From words of comfort the prophet here, by a very sudden change of his style, passes to words of reproof and conviction, and goes on in that strain, for the most part, in the three following chapters; and therefore some here begin a new sermon. He had assured the people that in due time God would deliver them out of captivity, which was designed for the comfort of those that should live when God would do this. Now here he shows what their sins and provocations were, for which God would send them into captivity, and this was designed for the conviction of those that lived in his own time, nearly a hundred years before the captivity, who were now filling up the measure of the nation’s sin, and to justify God in what he brought upon them. God will lay them waste by the fierceness of their enemies, for the falseness of their friends.
I. Desolating judgments are here summoned, Isa. 56:9. The sheep of God’s pasture are now to be made the sheep of his slaughter, to fall as victims to his justice, and therefore the beasts of the field and the forest are called to come and devour. They are beasts of prey, and do it from their own ravenous disposition; but God permits them to do it, nay, he employs them as his servants in doing it, the ministers of his justice, though they mean not so, neither does their heart think so. If this refers primarily to the descent made upon them by the Babylonians, and their devouring them, yet it may look further, to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation by the Romans, after these outcasts of them (mentioned Isa. 56:8) were gathered in to the Christian church. The Roman armies came upon them as beasts of the forest to devour them, and they quite took away their place and nation. Note, When God has bloody work to do he has beasts of prey within call, to be employed in doing it.
II. The reason of these judgments is here given. The shepherds, who should have been the watchmen of the flock, to discover the approaches of the beasts of prey, to keep them off, and protect the sheep, were treacherous and careless, minded not their business, nor made any conscience of the trust reposed in them, and so the sheep became an easy prey to the wild beasts. Now this may refer to the false prophets that lived in Isaiah’s, Jeremiah’s, and Ezekiel’s time (who flattered the people in their wicked ways, and told them they should have peace though they went on) and to the priests that bore rule by their means. Or it may refer to the wicked princes, the sons of Josiah, that did evil in the sight of the Lord, and other wicked magistrates under them, who betrayed their trust, were vicious and profane, and, instead of making up the breach at which the judgments of God were breaking in upon them, made it wider, and augmented the fierce anger of the Lord instead of doing any thing to turn it away. They should have kept judgment and justice (Isa. 56:1), but they abandoned both, Jer. 5:1. Or it may refer to those who were the nation’s watchmen in our Saviour’s time, the chief priests and the scribes, who should have discerned the signs of the times and have given notice to the people of the approach of the Messiah, but who, instead of that, opposed him, and did all they could to keep people from coming to the knowledge of him and to prejudice them against him. It is a very sad character that is here given of these watchmen. Woe unto thee, O land! when thy guides are such. 1. They had no sense or knowledge of their business. They were wretchedly ignorant of their work, and very unfit to teach, being so i 1947 ll-taught themselves: His watchmen are blind, and therefore utterly unfit to be watchmen. If the seers see not, who shall see for us? If the light that is in us be darkness, how great is that darkness! Christ describes the Pharisees to be blind leaders of the blind, Matt. 15:14. The beasts of the field come to devour, and the watchmen are blind, and are not aware of them. They are all ignorant (Isa. 56:10), shepherds that cannot understand (Isa. 56:11), that know not what is to be done about the sheep, nor can feed them with understanding, Jer. 3:15. 2. What little knowledge they had they made no use of it; no one was the better for it. As they were blind watchmen, that could not discern the danger, so they were dumb dogs, that would not give warning of it. And why are the dogs set to guard the sheep if they cannot bark to waken the shepherd and frighten the wolf? Such were these; those that had the charge of souls never reproved men for their faults, nor told them what would be in the end thereof, never gave them notice of the judgments of God that were breaking in upon them. They barked at God’s prophets, and bit them too, and worried the sheep, but made no opposition to the wolf or thief. 3. They were very lazy, and would take no pains. They loved their ease, and hated business, were always sleeping, lying down and loving to slumber. They were not overcome and overpowered by sleep, as the disciples, through grief and fatigue, but they lay down on purpose to invite sleep, and said, Soul, take thy ease. Yet a little sleep. It is bad with a people when their shepherds slumber (Nah. 3:18), and it is well for God’s people that their shepherd, the keeper of Israel, neither slumbers nor sleeps. 4. They were very covetous and eager after the world—greedy dogs that can never have enough. If they had ever so much, they would think it too little. They so love silver as never to be satisfied with silver, Eccl. 5:10. All their enquiry is what they shall get, not what they shall do. Let them have the wages, and they care not whether the work be done or no; they feed not the flock, but fleece it. They are every one looking to his own way, minding his own private interests, and have no regard at all to the public welfare. It was St. Paul’s complaint of the watchmen in his time (Phil. 2:21), All seek their own, not the things that are Jesus Christ’s. Every one is for propagating his own opinion, advancing his own party, raising his own family, and having every thing to his own mind, while the common concerns of the public are wretchedly neglected and postponed. They look every one to his gain from his quarter, from his end or part of the work. They are for fain from every quarter (Rem rem quocunque modo rem—Money, money, by fair means or by foul we must have money), but especially from their own quarter, where they will be sure to take care that they lose nothing, nor miss any thing that is to be got. If any one put not into their mouths they not only will do him no service, but they prepare war against him, Mic. 3:5. 5. They were perfect epicures, given to their pleasures, never so much in their element as in their drunken revels (Isa. 56:12): Come (say they), I will fetch wine (they have that at command; their cellars are better furnished than their closets) and we will fill ourselves, or be drunk, with strong drink. They were often drunk, not overseen (as we say) or overtaken in drink, but designedly. The watchmen did thus invite and encourage one another to drink to excess, or they courted the people to sit and drink with them, and so confirmed those in their wicked ways, and hardened their hearts, whom they should have reproved. How could they think it any harm to be drunk when the watchmen themselves joined with them and led them to it! 6. They were very secure and confident of the continuance of their prosperity and ease; they said, “To-morrow shall be as this day and much more abundant; we shall have as much to spend upon our lusts to-morrow as we have to-day.” They had no thought at all of their own frailty and mortality, though they were shortening their days and hastening their deaths by their excesses. They had no dread of the judgments of God, though they were daily provoking him and making themselves liable to his wrath and curse. They never considered the uncertainty of all the delights and enjoyments of sense, how they perish in the using and pass away with the lusts of them. They resolved to continue in this wicked course, whatever their consciences said to the contrary, to be as merry to-morrow as they are to-day. But boast not thyself of to-morrow when perhaps this night thy soul shall be required of thee.