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which showed before of the coming of the Righteous
One " (Acts vii. 5 1, 52). But Stephen's martyrdom
followed immediately. Jeremiah's life was spared
for the time, by the remembrance of Micah before
Hezekiah, as we have already seen.

In the fifth year of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah was
bidden by the Lord to take a roll, and write down
all the words which He had spoken by His prophet.
Even yet there seems a ray of hope : " It may be
that the house of Judah may . . . return every
man from his evil way ; that I may forgive their
iniquity and their sin." Jeremiah obeyed God's
voice, and his scribe Baruch wrote down all the
words in a roll. The writing was then taken to



96 The Work of the Prophets

the king as he sat in his winter house with the
princes and courtiers. But after hearing three or
four leaves read, Jehoiakim took the roll, cut it in
pieces, and cast it into the fire which was burning
before him in the brazier. So little did Jehoiakim
care for God's solemn message of warning and
doom ! The courtiers around him were not horrified
or alarmed by the king's conduct. " They were
not afraid nor rent their garments, neither the king
nor any of his servants that heard these words."

We must hasten on with the story. You will
remember that Nineveh fell before the besieging
armies of the Babylonians and Medes in 607 B.C.
The Babylonians to the east, and the Egyptians to
the south-west of Palestine, were now the two
great powers whom Judah had to fear. For a
time Judah was paying tribute to Egypt. But in
605 a great battle was fought between Babylon
and Egypt at Carchemish, in which Nebuchad-
nezzar, the Babylonian king, was completely
victorious. In 60 1 he marched into Judaea, and
Jehoiakim became his vassal. But in three years
he rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar. Before the



Jeremiah the Steadfast 97

punishment could fall upon him for this rebellion,
he died, and was succeeded by his son, Jehoiachin.
Nebuchadnezzar brought his army against Jeru-
salem, besieged it, and forced Jehoiachin to sur-
render. He was carried prisoner to Babylon,
with all the upper classes and principal people,
in the year 597 B.C. Only the poorer classes
were left, and over them was placed a third
son of Josiah, Zedekiah, brother of Jehoahaz and
Jehoiakim.

All this time, and throughout the reign of
Zedekiah, Jeremiah did not cease to urge the
people to submit to God's will, who had subjected
them to Babylon. Like all true prophets, Jeremiah
saw in the events of history the mighty purposes
of God working themselves out. He saw that it
was vain to try to cast off the yoke which had
been put upon them by God, and in punishment
of their misdeeds. He wrote a beautiful letter to
the exiles in Babylon, to comfort and encourage
them (xxix. 1-14). They were not to be restless
in that far-off land, but to accept God's will. They
were to make homes for themselves, and pray for

H



98 The Work of the Prophets

the peace of the city whither the Lord had carried
them and then, in seventy years, they were to be
brought back to their own country.

" For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, saith the
Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you hope in your
latter end. And ye shall call upon Me, and ye shall pray unto Me,
and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek Me and find Me,
when ye shall search for Me with all your heart."

It is beautiful to think that the very judgment
and captivity which they had so dreaded, would
be turned by God into a blessing, if it made His
erring people come back to Him, like the Prodigal
Son in the parable, and like Hosea's faithless wife.

Zedekiah seems to have cared more for
Jeremiah's words than Jehoiakim had done, but
the people were mostly against the prophet. It
made them very angry to be told that if they
rebelled against the king of Babylon, Jerusalem
and the Temple would be utterly destroyed. One
day the princes were so furious that they wanted
again to put Jeremiah to death ; the king did not
dare to defend him, and he was let down by cords
into a miry dungeon, and left without bread or



Jeremiah the Steadfast 99

water. But one of the king's servants told
Zedekiah what had been done to the prophet, and
the danger he was in of starving in his dark
dungeon. This time the king sent servants to
save Jeremiah from such a dreadful death. He
must have known in his heart that the prophet
was in truth God's messenger, and that he ought
to pay heed to his words. But he had not the
courage to submit to the Chaldaeans. He rebelled
against them, and all Jeremiah's words were
fulfilled. The city was besieged and destroyed.
Zedekiah's eyes were put out, and he and almost
all the rest of the people were carried captive to
Babylon. Only some of the poorest of the
people, " who had nothing," were left in the land
of Judah. Jeremiah himself was free to go or
stay, and he decided to remain in his poor
deserted country, with Gedaliah, whom the king
of Babylon had made governor over the cities of
Judah.

All this happened in 586 B.C., and was the
end of the independent national life of the Jews.
But there was to be one more act in the strange



ioo The Work of the Prophets

drama of Jeremiah's life. Gedaliah, the governor,
was murdered by a band of men led by a member
of the royal family. This alarmed the people who
were left, the captains of the forces and others, and
they made up their minds to escape into Egypt.
They were afraid of the anger of the Chaldaeans.
Once more Jeremiah lifted up his voice, and
warned them not to go into Egypt. It was God's
will that they should stay in their own land. Once
more they disobeyed his voice, and fled to Egypt,
taking the prophet and Baruch with them. And
there the story ends. We suppose that Jeremiah's
long life and suffering ended in that foreign land.
In this short account we have been obliged to
leave out many scenes from Jeremiah's life which
are very interesting, and which you must read
for yourselves in his book. One thing specially
marks the way in which God gave him His
messages. Often he was bidden to do some
outward act, which would be a sort of parable in
action, to attract the people's attention, or to
make some truth more plain to himself. You
should search for these symbolic acts, as they are



Jeremiah the Steadfast 101

called, in the book of Jeremiah. At one time he
had to take a long journey, and hide a girdle
which he had worn, in a hole of the rock. Then
to fetch it again " after many days." When he
dug it up, of course it was spoilt and could no
longer be worn. This taught the lesson that the
Jews, who had been as close to God as a girdle to
its wearer, had been ruined and come to nothing
because of their disobedience. So with other like
acts. Have you ever been into a china manufac-
tory, and seen the wonderful way in which the
clay is shaped by the potter on the wheel to what-
ever form he chooses ? This sight, of the potter
at his wheel, taught Jeremiah how God moulds
the lives of men and nations by His power. We
are as clay in His hands, and, like the potter, He
has a design for each one of us. Look out the
story of the earthen bottle, and of the Rechabites,
and find for yourselves the lesson God taught by
these incidents.

Lastly, let us look at Jeremiah's teaching as
a whole. We must not think that it contains
nothing but stern judgments and threatenings.



102 The Work of the Prophets

We have already read some of the tender verses
which remind us of Hosea. Through all his sad-
ness Jeremiah sees in the future the hope of a
penitent and restored Israel. He knows that
what God wants for His children is a new heart
goodness and love taking the place of dis-
obedience and wilfulness. And God teaches him
that that is what will be in the future.

" I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am Jehovah ;
And they shall be My people, and I will be their God :
For they shall return unto Me with their whole heart."

Most of these spiritual and comforting teach-
ings are found in chapters xxx.-xxxiii., which have
been called the "Book of Consolation." Here
we find prophecies of the new kingdom under
the righteous king, of whom we have already
heard in earlier prophets. We have only room
for one more quotation, but it is a very important
one, and we should take it as our special lesson to
remember from Jeremiah's writings. The sinful
people had broken the old covenant with God,
made on Mount Sinai, when the laws were written



Jeremiah the Steadfast 103

on tables of stone. Now there is to be a new
covenant, on the tables of the heart

" This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
after those days, saith the Lord ; I will put my law in their inward
parts, and in their heart will I write it ; and I will be their God, and
they shall be My people ; and they shall teach no more every man
his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, ' Know the Lord : '
for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest
of them, saith the Lord : for I will forgive their iniquity, and their
sin will I remember no more."

Jeremiah lived in very troubled times ; he saw
a great deal of wickedness and a great deal of
suffering around him ; he endured much suffering
himself. But all this did not shake his faith in
the least. He knew that God was working out
His great purposes through all the distress and
disasters that befell the country. He knew that
the true religion is that which is written on men's
hearts, and he looked forward confidently to the
time when all would know God, the children and
the ignorant people, as well as the wise and
learned. And that time, we believe and pray, is
coming nearer as the years go on. Each one of
us must play our part in furthering the Kingdom



104 The Work of the Prophets

of God, which brave, true-hearted Jeremiah saw
established over the hearts and wills of men.

Before closing this chapter we will consider a
very short prophecy which may have been written
just after the exile. It is called in the Bible, " The
vision of Obadiah." We know nothing about the
prophet who wrote the book, and we must not
confuse him with the other Obadiah, the servant
of Ahab, who preserved the " prophets of the
Lord " from Jezebel's persecution. This short
book does not contain spiritual teaching like the
other prophetic books. It is an indignant reproach
against the Edomites, the descendants of Esau,
Jacob's brother. Although this nation and Israel
were both descended from Isaac, they were bitterly
opposed to one another. Obadiah is especially
hot against the Edomites for the part they had
played when Nebuchadnezzar besieged and took
Jerusalem, and carried the people away captive
in 586 B.C. The Edomites had sided with the
Chaldaeans (ver. n)

" In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day
that strangers carried away his substance, and foreigners entered



The Vision of Obadiah 105

into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one
of them."

We can imagine how indignant the prophet,
who had probably lived through the horrors of
the siege, and was perhaps himself an exile in
Babylon, must have felt at the cruel and un-
brotherly conduct of the Edomites. But though
city and Temple were destroyed, Obadiah will
not believe that God's people are given over
to destruction. They would return to Mount
Zion, and when the Edomites were judged and
swept away with the other heathen nations, the
kingdom (of Judah) should (again) be the Lord's.
Obadiah does not think of the kingdom in the
same spiritual way as Isaiah and Jeremiah do.
But his prophecy, written at such a dark time in
the nation's history, shews what faith he had that
God's people, who had been trained and taught
in a different way from the heathen nations,
would have a lasting history, under God's rule.
His faith and hope must have helped to sustain
and comfort his companions in exile. His
prophecy was literally fulfilled, when the nation



106 The Work of the Prophets

returned from Babylon. And it has been and is
being fulfilled in a wider sense than Obadiah
himself thought of. The one and only " Saviour
has come up on Mount Zion," and the kingdom
is gradually becoming more and more subject to
its true Lord (Obad. 21).



CHAPTER VIII

EZEKIEL THE EXILE

IN the last chapter we came to a very great event
in the history of the Jewish nation. Their city
and Temple were destroyed, and they themselves
were taken away by their victorious enemies to
live in Babylon, and in the surrounding country.
It is difficult for us to understand what an immense
difference this made to the whole life of the people.
If we could imagine such a thing happening to
ourselves, as the king and the nobles, and the
larger part of the army, and the clergy, and skilled
artisans all being forced to go and live in a distant
country, in Russia for instance, even that would
not be quite such a change of all our ideas.
For the Russians are Christians, and in many
ways live as we do. But to the Jews the

107



io8 The Work of the Prophets

most dreadful part of the exile was their feeling
that, in leaving Judaea and the ruined Temple
behind them, they were leaving God and His
worship also. The Chaldaeans were heathens,
and the Jews thought that Jehovah their God
could not be worshipped away from Jerusalem.

The "Second Law" commanded that sacrifices
should only be offered in Jerusalem. But the exile
taught the people many precious lessons ; and
among these lessons they learned that God is the
God of all nations, and that He can be worshipped
everywhere by the true believer. They could not
offer sacrifices, it is true, in that distant land, but
they had places for prayer by the waterside, where
they could gather together and pray to their
Father in heaven, and practise the ceremonial
washings which were commanded in their law.
We must not suppose that all remained faithful
to their religion in exile. Many of them had
been idolaters and unbelievers in their own land,
and no doubt the magnificent Babylonian temple
and the idolatrous worship there attracted many of
the Jews, and they forgot all the teaching of the



Ezekiel the Exile 109

prophets, and became like the people of the land.
But there was a faithful remnant, as Isaiah and
Zephaniah and others had foretold, and these
drew more closely together, as people do who are
sharing a common trouble ; and their faith grew
stronger and their worship more pure through the
adversities which God sent upon them.

We do not know much about the circum-
stances of their life during the exile. Some of
them seem to have been at liberty to build houses
and plant gardens, and they perhaps gradually
came to share the life of their conquerors. Of
course the children would soon forget Judaea, and
there would be others born there who knew
nothing of any home but Babylon. For the
exile lasted for sixty-one years, which leaves time
for a great many people to die, and for others to
be born. And those who went into exile as
little children, if they lived to return, would go
back as elderly men and women. Probably many
had to bear hardships and unkind treatment from
the Babylonians. And all the time there would
be loyal hearts turning in love and yearning to



i io The Work of the Prophets

Jerusalem, and looking forward to a possible
return from captivity. Two great prophets lived
and wrote during the time of the exile, one during
the first twenty years, the other near the time of
the return. The first of these prophets is Ezekiel ;
the second is not known to us by name, but he
wrote the second part of the book which is called
by Isaiah's name.

Ezekiel was taken to Chaldaea in the first
captivity, in 597 B.C., eleven years before the fall
of Jerusalem. His book is a very long one, and
his prophecies must have been most sustaining to
the hearts of his fellow-countrymen. Like Isaiah,
he tells us the exact date of his call to be a prophet ;
and to him also the call came with a wonderful
vision, as it had come to Isaiah. If you look at the
picture you will see something of what that vision
was, though not of course the light and the glory
which accompanied it. Ezekiel saw four living
creatures, which seemed to him to have the likeness
of a man. Each creature had four faces, and four
wings ; the front face was that of a man, the face
on the right side was that of a lion, on the left of




Photo.']



[Alinari.



THE VISION OF EZEKIEL.

(from the Painting h\ Rap/iae/.)



Ezekiel the Exile 1 1 1

an ox, and behind of an eagle. Beside each of the
creatures was a wheel, and the rims of the wheels
were full of eyes round about. These living
creatures and the wheels " went every one straight
forward : whither the spirit was to go, they
went." Above the creatures was a Man seated
upon a sapphire throne. There was a wonder-
ful rainbow brightness round about (i. 28)

" This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the
Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice
of One that spake."

It is not possible to know all that Ezekiel
learned from this vision. But we may believe he
learned that all the universe and all living creatures
are subject to a Divine guidance. That verse,
which is repeated more than once, " they went
every one straight forward ; whither the Spirit
was to go, they went," makes us think of God's
spirit leading and inspiring us and all men. And
the Man presiding over the living creatures
represents as in an allegory the One Lord over
all, who took our nature upon Him, to reveal



1 1 2 The Work of the Prophets

God to man. You should read the description of
the whole vision, and then turn to the fourth
chapter of the Revelation. There St. John tells
us of One sitting upon a throne in heaven, and
of four living creatures, with the faces of a man,
of a lion, of a calf, and of a flying eagle. These
are all giving glory and honour and thanks to
Him that sitteth on the throne. And when the
time came that four evangelists were inspired by
the Spirit to write down the story of our Lord's
life in the gospels, and pictures were painted of
the four, the painters liked to depict them each
with one of these four symbols ; either the lion,
or the ox, or the flying eagle, or the human face.
And so the imagery of Ezekiel's vision makes a
part of our Christian art to this day.

A great deal of God's teaching to Ezekiel is
symbolic, as we found in the case of Jeremiah.
He began to prophesy some years before the fall
of Jerusalem. It was very difficult for the exiles
in Babylon, as it was for the inhabitants who were
left in Judaea, to believe that Jerusalem and the
Temple could be destroyed. So Ezekiel is bidden



Ezekiel the Exile 1 1 3

to take a tile, and make a picture or carving on it
of Jerusalem, and to make a mimic siege and
capture of the city. This was to be a sign to the
people of Israel. Does this seem a childish thing
to command a great prophet to do ? But we must
remember that many people learn things more
quickly through the eye than by direct preaching
or teaching ; and neither God nor His prophet
thought any means too small to bring home His
messages to the hearts of His people. They had
this hard lesson to learn, that for the sins of Israel
Jerusalem must be destroyed, and a great deal of
Ezekiel's prophecy is taken up with enforcing this
lesson. There is not space to tell you of many of
the symbolic actions and signs of which we read.
It is more important to think of the teaching of
Ezekiel, which made a lasting impression upon
those who heard him. Ezekiel was a priest as
well as a prophet, and he seems to be the first of
either priests or prophets to take an individual
interest in each separate person among his hearers.
In this respect he is more like our own clergy.
The Temple was gone. There were no more



H4 The Work of the Prophets

sacrifices to be offered, and Ezekiel set himself
under God's inspiration to help the people in
their personal religious life. He spoke much
of keeping the sabbaths, as one way in which
they could remember God, especially among
their heathen surroundings. He taught them
much about repentance, and turning to God,
and leaving their sins behind them. The verse
which is so often read as the opening sentence
of our Morning Service comes from the Book
of Ezekiel (xviii. 27)

" When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that
he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he
shall save his soul alive."

Again and again Ezekiel repeats this teaching
in different words. We are each one responsible
for our own actions, and God will accept us if we
are sorry for our wrong-doing, and turn to Him
" in whom is Life," with a real desire to do better.
One thing which the exiles felt it hard to understand
was that they were suffering for the sins of their
fathers under Manasseh and other kings. Perhaps
many of them had not disobeyed God, or been



Ezekiel the Exile 1 1 5

idolatrous themselves ; and they quoted this
proverb :

" The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are
set on edge."

How could this be just ? It is quite true that
children often do suffer because of their fathers' sins.
But then suffering does not always, or perhaps
chiefly, mean that God is angry with those who
suffer. Very often He knows that the suffering
will help to make them good, and He who is
Goodness, as well as Justice and Love, allows the
punishment to fall upon the innocent because it
will bring them nearer to Him. This is a very
deep subject, and we cannot dwell upon it here.
Only we must remember how Ezekiel teaches
that the way to God is always open, that goodness
leads to Life, and that wrong-doing, so long as
it is unrepented of, leads to Death.

You will remember Jeremiah's teaching about
the new covenant which was to be written on the
hearts of men. Ezekiel dwells upon this thought
too, and in Chapter xi., when he is giving a



ii6 The Work of the Prophets

message from God about the return from captivity,
he says :

" And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit
within you ; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and
will give them an heart of flesh : that they may walk in my statutes,
and keep mine ordinances, and do them ; and they shall be my
people, and I will be their God."

Ezekiel has much to say about false prophets
who deceive the people by their words. This is
God's message to them :

" Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit,
and have seen nothing ! They have seen vanity and lying divina-
tion that say : ' The Lord saith ' ; and the Lord hath not sent
them : and they have made men to hope that the word should be
confirmed."

Ezekiel knew that it was not an easy calling to
be a prophet of the Lord. It needs an ear contin-
ually open to God's words, and a life lived in com-
munion with Him ; and a spirit like Jeremiah's,
ready to suffer anything rather than withhold God's
message. And this is true about every one who
wants to be a real help to his fellow-men. He
must not think of what they will wish to hear ; but
of what is true, and what is God's message to them.



Ezekiel the Exile 117

Again and again we read of the elders of Israel
coming to Ezekiel, and sitting before him, to hear
what the Lord had to say to them. We do not
read of his being in danger from them, when his
message was one they did not want to hear. But
we find that, like Hosea, his own private sorrow
was a means which God used to teach the people a
needed lesson. The story is told in very simple
and touching words in Chapter xxiv. :

" The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man,
behold, I take away from thee the desire of thine eyes with a stroke :
yet neither shalt thou moum nor weep, neither shall thy tears run
do\vn. Sigh, but not aloud ; make no mourning for the dead, bind
thy headtire upon thee, and put thy shoes upon thy feet, and cover
not thy lips, and eat not the bread of men. So I spake unto the
people in the morning ; and at even my wife died : and I did in
the morning as I was commanded."

In eastern countries the outward signs of
mourning for a lost friend are more important
and more noticeable than with us. And it must
have been a great additional trial to Ezekiel to
conceal his grief from every one, and to go on
with his public life as usual. But he lived not
for himself, but for God and his countrymen, and



1 1 8 The Work of the Prophets

this absence of outward mourning was to teach


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