A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the LORD will hasten it in his time.
There is a threefold line of thought in this passage; three points of contrast in the prophet's mind between the old world, the world in which he himself lived, and that new world, our world, of Christ and Christianity.
I. He says that the old world magnified masses, the thousands; whereas IN THAT NEW WORLD WHICH CHRIST IS TO BRING, OR RATHER HAS NOW BROUGHT, NOT THE MASS BUT THE INDIVIDUAL IS TO BE THE POWERFUL THING. Imagine if an angel were to come to me to-day to offer to prepare me for the study of ancient history. I say to him, "Will you show me the secret of the old world's greatness?' And in answer he takes me up on a lofty mountain and shows me immense masses. "Do you see that Chinese Empire," he says, "do you see that long line of ancestors going back, back, back further than the eye can see? That is the secret of China's greatness. Do you see that great Indian Continent — that long line of caste going back into antiquity; the thousand? That is the secret of India's greatness, Do you see that Jewish Empire? Do you see that long family tree going back to Abraham, and further back still to the very foundation of all things? That is the secret of Judea's greatness." The old world magnified the thousand. But now let us take another side of it. Suppose this angel came to me and said, "I have come to prepare you for a study of modern history, of the world of Christ's time," and I say, "Well, I should like very much to get a specimen of the difference here. I wish you to show me the secret of England's greatness during the last century (the nineteenth). Let me see, first of all, the secret of England's greatness in mechanical powers." I have not the slightest doubt that in answer he is going to take me at once into the dockyards where the thousand hammers are clanging and all the mechanical powers are at work. Instead of that, to my astonishment, he takes me through to Glasgow; he passes down the Clyde; he comes to Greenock, and he never looks at the shipping; he passes it altogether. He takes me through the streets, turns into a gloomy, narrow entry, climbs the stair, opens the door, and, lo I in a humble room and in a very small crib there lies a delicate infant, and he points to it and says, "That is the secret of England's mechanical greatness.", "What!" I say, "that puny thing that a breath would put out like a candle?" "Yes," he says, "that is the secret of England's mechanical greatness. That is James Watt; that is the one that has taken the place of the thousand." Or suppose I say to him, "I want to see the secret of England's scientific greatness in the last century." I have no doubt whatever that he is going to take me into the laboratories where the thousand workmen are plying with the crucible, the pestle, and the mortar. Instead of that he takes me up to Grantham, into the village school, and there, at the very foot of the class, sits a very dull-looking boy, more distinguished for fighting than for anything else. He says, "That is the secret of England's greatness in science. That is Isaac Newton. That one is going to take the place of the thousand in years to come." Or yet again, suppose I say to him, "I wish you would show me the secret of England's religious greatness in the last century." I have no doubt whatever that he is going to take me into the great cathedrals where the aisles are dark with worshippers. Instead of that he takes me up to a little place called Epworth at midnight, where there is a minister's manse on fire, and they are carrying out a screaming infant from the house. And the angel cries, "That is the secret of England's religious greatness. That is John Wesley, one time to have his screams heard all over England, all over Europe. The one little fire-burned child will in time to come take the place of the thousand." And why is it that I attribute this to Christianity? You might say, "What has Christ to do with this?" It is because if you and I go back nineteen centuries we shall see all Europe sleeping in an egg-shell: a little child; a little child laid outside in a stable. There it lay, holding all Europe in its little breast; its evolutions, its revolutions, its convolutions; its wars and rumours of wars; its cries for bread; its cries for light; its cries for liberty. The One has taken the place of the thousand.
II. The second point of the prophet I take to be this: that IN THE NEW WORLD THAT CHRIST HAS BROUGHT IN, THE GLORY CONSISTS IN THIS, THAT THE ONE INDIVIDUAL CAN PASS BY SYMPATHY THROUGH MYRIAD TYPES OF CHARACTER. One has become a thousand. Let me try to illustrate this by the case of two boarding-schools. I will call the one the boarding-school of the old world, and the other the boarding-school of the new. The boarding-school of the old world says, "Do you see these girls? In a few months you will not know your own little girl from any other. They will all become so like that no one could possibly distinguish the difference between them. The thousand shall become one — thoroughly Chinese." But the second boarding-school, Christ's boarding-school, says, "Will you give me this little girl of yours? She is just now very like other people. There is not much difference; hut I will undertake to send this little girl through My school, and she will catch a little bit of every, body in the now vacant mirror of her mind, she will catch a little bit of every light. Why is it that I attribute this to Christ? It is because Christ Himself is many members in one body. Christ is our Representative before the throne of God. What does that mean? What is a representative before the throne? Why, it is a Member of Parliament. What is the function of a member for Glasgow? He has to take into the mirror of his mind all the different wants of the thousand, and give them due consideration.
III. As a result of these points, the course of the old world has been still, stagnant, unprogressive; whereas IN THE NEW WORLD WHICH CHRIST HAS BROUGHT IN THINGS ARE TO MOVE WITH TREMENDOUS SPEED. "I the Lord will hasten it in its time" (R.V.). We commonly read it that God will hasten the time of its coming. I understand it to mean that there are times of acceleration, times when everything with double quick march; times when you take up the newspaper and find the unexpected has happened. This is what I understand, an accelerated progress; "The Lord will hasten it in its time. ' I wonder if there is any man here between eighty and ninety years old? If there is, that man has seen more events than all the history of the Chinese Empire from the beginning up till now! Think what he has seen. He has seen wings of steam — the steamboat; then he has seen wings of fire — the railroad; then wings of light — the telegraph; then wings of sound — the telephone. Aye, and he has seen something more than that; he has seen physical wings of memory — the phonograph. He has seen the voice bottled up in jars, and carried across the Atlantic. He has seen greater things than these. He has beheld social changes of the most momentous type. He has seen the institution of the rights of man; he has seen something greater still — the institution of the rights of woman. He has seen the bursting of the fetters of the slave; he has seen the birth of charity. It has been a world of wondrous acceleration. The power that can pass through these thousand changes must be Divine. You tell me that Christianity has not lived so long as some of the Eastern religious; that Buddhism, Brahmanism, and Parseeism have lived longer than Christianity. Yes, so they have; it is easy to be steadfast in a stagnant pool. "Better thirty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay. The power of my Lord's religion is not its duration, it is the fact that its duration, such as it is, has been against tremendous odds. It is that the one has been battling ever with the thousand.
(G. Matheson, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the LORD will hasten it in his time.
WEB: The little one shall become a thousand, and the small one a strong nation; I, Yahweh, will hasten it in its time."