All knees shall be weak as water ; literally, shall flow with water. So the Vulgate. The LXX . is yet stronger, shall be defiled, etc. The words may point to the cold sweat of terror which paralyzes men's power to act. The phrase is peculiar to Ezekiel, and meets us again in Ezekiel 21:7 . The thought finds a parallel in Isaiah 13:7 ; Jeremiah 6:24 .
Flight is not deliverance. If the invading army is God's army, no escape is possible, save in submission. We cannot elude God's detectives. Lonely mountains, no more than crowded cities, serve as an asylum, if God be our Foe. As we cannot get beyond the limits of his world, neither can we get beyond the reach of his sword.
I. THEIR MISERY . They may escape, for a moment, sword wounds and bodily captivity; yet they have not escaped from inward distress and wretchedness. Exposure to hunger and cold and nakedness on the mountains is scarcely to be preferred to violent death. God, the real Avenger, has smitten them in their flight. Their senseless cowardice has added to their pain. Even though they live, they are dishonoured among men. The heathen nations will point at them with a finger of scorn. The common moralities of men reflect, though it be feebly, the just displeasure of God. Honour is lost, though life is yet continued.
II. THEIR REMORSE . Tears are on all faces, and sorrow is an occupant of every breast. Yet it is a selfish sorrow, which bears the fruit of death. It is not repentance, it is only remorse. Had this sorrow earlier come, and had it sprung from a better motive, it would have availed to deliver them. They mourn, not because they have sinned, but because their sin has been found out. When retribution comes, repentance is impossible.
III. THE COLLAPSE OF FALSE TRUST . In the day of their prosperity they had made their riches their trust. They reposed their faith in idols of silver instead of the living God. For gold they imagined they could hire mercenaries or buy the favour of kings. Such wealth as theirs seemed to them an impregnable security. They could make gates of brass and towers of iron. Yet how sudden and how complete was the collapse of their proud hope! Their gold, instead of a protection, became a snare. It attracted the cupidity of their foes. As hounds scent the prey, so foreign soldiers scented from afar Israel's riches. The gold and silver lavished on Jehovah's temple drew, like a magnet, the avarice of the Babylonian king! To rely on material possessions is to rely on a broken reed—is to slumber on the edge of a volcano.
IV. THEIR RELIGIOUS DEGRADATION . Their temple had been their pride; now it shall be their shame. They had gloried in its external beauty, and had forgotten that the Lord of the temple is greater than the building. They had neglected the spirituality of worship, and had profaned the holy place with human inventions and with idolatrous symbols. In their folly they had deemed it politic to set up, side by side with Jehovah, the shrines of other deities. But their policy was rotten. It was based on atheistic selfishness. And new the profanation they had commenced shall be completed by their foes. They had admitted a trickling stream of idolatry into the temple; now it shall become a flood. Thus God makes our sins to become our punishments; at length they sting like hornets, they bite like adders. Once our sin lasted like a sweet morsel; when once in the veins it works like poison. Rebellion is but a seed, of which retribution is the rife fruit.
V. THE CLIMAX OF DISASTER IS GOD 'S DEPAPRTURE . "My face will I turn also from them." This is the crowning disaster, the bitter dregs of misery, the knell of doom. If, in our hour of crushing affliction, God would turn towards us as a Friend, the wheel of ill fortune would be reversed; all loss would be recovered. If he would only move upon our hearts with his mighty grace, and reduce our self-will and pride, disaster would be changed into dowry, night into day. The hurtling clouds would burst into showers of blessing. But when God departs, the last ray of hope departs, and man's prospects set in blackest night.—D.
The limitation of the power of riches.
"The time is come, the day draweth near: let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn," etc. It is not wise to despise riches, or to affect to do so, or to depreciate them. They have many uses; they may be made the means of promoting the physical well being and the mental progress of their possessor, of enabling him to do much good to others, and of furthering the highest and best interests of the human race. When wisely employed, they produce most excellent results. On the other hand, it is foolish and wrong to over estimate them: to make their attainment the object of our supreme concern and effort, to trust in them, to make a god of them. The verses chosen as our text suggest the following observations.
I. THAT CIRCUMSTANCES MAY ARISE REDUCING THE VALUE OF RICHES UNTIL THEY ARE ALMOST WORTHLESS . "Let not the buyer rejoice, nor the seller mourn: for wrath is upon all the multitude thereof. For the seller shall not return to that which is sold, although they were yet alive: for the vision is touching the whole multitude thereof; he shall not return." The reference seems to be to a compulsory sale of their estates by the Jews at the time of the troubles now impending. As the 'Speaker's Commentary' points out, "it was grievous for an Israelite to part with his land. But now the seller need not mourn his loss, nor the buyer exult in his gain. A common ruin should carry both away; the buyer should not take possession, nor should the seller return to profit by the buyer's absence. Should he live, it will be in exile. All should live the pitiful lives of strangers in another country." The sad changes about to transpire would so depreciate the value of the commodity sold, that the seller need not mourn over a bad bargain, or the buyer rejoice over a good one. Circumstances and events producing similar effects frequently arise, and will readily occur to every one upon reflection. The commercial value of properties and possessions fluctuates; and that to which a man may be looking confidently for the means of subsistence may become almost or altogether worthless. There is no absolute and permanent value in the riches of this world.
II. THAT THERE ARE EVILS IN LIFE FROM WHICH RICHES ARE UTTERLY POWERLESS TO DELIVER THEIR POSSESSORS . ( Ezekiel 7:19 .) Notice:
1 . Their inability to satisfy their souls. "They shall not satisfy their souls." Schroder interprets this that their silver and gold were aesthetically worthless to the Israelites in the day of their calamity; they were not able to minister to their taste or promote their enjoyment in their season of hitter woe. It is true that in the day of sore distress all that can be bought with money will not afford relief. AE sthetic gratifications—pictures and statues, poetry and music—cannot adequately minister to the soul in its deepest sorrows. But may we not discover in the words a deeper meaning? Gold and silver cannot supply the soul's greatest needs, or satisfy its most importunate cravings. The gifts of God cannot be purchased with money.
2 . Their inability, in certain circumstances, to procure even the necessaries of bodily life. "They shall … neither fill their bowels." When no food was left in the beleaguered city, the Israelites could not appease, or even mitigate, their hunger with their riches. I have read of an Arab who lost his way in the desert, and was in danger of dying from hunger. At last he found one of the cisterns out of which the camels drink, and a little leathern bag near it. "God be thanked!" he exclaimed. "Here are some dates or nuts; let me refresh myself." He opened the bag, but only to turn away in sad disappointment. The bag contained pearls. And of what value were they to one who, like Esau, was "at the point to die"?
3 . Their inability to deliver from the retributions of the Divine government. "Their silver and their gold shall not be able to deliver them in the day of the wrath of the Lord" (cf. Zephaniah 1:18 ). Riches can neither set a man so high that God's judgments cannot reach him. nor surround him with such panoply that God's arrows cannot pierce through it. We have striking illustrations of this in the cases of two rich men of whom our Lord spake ( Luke 12:16-20 ; Luke 16:19-31 ). And there are some of the ordinary afflictions and sorrows of this life from which we can secure neither immunity nor deliverance by means of riches. "A golden crown cannot cure the headache, nor a velvet slipper give ease of the gout, nor a purple robe flay away a burning fever." All the royal wealth of King David could not ward off death from one of his children ( 2 Samuel 12:15-18 ), or exempt him from the heartbreaking treachery and rebellion of another ( 2 Samuel 15:1-37 .).
III. THAT CERTAIN EVILS OF LIFE ARE AGGRAVATED BY THE POSSESSION OF RICHES . In circumstances like those indicated by the prophet riches are calculated to increase the evils in two ways.
1 . They may endanger life by enkindling the cupidity of enemies. Greedy of booty, the invaders of Jerusalem would be likely to direct their unwelcome attentions to the rich, and not to the poor. As Matthew Henry quaintly observes, "It would be a temptation to the enemy to cut their throats for their money." Hence Ezekiel says, "They shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be removed," or "shall be as filth." They would cast it away as an unclean thing, because their life was imperilled by it.
2 . They may endanger life by hindering flight from enemies. Riches would be an encumbrance to those Israelites who sought to escape from the Chaldean soldiery by flight, and would retard their progress. Therefore, to be more free and swift in their movements, "they shall cast their silver in the streets, and their gold shall be as filth." How many human lives have been lost in the attempt to save riches! When the steamer Washington was burnt, one of the passengers, on the first alarm of fire, ran to his trunk, and took from it a large amount of gold and silver coin, and, loading his pockets, ran to the deck and jumped overboard. As a necessary consequence, he went down immediately. His riches were his ruin.
IV. THAT RICHES MAY BE THE OCCASION OF SIN . "Because it is the stumbling block of their iniquity." Their silver and gold had been the occasion of sin to the Israelites, especially in the manufacture of idols. "Of their silver and their gold have they made them idols" ( Hosea 8:4 ). And there are many in our age and country to whom riches are an occasion of sin; they set their affections upon them, they repose their confidence in them. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" etc. ( Luke 18:24 , Luke 18:25 ). "The deceitfulness of riches chokes the word" of the kingdom. "They that will be rich tall into temptation and a snare," etc. ( 1 Timothy 6:9 , 1 Timothy 6:10 , 1 Timothy 6:17-19 ).
1 . Let us endeavour to form a true estimate of riches.
2 . If we possess them, let us use our riches, not as the proprietors, but as the stewards thereof, who will one day be called by the great Owner to render the account of oar stewardship.— W.J.