The Biblical Illustrator
In that day there shall be a fountain opened, etc.
The Fountain of Life
To what can the prophet refer but the exclamation of John, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.”
I. Explain the promise.
1. The fountain. This image holds forth the Redeemer. In distinction from creatures, which are “cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water,” He may well call Himself the “Fountain of living waters.” He shall possess a plenitude Himself. The fulness of the Christian is derived and limited: it is the fulness of a vessel. The vessel is supplied from the fulness of a fountain. This fountain is the Lord Jesus. His fulness is original and boundless. It is the fulness of a spring.
2. The fountain was to be opened. A fountain, sealed would be useless; it would only provoke desire. What would the Saviour’s excellencies and benefits be to us if unattainable and inaccessible? The fountain was actually opened in His sufferings. The apostles laid it open doctrinally, in their preaching and in their epistles.
3. This fountain is opened for sin and for uncleanness. There had been provisions for ceremonial pollution, under the Mosaic economy. The brazen sea. Ten layers. See also the Pool of Siloam. Sin is uncleanness. Its very nature is contamination. Sin is a pollution the most deep and diffusive. The very conscience is defiled. It is the “abominable thing.” But there is a fountain that washes out even the stains of the soul,--and of sin. And it was opened for this very purpose.
II. To improve the truth contained in the promise. Five classes have a relation to the truth before us.
1. The ignorant. Such as cry, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.”
2. The presumptuous. Antinomian perversion is worse than mere ignorance.
3. The self-righteous, who hope to cleanse themselves in some other way.
4. The fearful. For it is no easy thing to satisfy the conscience of awakened sinners.
5. Those who by faith have applied to the Saviour, and who know by experience that there is indeed a fountain opened for sin and uncleanness. (William Jag.)
The fountain for sin
I. What they needed. Two things: deliverance from guilt and condemnation, and deliverance from sin’s impurity. These are the very blessings for which our text represents provision has been made. The fountain is opened “for sin and for uncleanness.” The former meaning “guilt,” the latter “pollution.” The whole context prohibits our regarding the language as referring to anything ceremonial. The guilt, contracted, and requiring remission, is the guilt of “piercing,” that is, of putting to death the true, divinely promised. Messiah, and the “uncleanness” points to those unholy and hellish principles and dispositions in the soul from which the guilt originated, by which the fearful act was prompted. The guilt was deep. The depth of moral debasement and violence was fearful from which they who had been guilty of it required to be purified.
II. How these blessings are provided for them.
1. What is the fountain? It is a twofold figure, comprehending the grace of Christ’s Spirit as well as the virtue of Christ’s blood, cleansing as well as forgiveness. Theme blessings are always found in union. Christ died that sinners might be both pardoned and purified; and the two designs were emblematically indicated by the mingling of the blood and water that flowed from His pierced heart. The fountain means at once the blood of Christ’s atonement and the grace of Christ’s Spirit; the one required for forgiveness, and the other for regeneration and cleansing: the two, however, being inseparable; the faith which interests in the pardoning virtue of the blood, being the product of the grace of the Spirit, and the grace of the Spirit effecting the renewal and sanctification of the soul by means of the doctrine which makes known the pardoning virtue of the blood: it being the same faith, under the agency of the same Spirit, which at once justifies and sanctifies. And it is thus that the blood is represented as the means of purifying as well as of procuring pardon.
2. When was this fountain opened? When Christ died; when His blood was shed on the cross, for the remission of sins; when the blood and the water flowed in union from His pierced side. While strictly and properly, the fountain was opened then,--it might be said to have been opened from the time when it came first to be needed,--from the time when man sinned. It was then opened by anticipation. The first promise opened it. The moment man became a sinner he needed the two blessings of pardon and sanctification.
3. How is it here said to be opened “in that day”? The answer is, that although there have now and then, since the judgments of God overtook the Jewish people for their unbelief, been instances of Jews brought to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour, and to obtain salvation by faith in Him; yet to the large mass of that dispersed, and for the time divinely abandoned people, the fountain has not been open. It has been sealed; sealed by themselves, and for their unbelief judicially sealed by God. When the time of mercy arrives the fountain shall, in God’s providence and by God’s grace, be opened for their cleansing from their guilt and their pollution. It is said of them, “They shall look on Me whom they have pierced, and shall mourn.”
4. For what purpose? Two--the washing away of guilt, and the washing away of moral defilement. Both these purposes were in the mind of God, as to be alike effected by the mediation of the Son. That the guilt of sin might be fully taken away, and thus the sinner escape its punishment, atonement was necessary.
5. For what persons? not simply for the restored of Israel,--but for the “house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” The idea thus conveyed is that of all ranks, from the royal occupants of the palace to the tenants of the meanest dwelling. All shall be stricken through with the conviction and alarm; all shall feel the bitterness of contrition; all shall mourn. And for all, in like manner, the fountain shall be opened. All shall need it. All shall have access to it. All shall avail themselves of it. (Ralph Wardlaw, D. D.)
The best fountain
It is a beautiful thing to see a fountain playing. Fountain in the text is the best fountain. What is meant by this fountain? It means the blood which Jesus shed when He hung upon the cross. It is in consequence of what Jesus then suffered--the blood He shed, and the death He died--that God pardons the sins of men, and saves their souls. It is the best fountain--
1. Because it is easy to get at. No long journey is needed. You may find it everywhere.
2. It never changes. Other fountains are sometimes in full play, and sometimes very feeble. Illustrate by the Pool of Bethesda. This is always the same.
3. Because of its wonderful powers. Some fountains cure diseases and restore health. This is designed for the souls of men. This has a wonderful cleansing power, and a wonderful healing power, and a wonderful preserving power against the worms of pride and selfishness that may imperil our souls, as they do the good ships; a wonderful beautifying power, and a wonderful saving power. (R. Newton, D. D.)
Christ our fountain
I. Wherein is Christ a fountain? When it is said Christ is our fountain, it holds forth two things:
1. Fulness. A fountain is not like a cistern; a cistern may be full, but the fulness of it may be emptied; so may the fulness of a fountain too, but then a fountain, or a spring, fills itself again immediately. So doth not a cistern. A cistern may be full, but it doth not rise up and run over, as a fountain doth, and that continually. For this reason the corrupt nature in us is compared to a fountain (Jeremiah 6:7)--bubbling up in vain thoughts, inordinate desires, corrupt affections. Now, in Jesus Christ there is a fulness, and it is a fountain-fulness (Colossians 1:19), fulness--all fulness, and all fulness dwelling, and by the good pleasure of the Father. What is He full of? The two things that our poor souls have most need of towards the making of us happy. Merit and righteousness for justification; and spirit and grace for sanctification. He hath merit enough; His merit is of infinite value, sufficient to take away all sin (Hebrews 7:25)--able to save. He hath Spirit enough, to sanctify us throughout, to break the power of every lust, to strengthen us to every good word and work. He is such a fountain as can open in us a fountain, springing up into eternal life (John 4:14; John 1:16).
2. Uses--fulness. A fountain is of great use. What striving was there in Abraham’s time, and Isaac’s time, and Jacob’s time, about wells of water (Genesis 21:1-34; Genesis 26:1-35). When Achsah was to ask a boon of her father Caleb, Give me, said she, springs of water ( 1:15). Were we to ask but one thing of our heavenly Father, there were reason it should be, Lord, give us a fountain. Why, blessed be His name, He hath given us one. Not only springs of water, useful for our outward man, a land of springs, like Canaan but a Christ, a Christ for our souls. A fountain of water is useful for three things--
II. What kind of fountain is the Lord Jesus? As a cleansing fountain He hath these properties.
1. He is full, He hath enough wherewithal to cleanse us; merit enough, spirit enough. Under the law they had cleansing appointments as to ceremonial pollutions, but ours is beyond theirs. They had blood, but it was but the blood of bulls and goats, and that in a bason only; but we have the blood of the Son of God, not in a bason, but a fountain full of it. They had water; one particularly, called the water of purification, made of the ashes of a red heifer. Open and free as to terms. We say--What is freer than a gift? He is the gift of God (John 4:10), the free gift (Romans 5:1-21.), the unspeakable gift (2 Corinthians 9:15). Though thou hast no worthiness, no matter, He is worthy. Cordial acceptance makes Him ours. He forgives freely (Isaiah 43:25).
2. The only fountain. Besides Him there is no other (Acts 4:12). We may think, perhaps, as Naaman--“Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean?” (2 Kings 5:12). But no other fountain will do.
III. The application, in four particulars.
1. Here is matter for thanksgiving to God, who--
2. Here is matter for conviction. Convincing! Of what? Of your need of this fountain to wash in. That which is unclean doth certainly need washing; but thou art unclean, I mean, thy soul, thy mind, thy conscience; inwardly, spiritually. I am sure thou wast so by nature; born in guilt and filth; like an infant weltering in blood and pollution (Ezekiel 16:1-63). And art thou washed? When, and how? And by whom, and with what? I am sure that every sin thou hast committed hath added to that original pollution, and hath made thee more and more filthy (Psalms 106:39; Matthew 15:19-20). Even vain thoughts (Jeremiah 4:17). So is the world also (James 1:27). Nay, our best duties have their pollutions (Isaiah 64:6). But there is one particular kind of sins, those against the seventh commandment, that is especially called uncleanness. And have we been in no sort guilty of that, neither in thought, word, nor deed? (Philip Henry.)
The fountain opened
I. A fountain. Water is much valued in the East. We cannot wonder that spiritual blessings are so often exhibited to us in Scripture under images borrowed from water. These images found their way at once to the understandings and feelings of Jewish men. The Lord Jesus is meant by the text. He is represented as a fountain for a particular purpose; not for the thirsty to drink from, but for the unclean to wash in. Here again the text carries us into eastern climes. Bodily ablutions are much more common there than among us. With the Jews, too, they partook sometimes of a sacred character. The prophet mentions two things, sin and uncleanness, but he has only one in his mind--sin under the figure of uncleanness. Does uncleanness degrade whatever it touches? So has sin degraded us. Is uncleanness a disgusting and loathsome thing? If there is anything disgusting in the universe, it is sin. When God calls it by this name, He represents it as some thing which He cannot bear to look upon. In the text is a remedy for this hateful evil. It is a suitable, a real, effectual remedy for it. It is a fountain that can remove uncleanness, and is intended to remove it. This fountain is nothing else than the precious blood of God’s own dear Son. That blood was shed for us. As water removes uncleanness from the body, so does this blood remove the guilt of sin from the soul. It does away with it, frees the soul from it, makes our condition as safe, and in the end as happy, as though we had never sinned. This effectual remedy for sin is here described as an abundant, lasting remedy. Thousands may wash in it, and it will be as everflowing as ever, able to cleanse thousands and thousands more.
II. For whom this fountain is intended. For the Jews first, then for all others.
1. The utter insufficiency of all rites and ordinances to cleanse the soul from sin. Who were these men? The very men to whom pertained the law, with all its sacrifices. When guilt oppressed or conscience disquieted them, they could in a few minutes be in their temple, and sharing in its sacrifices and service. But the text addresses them as if they were the very heathen. All their legal ordinances could not expiate their guilt. I is the same with our Christian sacraments. God has ordained them, not to take away sin, but to keep us mindful of it, and of that blood which can take it away.
2. We are taught here the all-sufficiency of Christ’s blood to cleanse the soul. There is no guilt too great for the blood of Christ to wash out, no sinner whom He cannot recover and save.
III. The time when this fountain shall be opened to these sinful men. “In that day.” The day of our Lord’s crucifixion. They point also to a day yet to come, when the Jews as a nation shall be brought to repentance and the reception of Christ. Learn--
1. There can be no real knowledge of Christ without repentance.
2. Wherever there is real repentance there also will God give in the end a real knowledge of His salvation. Would that we might all learn from this Scripture to seek for ourselves a deeper consciousness of sin, a more heartfelt and abiding sorrow on account of it! (C. Bradley.)
The fountain for sin and uncleanness
The prophet leads us to consider the legal uncleannesses so much and so fully developed in the Old Testament, and leads us through them to look at the great disease of sin--the leprosy of the soul.
I. The great uncleanness--the spiritual leprosy of the soul. This is that that defileth a man. It is not poverty; it is not sickness nor disease--however terrible or however sinful. That which defileth a man. This inward leprosy maketh a man an offence to God. This evil pervadeth the world, and yet men are as insensible of it as if there were no truth in it.
II. A fountain open for sin and for uncleanness. The fountain is the blood of Jesus. A bubbling fountain, ever full, ever abundant.
III. This fountain is said to be opened. Formerly, this fountain exclusively belonged to the priests and to the Jews; now, it is for the whole house of David, and for all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. There it stands, a fountain without cover, open and free for the very vilest. (J. H. Evans.)
The fountain opened
The text contains one important prediction which was fulfilled in Christ. It relates to the consequences of His death, with regard to His people, and shows of what great importance this event was to the whole Christian Church. The accomplishment shows with what confidence and comfort we may rely on the great doctrine of the atonement which it involves.
I. The promise of provision to be made against the effects of sin.
1. The prophet speaks of a fountain to be opened. A fountain is properly the source or spring head of waters. Springs or fountains are called, “living,” when they never cede or intermit, but are always sending forth their streams.
2. The blood of Christ was shed expressly, by appointment of God, and by covenant with the Son of God, for the expiation of human guilt, and for the cleansing and purifying of sinful men.
3. There is an inexhaustible fulness and sufficiency of merit in this blood of the Redeemer for the complete expiation of human sin. In its atoning and cleansing properties, the blood of Immanuel is as infinite as the mercy of God which it procures for sinners, and for the exercise of which it prepares the way.
4. This blood of Jesus Christ may he appropriated to the case and wants of any sinner that comes. Sinners may apply believingly to this blood, and obtain from it, not only the cleansing they require, but also plenteous forgiveness, substantial peace, and animating hope.
II. The persons for whom this provision against the effects of sin is promised.
1. By this expression the prophet intended primarily God’s ancient people, the Jews. But the Jews, as the peculiar people of God, were a type of Christians, and His people everywhere, It is no presumption in us to conclude, as we have already assumed, that this promised provision is intended for us.
2. The double phrase may denote both rich and poor in God’s Church.
III. The time when the promise was to be verified. The promise was actually fulfilled on the day of the Saviour’s crucifixion on Calvary. (J. Jaques, M. A.)
The opened fountain
The application of this prophecy to Messiah is beyond all doubt. It contains the announcement of a divinely appointed and effectual remedy for the guilt and misery of man.
1. The certainty of this provision. “There shall be a fountain.”
2. The perpetuity of this provision.
3. The freeness of this provision.
4. The sufficiency of this provision. (W. G. Barrett.)
The Lord Jesus Christ a fountain
I. In what sense may the Lord Jesus be depicted as the fountain opened? In opposition to those many broken cisterns of human invention to which men are prone to apply. In opposition to those rivulets, those brooks, which are occasionally good, but which soon flow away and are lost. Under the law there were various layers prepared for the purpose of purifying from ceremonial guilt and pollution. Jesus is a fountain in opposition to all these types and images. The Lord Jesus is the fountain, because He Himself in His own power, in His own essence, contains inexhaustible and perpetual fulness.
II. For what purpose the Lord Jesus is this fountain. For sin and for uncleanness. All sin is uncleanness. Repeating the expression gives more enlarged views of the efficacy of faith, and the grace of our Lord. For the purpose of giving comfort and peace to the believer the terms are doubled. This fountain cleanses not only from the guilt of sin, but also from the accusing and terrifying power of sin in the conscience.
III. To whom is it opened? “The house of David and inhabitants of Jerusalem.” In the East there were often contentions over fountains; this one is free to all. An open fountain, to which all ranks, all stations, all ages, all conditions, may repair. (Archdeacon Law.)
The fountain opened
I. The fountain that is opened.
1. The plenitude of Divine grace. It is not a wasting stream, that soon exhausts its store, but a never-failing fountain, ever flowing in plenteous supplies for every demand. The Lord Jehovah is emphatically styled, “The God of all grace.” Millions have been refreshed by this fountain, and still it is undiminished. There is “enough for all, and enough for evermore.”
2. The freeness of Divine grace. It is not a fountain sealed up, and forbidden; but freely opened and accessible to all. None are excluded from participating its richest blessings (Revelation 22:17). No personal merit, or moral worthiness, is required in its willing recipients.
II. The period when it was opened. “In that day,” etc. When this expression occurs in the prophetic writings, it generally refers to the actual appearing, or spiritual reign of the Messiah. But we ought to notice respecting this fountain, that--
1. It was virtually opened in the original scheme of redemption. According to God’s gracious promise to mankind, Christ is called, “The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
2. It was actually opened in the mediatorial work of the Redeemer. When the fulness of time was come, Christ was manifested in the flesh, to accomplish the will of God, and procure the salvation of sinners. He then fully opened this fountain, by fulfilling all righteousness in His own person--becoming the propitiation for our sins--rising again for our justification--ascending to heaven to be our Advocate with the Father--and diffusing an enlarged dispensation of the Holy Ghost; it was ministerially opened in the labours and writings of the Apostles, as “ambassadors for Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24; 1 Corinthians 1:30); and it still continues open.
III. The people to whom it is opened. “The house of David, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” It is very evident--
1. This fountain was primarily opened to the Jews. To the Jews Christ was promised, and to them He came as His own people, according to the flesh. His personal ministry was generally confined to them; and He commanded His apostles to open their commission at Jerusalem, and preach the Gospel first to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Luke 24:46-47).
2. This fountain is now graciously opened to the Gentiles. The blessings of the Messiah were not to be confined to the Jewish Church, He was sent to be a light of the Gentiles, and for salvation to the ends of the earth.” “By the grace of God He tasted death for every man.”
IV. The purpose for which it is opened. It is “for sin and for uncleanness.” This implies--
1. A fountain is opened for the expiation of sin. The death of Christ was a perfect sacrifice, by which an atonement was made for the sins of mankind.
2. A fountain is opened for the destruction of sin. It must not only be sacrificially expiated, but personally destroyed. The Son of God effects this destruction by the merit of His death, and the operation of His grace (Titus 2:14). All sin is moral uncleanness, and spreads its infectious disease through every power, both of body and soul. The ceremonial purifications under the law were emblematic of the efficacy of this fountain (Hebrews 9:13-14). (Skeletons of Sermons.)
The fountain opened
The fulfilment of this prophecy has never yet taken place, and will probably be considerably posterior to our times. Though not fulfilled to the Jews, yet, to us the fountain is opened.
I. What is this fountain? The ancient Jews had their sacrifices, and purifying oblations. They have now been long without a sacrifice and a priesthood. We are not to understand that these Levitical fountains will be opened again, as some have dreamed. The blood of animals might be an instituted means of taking away a ceremonial guilt, which yet left the sinner as he was before, in regard to the Governor of the world; but it had no fitness to take away moral guilt, because it failed in the two great principles of a true atonement,--a manifestation of the evil of sin, and a demonstration of God’s righteous government. These meet in Christ, who is the true fountain.
II. Its efficacy. In the removal of “sin and uncleanness.”
1. Sin is the “transgression of the law.” The law is transgressed in three ways,--by a violation of its precepts, by a neglect of its injunctions, and by a defect in its observance. Bringing all under the penalty of death.
2. Uncleanness (margin, “separation for uncleanness”). Allusion to arrangements in the Levitical system; typical of the manner in which sin separates between the soul and God.
III. The day when the fountain is opened. The day of our Lord’s crucifixion. The day when the Gospel is first preached in a heathen land. The day when a “Spirit of grace and supplication” is poured out. Whenever a penitent mourns. In every means of grace, that pardon may be repeated, and our sinful nature cleansed. We need never attend any of the ordinances of religious worship without receiving a renewed application of the blood of Christ, and a fresh communication of sanctifying grace. (R. Watson.)
The fountain opened
In the text the prophet anticipates the personal manifestation of the Messiah, and the unspeakable benefits to mankind from His atoning sacrifice.
I. The fountain that is opened. Fountain is a metaphor. It represents the mediatorial character of Christ. As the source and medium of salvation to the human race. A fountain opened implies--
1. The plenitude of Divine grace. It is a never-failing fountain, ever flowing in plenteous supplies for every demand.
2. The freeness of Divine grace. It is not sealed, but freely opened, and accessible to all.
II. The period when it was opened. “In that day.” This expression, in the prophetic writings, generally refers to the actual appearing, or spiritual reign of Messiah. It refers to Christ’s assumption of our nature, and sacrifice for our sins.
1. It was virtually opened in the original scheme of redemption.
2. It was actually opened in the mediatorial work of the Redeemer.
III. The people to whom it is opened.
1. This fountain was primarily opened to the Jews.
2. It is now graciously opened to the Gentiles.
IV. The purpose for which it is opened. It is “for sin and for uncleanness.” This implies--
1. A fountain is opened for the expiation of sin. The death of Christ was a perfect sacrifice, by which an atonement was made for the sins of mankind.
2. A fountain is opened for the destruction of sin. The ceremonial purifications under the law were emblematic of the efficacy of this fountain. (C. Simeon, M. A.)
The new economy of grace
It is not to the advent of a person, or to the occurrence of any historical event, that the prophecy in the beginning of this section refers: what is announced is the establishment of the economy of grace, the bringing in of the kingdom of God, free access to which should be given to all, small and great. There was provision made for the cleansing from sin and uncleanness of all without respect of persons; the Jew first, but also the Greek. The manifestation of this was by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who came to take away sin by the sacrifice of Himself; but it is the thing done rather than the doer of it that is here announced. It is for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem that this fountain is said to be opened. They seem to err grievously, however, who infer from this that this prophecy refers to the final conversion of the Jewish people. The prophets are wont to describe the new dispensation in language borrowed from the condition and usages of the old, and we interpret them aright when keeping this in view, we understand their descriptions, not as representations of simple historical facts, but as serving as the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, and as finding their fulfilment in crises and conditions of the kingdom of God on earth. They go upon the presumption that the Israel of God was never to be abolished, that its continuity was never to be interrupted, that though the outward national Israel might be cast off, because of their rejection of the Good Shepherd, the true Israel, the reality of which the other was but the symbol, the Israel that was really Israel, should continue forever. This idea our Lord and His Apostles adopted, and in their teaching and administrations carried out. (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)
A fountain for sin
Remission of sins and sanctification, purging away the guilt of sin by the grace of God in forgiving sins through Christ’s blood, and the virtue of His blood applied by the Spirit, and laid hold upon by faith, for purging all uncleanness of sin; this is compared to a springing fountain made open to all, in opposition to the small measure of water carried into the temple for legal washings. This benefit will be very conspicuous toward converted Israel, when the Redeemer shall turn iniquity from Jacob.
1. The great and chief privilege of the Gospel is remission and purging of sin, which, as they are only attainable through faith laying hold on Christ’s blood and the grace of God offered through Him in the Gospel, so without these, no other advantages by the Gospel will avail much, or be comfortable.
2. The free grace of God toward lost man, and the virtue of Christ’s blood is a treasure inexhaustible, and which cannot be overcome, with the greatness and multiplicity of sin in those who flee unto it, for it is a fountain or spring.
3. Pardon and virtue for purging of sin is not only purchased, and the way to it made patent, by the death of Christ, giving access unto God through Him; but is held forth in the offer of the Gospel and ministry of the Word, that none may pretend ignorance, nor any who need it seclude themselves from so free an offer, “A fountain opened.”
4. As the greatest must be in Christ’s reverence for this benefit, even those who have greatest gifts and are rulers of others, so the meanest in the Church, however they be not equal to others in gifts, yet have a like interest with them in this saving benefit.
5. When the Lord pours out upon His people the spirit of repentance and humiliation, it is a forerunner of ample manifestations of the grace of God, in opening up the treasures of the Gospel by the ministry of the Word, and in granting of pardon, and growth in purity. For, when “the land shall mourn,” “ in that day there shall be a fountain opened.” (George Hutcheson.)
A word full of Gospel
The twelfth chapter of Zechariah is principally occupied with the indications of some particular day. Thus, we read again and again: “In that day” (verse 3); “In that day” (verse 4); “In that day” (verse 6); “In that day” (verse 8); “In that day” (verse 9); and “In that day,” in the opening of the thirteenth chapter--“In that day there shall be a fountain opened.” The reference is not in reality to some particular day; the day was not the same, the calendar was filled with that particular day, and yet the day was singular from all other days round about it. In all the previous instances we find nothing equal to the music that is discoverable in the opening of the thirteenth chapter. We read, “In that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone”; “In that day I will smite every horse with astonishment, and his rider with madness”; “In that day will I make the governors of Judah like an hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire in a sheaf”; “In that day shall there be great mourning in Jerusalem”; but now, in the thirteenth chapter, “In that day there shall be a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness”--a fountain of water, a living fountain, hidden all the time in the rock; not a new fountain, the fountain was always there, but not always open; its existence was recognised by many a ceremonial action. We read of water in the Book of Numbers that is known in the literal Hebrew as “the sin water,” that is to say, the water that was applied to the cleansing of moral and spiritual offences, We delight to give an evangelical interpretation to this fountain. We call Jesus Christ the Son of God, the fountain that was opened for sin and for uncleanness. He offered to make men clean, He offered to refresh the souls of men with living water; He is described as the Water of earth, or the Water of heaven. David did not open the fountain, the fountain was opened in his house; the very grammar suggests an external and superintending act. In this living fountain we recognise God’s supreme miracle. For whom is the fountain opened? For a special class, and for that class only. It is not opened for Pharisees, righteous persons, or those who would carve their own way to heaven. This fountain is opened for sin and for uncleanness. Is any man conscious of sin? Here is the fountain. Has any man sat down by rivers of water and taken to him soap and nitre, and tried to cleanse his life of sin stains, and has consciously and pitiably failed in his attempt? Here is the fountain opened for uncleanness. Have we tried this fountain? Until we have tried it we cannot condemn it; until we have gone to it and sat beside it and invoked the spirit of its Creator, we cannot tell what virtue it possesses. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
The fountain of life
Old mythology tells of one who discovered in his wanderings a fountain of peculiar qualities, and on bathing in it, found himself endowed with immortality. In the Holy Scripture this fiction is turned into solid fact. The Saviour’s fulness is original and boundless; the fulness of a spring always flowing and never diminished. The whole abundance of God’s free grace is poured unto us from this unfailing source. The fountain of life was opened on the day when the Divine Redeemer suffered and died for us. During the brief period of our Saviour’s ministry, the fountain flowed in partial streams, but at His death it was fully and forever opened. The Mosaic law had made ample provision for ceremonial pollution, and there were pools, like that of Siloam, where bodily disease might be cured, but the soul must be washed in another fountain. The stains of sin were so deep and so pervading, that even the conscience itself was defiled, and “the everlasting benediction of God’s heavenly washing,” could alone render the soul meet for His presence and glory. Such provision, accordingly, has been made, and a fountain has been opened for sin and for uncleanness. There are those who hope to cleanse themselves by some methods of their own. Would God have opened this fountain, if any other would have sufficed? The fountain stands open in the means of grace; in the invitations of God’s Word; in the nearness, the power, the grace of our adorable Lord and Saviour. (John N. Norton.)
The gospel age
I. It is a “day” for the abounding of sin cleansing influences.
To the Jews, washing from sin and ceremonial impurity was an idea with which they were well acquainted. It was enjoined by the law (Numbers 8:7, see also Ezekiel 36:25). That sin and uncleanness are in the world. This is a fact written in all history, patent to every man’s observation and consciousness.
2. The removal of sin is the world’s great necessity. Its existence is the cause of all the miseries of the world, physical, social, political, religious.
3. Provision for its removal abounds. “A fountain opened.” Sin and uncleanness are not an essential part of human nature. Men have lived without sin, and men in heaven do now. It is a mere stain on human nature, separable from it, and the means of separation are provided, provided in the Gospel. It is a fountain.
1. Abundance. It is not a rill, a brook, a lake, but a fountain. What is the fountain? Infinite love. This implies--
2. Freeness. Flowing, ever open to all. This implies--
3. Perpetuity. The hottest sun does not dry up the fountain. It has an under connection with the boundless deep.
II. It is a “day” in which idolatry shall be utterly abolished. What a blessed age will that be, when all men on the face of the earth shall have their souls centred in love and devotion on the one great and common Father of us all!
III. It is a “day” in which all false religious teachings shall cease. “And I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirits to pass out of the land,” etc.
1. False religious teachers are great curses to a community. This is implied in the promise here of their destruction. They deceive souls on the most vital of all points.
2. False religious teachers may become objects of indignation even to their nearest relations. Thank God there is an age of reality coming, an age when men will recoil from shams as from “demons vile.”
3. False teachers will on this “day” be ashamed to exercise their mission. If any false prophets should continue to exercise their function, they will have to do it--
Should their disclaiming be questioned, they will take shelter in falsehood. “And one shall say unto Him, what are these wounds in Thine hands? Then He shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of My friends.”
Christ cleanses as well as forgives
A criminal, condemned by our law to die, can only be spared by the King empowering the Home Secretary to reprieve or pardon. Even then to remove the stain that must always rest upon that person’s character is utterly beyond the power of them both. How different with Jesus. His power is unlimited. He not only is able to forgive sins, but He can cleanse away every trace of guilt, and present us faultless unto God.
The cleasing fountain
“A fountain,” says James Bailie, “not a stagnant pool or a sluggish canal, but a torrent, a waterfall. God’s love flows forth like a great river over the Rock of Ages. Men bathe in that fountain, and their sins are swept away into the dead sea of God’s forgetfulness. God has pardoned transgressions, the very recital of which would have utterly destroyed our faith in human nature. One of the strongest proofs of Divine origin of Christianity is that it has received in its embrace liars, swindlers, and adulterers, and having cleansed and purified them, made them ornaments of society.”
The remedy near at hand
Do you know that the wound that Hedley Vicars received before Sebastopol was not necessarily fatal? It was a wound that was very common, and a wound over which the surgeons had complete control, yet he died. How was it? It was because, in the hurry and haste of the march in the grey morning from the heights of the Crimea, the tents where the stores were, were left behind. Had there been a bandage near, had there been lint and cotton wool near, Hedley Vicars would have been saved; but he bled his life away before they could reach the tents. Ah, David tells you today that the tents where God’s supplies are, are never too far away. Blessed be God, the bandages, and lint, and healing efficacy of the blood of Christ, are not confined to Calvary, where it was shed. Here it flows. Oh, plunge into the fountain that was opened for sin! (John Robertson.)
The sense of sin
The sense of sin, we are told, is weaker today than it once was. Are we quite sure, if we could penetrate beneath the crust of men’s reserve? An American humorist has put it, but oh! so truly, “In his heart of hearts no man can have much respect for himself.” In our heart of hearts, in our moments of colloquy with ourselves, when we feel ourselves to be in the presence of another whom we cannot name, we accuse ourselves, and there is no escape from the accusation and its penalty. The sense of sin may be outwardly weaker, but you are always upon safe ground if you appeal to the condemned conscience that is in every man. We have seen our life is marred by the presence of sin; and that mournful fact is not partial but universal. Touch the man and you touch one who has been seared and scored by the presence of an enemy, and that enemy is sin. (R. J. Campbell, B. A.)
What are these wounds in Thine hands?
The Christianising of Christianity
Christ, or Christianity--the system of thought and life which bears the name of Christ--has been injured by its friends, more, perhaps, than by its enemies. The process of Christianising modern Christianity is a process of purification, of elimination, of dropping what is inferior, of what is a mere misrepresentation; a process of exalting those great spiritual principles that Christ brought into the world, and for which He gave His life. The question is asked, Why is it that Christianity has not yet conquered the world? Christianity did not succeed in the East, its triumphs were only in the West, and we are hearing on every hand today that the forces of Christianity in the Western World seem to be spent. We are even told it is not holding its own against the advancing intelligence of Europe and America. I don’t believe these objections are true. I believe real Christianity is conquering and has conquered. I believe that real Christianity is holding its own against this advancing intelligence. I do but mention these objections to call attention to the process that is going on in these days--the process of eliminating from this current popular Christianity that which is unreal in it, and does not belong to it. The first great mistake of the Church was the association of Christianity with the State. Christianity ceasing to be a spiritual religion, and becoming simply a political system allied to the existing Government. Christianity was made into a vast secularised power. Hardly had Christianity time to show what was in it, and what it could do, than the stormy barbarisms of Europe broke upon it, and a wild sea of barbarian tribes surged and heaved where once the cultured fields of the Old World had been. There was thus destruction of civilisation, and there could be no greater proof of the vitality that was at the heart of Christianity, than the fact that after this storm had spent itself, the Church was the only power that raised its head. The sight that met the Church might have appalled the stoutest heart. Half-naked savages were masters of the world. As we look back on the conversion of the barbarians, it was very wonderful, but at the same time most unsatisfactory. It is idle to blame the past. It is the very genius of Christianity to take the world as it finds it, and bring out of its evils and errors some love of goodness and truth. Hallam says, “Had religion been more pure, it would have been less permanent, and Christianity has been saved by means of its corruptions.” The corruptions of medievalism encased the spiritual truths of Christ which were too pure and lofty for that generation to receive. The Church consecrated almost all the ceremonies of the barbarians, and absorbed a great many of their superstitions. Medieval Christianity is not the Christianity of Christ. It is an amalgam; a union of three things,--the simplicity of Christ; Roman imperialism; and barbarian superstitions. There was, at the time of the Reformation, a great protest against Roman imperialism, and a grave protest against the barbarian superstitions; and these protests are going on today. On the political side it is going on in all Protestant countries. On the religious side, it is the movement which aims to bring to the front what is distinctively Christian. So that when it is said that Christianity has spent its force in the West, that it is not holding its own against advancing intelligence, that missionary triumphs are not so great today as in the apostolic era, we must remember that Christianity has not yet had time to free itself from the alliance with the State, nor yet had time to free itself from barbarian superstitions; and that this process is going on today. It is a process that we can all see going on before our eyes. (K. C. Anderson, D. D.)
Christ wounded in the house of His friends
Wittingly or unwittingly, through a culpable negligence or haste, Christ is wounded in His cause, or in His spiritual body, in the house of His friends.
1. He is wounded when Christians grow cold in zeal, slack in duty, or forgetful of their solemn vows. They show indifference, ingratitude, selfishness.
2. When His cause is injured by the unbecoming conduct of His followers. Scandal in the Church is scandal heaped upon His name.
3. When indifference is shown by them to the success of the instrumentalities by which His cause is promoted. These instrumentalities are vital with Christ, as though His blood flowed through them, and His voice spake by them, and His heart beat in them. He is in the word, the sermon, the prayer, the praise.
4. By inattention to the Gospel, with its messages of duty, its invitations and exhortations.
5. By their lack of sympathy and cooperation within their sphere, with the institutions of charitable beneficence for the spread of the Gospel.
6. When Christians, instead of keeping the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, treat one another with superciliousness and bitterness; when their intercourse is not marked by that gentleness and forbearance which the Gospel requires. Here looks may be daggers, and words blows. And are there not those who, by inconsistent conduct, by neglect of the ordinances of the sanctuary, by worldliness, by passion, by unbrotherly feeling and act, dishonour their profession, disregard their solemn vows, and do injury to the cause of Christ? Is it not a fact, that all the assaults of infidelity, all the rage of profanity, all the recklessness of vice and crime, do far less to check the power of the Gospel than the scandals and offences of professed disciples? (E. H. Gillet.)
The unkindness of friends
I. Who is the person mentioned as being wounded? No other than the great God, our Creator and Redeemer, the “Man Christ Jesus.” It was this mysterious man, this God-man, of whom the prophet inquires in the words of our text, “What are these wounds in Thy hands?”
II. What is meant by being “wounded in the house of his friends”? This “fair world” is meant by “the house of His friends.” “All things were made by Him.” The house of His friends was His own house; He built it for them; He came into it because He had a right to; He came into it to do them good, to save them from their wickedness and woe; but they wounded Him, and cast Him out. You all know the history of the Divine Jesus, who was “wounded for our transgressions.” In what sense can they be called His “friends” who used Him thus? I may call a man my friend in one or both of two senses.
1. Because he acts a friendly part towards me, though I have not deserved it; or,
2. Because I act a friendly part towards him, though he has not deserved it. A man may be a friend to me; or I may be a friend to him. Christ calls us friends, because He was a friend to us, though we were no friends to Him.
III. What is meant by its being mentioned that He was wounded in the hands? By the feet are signified the ways or goings of a man, his moral conduct. By the hands are signified the works of a man, or the deeds of his life in general. The hands are the instruments of the heart, or will, or mind, or soul. In the house of His friends, Jesus was taunted with all His good deeds. His hands were pierced, because He wrought His Father’s will; and His feet were nailed because He chose His Father’s ways.
IV. What think you of the Creator and Proprietor of the world being thus dealt with by His ungrateful creatures? Nevertheless, He deigns to designate them by the gracious name of friends. What think you of the human beings who could persecute to death the benefactor that was come to bless them, to buy them with His blood? Can you possibly be guilty of their crime? Every evil deed you do crucifies the Lord of Glory. (W. H. Henslowe, M. A.)
Wounded by friends
The prophet says, that such would be the discipline among the new people after having repented that each in his own house would chastise his sons and relatives: and it is an evidence of perfect zeal, when not only judges perform their office in correcting wickedness, but when also private individuals assist to preserve public order, each according to his power. We may gather from the answer what proves true repentance. “Say will” one (it is put in definitely), or it will be said, “What mean these wounds in Thine hands?” Then He will say, “I have been stricken by My friends.” The prophet shows that those who had previously deceived the people, would become new men, so as patiently to bear correction; though it might seem hard when the hands are wounded and pierced, yet he says that the punishment, which was in itself severe, would yet be counted mild, for they would be endued with such meekness as willingly to bear to be corrected. Some apply this to Christ, because Zechariah has mentioned wounds on the hands; but this is very puerile; for it is quite evident that he speaks here of false teachers, who had for a time falsely pretended God’s name. As then they say, that they were friends by whom they were smitten, they acknowledge themselves worthy of such punishment, and they murmur not, nor set up any complaint. (Marckins, Adam Clarke, and Henderson, agree with Calvin in repudiating the notion that this verse is to be understood of the Crucifixion of our Saviour,--a notion commonly entertained by papal expositors.) (John Calvin.)
Wounded by friends
There is no wound so painful as the wound inflicted by a familiar friend. The secret devices of the hireling may be anticipated. The blows of an avowed foe can be healed. The neglect of the proudly indifferent can be endured. But the slight of a friend, the faithlessness of the lover, inflicts a wound for which earth provides no cordial and no balm. “Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my bread, hath lifted up his heel against me.” when, in the palace of the High Priest, in the dim light of the early morning, “one of the officers, which stood by, struck Jesus with the palm of his hand,” the wound was only skin deep; but when in the outer court of that same palace a friend called Peter was saying, “I know not the man,” the wound was attended with an agony. When the chief priests and elders “gave large money unto the soldiers” to induce them to give false witness, the pangs of the crucifixion were intensified; but when “Barnabas also was carried away with dissimulation,” our Lord was crucified afresh. I am not doubting the friendship; nay, it is essential to my purpose that we should quietly assume its sincerity and its strength. I am not now dealing with masked foes, who wear the King’s livery, who have caught the King’s tones and expression, but who are inwardly fiercely and determinedly hostile to His claim and dominion. No, I speak of His genuine friends, friends as genuine as Simon Peter, and I want to speak of some of the ways in which we sorely wound Him when He abides beneath our roof.
1. We wound our Lord by our destructive zeal. Zeal is a very essential element in the religious life. It is as welcome a thing in the indifferent world as a warm fire on a winter’s night. Zeal is genial and heartening. It keeps the affections fresh and radiant; it provides the requisite atmosphere in which all the powers of the life can attain their maturity. If the flame of zeal be in any way corrupted it works against the kingdom of our Lord. If the fire of zeal be kept clean it is the friend of life, if it become unclean it is the friend of death. The pure fervour may so easily become an evil fever! when we assume we are working in hallowed zeal. “Master, we saw one casting out devils in Thy name, and we forbade him, because he followed not with us.” How friendly was the disposition to the Lord, and how strong and decisive the act! A fiery zeal for truth was being corrupted into a clouded passion for sect. “Master, wilt Thou that we call down fire from heaven to consume them?” How zealous, and yet how blind! It is always so much easier to burn your enemies than to convert them. You know what kind of armour is used by an illiberal zeal. In the supposed interests of the Kingdom we use methods of misrepresentation, misinterpretation, exaggeration--I do not say wilfully, for that would place us outside the ranks of the Master’s friends, but blinded by our perverted zeal--and the issue of such warfare is not the discomfiture of the devil but the wounding of the Lord. We detach things from their context.
2. We wound our Lord by our thoughtless kindness. “And they brought unto Him little children, that He should touch them and the disciples rebuked them.” The disciples acted in presumed kindness to their Master, and yet how unkind was the ministry! They were protecting the Lord because He was tired, saving Him from the embarrassment of the multitude. Their purpose was right; the means they employed were thoughtless. And it frequently happens that even when our deeds are right, the manner in which we perform them is offensive. We can wound the Lord by the clumsy way in which we serve Him. There are some men who boast of their want of refinement. We are responsible to God both for the man and the manner. It is not enough that we serve Him; we must serve Him in a way that will make no wounds. “Let your light so shine!” It is not enough that the light is shining; we are to take pains that it shines in the right way. There are well-meaning men who throw their kindness at you. All such kindness wounds the Lord Himself. “What are these wounds in Thine hands?” They are the wounds the Master received from the clumsy kindness of His friends.
3. We wound our Lord by our faithlessness when in the warfare of life the odds are against us. It is easy to be His friends when He walks along the palm-strewn ways of Jerusalem, and everybody vies with everybody else in acclaiming Him the King of Glory. But when the crowd melts away, and the minority is very small, it is so easy to become ashamed of the leader and to say: “I know not the man.” Our true friends are revealed when we are “down.” The nightingale is lovely, not because his song is sweeter than the note of the thrush, but because he sings in the night. And this is just our Lord’s friendship; He is at His best when we are at our weakest. If I am in company, and the intercourse is unseemly, am I a friend of the Lord or a deserter? I would far rather be called a prig by the men of the world than be known as a faithless friend of my Lord. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)
The wounds of Jesus
The wounds of Jesus speak more eloquently than words.
I. Of what do they speak to us?
1. Of the love of God. How full the Bible is of messages of God’s love.
2. Of sin.
3. Of forgiveness, intercession, and atonement.
II. To whom do these wounds speak?
1. To the children of God. To the advanced Christian ripe for glory. To him they speak of the heavenly perfection to which the Captain of our salvation attained through the suffering of which they are the sign. To those just starting out in the Christian life. To such they point to the path of suffering for His sake; that by the fellowship of suffering we may also be united with Him in His glory. To those who have been unfaithful and neglectful of duty. To these they speak reproach, that they have wounded the Lord afresh, and the voice of tender appeal that they may repent and return to Him.
2. To the doubting, trembling inquirer who has not yet accepted the Lord as his Saviour, and to the hardened unbeliever.
III. By whom inflicted? The text says they were received in the “house of His friends.” You ask how the friends of Christ may wound Him?
1. By indifference. The present indifference of the Church greatly wounds the Divine heart of our Lord.
2. By opposition. Many things that are being done by His professed followers are out of harmony with His desires, and therefore must wound Him.
3. By preferring other persons and other things to Him. He wants the first place in the hearts of all His disciples, and not to give it to Him wounds Him. (J. I. Blackburn, D. D.)
Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd
The sword of Jehovah smiting His Shepherd
We have our Lord’s own authority for applying this passage to Himself.
I. The description here given us of Him. In looking at the terms in which our Lord is here described, we are struck at once with the natural manner in which they bring together His Divine and human nature. This mode of describing Him is of frequent occurrence in the Old Testament. It seems as though the Holy Spirit exulted beforehand in that union of the two natures, which was to be accomplished in His nature, and wished the ancient Church also to foresee and exult in it. In the text, He is described in the same twofold character. He is a man, and yet “the man that is My fellow,” saith the Lord of hosts. “My fellow” signifies “my equal,” “my companion.” It is expressive of our Lord’s Divine equality with the Father, and His eternal existence with Him. It intimates exactly what St. John afterwards plainly declared,--“The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” But He is man as well as God. Not, however, originally, naturally man, as He was God. Here is an anticipation of a character He afterwards took on Him. And this assumption of our nature was necessary for the work of suffering He had to go through. In this human nature, He is set forth in the text under a third character. He is a shepherd. So called because the charge of His people devolves upon Him; because He performs towards them a shepherd’s part, watching over, providing for, and guiding them. He is called God’s shepherd, because the flock under His charge is God’s flock, a flock committed to Him by God, to be rendered back by Him to God again. Happy they who are fed by Him.
II. the command given by Jehovah. It is couched in figurative and highly poetic language. The Lord places Himself on the throne of a king or magistrate. They who bear these offices have often a sword near them as an emblem of their authority, and if need be, a ready instrument to execute any sentence they may pass on the guilty. Here the Lord describes Himself as suddenly addressing the sword near Him, and calling on it to smite, not the guilty but His own Son, and Him as shepherd.
1. We see in it that the sufferings of our Lord were divinely appointed. The persecuting Jews indeed were willing agents in all they did against Him. They did it voluntarily; yet they did “whatsoever God’s hand and God’s counsel had determined before to be done.”
2. Here, too, we see that the sufferings of our Lord were most severe. Man can inflict much misery, but his power is limited. When God calls off our attention from man as the author of our Lord’s sufferings, and directs it to Himself, we feel at once that our Lord must be a most severe sufferer. The language of the text conveys this idea forcibly. It is sword--not a scourge or a rack. It is “smite”; strike hard. Mark the word “awake.” It implies that, up to this hour, the sword of Jehovah had been sleeping. Now it is to awake, to rise up in its vigour and majesty. It is to strike in the greatness of its strength.
3. The text represents our Lord’s sufferings as surprising. Against whom? The very Being of all others, whom we should have expected Him to shield from every sword. The Being who is the nearest and dearest to Him, the man that is His fellow. To add to our surprise, the Lord seems to afflict Him, not reluctantly, but willingly; yea, more than willingly, almost eagerly. He is well-pleased in this thing for “His righteousness’ sake.”
III. The consequences which are to follow the execution of this coward.
1. The shepherd is to be smitten, and the sheep, frightened at the violence done to Him, are to be scattered.
2. The smiting of this shepherd is to be followed by a signal interposition of Jehovah in behalf of the scattered sheep. “I will turn My hand upon the little ones.” This term represents to us the feeble and helpless condition of our Lord’s followers at the time of His crucifixion. These timid disciples of our Lord were strangely kept together, in spite of their unbelief and fears, after His crucifixion, and sheltered from every danger. And we know what the early Church soon became. It was a wonder in the world, itself doing wonders.
Look at the practical purposes to which we may turn this text.
1. To strengthen our faith in Holy Scripture. I do not allude to the predictions we find in it, which were afterwards so exactly fulfilled. I refer rather to that beautiful harmony of thoughts and expression, which exists between this verse of the Old Testament, and another passage of the New. (Compare the passage John 10:1-42.)
2. The fearful evil of sin. There are moments when we cannot read this text without an inward shudder--it exhibits the great Jehovah to us in a character so awful, and in an attitude so dismaying. He is represented as an offended Judge, calling for, and eager for the sacrifice of His own dear Son. Evidently, the evil of sin is a reality; the Divine justice is a reality; the inflexible unbending character of God’s law is a reality; his determination to punish every breach of it, everywhere throughout His wide universe, is a reality. The cross of Jesus Christ proclaims all these things to be most solemn realities.
3. The perfect safety of all who are indeed resting for safety on our crucified Lord. You have nothing to fear from this awful God. In the greatness of Him whom He here commands to be smitten for you, you may see the sufficiency, the completeness, and more than that,--the grandeur and glory of the atonement He has made for sins. (C. Bradley.)
I. The commission given to Jehovah’s sword.
1. Whom was it to smite?
2. In whose hand was it to inflict the stroke?
II. The grounds and reasons of this commission.
1. To show His indignation against sin.
2. To reconcile justice with mercy in the salvation of sinners.
III. The effects and consequences of it.
1. The immediate effect was the scattering of our Lord’s disciples.
2. The ultimate effect was their restoration and recovery. (G. Brooks.)
The Passion sermon
It is the observation of SS. Austine and Gregorie, that the four beasts mentioned by St. John mystically represent the four main acts of Christ, or works of man’s redemption, His Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. I have to do with a prophecy somewhat dark before the light of the Gospel shone upon it. “Awake, O Sword,” etc.
I. The speaker, “the Lord of hosts.”
II. The speech. “O Sword.” As all the creatures are God’s soldiers, so when He employeth them against man they are called His swords. When the Lord is pleased to execute His wrath He never wanteth instruments or means. Of the blow here threatened, God Himself is the Author. God never awaketh His sword to smite, but for sin. In this shepherd there was no sin of His own. “Against My Shepherd.” Popish writers say that a shepherd should have three things, a scrip, a hook, and a whistle. This Shepherd is the good, the universal Shepherd. Daniel says,--The Messias shall be slain, but not for Himself, “God hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” The first and main cause of the Shepherd’s slaughter is, our sins. “The man.” Hebrews have four words for man--Adam, red earth; Enesh, a man of sorrow; Ish, a man of a noble spirit; Geber, a strong man. “My fellow,” for in Him the Godhead dwelleth bodily: and yet a man. God’s fellow to offer an infinite sacrifice for all mankind, and a man that He might be Himself the sacrifice killed by the sword that is now awake to smite Him. Consider this, and tremble, ye that forget God. The Shepherd is smitten; if you look to it in time, it may be for you; if not, a worse disaster remaineth for you than befell these sheep. (D. Featly, D. D.)
The character and sufferings of Christ
I. The character of Christ, as here represented.
1. God’s Shepherd (Psalms 23:1). Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20). Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). The term shepherd is relative, and refers to His followers, whom He calls His sheep (John 10:16). It expresses His tender care over them, which is always proportioned to their peculiar trials, temptations, etc. (Isaiah 40:11). He expresses also His love to them, infinitely surpassing the love of the sons of men. He died for the sheep (John 10:15).
2. God’s fellow--His equal. They are one in essence, intimately and essentially one. They are one in power, When on earth the Son did the works His Father did. One in honour and glory. His sacrifice was voluntary. As Jehovah’s equal, He had an absolute right and propriety in Himself, and could lay down His life, and take it up again, when He pleased (John 10:17-18).
II. The awful mandate here given against God’s Shepherd and God’s Fellow. “Awake, O Sword, smite the Shepherd!” The command proceeds from the Eternal Father, whose justice demanded the death of our Lord (Isaiah 53:10). Divine justice had no demands on Christ, simply considered as the Son of God; only when viewed as our voluntary substitute.
1. The principal scenes of sorrow were in the Garden of Gethsemane.
2. Also in the hall of judgment.
3. Calvary was the place that witnessed the dreadful deed.
III. The effect to be produced. “The sheep shall be scattered.”
1. By the sheep are meant the disciples of our Lord.
2. Jesus foretold that His disciples would forsake Him. It was fully accomplished (Matthew 26:56).
IV. Behold the tender compassion of a gracious God. He promises to turn His hand upon the little ones. Little ones who at that time had but little knowledge of human nature, little faith, and little courage. See God’s gracious dealings with the apostles and disciples of Christ. Thus He will deal also with all the faithful followers of Christ. Improvement.
1. Behold in this awful transaction the displeasure of God against sin.
2. As Divine justice is fully satisfied by the tremendous sufferings of Jesus Christ, here we behold sufficient ground for a sinner’s hope of pardon. Jesus hath died; the sinner may be forgiven (Romans 3:25). (T. Hannam.)
The character of Christ as the Shepherd of Israel
That this text contains clear and remarkable revelation of the Saviour no one of spiritual discernment can hesitate to believe. It is one of the clearest of those prophetic testimonies which declared to the Church beforehand “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”
I. The description here given of the Saviour.
1. My Shepherd. What precise view of the Saviour’s place and character is this expression intended to convey? The expression significantly points to His mediatorial character and work. It reminds us that a people have been committed to His hands--that He has graciously undertaken on their behalf and that, in the whole matter of their salvation, He is their head, representative, surety. Whatever is affirmed in the text concerning Him is affirmed in this view of His character and work. The ideas suggested by this title as to the benefits derived by His people from the exercise of His mediatorial offices are full of interest and comfort to the children of God. Why is He designated “My Shepherd”? Because He was appointed and commissioned by the Father, in the counsels of eternity, to execute this office.
2. The man. Believers, in their zealous regard for the glory and honour of the Divine Redeemer, sometimes lose the comfort to be derived from a believing contemplation of the man “Christ Jesus.” The righteousness wrought out was wrought out in the nature of man.
3. The fellow of Jehovah. The equal of Jehovah. “God was manifest in the flesh.” This is the crowning of truth in the doctrine of salvation.
II. The view of God’s dealings. Our thoughts are directed to the immediate infliction of the Father’s wrath. He pierced Him even to the soul, till the sword of infinite justice was satisfied with blood. Learn--
1. Every word in the text is comforting and instructive to the sheep of Christ.
2. There is precious light in this subject for awakened and trembling sinners.
3. There is here a lesson of solemn warning to careless sinners. (Robert Elder, A. M.)
We know what was the transaction in which this prophecy was fulfilled; we know the awful epoch which that transaction bears. We hasten to no imaginary scene, but to a true historic one--to an actual time in the calendar of the world’s ages.
I. The character of the victim. We perceive in His character--
1. Manhood, “found in fashion as a man.” Man, as never man otherwise could be. Man by a most astonishing process of condescension and self-diminution.
2. Mediation is included. As the shepherd guards his flock, and perils his own life for its rescue and deliverance, so we are considered as entrusted to the hands of Christ, that He may ward off every danger from us to which we are exposed. How far reaching is His sympathy! How touching is His care.
3. Co-equality is supposed. If He be the associate and compeer of the Lord of hosts, then it may suggest the emulation of His honours, the expression of His glories, the assimilation of His deeds, and the concentration of His affections.
II. The peculiarity of the action. The “sword” is the emblem of state, of authority, of power, of justice, or retributive execution.
1. This person is the subject of Divine complacency.
2. This person was the object of the Divine infliction.
The sword is not the weapon of correction, of momentary chastening; it is the instrument of vengeance and of wrath. The same personage is the subject of Divine complacency and of Divine infliction. How is it explained? Christ is without sin. He is relatively liable for certain penalties, to which He subjects Himself voluntarily and solely. Substitution is the simplifying principle of all. We cannot place the doctrine of atonement on any other than the vicarious principle. See then--
The Shepherd of the flock smitten
Observe that it is God the Eternal Father who gives the decree for the smiting of the Shepherd. “Saith the Lord of hosts.” We have no sympathy with the unguarded language of those who speak of God as an avenging deity, whose wrath can be appeased and propitiated only by offerings of blood. Love is a thing that cannot be bribed. God’s love needed not thus to be purchased. That love was the primal cause of all blessing to His creatures. The manifestation, however, of love on the part of a great moral Governor must be compatible with the exercise of His moral perfections. God’s justice, holiness, righteousness must be upheld inviolate. While mercy and truth go before His face, justice and judgment must continue the habitation of His throne. As the Omnipotent, God could do anything. So far as power is concerned, He could easily have dispensed with any medium of atonement. But what God, as the Omnipotent, could do, God, as the holy, just, righteous, true, could not do. He could not promulgate laws and leave the transgressor to mock them with impunity. Was there, then, in the case of guilty man, any possible method by which the honour of God’s name and character and throne could be preserved intact, and yet the transgressor be saved? Reason is silent here. The principle of substitution--the innocent suffering for the guilty--is one undreamt of in earthly philosophy. The Shepherd has been smitten. The Divine honour has been upholden. Mercy and truth have been betrothed before the altar of Calvary; God hath joined them together for the salvation of the human race, and that marriage covenant never can be disannulled. Justice is now equally interested with love in the rescue of the fallen. (J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
Christ smitten by the Father
I. The person to be smitten.
1. He is Jehovah’s fellow. He is in equality with God.
2. He is man. His humanity--His manhood--are as distinctly affirmed as His Deity and His equality with God.
3. The title given to Him as the Son of man--the Shepherd.
II. The sword which is to wake against Him.
1. What is this sword? It is the sword of Divine justice.
2. What are we to understand by its awakenings? Every manifestation of God in punishing sin is as nothing compared with the manifestation in Christ’s sufferings.
3. Who demands this sword, who calls for its awakening? “The Lord of hosts.” The crucifixion as much as the exaltation of Christ was “the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.”
4. What was the sword to awaken to? It was to smite unto death.
III. The reasons why it was said, “awake, o sword, against the victim.” It was to make manifest Divine justice, that there should be no connivance with the enormity of sin.
IV. The effects which followed. “The sheep were scattered.” But they were brought back again from their dispersion. (J. Stratten.)
The fellow of Jehovah
I. The terms in which our Lord is described.
1. The man that is the fellow of Jehovah.
2. Jehovah’s Shepherd.
II. The command given in reference to Him.
1. It relates to sufferings divinely appointed.
2. It relates to sufferings most severe.
3. It relates to sufferings most surprising.
III. The consequences which are to follow the execution of this command.
1. The dispersion of the sheep.
2. A signal interposition in their behalf. (G. Brooks.)
The solitariness of Christ’s death
Four things to consider.
1. The commission given to the sword by the Lord of hosts.
2. The person against whom it is commissioned.
3. The dismal effect of that stroke; and
4. The gracious mitigation of it. Doctrine--That Christ’s dearest friends forsook and left Him alone in the time of His greatest distress and danger.
3. The grounds and reasons of this scattering. God’s suspending wonted influences and aids of grace from them. They would not have done so had there been influences of power, zeal, and love from heaven upon them. But how, then, should Christ have “trodden the wine press alone”? As God permitted it, and withheld usual aid from them, so the efficacy of that temptation was great, yea, much greater than ordinary. As they were weaker than they used to be, so the temptation was stronger than any they had yet met withal. It is called, “Their hour and the power of darkness.” That which concurred to their shameful relapse, as a special cause of it, was the remaining corruptions that were in their hearts yet unmortified.
4. The issue and event of this sad apostasy. It ended far better than it began. They were scattered for a time, but the Lord turned His hand upon them to gather them. Peter repents of his perfidious denial, and never denied Him more. All the rest like wise returned to Christ, and never forsook Him any more. And though they forsook Christ, Christ never forsook them.
1. Self-confidence is a sin too incident to the best of men. Little reason have the best of saints to depend upon their inherent grace, let their stock be as large as it will. Shall we be self-confident after such instances of human frailty?
2. A resolved adherence to God and duty, though left alone, without company, or encouragement, is Christ-like, and truly excellent.
3. Though believers are not privileged from backslidings, yet they are secured from final apostasy and ruin.
4. How sad a thing it is for the best of men to be left to their own carnal fears in the day of temptation.
5. How much a man may differ from himself, according as the Lord is with him or withdrawn from him.
6. The best of men know not their own strength till they come to the trial.
7. The holiest of men have no reason either to repine or despond, though God should at once strip them of all their outward and inward comforts together. (John Flavel.)
The flock scattered
I. The person here represented is smitten by the sword of divine justice. This is none other than the Messiah, the Christ. To Him alone can the language here used to describe the object of the smiting apply. No other being but He is at once man and the fellow of Jehovah, the Lord of hosts; and He alone is the Shepherd whom God promised to set over His people Israel to feed them as a flock.
II. The stroke inflicted on Him. This was the deadly stroke of Divine justice. The sword had long slept in its scabbard, but when the fitting time arrived God summoned the sword to awake and do execution on the appointed victim. There is but one event to which the command here given can be understood as pointing--the slaying of Him who, as God’s Shepherd, laid down His life for the sheep. Wherefore was He thus smitten? Because, though Himself sinless, He bore the sins of others. The flock had gone astray, and incurred the penalty of apostasy, and He, the Shepherd, had come to give His life for theirs.
III. The consequence to the flock of this smiting of the Shepherd. It was twofold. The sheep were to be scattered, but God was to turn back His hand over the humble and meek ones of His flock. The former of these applied to the dispersion of His disciples as consequent on His crucifixion; the other was realised when the Lord, having been raised from the dead, showed Himself to individuals and to groups of them. But though preserved and rescued, Christ’s little flock would not escape all trouble and suffering. God would bring them through the fire, and refine and purify them in the furnace of affliction. (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)
God’s government of the world
I. As bringing penal ruin upon many.
1. The destruction of their leader. In the Bible language political religious leaders are represented as shepherds. It was applied to Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28). The person defined is represented as “the man that is my fellow.” Dr. Keil’s rendering is, “the man who is my neighbour”; and Dr. Henderson’s, “the man who is united to me.” Who is this man? On this question there are different opinions. “Calion thought it was Zechariah himself, as representative of all the prophets, and that the prophecy referred only indirectly to Christ. Grotius, Eichhorn, Bauer, and Jahne apply it to Judas Maccabeus, Ewald to Pehak, Hitzig to the pretended prophets spoken of in the preceding verses.” The expression “my fellow” does not necessarily mean one who is equal in nature and character, but rather one who has the fellowship of interests and aims. Evangelical writers, however, apply the language to Christ without much critical examination and without hesitation. They do this mainly on the ground that Christ Himself quotes the passage on the night in which He was betrayed, as an illustration of what was immediately awaiting Him (Matthew 26:31). He does not say that the prophecy referred to Him, but merely that the passage was about being illustrated in His history. The shepherd was to be smitten, and the sheep scattered. This, indeed, is a common fact in the history of the world; when the leader is gone the fold is scattered. Our point is that God often brings sufferings on a people by striking down their leader. There are few greater calamities that can befall a people than when nations lose their shepherds and leaders, or when churches lose their pastors. Even when families lose their heads the loss is incalculable. Here is--
2. The dispersion of the flock. This comes to most communities when the true leader is taken away. The removal of a leader in a family, a parent, often leads to a scattering of the children. The scattering is a great evil. Unity is strength and harmony; division is weakness and disorder. When communities are broken up and dispersed the various members often place themselves in antagonism with each other, and rivalries, jealousies, and envyings run riot.
3. The ruin of multitudes. “And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the Lord, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein.” Probably this refers primarily to the destruction of two-thirds of the inhabitants of Judea by the Roman arms, and the famine or the pestilence and other destructive influences which are the usual concomitants of all wars. Thus the afflictions of the great majority of the human race here represented as the two-thirds of a community come upon them as the retribution of justice--the Divine sword here invoked. They are not disciplinary, but penal. “They are cut off and die.” Here we have God’s government of the world.
II. Bringing remedial discipline to a few. “And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined,” etc. The very calamities which were penal, and utterly ruinous to two-thirds of that population, were morally disciplinary and improving to the remaining third. In the one case they were the strokes of the “sword” of justice. In the other the calamities were but fire in the “pot of the refiner.” These by the purifying, influence of trials--
1. Pray and are heard. Shall call on My name, and I will hear them.
2. Are accepted of God as His people.
They acknowledge their relationship. “I will say it is My people, and they shall say, the Lord is my God.” Conclusion. This doctrine stands out in sublime prominence--that afflictions which are penal and destructive to the many are remedial and merciful to the few. (Homilist.)
And I will bring the third part through the fire
Trials and triumphs of the Christian
This chapter, though consisting of nine verses only, is a little Gospel.
In some of the preceding verses are to be found all the particulars of the Gospel--such as, the substitution of Christ as a sacrifice in behalf of His offending people, the satisfaction made to Divine justice by His death, the purification of the Church through sanctified afflictions, the blessed privileges and intercourse they are allowed to enjoy with their God and Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ. The text was fulfilled when the nation was destroyed by the Roman army, and when, amidst all the dreadful scenes which were then beheld, He preserved His own people. This is the primary meaning of the text, but it refers also to the dealings of God with all His people, in all generations of the Church, down to the end of time. The words describe the trials and triumphs of God’s people. The trials which come before their triumphs in some cases, and the triumphs which accompany their trials in others.
I. The trials of the children of God. “I will bring them through the fire.”
1. This implies that He will bring them into the fire. Afflictions are our lot. They are what we must expect. We may resist them, avoid them, be angry with them, harden our hearts under them, ascribe them to second causes, but we cannot escape them.
2. The nature of afflictions. They are called “fire,” which denotes the severity of the Divine chastenings. Afflictions must be felt, or they are not afflictions. If we do not feel, the end of these afflictions is not answered.
3. The end and design of affliction. “I will bring them through the fire.” God does not chastise for the sake of chastising. Fire is searching, and fire is purifying.
II. The triumphs of the Christian.
1. Ultimate deliverance. It is a happiness to know that He can bring you through, and a still greater happiness to know that He will bring you through.
2. Communion with God. They that belong to God make their requests known to Him. He has commanded and encouraged them to do this. In this we may win a triumph.
3. Covenant relation to God is another part of the Christian’s triumph. God owns them in adversity. There is no backwardness on the part of the believer to own the relationship when God says that it exists. (W. Thomas.)
As silver is refined
“I saw in Rome,” says a modern writer, “an old coin, a silver denarius, all coated and crusted with green and purple rust. I called it rust, but was told that it was copper, the alloy thrown out from the silver until there was none left within; the silver was all pore. It takes ages to do it, but it does get done. Souls are like that. Something moves in them slowly, till the debasement is all thrown out. Some day, perhaps, the very tarnish shall be taken off.” Well, there is this alloy, this tarnish in all of us, and the education of life is to purge it all away--by sorrows, by disappointments, by failures, by judgments--
“By fires far fiercer than are blown to prove
And purge the silver ore adulterate.”
God’s method of dealing with His people
The wisdom, sovereignty, and power of the Supreme Ruler are nowhere more clearly and impressively set forth and illustrated than in the fundamental methods which mark His government of mankind. What these methods or principles are it is not difficult to determine from Scripture and providence. And the choice of methods and the disclosure of them are made for the purposes of instruction and moral discipline. Among these methods are the following--
1. Agencies wholly inadequate, seemingly, to accomplish purposes so grand and infinite.
2. Instruments, “weak” and “foolish” in themselves, chosen to “confound things that are mighty”--the wisdom, philosophy, pride, and wealth of the world.
3. God’s method is one to compel faith--the whole structure of the Supernatural rests on faith.
4. The Divine method is the method of severe discipline. By the way of the Cross to the Crown! Fellowship in suffering the condition of joint heirship in glory. “Whom He loves He rebukes and chastens.”
5. God’s method is one of slow growth and development. Light, grace, prosperity, favour, discipline, as we can bear it.
6. God’s method of dealing has respect to that system of rewards and punishments which forms a part of His moral government. Sin and misery, virtue and happiness, obedience and reward, are so conjoined in this life that no man can mistake the will of God, or reasonably doubt that the law of eternal rectitude is bound ultimately to prevail.
7. Occasionally by “terrible acts of righteousness” God reveals Himself to the nations, “that all the earth may know there is a God in Israel.” (Homiletic Monthly.)
I will say, It is My people: and they shall say, The Lord is my God--
Intercommunion between God and man
What a vivid representation this passage affords of the personality of God! Here He appears as One who thinks, observes, feels, and purposes; a far higher and juster view of the Eternal Power than that which sees only abstract law behind and above Nature. And how striking is the intercommunion here pictured between the Creator and His creatures! Owing to man having been made in the Divine image, he is capable of spiritual intercourse with his Maker. And what a delightful intimacy distinguishes this communion!
I. The voice of God--“It is My people.”
1. My rightful people. The Lord of all asserts His authority, puts forward His claim. This is a view of religion often overlooked. We are God’s by right.
2. My loved people. We hear in this utterance the tone of affection. There is a touching tenderness in the possessive “my,” in such expressions as “my friend,” “my father,” “my son,” “my husband,” “my wife.” So here, when the Lord says, “My people.”
3. My redeemed people.
4. My sealed people. It is usual to mark property with the owner’s name. It is by the renewed character and the obedient life that the Lord’s property in His own people is most surely attested. “The Lord knoweth them that are His,” and, “Let everyone that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” Religion may be regarded as consisting of man’s acknowledgment of God’s revelation; an acknowledgment which is first of the heart--when it is faith; next of the language--when it is confession; and further, of the life--when it is obedience.
II. The voice of man. “The Lord is my God.”
1. This cry is a response to the Divine assurance. It is the faithful echo to the heavenly voice.
2. The Lord alone is our God, whom we honour supremely. None other divides our heart with Him.
3. The Lord is our God to trust. The greatest and most pressing need of man in this life is One upon whom his weakness and helplessness can absolutely rely.
4. The Lord is our God, to appropriate and enjoy. What gladness fills the soul when a long hoped for discovery has been made, a long sought treasure found, a long lost friend recovered!
5. The Lord is our God, to serve and glorify.
6. The Lord is our God forever. Our God is the eternal God. (J. R. Thomson, M. A.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Zechariah 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25