrences, in conversation, in newspapers, in books. It is impossible to bar every avenue against the intrusion of an evil thought. It may come to the purest soul.
II. AN EVIL THOUGHT IS A DANGEROUS GUEST. The Americans and the Australians are much concerned at the character of persons who pour into their territories from the overflowing population of Europe. Hence their regulations setting conditions to the reception of emigrants. We cannot always prevent the incoming of evil thoughts, but we must beware of the mischief of their presence when they have come.
1. An evil thought tends to spread. It is like the little leaven that leavens the whole lump, like the worthless seed which, growing up, produces a host of new seeds, and so makes the weeds take possession of the soil. A striking idea starts a whole chain of thoughts.
2. An evil thought tends to rouse an evil desire. The active evil from without appeals to the latent evil within the soul. Thus while in one place St. James writes of Satan as our tempter (James 4:7), in another he says that we are tempted by our own evil desires (James 1:14). The evil thought is most dangerous because it is lodged in an evil nature. Unhappily, the seed of evil falls on congenial soil. The germ of sin attacks one who has what the doctors would call a sinful diathesis, a temperament that is naturally prone to sin.
III. AN EVIL THOUGHT SHOULD BE QUICKLY EXPELLED. We cannot prevent its coming; but we may refuse to give it quarter. If we harbor it we consent to its presence, and take the guilt of it on ourselves. Thus we make it no longer a foreign intruder, but our own thought. The practical question is how may the evil thought be cast out?
1. Directly, by resisting it. We should pray against an evil thought, and firmly set our foot upon it when it has come near to us.
2. Indirectly, by encouraging a better thought. An empty mind is always ready to receive bad guests. The last state of the house from which the evil spirit was cast out became worse than the first, because, though it was swept and garnished, it was left empty (Matthew 12:44). There are plants the very vigor of which, when they are once well established, will prevent the growth of weeds among them; in the struggle for existence they are stronger than the weeds. The presence of Christ in the heart is the best antidote to evil thoughts.
The day of security.
I. THERE IS A DAY OF SECURITY. Then God's people dwell safely. We talk of the warfare of the Christian life. There is a lifelong war. But this is not a perpetual battle. There are lulls in the storm, and quiet seasons in the Christian contest. At such times there is a temptation to unreasonable ease and confidence, just as in times of trouble people are ready to despair and imagine that "all these things are against" them. Still, the day of security has its blessing, and if this is not abused it may be welcomed as helpful.
1. It affords an opportunity for recovering strength. The soldier cannot be always fighting. Repose is essential as a pro-legation for future exertion.
2. It enables us to perform quiet work. The whole of Christian experience is not covered by the idea of warfare. There are such things as working in the vineyard, fruit-bearing, building up the house of God, etc; which his servants have to attend to, and which can be best accomplished without distracting thoughts, in times of security.
3. It offers us a foretaste of heavenly blessedness. Heaven is a safe place, and its Messed inhabitants dwell there securely. Their security, indeed, is sound and enduring; while ours on earth may be but brief and treacherous, like the calm on a mountain lake, which may be broken at any moment by a sudden squall. Still, while we enjoy the peace we may be thankful for it, and gratefully accept it as an earnest of that in the eternal home, "where the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest."
II. THE SECURITY OF GOD'S PEOPLE IS OBSERVED BY THEIR FOES. Gog and Magog take note of the security of Israel and bestir themselves. Satan watches his opportunity, and often finds it best when the servants of God are quite confident in the sense of safety. The city gates are left open and the walls unmanned because no enemy is expected. The doors are unbolted at night because the householder never imagines that any burglar will visit his home. But these very signs of security tempt an attack, and, when it comes, give fatal facility to the enemy's projects. The Eurydice suddenly went down with all on beard, when struck by a squall off the Isle of Wight, just because the fine weather had tempted the crew to leave all the port-holes open. It must have been observed by every one who has watched his own experience that seasons of spiritual peace and joy are commonly followed by times of severe temptation. Immediately after the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus he was led into the wilderness to be tempted. Peter's boast was swiftly followed by his denial of his Master. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).
III. THE SECURITY OF GOD'S PEOPLE REVEALS THE ATTRACTIVENESS OF HIS SERVICE. Gog and Magog seem to take note of the security of Israel as beasts of prey observe the unsuspecting confidence of the game they are scenting; out they might also observe it with admiration, as Balaam did that of the tents of Israel (Numbers 24:5), as Milton's Satan observed the peace and joy of the happy pair in Eden. If so, however, the prospect need not inspire despairing, regrets as it did in Balaam (Numbers 24:17), nor malignant envy as Milton represents it doing in Satan. The peace of God's people may be shared by all, for all may become God's people. Even Gog and Magog may enjoy the same security. Russia, the land of the ancient Scythians, became a Christian nation, we may see the calmness of Christian experience, and take it as a witness to the blessedness of the Christian privileges. Thus the gospel is preached by the very countenances of God's people.
Ezekiel 38:19, Ezekiel 38:20
In the day of God's jealousy and wrath there is to be a great shaking of sea, air, and land, so that the very fishes and birds, as well as the beasts of the earth, will feel its shock.
I. AN EARTHQUAKE MAY OCCUR. There were once two opposed schools of geology—one believing that our earth had reached its present condition after successive violent catastrophes had wrought great and sudden changes on its surface; the other holding that the most striking results could be produced, and, therefore—on the principle that the minimum cause is the only one that one can affirm—have been produced, by the operation of the very forces which we now witness. This latter, the uniformitarian theory, has been so well established by Sir Charles Lyell, that few would now think of reviving the more dramatic hypothesis. Nevertheless, even this theory admits of many great and violent movements under the operation of present laws and forces. Earthquakes do now occur. So is it in the world of men. We are governed by orderly Divine laws. Yet we meet with great shocks in political changes, when empires topple to the dust; in social changes, when the old order is upset, as in the French Revolution; in domestic changes, when a man's quiet home-life is ruthlessly upset, and sudden poverty, or the death of those he loves most, or fearful family divisions, shake him like an earthquake. There are earthquakes in religion, when the old beliefs are shaken or the old practices disturbed. Such an earthquake occurred at the advent of Christ, at the Reformation, etc. There are also spiritual earthquakes in the breasts of individual men. The crust of self-confidence is widely torn, and great chasms opened in well-settled notions. Some day the easy-going sinner will be astonished at the earthquake shock that will disturb his misplaced confidence.
II. MEN SHOULD BE PREPARED FOR AN EARTHQUAKE. In countries where such an occurrence is frequent it is necessary to build the walls with especial solidity, and to bind them together with iron bands. Yet even there the lessons of experience fade away in a season of long security. It is strange how villages creep up the sides of slumbering volcanoes which may at any moment overwhelm them in torrents of lava. We ought to be prepared for the coming of trouble, although all is now quiet and smiling. This does not mean that we should be "anxious about the morrow," for "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." But the best way to dismiss anxiety is to be well fortified against the possibility of disaster. If we would be prepared for the upset of our earthly home comforts, we need to have a deeper foundation on which to rest, so that when the things which are shaken are removed the things which cannot be shaken may remain (Hebrews 12:27).
III. AN EARTHQUAKE MAY BE A BLESSING IN DISGUISE. At first it is ruinous, and the destruction, misery, and death that it spreads make it appear as a huge calamity. But in changing the face of the earth it may prepare for a better future. Political and social earthquakes throw down old abuses and clear the ground for a new and better order. God' upsets a man's life that he may lead the man to build afresh on a more sure foundation. Earthquakes in human affairs should make us look above the earth and have our treasure in heaven—"seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness."
I. MUTUAL ANTAGONISM IS COMMON. In primitive times it was well-nigh universal. Pre-historic man seems to have lived in a state of perpetual warfare; and in the present day savages are often at war one with another; they maintain continuous feuds—tribe against tribe, clan against clan, family against family. In these later times, even in enlightened Christendom, Europe appears as an armed camp. Every nation is suspicious of its neighbor, which it regards as a possible enemy. The same miserable attitude of antagonism is held in the political world, though here it is generally found possible to avoid overt violence. Government by party means government in face of antagonism, for there is always "her Majesty's Opposition." Business life is maintained on the principle of mutual antagonism. The market is ruled by competition. Each house of business fiercely contends with its rivals for popular patronage. The relations between capital and labor have fallen into the same evil condition, and each side just fights for what it can seize at the expense of the other. Unhappily, the same spirit is observed in religion. When the Church should be engaged in conquering the world for Christ, she is consumed with internal discord and the contention of mutually excommunicating parties.
II. MUTUAL ANTAGONISM IS WRONG. It springs from an evil root—selfishness. War is the awful fruit of national selfishness. In public life the good of the people is too often sacrificed to the ambition of the Politician or the interest of the party. Business is degraded into a horrible scramble of selfishness, in which each clutches at whatever he can lay hands on without actually transgressing the law. Religious selfishness is the worst form of selfishness, for it belies the faith it professes. In sheer bigotry the antagonism may be honest; but bigotry is largely inspired by a subtle, unsuspected self-regarding spirit.
III. MUTUAL ANTAGONISM MAY BE OVERRULED FOR GOOD. We see it in nature where no moral ideas have dawned, and where, therefore, no blame can be ascribed. The evolution of higher types of life is brought about by the struggle for existence, in which the strong kill out the weak, so that they only survive who are fittest for their habitat. No doubt national jealousy necessitates the maintenance of national vigor. Political partisanship keeps a watch on the government, and checks wrong-doing by a perpetual shower of criticisms. Competitive business cheapens produce for the consumer; it also stimulates invention and enterprise, and therefore encourages progress which monopoly paralyzes. Perhaps even in religious rivalry we may provoke one another to good works. These results cannot excuse selfishness, but they may show how God overrules it for a measure of good.
IV. MUTUAL ANTAGONISM CAN ONLY BE CAST OUT BY CHRISTIAN LOVE. Reasoning will not destroy selfishness. The only cure for war is the reign of Christ, the Prince of Peace. Internal peace can only be brought about by the influence of love in the hearts of men. Christ came to set up the kingdom of heaven on earth. One of the essential characteristics of this kingdom, as opposed to all earthly kingdoms, is that it does not appeal chiefly to self-regarding motives. It demands love of God and of one's neighbor, and it inspires that love by the influence of the constraining love of Christ.
God sanctifying himself.
I. AN EXPLANATION OF THE FACT. What is it for God to sanctify himself? Man is sanctified when he is set apart for God; and this sanctification is needed in the case of man because he has been alienated from God and devoted to the world. Further, in the case of man, sanctification involves purification, and perhaps the first thought that occurs to us when the word is mentioned is that sin is to be purged out of the heart, and holiness infused by the influence of the Holy Spirit. But now all these notions are inapplicable to God. He is the Lord, not the servant, and he is not, therefore, to be thought of as set apart for any purpose. He never failed in his position, and he does not need the recovery and re-dedication which we understand by sanctification. Lastly, he never sinned, and therefore he requires no purification. What, then, is meant by God sanctifying himself? The idea seems to be partly interpreted by the earlier phrase, "Thus will I magnify myself." God has not been rightly appreciated by men. His supreme majesty and his ineffable holiness have been slighted. The awful separateness of character which distinguishes between God and man has not been enough regarded. Thus, though God himself has remained unchanged as he is unchangeable, his Name has been profaned. When the Name of God is rescued and restored to its true place of honor, God is said to be sanctified.
II. A DESCRIPTION OF THE PROCESS. If this is the sanctification of God, how is it brought about? We are here told that God accomplishes it himself. He is the great Sanctifier. He sanctifies his people by his Spirit. He says, "Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself."
1. This is done by revelation. God manifests himself. His Name was dishonored while his greatness was hidden. He unveils his glory, and then men are amazed to read his great Name. Thus it is rescued from degradation.
2. This is done in judgments. God comes down among defiant men and scatters his foes. The heathen once regarded him as on a level with their own gods. But now his supremacy and therefore his separateness are seen. Thus God is known among the nations and sanctified among men.
3. This is done in spiritual experience. The sanctification by judgments is an external process. It may arouse wonder and even create conviction, but it does not stimulate the veneration which includes love and true worship. But when God manifests himself to his people as he does not unto the world, his holiness and his goodness are brought home to them with a fresh force.
4. This is done in the sanctification of God's people. They are called upon to sanctify the Lord God in their hearts (1 Peter 3:15). When the heart is consecrated to God, God's holiness is confessed as it never was before. To be devoted to God is the way to recognize God's supreme glory.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The invasion of those who dwell secure.
The occurrence in this place of this and the following chapters is somewhat perplexing. The events here prophetically described take place after the restoration of the Israelites from their Eastern captivity. Yet they are altogether too stupendous to be applicable to anything which happened in the time or soon after the time of Ezekiel. Thus many interpreters of prophecy refer them to a period still in the future, when a final struggle may take place between the Church of Christ and the powers of this world. The general moral and religious lessons of the passage are, however, independent of any special prophetical interpretation.
I. THE MANIFESTATION OF GOD'S FAVOR DOES NOT INVOLVE PERFECT TRANQUILITY. Israel had been restored from the East to the land of inheritance and promise. The hand of Divine retribution had been removed, and the hidden countenance of God had shone upon his people. But their troubles were not over; their land was not to remain in their undisturbed possession; Jerusalem was not to be the city of peace. This indicates a general principle of the Divine government. The Church of Christ is a ransomed Church, a chosen and beloved possession. But upon earth it is the Church militant; there is a warfare to be waged; this is not our rest. Even in the latest period of this dispensation repose may be disturbed, enemies may arise, a conflict may be passed through. All this would be consistent with the favor and loving-kindness of the God of salvation.
II. SINFUL RAPACITY IS NOT DETERRED BY THE SIGNS OF DIVINE PROTECTION. Not a few of the enemies of Israel had been defeated and put to shame, whilst Israel had been spared, favored, and exalted. He who questioned the power and kindness of Jehovah might well be pointed to the history of the Hebrew people. Yet, as a matter of fact, there were enemies of Israel and of God who, notwithstanding these apparent lessons, renewed their assaults upon the objects of Divine protection. Similarly, the Church of Christ is exposed to assaults open and insidious, physical and moral. The enemies of religion, if they have studied history, must be aware that Christ has built his Church upon a rock, and that the gates of Hades do not prevail against it. Yet they are not found to desist from their endeavors or to abate their hostility. Nor need the people of God expect to be exempt from "rude assaults of raging foes."
III. THE ENEMIES OF GOD'S PEOPLE, CONSCIOUS OF THEIR NUMBER AND THEIR POWER, REGARD THE APPARENTLY DEFENSELESS AS AN EASY PREY. The foe is described in these verses in a manner which depicts his formidable character. Cog and his auxiliaries and allies are represented as preparing for the attack, as mustering to make war upon those who are without the protection of walls, bars, or gates. The unwalled villages seem to invite the marauder, and he counts the cattle and goods, the silver and gold, as already a prey. In like manner, the foes of the Church, confident in their resources, relying upon the force of their arms, encourage one another in their hostile designs against the Church, by observing how defenseless she appears, and how open to the hostile attack and the crafty strategy of her foes. The weapons of her warfare are not carnal, and weapons of any other kind are beyond the comprehension of the foe.
IV. THE AGGRESSOR SHOULD REMEMBER THAT THE LORD OF ALL CAN CHECK AND DEFEAT THE ABLEST AND THE MIGHTIEST. If the Omnipotent do but say, "I am against thee," it matters not how formidable and vast are the hostile resources of the enemy. One word from his lips, one glance from his eye, is enough to put to confusion all the boasted power of the foe.
V. THE DEFENSELESS SHOULD REMEMBER THAT GOD IS ABLE IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES TO DEFEND AND TO DELIVER HIS OWN. The true security of Israel was in God's care; Jehovah was the Shield, the Stronghold of his people, and when they trusted in him they were safe. The Israel of God has a sure defense. "Fear not," says Jehovah; "I am with thee." The protection of the Church is not in the favor of kings or in the arm of the warrior; it is the eternal God who is our Refuge, and underneath us are the everlasting arms.—T.
The picture of Israel's foes is indeed one fitted to strike dismay into any heart depending upon human aid, defense, or deliverance. Gog and his armies, the hostile nations in league with him, are described with all the pomp and circumstance of war. Yet, when Jehovah declares, "I will turn thee about, and will put hooks into thy jaws," this declaration outweighs all the professions, all the threats, all the designs of the enemy. We are reminded—and the whole Church in every age needs, in time of danger especially, to learn the lesson—that above all the plans and purposes of men there reigns Divine control.
I. IT IS LITTLE EXPECTED. When plans are laid, and evil designs matured, nothing is further from the mind of the enemies of God's people than the unquestionable fact that the Lord of all is supreme. Some poor, faint human opposition may be anticipated; but it is not expected that a superior Power should intervene.
II. IT IS HAUGHTILY SPURNED. Shall hooks be put into the jaws of the dragon? Shall the wild horse of the desert be bridled? Shall the lion of the jungle be tamed? The very thought is repudiated and resented. The mighty of the earth are not wont to brook restraint or interference. Those who plan the ruin of the cause of God, of the religion of Christ, of the Church on earth and all its agencies—whether they so plan in the name of atheism and secularism, or in the name of worldly policy—spurn and contemn the restraint of Heaven. They see no power which they need to fear, and in their view it is superstition to fear the unseen.
III. IT IS VARIOUSLY EXERCISED. Sometimes God controls the foe by natural causes and instrumentalities. The destroying angel comes down upon the camp and smites the host; pestilence decimates the bands of the enemy; an earthquake opens the prison-doors; the storm scatters the invader's fleet. Sometimes God controls the foe by human agency. One enemy of God makes war upon another, and cripples the forces which were on the point of being employed against the Lord's people. Or a great deliverer is raised up, whose valor and heroism crush the enemy, and set the threatened free from fear and danger. In any case God is never at a loss for means by which he may bring his counsels to pass.
IV. IT IS ALWAYS EFFECTUAL. The control of God may be defied by God's enemies, and it may be ignored or distrusted by his friends. But it exists, and it is superior to all earthly powers and machinations. Revelation is full of instances of this control as manifested in the history of Israel and in the history of the infant Church of Christ. And the annals of Christianity, through long centuries, contain abundant confirmation of the great and blessed truth—" the Lord reigneth."
V. IT SHALL BE FINALLY ACKNOWLEDGED. Here and now men may withhold the confession. But sooner or later it shall be publicly admitted that all powers are subject to the King of kings.—T.
An evil device.
We have been taught by the Divine Master, Christ, that it is from within that human conduct takes its origin. It is the heart which is the source alike of good and of evil The tree bears fruit, whether sound and wholesome and palatable, or harsh and useless; the living well, the fountain, sends forth streams, whether sweet and cheering, or bitter and polluted. So the thoughts, intents, and devices of the heart find their expression in the words which reach men's ears and in the deeds which draw men's eyes. God, who knew the inmost nature of men, as well as their individual and political acts, revealed the secret spring of the malicious efforts of the foes of Israel, saying, "It shall come to pass in that day, that things shall come into thy mind, and that thou shalt devise an evil device."
I. PASSIONS PROMPTS THE EVIL DEVICE. There is in all men's nature a principle assuming various forms—impulse, propensity, passion. If there were no such principle, we cannot see how human life could go forward. It is the spring, the motive power, of the machine. It is not implanted within us in order that it may be eradicated, but in order that it may be governed, directed, controlled. In itself it is not bad. But passions become bad when misdirected and uncontrolled by reason and conscience.
II. CHOICE ADOPTS IT. Anger, lust, or some other passion prompts to a certain course of action. The mischief is wrought when the man, in the exercise of choice, accepts as the motive of his action, and identifies himself with, a passion, the indulgence of which works evil, preferring such a principle of action to a higher and better one. The device thus adopted by the enemies of Israel was a device of selfish passion, only to be indulged at the expense of justice and good feeling.
III. SINFUL HABIT NOURISHES IT. It is not a single feeling, a single purpose, which usually accounts for a man's, a nation's, evil ways. The mischief, when isolated, might be checked. But it is too often fostered and thus encouraged, complicated, and multiplied, as the mind broods upon it. A mere fancy becomes, when encouraged, a desire; a desire, when encouraged, becomes a settled purpose.
IV. SINFUL ACTIVITY EXECUTES IT. The desire does not long remain such; it tends to its satisfaction. The device is a means to an end, and achieves itself. God's mercies are permitted, in some cases and to some extent, to "bring wicked devices to pass." For wise purposes, the Ruler of all suffers men not only to think evil thoughts, but to accomplish evil deeds.
V. GOD CAN AND OFTEN DOES FRUSTRATE IT. The oft-quoted proverb is a true one, "Man proposes, God disposes." The All-wise has his own plans, the Almighty has his own means; and the wisdom and the power of men, measured against the Divine resources, will surely be brought to nothing. "Hitherto shalt thou go, and no further; and hero shall thy proud waves be stayed." There is no occasion for the people of Christ to be dismayed or overmuch distressed when evil devices enter into the minds of their adversaries. All is known to their Divine Friend and Protector, who is abundantly able to defend and to deliver his own. "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness," their wisdom is seen to be but folly. "In quietness and in confidence shall be your strength;" "The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace." The enemy may devise; but he will not be suffered to execute his devices.—T.
The invader discomfited.
Although it would be presumptuous to apply the language of this prophetic passage to any particular political event in the history of Israel, there were many occasions upon which invasion was permitted and the soil of Palestine was trodden by hostile armies; many occasions upon which the invader retreated, overwhelmed with disaster and ignominy. It is therefore allowable to interpret great political incidences and occurrences in the light of the principles here propounded upon the highest authority. At the same time, it is just to observe that there is truth here which has a wider range, and that the final confusion and destruction of the enemies of the Lord and of his Church are intimated in terms which cannot be mistaken.
I. INVASION WAS PERMITTED BY THE GOD OF NATIONS. The language which Jehovah is here represented as using, "I will bring thee against my land," is very remarkable, and must be interpreted, in conformity with the common usage of Hebrew literature, as implying that all events happened by Divine permission, and may in a sense in this universe, which is under Divine control, be attributed to the Supreme. But this not in such a sense as to charge God with men's iniquity, or to relieve men of their proper responsibility.
II. THE INVADER WAS YET THE OBJECT OF DIVINE DISPLEASURE. The lust of aggrandizement and of political power was the usual motive of the invader; and a knowledge of the Divine character assures us that action prompted by such motives cannot be other than disapproved and condemned.
III. THE INTERPOSITION OF THE MIGHTIEST CONFOUNDED THE MIGHTY. The terms employed to give expression to the judicial and retributive action of the Lord of all are most emphatic and unqualified: "My fury shall come up in my nostrils; for in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken I will call for a sword against him," etc. The means by which the invader is put to flight, and the people whom he has attacked are delivered, are described: "Every man's sword shall be against his brother; and I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood," etc.
IV. GREAT AS WAS THE CONFIDENCE OF THE AGGRESSOR, GREATER STILL WAS HIS HUMILIATION. The defeat and consternation of the invader are forcibly depicted. He came in pride; he departed in dishonor and disgrace. He came in numbers; he departed a mere remnant. He came amidst the terror of all beholders; he departed amidst hatred and contempt.
V. GOD GLORIFIED HIMSELF IN THE DESTRUCTION OF HIS FOES AND IN THE DELIVERANCE OF HIS FRIENDS. God magnified and sanctified himself before many nations; and this he did by openly fulfilling his own predictions, by saving his own people, and by confounding all the selfish and rapacious plans of his enemies.
APPLICATION. The principle contained in the prediction is one which is always applicable to all God's people, and which has an especial reference to those awful crises through which, it may be, the Church of Christ has yet to pass. Mysterious as it seems to us, it is yet a fact that the Omnipotent suffers the powers of error and of sin to gather themselves together against his people. But this should not strike dismay into the breasts of Christians, however they may feel themselves powerless and defense less. When they gaze upon the hosts of their adversaries, let them remember that "he that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh; the Lord shall have them in derision."—T.
HOMILIES BY J.D. DAVIES
The stability of God's kingdom.
The lengthened subjection of the Hebrews had sapped their courage and their hope. The promises of a return to Canaan fell upon hearts full of apathy and self-diffidence. A latent fear was growing up that, even should they regain their old possession, they would soon be exposed to fresh invasion from some grasping monarch. They felt their lack of organization, their lack of military prowess, and men devoid of energy felt that it was better to remain in exile than to be more completely crushed alter a temporary restoration. Hence Ezekiel was commissioned to deal with this form of indifference before it grew into active opposition. A vision respecting a great confederacy against Israel is granted to the prophet. God anticipates the gravest evil. He reveals to his people that this criminal conspiracy will end in complete disaster to its originators, and that Israel's triumph will be complete and perpetual. Ezekiel's face was set firmly against Gog, because God's face was against him.
I. GOD'S KINGDOM IS SECURE AGAINST THE GREATEST WORLDLY CONFEDERACY. The theory that is propounded in this prophetic picture is that possibly all peoples adverse to righteousness will combine against the righteous nation. The empires of the extreme North will, sooner or later, coalesce with the great empires of Asia and Africa in a common greed for the territory and possessions of Israel. The world-power is provoked into active opposition by the presence of a righteous and spiritual kingdom. As darkness is the foe of light, water the foe of fire, death the foe of life, so selfish wickedness is the foe of goodness. Sooner or later, these two great forces shall meet for final and mortal combat on the earth. But the mightiest forces are not those which are visible. Victory will not finally sit on the banners of largest battalions. These numbers count for nothing with God. Minor rivalries are often forgotten by reason of a mightier passion, viz. a common hatred of truth and God.
II. GOD'S KINGDOM IS SECURE AGAINST THE CLEVEREST MILITARY TACTICS. Men have enormous faith in swords and shields, in rifles, cannons, and dynamite. Against the empire of righteousness the most complete and prudent preparations will be made. No precaution foreseen by human sagacity will be omitted. Each nation will fight with such weapons as they can most skillfully wield. The most clever inventions in offensive artillery will be pressed into service. The hostility will be pressed on with all the arts and machinations possible to the human mind. Yet there is a force enlisted upon the side of the righteous kingdom that shall baffle all human combination, and make all human energy to appear as an embodiment of weakness. Man's strength and skill are only borrowed instruments.
III. GOD'S KINGDOM IS SECURE AMID UNFRIENDLY NEUTRALS. "Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish … shall say to thee, Art thou come to take a spoil?" These peoples were neighbors to Israel, unwilling to join openly the ranks of Israel's foes, yet secretly desiring to see Israel humbled. They were heartless enough to cheer on the aggressive leaders of the foe, moved by a selfish hope that they might avoid the toil and the peril of war, and yet gain some advantage out of Israel's defeat. Neutrality at such a time and in such a manner was a crime scarcely minor to the crime of invasion, and such neutrality will be covered with disgrace. The most hidden motive of man, Israel's Ruler will detect, and in proportion to wrongdoing will be the award. Neutrals are usually despised by both sides. Nor can we forget how deeply God felt a selfish neutrality upon a former occasion, when the voice of the angel said, "Curse ye Meroz; curse ye bitterly the inhabitants of Meroz, because they came not to the help of the Lord against the mighty!"
IV. GOD'S KINGDOM IS SECURE BECAUSE EVERY FOE IS UNDER THE RESTRAINT OF JEHOVAH. Every selfish passion of man is under the control of God. A world of meaning is in that phrase, "I will put hooks into thy jaws." At any point in the development of the hostile project, God could have defeated it. He could have bridled the malicious impulse of Gog, the originator. He could have deprived him of reason or of life. He could have smitten with blindness all the leaders of the expedition. But God sees it to be best to allow large liberty to wicked men. The inner nature of wickedness is seen when it bears its full and proper fruit. Some plants look well in the shoot and in the leaf, but the fruit thereof is deadly. Men are seldom conscious of the action of God upon them. He "girded Cyrus" with strength and courage for his work, although Cyrus knew him not. And Gog would pursue his brilliant march, proud of himself and of his forces, least of all imagining that his Royal Foe had put already a hook in his jaw, and was simply leading him on to destruction. Utterly insane is the man who dares fight against God. The issue may be early foreseen.—D.
Human malice a contribution to God's glory.
God has a variety of methods for dealing with rebellious men. Sometimes he allows them to have their willful way up to the margin of success, when suddenly the tables are turned, and apparent success becomes conspicuous defeat. With vain confidence they press on their daring measures, and are led, as it were, into an ambush and completely destroyed. Thus God dealt with Pharaoh at the Red Sea, and thus he purposes to deal with the unscrupulous monarch of the north. Their disastrous fortunes should leave on air surviving minds the vital lesson that Jehovah is the Supreme King, and that he is worthy of universal homage.
I. WICKED MEN ARE THE DUPES OF SLENDEREST TEMPTATION. This ideal monarch-type of worldly kings-was seduced into battle by the appearance of Israel's conscious security. Here was a nation without an army, without fortresses, without military generals; a nation having no visible means of protection. To evil men this was an irresistible bait. Now men with better dispositions would have argued, "Here is a peaceful nation, bent on the innocent arts of industry, devoid of ambitious aims. They deserve our respect, and (if needful) our protection." But impiety is as injurious to society as it is offensive to God. The slenderest hope of plunder and of territorial aggrandizement incites them to sharpen their weapons for human destruction. To get an empty bubble of fame, or gain rule over a few square miles, ten thousand precious lives will be sacrificed. Worse still, God's favor will be forfeited. In this respect man has sunk to a lower level than the beasts of the forest.
II. SEEMING SUCCESS OFTEN A SNARE TO COMPLETE OVERTHROW. "Thou shalt come up against my people Israel, as a cloud to cover the land." It seemed as if success were certain. What other result was possible? Their multitudinous horde seemed omnipotent by reason of its very numbers. They could compass every town and village so as to prevent a single escape. This over-confidence was weakness; it seemed to underrate the opposing force; it served to relax discipline; it blinded them to the fact that invisible forces might be silently at work against them. Thus it happened to the first Napoleon- His brilliant successes flushed him with vain confidence, led him on to destruction. "Cursed is the man who trusteth in man; ' "He that trusteth his own heart is a fool."
III. HOSTILE INVASION AGAINST ISRAEL IS CLEARLY FORESEEN BY GOD. The knowledge of an enemy's designs and tactics is half-way towards defeating him. Many military commanders succeed by the secrecy of their projects. If one knows where and when the foe will strike, one can be well prepared. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. In this respect, the servants of God enjoy a great advantage. No design nor project of our foes can escape the eye of our God. The first formation of the evil thought is clearly detected by him, and he keeps us well informed of our adversaries' schemes. In the case of Gog, the prophets of Jehovah had repeatedly foretold the formidable invasion; and, although Israel seemed unprepared for the assault, Israel's Defender was well equipped for the occasion. The issue was secured for Israel's glory.
IV. GOD'S ENEMIES ARE OFTEN DEFEATED BY INTERNECINE STRIFE. A confederacy cemented by wickedness is never durable. It will not bear any strain of trial Men who fight for spoil soon discover that their interests and their leaders' interests are distinct and separate things. Sin has no principle of cohesion. In many cases an army has defeated itself by internal discord. Each man's sword has been turned upon his comrade. So God here announces that he will dissolve their base alliance. "Every man's sword shall be against his brother."
V. GOD'S ARMY IS COMPOSED OF UNEXPECTED FORCES. In ancient times God has employed winds, storms, hail, fire, to defeat the enemies of Israel. The sea was God's triumphant army against Pharaoh. He sent the hornet to drive out the Canaanite. Locusts have been once and again employed as his invading regiment. Flakes of snow have done his destructive work. Pestilence has often served as his light brigade. Hailstones have been his irresistible artillery. He has turned back an army by the specter of its own superstitious fears. Fire overthrew the cities of the plain. The eruption of Vesuvius did a deadly work. Every force in nature is a servant of the living God, and in a moment can be made a soldier, armed to the teeth. Men am slowly discovering that God's forces stored in nature are mightier than the brawn of the human arm, and are depending more upon dynamite and gun-cotton than upon human strength and courage. So says God, "I will rain upon him, and upon his bands … an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone."
VI. THE TRIUMPH IS WITH GOD, Mere overthrow of the enemy is not the triumph that satisfies God. His aim is to bring light and conviction to men's minds—to renew and elevate men's best nature. "I will plead against him." By means of this defensive contest God will address himself to the minds and hearts of the people. "I will magnify myself." Impossible! God cannot, magnify himself. He cannot be greater than he is. But he will make his greatness known. By such mighty deeds he will reveal to men his invisible power, his matchless skill, his various excellences, his ineffable goodness. Men shall discover more of his compassion, his patience, his fatherly desire for men's good; and, instead of hating him, they shall admire and honor him. To a large extent men fight against God because they do not know him. They misconceive his government and his dispositions. Real knowledge of God is the road to life and bliss. As the outcome of the final struggle, even the "heathen shall know" and serve the righteous King. "I will sanctify myself."—D.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Ezekiel 38:1, Ezekiel 38:2
The supreme contest.
What is the real significance of this prophecy? Is it to receive a literal or a symbolical interpretation? If not fairly open to the one, in what direction shall we look for the other? Agreeing with the views advocated by Fairbairn, we give his exposition, reproducing his arguments as given in his work on this prophet. And thus guided, we look at—
I. THE REASONS FOR REJECTING A LITERAL INTERPRETATION.
1. The name given to the hostile leader points to an "ideal delineation;" while the name of the country is that of a "very indefinite territory," impossible to define.
2. The extraordinary character of the combination of forces, including those most remote and dissociated from one another, is "the reverse of the natural one," and points to "the clothing of an idea rather than to a literal reality."
3. The immensity of the numbers of the allied host makes it impossible that they would actually come up against Israel for plunder; they must necessarily lose rather than gain, even if they succeeded to the full extent of their expectations.
4. The details respecting the wood of the enemy's weapons (Ezekiel 39:9, Ezekiel 39:10) and the burial of the dead (Ezekiel 39:11, Ezekiel 39:12) are not such as would become historical
5. The particulars, especially as to the exact locality, do not correspond with those given in other prophecies (see Isaiah 34:1-17.; Joel 3:1-21.; Zechariah 14:1-21.).
6. The undoubted Messianic element in the prophecy demands a non-literal interpretation; for the kingdom of Christ was not to be established or secured by carnal, but by spiritual means.
II. THE TRUE SPIRITUAL INTERPRETATION. The prophet has already, in previous visions, brought us on to a period when Israel (the Church of Christ) has entered on a time of rest and triumph. The second David, the Divine Shepherd of Israel, presides over his people who dwell in security. But that is not the end; much has still to be done and to be experienced. For:
1. The peace and the prospects of the Christian Church stir up the enmity of the world, and "enlarge the field of conflict;" and "as the whole earth is Christ's heritage," there must be conflict until the victory is complete.
2. The war is to be on a gigantic scale, for the question now is "whether God's truth or man's sin is to have possession of the field;" in comparison with this great final conflict all previous contests seem small, and the largest numbers are applicable.
3. Great and preponderating as are the odds against the Church, reckoned by material resources, the presence of Divine power and grace on the side of Israel makes her completely victorious, and issues in the defeat of' the adversary.
4. The kingdom over all the earth becomes the Lord's. It becomes clear that it was his zeal on behalf of righteousness which led to previous chastisements, and that same zeal now causes them to triumph. Before the Church there stretches a "prospect of eternal peace and blessedness." The delineation may, or it may not, nave to do with some particular crisis or decisive moment when the "spiritual controversy rises to a gigantic magnitude, and ranges on either side all that is good and all that is evil in the world."
1. We need not be discouraged because a great and threatening battle has still to be fought out. We have intimations in Scripture that the Church will be called to face overwhelming hosts.
2. We may, by doing our best in the sphere in which we are placed, contribute something to the final triumph of the good.
3. We ought to have some better assurance than the presence of vast and apparently invincible numbers that we are on the winning side. The one decisive question is this—Is God with us or against us?—C.
Sent back by God.
"I will turn thee back." "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12). There are paths that attract us, that we enter upon with keen expectancy, that we pursue with pleasure, but that, in time, we find to be wrong; then is it best to turn back, and to "return on our way" at once.
I. MISTAKEN PATHS. Such as those of:
1. Extravagance. A larger expenditure of our means than we can properly afford, pointing toward and leading to financial embarrassment and grave difficulty and distress.
2. Unregulated activity. Such mental or physical work as, either in measure or in method, draws too largely on our resources, and ends in nervous disorder or some serious illness.
3. Self-indulgence; either in unwholesome literature or in the grosser gratifications of the flesh.
4. A skeptical habit. The disposition, which in time becomes a habit, to regard everything with a cynical and distrustful eye, and would rather accept the uncharitable view than the generous one.
5. Worldliness. The way in which the multitudes are walking; the endeavor to find satisfaction and rest in the interests and engagements, in the treasures and the pleasures, of time and sense.
II. A CONVICTION WHICH COMES FROM GOD. The conviction that the way that has been chosen is the wrong one. This assurance may come through one of many channels; it may be the utterance of one of many voices; it may be the solemn warning of some providential occurrence; or it may be the faithful rebuke of a true and fearless friend; or it may be a deep and bitter sense of insufficiency, of failure, of heart-ache, of perversion of power and misuse of opportunity, a sense of wrong and sin; or it may be the direct enlightenment and appeal of the Spirit of God. But the conviction is written on the tablet of the soul that the way is wrong; a voice is heard in the inner chambers of the spirit. "Turn back, return on thy way, pursue a different course, start in an opposite direction, seek another and a better goal."
III. THE WISDOM OF RETURNING.
1. We can afford to return. It may cost us something; there may be some companions to forsake, but these are best at a distance; there may be some tender regrets, but these are temporary and will soon be left behind; there may be some humiliation to endure, but this is not of an unmanly kind, but, on the contrary, honorable and commendable; there may be some sacrifice of enjoyment or of treasure, but this can very well be borne with a moderate measure of fortitude,—we shall very soon reconcile ourselves to that. But:
2. We cannot afford to go on. If we do, we must prepare for the very worst that we can suffer; the wrong road leads not only to embarrassment, but also to saddest loss, to bitter disappointment, to helplessness, to ruin, to death. Moreover, God has met us with a Divine encouragement. He has taught us that:
3. There is a way upward, which we can all take. One has come to us to say, "I am the Way," Intimate association, living union, with him is the way of wisdom, the way of righteousness, the way of life.—C.
We may treat this subject in two ways, We may have regard to—
I. NATIONAL SECURITY. Unfortunately, it is only too typical of our race that a great power should say, "I will go up to the land of unwalled villages," etc. Taking men and nations as they are, we have to reckon upon:
1. National unscrupulousness. It has been enough that one country has been strong and another weak, one covetous and another wealthy, one well armed and another defenseless, for the military enterprise to be undertaken, the attack to be delivered, and the disaster to be sustained. Then there has to be:
2. Some means and method of national defense. And we may find a country:
(1) Pitiably helpless. Such is the case with Israel (in the text); it has not yet recovered from its past defeats and despoilments; it has not had the opportunity of strengthening itself against attack.
(2) Culpably negligent. It may be so intent on enrichment or enjoyment that it has not given the needful time and strength to make itself secure against assault from without.
(3) Secured by international covenant; as Switzerland.
(4) Wisely regardful of its chief source of safety. This is found, not in regiments and in ships, not in fortresses and in magazines—though these may not be disregarded—but in the manliness and temperance of its citizens, and in the favor of Almighty God.
II. INDIVIDUAL SECURITY. Every man has to guard the sanctity of his own heart and character, the honor of his own name; his most sacred and bounden duty is to see that it is not invaded and defiled. That it may be preserved in its purity and integrity it becomes him:
1. To recognize the strength of the enemy. To remember and to realize that the adversaries of his soul are many, subtle, and strong; they are such as these—covetousness, passion, pride, intemperance, worldliness, unbelief.
2. To raise the strongest defenses he can secure. And these are
(1) good principles,—the love of that which is true and pure and sound, the hatred of that which is base and shameful and degrading;
(2) good habits,—the habits, well cultivated and constantly sustained, of self-command, of temperance, of purity, of through investigation before acceptance and utterance, of devotion. There are "the walls, the bars, and the gates" of the soul, which the adversary must take before he succeeds in his attack, within which the soul should be safely entrenched.
3. To secure the guardianship of God. By simplicity and uprightness of heart, by prayerfulness of attitude and engagement, to secure that gracious and mighty power against which all the devices and all the assaults of evil will not be able to succeed.—C.
Making God great and holy.
"I magnify myself, and sanctify myself."
I. GOD MAKING HIMSELF GREAT AND HOLY IN THE SIGHT OF MEN. We may ask:
1. Why God magnifies himself; and the answer will be—Not for the mere purpose of self-glorification. We cannot think that of him "whose nature and whose name is Love" (see homily on Ezekiel 36:16-21). We conclude that he desires and determines to make His Name to be had in reverence, and to cause himself to be honored as the Great and Holy One, because
(1) it is inherently right that it should be so; and because
(2) it is altogether and immeasurably advantageous and elevating to his children that it should be so; it is indeed the only way by which they can attain a true and worthy manhood; for it is reverence toward God which is the very root of human excellence and nobility.
2. How he magnifies himself. This is by
(1) all that he has said of himself in his Word;
(2) all that he makes known of his disposition and his character by his Divine providence;
(3) by the revelation of himself in the Person of his Son. In these three ways especially God makes us know how great he is, how great his majesty, his power, his goodness, his righteousness; and how holy he is, how utterly he hates sin, how determined he is to rebuke it, and not only to rebuke it, but to conquer and to expel it. Most especially does he "magnify and sanctify himself" in Jesus Christ; for in his Person and in his work we see the greatness of his love, and the intensity of his hatred of sin and the fixedness of his purpose to subdue and to extirpate it.
II. OUR DUTY TO MAGNIFY HIM.
1. Why we should do so. Because:
(1) It is the one right thing for us to do. The Great One should be exalted; the Holy One should be honored, because he is great and holy, especially because his greatness is the greatness of goodness as well as of power, and because his holiness is crowned with patience and mercy.
(2) To revere God and magnify him in our heart is the one way to our own moral and spiritual elevation, to nobility of character, to excellency of life.
(3) It is distinctly the way to promote the happiness and well-being of the world.
2. How we can do so.
(1) In our spirit; by cherishing in our hearts the reverence that is "due to his Name;" i.e. due to himself for all that he is and has done for us.
(2) In our life. (See Philippians 1:20.) By bringing all our actions into harmony with the known will of God; by living in such a way that we show ourselves to be loyal subjects of Jesus Christ, consulting his mind and obedient to his Word in everything; by making it clear that we are willing to put forth any effort or submit to any sacrifice in order that Christ may be great in the esteem and in the affections of men; thus we "magnify and sanctify" him.
(3) By our speech. We need not always be introducing the distinctive language of religion into our conversation; yet we may take opportunity in the home, as well as at the desk or in the pulpit, to commend Jesus Christ to the hearts of young and old, as that Divine Savior in whom to trust, as that Divine Lord in whose service they will find freedom, rest, and eternal life.—C.