This chapter stands closely related to the previous one, and it may fitly be regarded as a supplement to it; for the former presented a striking delineation of the Lord’s purpose to execute the severity of His displeasure upon the people of Jerusalem, and here we find a disclosure of the fearful mass of corruption upon which such severity was to be inflicted. Much of what we read here is a repetition of the charges which were urged in chapter 20; and so the chapter begins much in the same way, with a call upon the prophet to judge the people and set their iniquities before their face. In that chapter, however, the charge took the form of an historical review, for the purpose of connecting their present state of wickedness with the past; and it showed how continuously the stream of corruption had flowed through all periods of their national existence. But here, the prophet looks exclusively to the present, and he brings out a fearful picture of the many heinous and rampant sins which were crying in the ears of heaven for vengeance.
The first section of this chapter (verses 1-16) is chiefly occupied with detailing the various kinds of transgression that were practiced in the land – the idolatry, revelry, lust, selfishness, treachery, oppression, and bloodshed with which all the people were polluted. The dark picture is drawn in order to exhibit a sharp contrast between the impure condition to which Israel had now come, and the pure one which Moses had once enjoined them to maintain (Lev. 18-20). In all that was holy, virtuous, and good, they were to stand honorably apart from the heathen nations; but they had sunk to a level with these wicked people in the practice of every species of iniquity. Hence the necessity for the Lord to deal with them in judgment – not to utterly exterminate them as a people, but to purge out the corruptions which were preventing them from walking with their God.
The next section (verses 17-22) is a sort of figurative sketch, in which the prophet introduces a description of the righteous judgment that was ready to be executed upon his countrymen. The nation is represented as a miserable compound of lower-grade metals and the dross of silver – or rather, silver that has become dross; for it is the degeneracy from good to bad, as well as the actual state of corruption, which the prophet wanted them to take note of. Therefore, they were to be thrown into the burning furnace of the Lord’s anger, so that they might be melted down and purified.
In the last and concluding section of this chapter (verses 23-31), the prophet again returns to the charge of guilt – but with a more particular reference to the different ranks and orders of society in the land. He shows how each one of them had corrupted their ways; they had all conspired together to bring on the approaching catastrophe. The land, as a whole, presents itself to his eye as a polluted region, whose inhabitants had no fear of God; and as such, it was not to be blessed – especially not with rain – in the day of indignation. The false prophets had acted like beasts of prey, intent only on their personal gain (verse 25). The priests had done violence to the law, and misinterpreted it; they had deliberately allowed the line of distinction between good and evil to be blurred (verse 26). The princes were guilty of exercising cruelty and oppression, which was encouraged by the false prophets (verses 27-28). And as for the common people, they had followed in the footsteps of their leaders; they had all done as much iniquity as they possibly could (verse 29). “And I sought,” the Lord adds in verse 30, “for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.” Alas! Among the people of Judah, there was no one who understood the state to which things had come, and who understood how to play the part of a repairer of the breach, so as to help set matters right again. Sin makes a gap in the hedge of protection that is around a people; and through this gap, good things run out from them and evil things pour in upon them. However, there is a way in which a person may stand in the gap, and fill up the breach through which the judgments of God are entering; and the way in which this is done is through repentance, prayer, and reformation. Moses stood in the gap when he made intercession for Israel, pleading with God to turn away His wrath from them (Ps. 106:23). When God is coming forth against a sinful people to destroy them, He expects some of the righteous remnant that is among them to intercede for them; He enquires if there is even so much as one who will do so, for it is His desire and delight to show mercy! Even if there is only one man, woman, or child who stands in the gap – as Abraham did for Sodom – He will take notice of their prayers, and He will be well-pleased with that person! Let us not forget to thank the Lord Jesus for being that One Man Who stood in the unbridgeable gap that we ourselves had made between us and our God, for no one else could possibly have done so. And thereby He shielded us from the Lord’s avenging justice, which was about to break loose upon us and make short work of us because of our sinful rebellions!
Lord Jesus, we thank You that even though we were lost and undone in our state of sinful rebellion, You stood in the gap and shielded us from Jehovah’s righteous anger. Amen.
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