I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of God's wrath.
I. AFFLICTION LEADS SOME TO DOUBT THE EXISTENCE OF GOD. It is not uncommon for people to say in their hearts, what some even venture to say with their lips, "If there were a God, I should not be suffered to pass through misfortunes and sorrows so distressing and so undeserved."
II. AFFLICTION LEADS SOME TO DOUBT GOD'S BENEVOLENCE AND KINDLY INTEREST IN HUMAN BEINGS. Not denying the existence of Deity, these afflicted ones question his moral attributes. They ask, "If God were a Being of boundless benevolence, would he suffer us to go through waters so deep, flames so fierce? His kindness and compassion - were such attributes part of his nature - would interpose on our behalf and deliver us."
III. SOME WHO BELIEVE THAT GOD PERMITS AFFLICTION MISINTERPRET IT AS A SIGN OF HIS WRATH. This it may be; this it was in the case of Jerusalem. Yet God in the midst of wrath remembers mercy; he doth not keep his anger forever. And there are instances in which no greater misinterpretation could be possible than the view that suffering is mere penalty, that those who suffer most are necessarily sinners above all their neighbours.
IV. AFFLICTION SHOULD BE REGARDED BY THE PIOUS AND SUBMISSIVE AS A PROOF OF DIVINE MERCY AND AS MEANT FOR THEIR GOOD. Scripture represents suffering as the chastening of a Father's hand. The experience of many a Christian is summed up in the language of the psalmist: "It was good for me that I was afflicted."
V. AFFLICTION MAY THUS BECOME, IN THE EXPERIENCE OF THE PIOUS, THE OCCASION FOR DEVOUT THANKSGIVING. How often have mature and holy Christians been heard to say, "I would not, upon looking back, have been without the ruggedness of the road, the bitterness of the cup"! - T.
I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of His wrath.Dramatis Personae. While some mystery hangs over the personality of this man of sorrows, the power and pathos of the poem are certainly heightened by the concentration of our attention upon one individual. Few persons are moved by general statements. The study of abstract reports is most important to these who are already interested in the subjects of these dreary documents; but it is useless as a means of exciting interest. Philanthropy must visit the office of the statistician if it would act with enlightened judgment, and not permit itself to become the victim of blind enthusiasm; but it was not born there, and the sympathy which is its parent can only be found among individual instances of distress. In the present case the speaker who recounts his own misfortunes is more than a casual witness, more than a mere specimen picked out at random from the heap of misery accumulated in this age of national ruin. He is not simply a man who has seen affliction, one among many similar sufferers; he is the man, the well-known victim, one preeminent in distress even in the midst of a nation full of misery. Yet he is not isolated on a solitary peak of agony. As the supreme sufferer, he is also the representative sufferer. He is not selfishly absorbed in the morbid occupation of brooding over his private grievances. He has gathered into himself the vast and terrible woes of his people. Thus he foreshadows our Lord in His passion. The idea of representative suffering which here emerges, and which becomes more definite in the picture of the servant of Jehovah in Isaiah 53, only finds its full realisation and perfection in Jesus Christ. It is repeated, however, with more or less distinctness wherever the Christ Spirit is revealed. The portrait of himself drawn by the author of this elegy is the more graphic by reason of the fact that the present is linked to the past. The striking commencement, "I am the man," etc., sets the speaker in imagination before our eyes. The addition "who has seen" (or rather, experienced) "affliction" connects him with his present sufferings. His own personality has slowly acquired a depth, a fulness, a ripeness that remove him far from the raw and superficial character he once was. We are silenced into awe before Job, Jeremiah, and Dante, because these men grew great by suffering. Is it not told even of our Lord Jesus Christ that He was made perfect by the things that He suffered? It is to be observed that here in his self-portraiture — just as elsewhere when describing the calamities that have befallen his people — the elegist attributes the whole series of disastrous events to God. So close is the thought of God to the mind of the writer, he does not even think it necessary to mention the Divine name. Like Brother Lawrence, this man has learnt to "practise the presence of God." In amplifying the accounts of his sufferings, after giving a general description of himself as the man who has experienced affliction, and adding a line in which this experience is connected with its cause — the rod of the wrath of Him who is unnamed, though ever in mind — the stricken patriot proceeds to illustrate and enforce his appeal to sympathy by means of a series of vivid metaphors. Let us first glance at the successive pictures in this rapidly moving panorama of similes, and then at the general import and drift o! the whole. The afflicted man was under the Divine guidance; he was not the victim of blind self-will; it was not when straying from the path of right that he fell into this pit of misery. The strange thing is that God led him straight into it — led him into darkness, not into light, as might have been expected with such a Guide. The first image, then, is that of a traveller misled. God, whom he has trusted implicitly, whom he has followed in the simplicity of ignorance, God proves to be his Opponent! He feels like one duped m the past, and at length undeceived as he makes the amazing discovery that his trusted Guide has been turning His hand against him repeatedly all the day of his woeful wanderings. For the moment he drops his metaphors, and reflects on the dreadful consequences of this fatal antagonism. His flesh and skin, his very body is wasted away; he is so crushed and shattered, it is as though God had broken his bones. Then the scene changes. The victim of Divine wrath is a captive languishing in a dungeon, which is as dark as the abodes of the dead, as the dwellings of those who have been long dead. The horror of this metaphor is intensified by the idea of the antiquity of Hades. There the prisoner is bound by a heavy chain (ver. 7). He cries for help; but he is shut down so low that his prayer cannot reach his captor (ver. 8). Again, we see him still hampered, though in altered circumstances. He appears as a traveller whose way is blocked, and that not by some accidental fall of rock, but of set purpose, for he finds the obstruction to be of carefully prepared masonry, "hewn stones" (ver. 9). Therefore he has to turn aside, so that his paths become crooked. Yet more terrible does the Divine enmity grow. When the pilgrim is thus forced to leave the highroad and make his way through the adjoining thickets, his Adversary avails Himself of the cover to assume a new form, that of a lion or a bear lying in ambush (ver. 10). The consequence is that the hapless man is torn as by the claws and fangs of beasts of prey (ver. 11). But now these wild regions, in which the wretched traveller is wandering at the peril of his life, suggest the idea of the chase. The image of the savage animals is defective in this respect, that man is their superior in intelligence, though not in strength. But in the present ease the victim is in every way inferior to his Pursuer. So God appears as the Huntsman, and the unhappy sufferer as the poor hunted game. The bow is bent, and the arrow directed straight for its mark (ver. 12). Nay, arrow after arrow has already been let fly, and the dreadful Huntsman, too skilful ever to miss His mark, has been shooting "the sons of His quiver" into the very vitals of the object of HIS pursuit (ver. 13). Here the poet breaks away from his imagery for a second time, to tell us that he has become an object of derision to all his people, and the theme of their mocking songs. This is a striking statement. It shows that the afflicted man is not simply one member of the smitten nation of Israel, sharing the common hardships of the race whose "badge is servitude." Returning to imagery, the poet pictures himself as a hardily used guest at a feast. He is fed, crammed, sated; but his food is bitterness, the cup has been forced to his lips, and he has been made drunk — not with pleasant wine, however, but with wormwood (ver. 15). Gravel has been mixed with his bread, or perhaps the thought is that when he has asked for bread stones have been given him. He has been compelled to masticate this unnatural diet, so that his teeth have been broken by it. Even that result he ascribes to God, saying, "He hath broken my teeth." It is difficult to think of the interference with personal liberty being carried farther than this. Here we reach the extremity of crushed misery. Reviewing the whole course of his wretched sufferings from the climax of misery, the man who has seen all this affliction declares that God has cast him off from peace (ver. 17). This most precious gift of heaven to suffering souls is denied to the man who here bewails his dismal fate. So, too, it was denied to Jesus in the garden, and again on the Cross. It is possible that the dark day will come when it will be denied to one or another of His people. In the elegy we are now studying, a burst of praise and glad confidence breaks out almost immediately after the lowest depths of misery have been sounded, showing that, as Keats declares in an exquisite line —There is a budding morrow in midnight.When we come to look at the series of pictures or affliction as a whole, we shall notice that one general idea runs through them. This is that the victim is hindered, hampered, restrained. He is led into darkness, besieged, imprisoned, chained, driven out of his way, seized in ambuscade, hunted, even forced to eat unwelcome food. This must all point to a specific character of personal experience. The troubles of the sufferer have mainly assumed the form of a thwarting of his efforts. If the opposition comes from God, may it not be that the severity of the trouble is just caused by the obstinacy of self-will? Certainly it does not appear to be so here; but then we must remember the writer is stating his own case. Two other characteristics of the whole passage may be mentioned. One is the persistence of the Divine antagonism. This is what makes the case look so hard. The pursuer seems to be ruthless; He will not let his victim alone for a moment. One device follows sharply on another. There is no escape. The second of these characteristics of the passage is a gradual aggravation in the severity of the trials. At first God is only represented as a guide who misleads then He appears as a besieging enemy; later like a destroyer. And correspondingly the troubles of the sufferer grow in severity, till at last he is flung into the ashes, crushed and helpless. All this is peculiarly painful reading to us with our Christian thoughts of God. It seems so utterly contrary to the character of our Father revealed in Jesus Christ. But then it was not a part of the Christian revelation, nor was it uttered by a man who had received the benefits of that highest teaching. That, however, is not a complete explanation. The narrator may be perfectly honest and truthful, but it is not in human nature to be impartial under such circumstances. Even when, as in the present instance, we have reason to believe that the speaker is under the influence of a Divine inspiration, we have no right to conclude that this gift would enable him to take an all-round vision of truth. Finally, it would be quite unfair to the elegist, and it would give us a totally false impression of his ideas, if we were to go no further than this. To understand him at all we must hear him out. The triplet of verses 19 to 21 serves as a transition to the picture of the other side of the Divine action. It begins with prayer. Thus a new note is struck. The sufferer knows that God is not at heart his enemy. So he ventures to beseech the very Being concerning whose treatment of him he has been complaining so bitterly, to remember his affliction and the misery it has brought on him, the wormwood, the gall of his hard lot. Hope now dawns on him out of his own recollections. God, too, has a memory, and will remember His suffering servant.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
I. CONSIDER THE GENERALITY OF AFFLICTION IN THE NATURE THEREOF. We met all generally in the first treason against ourselves in Adam's rebellion; and we met all, too, in the second treason — the treason against Jesus Christ. All our sins were upon His shoulders. All the evils and mischiefs of life come for the most part from this — that we think to enjoy those things which God has given us only to use.
II. CONSIDER AFFLICTION AS BEARING ON MAN. "I am the man that hath seen affliction." Man carries the spawn and seed and eggs of affliction in his own flesh, and his own thoughts make haste to hatch them and bring them up. We make all our worms snakes, all our snakes vipers, all our vipers dragons, by our murmuring.
III. CONSIDER AFFLICTION IN ITS SPECIAL APPLICATION TO ONLY MAN. That man the prophet Jeremiah, one of the best of men. As he was submitted to these extraordinary afflictions, we see that no man is so necessary to God as that God cannot come to His ends without that man. God can lack and leave out any man in His service. The best of our wages is adversity, because that gives us a true fast, and a right value of our prosperity.
IV. CONSIDER THIS WEIGHT AND VEHEMENCE OF AFFLICTIONS.
1. They are aggravated in that they are the Lord's. They are inevitable; they cannot be avoided; they are just, and cannot be pleaded against; nor can we ease ourselves with any imagination of our innocency, as though they were undeserved.
2. They are in HIS rod. Our murmuring makes a rod a staff, and a staff a sword, and that which God presented for physic, poison.
3. They are inflicted by the rod of His wrath. It is the highest extent of affliction that we take God to be angrier than He is.
V. CONSIDER THE COMFORTS WE HAVE IN AFFLICTIONS.
1. That we see our afflictions, we understand, consider them. We see that affliction comes from God, and that it is sent that we may see and taste the goodness of God.
2. That, though afflicted, we still retain our manhood. God may mend thee in marring thee; He may build thee up in dejecting thee; He may infuse another manhood into thee, so that thou canst say, "I am that Christian man; I am the man that cannot despair since Christ is the remedy."
(J. Donne, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
My flesh and my skin hath He made old1. God's punishments for sin often appear even in the body of man.(1) Because sin is committed in the body.(2) The body being the more sensitive part, it may affect us the more when we feel God's punishments in it.(3) That others may have the more clear example in beholding our bodies punished.
2. The wasting and withering of the body is to he acknowledged a punishment from God; and the flourishing of the same to be a special blessing.
3. There is no torment so grievous but the godly feel it when God's hand is upon them for their sins.
(1) (2) (J. Udall.) II. The "hedge" OF SOCIAL LIFE. 1. Social relationship. How many sinners are held in by the influence of father, mother, brother, sister! 2. Social sentiment. In a morally enlightened age like ours, public sentiment is strong against wrong, and most men stand in awe of public sympathy. III. The hedge of PERSONAL INCAPACITY. 1. The want of physical health. Many men would do far more mischief were they not so physically frail. 2. The want of intellectual ability. Many men would swindle on a large scale, propagate infidelity by their writings and their oratory, had they the ability. 3. The want of secular means. Were there not so much incapacity and poverty, the world would abound with Alexanders, Caesars, and Napoleons. Thank God for these hedges! (Homilist.)
(2) (J. Udall.) II. The "hedge" OF SOCIAL LIFE. 1. Social relationship. How many sinners are held in by the influence of father, mother, brother, sister! 2. Social sentiment. In a morally enlightened age like ours, public sentiment is strong against wrong, and most men stand in awe of public sympathy. III. The hedge of PERSONAL INCAPACITY. 1. The want of physical health. Many men would do far more mischief were they not so physically frail. 2. The want of intellectual ability. Many men would swindle on a large scale, propagate infidelity by their writings and their oratory, had they the ability. 3. The want of secular means. Were there not so much incapacity and poverty, the world would abound with Alexanders, Caesars, and Napoleons. Thank God for these hedges! (Homilist.)
II. The "hedge" OF SOCIAL LIFE.
1. Social relationship. How many sinners are held in by the influence of father, mother, brother, sister!
2. Social sentiment. In a morally enlightened age like ours, public sentiment is strong against wrong, and most men stand in awe of public sympathy.
III. The hedge of PERSONAL INCAPACITY.
1. The want of physical health. Many men would do far more mischief were they not so physically frail.
2. The want of intellectual ability. Many men would swindle on a large scale, propagate infidelity by their writings and their oratory, had they the ability.
3. The want of secular means. Were there not so much incapacity and poverty, the world would abound with Alexanders, Caesars, and Napoleons. Thank God for these hedges!