Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Jeremiah 17:19-27; Ezekiel 20:11-21; Ezekiel 22:8, 26; Nehemiah 13:15-22; cf. 2 Kings 11:11-16 with 1 Macc. 2:32-38). Its estimation rose with the estimation of prayer (Cheyne).
I. THE DUTY OF OBEDIENCE. The Law is "the objective rule of life, the Law of Jehovah." Or, with others, "equity, justice." And the "practice of righteousness" is ever a necessity with him. The more so as every serious crisis draws on. My salvation is near - the kingdom of heaven is at hand. A crisis means a time of sifting and separation. "God's salvation is not indiscriminate. And the grounds on which he distinguishes his people from his enemies are not external, but internal. It is the Israel within Israel, the spiritual circumcision, the holy seed, that he acknowledges, vindicates, rescues, glorifies" (Cheyne).
II. SABBATH-KEEPING AS AN EXPRESSION OF OBEDIENCE. How significant the sabbath in the institutions of Judaism! True, the seventh day belonged also to Babylonian religion, but we know its beauty and its blessing through the Jews. It was a sign of the great standing covenant between God and the nation (Exodus 31:13-17). By this the Jews were marked as a nation. Narrow notions, Puritan superstitions, have gathered about the sabbath; still, the idea of it is very beautiful. Ewald brings it under the idea of sacrifice of time. It is the representative of the duties of the first table (Ezekiel 20:11-21). But mere sabbath-keeping avails not without the honest heart and the upright life - the man must "keep his hand from evil."
III. THE BLESSINGS OF OBEDIENCE UNIVERSAL. The prophet would remove a misunderstanding. The beatitude is universally applicable to those who keep God's commandments. The foreigner might be anxious about his position in the spiritual commonwealth. For there were exclusive injunctions directed against him (Deuteronomy 23:4-7). During the Captivity probably an exclusive spirit was growing; it may be observed in the restored exiles (Nehemiah 13.). They are here assured that they shall be admitted to the spiritual commonwealth on an equal footing with the Jews. National barriers are broken down before the new expansive spirit of love. There was also a law against eunuchs (Deuteronomy 23:2). But this disability is also to be removed. This class of men may stand for the outcast and degraded in general. They are to be admitted to communion, and are to receive some "trophy and monument" (1 Samuel 15:12; 2 Samuel 18:18) in the temple itself - provided they have been faithful to the commands and covenant of Jehovah. Probably a spiritual and everlasting memorial is meant (cf. Revelation 3:12; Matthew 26:13). Then the foreign proselytes who should
(1) join them to the Lord,
(2) with intent to serve him,
(3) and who should love the Name of the Lord,
(4) who should be his servants,
(5) who should keep his sabbaths,
(6) and take hold of his covenant, were to be admitted to all the privileges of the chosen people.
The same terms of salvation were to be applicable to all. In 1 Kings 8:41-43 Solomon prays that God should do "according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for." In Psalm 135:19, 20 the proselytes are called to bless Jehovah, after the house of Israel, of Aaron, of Levi.
IV. THE BLESSINGS OF THE HOUSE OF PRAYER. All shall be brought to God's holy mountain - shall be admitted to the one sacred fellowship. They shall be made joyful by the revelation of the Shechinah - the presence of the Eternal in his power and mercy. Their offerings (those of the proselytes) shall be accepted on his altar. There should be no invidious distinctions. The house should be a "house of prayer to all peoples" (cf. Matthew 21:13). Moreover, other nations, not now of Israel, would be united to the one spiritual stock. The exiles in distant lands would be gathered; also other Gentiles of whom the proselytes are the firstfruits - "other sheep not of this flock" (John 10:16) - and they will become fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). The race - "on a level with respect to moral character, all having sinned and come short of the glory of God - is on a level with respect to redemption; the same Saviour died for all, the same Spirit is ready to sanctify all. The wide world may be saved, and there is not one of the human race so degraded in human estimation by rank, or colour, or ignorance, who may not be admitted to the same heaven with Abraham and the prophets, and whose prayers and praises may not be as acceptable to God as those of the most magnificent monarch who ever wore a crown." - J.
I. OUR CONDITION. This is one of complete dependence on God. We need the action of the Divine power to give efficacy to all our labour; nothing that we do, of any kind whatever, is effectual without the energizing touch of his hand. We need also the manifestation of this Divine power for deliverance from danger and trouble. Salvation from any evil, temporal or spiritual, can come only from God. "All our springs are in him."
II. OUR EXPECTATION. We hope for great things of God. He has taught us to hope from the beginning (Psalm 22:9). It is with a true instinct that the farmer looks up to God for his annual harvest; that the soldier trusts for victory in the favour and the aid of the God of battles; that the sailor cries to Heaven for help when his ship is tossing on the waves in the overwhelming storm; that the faithful witness of Jesus Christ appeals to his Divine Lord when the persecutor is on his track or has him in his cruel grasp. We hope in God, for we know
(1) the benignity of his Spirit, his desire to bless his children, and his compassion for them in their distresses;
(2) the faithfulness of his word, and that he has said, "Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee" (Psalm 50:15).
III. THE RIGHT ATTITUDE OF EXPECTATION. It is that of special purity or righteousness; separating ourselves from all that is offensive in the sight of God. To expect any unusual manifestation of Divine power or grace when we are holding any iniquity to our heart, is only to delude ourselves, and to be the heirs of disillusion and disappointment.
1. When God manifested himself at Sinai he required that the people should be sanctified in readiness for his coming (Exodus 19:10).
2. When the Lord of hosts would give victory to the armies of Israel he required that they sanctified themselves, not only by religious rite, but by cleansing themselves of their sin (Joshua 3:5; Joshua 5; Joshua 7.).
3. When the children of Israel were delivered from the land of captivity they fasted and prayed that the hand of God. might be upon them (Ezra 8:21-23).
5. When we seek Divine mercy and eternal life in Jesus Christ we must put away evil from our heart and life; repentance never has been and never can be dissociated from a living and saving faith (Acts 20:21).
7. When we look for a manifestation of God's power in the renewal of a Church, or the regeneration of a community, we must appear before him in purity of heart and integrity of life; or his "salvation ' will not "come," his "righteousness" will not "be revealed." - C.
Psalm 50:23; Malachi 4:4 6. John the Baptist had a similar commission to this of Isaiah. He was to call to repentance on the ground of the fact that the "kingdom of heaven was at hand." Further illustration may be found in the preparing of roads for a coming Eastern king, and the preparations made in our towns when the sovereign is about to visit them. The general subject suggested is the call to be ready for every display of Divine grace. Our getting the blessing of any near coming of God to us depends on our preparedness for the manifestation. We may note two points.
I. PREPARATIONS FOR GOD'S COMING ARE SPIRITUAL. They are right states of mind and feeling. They are cleansings of thought and heart. They are humiliations on account of sin and shortcoming. They are the putting away of doubts, and the nourishing of trust. They are cherishings of all reverent sentiments. They are earnest efforts to gain an open and receptive mood of soul. Sabbath worship and sacramental seasons are times of special nearness of God, and they are dependent on the spiritual moods with which we approach them. Fitting moods are gained by times of meditation and prayer. A point of importance to impress is that spiritual preparations are quite as necessary in view of God's mercies, benedictions, and prosperities, as in view of his chastisements and judgments. So easily we miss observing the necessity for spiritual readiness to receive Divine bestowals and blessings. See St. Paul's teaching concerning self-examination before partaking of the sacramental feast (1 Corinthians 11:28).
II. SPIRITUAL PREPARATION FINDS EXPRESSION IN ALTERED CONDUCT. On this the prophet dwells. Because God's salvation is near, men ought to readjust their conduct and rearrange their relations. They should keep judgment and do justice; or love the right and try to do it, remembering always that the "right" includes the "kind." Just as, if a visitor is expected at a house, all kinds of house-preparations are made, but the heart-welcome is the chief thing, so when God would come to us, we must fit up the house of conduct for him, but take good heed that this only expresses the hearty welcome of our souls. In conclusion, show how these two mutually help each other. Soul-culture aids in mastery of life and conduct. The wise ordering of life brings good opportunity for soul-culture. Jesus came to save from sin; but there was little preparation for him. He came as a babe, and there was no room for him in the inn. - R.T.
Isaiah 1:13, "The new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with"). Matthew Arnold refers to this contrast, and says, "That related to a time when the kingdom of Judah yet stood, when the service of the temple was in full course, the whole exterior part of the Jews' religion splendid and prominent. At such a time a prophet might naturally undervalue the whole of this exterior part in comparison with the inward part. But during the exile in Babylon all the services and sacrifices of the temple had ceased, and the one testimony of faithfulness to their religion which the Jews among an idolatrous people could give, was the observance of their sabbath; their sabbath was the one outward thing which brought their religion to their mind. Hence its observance acquired quite a special value." Inquire what signs of their allegiance to Jehovah, and their obedience to his commands, pious Jews in Babylon could give to those around them. None could be so important or so effective as to show themselves a nation of sabbath-keepers, because Jehovah, their God, had commanded sabbath-keeping.
I. SABBATH-KEEPING A FORMAL ACT. As such it is of comparatively small importance. It bears good relation, indeed, to the physical health and the social order of a community, providing seasons of rest and change, and reminding of the claims of soul as well as body. But if sabbath-keeping be the mere formal act, with no deeper meaning in it, then it may be judged as a matter of expediency, and valued as a wise and excellent Mosaic arrangement, mere or less wisely imitated by other rulers.
II. SABBATH-KEEPING A MORAL STATE. Souls must keep sabbath, or it is not really kept. Souls must keep sabbath
(1) as an act of obedience to God;
(2) as an expression of love for worship;
(3) as a sign of loyalty and affection for God.
There is never any difficulty about the proper ordering of the day when the soul is full of the sabbath-spirit.
III. SABBATH-KEEPING THE FORMAL ACT WHICH EXHIBITS THE MORAL STATE. Man cannot test the soul-conditions of his fellow-man save by observing the expressions of that condition in his conduct. God can read soul-states, but, for purposes of revelation and teaching, he treats us as we treat each other, and asks for signs in the life of what may be in the soul. Therefore he still looks for careful and faithful sabbath-keeping. - R.T.
prayer for all people. It is worthy of note that it should be called a house of prayer; the truth is intimated that, in the kingdom of God, sacrifice performed by the few on behalf of the many will yield to the spiritual approach by all to the Father of souls; that one principal purpose of worship is that of coming into close, holy, personal fellowship with the living God. But the main truth of the passage is found in the thought of -
I. THE OPEN GATE INTO THE KINGDOM OF GOD. When God's full purpose should be revealed, there would be a kingdom or Church which should be open to every child of man, irrespective of his nationality or his physical peculiarities; the time should come when there would be neither Greek nor Jew, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. The gracious purpose of God is fulfilled only in the gospel of his Son. There we find the common salvation," broad as the race of man.
1. It is adapted to all men everywhere, however apart and afar they may be from the scene of its birth. Judaism, Mohammedanism, Buddhism, have local features; they are peculiarly adapted to men living in certain latitudes and longitudes, with certain surroundings and national habits and wants; they have their limitations. But into the gospel of Jesus Christ limitation or partiality does not enter; it is as perfectly suited to men of one clime as to those of another; we cannot think of men under any earthly conditions whatever for whose elevation and happiness it is not thoroughly fitted.
2. It is intended for, and is powerful over, those furthest removed from the knowledge and the likeness of God. It purified the corrupt Corinthian; it softened the hard Roman; it sobered and solemnized the flippant Athenian; it has civilized the most savage barbarian; it has rescued and transformed the most degraded citizens of our modern civilization; it has proved itself the power of God to redeem and regenerate the very worst that have defaced the human image and disgraced the human name.
3. It is needed by those who are nearest the sources of truth; for it convicts even the best of unworthiness and guilt, and it finds for them a Saviour and a reconciliation.
II. THE CONDITIONS OF CITIZENSHIP. The gate is open into the blessed kingdom, but it is a kingdom of righteousness and peace and joy (Romans 14:17). Only they can be accounted citizens who fulfil certain spiritual conditions. These are indicated here. They are:
1. Drawing nigh to God through the appointed means - the sabbath day, the house of prayer, etc.
2. Accepting God's method of reconciliation; i.e. by faith in his Son, our Saviour; "taking hold of his covenant" (see Philippians 3:7 - 9).
3. Conforming the life to God's holy will; "choosing the things that please haul," rather than those which please ourselves or others; engaging in his service (ver. 6). - C.
Deuteronomy 23:1-8). To understand the feeling towards eunuchs we must remember the two prevailing ideas among the Jews, which made offspring seem so desirable.
1. A man found a sort of quasi-immortality in the feeling that he would live over again in his children.
2. It was possible to any Jewish parents that they might be progenitors of the promised Messiah. Eunuchs were persons who, either by reason of physical infirmity or cruel custom, could not have children born to them. They were despised because of their infirmity. The prophet assures such that the new spiritual kingdom of Messiah would have room for them, and gather them, as well as the foreigners and strangers, into its embrace, and even put special honour on them if they were found men of faith. "The prophet's whole conception of the Gentiles in relation to the religion of Israel is unexampled in the Old Testament for its admirable width, depth, and grandeur." The term "dry tree" is still a phrase used in the East of a person of either sex who has no children. Roberts, writing of Hindoo customs, says, "People without posterity, of both sexes, are called dry trees; which, strictly speaking, means they are dead, having neither sap, nor leaves, nor fruit." Matthew Arnold says, "It must be remembered that, attached to a great Eastern court like that of Babylon, were a multitude of eunuchs, some of whom had perhaps adopted the religion of Israel. It is probable, also, that some of the Jewish youths were taken for the court service as eunuchs, and their countrymen would afterwards have been likely to abhor them on that account." These considerations will enable us the better to feel the exquisite tenderness and mercifulness of this passage. The general topic suggested is the gracious way in which the gospel kingdom embraces all the disabled. This may be illustrated from -
I. THOSE UNDER PHYSICAL DISABILITIES.
II. THOSE UNDER RACE-DISABILITIES.
III. THOSE UNDER SOCIAL DISABILITIES.
IV. THOSE UNDER MENTAL DISABILITIES.
V. THOSE UNDER DISABILITIES FROM PAST EVIL LIVING. Christ's salvation is for man as man. In his kingdom there are found black and white, bond and free. Its gate is open to whosoever will. - R.T.
debtors" to others; we owe them much, and we owe Christ all.
I. SERVICE CALLS OUT WHAT IS BEST IN MEN.
1. Their unselfishness.
2. Their heroism.
3. Their patience.
II. SERVICE CHARACTERIZES THE NOBLEST AND THE BEST OF MEN.
1. Think of the world's great leaders.
2. Think of the Church's sufferers and martyrs.
III. SERVICE IS EMBODIED IN MANY FORMS. There is a service of gift; a service of speech; a service of submission.
"They also serve who only stand and wait." All God's universe is alive with blest activity. The idler is out of harmony with the entire creation of God. - W.M.S.
Matthew 21:13). The prophet declares that the "prayers and praises (those spiritual sacrifices) of devout Gentiles shall be as pleasing to God as those of the pious Jews, and no difference shall be made between them; for, though they are Gentiles by birth, yet through grace they shall be looked upon as the believing seed of faithful Abraham, and the praying seed of wrestling Jacob, for in Christ Jesus there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision." God's house, the old temple, had been thought of as a place of sacrifices. The new temple, and above all the spiritual temple, the Christian temple, must be thought of as a place of prayer. This contrast gives the following topics.
I. THE OLD IDEA OF GOD'S HOUSE WAS A HOUSE OF SACRIFICE. The old worship was one of multiplied and varied rites and ceremonies. It was a round of bodily services; it was honouring God by the devotion to him of the things that men possessed. It had its deeper spiritual meanings, but the prominent things were exact obediences, minute services, gorgeous and impressive spectacles. The "shadow of good things to come."
II. THE NEW IDEA OF GOD'S HOUSE IS A HOUSE OF PRAYER. Prayer comprehensively indicates all forms of spiritual worship, of communion with the Divine Being. Illustrate by the essential differences between the Jewish temple and the Christian Church. Even the Jewish worship, when a synagogue could not be built, was held in a proseuche, or place of prayer. It was the work of the prophets to lift men's minds away from the more formal to the more spiritual associations of God's house. Explain the senses in which prayer may stand for the whole of Christian worship.
III. THE OLD IDEA FITTED GOD'S HOUSE FOR A LIMITED FEW. Just those to whom his particular directions about ritual and sacrifice had been given. If God has to be served by formal acts, they must be such as he requires and has duly explained to us. So God's house was of old exclusively for Jews.
IV. THE NEW IDEA FITS GOD'S HOUSE FOR EVERYBODY. Because prayer is just the great human commonplace. Man has been satirically, yet truthfully, called "a praying animal." Prayer is characteristic of him. He has uplooking eyes and a yearning heart. When men know the unutterable value of prayer, "then shall the nations from the east and from the west build the last great temple of all - the temple of an eternal religion - whose foundations shall be wide as the whole nature of man, and whose dome, reaching up to heaven, shall shelter and overshadow the world." - R.T.
religious indifference on the part of pastors is described.
I. THE BLIND WATCHMAN. Nothing can be more beautiful than the idea of the shepherd as descriptive of the true teacher and minister to souls; tenderness, watchfulness, self-denial, all are his. So, on the other hand, nothing can more hold up the faithless pastor to scorn than the character of the faithless shepherd (John 10.). As the flock becomes a prey to the wild beasts when there is no shepherd, or when he neglects his care, so Israel, bereft of her natural defenders, lies at the mercy of the great heathen empire (cf. Ezekiel 13:4; Ezekiel 34:8; Ezekiel 39:4; Jeremiah 12:9; Revelation 19:17, 18). Especially the prophets are referred to (cf. Ezekiel 3:17; Isaiah 21:11). These "dumb dogs" are opposed to the faithful shepherd dogs (Job 30:1). "We must suppose that the prophets referred to were no better than the ancient soothsayers, who gave oracles respecting the difficulties of everyday life, but were silent on the great moral questions" (Cheyne). Immersed, perhaps, in sin themselves, they were blind to the national sins. "God requires knowledge in his ambassadors. Ignorance of the truth; of the nature, existence, and pollution of sin; of the claims of God and of the way of pardon, - is an effectual disqualification for the office."
II. THEIR SLUGGISHNESS AND GREED. They are like those who rave in sleep, moving among idle phantasms rather than serious realities. The false teacher not only does not know the truth, he falls into some species of delusion, and leads his flock along with him. He "loves to slumber." "Alas! that this should be too true of multitudes who bear the sacred office, and are appointed to warn their fellow-men of danger! Some are afraid of giving offence; some have no deep sense of the importance of religious truth; some embrace false opinions; some engage in worldly projects, and fill up their time with the cares and plans of this life; and some are invincibly indolent. An inactive and unfaithful ministry suffers the great enemy to come and bear away the soul to death, as an unfaithful mastiff would suffer a thief to approach the dwelling without warning the inmates. Instinct prompts the faithful animal to act the part God intends; but alas! there are men whom neither conscience, reason, hope, fear, nor love will rouse to put forth efforts to save a soul from hell! Their greed. They "keep up the old custom, rejected by the higher prophets as an abuse, of taking fees" (see references in Cheyne). Each and all are bent upon private interest and gain, and upon selfish enjoyment. One of them is represented as inviting another to a carouse of two days.
III. THE CONTRASTED FATE OF THE RIGHTEOUS. They "perish" - prematurely cut off; a contradiction peculiarly great from an Old Testament point of view (Ecclesiastes 7:15). It seemed as if this premature departure were an ill reward for faithful service; but it was dictated by mercy. The godly were delivered from sights of horror which might have vexed their souls.
"O Brettinoro! wherefore tarriest still,
I. THAT GOD HAS PLACED THE WELFARE OF THE MANY IN THE CHARGE OF THE FEW. Practically, the moral and material condition of the country in the course of the next twenty years depends greatly on the character of those of its citizens who are parents. The fathers and mothers in the land are determining its future to a large extent by their parental wisdom or folly. But we may narrow the issue considerably; we may say that what the next generation will be, in respect of conviction and conduct, depends on the character of the ministry it is receiving at the hands of its religious teachers. If these are loyal to their Lord, and do faithfully the work committed to their care, the community will know the truth and do the will of God. And so long as the nation walks in the light of the Lord it will be prosperous and strong; its worst enemies will not prevail against it; it will grow in wisdom, in honour, in power.
II. THAT MEN MAY PROVE UTTERLY UNWORTHY OF THE HIGH POSITION TO WHICH THEY ARE CALLED. It may be said that no one has a right to take a step which may result in the responsibilities of parentage, unless he or she is prepared to teach and train children in the knowledge and fear of God. It must certainly be said that no one has a right to take on himself the functions of a Christian minister unless he is qualified to teach Christ's truth and to commend his gospel to the minds and the hearts of men. It is the grave misfortune of the Church and the world that so many have incurred responsibility without any such qualifications. They have failed either in doctrine, having been as "dumb dogs," not warning sinners of the perils besetting them, wilfully and culpably silent; or in understandably, being "blind" and "ignorant," never having understood the truth, or having become insensible to its excellence by reason of their unfaithfulness; or in consistency of life, failing into the sin of idleness (ver. 10), or that of covetousness and consequent rapacity (ver. 11), or that of bodily indulgence (ver. 12). And sin is never so ugly a garment as when it clothes the person of a minister of Jesus Christ.
III. THAT AN UNWORTHY MINISTRY SEALS THE FATE OF THE UNFORTUNATE COUNTRY ON WHICH IT IS IMPOSED. There is little hope for a land cursed with an unfaithful and an ungodly ministry. Not only is the truth of God withheld from men, but it is made positively distasteful and repugnant to the more spiritual by being associated with such professors. Its power is reduced to the very lowest possible point; the people are abandoned to error and to folly. It will soon be time for the enemy to appear at the gates - for the destroying beast to ravage the flock (ver. 9).
1. Let all but those whom God has fitted for it shrink with holy diffidence from the sacred office.
2. Let the Church of Christ take the greatest care whom it invites to be "over it in the Lord." - C.
deliverance. The evils were especially manifest in the leading people, who ought to have been leaders in goodness to the people. Instead of this, they were neglecting their duty, and presenting a debasing example of self-indulgence, and even of covetousness. The term "watchmen' is used for chief men, princes, priests, prophets. These were utterly unable to comprehend or to meet the spiritual wants of the nation at this time, when God was so near, for carrying out his redeeming purpose. "The language here employed strikingly depicts the feelings of the voluptuous in every age."
I. THE HELPLESSNESS OF THE LEADERS AND TEACHERS OF THAT AGE. Observe the blending of figures suitable to the shepherd and to the shepherd's dog. Such a blending of figures is common in poetry and in Scripture. Inefficiency and sinful neglect are suggested in the terms
(4) loving to slumber;
(6) void of understanding;
II. THE REAL SECRET OF THEIR HELPLESSNESS. They thought of self. They did not live for their charge, but for themselves. "They all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter." And this is the root of evil in all who are placed in positions of responsibility, authority, and influence - all who are in any sense leaders and teachers. They must serve others, not get for self. Therefore the Apostle Paul pleads, saying, "We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus' sake." Compare the plea of the noble Samuel, on giving up his life-ministry, "Whose ox have I taken? or whose ass have I taken? or whom have I defrauded? whom have I oppressed? or of whose hand have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith?" (1 Samuel 12:3). In this way St. Paul counsels the young teacher Timothy, "Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." And a bishop is thus described, "Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous" (1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Timothy 3:3). St. Paul complains of the teachers of his time, "All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ's" (Philippians 2:21). - R.T.