One would have thought that Cyrus’s proclamation, which gave liberty to the captive Jews to return to their own land, would suffice to bring them all back, and that, as when Pharaoh gave them leave to quit Egypt and their house of bondage there, they would not leave a hoof behind; but it seems it had not that effect. There were about 40,000 whose spirits God stirred up to go, and they went; but many, perhaps the greater part, staid behind. The land of their captivity was to most of them the land of their nativity; they had taken root there, had gained a settlement, and many of them a very comfortable one; some perhaps had got estates and preferments there, and they did not think they could better themselves by returning to their own land. Patria est ubicunque bene est—My country is every spot where I feel myself happy. They had no great affection to their own land, and apprehended the difficulties in their way to it insuperable. This proceeded from a bad cause—a distrust of the power and promise of God, a love of ease and worldly wealth, and an indifference to the religion of their country and to the God of Israel himself; and it had a bad effect, for it was a tacit censure of those as foolish, rash, and given to change, that did return, and a weakening of their hands in the work of God. Such as these could not sing (Ps. 137:1-9) in their captivity, for they had forgotten thee, O Jerusalem! and were so far from preferring thee before their chief joy that they preferred any joy before thee. Here is therefore another proclamation issued out by the God of Israel, strictly charging and commanding all his free-born subjects, wherever they were dispersed, speedily to return into their own land and render themselves at their respective posts there. They are loudly summoned (Zech. 2:6): Ho! ho! come forth, and flee from the land of the north, saith the Lord. This fitly follows upon the promise of the rebuilding and enlarging of Jerusalem. If God will build it for them and their comfort, they must come and inhabit it for him and his glory, and not continue sneaking in Babylon. Note, The promises and privileges with which God’s people are blessed should engage us, whatever it cost us, to join ourselves to them and cast in our lot among them. When Zion is enlarged, to make room for all God’s Israel, it is the greatest madness imaginable for any of them to stay in Babylon. The captivity of a sinful state is by no means to be continued in, though a man be ever so easy upon temporal accounts. No: Come forth and flee with all speed, and lose no time. Escape for thy life; look not behind thee. To induce them to hasten their return, let them consider, 1. They are now dispersed, and are concerned to incorporate themselves for their mutual common defence (Zech. 2:6): “I have spread you abroad as the four winds of heaven, sent some into one corner of the world and some into another; this has been your condition a long time, and therefore you should now think of coming together again, to help one another.” God owns that his scattering them was in wrath, and therefore they must take this invitation as a token of God’s being willing to be reconciled to them again, so that they kicked at his kindness in refusing to accept the call. 2. They are now in bondage, and are concerned to assert their own liberty; and therefore, “Deliver thyself, O Zion! flee from the oppressor, and make the best of thy way. Let us see some such bold efforts and struggles to help thyself as become the generous gracious seed of Abraham.” Zech. 2:7. Note, When Christ has proclaimed that deliverance to the captives which he has himself wrought out it then concerns each of us to deliver ourselves, to loose ourselves from the bands of our necks (Isa. 52:2), and, since we are under grace, to resolve that sin shall not have dominion over us, Zion herself is here said to dwell with the daughter of Babylon, because many of the precious sons of Zion dwelt there, and where the people of God are there the church of God is, for it is not tied to places. Now it is not fit that Zion should dwell with the daughter of Babylon; what communion can light have with darkness? Zion will be in danger of partaking with the daughter of Babylon both in her sins and in her plagues; and therefore, “Come out of her, my people, Rev. 18:4. Deliver thyself, O Zion! by a speedy return to thy own land, and do not destroy thyself by continuing in that polluted devoted land.” Those that would be found among the generation of God’s children must save themselves from the untoward generation of this world; it was St. Peter’s charge to his new converts, Acts 2:40. 3. They have seemed to be forsaken and forgotten of God, but God will now make it to appear that he espouses their cause and will plead it with jealousy, Zech. 2:8, 9. It was a discouragement to those who remained in Babylon to hear of the difficulties and oppositions which their brethren met with that had returned, by which they were still in danger of being crushed and overpowered. “And we might as well sit still” (think they) “as rise up and fall.” In answer to this objection, the angel that talked with the prophet (that is, Jesus Christ) tells him what he had commission to do for their protection and the perfecting of their salvation, and herein he has an eye to the great redemption which, in the fulness of time, he was to be the author of. Christ, who is Jehovah, and the Lord of hosts, of all the hosts of heaven and earth, in both which he has a sovereign power, says, He (that is, the Father) has sent me. Note, What Jesus has done, and does, for his church against his enemies, he was sent and commissioned by the Father to do. With great satisfaction he often speaks of the Father that sent him. (1.) He is sent after the glory. After the glorious beginning of their deliverance he is sent to perfect it, for he is the finisher of that work which he is the author of. Christ is sent, in the first place, to the nation and people of the Jews, to whom pertained the glory, Rom. 9:4. And he was himself the glory of his people Israel. But after the glory, after his care of them, he is sent to the nations, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, by the power of his gospel to captivate them, and bring them, and every high thought among them, into obedience to himself. (2.) He is sent to the nations that spoiled them, to take vengeance on them for the wrongs done to Zion, when the year of his redeemed comes and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion, Isa. 34:8. He is sent to shake his hand upon them, to lift up his mighty hand against them and to lay upon them his heavy hand, to bruise them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel, Ps. 2:9. Some think it intimates how easily God can subdue and humble them with the turn of his hand; it is but shaking his hand over them and the work is done. They shall be a spoil to their servants, shall be enslaved to those whom they had enslaved, and be plundered by those whom they had plundered. In Esther’s time this was fulfilled, when the Jews had rule over those that hated them (Est. 9:1), and often in the time of the Maccabees. The promise is further fulfilled in Christ’s victory over our spiritual enemies, his spoiling principalities and powers and making a show of them openly, Col. 2:15. And it is still in force to the gospel-church.
Christ will reckon with all that are enemies to it, and sooner or later will make them his footstool, Ps. 110:1; Rev. 3:9. (3.) What he will do for his church shall be an evident proof of God’s tender care of it and affection to it: He that touches you touches the apple of his eye. This is a high expression of God’s love to his church. By his resentment of the injuries done to her it appears how dear she is to him, how he interests himself in all her interests, and takes what is done against her, not only as done against himself, but as done against the very apple of his eye, the tenderest part, which nature has made very fine, has put a double guard upon, and taught us to be in a special manner careful of, and which the least touch is a great offence to. This encourages the people of God to pray with David (Ps. 17:8), Keep me as the apple of thy eye; and engages them to do as Solomon directs (Prov. 7:2), to keep his law as the apple of their eye. Some understand it thus: “He that touches you touches the apple of his own eye; whoever do you any injury will prove, in the issue, to have done the greatest injury to themselves.” (4.) It shall be an evident proof of Christ’s mission: You shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to be the protector of his church, that the promises made to the church are yea and amen in him. Christ’s victory over our spiritual enemies proves that the Father sent him and was with him.