And it came to pass in the eleventh year, in the third month, in the first day of the month, that the word of the LORD came to me…
Precious lemons can be learnt from God's treatment of others. As in others' conduct we may find a mirror of our own, so in others' chastisement we may find a reflected image of our own deserts. The principles on which God acts are these of eternal immutability. Therefore we may learn with certainty what will sooner or later happen. On the part of God, it is an act of genuine kindness that he holds up the perdition of one to deter others from sin. Thus he would turn the curse into a blessing - retribution into a Gospel.
I. WE HAVE HERE GREAT PRIVILEGE. The Assyrian monarch is compared to a "cedar in Lebanon, with fair branches, with shadowing foliage, and of high stature."
1. He enjoyed a position of superior elevation. What a cedar of Lebanon was, compared to other trees, the Assyrian king was in respect to other men. He possessed superior qualities. Possibly he had larger capacity of mind, and had larger opportunities of furnishing it. Certainly he had external advantages such as no others enjoyed. He enjoyed an eminence above other men, yea more, above other kings.
2. He received generous treatment from God. "The waters made him great." An unfailing stream from the heavenly fount irrigated his roots. Divested of poetical form, it means that God sustained body and soul by hourly supplies of good, though his hand was unseen. If his bodily strength did not languish, it was owing to a constant stream of vitality from God. If the capacity of his mind was maintained, it was due to the Divine succor. Substantial blessing, through invisible channels, was incessantly flowing into his roots. He was entirely dependent on the kindness of another.
3. He had a prosperous growth. As the result of so much blessing, he grew and prospered. In himself, in his kingdom, in his reputation, he flourished. His people were loyal; his army was valiant; his empire grew. Over every province, over every department of his government, the sunshine of Heaven rested. All that a king's heart could desire he had. He was the envied among contemporary kings: "the cynosure of neighboring eyes."
4. Large influence was within his reach. "All the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs. Under his shadow dwelt all great nations." Such a tree was not simply an image of beauty, the delight of the human eye; it was useful to various forms of life. It was a source of blessing. So with the King of Assyria. His strong government was a protection to all classes of the people. It was a bulwark against invasion. It was a shield for industry, investigation, and commerce. The rich and the poor could dwell securely. All grades of his subjects could pursue their occupations without fear of molestation. Greater influence still he might have exerted. He could have fostered learning, encouraged many arts, established peace among surrounding nations, diffused joy in a myriad homes, lifted up the nation to a higher life. Such varied usefulness is a fountain of bliss.
II. GREAT FOLLY. "His heart is lifted up in his height."
1. Self-adulation. To admire one's self so as to forget our Divine Benefactor is both foolishness and sin. This is to cheat God of his due. If robbery is criminal anywhere, it is specially criminal when directed against God. To interpose ourselves between God and his proper worship is grievous sin.
2. False ground for admiration. To find satisfaction in external rank or elevation is a sore mistake. Neither wealth, nor station, nor anything outside ourselves is a proper ground for solid satisfaction. We should find our chief delight in real excellence - in likeness to God. Else we divert our minds from substantial good, and are taken up with gaud and tinsel.
3. Self-trust. Pride arrogates to itself qualities and possessions which do not belong to it. It is a condition of mind we may call "self-inflation." Self-trust is ruinous, because it is reliance upon a broken reed. Human strength, apart from God, is sheer frailty. No figure can exaggerate its feebleness. It is a vapor, a shadow, a mere cobweb. Man is strong only when affiliated to God. Therefore self-trust is self-deception, is suicide.
III. A GREAT DOWNFALL. Carrying out the harmony of the figure, there is:
1. Mutilation. "His boughs are broken." So pitiful is God, that he does not at once destroy. He visits with partial chastisement, in the hope that repentance and amendment may be the result. If he can spare from destruction, he will. This mutilation of his beauty was a lesson he ought to have taken to heart. If a higher being than he could, against his will, despoil him of some of his members, could he not despoil him of all? A wise man would have halted, reflected, turned over a new leaf. This mutilation represents dismemberment, loss of territory. This outward mutilation indicates diminution of vitality: "Grey hairs were here and there upon him, though he knew it not."
2. Scattering. "Upon the mountains and in all the valleys his branches are fallen." Memorials of this ruined cedar were distributed far and wide. Every stream bore them on. Every storm of wind scattered them. So in the time of a nation's misfortune, fair-weather allies easily desert. As prosperity brings many superficial friends, so adversity scatters them. At such a time a hundred foes will start out of ambush to annoy, if they cannot injure. When God becomes our foe, our resources speedily waste like snow at midday.
3. Degradation. "Upon his ruin shall all the fowls of heaven remain, and all the beasts of the field shall be upon his branches!" In other words, he shall be treated with contempt. Those before whom he has paraded his superiority shall, in turn, triumph over him. This conduct is to many a sweet revenge. It gives to them a conviction that they too have some hidden merit which now shall come to light. This degradation in the scale of being, in the scale of society, is a bitter element in God's penalty. "He that exalteth himself shall be abased." The pendulum that has swung too, far in one direction will presently swing to the other extreme.
4. Commiseration. I caused Lebanon to mourn for him, and all the trees of the field fainted for him." The fall of a flourishing king naturally causes consternation and concern in every palace. The self-security of others is rudely shaken. Every throne on earth seems to totter with the great vibration. Then, in noble minds, the sense of brotherhood appears. A tender tie, though often unseen, runs through the human race. The fall of one is a lesser fall to all. We all have a common interest in the fortune and destiny of humanity.
5. Diabolic triumph. "All the trees of Eden... shall be comforted in the nether parts of the earth." This sense of exultation over the fall of another - whether it be latent or expressed - is base and devilish. Hence we learn that the feelings of men, in the state of Hades, is not improved by suffering: the exact reverse. Intelligent natures degenerate in hell. "Evil men wax worse and worse." Some, too, to whom the king, in prosperity, rendered signal service, will be disposed to taunt him in the day of his fall. An ingrate becomes the blackest of demons.
IV. A GREAT LESSON. "To the end that none of all the trees by the waters exalt themselves for their height." The terrible fall of the Assyrian king is used as a lesson and a warning to Pharaoh. God's judgments are stepping-stones to mercy. Over the most lurid cloud he flings the rainbow of his kindness. The darkest events may become to us fountains of blessing, if we are willing to gain the good. Thus God exhibits the strength and fullness of his love. If by any method, by any example, he can win us back from evil courses, he will. Marvelous is the obduracy of the human heart that will not yield to the charms of infinite love! The death of one may become life to many. God's aims are magnificent and far-reaching. By-and-by, he shall have the praise which is his rightful due. If with such displays of Divine kindness men are not ashamed of their sin, they must become more hardened and more depraved than ever. "My soul, come not thou into their secret!" - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And it came to pass in the eleventh year, in the third month, in the first day of the month, that the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,