The Biblical Illustrator
A man with a measuring line in his hand
The man with a measure
The prophet asks where the man is going, and the answer given is--“to measure”; and then he shows what would be the measure of Jerusalem, that it would hereafter extend beyond the walls, as that compass would not contain the vast number of the people.
“God will extend,” he says, “far and wide the holy city; it will no longer be confined as before to its own walls, but will be inhabited through all its villages.” There is then no doubt but that God intended here to bear witness respecting the propagation of His Church, which was to follow a long time afterwards, even after the coming of Christ. For though Jerusalem became wealthy and also large in its compass, and, as it is well known, a triple city, and heathen writers say that it was among the first of the cities of the East when Babylon was still existing, yet this prophecy was not verified in the state of Jerusalem, for it was not inhabited without its walls, nor did it spread through the whole of Judaea. We hence conclude that the spiritual Jerusalem is here described which differs from all earthly cities. Here is described the heavenly Jerusalem, which is surrounded by no walls, but is open to the whole world, and which depends not on its own strength, but dwells safely though exposed on all sides to enemies; for the prophet says, not without reason, “through the villages shall Jerusalem be inhabited”; that is, it shall everywhere be inhabited, so that it will have no need of defence to restrain or hinder enemies to come near; for a safe rest shall be given to it, when every one shall quietly occupy his own place. Though few returned from exile, God was yet able to increase the Church, and to make it a vast multitude, and this was certain and decreed, for it was shown by the vision that however unequal they were to their enemies, God was still sufficiently strong and powerful to defend them; and that however destitute they were of all blessings, God was still rich enough to enrich them, provided they relied on the blessing which He had promised. (John Calvin.)
The optimism of faith
Zechariah was the most uniformly hopeful of all the prophets. He was a young man. His little book is the work of a youthful imaginative mind, richly endowed with poetic gifts, as well as steeped in the diviner fount of inspiration. He saw all things bathed in the glory of the morning. The time in which he wrote was near the end of the Babylonian captivity. The prophet draws one picture after another of the glorious things which were nigh. Here the prophet sees a young man going with a measuring line in his hand, and asks “Whither? To measure Jerusalem,” is the answer, and straightway he marches on. Then the angels appear, and one says to the other, “Go after that young man, and tell him that his measuring line is too short. Jerusalem will expand beyond all boundaries and all measurements, because of the number of people in it. Tell him that he is going to measure the immeasurable.” This allegory contains these two Gospel truths.
1. Faith realises that which does not exist.
2. These Divine things which faith realises are so great that even faith cannot measure them.
I. Faith realises that which is to be. This young man was going to do an apparent absurdity. He was going to measure a city which had not yet been built. All the practical, materialistic, matter-of-fact people of the world would call that the very climax of folly. The Gospel of common sense says, Let us have no illusions. Give us facts, for anything which is not built upon facts is foolishness. Our religion indulges throughout in this foolishness, if foolishness it may be called. Faith realises the city that is not yet built., grasps coming events as though they were already present. All the best and greatest men and women that have ever been upon this earth have lived and moved and had their being in what was called a world of dreams, a world, that is, of fair, sweet hopes, of treasures and of glories that had not yet been created. Illustrated by Abraham, David, etc. It is the source and secret of all our strength and confidence, that where other eyes see only imperfections, we see a city of God which He will most assuredly build.
II. These Divine things which faith realises before they come into existence are so great that even faith cannot measure them. The angel speaks to the young man, to rebuke him for the presumption of thinking that he can measure the city--it is immeasurable. We cannot measure anything that God builds. You cannot gauge moral influences or tabulate spiritual forces. There is no plummet that can sound the depths of love Divine. You could have measured Giant Goliath, but you could not have measured the faith and the courage of the young man who came up to meet him in the name of the Lord. Illustrated from the company carried by the Mayflower; or by comparing the French Revolution with the beginning of missionary enterprise. You cannot measure the Church, the Church of Christ. It is infinitely broader, larger, stronger, than the most flattering statistics show. (J. G. Greenhough, M. A.)
The man with the measuring line
It was natural enough. We dream of what occupies our waking thoughts; and probably Jerusalem was full of surveyors, engaged in mapping out the new streets and walls.
1. The pessimist comes with his measuring line, and draws the plan of the city within the narrowest possible boundaries. He justifies his forecast by quoting such a text as “Fear not, little flock”; or “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Sometimes he fears that he will not enter, at other times he doubts all others but himself.
2. The bigot comes with his measuring line and insists that the city walls must coincide with his shibboleth, and follow the tracings of his creed.
3. The experimentalist is apt to refuse to consider as Christians those who have not experienced exactly the same doubts, fears, ecstasies, deliverances, and cleansings which he himself has felt.
4. The universalist goes to the other extreme, and practically builds his walls around the entire race of man, including within their circumference every member of the human family. It is not for us to fix the boundaries, or insist on our conceptions. These are secret things which belong to the Lord our God. So shall it be with the saved. We have no right to include in their ranks any who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of our Lord Jesus, who have loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. But apart from these, there will be a multitude which no man can number, out of every nation and of all tribes, and peoples, and tongues; as stars in the midnight sky, or the sand grains on the seashore. (P. B. Meyer, B. A.)
An interesting future of the world
I. The future increase of good men on the earth. Two remarks are suggested concerning the extent of genuine religion. It is--
1. Measurable only by the Divine. Who had the “measuring line”? Not a mere man, not any created intelligence, but the God-man, the Messiah. Men cannot measure the growth of piety in the world. They attempt it, but make fearful mistakes. They deal in statistics, they count the number of churches in the world and the number of professed worshippers. But piety cannot be measured in this way. Have you scales by which to weigh genuine love? Any numbers by which to count holy thoughts, aspirations, and volitions? Any rules by which to gauge spiritual intelligence? Have you any plummet by which to fathom even the depths of a mother’s affections? No one but God can weigh and measure the holy experiences of holy souls.
II. The future security of good men on the earth. Who shall penetrate a massive wall of fire? But that wall is God Himself, omnipotent in strength. Omnipotence is the Guardian of the good.
III. The future glory of the good men on the earth. Good men are the recipients and the reflectors of the Divine glory. They are the temples for the Holy Ghost to dwell in, and they reveal more of Him than the whole material universe. Holiest souls are His highest manifestations. (Homilist.)
The true glory of the Church
1. Although Zion has not yet lengthened her cords and widened her stakes to her appointed limits, yet the measuring line has gone forth that gives her bounds to be the habitable earth. Hence, if this future extension was a motive to the Jew, in his work of rearing the temple of wood and stone, much more is it to us in our work of erecting the great spiritual temple on the foundation, Jesus Christ (Zechariah 2:1-4).
2. We learn here the true glory of the Church. It is not in any external pomp or power, of any kind; not in frowning battlements, either of temporal or spiritual pretensions; not in rites and ceremonies, however moss grown and venerable; not in splendid cathedrals and gorgeous vestments, and the swell of music, and the glitter of eloquence, but in the indwelling glory of the invisible God. Her outward rites and ceremonies, therefore, should only be like what the earth’s atmosphere is to the rays of the sun, a pure, transparent medium of transmission (Zechariah 2:5).
3. The punishment of the wicked as truly declares the glory of God as the salvation of the righteous (Zechariah 2:8).
4. The wicked shall ultimately be the slaves of their own lusts; those appetites and passions which were designed to be merely their obedient servants, shall become their tormenting and inexorable tyrants (Zechariah 2:9).
5. The incarnation of Christ and His indwelling in the Church are grounds of the highest joy (Zechariah 2:10).
6. Christ is a Divine Saviour. In Zechariah 2:10-11, we have one Jehovah sending another, and the Jehovah sent is identified with the angel of the covenant, who was to come and dwell in the Church, whom we know to be Christ. Hence, unless there are two distinct Jehovahs, one Divine and the other not, Christ, the Jehovah, angel of this passage, is Divine.
7. The Church of God shall cover the earth, and become in fact, what it is in right, the mightiest agency in human history. Though now feeble and despised, she shall one day include many nations, and every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Zechariah 2:11).
8. Delay of punishment is no proof of impunity. God often seems to be asleep, but He is only awaiting the appointed time; in the end, when all seems as it was from the foundation of the world, the herald cry shall go forth, Be silent, O earth, for Jehovah is aroused to His terrible work, and the day of His wrath is come. Let men kiss the Son whilst He is yet in the way, before His anger is kindled but a little, and they perish before Him like stubble before the whirlwind of flames. (T. V. Moore, D. D.)
The man with the measuring line
In this vision God presented to the prophet, and through him to the nation at large, the prospect and the assurance of the restoration of Jerusalem, and the reestablishment of the Jewish state as it had been before the captivity. The city should not only be rebuilt, but greatly extended: the temple should be restored, and the worship of Jehovah resumed; His presence should be with His people, and they should enjoy His protection; and whilst they were thus blessed, judgment should come upon those nations that had oppressed them, and they should have supremacy over those by whom they had been enslaved. All this was literally fulfilled. But even in these promises there seems to be a reference to things of still higher import, and of spiritual significancy Who can such a speaker be but that Being who in the fulness of time appeared in our world, uniting in His one person the human and the Divine natures? May we not say, then, that there is here a promise of blessing to the Church through the advent of the Redeemer? Then certainly was glory brought to the temple of the Lord. The Church of God, under the latter dispensation, may take to herself as her own the comfort and encouragement which those promises, given to the Church in the old times, were intended to convey. Security, protection, glory, grace, blessing, extension, and final triumph are all assured to her by the promise of Him whose word cannot fail. (W. L. Alexander, D. D.)
Run, speak to this young man
The Lord said to me, “Run, speak to this young man,” and I asked--
“Lord, which one?” First, this one. He is the son of godly parents, he was nursed in the lap of piety, and cradled in prayer. He is in the general acceptation of the word a good fellow. The home is all the brighter when he is in it. The parents all the happier for his presence. “Is he, Lord, the only one?” No, “speak to this young man.” Ah, I see him now. His experience has been a very different one from the last. No prayers ever arose on his behalf; no holy influences ever surrounded him; his earliest remembrances are oaths. “Are there any more, Lord, I have to speak to?” “Yes, this one.” He is a young man of considerable mental ability, who is fast making his way in the world. A bright future seems to be opening up before him. Sitting at his right hand I see another I have to address. He is of a very different stamp of character. I thought I heard him say just now, “Well, thank goodness, I’m no money grub. I don’t care so much about getting on in life as seeing life.” His motto is, “begone dull care”; aye, by any means so long as it goes.
II. Why should I speak to him? To this question three answers at once came.
1. Speak to him because danger awaits him. The very least we can do for a man in peril is to arouse him to a sense of danger if he be ignorant of it. Humanity itself will dictate this. Never mind frightening the crew, better do that than all be lost, through want of warning.
2. I am bound to speak to you, because one wrong step will lead to many.
3. Speak, for if you do not there are many that will. No one knows the temptations that surround young men, but a young man. If there are but few to lead him right, there are plenty to lead him astray. Godless companions will. Then, too, he has the attractive preacher called the world, who like some fair siren seated on a rock by the deadly pool, smiles but to deceive. “Speak to him,” still my Lord says, “for if you do not Satan will.”
III. Why should I run?
1. Be cause he is running. Sinners never creep to ruin. Slow as the tortoise are we on the road to heaven; swift as the bounding stag to hell. The road to perdition is downhill all the way. The natural heart which is so heavy a load heavenward, lends a tremendous impetus to our downward course.
2. Because time is running. Time is a ship that never casts anchor--an eagle that is ever on the wing--a shuttle that always flies--an ocean that never ebbs.
3. Run, because opportunities are running.
4. Run, because death is running. The grim despot is after every one of us, nothing can turn his course, he laughs all bribes to scorn, and every moment he gains upon us; his scythe swings with the speed of the lightning flash, and never grows blunt in its work.
5. Run, because hell is running. We read in the Book of Revelation that death rode forth on a white horse and hell followed after, to every impenitent sinner the two go together.
IV. And when I catch him up, Lord, what shall I say to him? Son of pious parents, with many a noble, amiable quality, let me say this word to you, “Your morality will not save you.” Unless you are “born again,” you will be as much lost as if you never possessed any. Young man, you who have had nought but evil example from infancy, to you let me speak. Do not think that frees you from responsibility. Your parents’ sins will not exonerate you from yours. If they led, you have willingly followed. Remember, too, you can no longer plead ignorance as to the way of salvation, for you have just heard it, if never before. Young man, so occupied in getting on in this world, I will just ask you one question, and leave you to give the answer. It is this, “What shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (A. G. Brown.)
What to say to a young man
1. Tell him he has a wicked heart.
2. He ought to become a Christian.
3. He should improve the season of youth.
4. He should beware of evil company.
5. He should attend to Bible reading and to prayer. (G. Brooks.)
The young man’s mission
Zechariah is, of all the prophets, most remarkable for the simple, practical purpose with which he employs the grandest prophetic symbols. The text is the speech of one angel to another angel in regard of a young man who, in symbolic action significant of Israel’s redemption and enlargement, was going forth with a measuring line to take the length and breadth of Jerusalem. Using the text simply as an accommodation, it may have a twofold direction.
I. To myself, as preaching to young men. It is an earnest exhortation unto the Christian minister to labour especially with young men. The conversion of young men is so important--
1. Because, in most cases, if not converted while they are young, they will never be converted. Divine grace, in its very sovereignty, operates according to the laws of our moral and intellectual nature. Youth is the most favourable period for religious impressions.
2. Be cause of the peculiar power of young men to accomplish great things for God and their generation. Young men are hopeful; young men are brave; young men are fertile in invention: and thus young men are strong in all qualities that secure earthly success. The foundations of all true greatness must be laid in early life. The energy of youth is the world’s mightiest influence; and that influence is especially needful in the Church.
II. To you, as young men and Christians. The words set forth the means, objects, and manner of a great Christian duty.
1. The means. “Speak.” Use that grand power of articulate utterance; it is almost man’s finest gift. Language is reason, walking forth with tremendous energy amid the vital interests of the race. Consider the wonderful title of the Divine Son--the Word.
2. The objects of your labour. Consider some distinct classes of young men with whom you are called earnestly to labour.
3. The manner of their labour. “Run.” The extent of your influence over others will depend not so much upon your talents as your discretion. Be earnest, thoroughly in earnest--
Sympathy with young men
At the annual meeting of the Central Y.M.C.A., at Exeter Hall, London, the recently consecrated Bishop of Sierra Leone said that he had been connected with the Y.M.C.A. for about twenty years, and gave the following reason for becoming a member and subsequently taking a great interest in young men: “When I was quite a young man I had some papers put into my hand dealing with infidelity. They troubled me considerably, and I did not know whom to go to for advice and sympathy. At last I went to a minister of the Word, thinking that surely he would sympathise with me. But instead of doing that and praying with me, he took the papers and threw them into the fire and sent me away. This discouraged me so much that I dared not tell my trouble to any one else, but at length I took my difficulties to God, and He gave me an answer, as He has always done when I have gone to Him with my troubles. That day I asked God to give me a heart of love and sympathy for young men. The Y.M.C.A. extends a mutual sympathy to young men which is most helpful and much appreciated.”
Speaking to young men
“Mr. Birch, who did much work in the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, was on one occasion going from Cork to Dublin, and at a small wayside station near the Curragh Camp he saw a number of young officers en route for a ball in Dublin, who entered the carriage in which Mr. Birch was travelling. Soon the cigars were produced, and one of them, looking at Mr. Birch with a serio-comic face, said, ‘I hope you do not object to smoking,’ and, without waiting for permission, they lighted up. Mr. Birch took out his Bible, and said to the young man who had addressed him, ‘Do you believe in Jesus Christ?’ ‘Shut up!’ exclaimed the officer. ‘Because,’ continued Mr. Birch, ‘if you do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be lost.’ ‘Do you hear that old stupid?’ said another of the officers; ‘what shall we do to him?’ Quickly the preacher of the Gospel turned to the second speaker, and said, ‘Do you believe in the Lord Jesus? for, if you do not, you will be lost.’ ‘Sit on him,’ suggested one. ‘Shove him out of the window,’ proposed another. ‘That would not alter the fact,’ said the intrepid servant of God. Just then the train began to slow down, and there was a general cry of ‘Oh, let us get out! Let us change carriages!’ ‘Your getting, out will not alter the fact,’ again said Mr. Birch. Well, good-bye, old fellow! shouted the officers, as they jumped from the carriage. ‘Good-bye,’ was the response; ‘but remember that does not alter the fact. If you do not believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, you will be lost.’ Four years had passed away, and the evangelist was travelling in England, when a tall, military-looking gentleman entered the carriage. As soon as he caught sight of Mr. Birch, he leaned forward, and said, ‘Excuse me, but I think we have met before. Do you remember, some years ago, a party of young men entering the compartment of a train in which you were travelling to Dublin? I was the young fellow who sat next you. We went to our ball that evening; but, despite all our gaiety, I was conscious of that awful, sentence ringing in my ears, “If you do not believe in the Lord Jesus, you will be lost.” I drank heavily that night, but the champagne did not revive me; and at an early hour I left the ballroom, and went to my hotel, where, in the solitude of my own room, I knelt down and cried to God for mercy. Since that night I have been a Christian, and have striven to bring those under my command to know and to love the Saviour.’” (John Robertson.)
I will be unto her a wall of fire
The people that shall be thus defended. It is Jerusalem that is to be defended; and that will include three things: the temple, the habitations of the people, and the people themselves. The people of God are spoken of as the temple of God. Do we belong to the temple of the Lord? If we belong to the temple of the Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ will be our only foundation. There are two things that make the Lord Jesus the foundation--
1. As being the end of the law for righteousness. He brings in everlasting righteousness.
2. As being the end of sin. He is spiritually, legally, properly, and entirely the end of sin; His blood cleanseth from all sin. As is the foundation in character, so the building must accord in character with the foundation. The foundation is one of free grace. Therefore we are not only justified by grace, but saved by grace. The first feature given to this building is mercy. Then it is a free-grace building. The third feature is certainty. We may be upon the right foundation, and yet not rightly built. God’s people are spoken of as a city; they have habitations which require to be defended. Take these habitations as the truths of the Gospel, wherein God’s people dwell. Electing grace; predestination; Christ’s righteousness; the atonement; God’s promises may all be spoken of as habitations.
II. The defence. Notice the forms under which the Lord represents Himself as round about His people: all indicative of two things, destruction to the adversary, safety to the friend. The Lord is round His people as a hedge; and as mountains; and as a guard of fire, such as men use to protect from wild beasts.
III. The glory in the midst. He is in the midst, the living God, the life-giving God. He is the glory in the midst by being the temple in the midst. (James Wells.)
Protected by God
In one of the great cities of the Continent the regalia are not kept behind iron bars as in the Tower of London, but lie upon an open table. It might appear that any ruthless hand could wrench any jewel or diamond from the glittering array; and yet no man dare put out his hand to take one, because that table is charged with a strong current of electricity. You cannot see the protection, but there it is. And so if a man will only live in daily and hourly communion with Christ, the devil can no more touch him than a thief can touch those jewels. (F. B. Meyer.)
The wall and glory of Jerusalem
In this chapter is a vision of a man with a measuring line in his hand, to show that the Lord was now in readiness to build and restore the city and temple. Two great discouragements the people met with--danger and scorn. The Lord here, by a gracious promise, fortifieth them against the fear of both. Against the fear of danger, by promising to be their protection; and against the fear of scorn, by promising to be their glory. The Lord is to His people whatever good they want. “I will be a wall.”
1. A wall of partition, to separate the Church from the world.
2. A wall of conjunction, uniting the parts together in one common interest.
3. A wall of protection and defence. The Lord doth as a wall protect His Church--
His protection is like that of a wall. It is near, adequate, and impregnable. Consider the city walled, the subject of His defence. The Church is His property, His rest, His peculiar treasure. The Lord is the glory in the midst of His people--
1. By His spiritual residence and gracious presence with them.
2. By His holy ordinances.
3. In glorious privileges and immunities belonging to every citizen of the New Jerusalem.
What folly, then, and what wickedness, to oppose the Church of God, briars to contend with flames! We need not make use of carnal wisdom and sinful means for protection. Envy not the glory of the world. Above all, hold fast God and His presence. God will be with you while you are with Him. If God be thus your glory, let your glorying be in Him alone. (T. Hannam.)
The glory in the midst of her--
Inward glory and outward defence
Speak of the bearing of the text upon our individual lives.
1. If we choose, we may have the Divine glory in the deepest heart of us. The “glory” of the Old Testament was that material but supernatural symbol of the Divine presence which gleamed above the mercy seat in the most holy place. That little house on the temple hill was nothing in sanctity in comparison with the temple of the Christian heart. The true habitation of God is man. Spirit dwells in spirit in a profounder sense than it does in space, or in the material creation. Have you got the glory in the centre of your being? We may all have the indwelling of the glory of God if we will.
2. If God be for glory within, He will be a fiery rampart round. He is not only a wall, but a wall of fire. His protection is not merely of the passive sort which shields from evil, but active and preserving.
3. If God is a wall of fire round about us, we do not want any other walls. God is everything that we need, and do not find anywhere else; and having Him, we do not want anything else. But the lives of most of us do not much look as if we believed that the only necessary thing was God, and that, having Him, we required nothing else. Let us cast all our self-confidences down, and rest ourselves on Him, and Him alone. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The city without walls
Zechariah was the prophet of the returning exiles, and his great work was to hearten them for their difficult task, with their small resources and their many foes, and to insist that the prime condition to success, on the part of that portion of the nation that had returned, was holiness. And that exuberant promise was spoken about the Jerusalem over which Christ wept when He foresaw its inevitable destruction. When the Romans had cast a torch into the Temple, and the streets of the city were running with blood, what had become of Zechariah’s dream of a wall of fire round about her? Then, can the Divine fire be quenched? Yes. And who quenched it? Not the Romans, but the people that lived within that flaming rampart. “If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He also spare not thee.”
I. “I will be a wall of fire round about her.” I need not dwell on the vividness and beauty of that metaphor. These encircling flames will consume all antagonism, and defy all approach. But let me remind you that the conditional promise was intended for Judea and Jerusalem, and was fulfilled in literal fact. So long as the city obeyed and trusted God it was impregnable, though all the nations stood round about it like dogs round a sheep. The fulfilment of the promise has passed over, with all the rest that characterised Israel’s position, to the Christian Church, and today, in the midst of all the agitations of opinion and all the vauntings of men about an effete Christianity and dead churches, it is as true as ever it was that the living Church of God is eternal. If it had not been that there was a God as a wall of fire round about the Church it would have been wiped off the face of the earth long ago. If nothing else had killed it, the faults of its members would have done so. The continuance of the Church is a perpetual miracle, when you take into account the weakness and the errors and the follies and the stupidities and the narrownesses and the sins of the people who in any given day represent it. It does not become any Christian ever to have the smallest scintillation of a fear that the ship that bears Jesus Christ can fail to come to land, or can sink in the midst of the waters. But do not let us forget that this great promise does not belong only to the Church as a whole, but that we have each to bring it down to our own individual lives and to be quite sure of this, that in spite of all that sense says, in spite of all that quivering hearts and weeping eyes may seem to prove, there is a wall of fire round each of us, if we are keeping near Jesus Christ. Only, we have to interpret that promise by faith and not by sense, and we have to make it possible that it shall be fulfilled by keeping inside the wall, and trusting to it. As faith dwindles, the fiery wall burns dim, and evil can get across its embers, and can get at us.
II. A Glory “in the midst” of us. The one is external defence; the other inward illumination, with all that light symbolises--knowledge, joy, purity. There is even more than that meant by this great promise.” For notice that emphatic little word “the”--the glory, not a glory--in the midst of her. Now, you all know what “the glory” was. It was that symbolic Light that spoke, of the special Presence of God, and went with the children of Israel m their wanderings, and sat between the cherubim. There was no “shekinah”--as it is technically called--in that second Temple. But yet the prophet says, “the glory”--the actual presence of God--“shall be in the midst of her,” and the meaning of that great promise is taught us by the very last vision in the New Testament, in which the seer of the Apocalypse says, “the glory of the Lord did lighten it” (evidently quoting Zechariah), “and the Lamb is the light thereof.” So the city is lit as by one central glow of radiance that flashes its beams into every corner, and therefore “there shall be no night there.” Now, this promise, too, bears on churches and on individuals. On the Church as a whole it bears in this way--the only means by which a Christian community can fulfil its function, and be the light of the world, is by having the presence of God, in no metaphor, the actual presence of the illuminating Spirit in its midst. The same thing is true about individuals. For each of us the secret of joy, of purity, of knowledge is that we be holding close communion with God.
III. “Jerusalem shall be without walls.” It is to be like the defenceless villages scattered up and down over Israel. There is no need for bulwarks of stone. The wall of fire is round about. The more a Christian community is independent of external material supports and defences the better. Luther tolls us somewhere, in his parabolic way, of people that wept because there were no visible pillars to hold up the heavens, and were afraid that the sky would upon their heads. No, no, there is no fear of that happening, for an unseen hand holds them up. A Church that hides behind the fortifications of its grandfathers’ erection has no room for expansion; and if it has no room for expansion it will not long continue as large as it is. It must either grow greater or grow, and deserve to grow, less. The same thing is true about ourselves individually. Zechariah’s prophecy was never meant to prevent what he himself helped to further, the building of the actual walls of the actual city. And our dependence upon God is not to be so construed as that we are to waive our own common sense and our own effort. We have to build ourselves round, in this world, with other things than the “wall of fire,” but in all our building we have to say, “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.” “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchers watch in vain.” But yet neither Jerusalem nor the Church nor the earthly state of that believer who lives most fully the life of faith exhausts this promise. It waits for the day when the city shall descend, “like a bride adorned for her husband, having no need of the sun nor of the moon, for the glory . . . lightens it.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
I have spread you abroad, etc
This is a call of Jehovah to the Jews in Babylonian captivity to return to their own land.
These words may illustrate the moral exile of humanity. The point suggested is, the reluctance of the exile to return. This reluctance is seen--
I. In the earnestness of the Divine appeal. “Return,” is the word. “Flee from the land of the north.” It is the land of corruption and tyranny.
II. In the potency of the Divine reasons. Reasons for return are--
1. The greatness of their separation.
2. The tender interest of God in them.
3. The opposition of the Almighty to their enemies.
Conclusion--Why should sinners he so reluctant to return to God? What made the Jews so reluctant to break away from Babylon? Was it indolence? Was it love of the world? Was it old association? Do not all these act now, to prevent sinners from coming out of moral Babylon? (Homilist.)
Deliver thyself, O Zion, that dwellest with the daughter Babylon
Separation from the world, the duty and privilege of a Christian
Zechariah prophesied at Jerusalem after the return of the Jews from their captivity in Babylon; and one great object of his ministry was to stir them up to a more lively sense of the peculiar duties and privileges which their deliverance brought with it.
In the text he is addressing that part of the nation which were still remaining in the land of Chaldea. As their dispersion had been the effect of God’s righteous displeasure, so the way now opened for their return was no less clearly an evidence of His returning mercy and favour. But many were unwilling to return; the real cause of their so deciding was their indifference to religion, their distrust of God’s Word, and their backwardness to obey Him and to show themselves His servants. To them came the admonition of the text. Can we make application of this passage to present times, and point out its spiritual sense? The world is now, to Christians, what Babylon was then to the Jews. By the world, is meant this world, in respect to its moral state; to its habits, maxims, and practices; to its principles, fashions, and ways: the world as it is now corrupted through the depravity of man. By Christians is meant all who are so called; all who, by name and profession, are Christians. They are born and grow up in the midst of the world’s sin and iniquity. From their earliest infancy they are surrounded by its examples, exposed to its allurements, and made familiar with its practices. What they are taught to admire and covet most, are the things of the world. But they belong, not to the world, but to Christ. They are professedly the subjects of that spiritual kingdom which Christ has established in the world. They cannot possess and enjoy their privileges while living in the world. The Jews must return home to Judea before they could rejoice as Jews. And what must Christians do, if they would rejoice as Christians? They must arise, and turning their backs on the world, must comply with the proclamation of the Gospel. “Come out and be separate.” It is one part of the salvation of the Gospel, that it “delivers us from this present evil world.” If persons would sincerely come to Christ for deliverance, He would surely set them free. The persons with whom we would plead are those who, under the garb of a Christian profession, manifestly retain a worldly spirit, and by their conformity to the fashions and follies of the world, betray its influence over their hearts. Consider--
1. The inconsistency of such a state with your profession of Christianity.
2. The shamefulness of it.
3. The danger of your present state. If you walk not as a Christian now, you will never be owned as a Christian at last.
4. The happiness which will result from complying with the admonition in the text. (E. Cooper.)
He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of His eye
The Divine interest in His people
While we disown the reference of the former portion of the vision to Gospel times, and to the spiritual or New Testament Jerusalem, we are very far from disowning the applicability to the latter of what is said in the former. Whatever sayings are here respecting the extension, the security, and the glory of the literal Jerusalem are equally true of the spiritual and heavenly.
2. The people of God may now, as well as of old, and even more emphatically, appropriate the Divine assurance, “He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of His eye.” He identifies Himself with His people, and His own interests with theirs. What a spring of consolation to believers in every hour of darkness!
3. We ought to be earnest in persuading God’s people to “come forth,” and “flee” from the mystical Babylon. (Ralph Wardlaw, D. D.)
A figure of speech with a gracious meaning
It is expressive of--
1. Intimate union.
2. High appreciation.
3. Earnest attention.
4. Intense sympathy.
5. Watchful care. (G. Brooks.)
The Church and unjust criticism
In a religious paper there appeared a symposium on “The Church and the Kingdom of God”--In it we are told that “one of the most dangerous of current heresies is the identification of the kingdom of God with the Church.” “The kingdom of God can never embody itself in an institution.” “I am reluctantly coming to believe that Christianity, as it is organised, is the most serious obstacle in the way of the realisation of the Christianity of Christ.” Similar criticisms fill the air everywhere. These strictures must be met.
1. The first thing to be said in reply is, that although the kingdom of God is spiritual, nevertheless it and the external organisation which we call the Church are practically identical. There is very little of the real spirit of the kingdom outside of that institution. When men become imbued with the spirit of God’s kingdom they are generally ready to go into the Church. The reason they stay outside is because they have not caught that spirit. Where are the much-talked-of philanthropies, charities, establishments, colleges, seminaries, asylums, homes, refuges, founded by men or societies outside of the Church of God? When sceptics and other devotees of the world give a thousandth part as much for the advancement of morality, and the elevation of mankind, as members of the Church give, then it will be time enough to lampoon the Church.
2. Spirit in this world needs body through which to work. Man is a spirit, but he can do nothing here without a body. It is so with God’s kingdom; it is a spiritual kingdom, but it must be embodied in an institution for its propagation. When one becomes so spiritual that he wants soul to work without body, and God’s kingdom to advance in the world without a temporal organisation, he is altogether too ethereal for this mundane sphere. He ought to take on his wings and go. What if Jesus does use the word “church” only twice? He founded the Church, and evidently instructed His disciples to rear it with scrupulous care. And if Churches are “in a struggle to keep themselves going,” what of it? Would that prove they were utterly useless? That sort of talk will not help on God’s kingdom. The work is slow, it is true; that is partly, at least, because it is a prodigious undertaking. To cleanse this planet from sin. What audacity for finite beings to attempt such an infinite enterprise! But the Church is accomplishing much when it merely exists in this world. But it really looks as if the Church was doing something more than simply existing. Who can measure the influence of the Church upon society, business, legislation? If politics is so bad with Christianity, what would it be without it? Who can measure the abysmal depths to which all Christian governments and peoples would plunge without the upholding and preserving influence of the Church? (F. B. Perry.)
I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee
The restorer of Israel and Judah
Note that the name of “the Lord,” or “Jehovah,” is applied to two distinct persons; to Him who sends, and to Him who is sent.
Note also that in this prophecy the future restoration of the Jews is spoken of, as well as their settlement at Jerusalem after the Babylonish captivity. The words of the text evidently relate to the future restoration. A period is yet to come, of glory to God, and of prosperity to the people of Israel and Judah; and that the Son of God, the Messiah, will dwell among them, acknowledged and honoured as the Lord of hosts. Note some of the circumstances which will mark that season of the fulfilment of God’s promises to His people.
1. The conversion of the people of Israel and Judah.
2. The restoration of all the tribes to their own land.
3. The people of God will be restored to their native land in the midst of wars and tumults. Their return will be preceded by violent convulsions, and by a season of disaster and tribulation, such as the world has never yet witnessed.
4. The first and most remarkable circumstance in the condition of God’s people after their settlement in their own land, is His immediate presence among them.
5. God will make a new covenant with them. It will involve a much higher degree of religious knowledge.
6. The pardon of sin is mentioned as one of the promises under the new covenant.
7. The consequence of this abundant pardon and superior know ledge is the greater practice of virtue. This superior degree of purity and holiness in the people of God, is the gift of God Himself, the effect of that abundant effusion of the Spirit which will adorn the Church under His own immediate care.
8. The advantages will not be confined to Israel, but will flow out to other peoples.
9. Jews and Gentiles being united as one body of faithful worshippers, a pure and holy service will be paid to God in Jerusalem. The people will enjoy all worldly and spiritual blessedness. Let us seek to attain a share of these coming blessings. (T. Bowdler, A. M.)
The joy of the Divine presence
1 No difficulty or strait can take away from the Church the true cause of her joy, nor excuse her for not rejoicing in it, for when the Jews are now a contemptible handful, deserted by their brethren, vexed by their enemies, and some of themselves conspiring against them, yet she is called to this duty, “Sing and rejoice.”
2. The Lord’s own presence in and with His people, is His choice and matchless gift, which He is willing to give before any other thing, and which, as He will not disdain to bestow in His people’s lowest condition, so it is a gift that should occasion much joy and refreshment to them.
3. As the Lord’s presence with His own chosen people is perpetual, and will bring intimate familiarity and love; so Himself will be at all the pains to make up this union, He will not, by sin putting Him, as it were, away for a time, be provoked to stay away, and will have this communion still upon the growing hand till they come to full fruition, for He will dwell constantly and familiarly “in the midst of thee.”
4. It is the great ground of the Church’s encouragement, and the fountain of all other manifestations of God, that the Son of God became man, that her Redeemer is God, that He came and dwelt in our nature, and was like us in all things without sin; and that we may tryst with God in the man Christ, and know our tender-hearted Surety to be also God over all blessed forever, and able to save to the uttermost. This incarnation of Christ is it which this promise ultimately points at as the ground of their joy. “Sing, for I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith Jehovah.” (George Hutcheson.)
The joy of the millennial Church
The words point to the bright periods when messiah’s kingdom shall so extend as to embrace “many nations.” Three remarks are suggested concerning this joy.
I. It is righteous. It is not only Divinely authorised, but commanded. “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion.” Often we are informed by religious teachers that joy is a privilege, but seldom told that joy is a duty. It is as truly a sin against heaven to be spiritually gloomy and sad, as to be socially false and dishonest. “Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion.” Similar commands are found elsewhere on the pages of Holy Writ. “Break forth into joy, sing together” (Isaiah 52:9). “Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion” (Isaiah 12:6). Gratitude is joy; and ought not gratitude to fill every soul? Admiration is joy; and ought not every soul to be filled with admiration of the Divine excellence? Love is joy; and ought we not to love all creatures with the love of benevolence, and the Creater with the love of adoration?
II. It is reasonable. But here are reasons suggested for this joy. What are they?
1. The presence of God. “Lo, I come, and I will dwell in the midst of thee, saith the Lord.” The highest happiness of an intelligent creature, is the presence of the object it supremely loves. “In Thy presence is fulness of joy.”
2. The increase of the good. “Many nations shall be joined to the Lord in that day.” Is not this a good reason for joy--to see the clouds of error in the human sky breaking, dissolving, vanishing, and the Sun of Truth rising, spreading, and penetrating the whole earth with its lifegiving beams? Is not this a sublime reason for lifegiving joy--“Many nations shall be joined to the Lord,” as the branches are joined to the roots of the tree, as the members of the body are joined to the head?
3. The restoration of the Jews. “For the Lord shall inherit Judah His portion in the holy land, and shall choose Jerusalem again.”
III. It is reverential. “Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord: for He is raised up out of His holy habitation.” “The Lord is in His holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him.” The profoundest emotions of the Soul are always mute. Superficial feelings are noisy and chattering. The shallow stream rattles amongst the hills. The deep river rolls by unheard. Deep joy is silent as the stars. It is so with the godly soul. In the presence of the supremely beautiful, it is filled with a joy that cannot speak. If we are loyal subjects of the great spiritual empire, we might well be happy. (Homilist.)
The Holy Land
Those holy fields
There is no place on the face of the globe so attractive as Palestine.
There is no abatement of the interest which the peoples of the world have always taken in it.
I. What makes it attractive? How comes it that this land has such a hold upon the hearts of men of varying religions and different races? Is it because of the excellence of its government? Is it because of the might and power of its arms? Is it because of its size, its colossal proportions?
II. Its connection with Jesus Christ. The Holy Land is endeared to the hearts of men because the Son of God walked its streets, and made it forever sacred by His holy life and sacrificial death. There the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made known to perishing man the love of God for a lost world.
III. The holy land is striking and interesting in many of its aspects. Its climate is the most remarkable in the world. Its position is not less striking. In ancient days it was believed to be the very centre of the earth. And so it is higher and better sense. It was there the great mystery of the Incarnation was enacted. Mount Calvary is the central point of the world’s religious life and thought. If ever that universal brotherhood of man, for which the world longs, is to be realised, it will come in proportion as men climb Mount Calvary, and meet in love at the Cross of Christ. (Charles Leech, D. D.)
Be silent, O all flesh, before the Lord, for He is raised up out of His holy habitation
Flesh silenced by God’s arising
The vision itself. The man with a line in his hand.
2. The interpretation of the vision. Jerusalem shall be built, and the city shall be inhabited.
3. A threefold apostrophe that the Lord infers from this--
I. A proposition. “The Lord is raised up out of His holy habitation.” The expression “habitation of His holiness” is used two ways in Scripture. It is sometimes put for heaven; sometimes for the temple, the place of God’s presence among His people, manifested in ordinances. How is God said to be “raised up”? It is such a rising as is after an awaking out of sleep. But how can God be said to sleep? The cessation of acts of providence is God’s sleep. The putting of them forth is God’s arising, awaking. The meaning of the sentence is this,--When the Lord doth appear for His people as a return of their prayers, when the Lord ariseth gloriously for them, for their deliverance, and their enemies overthrow, then it is said, “The Lord is raised up out of His holy habitation.” Two observations--The great comfort of the saints in all their straits and difficulties lies in this, when they see God ariseth for them. Experiments of God’s rising in acts of providence are great grounds to His people to stay their faith, that God will go on, He will bring His work to perfection. Open this under three heads--
1. There is a time when God seems to sleep.
2. The great labour of the saints in all their straits is to awaken God, that God may arise. We knock at heaven’s gate; we environ God; beleaguer God by our prayers; we as it were wrest mercy out of His hands.
3. The consolations of the saints must needs be very great from the arisings of God for them in His providential dealings. When the Lord doth arise, whatsoever standeth in opposition must fall. When God ariseth, He overruleth the spirits of men, so as they shall effect and accomplish the end. When God ariseth, He hath abundance rise with Him. When, by our spiritual eyes, can we discern that God is raised up?
1. Prayer is God’s way by which He is raised up.
2. When the Lord defeateth the counsels of the enemy, turns their plots upon their heads.
3. When the Lord takes away the heart of His enemies.
4. When the Lord acteth the spirits of His people unto high and noble and invincible resolutions.
5. When the Lord goes on in ways of mercy, and draws out His loving kindness. The experiments (experiences) which the saints have of the rising of God are a sure pledge to their faith that He will go on; He will not leave the work till He hath brought it to perfection. The inference is,--then “be silent all flesh before Him.” Some men keep silence in policy, because they would not discover themselves till a convenient time. But all the people of God that would approve themselves, must keep silence in duty. There is a silence of shame, and a silence of fear and astonishment. The Lord says to these Jews, silence your doubtings, and silence your frettings. (W. Strong.)
God raised up out of His holy habitation
I. The sense of the phrase. Expressions concerning the locality o! the Divine presence arose out of the circumstances of His dwelling in the tabernacle of Moses; of His resting when the camp rested, and marching before them when they advanced. When God thus arose, He came forth from His holy habitation. When God is spoken of in human language, local and bodily ideas must enter into it. The conception of our minds, as to the operations of God, are aided by such phraseology. It may be applied generally to the dispensations of providence. When wickedness prevails, when error spreads, when the Church is wasted, then the Almighty is represented as shutting His eyes, turning away His face, withholding His hand, and resting in His holy place. But when He makes Himself manifest in judgment or mercy, when He has nations to punish or to bless, when His Church calls for protection and help, then He is “raised up out of His holy habitation,” and “all flesh” is commanded to “keep silence” before Him.
II. The occasions which procure this interposition of God.
1. He is raised up by the incorrigible vices of men. When wickedness abounds, for a time He appears to disregard it, or He interposes by gentle corrections; but there is a limit to His patience and forbearance.
2. Pride and oppression raise Him up out of His habitation. “Those kingdoms that walk in pride He will abase.” Every power that is opposed to the laws of God must be overthrown; and the more proud and oppressive it is, the more certain, speedy, and marked is its downfall.
3. God is raised up for the manifestation of His truth. To every people God originally gave a saving system, and all nations might have preserved it. That they have not, is a proof of human depravity. Had it not been for special interpositions from God, the truth would have wholly perished; and with it all the hopes of the world must have ended forever. Here is the mercy of God.
4. God is raised up by the prayers of His saints. Prayer moves Him that moves the universe. Everything encourages prayer. That which is our privilege is made our duty. You know the efficacy of prayer. It is prayer that calls down His visitations, interests Him in your cause, and secures to you grace to help in every time of need. Nor less essentially is it connected with every plan for the spread of His Gospel, and the prosperity of His Church.
5. The performance of His promise to Messiah raises God up from His holy habitation. He had said, “I shall give Thee the heathen for Thine inheritance.” This decree is not yet fully accomplished. God has been raised up partly to accomplish it; but He will ere long put forth His power in a still more glorious manner. Even now is He raised up for this purpose.
III. The impression these extraordinary dispensations should make. Silence is commanded; but silence in such a case is the result of powerful mental impression.
1. It is the effect of deep and intense interest.
2. Reproof produces silence.
3. Satisfaction produces silence. All flesh, as well as the Church, is commanded to keep silence before God.
IV. But is the whole to issue in emotion? Certainly not. God is raised up out of His place, to raise us up from ours. We are to be fellow helpers to the truth. It is our encouragement that God is “raised up out of His holy habitation”; and this will render us inexcusable if we refuse to cooperate. If God is thus raised up, we have many encouragements to exertion. We have the Divine sanction. Prayer must be heard. We shall not want cooperation. We cannot want success. We shall be inexcusable, if we refuse to espouse His cause. (R. Watson.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Zechariah 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25