« PreviousContinue »
GOD'S WORK IN FOUNDING ZION, AND HIS PEOPLE'S
“What shall one then answer the messengers of the nation? That the LORD hath
founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it.”—Isa. xiv. 32.
The head of the prophecy whereof these words are the close, lies in verse 28, “In the year that king Ahaz died was this burden;" which gives us the season and just time of its revelation and delivery. The kingdom of Judah was at that season low and broken ;-foreign invasions and intestine divisions had made it so. An account hereof is given us, 2 Chron. xxvii. throughout, as it is especially summed up, verse 19 of that chapter, “For the LORD brought Judah low because of Ahaz king of Israel; for he made Judah naked, and transgressed sore against the LORD." Amongst their oppressing neighbours that took advantage of their low and divided condition, their old enemies the Philistines, the posterity of Ham in Canaan, had no small share, as verse 18 of that chapter, “ The Philistines also had invaded the cities of the low country, and of the south of Judah, and had taken Beth-shemesh, and Ajalon, and Gederoth, and Shocho with the villages thereof, and Timnah with the villages thereof, Gimzo also and the villages thereof; and they dwelt there."
In this state of things, God takes notice of the joy and triumphing of the whole land of Palestina, -that is, the country of the Philistines, -in that the rod of him that smote them was broken; that is, the power of the kings and kingdom of Judah, which, for many generations, had prevailed against them,--especially in the days of David, 2 Sam. v., and of Uzziah, 2 Chron. xxvi. 6,-and kept them under, was made weak and insufficient for that purpose, verse 29, “ Rejoice not thou, whole land of Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken.”
It is no wonder if Palestina, that was to be smitten and broken by the rod of God among his people, rejoice at their perplexities and VOL. VIIL
distresses when we have seen men so to do who pretend to dwell in Judah.
To take them off from their pride and boasting, their triumph and rejoicing, the Lord lets them know that, from the people whom they despised, and that broken rod they trampled upon, their desolation was at hand, though they seem to be perplexed and forsaken for a season, verses 29-31, “Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice, and his fruit shall be a fiery flying serpent. And the first-born of the poor shall feed, and the needy shall lie down in safety; and I will kill thy root with famine, and he shall slay thy remnant. Howl, O gate; cry, 0 city; thou, whole Palestina, art dissolved: for there shall come from the north a smoke, and none shall be alone in his appointed times.” That it is Hezekiah who is principally intended in these lofty allegorical expressions, that was then rising up from the broken rod of Judah, is evident. He is termed a "cockatrice," and a “ fiery flying serpent,” not from his own nature, which was tender, meek, and gentle, wherein the comparison doth not at all lie nor hold; but in respect of the mischief that he should do unto, the irrecoverable destruction that he should bring on, the land of Palestina: which, accordingly, he performed, 2 Kings xvii. 8, “He smote the Philistines, even unto Gaza, and the borders thereof, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city;" that is, he wasted and destroyed the whole land, from one end even to the other.
It is, it seems, no new thing, that the season of the enemies' rejoicing, built upon the outward appearance and state of things among the people of God, is the beginning of their disappointment and desolation. The Lord make it so in this day of England's expectation, that the rod of it may be strengthened again, yet to smite the whole land of Palestina!
The words of my text are the result of things upon God's dealings and dispensations before mentioned. Uncertain it is, whether they ought to be restrained to the immediate prophecy before going concerning Palestina, or whether they relate not also to that in the beginning of the chapter, concerning the destruction of the Assyrian, which is summed up, verses 24, 25, “ The LORD of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand: that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot: then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders.” It is the ruining of Sennacherib and his army in the days of Hezekiah that is foretold. Yea, and this seems to claim a peculiar share and influence into this érivíxlov, or triumphant close; because, eminently and signally, not long after, messengers were thus sent from Babylon to inquire of the health and congratulate the good success of Hezekiah. And well had it been for him and his posterity had he given those messengers the return to their inquiry which was here prepared for him some years before. His mistake herein was the fatal ruin of Judah's prosperity. Let not, then, that consideration be excluded, though the other insisted on be principally intended.
The words, you see, have in them an inquiry, and a resolution thereof. I shall open them briefly as they lie in the text.
FIRST, There is an inquiry.
1. “ What SHALL one;"—what shall, or what ought,—what is it their duty to do, or to say? or, what shall they, upon the evidence of the things done, so do or say? Either their duty or the event is denoted, or both; as, in such predictions, it often falls out. 2.“ What shall ONE;"—that is, any one, or every one.
The answer spoken of is either the duty of every one to give, or it will be so evident, that any one shall be able to give it. The word one, I confess, is not expressly in the original, but is evidently included in the verb my op, what shall be answered that is, by any one whatever. There is no more in the translation than is eminently infolded in the original erpression of this thing.
3. “ What shall one THEN;"—that is, in the season when God bath disappointed the hopes and expectations of the enemies of his people, and hath strengthened their rod to bruise them again more than ever. That is a season wherein great inquiry will be made about those things. “What shall one then answer?” This word also is included in the interrogation; and much of the emphasis of it consists therein.
4. “ Answer the messengers;”—that is, men coming on set purpose to make inquiry after the state of affairs among God's people,ambassadors, agents, spies, messengers,-inquirers of any sort; or the word may be taken more largely, for any stranger that came to Jerusalem. The Septuagint render these words, Badiness łóvãv, “ the kings of the nations." What shall they say in this case? Ti åroxpiðńsovras; “what shall they answer," or "say?"-So that word is sometimes used. Some think that for 'xbrp, whịch they should have rendered äynthou, or “ messengers,” they read 35, or " kings," by an evident mistake; but all things are clear in the original.
5. “Of the NATIONS;"—that is, of this or that nation, of any nation that shall send to make inquiry: 3,“ of the heathen,” say some. Those commonly so called, or “the nations estranged from God,” are usually denoted by this word in the plural number; yet not always under that consideration: so that there may be an enallagy of nuinber, the nation for the nations; which is usual.
“ What shall one answer” them? They come to make inquiry after the work of God among his people, and it is fit that an answer be given to them.
Two things are observable in this interrogation:
I. The nations about will be diligently inquiring after God's dispensations among his people.
Besides what reports they receive at home, they will have messengers, agents, or spies, to make inquiry.
II. The issues of God's dispensations amongst his people shall be 80 evident and glorious, that every one, any one, though never 80 weak, if not blinded by prejudice, shall be able to give a convincing answer concerning them to the inquiries of men.
Something shall be spoken to these propositions in the process of our discourse.
SECONDLY, There is the resolution given of the inquiry made in this interrogation. Hereof are two parts:- 1. What God hath done. 2. What his people shall or ought to do.
Wrap up at any time the work of God and the duty of his people together, and they will be a sufficient answer to any man's inquiry after the state of things among them. As to our wisdom in reference unto providential dispensations, this is the whole of man.
1. The first thing in the answer to be given in is the work of God. “ The LORD hath founded Zion;”—Zion, that is, his church, his people, his chosen ones, called Zion from the place of their solemn worship in the days of David, the figure and type of the gospel church, Heb. xii. 22, “ Ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” It is generally used, not for the whole body of that people, unless as they were typically considered, in which respect they were all holy; but for the secret covenanted ones of that people, -as is evident from all the promises made thereunto,-yet with special regard to the ordinances of worship.
This God“ hath founded;"—founded, or established, strengthened, that it shall not be removed. Ps. lxxxvii. is a comment on these words. He" hath founded” it; that is, in faithful promises and powerful performances, sufficient for its preservation and establishment.
Now this expression, “The LORD bath founded Zion," as it is an answer to the inquiries of "the messengers of the nation,” may be taken two ways.
(1.) As giving an account of the work itself done, or what it is that God hath done in and amongst his people. What is the work that is so famed abroad, and spoken of throughout the world, that, being attempted in many places, and proving abortive, is here accomplished? This is it, shall one say: God hath established his people and their interest. It is no such thing as you suppose,-that some are set up, and some pulled down;—that new fabrics of government or ruling are erected for their own sakes, or their sakes who are interested in them. But this is the thing that God hath done, he “hath founded Zion;"-established his people and their interest, in despite of all opposition.
(2.) As giving a reason of the work done. Whence is it that the Lord hath wrought so mightily for you, amongst you, in your behalf,— preserved you, recovered you, supported you, given you success and victory,—when all nations conspired your ruin? Why, this is the reason of it, “God hath founded Zion;"—he bore it good-will, hath taken care of the interest of his church and people.
The words may be taken in either sense; the issue of their intendment, as to our instruction, will be the same. This is the answer to be given to "the messengers of the nation," who perhaps expected to have heard of their strength and policy, of their counsellors and armies, of their wealth and their riches, of their triumphs and enjoyments. No: “God hath founded Zion.” And well had it been for Hezekiah had he given his answer, prepared for him so long before, to the messengers of Babylon.
III. The great design of God, in his mighty works, and dispensations in the world, is the establishment of his people, and their proper interest, in their several generations.
Give me leave to say, it is not for this or that form of government, or civil administration of human affairs,—it is not for these or those governors,---much less for the advantage of one or other sort of men, for the enthroning of any one or other persuasion, gainful or helpful to some, few or more,—that God hath wrought his mighty works amongst us; but it is that Zion may be founded, and the general interest of all the sons and daughters of Zion be preserved;-and so far as any thing lies in a subserviency thereunto, so far, and no farther, is it with him accepted. And whatever, on what account soever, sets up against it, shall be broken in pieces.
What answer, then, should we give to inquirers? “That the Lord hath founded Zion.” This is that, and that alone, which we should insist upon, and take notice of, as the peculiar work of God amongst us. Let the reports of other nations be what they will, let them acquaint the messengers of one another with their glory, triumphs, enlarging of their empires and dominions,—when it is inquired what he hath done in England, let us say, “He hath founded Zion.” And he will not leave until every man concerned in the work shall be able to say, We have busied ourselves about things of no moment, and consumed our days and strength in setting up sheaves that must bow hereunto. This is the main of God's intendment; and whilst it is safe, he hath the glory and end of his dispensations.